Chronic illness from behind the door.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath. I’m taking you on a journey through chronic illness. With me? Good.

Imagine you’re in prison. You didn’t do anything wrong, at least not that you know of, and you don’t know why you’re there. All appeals have come to naught, and you have been told to accept that you will be in prison indefinitely, perhaps forever. Accept it or not, this is where you are.

Now imagine your cell. You are alone. The ceiling is not high enough for you to stand up, and the room is not wide enough for you to lie down. The top is covered in spikes, the walls are made of broken glass and grit, and the floor is jagged and lumpy. The door is cast iron, and has only a small iron grating at the top, which you cannot reach without scraping yourself against the sides. There are sounds, constant high-pitched white noise and crackles that invade your brain and stop you from forming or following your thoughts. You’re bombarded with smells so intense you want to vomit. The lights above your head are blinding bright, and they flicker and hum. Your prison issue clothes are impossible to remove; a tight band around your chest, throat, waist and temples, and nothing else. There is a tiny frosted window, also woefully out of your grasp, through which, if you were able to crane your neck to see, you would be able to spot your old life; the one you shared with friends and family, your hard-earned career, your savings, your sex life, everything. You can’t reach out of it, and nothing reaches in.

You try to sleep. At times, it’s all you can do to stay awake, you try to fight, but you are weighed down with stones and wet blankets. So you sleep, and when you wake, you feel worse. You curl up in a ball and you sleep again, but it doesn’t help. Sometimes it feels like the more you sleep, the more pain you are in, but at least it passes the time. And then you cannot sleep. No matter how hard you try. You beg for the sweet release of 20 minutes REM, and you are denied, over and over. You’re ready to break.

Sometimes a warden brings you food. Sometimes he throws a bucket of tepid water through the grating at you, and sometimes you get a fresh rag poked under the door to wipe yourself with. You never know when or how often these things will happen. Sometimes you go days, even weeks without any help.

Every now and then, you get lucky. The walls retreat a few inches, and you are able to stretch out. The ceiling rises, and you stand for a moment. The floor becomes smooth, even cushioned, or the warden throws you a pillow. The sensory bombardment softens. A good friend passes you a cup of warm tea through the grating and smiles at you. You feel almost at peace for a spell. And then, as unexpectedly as it came, it goes again. You’ve been here for months, years maybe, perhaps a decade or two. You start to forget who you are, where you are, what you are, how you’ve survived so long in this hell.

And then without warning or fanfare, shock of all shocks, someone opens the door. You weep with joy, you shout, you wave your hands in the air, and then you run for your life. You shoot out of your cell so fast that the door is left swinging on it’s hinges. You sprint, full pelt, for your old life. You hug your loved ones, you laugh, you sing, you try to make a little scratch, you start clawing back everything you lost while you were locked away. You rejoice.

But some time passes, maybe a month, maybe a week, maybe an hour, and you realise that you aren’t quite free. You look down, and you notice there’s a bungee cord wrapped around your leg, and you don’t know how much tension is left in it. The further you run away, the tighter the cord gets. You carry on for as long as you can, but eventually, it snaps with a great boom, and drags you, kicking and screaming back to your cell. And everything is as bad as it was before, maybe even worse. The thump of your body as you reel back against the sharp walls and hard floor hurts so much that you feel like you might just stop breathing.  You’re inside again. You think about what you’ll do the next time the door opens, whenever that might be. You wait, you tolerate the pain, you try to pass the time.

But you don’t know if the door will ever open again. You hope it does, but even if it does, in the back of your mind, you wonder if perhaps it wouldn’t just be safer to stay in the cell next time, or just wander a few feet from the door, so that the snap back doesn’t hurt so much. You can’t help but wish that one day the door will open, and the cord will be infinitely long. Do you dare to dream of putting this all behind you?

You’re trapped. You didn’t deserve this, it isn’t fair. And as if it couldn’t get any harder, the warden and his friends stand outside the door, day and night, telling you that you’re a liar; the door isn’t really locked, that you could leave anytime you want. People you know stand at the window and ask you why you stay, and then turn to their cronies and say “Surely it can’t be that bad in there?” You scream at them that they don’t understand, but they don’t hear you. You rattle at the door handle, and nothing happens. You know the truth.

