Chronically Me . . . and you . . . and you

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I usually try to focus on the positive aspects (I hear you snorting already) of having digestive conditions.  Sometimes, though, you just get touched that someone else knows exactly what crap you are dealing with everyday.  This comic is PERFECT.  CB always comments — though he generally forgets by morning — that, as soon as I get comfortable in bed, I’m up and down to the bathroom.  It’s as though my body thinks it has free reign once gravity isn’t such an issue anymore.

The biggest “positive” I always keep in mind is that I’m far more in tune with my body than I ever have been.  This is coming from the girl who would always go to the doctor with “I think I have X.” “No, no,” says Doctor, “I’m sure it’s not.”  And, lo and behold, it was always X!  Once my IBS started up in earnest, I never really knew what my body was trying to tell me.

I remember last year, a week after all my tests had been done, after all the scopes had been up or down their respective routes, phoning my doctor to ask how long I needed to take the prescribed medicine.  The answer wasn’t sugar-coated: “The rest of your life.”

The pills in question turned me into a zombie.  I was prescribed 8 of them a day — 2 when I woke, 2 at lunch, 2 at dinner, and 2 at bed time.  I don’t think anyone quite believed me when I said I didn’t have the energy to get up to get myself a glass of water.  All I could do was lie there.  It hurt to be hungry, but it hurt to eat.  My mother actually, unfortunately, experienced what I meant when she was prescribed the same pills.  She was told to have 3 a day — not 8, like me — and, after the first dose, she felt like she was moving in slow motion and didn’t even have the energy to finish her dinner.  She couldn’t follow a conversation. (If you’re wondering, yes, I did get the gift of gab from her, so it was a particularly difficult time!)  She told her doctor that she would only take them on very bad days.

I finally went to my GP and explained that I could not live like a zombie anymore. We tried another tablet.  I didn’t feel like a zombie, but I didn’t feel any relief, either.  Another, some relief.  It got rid of the more dull achy pains, but I still had the stabby ones that have dropped me to the floor at times.  Finally, they decided to pair it with an anti-anxiety pill.  Sweet relief!  It got rid of most of the pain!

There was a trade-off, though.  Every day, regardless of how I was feeling, my stomach was swollen.  I was used to swelling off and on, but this was constant.  I was worn out.  I also began to realise that I didn’t know what my body was telling me anymore.  I’m sore, but why?  Was it food?  Was it exercise?  Was I simply overly tired?  Was it — gasp! — just that time of that day, and it was just going to happen?

I made one of Sydney’s Patented Executive Life Decisions and weaned myself off all of my pills.  Are they helpful? Sure, but they don’t actually make me any better.  In the long run, they weren’t doing anything.  They were making me temporarily more comfortable but also more complacent.  I can tolerate pain.  I can recognise it, acknowledge it, and file it away.  It can frustrate me, but it rarely stops me.

I’ve been doing remarkably well.  Do I have pains?  Yep, but I think about them less because they are not a worry; they are what they are.  Do I still swell?  Yep, I am still six months fake-pregnant on some days.  Do I have more energy?  On most days, I think I do.  I still get worn down, perhaps a bit easier at times, but I feel like my body is saying You can do it rather than You know, you probably shouldn’t.  And, that’s the other thing: I can hear what my body is saying.  You could do without eating that food again.  You overdid it on the lifting boxes.  What makes you think you can pull more than your own weight? And, perhaps the most important thing it tells me.  Calm down; you need a rest, but you’ll be stronger tomorrow.

I am listening again.


A Tale of Two Jars

I love glass jars.  They are perfect for storing the tons and tons of gluten-free flours necessary to be a real gluten-free baker.  I also keep things like pine nuts, chocolate chips, oats, lavender, and various rice pastas among their ranks.  Because there is such a range, my most important tool is my label maker.

