The Joy of Cooking

In Year 7 home economics I placed a golf ball in the microwave.

The crackle that pre-empt the catastrophic boom was amazing. My anticipation and delight could not be dampened. Followed by the screams and whoop whoops by my friends that echoed in the Masterchef kitchen set up.

Yes, it was unlikely that I was ever going to appreciate the joy of cooking.

I was thrown out of the class and sat in detention for the remainder of that term, every Thursday morning for 50 minutes. In my mind, the perfect outcome.

When I was at uni, I lived on my mum’s single serve home cooked meals with instructions labelled.

Add rice. Good with salad.

Every weekend was a homemade pick up or delivery. I wasn’t going to starve. And my house mates took pity on me, ‘how did I not know how to cook spaghetti sauce?’

Monkey Diet

On a Thursday morning, after $1 drinks the night before at the local pub, it was a large McFeast meal from Macca’s. I remember how soothing all the salt, grease and sugar felt on my red raw gut as we tried to reconstruct the shenanigans from the night before.

By the time uni was done, I had even less of an idea on how to cook. And I really didn’t care. I headed overseas and worked at summer camp and was introduced to the delights of American camp fare.

Breakfast sausages, pepperoni pizza, sloppy joes, chilli con carne. And it all came out of industrial sized cans. It was brilliant! I didn’t have to go near a kitchen and I just had to keep my elbows off the table!

From camp to Colorado, I don’t quite remember how I kept myself sustained. But I quickly found a boyfriend to take care of that in exchange for doing the dishes. It was a fair trade, but I often wondered why on earth someone would need to use so many bloody utensils?

For me food was a necessary process, a social ritual. I loved eating out, there was no clean up and no time wasted walking up and down grocery aisles. I often followed my boyfriend wondering what he was seeing that I simply couldn’t.

At high altitude, the taste of fruit and vegies barely resembled what I remembered food should taste like. The sweetness of a tomato, the tartness of a granny smith apple. They were distant memories.

It was during my trips home every 18 months that something finally twigged.

Why didn’t tomatoes taste like this at 9,100 feet?

And it dawned upon me…I hadn’t experienced the joy of licking mango juice dripping off my fingers and down my hands in a very, very long time. It just wasn’t the same in the mile-high state.

After 8 years abroad, my return home confirmed what you have already worked out. I had no idea what to do in a kitchen. In fact, I argued with my mum why I needed a full size fridge at all!

Grocery shopping was a quandary. What exactly should go in this basket? I had no interest in where food came from, but I knew where it would end, so I figured I would keep it simple.

A loaf of bread, cereal, milk, orange and mango juice, sliced ham, chicken, broccoli, apples, bananas….no bloody vegemite!

My mum’s single serve home cooked meals showed up again.

Add rice. Good with salad.

And my penchant for tuna sandwiches with Red Rock sweet chilli chips and a coke were a lunchtime staple. I was set.

But for some reason my curiosity was awakened and my mum took quick advantage of the opening, slipping in a little Women’s Weekly cooking mag along with the week’s single serve meals.

And I thought, ‘it can’t be that hard’. So I started to put familiar ingredients together and much to my surprise my plates started to resemble a meal.

In fact, I was feeling so confident with my signature dish – grilled lemon pepper chicken, with a green salad – that I invited a girlfriend over for dinner. Quick, easy and tasty…impossible to screw up.

So I prepped, I cooked and I dished out – making sure the feta and the olives sat neatly at the top of the salad pile and served it on my coffee/dining table. Space was at a premium, I lived in 55 square metres.

I could smell the chicken, it was cooked to perfection. The lemon pepper was generously coating the chicken strips. I was rather impressed and so was my girlfriend giving me high-fives. Until she started choking, and gasping, and turning red, reaching out for a glass – of water, of wine, a beer – anything that could hose down the lemon pepper fire that had exploded in her throat!

I guess my sense of taste and smell was duller than I realised. And then I started to laugh…hard, really hard. And once my girlfriend stopped choking and was no longer red in the face she started to laugh; harder than we had in a long time until the tears ran down our face.