(I was going to write a paragraph or two explaining this post, but I don’t think it needs it. And I don’t want to. I shouldn’t have to qualify or excuse my experiences. Read it, understand it or not, that’s your call. But stop standing at the fucking door trying to figure out why I’m stuck.)

Recipe: Classic Cookies with White Chocolate and Macadamia

I usually wouldn’t bother posting a recipe you could find in 6 million other places on the internet, but this recipe is almost foolproof, and you can substitute the chocolate and nuts for just about any other nut or yummy thing you wanna chuck in. I’ve adapted it for UK cooks, and it’s easily doubled for a bumper sized batch. Enjoy!

White Chocolate and Macadamia Cookies
(makes 15-24)

150g SR Flour
1/2 Tsp Baking Powder
1 large egg
Pinch of Salt
85g Butter
85g Golden caster sugar
45g Light brown soft sugar
1/2 Tsp Vanilla essense
100g White chocolate chips
100g Macadamia nuts (roughly chopped)

Preheat your oven to 180C (350F).

In one bowl, sift your flour, baking powder and salt together. In a second bowl, cream your butter, both sugars and vanilla essense together thoroughly until smooth. Then beat in your egg, again until the batter is smooth. Next, gradually add your dry flour mix, beating well as you go.

You can use chocolate chips, or just grab a regular bar of chocolate and chop it up. Also, a cheat’s way of chopping nuts is to pop them in a sandwich bag and wallop them with a rolling pin. It’s easy, low mess, and give you lovely rough chunks of nut in your cookies. However you prepare your additional yummies, add them to the batter now and give it a good stir with a big spoon.

Now, spoon out your dough onto a sheet of clingfilm, wrap it up tight, and pop it in the fridge for a good 15 minutes. Wander off, have a cuppa. Then line a baking sheet with greaseproof paper, and between your hands, roll chunks of dough into balls and space them a good 2″ apart (these babies really spread!). I like to make them about ping-pong ball sized, but there’s a wide margin of error either way – it just depends how big you like your cookies!

Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 8-10 minutes, until the outside of the cookies are just starting to brown (the middle should still be soft). If you like your cookies crunchy all the way through, pop them onto a wire tray to cool for a good 30 minutes before storing them, but if you like them soft and chewy, cool them for 2-3 minutes only, and then put them into an airtight container lined with a piece of paper towel.

NB: I have done a few variations on this recipe; dark chocolate and hazelnut works very well (especially if you replace about 25g of the flour with cocoa powder), as does rolled oats and walnut, though I would advise using only 40-50g of rolled oats, as too much will dry out the cookie dough.

Recipe: Ovaltine cupcakes

Welcome to 2012! The year end was lovely, and every day since is matching up well too, so I’m happy. I have some wonderful friends who I intend to keep, and I cooked these for the party and they were universally enjoyed, so I hope you like them too!

This recipe is very simple, and incredibly yummy. They really do taste like Ovaltine! In a perfect world, I’d have called them Ovalteenies, but something of that name already exists, alas. They are gorgeous on their own, but in case you’re a frosting addict, I’ve included some links to frosting recipes below that would compliment them well.

Ovaltine cupcakes; naked as nature intended

Ovaltine Cupcakes

Ingredients:

175g Self-raising flour
175g Castor sugar
1/2 tsp Baking powder
Pinch of salt
125g Butter or margerine
2 Medium eggs
180ml Milk
1 tsp Vanilla essence
125g Ovaltine

Method:

Preheat your oven to 190C (375F). Soften your butter or substitute in the microwave or in a small pan until just melted (it’s a good idea to do this first as you want to give it a couple of minutes to cool – if you add hot butter to your batter, the eggs will curdle).

Measure out the milk into a jug and add the Ovaltine and vanilla essence, mixing it well with a fork or a whisk until the powder is completely dissolved. Then mix your flour, salt, baking powder and sugar together, and sift them into a large bowl. Add your eggs, butter, and the Ovaltine/milk/vanilla mixture. Beat well and fast for a couple of minutes. If the mixture appears to curdle, add a little flour and mix well until it’s the consistency of pancake batter.

Line two cupcake trays with paper cases, and fill with the mixture, taking care not to overfill them. Bake on the top shelf of your oven for 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire tray, and frost at your leisure. Peanut butter or butterscotch frosting go great with these cakes, or just munch them as is!

From my lips to the world’s ears.

Check the awesome porn 'stache.

