Wednesday, December 05, 2007

RBC, Haemoglobin, Platelet counts - and Beef!

After my 1st chemo-cycle, I checked back with my oncologist, Doc Smiley, as to whether there were any dietary concerns, no-nos and what-nots that I should be aware of... and his immediate response was, "you can eat anything and everything.. in fact, you can even go ahead and eat a hamburger!" .... In my heart, I clapped with joy! Being the food-loving creature that I am, it looked like my relationship with my oncologist was on to a smashing start!

However, I did have some reservations about that hamburger advice - having read in some macrobiotic book that red meat was a no-no and should be off the recommended food list. The nurses at Doc Smiley's clinic insisted though that I needed to pack in at least 3 to 5 servings of beef a week during my chemo-treatment to replenish my red blood cells and haemoglobin levels that would be diminishing from the onslaught of the chemo drugs. For my first three cycles, I ate conservatively 1 to 2 servings of beef a week and thought I could get away with it!

By the time I reached my 4th chemo-cycle, my blood test came back with red marks (just like an errant student's primary school report card) - my red blood cells or corpuscles (RBCs) and haemoglobin counts had dropped below the recommended levels. Doc Smiley insisted on giving me a booster jab to increase these counts - sheesh... the result of not listening to well-meaning advice cost me a bunch of $$$, which could probably purchase more than a month's supply of beef!

Not wishing to fork out more wads of $$$ in booster jabs at the next cycles, I have been upping my beef intake at least for the time being until the chemotreatments are completed.

This is one of my favourite recipes for beef slow-cooked until it reached a tender texture - a very oriental beef stew with carrots, with flavours heightened by an assortment of aromatics (onions, red chillies, ginger, garlic, lemon grass), and spices (cinnamon stick, star anise, fennel seeds, black peppercorns and 5-spice powder).
food for my red blood cells
  • heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wok or saute pan - though I much preferred to use my Le Creuset enameled cast iron casserole pot for slow-cooking - and add 1 large onion (chopped), a few slices of fresh ginger (peeled and chopped), and 2 fresh red chillies (deseeded and sliced) and let these aromatics cooked over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring
  • increase heat to high and add about 500 gm of lean braising or stewing cuts of beef (cut into 3/4-inch or 1-inch thick cubes) and stir-fry for about 5 to 8 minutes until lightly browned
  • next, add the remaining aromatics, 2 garlic cloves (crushed or chopped), 1 lemon grass (sliced thinly), and the spices - 1 cinnamon stick, about 5 star anise, a teaspoon of chinese 5-spice powder, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, a teaspoon of black peppercorns (crush coarsely, if you prefer an increased peppery flavour), about 2 tablespoons of light soya sauce to taste, and 600ml of water (if you have home-made beef stock, that would be preferred as it would give the stew a much richer meaty flavour)
  • bring the whole mixture to a boil and then turn down the heat to a low simmer - cover the pot and cook for about 1 and 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally so that the beef does not stick to the pot
  • add carrots (which have been cut into thick chunks) and continue to cook covered over low heat for another 1/2 hour or until the carrots and the beef cubes have softened
  • wonderful served with brown rice - the red chillies, ginger, lemon grass and spiced flavours are great for igniting a tired appetite!
Despite my best efforts, there are days though when I cannot bring myself to chomp down another sliver of beef (a condition called 'meat overkill') - and that's when dear Mum comes to the rescue with her steamed/double-boiled beef essence!
down to the essence
  • selecting a choice cut of lean beef (generally from the ribeye) - the same is chopped and minced at home (try not to use the minced beef sold in the supermarkets, which sometimes contain bits of fatty tissue, in an attempt to reduce the amount of fat in this soup)
  • place the minced beef in a big bowl, sprinkle a handful of wolfberries (or in place, one can use deseeded red dates - which is reputed to be effective in building up strength and blood levels), a codonopsis root (dang shen/dong sum) cut into short 1-cm lengths (to improve blood circulation and promote general good health) , a few slices of american ginseng (optional), and pour in a rice bowl or 1 cup of water (just one bowl will do - we are pursuing essence here and not soup quantity!)
  • place the big bowl into a pot filled with water about half way up the big bowl - bring the pot water to a boil, cover pot and lower heat - steam/double-boil on slow fire for about 1 hour or so
  • all the goodness of the beef (its very essence) together with the benefits of the chinese herbs are then ready to be drunk in a single bowl - the serving size is just right for one (me!)
  • the beef in the above recipe can also be substituted with minced pork taken from pork tenderloin (one of the leanest cuts of pork) if one gets tired of the taste of beef - though I must add that having tasted both, the beef essence is definitely a notch higher up in flavour as compared to the white meat of pork!
I just completed my 5th cycle today and managed to convince Doc Smiley to refrain from prescribing that $$$-booster jab - hopefully my meaty constitution can put me in good stead with my RBC, haemoglobin and platelet counts for the next couple of weeks until I complete my final 6th cycle!

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