When I was around six, my mom’s good friend was a writer of cookbooks. Health-food cookbooks. Seventies-era health food. Fructose. Carob. Maple leaves and bark. There was a photo on the back cover of one of these books with the cook, Mary Ann, and her two children, a little younger than me, licking their fingers over a mixing bowl, all smiles. I envied these children, these rosy-cheeked cherubs who loved food that was good for you while I was folding my little hands on my green gingham bedspread in my room, praying for a box of chocolates so big I could sit inside of it when I was done.
But I wanted to be good like Mary Ann’s good children who’d somehow been enchanted to love seventies good-for-you food, because every time Mary Ann invited us to dinner to try her new recipes I’d scrunch down in the floorboards of mom’s car in Mary Ann’s driveway, dig my heels into the seat back, and sob while my mom tried to pry me out.
“Stop it! Stop it right now!” mom would be saying through her teeth in a stage whisper, her eyes on Mary Ann’s front windows. “You’re going to pretend you like it, and you’re not going to embarrass me!”
As some sort of enticement to like Mary Ann’s food, mom once bought me the would-be gateway drug to seventies health food that was the carob bar. Have you ever had a carob bar? It is aggressively not a chocolate bar. It is an abomination of chocolate. It only masquerades as a chocolate bar. No child prays to eat her weight in carob any more than she prays for the boogie man to pluck her teeth out while singing Alice Cooper songs in falsetto. I don’t know. Maybe carob has come a long way since the seventies, but back then it was like eating star-shaped dollops of Gulf Wax painted all the shades of monkey excrement.
So nothing was working for me. And I’m not even going to tell you how many knives we bent in the jars of natural peanut butter mom kept in the fridge so the oil would separate. I’m just saying the seventies were hard. And nothing could make me be healthy on purpose.
In 2013, though, I have a new motivator. Breast cancer. Who knew that’s all it would take? And lately I’ve been making great strides in vegetarianism, as per my doctor’s suggestion, except for when, three days ago, I broke down and ordered P. F. Chang’s Mongolian beef because I’d had the surgery to implant the mediport and therefore felt I deserved Mongolian beef. And if you don’t believe in karma, believe in this: after you’ve had a port inserted into a vein in your neck, every chew of Mongolian beef is going to smart. But not to worry. In four more days, I start my first round of chemo, and I’m quite sure I won’t be thinking of Mongolian beef, whatever the price of eating it may be. I’m sure I won’t be thinking of food at all, but nonetheless, I’ll have to eat. So this week in preparation I’m thinking of small, healthy protein-packed things I won’t mind choking down.
One recipe in Mary Ann’s cookbook that I actually loved because I could make it myself, unsupervised, was a recipe for no-bake peanut butter balls. If she’d invited us for dinner and served us heaping plates of peanut butter balls I would have been a-okay. She included in them dried milk, wheat germ, coconut, and honey, but I’ve modified them here for maximum impact. You could even throw some chia seeds and dried cherries in there. Post-chemo, I’ll report back with a thumbs up or thumbs down. But without poison coursing through your veins these taste like candy masquerading as candy. I’m calling them Tofu Peanut Butter Balls because Schweddy Balls was already taken (and they don’t look a thing like monkey excrement).
1/4 c peanut butter
1/4 c silken tofu
1/4 c coconut flakes
1/3 c honey or agave nectar
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp dry milk
1 c oats
1/4 c ground flaxseed
a pinch of cinnamon
dark chocolate chunks
1. Blend tofu and peanut butter with a hand mixer and, voila, what tofu?
2. Combine all other ingredients, especially the dark chocolate chunks because, antioxidants.
3. Shape into balls and roll in a bowl of oatmeal to keep them from being sticky to touch.