I was 28. No spring chicken.

Time to understand the use of the word ‘sparingly’.

So I went back to the mini-cookbooks, folded some corner pages, started a shopping list and read the recipes. I even bought a spice rack, excited with the possibilities. Who could I choke next?

As my kitchen technique improved and my sense of taste restored, I figured it was graduation time and I bought an outdoor BBQ – grilling salmon and angus beef sausages. Making my own tabouli and adding toasted nuts to my salads. I also realised why fridges were important and upgraded to a larger one with a decent freezer compartment. My mum thought I had been abducted by aliens!

When I met Mr Metamucil he could cook – tick – and used utensils I hadn’t discovered – tick (to be determined). But he also has a 10 minute rule. Shove it all in, quickly, you’ve only got 10 minutes.

Clearly hungry

It’s like he’s at a pie-eating competition and is vying for a lifetime of pies!

But it was refreshing, I didn’t have to trade meals for dishes and we actually cook meals together. Pressing fresh garlic, grinding cumin seeds, garam masala and turmeric and we take turns stirring the risotto, because inevitably Mr Metamucil has forgotten an ingredient, he rarely uses a recipe, and wonders why it tastes different every single time.

Fast forward 10 years and I’ve discovered a thing or two. About food. About myself. About what’s good for me. And what’s not. Reading about blue zone diets, experimenting with a Mediterranean diet full of nuts, olive oils and omega-3’s…anything to contain the inflammation of auto-immune dis-ease. Not depriving myself of much, but savouring and enjoying.

I’ve discovered the importance of food to not only nourish, but its ability to heal and to bring me joy.

Of course, there are days where my cooking ambition far outweighs the finished product, and I’m bitterly disappointed, ‘I put so much effort in, for such little payback.’

And then there are days where I nail it, and I’m doing the happy dance in the kitchen. But in my excitement and excess saliva, I sit down and employ Mr Metamucil’s 10 minute rule and then I get a similar despondent feeling, ‘I put in so much effort, and it’s gone so quickly!’

Yes, there are days where I feel like maybe I should try one more golf ball. Surely they’ve improved their microwave-bility?

But I realise, it’s my microwave, my kitchen, my home insurance and I put a banana muffin in instead.

20 seconds later… I sit back, break it open, watch the steam rise and feel my mouth salivate and take one bite, chew, toss it around and enjoy…before the next bite and then another one.

And it appears my home economics teacher was right, I won’t ever understand the joy of cooking, I’m experiencing something much more fulfilling. I’ve discovered the joy of tasting, savouring and enjoying…and that is the best lesson I could have ever discovered.


Forgive, Forget, Accept

It’s been just over six weeks since I started taking Plaquenil and Lyrica…once again. On the merry-go-round, 27 months in. And yes, I’m still on the testosterone replacement.

I’ve spoken about my rollercoaster. The emotion. The frustration. The desperation.

I’ve spoken about the hope and excitement. Could this be part of the puzzle?

And I remind myself daily….this too shall pass.

I’ve tried to incorporate 10mins of meditation daily, with a great app built by an Aussie, so that’s got to be a good start, eh?

If you struggle to meditate, like I do, try 1 Giant Mind. It’s the only guided meditation that works for me, I feel like I’ve struck gold.

I’ve also been listening to podcasts from Sean Croxton at Underground Wellness, a holistic and functional filter of what’s making us sick and what we can do to make ourselves better.

I’ve started experimenting with the autoimmune protocol by Dr Sarah Ballantyne and have been tending to my coconut milk kefir. I’ve been watching it ferment, patiently…which is ironic, because patience has never been my forte.

For me it’s another opportunity to experiment, to challenge and to watch my body react.

Curious Child_Canstock

And let me tell you kefir has made bathroom visits a delight!

And in the strive for continuous improvement, like every keen Type-A person, I even sought a second opinion from another medical guru.

After 30 minutes of consultation with some of the most random questions I’ve ever received from any medical professional, Professor D, concludes with, “I’d like to help you, you seem like a nice lady.”

