Our first day in the hospital, I hated the smell. It was antiseptic, unfriendly, and an invasive reminder that we were in a hospital…. not at home. The scent was overwhelming. And since I was already feeling overwhelmed from learning my son had cancer only hours ago, I was angry at the hospital smell for having the audacity to overwhelm me further.
Almost four years later, a random combination of products in my laundry room smelled exactly like the hospital…. and it made me smile. Was this some weird version of Stockholm Syndrome where we, the prisoners of cancer, have fallen in love with our captor, the hospital? No… Though it seemed impossible on day one, the hospital had become a home to our family. And the nurses are the ones who made this happen.
That first day, after the massive activity of diagnosis, getting settled into a room, meeting a lot of medical staff, and answering one thousand questions…. the day ended with us and a nurse. Both instantly and gradually, these nurses became our family; our homemakers in this scary, new home.
In those first, overwhelming weeks, nurses kept my head on. I’m mom. Mom. I’m the one who keeps things glued together. But there were many days in a row when I was allowed to absorb, cry in public, feel the gravity of the situation… and yet know that Joel was being skillfully and lovingly cared for at the same time. Nurses were a listening ear; a comforting presence; an expert when I knew nothing.
Over the years, the nurses began to feel like loved family members in this new home they had made for us. Nurse Sarah explained chemo to my six-year-old using the Avengers as a metaphor. Nurse Simone shaved her head when Joel went bald. Nurse Amy taped syringes to her scrubs and called herself Rambo. Nurse Beth can get Joel to talk (which is huge). Nurse Practitioner Rhonda would make a second trip to our room to see how Joel’s legos turned out. Nurse Bethany comforted this new cancer mom by explaining just how good a 96% survival rate is. Nurse Cheryl can make a week in the hospital feel like time with a special aunt. Nurse Christy talks to Joel like she’s known him forever. Nurse Carrie would make sure Joel’s meal was ready and waiting the moment he needed it after a lumbar puncture.
Willy and I will joke (but also actually mean) that nurses are the shiny, beautiful part of leukemia. They make the hospital a home and they show us love and laugher in some of our darkest hours. Nurses are our teachers, our homemakers, our caregivers, and our friends. We will love them forever.
The recipe I’m sharing today reminds me of Nurse Cheryl. I made this chowder to be a hospital family dinner and shared some with her. It’s a small thing, but it was a non-cancer moment with an amazing person who always took such loving care of Joel. This chowder is one I make often because everyone loves it and I almost always have all of the ingredients on-hand.
Roasted Vegetable Chowder
I am a huge believer that roasting vegetables is key to amazing flavor. We are going to roast the carrots and onions and then puree them into the liquid part of the chowder. This gives all the caramelized goodness without too many “chunks” for the kids.
3 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour
2 1/2 Cups chicken stock
2 Cups whole milk
3/4 Cup freshly shredded cheddar (Use the good stuff: Dubliner or Flagship or something really nice. Cheap cheese will turn into a rubber mass instead of melting. Ew.)
1/2 onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
4-5 medium potatoes, chopped (Yukon gold work best)
Olive oil for roasting
2 Cups frozen corn (no need to thaw)
1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Line 2 baking sheets with parchment, or coat with cooking spray. On one sheet, spread out the chopped carrots and onions. On the other, spread out the potatoes. Drizzle both sheets with olive oil and stir to coat the vegetables.
- Place both pans in the oven. Every 10 minutes, stir the vegetables and spread back to even. This gives a nice, even roasting.
- Remove from the oven when the vegetables are evenly browned. This will vary in time based on your particular oven, but mine takes about 40 minutes. Here’s how the vegetables should look (unless you prefer darker):
5. While the vegetables are roasting, start your roux: In a dutch oven (or similar pot), melt the butter and flour together over medium heat, whisking until it darkens (about 2 minutes).
6. Add the stock and milk and bring to a simmer, whisking to keep away any lumps. Allow this to stay just below a simmer for 5-7 minutes to thicken.
7. Once the vegetables are roasted, add the carrots, onions, and cheese to your soup. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.
8. Add in the salt, potatoes, and corn. Let simmer another 10 minutes to bring the corn to temperature.
There you go! We enjoy this with a fresh loaf of crusty bread or our stand-by honey wheat loaf. On occasion, Willy and I will add some Sriracha to ours…. yum. I will double this most of the time because it makes pretty great lunches when packed in a thermos!