Karen and MaryAs a survivor I’ve developed a continued passion of empowering women to take charge of their health. When cancer knocks at our door, that diagnosis changes our lives on many levels. We can choose to follow along with our doctors’ advice being fearful and feeling helpless or we can pick up our bootstraps and begin to take charge. Being proactive is key!

Unfortunately, there is no cure for cancer. However, studies show that maintaining a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce your risk for getting breast cancer. Eating a diet that consists of healthy amounts of vegetables, fruits and fiber-filled foods is so very important.

Do you remember when you learned to ride a bike? The most important part was learning to balance. The same thing is true when it comes to selecting food. Once we learn to carefully balance the amounts and types of food we eat, all the organs in the body function smoothly allowing the body to maintain peak performance.

Everyday we are bombarded with nutrition and health messages concerning diet, weight management and health issues. Through all the confusion it is clear that a healthy diet as part of a healthy lifestyle are important in maintaining how we look, feel and how much we enjoy life. For me, I love eating seasonally and locally because you know what you are eating is fresh and it just tastes so much better. I love waking up on Saturday morning and heading out to our local Farmers Market to chat with the farmers and growers about what they are selling. You experience great energy, surrounded by like-minded people hustling around with their bags and baskets, sharing and having the same goals in mind, “healthy and fresh.”

While teaching a cooking class in the middle of my treatment, a student pulled me aside to let me know that she understood what I was going through. She said, “We are the luckiest women in this room because we now know what life is really all about.” There is great truth in the fact that getting scared out of your wits does help you to focus on taking care of yourself and making lifestyle changes.

As a woman who knows what it is like to fight cancer, I often felt like a blade of grass braving the strong wind and courageously hanging on, never receding in the face of hardships and growing robustly in the warm sunshine. Although one of the most challenging experiences in my life, the result was being able to look at the world and my own journey as that much more beautiful.

There is nothing difficult about healthy eating. It is simply a common-sense approach to food that is easy to live with, once you get use to it.

The following is a poem I wrote about my journey!

My Voyage in a Sea of Pink

I will not hide, nor do it alone
They say rough storms are headed my way
The possibility of death, what’s important!
The Lord is my strength, he gives me courage

Making hugh decisions in a matter of seconds
Building breasts from my tummy, no secrets here
An open door. Let go of the things that aren’t. I have the power
I came with nothing I will leave with nothing

Chemo is temporary, no denial here
The crashing waves come with no warning
I have lost the wind in my sail, I am not in control
I knew it would pass; minute by minute, day by day

My support parade marches in, deep concern worn on their sleeves
Flowers, pink ribbons and warm ginger tea
It’s important to cry, learned how difficult it was in taking the gift
There are rewards for accepting the help people want to give

Food arrives like manna from heaven
Spending time with my daughter, so generously given
She holds my head and says, I love you Mommy.
Her closeness has turned darkness to light.

Steer the ship of my life, heavenly father
Let me feel the flow of your grace as I feel my wounds
New breasts brought wisdom, strength and more courage
A new journey, determined to live, to give, to love

The scares are fading and meaningless, feelings are returning
My hair how cute, would not have done it any other way
I have been inspired, I will not hide
My Mother was taken of this terrible disease
It may have showed up, but defeated it has not

How I have learned, how well I listen,
Sharing myself for others to hear, I have been inspired
I make a difference in this world today
In a Sea of Pink, with desires to help others survive.
Lord, give me the understanding to know why.

Fall is upon us, there is a chill in the air, the leaves are beginning to turn colors and it is time to pull out that stockpot and start making delicious and hearty soups for this cozy time of the year. Sharing one of my all time favorites!

ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH APPLE SOUP
Chef Mary

Serves: 6-8

INGREDIENTS
2 lb butternut squash, halved vertically and seeded
3 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 apples, granny smith, cored and chopped
1 1/2 cups apple juice
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp nutmeg
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp kosher salt
24 oz. vegetable or chicken stock
1 – 14 oz can coconut milk or more if preferred
2 tbsp brown sugar

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven 375 degrees.
Drizzle a little olive oil on the bottom of a baking sheet. Lay the butternut squash halves flesh side up and polk a few holes into the squash. Bake in center rack of oven and bake for 40 – 50 minutes or until squash is soft and tender. Cool and use a spoon to scrape and remove the flesh, being careful not to take the skin with it.

Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy-bottomed pot and add onion. Cook stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, until onion is softened and translucent. Add garlic, chopped apples, apple juice and seasonings. Cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat.

Add roasted squash and stock to the pot. Reduce heat to low, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until squash is completely softened. Puree in batches using a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender, or simply squash the squash with the back of a wooden spoon if you prefer a chunkier soup. Taste the soup and finish off by adding the brown sugar and additional salt and pepper. If soup is too thick, add more broth. Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of nutmeg.

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For me, providing delicious food and cooking excitement is a labor of love. On my journey through life I too was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. Faced with the greatest challenges of my life I chose to depend on the love and support of family and friends. I am honored to be apart of NOU Magazine and look forward to sharing the importance of enjoying a healthy diet with wholesome foods, and what it means to take care of yourself. Culinary blessings! Mary