Riz au lait – Mum’s favourite chemo food

My mother died of breast cancer complications six months ago. She was 69. She ate healthy food, exercised, never smoked, drank reasonably, was busy and full of energy… always on her feet…

Anyway, seven years after a first lot of breast cancer and radiation therapy, she got cancer in the other breast. She handled radiation like a pro. Seven years after that, they found tumours all over: lungs, bones, brain… This time it was chemo therapy. That was a whole different kettle of fish.

My Mum was a great cook. Whatever she made tasted great. (She was also the one who taught me how to cook “off the cuff” with whatever is around.) She really enjoyed food and drink, so it was even worse for her to suddenly lose her appetite. Nothing tasted right. Everything seemed salty to her. She felt stuffed even though she had eaten three forkfuls.  A beautiful red Bourgogne tasted like turpentine. So, of course, she lost a ton of weight.

She had to change her way of eating. Portions became smaller, meals more frequent. My Dad had to cook to order, because what might seem appetising at 2p.m. turned her stomach at 7p.m. And she began to eat richer things to try to gain back some of the weight.

One day, while visiting, I made riz au lait – rice pudding – because it’s my son’s favourite dessert. Well, my Mum, whose appetite and whose sleep patterns had gone all haywire GOT UP AT NIGHT to eat some! Before I left, I wrote down the recipe. From then on she made sure she had a constant supply of rice pudding. When the Cork Cancer Research Centre (in association with University College Cork, my Alma Mater) asked cancer patients to provide recipes of things they enjoyed for a chemo food cookbook “Good Nutrition”, she sent in this one.

This doesn’t mean that rice pudding is necessarily a calorie bomb. The good thing about this recipe is that you can vary the richness by varying fat content: skimmed milk, semi-skimmed, full-fat, and varying the amount of cream (if any) you add to the mix.

What you need:

120g of pudding rice (round grain, for example Arborio)

700ml of milk

200ml of cream

a pinch of salt

90g of sugar

How to make the rice pudding:

  • Blanch the rice in boiling water for 3 minutes
  • Bring the liquids to the boil and reduce to a simmer
  • Add the salt, sugar and rice

Option 1: Flavour with a stick of cinnamon and a vanilla pod (slit open and scraped)

Option 2: Flavour with a finely grated lemon zest (preferably organic)

  • Let simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes

Don’t wait until the rice pudding has the correct consistency to spoon it into individual jars, as it continues to cook when you take it off the heat and will be too dry! You must judge yourself when the rice is cooked, but there still is a bit “too much” liquid. It might take a little trial and error.

It’s delicious warm or cold.

My Mum is gone now. Riz au lait is our special “Mum” dessert. Whenever I make some, I remember how she stood in front of the mirror half laughing, half crying at the way her ass had disappeared until it was concave. She would call herself “Ötzi, the iceman” and ask me to make her some more….

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