Monday 27 May 2024

Update on Me: Good News

Do you want the good news, the bad news or the really good news first? 

The really good news is that I had a PET scan on 8th April and except for a couple of non-reactive spots on my liver, the lymphoma was GONE!  I’ve had two rounds of chemotherapy since then, so those spots should be gone by now.  I even got to ring the bell to proclaim that I’d had my final round.



The t-shirt reads “Science is magic that works”.  True.  I’m living proof.  

Oh, and I get my PICC line out tomorrow - that’s the thing in my right arm.  I have my first follow-up appointment on 2nd July.  I guess this means that I’m officially in remission.

The bad news is that I really have lost all my hair!  






You can even see the scar on my scalp, where I was hit by a Number Board, which fell off the wall and landed on me in Grade 1.  It’s on the right of the back of my head.  I remember that it bled everywhere and that the GP glued my scalp together.  I so was disappointed not to get stitches. What 6 year old wouldn’t be?

The good news is that I’ve lost my excess weight and am down a dress size.  No, that wasn’t planned and I’m not really sure I should celebrate it, since most of it was due to the tumour occupying all the space my abdomen and making me feel full really quickly.  It was either the tumour or the ascites it induced.  (That’s fluid in the abdominal cavity.). Anyway, over the course of November, December and January, I lost two stone (28lb, 12.7kg). While I put on a couple of pounds once I left hospital, I now weigh 8st 12lb (124lb, 56.2kg) and have maintained that weight since February, without doing anything.  No dieting; no watching what I eat; nada; zilch.

What this weight loss means is that I’m back wearing clothes that I haven’t fitted into since the 2010’s, and that is something to celebrate.  This time last year, I couldn’t fit into the Science t-shirt above.  Now I can and I’m so glad I wore it when I rang the bell.

- Pip

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Recipe Tuesday: Chicken Liver Pâté

One of the biggest mysteries of the past few years is “where have all the chicken livers gone?”.  OK, I no longer shop at a Kosher butcher - they closed - but I haven’t seen any in a supermarket for years and our local butcher has real problems obtaining them.  Lurking in the freezer are a goose liver from removed from the 2022 Christmas goose and a tiny duck liver taken from the Christmas 2023 duck, both just begging to be turned into pâté.  Imagine my surprise when DH phoned me from the supermarket on Friday - I haven’t been shopping since I started chemo - and told me they had chicken livers!  Yay!! Three 400g packets came home with him. Two went into the freezer and, on Sunday, I made the third into Chicken Liver Pâté.  It was yummy!

My recipe is based on one by Rachel Khoo, from her Little Paris Kitchen cookbook. She uses shallots, brandy and rabbit livers, while I used onions, sherry, chicken livers together with the duck and goose liver from the freezer, and made a double quantity.  You will need a food processor.

Ingredients

250g chicken livers
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon sherry
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon Schmaltz or use olive oil

Method

  1. Melt the schmaltz in a frying pan over a low heat.
  2. Gently fry the onion and garlic, until the onion has softened and turned clear. 
  3. Add the chicken livers.  Keep the heat low. Fry on one side for 2 minutes, then turn over and fry on the other.
  4. Once the chicken livers have been turned over, add a pinch of salt and the sherry.  Stir. Fry for another 2 minutes.  Be careful not to overcook - they will toughen.  Test to see if they’re cooked by pushing down on one using the edge of a spoon.  It should break up easily and be brown inside.
  5. Tip the chicken liver mixture into a food processor and process until smooth.
  6. Decant into ramekin dishes, smooth down to give a flat top, allow to cool, cover with cling film and refrigerate until needed. Serve with good bread.
NOTE:  Traditionally pâté is covered with a layer of clarified butter/fat, in order to help preserve it.  I never bother but, if you wish to: melt 150g unsalted butter and allow it to cool for a couple of minutes. Skim off the white crusty layer, then gently pour the liquid butter over the pâté. Once cool, refrigerate and ensure the butter is set before serving.

- Pam

Friday 19 April 2024

Earth Day 22nd April 2024 - What On Earth Can I Do About It?

Global warming is now hitting home.  Dubai Airport closed last week because of flooding.  Dubai, and the rest of the Gulf States, received 18 months-worth of rainfall in less than a day on Tuesday 16 April.  Sea temperatures have risen 1.5C, causing mass bleaching of coral reefs world-wide, with knock on consequences for sea life and the human food-chain.  Spain has been experiencing a drought FOR 6 YEARS!

What the hell can I do about it?  Me?  One person.  Or my household of two????

I first learned about climate change and global warming when my flatmate dragged me along to the public session of a conference, in January 1989.  My takeaways then were: organic gardening; plant trees; recycling; buy unbleached paper products (preferably recycled); go solar powered; support wind farms; use public transport where possible,; drive fuel efficient vehicles but cycle for shorter journeys; and that the mainland Europeans were considerably better than Australians at this stuff.  