CB thought I was crazy when I said I needed a label maker when I bought my first jars.  It soon became obvious just how necessary it really was.  I even have two jars which are not Celiac-friendly — regular oats and wheat flour.  Labeling has become more and more important as my kitchen and my skills grow.

And then there was this guy.

mystery jar
I had my mind set last night on a baking project.  It was part “I want to make it!”, part “This is a good excuse to put away some jars and get them out of boxes!”.  I fully admit it.  CB was helping me to get everything together, and he holds up one big, full jar.  “What is it?” he asks.  I suddenly realise that I have no freaking clue.

I do remember how it happened, though.  Several months ago, we were packing away all our earthly belongings for the great move that never transpired.  I saw an empty jar and a bag of flour.  I didn’t want the bag to burst open inside a box (Could you imagine the looks on the customs officers’ faces when they see a box covered in white powder?!), so I dumped it into the jar.  CB says, “But we’ve already packed your label maker?  How will we know what it is?” “Well,” I wisely explain, “We’ll know it’s X FLOUR because it’s the only one without a label.” “Good idea!” he says.

Good idea, my butt.  Months later, I’m sitting here trying to compare the weight, texture, and colour of the flour to fill in the blanks.  What are you?  There is the remnant of a label on the glass.  What did you used to be?  Why aren’t you that anymore?
At the end of the day, I am no more knowledgeable on what he is than what he is not (except almond flour.  He is not almond flour.).  It didn’t matter for my project, though.  Ruby and I went about our business and created a masterpiece anyway.

I got this recipe from Gluten-Free Goddess, which is a site I wish I had found ages ago.  I didn’t make my cupcakes vegan because, well, I’m not vegan, and vegan products are pretty expensive around here. I also played it pretty fast and loose with the smaller measurements.  I can’t say exactly why I did it, though.  It doesn’t sound like me.

Pumpkin Cupcakes

1 cup sorghum flour
1 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup tapioca starch
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup almond flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup coconut oil
1 cup pumpkin puree
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cream cheese
2 tablespoons maple syrup

Ruby (okay, okay, a mixer of some sort)
mixing bowl (if you are using a stand mixer, you can use the bowl from it)
flexible spatula
cupcake liners
muffin tins
measuring cups and spoons
wooden spoon

Preheat the oven to 350°F/175°C.

Dump all the dry ingredients (sorghum flour, brown sugar, tapioca starch, sugar, almond flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg) into your mixing bowl.  Whisk by hand or with whisk attachment on mixer.  I suggest the whisk because, with so many dry ingredients, you want to make sure there aren’t any lumps and everything is well-combined.

Add in (melted! Always measure by melting! I can’t believe I haven’t said it earlier!  You can pop it in the microwave for a short time — watch continuously and stir every 10 seconds.) coconut oil a little at a time.  Switch to your wooden spoon and watch for it to completely combine before adding more.  The texture should be like wet sand when it’s all in the mixture.  Add your pumpkin, eggs, and vanilla extract.

Here’s where having a mixer saves the day.  Your end result is a thick and stretchy batter, so guess how it gets that way.  If you aren’t using a mixer, it gets there with hard work.  I let Ruby at it on Setting 8 (medium high) for about 2-3 minutes.  The original recipe said 1-2, but I found it wasn’t completely combined by then.  A hand mixer will probably take the same amount of time.  I don’t know how long if you’re just using a spoon, but I don’t envy you right now.

Fill your cupcake liners with your batter.  Since my oven broke two of my silicon muffin tins (I don’t know how; please don’t ask.), I’m down to only one muffin tin, so batches were in order.  I didn’t know how much the batter would rise, so, on my first batch, I filled the liners only halfway.  It didn’t rise very much, so the tops of the cupcakes were below the tops of the liners.  On the second batch, I filled them 3/4 to the top, and they were almost there.  Next time, I’m going to fill them nearly to the edge and cross my fingers.  The recipe also says to smooth the tops. I thought my batter looked pretty smooth and figured it would spread out when it got hot, so I didn’t bother.  It doesn’t affect the taste at all, but I wish I had listened because they rose unevenly.