Today is my father’s 70th birthday. His name is Edward, but we call him “Ted”. He looks pretty good for 70, doesn’t he? Well, that’s because he died in 1989 from cancer.

I wonder what my father would have been like as an old man. He’d have loved the technological revolution; we could have called him a silver surfer and I doubt he would have minded. My son would have been the centre of his world and would’ve been spoiled rotten. He would have been dry and witty and silly and he would’ve given all of my suitors a serious run for their money. It’s no secret that the last 24 years would have been significantly different if my father had not passed away. I would probably still be living in Australia. I probably would not have had my wonderful son, or certainly not at the age I did. I can’t picture it. My father was taken away so early in my life that had he lived, I’m not sure I would be recognisable as the person I am today, in both bad and good ways. I know for certain I would have been a better person for not having seen him suffer for so many years.

But I can’t change the past, and maybe my life would have been different, but hey, things aren’t so bad. Well – they are, but I’m still here, and I’m still in the game. But that doesn’t stop me feeling crippled and hopeless at the loss, especially when I have spent the days leading up to my father’s birthday, watching a dear sweet friend waste away from the same disease that took him from me.

Never without a smile.

This is my friend, Joan Swift.

She’s 33, married to the love of her life, and has been fighting against various cancers for a number of years now. Cancer has torn it’s way through many members of her family to get to her. This is a woman who is completely, universally loved. She lightens the life of anyone who meets her – she is kind, loyal, smart, honest and beautiful, inside and out. The world is a better place for having her in it. But she’s losing her fight. As I type this, she is more or less comatose in a hospice after having picked up pneumonia a few days ago. Anyone with experience of terminal cancer knows that pneumonia is a death knell; there’s almost no chance of coming back from it. The outpouring of support for her has been overwhelming. Through the power of the internet, over £3000 has been raised in 3 days to donate to the hospice she’s in – a hospice that she herself volunteered at after her diagnosis. Her friends and family have rallied around her, to such an extent that people have had to visit in shifts to avoid overcrowding. There are no words to describe how much she’ll be missed. I don’t want to consider a world without her.

It isn’t fair and it isn’t right.

Cancers like this come for the best of us, and the worst of us. Cancer is the great equaliser. No one is safe from it. And though survival rates have increased somewhat in the last 50 years, in many cases all the medical community can do is slow down the progression of the disease, and even then, the deceleration process is painful and debilitating. Cancer knows no forgivenness, no reason, no justice. Often, the best hope we have is that the journey through it isn’t so traumatic as to ruin what remains of the sufferer’s life. So, if you do one thing today, consider donating whatever you can spare to Willow Wood Hospice, Macmillan Nurses, or any cancer support charity of your choice. No matter how much goes into research, sometimes all we can do is make life easier and more comfortable for those already too far down the road. We’ve all lost someone to cancer. Ted, Joan and countless others may have lost the battle, but we can still fight along side them. We can carry their weapons. We can be their armour.

Fuck cancer. Fuck it in the face.

Epilogue: Joannie passed away in the early hours of the 11th of December 2011, with her father, and her wonderful husband, Mat, by her side. Beloved daugher, sister, wife and friend; there is a hole in our hearts that will never mend.

Recipe: Cinnamon Buttermilk Loaf

As an English person and a denizen of the internet, I spend a great deal of my baking time wrestling with American recipes. The weights are kooky, there are wierd ingredients you can’t always get over here, and things that are called one thing are sometimes something else entirely. This recipe came from a friend of a friend via a system of Chinese whispers, and I’ve wrangled with it to the point where I think it’s simple for non-USians. Enjoy!

Cinnamon Buttermilk Loaf

250g Plain flour
1 teaspoon of Bicarbonate of soda
60ml Vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon of Salt
240ml Semi-skimmed milk
1 tablespoon of White vinegar or lemon juice
250g Granulated sugar
1 Egg
1 teaspoon of Ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons of Walnuts or pecans, finely chopped

First, preheat your oven to 180C (350F or gas mark 5) and grease an 8″ by 4″ loaf tin with butter.

Now, add the white vinegar or lemon juice to the milk, give it a little stir and set it aside for at least 5 minutes. In the original recipe, you would just use 250ml of buttermilk, but it’s not always easy to find and it’s never cheap here in the UK, so this is a perfect alternative.

