When Mariacristina first moved to London, we didn’t have very much money, and – as I was banging on about the other day – had to adapt to our circumstances. Mariacristina proved to be an excellent efficiency hunter and merrily cut a swathe through our outgoings to cut out, for example, unnecessarily expensive branded food, or things we were buying but not getting around to eating.
For the most part, I agreed with the economies we were making, and went along with Mariacristina’s suggestions. Until, that is, she honed in on the cheese. “Why buy this expensive [but delicious] cheese, when we could get those plasticky squares of processed cheese instead, saving us lots of money?” she asked, innocently enough. That was when I put my foot down.
I’ve always been a lover of cheese, as have the other members of my family – as you’ll discover if you make the mistake of leaving some cheese out on the table within grazing distance of either of my brothers, for example. Cheese or chocolate? Cheese every time. French, Italian, Dutch, British, Swiss – the list goes on… You can’t beat a good cheese.
Given my cheese snobbery and passion for the most delicious examples of it, you may, then, be surprised to hear that since coming into hospital, I’ve actually developed a bit of a taste for – ahem – Cheestrings. I realise that by admitting this I’m abandoning any claim to be a true cheese connoisseur (“Surely it’s not even cheese!” I hear you cry; technically it is, though, apparently), but they’re surprisingly decent. There’s probably something of the child in me that enjoys peeling them into strings, too…
Cheese has become an (even more important) part of my diet since becoming neutropaenic. As my immune system is severely compromised, I have to be very careful about what I eat from outside; individually wrapped cheese portions are a great option. An alternative is of course hospital food, which has had any possible bugs – and goodness and taste – obliterated by high-powered overcooking. Unfortunately the hospital food has not got much better since last time, although I do have a whole menu of inedible options to choose from now.
It probably doesn’t help, either, that whereas eight years ago I had only just graduated and wasn’t exactly making the most of gourmet London, this time around my expectations and habits have been raised considerably by the wonderful food Mariacristina cooks, as well as our penchant for going out for a very good meal every so often. After tasting Mariacristina’s lasagne, hospital potatoes really don’t cut it.
Fortunately, however, microwaveable ready meals – acceptable for someone neutropaenic like me, although I had to sign a disclaimer to absolve the hospital of any responsibility should food I have brought in turn out not to be okay – have also come on a lot since my last stay.
After Weetabix – or, if I’m really lucky, Coco Pops, which do indeed turn the milk chocolatey – for breakfast, I’ve generally enjoyed a Ploughman’s lunch of crisps, a selection of cheese and even a pork pie (I was delighted to learn that was a possibility – pork pies are up there with cheese), before settling down to a pretty high-quality ready meal in the evening. I try to get some fruit in there, too, although there are restrictions on what I can have, based as ever on the possibility of bugs. Clementines and not-very-mature bananas are working out best so far.
I’ve always rated food as one of the great pleasures of life, so the restrictions can be frustrating. However, apart from the fact I have some wonderful home-cooked meals to look forward to – not to mention bacon sandwiches – when I get out, I’ve also managed to reach a routine whereby I’m actually pretty comfortable with my eating habits.
Cheestrings may be a long way from Mariacristina’s involtini di parmigiana, but they’re a lot better than hospital potatoes…