Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Eggplant Mornay and The Small C Part I - Capturing a Teaching Moment

The Small C Part I - Capturing a Teaching Moment on an Emotional Day

I remember that day very well. It was around noon on a Monday in December 2011 and there was a zoo-like atmosphere in my office.  I had several students looking over their lab final exams while others in my lecture class were inquiring about their grades going into the finals.

As I recall this day, I particularly remember the face of my student in Organic Chemistry Lab who I knew was there to ask whether I had written the letter of recommendation he requested for medical school.   He was by the door ready to ask me that question when my cell phone rang. 
I picked up my phone before I could answer my student since I had an inkling it might be the one I was expecting.  Once I learned who it was, I already knew it meant one thing. The news that I dreaded was now a reality and I did not even wait for him to tell me what his call was for. 
First thing I said was, "It is positive, isn't it, Dr. Johnson". "It" refers to the results of the biopsy of the parotid mass on my right salivary glands he surgically removed more than 3 weeks ago.  I waited a long time for these results which usually take less than one week to get.  They had a  difficult time putting a handle on what exactly it was they were observing in the three lab tests they conducted thus the long wait.

During this phone call, I remember Dr. Jonas Johnson spelling out the name of the type of cancer which up to now I could not remember. However, in plain language it was the cancer of the sweat glands. He explained it was a very rare form of cancer (0.03% of all cancers) but luckily it was at its earliest stage.  He also said he had already contacted a good radiation oncologist, Dr. Gregory Kubicek, to zap it away. 

I remember asking him the question, "What did I do wrong". Being sort of a control freak, I wanted to have an idea what I did to cause this unwanted malignant mass. His answer surprised me in its directness and brevity, "You were just not lucky". 

After I finally told my student by the door, who heard everything at this point,  that I had already emailed his recommendation as he requested, I went to Room 208, where my CHEM 101 lecture course was held. Since I had time before my lecture, I called my radiation oncologist on my cell phone to make the appointment to see him.  I did this right there and then behind the long teacher's table in the midst of the noise of students babbling in the background. I just could not wait for a better time.

After the call I felt ready for what I perceived the battle of my life.  But first I still had to give the last lecture for the semester which ironically was on radiation. 

I remember delivering this introductory blurb to the class, "I always had second thoughts about teaching this chapter on radiation since that would mean less time for the other nine chapters. Now I do not regret my decision one bit to cover it". With tears in my eyes I continued, "I never thought that radiation will save my life. Today I just learned that I have cancer and I will be undergoing radiation therapy to remove it". 

Not only was I able to share my feelings to the most available persons at that time, my stupefied students, but I had also the opportunity to capture a teaching moment. What better time I instinctively thought then and even now to drive the point that chemistry was indeed relevant. That it was useful. That it was the central science that makes the world go round. After the emotional and I would admit a little bit too dramatic a speech of my life, I regained my composure and finished what I intended to teach that day. 

The next semester, I learned how frightened my students were during that emotional teaching moment. They were asking me when they saw me at the hallways how I was with such sincere and heartwarming concern in their eyes.  

I am grateful in a way that I was not at home by myself when I got the news from Dr. Johnson but had 80 persons, my students, to share it with.  I thank God for this gift and thanks to all my students that day for their understanding and compassion. 

Let me explain the main title of my essay, The Small C.  Upon hearing that my cancer was at its earliest stage, a friend started calling it the small c as opposed to the common term used for cancer, the big C.  This is Part I of a series of essays on my experience as a cancer survivor.  

These two pictures show my CHEM 101 students with whom I shared the news about my cancer.  These were taken during Halloween when they could come in costumes.

This recipe I have posted is in a way related to the foregoing essay. I took my daughter and her then boyfriend to Nardi's Restaurant (now closed) during the time I had my radiation therapy. I remember I had cravings for some of Nardi's enticing dishes. To my disappointment, the radiation affected my taste buds and everything I ordered either tasted like paper or the spices were too pronounced. Aside from this connection, you will see Nardi's direct influence on this recipe as you read the following.

Searching for the recipe for Eggplant Mornay

Eggplant Mornay is one of my favorite appetizers at Hoffstot’s Restaurant in Oakmont, Pa. I googled for its recipe but came empty handed. I decided instead to try my luck finding the ingredients for the Romano batter which was described in the menu as being used to prepare this appetizer. My search led me to the one described in the Veal Saltimbocca dish recipe provided by Nardi’s Restaurant (now closed) in Monroeville, Pa. Here is how I used this batter in my copy- cat version of Hoffstot's Eggplant Mornay.

Eggplant Mornay


  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese (I actually used Kraft Parmesan cheese)
  • 1 tbsp chopped dry parsley
  • pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large eggplant (either the regular or the slender Asian types can be used)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper,
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • olive oil and canola oil
  • hot sauce


To prepare the Romano (or Parmesan) batter: Whisk the eggs. Add the lemon juice, grated Romano (or Parmesan), parsley and pepper. Whisk together and set aside.

To prepare the eggplant: Cut the eggplant into round slices with 1/8- 1/4 inch thickness. (Do not cut greater than 1/4 inch thick). Combine flour with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Dredge the eggplant pieces in flour mixture and then dip them into the prepared Romano mixture.

Pour one round each of olive oil and canola oil into a skillet that was heated on medium high heat. Place the eggplant pieces in the blended oil and pan fry till one side turns golden brown. Flip and pan fry the other side. Place on paper towels to soak up excess oil. Pour more olive oil and canola oil for each batch of eggplant pieces.

Sprinkle with hot sauce before serving.

Taste was close to Hoffstot's. Even my husband said so.


1) I used the same batter and procedure to make shrimps and yellow pepper (see picture below). They were delicious. Hoffstot's actually serves the Eggplant Mornay with shrimps dredged in the same batter.

2) The picture at the very top of the post was made using the slender Asian eggplant while the eggplant used shown in the other pictures were the regular ones you find in the grocery store.

3) You can thin out the batter using a splash of wine as suggested in the original recipe by Nardi's Restaurant. 

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