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Cooking for health and hope

There are different types of sieges. A hostile army surrounding your city walls, a global pandemic locking borders and forcing you to stay in place but a siege caused by illness is another thing altogether. It comes with the same languishing where minutes and hours tick past in nothingness but is much more personal.

A pandemic and an illness combined make for a double-walled siege.

My beautiful Raffaele has leukaemia and no immune system. He has now been in hospital for eight weeks except for a brief, glorious time at home which was cut short by an infection.

The professional and caring staff of the hospital, from the cleaner to the specialist, have been faultless. His incredible inner strength and positive nature, the love of his children, family and many good friends both here and across the seas are all helping .

But this time has also drawn into clear focus the vital importance of food for healing and health. Cooking is not just nutrition and fuel. It is also memory, comfort, delight, connection, generosity and hope. Otherwise, we would just hook ourselves up to a food drip or eat out of tubes like astronauts.

Disdain and criticism of hospital food is a well-worn topic. Putting aside the problems with huge global corporations such as Spotless making profit from our public health system, and being honest that even when it was in public hands, it wasn't brilliant, the food in the hospital isn't too bad. Especially considering the number of patients, specific dietary and health requirements, individual tastes and diverse cultures.

But after being in hospital for a while, combined with the terrible waiting game of trial and error treatment, food becomes even more important to the process of healing and hope. For Raf, it is something to look forward to, for us, it is something useful to do, a way of giving and caring.

For a start, we would bring in treats like coffee chocolate pastilles from Haigs, taralli, fruit cake, oranges, mandarins and golden kiwi, soda water and Bickford's ginger beer or pink grapefruit cordial.

Then I started to bring Pugliese treats like orecchiette with cima di rape, fava bean pure, potato croquettes all of which I heated in the hospital microwave to kill any bugs. His brother made polpette and his sister her delicious lasagne. Every dish was devoured with enthusiasm but had the effect of making the worthy hospital food less and less appetising.

For now, we have an established routine where we order breakfast and soup for lunch (which is quite good) but just a sandwich for dinner and I bring something homemade each afternoon ready for the evening.

It's a cooking challenge with a difference, adapting the comfort of familiar and joy giving food to dietary requirements, poor appetite and changes to taste. The philosophy of simple seasonal food still applies - homemade broth with pasta and freshly baked sourdough bread, gnocchi, new season broad beans, peas and asparagus steamed in the own juices with extra virgin olive oil. Many of these recipes are elsewhere in my blog so I have included my recipe for Potato Croquettes or Panzerotti di Patate which always go down a treat!

The other night, while eating a luscious chicken and vegetable soup made by our dear friend Nicki, he said "This is so fucking good!" and I sent her a photo on Facebook Messenger.

She replied "Bless him. As they say in Greek το έφτιαξα με όλη μου την καρδιά - I made it with all my heart."

Potato Croquette Recipe

4 medium sized organic potatoes

100g of grated parmesan or pecorino cheese.

1 egg

plenty of white pepper


finely chopped fresh mint

Boil the potatoes in the skins until they are soft.

Peel them and put them through a potato ricer (or mash them if you don't have one).

Add the egg, cheese, salt and white pepper and the chopped mint and mix well.

Form into oval shaped croquettes about 7-8 cm long.

Roll them in the breadcrumbs.

Leave them in the fridge for a while so they become firmer.

Deep fry them in olive oil until they are golden brown and crunchy.

They are best when they are hot but fine eaten cold.

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This brought tears to my eyes🥲. Our beautiful Raffaele cared for so lovingly by you, his gorgeous wife and soul mate and held aloft by good family and friends.?

You write so beautifully that I hear can you speak the words. So honoured to be able to call you friends. 🥰

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