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for barbara

Recipe: cucumber shrimp rolls

My dearest Barbara,

We’ve never met. But we are friends. I checked Google Maps and they say you are a 13,804-mile trip from my house in Colorado. But you really aren’t so far from me.

Did you know that while my house sits at 8500 feet above sea-level and you live on the waterfront, I still look up to you?

In Google’s directions to your place, I have three segments of kayaking several thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean. And every stroke would be worth it.

spring clover in california

I want very badly to tell people that it is food which brought us together… yet the reality is that cancer is what brought us together. Still, cancer only introduced us. It is your strength of character, sense of humor, grace, kindness, and wisdom that I love. Even though you prefer the beach and I prefer the mountains, we share a strong desire to be outside no matter what chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery throw at us… because we choose to live life and not just to merely live.

cone flowers in seattle

Barbara, you possess a dignity that is hard to find in other people. It is one of the many things I treasure about you. Cancer has given me plenty to think about this past year. You verbalized something that I had yet to put into words when we first began writing to one another: you have to be the strong one. It is true. While cancer goes sneaking through our bodies, there are some others who can’t cope with our diagnoses. As we suffer infection after side-effect after infection after side-effect, we are the ones who must comfort them while stifling our own alarm at our bodies’ poisonings. That is so messed up. Your attitude resonates with my own: realistic, but optimistic and [I] make the most of every day. Words to live by, cancer or not.

dahlias in victoria

My dear friend, you are the strong one. While I have no patience for the idiocy that buzzes about us like a cloud of annoying moquitoes (*because* we have cancer), you tolerate the impositions and take the time to try and educate the people I have written off. Strong, indeed. You are my hero. Just remember that there are those of us who love you so very much and we are here for you. There are those of us who will gently take the tiller from your hand, offer you a flute of Good French Champagne, and invite you to sit back as we sail these rough seas to the other side of these treatments. You have Bryan and your boys, but you also have us. You are not alone in this. Never alone.

lily in california

Here is my virtual hug to you. I give Good Hugs. As I walk toward you, my arms are open wide and my smile makes my eyes squint. I wrap my arms around you gently, but firmly and squeeze you tight, pressing your back with my open palms and tilting my head against yours. I hold on for a few seconds and I might let a few tears go. There is energy and love that comes from my heart and is transferred to you through my hug.

sunset over colorado

Well sweetie, let’s see what I came up with in the kitchen for you. I thought about flavors and colors and things I could eat and still taste during chemo… Shall we invite the others?



This weekend is Barbara’s weekend. Barbara is the heart and soul of Winos and Foodies. She is also the host of the LiveSTRONG: a Taste of Yellow event. Barbara is one of the classiest people in the food blogging world and I am honored to call her my friend. She recently began more chemo – 6 months of it. When Bron and Ilva sent an email last week, asking if several of us would be interested in a virtual group hug for Barbara, there was no way I was going to pass that up.

let’s slice some english cucumber

…and creamy avocado

One of the more disappointing aspects of chemotherapy is the loss or alteration of taste – especially for a foodie. It’s bad enough when you physically cannot eat because your body rejects the food or it is too painful to eat. I remember that I couldn’t taste salt or sour for the first two weeks of each chemo round. Food was so dreadfully dull and sugar had no depth to it. So I really cherished my final week before the next infusion. Because the immune system is shot to hell during chemo, I had to keep away from fresh fruits and vegetables that couldn’t be peeled.

supreme the grapefruit

cutting out the segments

It is unclear what people think of when they hear the word “chemotherapy”. Hair loss is probably the main thing. What I didn’t know going into the process was how demoralizing it would become. The first round is crazy because your otherwise healthy body gets a shock from a laundry list of side-effects, secondary side-effects, tertiary side-effects. You would think that each subsequent round would be easier since you know what to expect, but in fact, it gets harder because the body keeps getting knocked back down right as it tries to get back up. Over and over again. The body weakens and no matter how determined you are, it chips away at you.

skewer the shrimp to keep it straight

neat tricks you learn watching sushi chefs

If I’m not mistaken, this is Barbara’s third dance with chemo. It makes my heart sink, because I’ve always wondered if I would do chemo again should my cancer come back – and here she is quietly going into round 3… I’ve learned so much from her and I’d like to give a little something back.

carefully roll up the goods


I chose these ingredients because this is what I craved during my treatments and it is apparently what Barbara seeks too: fresh and clean flavors. In the last few days before each infusion, I could enjoy salty and sour again. I am hoping Barbara might be able to do the same. The combination of sweet and sour, creamy, crunchy, juicy – is a delight. If the rolls are too troublesome, a simple plate of the ingredients makes for a refreshing salad (I wasn’t allowed to eat salad greens during chemo). If Barbara were here at my house, this would be one of many treats I’d whip up for her. Visit Bron’s post to see the other wonderful hugs being sent to Barbara.

