So that morning we set out on our walk with Uschi and half a block from our house Bill stopped, said, “We have to go back. I’m having a touch of angina…”
Of course we double-timed it home so I could give Bill a tiny nitroglycerin tablet. It worked. He said he was fine. Not to worry. He’d had lots of angina events. I didn’t know that.
He was fine all day, or said he was.
That night, lights out, at the beginning of pillow talk my husband said, “I have something to tell you you’re not going to like. I’m not up to going to Maggie’s graduation. I’m frankly a little worried…this morning’s angina was the worst I’ve had… ”
Bill is so casual, low-key, that admission was…well, I guess you can imagine.
I thought of an old friend’s expression: How we’re bound up in the machinery of life.
Next morning, I texted Geoff, an uber-caring uber-generous family member in Los Angeles who’s been a mainstay in our lives, been wildly generous particularly to granddaughter Maggie. Told Geoff about Bill and how disappointed we were not to be joining him and other family in New Haven to celebrate Maggie’s gaining her Master of Environmental Management from Yale. But that we were coming to LA in June for my 88th birthday and hoped to celebrate then.
Geoff texted back that in June we should plan to stay with him, that “…we will take care of all your meals and put Bill on a diet that he enjoys and also enables him to manage cardio issues…”
I knew what that was. For some months Geoff has been on the Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s diet formulated to reverse heart disease. Apparently it is working beautifully in Geoff’s case.
The regime is vegan–no dairy, meat, fowl, fish, PLUS no oils, nuts, avocados…
Did you say, no oils? No nuts? No avocados?
Bill said, “I’m not going on that diet.”
I agreed. I’d heard bits and pieces about it and it sounded like a horrid way to live (I love the word horrid, it’s so expressive.) Department of “Life is short.”
Yes, and getting shorter.
I had Esselstyn’s book–Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure which Geoff sent us months ago. It was in a box on its way to the Salvation Army. Pulled it out. Began leafing through.
Just to say the obvious, the stakes are high around here. Bill and I have had twelve years together…I’d sure like twelve more, which would take me to 100, Bill to 105. That would be sublime.
I thought about it. And thought about it. And thought about it. No luscious golden extra virgin olive oil from Italy or Greece or California? No more almonds, cashews, macadamias? Come on. And how would Bill survive without his beloved crunchy peanut butter on his breakfast toast and his French vanilla yogurt over granola (nuts and oils) for lunch?
Back in the opening days of COVID, it happened that my daughter and her husband decided to go vegan for a bunch of reasons. Oh. OK. Why not try it, too? It was one of those It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve always hated the idea of eating animals. Bill was agreeable and we made the pledge. I gave away a fortune in cheeses. Not much poultry and meat in the freezer, but gave that away, too.
Three days later–maybe it was two–we decided life wasn’t worth living without cheese. Yes we would use oat milk in coffee and over cereal. But shaking my head I replaced the Parmesan/Pecorino/Havarti/Cheddar/Feta/Boursin/pepper jack cheeses. However, we didn’t go back to meats/fowl/fish, were vegetarian the rest of the time we were cloistered. Was it a year? was it two? To my surprise, I found vegetarian cooking easy and even fun–a brilliant variety of beans from Rancho Gordo and endless fresh vegetables from nearby organic farms. Then one day Bill said he really would like a roast chicken, would that be OK? and bit by bit we returned to the old diet (except for oat milk).
But now my consciousness had been raised and there was an added impediment: had the animals we were going to eat lived happy lives? That wasn’t a condition of purchase before. My still-vegan daughter told me in great agitation that dairy cows suffer. But I stopped my ears. A person can only do so much. Besides, I wasn’t responsible for dairy cows in France and Italy…
Now a long year later I’d been presented with another opportunity to eat nothing that, like me, had a mother.
Oh, one other element. A couple of months ago at our check-ups, our young dynamic cardiologist persuaded Bill not to eat eggs until he saw him again in six months. “That will bring down your numbers,” he said earnestly. We’ve been good about that so at least we’d set a foot through The Can’t Eat Door.
I sat very still in my study trying to think of an approach to get Bill to assent to the “horrid” diet. I’m not good at coming in sideways. I pretty much pick up my skirts and leap, then look…then minister to my wounds. But this time it was crucial I be smart. Foxy. Not me, but I’d give it a go. After mulling and mulling, I winnowed down the major choice in the matter.
Went into the living room where Bill was in his customary place listening to one of his books on Alfred Hitchcock (he soon begins teaching his class, “Eight by Hitchcock,” at OLLI here in Santa Cruz).
“Darling,” I said gently in my most wifely tones, “I have a question for you.”
“Yes?” He smiled his sweet smile, reached out a hand to me.
I sat down beside him, took his hand. “Dearest,” deep breath, “which do you love best: me or peanut butter?”
I perceived his head bounce a tad and he turned and gave me a look. Then Jack Benny’s classic, “I’m thinking.”