And I knew instantly what he meant. Because had I come to him 27 months earlier I would have been classed as “not such a nice lady.”

I was angry. Angry at the world, and at my body, at my former employer…someone had failed, and someone had to work it out…pronto!

But time is a beautiful leveller and I assured him I wasn’t expecting a miracle diagnosis or cure, I just wanted to check whether someone had missed something, somewhere or was this it, do I just need to learn to deal with the pain and fatigue. Is this simply, mind over matter?

“When you walked in the door, I instantly thought – Addison’s disease.”

And then he explained why. The excess levels of prednisone I was on at different points to stop the inflammation. The endometriosis that had been sitting there undetected, possible for years, wrecking havoc with my hormonal system. For some reason, my HPA axis was indeed fried.

“I want you back in a month with all your medical reports and blood results, any by the way here’s a few more.”

Clearly the man enjoys his bed time reading.

So I walked away with a wry grin, but not because there was a possibility of another piece of the puzzle falling into place, but

because I had learnt to accept.

To accept that what could have been, should have been.

And to accept that this is where I need to be.

Hanging upside down with no control stick.

Knowing I can’t guarantee the plans I make – my body evaluates this daily, and even hourly.

But the flip side is that I’m in a more peaceful state.

In a less critical mode.

In a more forgiving space.

I have learnt that it isn’t necessary to forgive and forget, but to simply accept.

Let’s get ready to rumble

I’ve been a bit quiet on the writing front.

Despite the fact that I schedule 1.5 hr every week to ramble, edit, find a good pic and publish, my unexpected and sometimes tumultuous life just gets in the way.

I also do a lot of marinating (and perhaps procrastinating).

What I’ve read. How I’m feeling. The latest blood test results. What the naturopath is suggesting. What the latest science journal says. What the latest podcast proposes.

The next holiday. The next bike ride. Will I ever be able to do more than 20 mins a day? Will I ever enjoy the freedom of hiking faraway trails, pitching a tent and for a moment, just be there…in that space.

Boxing girl_Canstock

And then I have to remind myself to stop the nostalgia shit. It’s not helpful.

Today is different. From yesterday. From last month. From last year. From August 27, 2012.

My ever-evolving auto-immune world, continues to spin on its merry axis. It would be nice to know where to next though.

Confirmation that I have HPA axis dysfunction, bordering on Addison’s disease. Yet more labels. More tests. More peeing in funnels.

I’ve basically fried my brain’s circuit board that controls the messages to my body to manage hormones. In its crudest term the 4 S’s are completely out of whack – sugar, salt, sex and stress.

Was it all the steroids I was given to control the severe bouts of inflammation or was it the enormous stress driven by the need to achieve, perfect and be seen?

Was it the perpetual flight/fight response turned on early in my childhood? Was it because I never felt safe, until my mid-30s, to put down the armour?

It doesn’t really matter, but it does explain some basic physiology and the development of dis-ease. No testosterone, too much progesterone, a spluttering and spurting thyroid, layers of endometriosis and simply not enough cortisol.

What a relief!

No more beating myself up over that second soy latte at 3pm, which can be bad for most people, let alone those with various auto-immune disease.

My body simply doesn’t create enough get-up-and-go over the course of the day, so right now I’ll keep investing in my local coffee haunt, which Franki doesn’t seem to mind either.

It also explains that when I push that little bit more, don’t give myself enough rest over the course of the day, run from one thing to another (99% of the time in my head), or have a crap night’s sleep, I can guarantee I’ll wake up to aching hands, grinding knees and an overall feeling of heaviness. There are days where I can even feel the weight of my eyelids and every single blink.

On those days, it’s simply a case of cause and effect – I’m spending pennies I don’t have. And then I remind myself.

This makes sense.

Because the most frustrating part of the last 2.5 years hasn’t been the multiple diagnoses, the furrowed brows, the experimental drugs, the grinding pain, the overwhelming fatigue, a life that has changed.

The frustration was that it simply did not make sense.