When I landed in Copenhagen 4 months later, and saw their rubbish bins with multiple recycling slots for paper, tins and plastics, I was convinced that the latter point was true.  Britain was a disappointment.  No segregated rubbish bins, to split genuine waste from recyclables.  It was 10 years before most local authorities offered households recycling collections for their rubbish.  When ordering office supplies in 1991, it was difficult to buy any recycled paper products - they just didn’t exist - and it took decades for things to improve.

It’s been 35 years since that conference in Australia, and Climate Change is now hitting home.  We can’t just blame governments - the largest contributing factors are the small, incremental decisions that individuals make.  What I’m setting out below are my thoughts, my manifesto, for the changes that we can ALL make to save Planet Earth.

1.  Do Not Waste

In 2020, when asked if he could give one piece of advice to future generations, Sir David Attenborough said “Do Not Waste”.  That is the essence of the Earth Day mantra:
  • Reduce your consumption
  • Reuse items instead of buying replacements
  • Recycle everything possible
Think about it for a minute.  Pretty much everything else I’m about to write boils down into those three words.

2.  Don’t Waste Food

According to the 2024 United Nations Food Index Report quoted in The Guardian, annually about a fifth of all food produced on Earth is wasted, 600 million tonnes of which is wasted by households!  When you think that approximately 730 million people are going hungry every day, that means that the rest of us have to answer for one hell of a lot.

My suggestions to minimise food waste:-
  • Meal Plan, so that the fresh food you purchase gets incorporated into the meals you are cooking.
  • Turn leftovers into another meal.  Leftover cooked veg can be incorporated into a frittata.  The carcase of a roast chicken can be made into stock.
  • Your freezer is your friend.  If you realise that you can’t use it before it shrivels up/turns to mush/grows exotic fungus, freeze it.  Or cook it and freeze it to eat later.  Unless you plan to use it within 2 or 3 days, freeze meat on date of purchase and defrost it in the fridge.
  • Buy your fruit and veg loose, not wrapped in plastic.  They’ll last longer.  Produce stored in plastic tends to sweat and the sweat spots are the first places mould will grow, even if you decant them when you get home.
  • Store food properly.  Bread lasts longer if stored in a plastic bag in the fridge.  Onions are best left on the counter.  Potatoes need to be stored in a dark cupboard, away from onions (or they’ll sprout). 
  • Ignore “Best Before” dates.  They’re more indicative of the predicted lifespan of the packaging, than they are of the product.
  • Ignore “Use By” dates.  If it smells OK and taste OK, then it should be fine to eat.
  • Eat the whole animal.  If you are a meat eater, then don’t turn your nose up at eating offal. Haggis is delicious, even if it is made from liver, heart and lungs of a sheep.  Seriously, if you eat pâté, then you’re already eating liver.  Respect the animal.  It died to feed you.
  • Compost the fruit and veg trimmings that can’t be eaten.  

3. Ask Yourself: Why Am I Buying This?

Do you need another lipstick or are you shopping just because you are bored?  Don’t shop for entertainment.  Whatever you purchase won’t fix the gap that you’re trying to fill.  If you do need to purchase an item, is it the best one for the job?  Does it fulfil all your requirements?  So many times, when we purchase something on the “it will do”; it never does.  Would something you already have do the job instead? 

Instead of trying to fit in with an influencer - who is paid to sell you things - work out what is important to you and to the person you want to be.  Devise your own style and stick to it.  Fast fashion is just flogging you badly made stuff, which won’t last.  Don’t waste precious resources trying to keep up with the Jones’.

4.  Drive The Most Fuel Efficient Vehicle

Do you really need an SUV?  No. Particularly not when, most of the time, there’s only one person in the car.  

Back in 2000, when I bought the Toy, the first priority was to get the most fuel efficient vehicle on the market. That was the diesel VW Lupo, although I bought the cheaper, “SEAT Arosa” version.  Toy averaged 62 miles to the Imperial gallon.  (That’s 4.5 litres, not the American gallon of 3.7 litres.)  Lucky-Car averaged slightly less - at 57mpg - but the replacement to the VW Lupo was horrible to drive, so I went for the Skoda version of the next model up, the Fabia.  

When I think of the number of times Lucky-Car drove through France or up to Scotland, carrying 4 adults plus their luggage, in one small car and still managed over 50mpg… Do you really need an SUV for the school run?  

5.  Do You Really Need to Drive?

The majority of car journeys within the UK cover less than 2 miles. Surely you can walk that distance?  Or cycle it?  Even in my lymphoma-depleted state, I can walk the 1.5 miles to the local Lidl in less than 30 minutes.  (We do that walk regularly.). 

