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Have you ever played the game where you have to pick your favourite food to take with you to a desert island?

Okay fine, maybe you didn’t have to play these games because you weren’t born in the dark ages before en-route entertainment systems, like I was. Even though they were ubiquitous, we didn’t get a colour TV in our house until I was 17 because my parents were anti-TV before being anti-TV was a hipster parenting trend. No way would we have been allowed to “rot our brains” in the car, too!

Anyhoo, on road trips my sister and I grew up forced to count cows, play memory games like, “I took a trip…”, sing campfire songs, and when desperation really took hold, actually talk to our parents in the front seat.

It was Ye Olden Days.

I can’t remember if we ever played The Desert Island game in the car, but I had my answer ready, just in case. Were I to be marooned on a desert island and could only take one food, it would definitely be: TOMATOES.

Or CHOCOLATE, of course.


I can’t make major decisions, but if I were allowed to take both, it would make a balanced diet, right?

It was like a desert island dream (the “desert island” being Practical Man’s second cancer diagnosis and more-important-than-average covid self-isolation).

Unfortunately, the bonanza (that’s a Ye Olden Time word, by the way) was itty bitty cherry tomatoes and completely green. Even if we could have ripened them on a thousand window sills that we don’t possess, Practical Man told me that unless they have a tiny bit of colour on them, they won’t ripen from completely green.

two giant bowls full of green cherry tomatoes

He’s from even older Ye Olden Days than I am. He actually SAW a TV show called Bonanza when it was airing. He knows stuff.

Last year, we made an icky green tomato salsa that had waaaaaay too much cumin (“too much cumin” should be the slogan for 2020) and that turned us off anything that had “salsa” in the recipe title, for this year’s rescue crop. Fried green tomatoes is what everyone thinks of as soon as they hear “green tomatoes”, but we would have had enough for the whole county (and since we are hunkered in our aforementioned cancer/covid cocoon, hosting a Fried Green Tomato Open House isn’t really an option).

So, Practical Man put the thousands of small, green tomatoes in a big box and proceeded to invoke some kind of plant-savant-wizardy where he turned them a bit red using a combination of bananas and newspaper.

Betcha never saw that wizard trick in a Disney movie, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, did you?

Every couple of days, a few handfuls get pulled out of the magic box to ripen the rest of the way on the windowsills we DO possess. Abracadabra, we have ripe tomatoes. Be careful what you wish for.

Even with my eat-my-weight-in-tomatoes practices and desert island affection for what Italians called Love Apples, we needed to do something with the abundance.

“No tomato left behind” is our motto!

Enter, Roasted Tomato Sauce (or if you’d prefer to sound more foodie: Roasted Tomato Confit).

First off, you should know that anything with “confit” in the title makes you sound a bit pretentious, unless “confit” is part of your lexicon of origin or you are trying to charge money for it.

On the other hand, “roasted” in the title is an automatic win. It takes bitter things and makes them sweet. It takes veggie things and makes them candy. And, it’s so easy, any fool can do it (i.e.: me). Here’s how:

  • cookie sheets/roasting pans
  • parchment paper to put on said pans
  • cut tomatoes in half in a bowl
  • add 6 cloves garlic for every 1kg of tomatoes (or 3 mutant cloves that PM grew in our garden)
  • add any desired spices (we advise against cumin–yuck!). We used oregano this time, but you could use basil or thyme or a combination.
  • salt, pepper, olive oil to coat
cooke sheet full of roasted red cherry tomatoes

Put in a 425F degree oven for around 40-45 minutes until bubbling and starting to caramelize.

Using an immersion blender, we carefully (HOT!) pulsed all the juices and yummy roasted tomatoes and roasted garlic into a goo that REALLY needs to come with me to my desert island.

mason jar with burnt orange goo inside (roasted tomato sauce)

We had it on pizza tonight. Homemade pizza dough (made with PM’s 8-9 year-old sourdough starter), homemade roasted tomato goo made with home-grown PM tomatoes and home-grown PM garlic, homemade sausage made with PM-made sausage.

Uh…YUM. Practical Man didn’t charge me money, but he should definitely get to use the word “confit”.

We froze the rest for pasta, soups, to smear on chicken or in my case, to just sit and lick off a spoon for self-soothing purposes, in case there’s another US election anytime soon.

We finished with two-bite brownies made with my world-famous recipe.

Three two-bite brownies on a colourful (red/blue/yellow) plate

On the weighty matter of chocolate versus tomatoes during a pandemic, an election with world-wide implications, and cancer in the house:

This desert island is allowed to break all the rules.

Christine Fader is the author of two published books and loves tomatoes and chocolate (not together though, ewwwwww). Find her at

Christine & Michael smiling together in front of a lake

“Boing!” said Zebbidy.

“Boing, boing!” said Florence.

I never saw The Magic Roundabout, but my long-ago English boyfriend used to quote from it, sometimes.