Thank you, Bron and Ilva. Love to you, Barbara. xxoo

a colorful spread

light and refreshing bite

Cucumber Shrimp Rolls
[print recipe]

1 English cucumber
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
3 tbsps sugar
1 ripe avocado
1 pink grapefruit
1/2 lb. raw medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (leave tails if desired)
daikon sprouts (optional)
18 skewers

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar and rice wine vinegar and mix until sugar is dissolved. Set over high heat and boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Using a mandolin, knife, or potato peeler, slice long slivers of cucumber lengthwise (please be careful!). Place cucumber slivers in a bowl and pour the vinegar mixture over them. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Slice the avocado into segments as thick as a finger. Supreme the grapefruit: cut away outer peel and slice out the segments with a knife. If the segments are very fat, then you can slice them in half (like a filet). Skewer each shrimp so that the body is straight. Cook the shrimp in boiling water for two to three minutes or until cooked through. Drain and rinse in cold water. To release the shrimp, don’t pull the skewer, but twist it until it comes out free.

Take one strip of cucumber and lay flat on a work surface. Place at one end a piece of avocado, grapefruit, shrimp, and daikon sprouts if using. Carefully roll them up in a bundle. Serve.

39 nibbles at “for barbara”

  1. barbara says:

    Jen you take my breath away with your wonderful writing. So beautiful, so understanding, so uplifting. I sold my kayak before we left New Zealand but I’d happily buy a new one and meet you half way…. and bring the champagne. Your cucumber shrimp rolls look wonderful and I know I would love them. I wish you were here to make them. Thank you for your understanding words, your beautiful photos, your fabulous food, your virtual hug and our very special friendship I hold dear to my heart. Love to you xxoo b

  2. Fiona says:

    What a lovely recipe – on its own and as a gift for your friend.

  3. Bron says:

    What a stunning “hug” – thank you so much Jen! You are a true delight, an amazing and strong friend and I…am lost for words – so let me just throw a great pile of hugs your way too, and a special one for that gorgeous black lab of yours! Thank you!

  4. Kevin says:

    That combo sounds really nice!

  5. A Hug in a Cocktail Glass says:

    […] Jen @ Use Real Butter […]

  6. Christina says:

    Beautiful post =)

  7. Aran says:

    What a wonderful, warm and touching post Jen. We all send our best to Barbara.

  8. dawn says:

    that was so very kind of you….

  9. Grey Street Girl says:

    Beautiful. Virtual hugs to you both. Every time I visit this site, I’m a little more inspired to live life to its fullest.

  10. Rosa says:

    Such a beautiful post! Very touching…



  11. says:

    Great presentation combined with stellar food photography. Keep up the good work!

  12. cindy says:

    lovely sentiments jen.

  13. Margie says:

    Such a beautiful tribute, graced with all that is love, written from your heart and delivered from your soul.

    I’d be honored to bake for both Barbara AND I’d be thrilled to bake for you too, Jen. Each year, for the past two years, I’ve baked for my friend, Terri.

    Friends, we are nothing without them and I salute your friendship and will continue to keep you AND Barbara in my thoughts.

    Jen, this is such a wonderful gift of hearts shared through trial, effort and love. You women are amazing!

  14. cookiecrumb says:

    Hugs to all. Especially Barbara, because this is her weekend.
    But special hugs to you, Jen. Nice job.

  15. Fin says:

    I cannot add anything to the quiet dignity of this post. One of the more striking angles of existence centers around the depth of friendships, and the bonds that can grow between people who have never met.

    A peaceful tribute to you both.

  16. Nate says:


    a virtual rose for you both.

  17. ilva says:

    Beautiful post, thanks for participating!

  18. Mrs Ergül says:

    Jen, this is a beautifully written message to a dear friend. Through your writing, I amongst many learnt about cancer in a way we haven’t. The way it destructs one’s physical is so awful and I can only wish no one in the world will have to go through that. However, to the strong souls like yours and Barbara’s, you’re not defeated. Never will. I wish you free from any pain and never to be visited again by that irksome cancer.

    You take care, will ya? xxoo

    *Thos are freaking great rolls you made!

  19. Sandie Lee says:

    A dear friend of mine sent me a link to your post. She is a food photographer, and I am living with cancer. I just couldn’t leave your blog without saying … this is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time!

  20. sweetbird says:

    It goes without saying that you are a dear friend to be had for sure.

    On a more food oriented note, do you happen to know how long these can rest before losing their cosmetic appeal. I’d like to make them for an anniversary dinner I’m making for my in-laws but it would require making them before hand. Thank you!

  21. jenny says:

    Beautiful. Lost for words.

  22. Asianmommy says:

    Your pictures are amazing–just beautiful!

  23. Manggy says:

    Part of me thinks I daren’t comment on anything about the letter– it’s just so powerful and personal that anything I add might take from it. But I do know that it must have been really hard for you to write– sending Barbara my virtual hug too (and a little extra for you :).
    I love that the flowers come from different places, almost as though they’re competing in beauty. But the cucumber roll might actually take the prize– I love that you can artfully arrange the components.