I couldn’t see a pattern. I couldn’t manage my day. I was fighting wildly, valiantly…but blind.

It’s a slow, painful and frustrating experience (call it journey if you’d like).

It requires patience I didn’t know I had. And patience I didn’t think I could muster. But then I heard the definition of patience from a 4 year-old, “Patience…wait & whinge.”

Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time waiting and even more time whinging. Because sometimes you’re waiting for the light to turn on, for a chance to put on the gloves, prepare yourself, so the fight is fair.

Upfront, in your face, visible.

But most of the time it’s not.

So I guess I’ll just need to learn to swing, duck and brace at the right times. And if I can’t see, and I don’t know where to aim, I’ll need to learn to feel and to sense.

Perhaps even trust myself. The innate. The gut feeling, once again.

And when I go down…at least I’ve already learnt how to get back up.

The re-charge formula

For some people it’s the expanse of the ocean, for others it’s the grandeur of the mountains. I can imagine the romance of the red open plains or the enveloping of a familiar mallee scrub.

Some are lucky enough to find it in their everyday, but I still need to be “away” to find it.

I know you’ve felt it.

You capture a glimpse. In the distance. And it twinkles, just for you.

Your chest bellows, your smile erupts. Your body expands.

Bare Feet Freedom

I’ve arrived.

A place of solitude.

A place to refresh.

A place to re-ground.

Usually a place of unintended mindfulness.

A connection unexplained. A heart rate sustained.

For Mr Metamucil, it is the Snowy Mountains. The high country of the flattest, island and continent in the world.

A landscape of twisted gum trees, lazing kangaroos, curious wombats and in the summer, the most annoying bush flies you will ever encounter.

I can understand the allure. There is something untouched and untamed. Sepia-toned pictures show that not that much has changed, even in the most populated towns.

These sleepy little hamlets, crowded during a very short snow season, use the warmer months to defrost and recharge.

The picture perfect horizon, that big blue sky. Stars so bright, it looks like a blanket has been haphazardly picked at…someone has been busy.

The emerging song of the corroboree frog, the sunbaking of the alpine copperhead. The blanket of wildflowers that fill the mountaintop.

It appears that everyone, and everything, comes out to re-ground and re-fresh.

There’s an explosion of road cyclists tackling the climb out of Jindabyne on their way to Thredbo, willing their legs to make it just to the next corner, whilst mountain bikers fuel up at the breakfast buffet, before they’re off to explore the vast trails that criss-cross this untouched and vast domain.

Lake Jindabyne is a cacophony of colour. Kayakers in their brightly coloured craft, weekend sailors adjusting the sheet and wondering, “will she be kind, or will she turn?” Because in the mountains, you need to respect her, or she’ll whip your pants down, no questions asked.

The day hikers are prepped, insect repellent on hand. Backpack with the essentials. There are no selfie sticks here.

Whilst the fishermen sit patiently, listening to the wireless and wondering if Australia can really bowl India out in two sessions, and perhaps momentarily forget, why they’re out there.

And they’re not alone, because despite all the doing and the huffing and puffing, you can see it….the connection with a moment, a place.

The caravan park is full of campers and caravan-ers. We’ve arrived at our destination. Time to stretch the legs, breathe deeply and look up. What’s the frequency for the ABC here?

The shelves of the fruit and vege aisles are empty, they haven’t refilled since Christmas Eve and re-stocking only occurs weekly. The planned stir fry becomes more rice and less veges. I probably eat too many veges, anyway.

And it doesn’t seem to matter. The bushflies, the sunburn, the dirt encrusted crevices.

Because when we’re away from our comforts, our routines, our everyday… something happens.

Right there, before we know it.

That fleeting moment, whether we realise it or not.

The re-charge formula.

And even if only for a moment, we realise, life is good.

Know what I mean?

In my Head

I spend a lot of time in my head.

Observing, synthesising, debating and concluding. All by myself. All in my head.

I’ve always done it. I don’t know how not to do it.

