It’s about more than the ribbon: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.


By now you may have noticed that The Hungry Librarian is most emphatically a woman, and that she happens to be extremely proud of her girly curves. However, taking pleasure in one’s appearance is not nearly the same as taking proper responsibility for one’s body. Earlier this week, a very good friend of mine noted on her Facebook page that while October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, far too many of us have become content with merely making the gesture of wearing pink or buying pink-ribbon-branded products as a show of approval and solidarity with the cause. However, as Alexandra sagely pointed out “It’s not just about wearing the ribbon! It’s about checking for lumps in the shower!” So with a nod to her excellent example, today’s selected books are “Promise Me” by Nancy G Brinker  and “Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” by Susan Love, MD. These two radically different non-fiction volumes respectively address both the public and private faces of our ongoing struggle with this devastating disease.

The Books

 “Promise me” is the story of Brinker’s sister Susan G. Komen, her fatal battle with breast cancer 30 years ago and how Nancy’s promise to change the experience of this disease from a story of suffering and death into one of survival and hope spawned the creation of the world’s most powerful health-care advocacy foundation. Sales of this inspiring and well-written memoir benefit the Susan G. Komen for the Cure® foundation.  I urge you to check it out and to buy a copy if you can.

“Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book” has been widely regarded as the definitive guide to all issues pertaining to breast health. First published in 1990 by physician, Dr. Susan M. Love, the recently revised “Breast Book” covers the spectrum of well-care topics from sexuality to pregnancy and breastfeeding, while also providing comprehensive and current information about the prevention, diagnosis, treatment types/options and after-care of all breast cancers. If you are a woman, this is absolutely a book you should own!

The Food

So what do these books and the topic of breast cancer awareness in general, have to do with tasty recipes and good food? Since they’re not particularly focused on culinary issues, what exactly do these books or their authors inspire us to eat? It turns out that while there is no one established diet that has been proved to entirely eliminate the risk of breast cancer, the majority of public health experts believe that following  the American Cancer Association’s nutritional guidelines can help to decrease your risk factors for developing  cancers  of all kinds.

So, just what ARE these guidelines? They can be summed up as follows:  Eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant sources. Specifically, that means:

Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Pay attention to standard serving sizes and read food labels to become more aware of the number of actual servings you eat.
  • Eat smaller portions of high-calorie foods. Be aware that “low-fat” or “nonfat” does not mean “low-calorie” and that low-fat cakes, low-fat cookies, and other low-fat foods are often high in calories.
  • Switch to vegetables, fruits, and other low-calorie foods and beverages to replace calorie-dense foods and beverages such as French fries, cheeseburgers, pizza, ice cream, doughnuts and other sweets, and regular sodas.
  • When you eat away from home, choose food low in calories, fat, and sugar, and avoid large portion sizes.

Eat 5 or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day.

  • Include vegetables and fruits at every meal and for snacks.
  • Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Limit French fries, snack chips, and other fried vegetable products.
  • Choose 100% juice if you drink vegetable or fruit juices.

Choose whole grains over processed grains and sugars.

  • Choose whole grain rice, bread, pasta, and cereals.
  • Limit intake of refined carbohydrates, such as pastries, sweetened cereals, and other high-sugar foods.

Limit intake of processed meats and red meats.

  • Choose fish, poultry, or beans instead of beef, pork, and lamb.
  • When you eat meat, choose lean cuts and eat smaller portions.
  • Prepare meat by baking, broiling, or poaching, rather than by frying or charbroiling.

With these guidlines in mind I elected to make a vegetable-based meal that features a healthy assortment of complex carbohydrates, cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, whole grains and lean protein. But being as fond of delicious food as I am of healthy ingredients, I knew it had to be scrumptious as well as nutritious!

It turns out that the ancient cultures surrounding the Mediterranean Sea are an excellent source of inspiration for this type of dining.  The kitchen traditions of Spain, Greece, Turkey, Southern France and Italy have developed over millennia to showcase native foods like brightly colored garden vegetables, rich beans, toasty whole grains, fragrant herbs, pungent garlic and luxurious, silky olive oil, to their most delectable advantage.

pasta with greens and beans

From this palette (or should I say palate?), I created an Italian-inflected menu with an antipasto of herb-roasted farmers market vegetables in sunny citrus vinaigrette, and an entrée of whole grain rigatoni tossed with garlic-sauteed broccoli rabe and  cannellini beans. A glass of anti-oxidant rich Nero D’avola wine and a multi-grain ciabatta studded with tart kalamata olives and perfumed with fresh rosemary round out the offering.

Roasted veggie salad

 This enticing meal helps to abolish the myth that healthy eating requires a diner to choose righteousness over pleasure. Additionally I urge my readers to consider eating one meal a week that depends upon vegetable protein instead of meat and donating the resulting monetary savings to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. This small change in habit is not only a good preventative measure for you and the ones you feed, but it helps to fund  the ongoing fight for a cure. So, this October remember to do more than just show your support. Take matters into your own hands to help put an end to this disease.

The Recipes

Herb Roasted Vegetable Salad:

  • 1 large zucchini – cut into lengthwise strips
  • 1 large yellow squash – cut into lengthwise strips
  • 1 large red bell pepper – cut into strips
  • 1 large green bell pepper – cut into strips
  • 1 large sweet onion – cut into thick slices
  • 2 cups fresh string beans
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic – crushed and minced
  • 1/3 cup – plus 2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tsp dry herbs de Provence or Italian herbs mix
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary – stemmed and minced
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Set oven to high broil and preheat 2 cookie sheets until a drop of water sizzles on contact.

Put the vegetables in a large bowl and sprinkle them with 1 tsp of dry herbs and a fat pinch of salt.

Drizzle them with the 2 Tbsps of olive oil and toss to coat.

Arrange them in a single even layer on the hot cookie sheets and broil for about 6-8 minutes or until they are cooked through and have become very browned in spots. The timing will vary according to the heat of your broiler and the thickness of your vegetable slices – watch them carefully to avoid burning.

While the vegetables are cooking – prepare a dressing by whisking together the remaining olive oil with the minced garlic, fresh and dry herbs, the juice and grated zest of the lemon, plus black pepper and salt to taste. Whisk the dressing until the juice and oil are emulsified and the dressing looks a bit thickened.

When the vegetables are cooked, cut the long strips of squash and peppers into bite-sized chunks and separate the onion slices into rings but leave the string beans whole for contrast.

Toss the hot vegetables with the dressing and let sit for 30 minutes to meld the flavors.

Mound the vegetables on a platter and serve slightly warm or at room temperature with crusty peasant bread.

Serves 6 as an antipasto

Washed broccoli rabe

Garlic Sautéed Broccoli Rabe with White Beans and Wholegrain Rigatoni:

2 bunches of Broccoli Raabe – ends trimmed, stalks cut into approx 2” pieces

6 cloves of garlic – roughly chopped

1 red chile – seeded and diced  (Feed free to substitute 1 tsp – or more – of dried red pepper flakes)

2 cups cooked or canned white beans – drained and rinsed well.

1 pound of wholegrain rigatoni, penne or farfalle style pasta

1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta

Rinse and drain the greens. Any water clinging to the leaves will help to steam it, so don’t be fussy about drying them.

Meanwhile heat oil with garlic and chiles in a deep sauté pan – cook on high until the garlic is golden and fragrant.

Add the damp greens to this pan and toss to coat evenly with hot oil – sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and drop the heat to medium-high and cover while pasta cooks. Greens should wilt and soften dramatically.

Cook the pasta according to package directions, until it is just short of al dente. Drain and reserve 1 cup of hot water.

Add pasta along with ½ cup of its cooking water to the sauté pan and toss until the greens garlic and oil are evenly mixed through the rigatoni. Pour the beans over the top of this mixture and cover.

Cook for about 2-3 minutes, until the pasta is cooked through and beans are hot. GENTLY stir to toss the beans into the pasta, without breaking them up. If mixture seems very dry – add a bit of the remaining pasta water to moisten it.

Serve in deep bowls with a drizzle of fruity extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4-6 as a main course

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 6:44 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Oh you so should have invited me to this tasting! I love it – I may even try one of the recipes! Plus a great cause – well done!

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