Sift the flour, bicarb and salt into a bowl. In another bowl, mix 175g of the sugar with the oil. Add your milk/vinegar buttermilk substitute, and your egg, and mix it together thoroughly. Then, add the dry mixture a third at a time, and mix until wet and lump-free.

In a small bowl, combine the rest of the sugar and the cinnamon. Pour half the batter into the loaf tin, and the evenly cover it with half the cinnamon sugar mixture. Then pour over the rest of the batter, and then the rest of the cinnamon sugar. Lightly swirl the batter with a knife or a small spatula. Sprinkle with the chopped nuts. (NB: You can also put some extra chopped nuts between the layers of batter, if you like things extra nutty).

Pop it in the oven for about 40 minutes, or until a cake skewer poked into the middle comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes in the tin then turn out onto a wire rack. Eat as it is, or spread with butter. Perfect with a cuppa for afternoon tea!

Recipe: Apple and Kiwi Crumble

I am going to stop talking about NaNoWriMo. I stopped writing a couple of days ago, and I really can’t find it in myself to start again. Don’t judge me; it was probably the right decision to make. Anyway, here’s the dessert I made tonight. It is yumtastic!

Apple and Kiwi Crumble

For the filling:
1 large Bramley apple
2 Kiwi fruit
Pinch of nutmeg, pinch of cinnamon
Generous dribble of Calvados, or similar apple brandy
2oz white granulated sugar

For the crumble:
75g cold butter
50g demerara sugar
100g plain flour
50g rolled oats
20g sweetened coconut

First, preheat your oven to 180C (350F or gas mark 5).

Now, peel, core and slice your apple thinly, and lay half the slices in the bottom of a pie-dish or casserole. Sprinkle on about a third of the sugar. Then peel and thinly slice your kiwi fruit, layering the slices on top of the sugared apple. Sprinkle another third of the sugar on top of the kiwi. Then place the remainder of your apple slices on the top, sprinkle with the last of the white sugar. Douse the fruit with your liberal splash of brandy, dust with the cinnamon and nutmeg and set aside.

Now for the crumble topping. Take the butter out of the fridge and immediately cut it into small cubes. Place it in a large bowl with the sugar, flour, oats and coconut and rub them together with your fingers until they look like breadcrumbs. The butter will heat up as you rub it, so break up any large lumps of mixture you find. If it seems particularly wet, you can add a little extra flour, or pop it in the fridge for 10 minutes before putting it in the oven.

The last thing to do is put a thick layer of the crumble mix on top of the fruit, making sure to go right up to the edges and also that all the fruit is completely covered. Pop it in the oven for 40-45 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the topping starts to brown and the fruit starts bubbling around the sides of the dish.

Feeds 4-6, serve with thick or whipped cream, vanilla ice-cream or custard, or just on it’s own. Perfect winter warmer, and dead simple!

And here’s what it looked like seconds before it went in mah belleh:

Something else

NaNoWriMo is usually the kiss of death for blogs of mine. I more or less killed my LiveJournal with my 2005 attempt, though that was also around the time of a major relationship collapse, so there’s something in that too. I destroyed my super-sekrit ME/CFS blog with last years outing, because after I won, I could think about nothing other than having won for about a month, and having gone away that long, it was hard to come back with anything other than “Hey, I’m back! So, uh… how’ve you been?”

I am determined, nay single-minded even, that this blog will survive the curse of sprinting a novel out in 30 days. So, I’m gonna talk about something else for a while.

Tonight, I made cookies. Coconut oatmeal cookies. Oh My Lord, they are fine cookies. They look disasterous, which is one of the reasons why I’m not accompanying this post with a picture, but lemme tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, they are like an orgasm in my mouth, and everyone’s invited. And not just because I’m more’n a little stoned right now.

I didn’t do much else with my day. Talked to my mother, waffled on twitter, watched some telly with the brat. It was a good day though, good enough for now. Tomorrow might be even better; I have a coupon for cheap food at Starbucks, and I have every intention of toddling over there, laptop in hand, eating my discount dinner, supping a big ol’ latte, and fiddling around with last year’s novel to see if something worthwhile can be salvaged from it.

Oh dear. I’m back on NaNo again, aren’t I?

Alas. Maybe I am single-minded. For the wrong thing though. Ah well. To bed, to season four of Buffy, to sleep. I hope.