I put it down to being an only child, where there was no one else to share my thoughts, or the scenarios and debates I created in my head. My parents were hard working migrants, trying to put food on the table and provide their first and only born with the education and opportunity to achieve and succeed.

I’m sure as a creative child, those thoughts would have been fanciful and self-deluded. After all, there was no one to point out the flaw in my plan for schoolyard domination. I developed resilience via a steep learning curve.

Adolescence did not change my modus operandi, particularly as my parents went through an ugly divorce in my pre-teen years. The arguments, the late night whispering and the removal of my dad’s clothing into 40L plastic bags were all observed, recorded and filed away…for future reference.

My young brain recorded that trust and intimate relationships are fraught with danger.

Now as an adult, happily ensconced in an intimate relationship that looks nothing like my parents’ or anything else I had witnessed or imagined, I still find myself spending quite some time in my head.

Observing, synthesising, debating and concluding.

And in dealing with undefined auto-immune dis-eases, I find that I spend more time retreating, in my head, wondering how did it all go so wrong? What can I do to stop it, reverse it, halt its progress?

I’ve spent many hours googling down the rabbit warren, coming back more overwhelmed than clear. I’ve read books on neuro-plasticity finishing them with great hope that my brain can repair itself from the chronic fatigue short circuit and my short term memory will return.

I’ve scoured the latest journal articles on lupus research and the effectiveness of rituximab and the latest in immuno-suppressants. Hoping that pharmaceutical companies will add another drug option to the market, given that it’s been over 40 years since the last dedicated lupus drug.

I’ve struggled to find any information that could explain the importance of testosterone for females, and why my pituary gland is malfunctioning, without having to enrol in a degree in medicine. Although I suspect I have the first year of theory covered.

I even had my hopes raised when ABC’s Catalyst program, did a story on testosterone, but it was short lived as they chose to focus on middle aged men and menopausing woman. Because it appears that the sex lives of baby boomers, deserves more research and funding than those living with auto-immune disease.

I’ve fallen in and out of love with meditation, struggling to find a routine, a niche, a regular space in my day. Started drinking kefir daily, and once I got past the tangy and surprising effervescence of my coconut milk, my gut started to thank me immediately.

My yoga practice ebbed and flowed, largely due to the instability of my spine as the arthritis of my sacro-illiac joint decided to stand front and centre in 2014.

It started as a niggle, but ended with another red flag on my littered path.

The pain in the dimple of my left glute, my left knee giving way as I walk Franki to the café or try to manage the 45 stairs to freedom. The tingling in my left heel, the numbness in my hamstring.

Of the three episodes I’ve experienced in the second half of the year, I seem unable to acknowledge the symptoms until my back spasms, my hip locks and I can no longer turn my neck or lift my arm. Then the desperate call to the physio. As I’ve said before…I can be a slow learner.

And then the humility kicks in and I need to exit my head.

I ask my husband to wash my hair. I ask friends to walk a little slower. I ask Franki not to stop and sniff at every lamp post, perhaps every third one instead.

I tell my yoga teacher it’s a non-pretzel day, I can only do a 30 minute session and ask “can we do some breathing and meditation to complete the hour?”

And I ask strangers to help me untie Franki from the café chair leg as the Fisio-taped back and shoulders make my movements laboured as if my life has been catapulted into slow motion.

It’s those moments where I realise I can’t spend all that time in my head. That in fact, my life can be made easier by just opening the doors and sharing, asking and letting go.

Yes, 2014 has been a challenge. Not because my prognosis has become any worse, and not because the treatments have been wholly unsuccessful. Like everything in life, it has its success and its shortfalls.

I’ve experimented, struggled, rejigged and reworked.

Always in my head. But slowly, with others.

And with only hours left in 2014, I can only hope that I can approach the next 365 days with a little less “in my head” and a little more “in the marinating bowl” with others.

I’ll share my puzzle pieces, and ask for a different perspective. I’ll try them again, this time in a different place or space, sometimes by myself but also with others.

And I’ll remind myself that just as my parents tried valiantly, so will I.

Because life doesn’t always play out the way it does in your head.