Bake for 22-25 minutes.  Because I don’t yet have a good relationship with my ovens, I checked on them after 15 minutes.  20 minutes.  22 minutes.  I took the first, smaller batch out after 22, and I left the more full second batch in for the full 25. Watch carefully in these last minutes if you fill your liners higher and leave them in longer because I can’t guarantee any results.

Let them cool in the muffin tin until you can touch them without burning yourself. Move them to a wire rack to cool for an hour.

Time for your frosting!  I have to admit that I have never made frosting or used a piping bag.  It’s shameful, I know, and it’s not beautiful.  Again, I used a newly scrubbed Ruby to whip it all together.  If you don’t have a stand mixer, you’ll need to whisk it all together again.

Start with your powdered sugar and give it a good whisk before you add anything to it. Lumps will not be easy to get rid of once you add the other ingredients.  Alternatively, you could sift it into your bowl.  Add the cream cheese and maple syrup and whisk until thoroughly combined.  You can use a piping bag or spread it with a knife.

My icing was a bit too sweet for my tastes and didn’t taste enough like maple, so I will lower the amount of sugar and up the maple syrup next time.  It’s all to your taste. Give it a lick when you finish and you can decide what you need to do for your own.  I think I’ll just eyeball the sugar and go for 4 tablespoons of maple syrup next time.

Oh, there will be a next time.

pumpkin cupcake

Best Friends Forever

We are finally settling into the new house, just in time for everything to go topsy-turvy pretty soon.  I’m having what I refer to as my “nose job” in 11 days.  I know, I know, I can hear you already. “But, Sydney! You have the perfect nose! You have the nose every girl dreams about when she thinks of her fairy tale future!  Tons of women take pictures of you when they go to have nose jobs!”  Well, you can calm down.  It’s okay.  The outside of my nose shouldn’t change at all.

It’s the inside that is getting a makeover!  Ever since I was very tiny (Mum, care to chime in with specifics?), I’ve had chronic sinusitis and difficulty breathing at even the best of times.  Well, sometime last year (I’m being coy.  I know exactly when.), my nose stopped and never started again.  Antibiotic after antibiotic (which I hate — almost as much as excessive parenthetical comments!), nasal spray after nasal spray, nothing.  Doctors, scans, doctors not calling back, unfruitful follow-ups, and finally!  Someone decides that something needs to be done!  So, in 11 days, I’ll be having three procedures inside my nose — 1) removing two bits of bone that are making passageways too narrow; 2) realigning my party wall, which meets the bottom of my nose in exactly the right place but bends in the middle; 3) cauterizing the lumpy lining of my nostrils that prevents anything from draining down the right paths.  You see why I just say I’m having a nose job?!

One of the most exciting things about my nose job is: If you think Sydney Likes Food now, just wait until she can actually taste it!

Regardless, the house is coming together beautifully, if slowly.  I’ve been cooking, but it’s been mainly old standbys that don’t take too long.  We’re still acclimating to the schedule change; CB has never had a full time job!  He did do his PhD, which was definitely more than a full time job, but it typically involved him hunching over a desk in his home office/spare room/chinchilla abode.  This job requires him to be out of the house for more than 10 hours a day, and I have to figure out what to do with myself in the empty space.  (If I’m honest, it’s mostly academic for me, now, too.  I should be grading papers right now.)  I did make one new meal that was delicious, but the texture needs a little tweaking, as does my understanding of the new ovens.  I’m going to give it a shot again this week, so, if all goes well, I’ll photograph and properly document it here soon.

Ah, yes, but the title of the post.  I have a new kitchen friend.  I feel like I have known this friend forever because of how long I have wanted — nay, needed! — it amongst my tools.  I will never let it go.  We will make so many yummy things together.  You just wait.

Meet Ruby: