How amazing has this recent sunshine and warmth been! Just what we have all needed, and even more so for my patients, who have struggled to pull themselves and their bodies through the dark and cold winter. 

Jane's potato salad

When the sun shines, everything brightens and the colours of produce seem more vivid, from ruby red tomatoes to deep green salad leaves and the pink and enticing early rhubarb. Simply taking a walk to the greengrocer or a market to see the piles of fruit and veg can be a real lift to the appetite. I like to think of it as a fresh and healthy pick'n'mix - select just a few strawberries, a handful of Jersey Royal potatoes, a tiny gem lettuce, and a couple of stalks of rhubarb, or whatever fresh and seasonal food tempts you at the moment. If you end up nibbling some of it as you wander home, all the better; an impromptu picnic of healthy snacks is a great way to add a little extra nourishment (both practical and emotional) to your day.

I've just come back from a whistlestop visit to the incredibly inspiring Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, where we met with founder Darina Allen, the matriarch of Irish cooking. It was the perfect time to see the early lettuces in the stunning vegetable gardens and to enjoy a salad of asparagus with a delicious drizzle of hollandaise sauce. I think the trick with asparagus is to steam the stalks for just a few minutes to ensure they don't turn all floppy and soggy, as they lose their vibrancy so quickly. In fact, this weekend I simply shaved raw asparagus into wafer thin slices with a potato peeler, then added shaved fennel, ripe avocado, and lemon zest. It needed only olive oil and seasoning to make this into a delicious salad. I served it with cold roast chicken but it would have tasted wonderful with just a boiled egg sliced on top to make an easy meal packed with protein, vitamins and minerals.

While I think there's nothing wrong with shop-bought salad dressings, I do love making my own with just olive oil and lemon juice or vinegar, adding lemon zest or fresh herbs such as mint, basil or dill to make a salad zing. Homemade mayonnaise, made with the orange-yolked eggs from my happy hens, is another favourite. The ceremony of making mayonnaise is very soothing, and it's ideal if you're trying to boost your calorie intake during your cancer treatment. Mayonnaise makes the most delicious accompaniment to steamed new potatoes - a dish of these with a small bowl of homemade mayo to dip them into is a memory I associate with childhood and the first sunny, warm days of spring.

If your immunity might be low during treatment, your hospital team may advise you to avoid certain foods such as homemade mayonnaise, raw seafood, and unpasteurised milk and cheeses. Your doctor or nurse will be able to tell you more about foods you should avoid and any other precautions you should take. 

New potato salad

I love this made with Jersey Royal potatoes, but waxy Charlottes or Pink Fir Apple are also great, as they hold their shape better than floury varieties.

Serves 4

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

750g waxy new potatoes

4 spring onions, finely chopped

handful of chives

For the mayonnaise

2 eggs yolks

300ml olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon grain or Dijon mustard

freshly ground black pepper

sea salt

Method

  • Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Drop in the potatoes and boil for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain the potatoes and leave to cool slightly.
  • Meanwhile, make the mayonnaise. Put two egg yolks in a bowl, or the small bowl attachment of a food processor. Add the white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, and a generous amount of black pepper. Whisk the ingredients briefly, then slowly trickle in 300ml olive oil, whisking or whizzing in the food processor until the mayonnaise is smooth and thick. Scrape the mayonnaise into a bowl and season with a little sea salt to taste.
  • When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into thick slices and transfer to a bowl.
  • Add the spring onions and six tablespoons of mayonnaise. Stir the ingredients together and serve with a sprinkling of snipped fresh chives.

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