  24. Astrid says:

    This post is one of your best. You manage to communicate so much affection and emotion, even tactile sensations, without ever stepping into the overly-sentimental writing that can be difficult to read, no matter how heartfelt. Your writing is as fresh and clean as your (fabulous) rolls.
    I have learnt something too. I will make every effort not to burden friends in trouble with having to comfort me. I can see how that might happen and it seems like a particularly cruel chore for the sick person.
    Please allow me to contribute my hug to Barbara as well. She must be one amazing person.

  25. Lisa says:

    Beautiful…beautiful photos, words, tribute, recipe. There is a verse in the Bible that says we are to comfort others with the comfort that we have received. You have drawn from your own experiences with cancer to comfort and encourage Barbara in such a wonderful way. She must be very dear for all you amazing bloggers to be reaching out to her in this way. I send prayers and loving thoughts for both you and Barbara.

  26. Bellini Valli says:

    Jen this has absolutely brought tears to my eyes. Barbara is very lucky to be able to call you a friend who has so much understanding and compassion for what you are both going through.

  27. Ivonne says:


    You are a flower. Beautiful.

  28. Paz says:

    Beautiful post for Barbara!


  29. Stacey Snacks says:

    Just discovered your lovely blog and I am enjoying the posts.
    Nice recipes, great photos and warm and loving thoughts for friends in need.
    Stacey Snacks

  30. Patricia Scarpin says:

    What a wonderful creation for Barbara, Jen. Colorful, fresh, beautiful and delicious. She deserves all our love and I know she will be 100% better in no time.

  31. jenyu says:

    Barbara – I wish I were there too. Sending you lots of healing thoughts. Love you, sweetie.

    Fiona – :) thanks.

    Bron – ahhh, thanks for the hug! Puppy sends you many happy wags. Thanks again for coordinating the virtual group hug, you are and Ilva are wonderful.

    Kevin – I highly recommend it.

    Christina – thank you.

    Aran – thanks, I hope all of the hugs make her feel better.

    dawn – :)

    GSG – thanks for the hug, hon. And yes! Live it, baby!

    Rosa – thank you.

    foodphotoblog – glad you like it!

    cindy – thanks.

    Margie – thanks for the kind words.

    cookiecrumb – you’re so sweet.

    Fin – thank you.

    Nate – beautiful! thanks, hon.

    Ilva – thank you for coordinating!!

    Mrs. E – you’re always so sweet. Thanks for the kind words and I hope you’re taking care of yourself too. xxoo

    Sandie Lee – I sincerely hope you are getting better. Thank you for commenting.

    sweetbird – I think you can make these and cover with plastic wrap for a few hours before the avocado begins to brown. So nice of you to make for the anniversary dinner. Just be warned, they don’t stay standing for too long :)

    jenny – :)

    Asianmommy – thank you!

    Manggy – thanks for the extra hug, sweetheart! hugs to you too.

    Astrid – Barbara is indeed amazing and resilient and wonderful. Thank you for your sweet comment.

    Lisa – thank you.

    Bellini – thanks. I consider my self to be the lucky one to call her my friend :)

    Ivonne – *blush*

    Paz – thank you!

    Stacey Snacks – thanks and I’m glad you dropped by!

    Patricia – thanks, hon. Let’s hope for the very best for our beloved Barbara.

  32. Tartelette says:

    Well, I cried. I am a softie, yes, but “merde” that was beautiful Jen. I find myself here without words (who would have thunketh? ugh?!!) but you know how I feel about all this: you are both my heroes. ‘Nuf said.

  33. peabody says:

    Fabulous hug to Barb. And beautiful shrimp rolls!

  34. Chez US says:

    Jen, incredible post, wiping the tears from my eyes … very touching and honest!!! You, too, are incredible!

    Fantastic shrimp rolls as well … so fresh looking!

  35. Manisha says:

    It’s true. You give very good hugs.

    Love and strength to you, Barbara.

  36. Kathleen says:

    This was the very first post I read of yours…..

    it certainly won’t be the last.

    Both of my parents are cancer survivors. My mother/breasts, my father a lymphoma that required a stem cell transplant.

    I sent them this.

    I don’t think I have ever been more moved in the world of blogs.

    You give back more than a “lil something”.

    One love. One Peace. Always and all ways~

  37. Kathleen says:


    it goes without saying, but I’ll say it…

    Sending prayers of healing and strength to Barbara.

  38. jenyu says:

    Tartelette – big hug to you, my dear. xxoo

    Peabody – thanks, sweetie.

    Chez Us – thanks.

    Manisha – awww, you’re very sweet.

    Kathleen – thank you and I hope your parents remain healthy.

  39. Savvy Housekeeping » What To Do With Cucumbers says:

    […] unappetizing to me, like someone took some pate and spooned it on a cucumber wheel. However, these Cucumber Shrimp Rolls are […]

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