I kissed him and began blurting out that I wanted us to do the Esselstyn diet.
He listened. Was, as ever, gracious. Then, “You say the effects are proven in sixty days?”
“I’ll give you sixty days. And thank you, darling.” Big kiss.
So now I’m breaking my head to make delicious meals. Sent to Abebooks for half-a-dozen vegan/no-oil cookbooks. Bought a gizmo that turns fresh fruits instantly into sorbet.
I write this on Day Five. I’ve made tahini-free hummus twice. Bill loves it. Give him breakfast of Grape Nuts mixed with uncooked oats topped with a sprinkling of ground flax seeds (good for the brain) and lots of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries. Loves it.
Friday night is Pizza Night at our house, we’d invited another Santa Cruz grandson with his sweetie for supper. I had to prepare three different pizzas–nightmarish–one frozen commercial organic with what are those thin rounds of oh yes, pepperoni for Cameron…one for the other grandson and his girlfriend who needed gluten-free…one vegan without oil for us…
For the latter two, I began roasting eggplant slices at 425 degrees as usual in the toaster oven but without a slick of olive oil, the rounds were getting cardboardy. So I sloshed over a little white wine, returned them to the broiler, but it didn’t help…slosh of red wine, turned the pieces over, big mistake–I tasted one, red wine was too bitter. In desperation I threw the eggplant rounds into a hot dry skillet while I sliced then sautéed mushrooms in a second dry cast iron skillet. At the same time, I was browning a chopped onion in a third dry skillet…the onions were the only success so far. I also diced big red and big yellow sweet peppers, spread them on a sheet and stuck them bare under into the hot toaster oven, for a mercy (and it was that) they roasted fine. I’d wanted also to have zucchini on our pizza but I had no time nor room on the stove nor under the toaster oven broiler for zucchini.
In my dithering I’d forgotten I had to make two pizza doughs, one with gluten-free flour and olive oil, the other with 00 Italian pizza flour and no oil. Now late and frazzled, I hadn’t time for the doughs to rise, so I rolled each out, thinly spread the GF one onto our 12-inch round pizza pan…had to spread Bill’s and mine on a large square baking sheet (made a mental note to get another pizza pan which I think I’ll do right now…excuse me for a minute, need to add to my order you-know-where–which I did…did you know that steel pizza pans now come with holes in the bottom to make the crust crispy? fascinating)…
Dinner time was approaching (and with it the Princeton-Creighton basketball game my Princetonian husband was eager to watch), so after giving Uschi her dinner, I spread a promising no-oil pizza sauce I found at Trader Joe’s over both raw doughs, arranged eggplant rounds (they somehow had taken on a roasted look), scattered sweet pepper pieces on top–I’d set one of the skillets on top of the onions skillet, completely forgot they were underneath–arranged medallions of pepperoni over the GF pizza then liberal amounts of mozzarella and grated Parmesan…sprinkled Cameron’s beloved Mexican Cheese blend over his frozen pizza….over Bill’s and mine, slices of beautiful heritage tomatoes, sprinklings of garlic granules, dried oregano, lemon pepper, red chili flakes…tucked Cameron’s and the college kids’ in the stove’s hot oven and ours in the toaster oven, poured myself more Italian red…closed my eyes.
Creighton was ahead…
My pizza dough will be better next time. I won’t forget the onions. Will find a way to roast eggplant slices. I’ll figure it all out. And in the doing will lose the ten pounds I gained when my busted knee wouldn’t let me walk…and Bill will lose his ten…and we’ll both be heart healthy.
When I ran our prospects past her, a concerned friend asked, “Can you drink wine?” There are heart-healthy diets that permit no wine. “Yes indeedy!”
And here’s another gigantic plus: marketing for this diet is a delight. I’m making marvelous discoveries in the realms of sauces, spices, plants. Never heard of kamut. Freekeh. Hadn’t cooked couscous or farro in years (I remembered farro makes a splendid risotto). Going to relish the lush variety of Nature’s bounty. Already discovered a bluegreen leaf of dinosaur kale is tastier in a tomato sandwich than lettuce.
Being inventive, resourceful, adventurous is super–particularly for an, um, aging brain.
And I’m comforted to know my husband loves me more than–well truthfully at least as much as–peanut butter.
Then this morning, Day Six, stirring a spoonful of whole grain Dijon mustard into a new batch of hummus, I thought again of the phrase How we’re bound up in the machinery of life…it struck me as miraculously serendipitous that I wrote Geoff to tell him we couldn’t go to Maggie’s graduation because of Bill’s heart event but that we’d be seeing him in June…that Geoff responded with an invitation to stay with him and while we were his guests, he’d launch Bill on his heartsaving regime…which led me to reevaluate which was more important to my quality of life, sautéing with extra virgin olive oil or more years with Bill…which led me to realize I’d been handed a singular opportunity…
Awesome, as the children would say.