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Careful Cooking

A Couple puts our dietitians' advice to work

Jane Myers and John Barton
Want to make a really good soup? We've posted the recipe for Wild Mushroom Soup.

You smell the homey comfort of soup bubbling on the stove as soon as Jane Myers opens the door. It's befitting. The home Myers has built with her husband, John Barton, is cozy, cramed with art and treasures collected during their travels abroad. The house itself is nestled in a leaf-strewn hill overlooking a pond.

It's the perfect setting for a good meal. And yet, eating hasn't been so easy here. Barton was diagnosed with small-cell lung cancer in early 2007. Within a month of beginning treatment, the extra pounds he'd struggled with throughout his life evaporated. He needed a feeding tube. Barton hated it; he felt confined by the tube. He is an avid fly-fisherman. And it was disappointing not to be able to eat the foods he'd always enjoyed.

"They tell you to love life," Barton said. "And I try to, but I also like a good porterhouse."

When Barton retired in 1999 from his job as a reporter for The Ann Arbor News, he started doing most of the household cooking. His shelves are lined with cookbook classics: James Beard and Julia Child sit alongside Martin Yan. And they aren't mere props. He cooked from these books, lamenting the limitations of the home kitchen.

"I love playing around with a wok," he says. "But you can't get it as hot as in the restaurants."

And then suddenly, because of the cancer, he didn't have the energy to cook anymore. After 10 months of doing well with a feeding tube, his doctor told him it might be time to remove the feeding tube. Barton was thrilled. But Myers was concerned.

"I loved the feeding tube," she says. "It was such a reassuring sound to hear the pump working. I would think, 'OK, he's getting filled with food,' but I didn't have the tube in my gut."

So the couple worked with Joan Daniels, a University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center dietitian, to develop a plan to make sure Barton gets the nutrition he needs to prevent weight loss and keep off the feeding tube. Barton's ability to eat was complicated by conditions that caused his stomach and intestinal tract not to function normally. In addition, he has trouble swallowing.

So the couple eats a lot of soft foods. Noodles are great -- in fact, today, Myers is cooking spaghetti to go along with that pot of mushroom soup on the stove. But on other nights, Myers picks up noodles from a local Chinese restaurant.

To make up extra calories, Barton drinks a special-order Carnation Instant Breakfast nutritional drink that contains 560 calories. Often, for breakfast, he'll have the nutritional drink along with some smoked salmon or Special K with whole milk.

"The homemade dishes taste good," Barton says. "I'm eating more healthy than I have in my whole life."

Wild Mushroom Soup

image of mushroom soup
Recipe reprinted from The Rancho La Puerta Cookbook. To increase calories, consider adding heavy cream in step 2.


    1/2 teaspoon olive oil

    1 medium onion, diced

    1 celery rib, diced

    1 pound white mushrooms, chopped

    1 medium all-purpose potato, cut into ½-inch cubes, or 1 baked russet potato, crumbled

    3 garlic cloves, chopped

    1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

    4 cups Basic Vegetable Stock

    Low-sodium soy sauce

    Freshly ground black pepper

    1/4 pound shiitake, chanterelle or oyster mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced

    2 scallions, thinly sliced

1. In a large saucepan or stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sauté the onion and celery for about 5 minutes, until the onion is golden. Add the mushrooms, potato, garlic and oregano and sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the stock and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the potato is tender.

2. Transfer to a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Return to the pot and heat through. Adjust the consistency with stock if necessary. Season to taste with soy sauce and pepper.

3. Spray a sauté pan with vegetable oil spray, and sauté the wild mushrooms over medium heat until the released juices reduce slightly. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls and garnish with the sautéed mushrooms and scallions. Makes 8 servings

Nutrition information (per serving)

114 calories, 1 g total fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 16 mg sodium.

Read the Winter, 2009 issue of Thrive.

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Thrive Issue: 
Winter, 2009