These two short lines from a cartoon I’ve never seen feel like an anthem for 2020. I don’t know about you, but I’ve felt a lot like life has been going “boing”, these past months from one scary, uncertain, or sucky scenario to another, at the mercy of a pandemic that shows no signs of releasing its hold on Canada/the world for at least another year.

I’ve been missing a lot of my usual tra-la-la, even though I am one of the lucky ones who is safe and loved at home. I have lots of toilet paper (my Practical Man already had Survivalist tendencies) and a large property to wander (were I inclined to go outside). I have a small, steady pension income and too much fresh bread (Practical Man has had a sourdough starter in use for 8+ years).

I am very lucky and I try to focus on that while I’m wandering around in my fetching combo of productivity paralysis and pajama pants.

We were fairly pandemically prepared (all credit: Practical Man) to begin with, so the transition to DEFCON-5 Safety State has perhaps not been as traumatic for us as it has been for others. Practical Man finished treatment for throat cancer 18 months ago and has chronic asthma, so we were already being extra cautious about germs. Covid-19 versus our household has merely meant dialing up the germ-a-phobia a further notch and sinking even deeper into our hermit-like habits (all credit: pajama pants). I got to sew masks like the obsessive project-person I am (without ever having to shop – haha take that, minimalists!), and he got to feel smug about his well-stocked cold cellar and thriving sourdough starter.

Even so, I’ve felt very much like Florence and Zebbidy.

“So fortunate” – BOING! 

“So nervous” – BOING, BOING!

“So comfortable” – BOING!

“So squirmy” – BOING, BOING!

I struggle with guilt amongst the BOING-ing because others are dealing with living in a big-city apartment, not seeing a tree for the three months of Spring. Or, “working at home”, not to mention home-schooling their kid(s) in French Immersion when they only took high-school French and their seven year-old gets mildly electrocuted while they’re on a conference call because multi-tasking is the great 21st century myth. Many are trying to make the impossible decision about school or don’t even get a decision because their family has no financial/parenting choices.

Still others deal with even more complicated situations. #BLM, #wildfires, #Brexit, #explosions #racism #refugeestatus #poverty, #foodinsecurity, #unemployment, #acutecovid, #chroniccovid, #frontlinework #cancertreatmentdelays #justtonameafew.

If, like me, you’re incredibly privileged overall, but you still need a new (and definitely ridiculous) way to express what it feels like to live in this year and you’re inclined to the quirky and geeky and several other of the seven dwarfs of High School Siberia like me, feel free to borrow the lines from that vintage, British cartoon.

“Boing!” said Zebbidy.

“Boing, boing!” said Florence.

I know it seems ridiculous. Hey, I’m just trying to match the unprecedented (do you hate that word as much as I hate it now?) situation over here.

You could try yelling, “Schlagzeuger!” (pronounced: Shlahg Tsoiger)

That means “drummer” in German, but I have been flinging it at other drivers under my breath for 35 years, because it’s both harmless and intensely satisfying, especially when you growl it with all the Arnold Schwarzenegger you can muster.

Now, Practical Man has lung cancer. The “very curable” throat cancer 1.5 years ago was cured. This is a shiny, new cancer.

How very 2020.

He went to urgent care for sharp chest pain. An x-ray showed a mass and so did the CT scan. Our region allows a 10-person social bubble, but from that day on, I haven’t felt like seeing anyone else but my Practical Man.

Take that, Covid!

Since June 8, it’s been an ever-more frenetic Zebbidy and Florence extravaganza of BOINGS.

Two biopsies through his chest wall plus considerable pain, internal bleeding and partial lung collapse. BOING!
Seizing summer on our little pontoon boat and in our pool, which we are so fortunate to have, while he is feeling okay. BOING, BOING!

Playing “find an open washroom during Covid, before you burst”, as I waited in the park during all his procedures and appointments (Covid rules). BOING!
Soaking up the waterfront breeze and and sunshine with physically-distant caring friends and family, as I waited. BOING, BOING!

Brain MRI, PET scan, bronchoscopy, and doctor’s appointments to hear results all by himself (Covid rules). BOING!
Physically-distant visits, outside, with small numbers of family and friends. BOING, BOING!

Upcoming surgery (hopefully, it happens before a next wave of Covid restricts hospitals again) to remove two tumours, lymph nodes, half his left lung, and a partridge in a pear tree, because that’s the “best chance for a cure.” What happened to “very curable”?? BOING!
Lung cancer would not have been found until much later and been inoperable, if it wasn’t for his chest injury. BOING, BOING!

We are sad and brave (him) and hormonally weepy and anti-social (me) and we look for the good news everywhere. So far, we have not been one of the incredibly heartbreaking people whose cancer treatment hasn’t even started, due to Covid.  But, I also need to paraphrase Dickens:

“it was the suckiest of times, it was the even suckier, suckiest of times”.

Do you agree?

That doesn’t mean we don’t see the blessings. It doesn’t mean we’re not grateful for the good stuff.  It doesn’t mean we don’t have hope for the future. But, whatever space you’re in and before your next Zoom call, I hope you’ll give yourself permission to wallow with me for a minute, an hour, or however long you can spare and need. Then, say it loud and in your best Arnold growl:




December first(ish) marks the start of my holiday season.   The lights go on, the mantel is decorated, the tree goes up.


Our fireplace mantel, decorated with greenery and vintage Christmas children's books.

In our house, we celebrate Christmas and New Year’s Eve at this time of year.  We are more spiritual than religious but we still have family gatherings and dates with friends, snow-filled New-Year’s Eves at a favourite place in the deep, deep woods, and stockings filled with chocolate that you’re allowed to eat for breakfast (it’s a rule).  Some years, we have a festive gathering in December, where we invite friends and family to join us at our wildly festooned house for snacks and visiting but this year, things are a bit different.

This year, we have an extra visitor and it’s the visitor no one wants.

Practical Man was diagnosed with cancer in September and started treatment in November.  He’s supposed to be finished the actual treatments on December 20 (Merry Christmas!) but the side effect symptoms likely continue to worsen for a few weeks after that.  His type of cancer has a good prognosis (everyone keeps telling us) so we’re hoping that this “blip” will be something we will simply remember years from now as “that time he had cancer”.

Say it enough and that will someday become a sentence that just rolls off the tongue, right?


Throat (oropharyngeal) cancer may be quite curable but the recovery from it seems especially cruel — the treatments wants to attack your speech, your skin, your swallowing, your saliva, your breathing, your nourishment and YOUR BEARD!  Food tastes terrible and he chokes quite frequently and he is more tired than I’ve ever seen him.  But, his treatment is manageable at the moment, if he rests.  What the final few weeks will bring, we don’t know.

It could be a lot worse.  We tell ourselves this with every new symptom and struggle. We are grateful that we can be together through this, without worry over money or time.  We are fortunate not to have to forgo food or housing to find the funds needed every day for parking or new creams or medicines that could help.  We are blessed to have supportive family and friends and to be enduring treatment with a likely positive outcome.

Lucky, lucky, lucky.

“You’re getting to the hard part now,” they said this week.

His “team” keeps close tabs on his symptoms and weight, prescribing jams and jellies with long names and lineups at the pharmacy.  When you’re using the over-burdened Canadian healthcare system and you have a TEAM that meets with you every week, you get the idea that it’s fairly serious business. He endures the mask of torture with each of his 35 treatments and never complains, even though I see the toll it takes on him to be pinned to a table under an extremely tight web of fibres across his face and throat.

Practical Man in the treatment mask

The Team warns constantly of the “cumulative effects of radiation” and what’s to come with worried eyes and check-ins that make my stomach drop out.  He made it through a rare arterial hemorrhage, surgery to fix it, and repeated hospital visits and stays in week #2 of treatment.

But, that was early days–the supposedly “easy” part of treatment.

“You’re doing really well,” they also said this week, their tone telling us not to get complacent.

Despite everything that has already happened, I constantly feel like we are waiting for something large and mysterious to come down the chimney–and it’s not Santa.

Christmas tree - daytime

When the treatment dates were revealed, it got me thinking about what our holiday season would look like this year.  We have no children of our own, so who would miss it, if we didn’t bother with the lights going on, the mantel being decorated, the tree going up?

Practical Man endures the holiday palooza for me.  He wouldn’t mind skipping it.  So, why do it?

Um…have you met me?  The one who loves little more than some seasonally-approved festooning?

Still, maybe we should just forgo the lot for this year, I thought.  Decorations are really superficial, after all.  He won’t feel well enough to attend many gatherings and we anticipate the height of pain and symptoms to be around Christmas Day.  We should just skip it.

But, but, but.

A thought caught my breath in my throat:  what if?

What if we were like my friend?  Her daughter took her last breath on Monday as her body rejected the lungs that were transplanted in her only last year.

My heart breaks.

What if we were like others we know of who endure radiation and chemotherapy and still face a terminal outcome?

More breaking.

What if?

Would I want this Christmas to be festooned and full of light?

Or dark and passed over, as not worth the effort?

I realize how fortunate we are to worry about something so seemingly trivial.  But, when I called it “silly”, Practical Man pointed out:

“If you turn off the lights before it’s time, you may never find a reason to turn them back on.”

And our decision to partake in the sparkle of the season is not to say everyone should do it this way.  But, I am a silly, festive-loving person and even if the holiday festooning is a bit much for him, Practical Man loves that about me.

And I love him.  So very much.

The lights are up and they get to stay on.  Which reminds me again:

Despite this very cancer Christmas, we are so very blessed.

Merry Christmas and Happy Festive Season to all who celebrate at this time of year.
Our wish for you this year is a most precious one:  good health for you and your loved ones.

Lit tree reflected again the window

Know someone who is thinking about becoming a doctor?  My new book, “Just What the Doctor Ordered:  The Insider’s Guide to Getting into Medical School in Canada” is now available.