If I lived in the Netherlands, I’d probably cycle everywhere.  When my current employer moved to their new office 7 miles away, the first thing I did was to check out potential cycle routes.  Sadly, there is no safe route.  Only the suicidal would cycle the last mile to the office, down a very busy, narrow country road.

What about public transport?  Surely this should be considered before driving?  I’m lucky to live in London, to have the Tube and reasonably reliable bus services.  Public transport is often not an affordable option in the UK.  You’d need a second mortgage to live in Reading and commute by train into work in London.  In other European countries, travelling by train is quick, cheap and reliable.  Sadly, not here, where 3 decades of privatisation have delivered nothing but higher prices, multiple cancellations and delays.  Most of the time, it’s cheaper to fly to Manchester from London than it is to take the train.

6. Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Spend wisely.  Don’t complain about climate change and then use toilet paper pulped from virgin wood forests!  Buy recycled.  Consider what is in the products you buy and from where they came.  Don’t buy potatoes shipped from Egypt, if you can get ones grown in Essex.

Buy secondhand and don’t be ashamed about it.  Every antique is at least secondhand - if secondhand is good enough for Lord So-And-So, then it’s good enough for you.

7. Vote

2 billion people are going to the polls this year.  Vote for the candidates who will invest in infrastructure, make public transport affordable for all, change building regulations so that all new builds have solar panel roofs, force water companies to control sewage instead of discharging it into the rivers, etc.  Voting is your chance to choose someone who will do something!

- Pam

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Recipe Tuesday - Mung Bean Curry

Tonight, I cooked something that I haven’t cooked since October:  Mung Bean Curry.  It used to be such a regular in my repertoire that for years I never had to check the recipe before I cooked.  In fact, I’m surprised that I’d never shared it on the blog.  

This is one of those recipes that came off the back of the packet.  I’ve been cooking it for 30+ years.  I don’t remember why we had a packet of mung beans in the cupboard - Dumbo, the long-ago ex, bought them and made something unmemorable with about half the packet -  but, I do remember noticing this recipe on the back and deciding to give it a go.  I saved that plastic packet for years and referred to it regularly.  Sadly, it disappeared after we packed up the kitchen for building works back in 2012.  This is from memory.

Mung Bean Curry (serves 4)

Ingredients

175g/6oz dried mung beans - not split mung dhal, but the whole bean
1L approximately of boiling water
1 tablespoon oil
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, garlic
100-150g mushrooms, sliced
2 peppers/capsicums, sliced
1 medium carrot, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 cup plain yoghurt

Spices

1 teaspoon ground chilli (or to taste)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric 
1 teaspoon corn flour
Pinch of salt

Bulgar Wheat (see notes below)
1 cup bulgar wheat
2 cups boiling water
Pinch of salt


Method:
  1. Start by cooking your mung beans:  pour them into a sieve and rinse off any dust with cold, running water.  Then place in a saucepan, cover with sufficient boiling water to ensure that there’s 2.5cm/1inch of water to cover the beans, bring to the boil and simmer for approximately 25 minutes or until soft.  Once cooked, drain the beans.  While the beans are cooking, get on with preparing the rest of the dish.
  2. In a small ramekin, assemble the spices.  Add a couple of tablespoons of cold water and mix to a paste.
  3. Heat the oil in a large saucepan or frying pan.  Gently fry the onion until it is soft and glassy.
  4. Add the mushrooms, peppers and garlic.  Fry until soft.
  5. Stir in your spice paste.  Fry until the aroma rises and then fold in the yoghurt.  Add the carrot and keep stirring, until heated through.  Switch off until the mung beans are cooked.
  6. When the mung beans are cooked and drained, stir them into the curry mixture.  Bring back to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, rinse out the saucepan used for the mung beans in hot water.  In it, combine 1 cup of bulgar wheat, with 2 cups of boiling water and a pinch of salt.  Bring back to the boil.  Cover and switch off.  Leave undisturbed for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed..
  8. Serve.
Notes:
  • My favourite “filler” these days is bulgar wheat, instead of rice.  Yes, it’s more expensive BUT it has 3 advantages:  1) it is even easier to cook (see point 7 above); 2) it bulks out to a larger volume than rice, so I only need to use 1 cup instead of 1.5 for 4 portions; 3) it has 8 times the fibre and 4 times the protein of brown rice!
  • If you want to serve this curry with rice:  use 1.5 cups of white/basmati rice together with 3 cups of boiling water, cover, boil for 2 minutes, switch off and leave for 15 minutes or until all the water is absorbed.


Enjoy!

- Pam

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Update on me

I have Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

It started with a bleeding stomach ulcer, in May. I had a gastroscopy at the end of June and a CT Scan in August, which were followed up with a second gastroscopy, an MRI and another CT Scan in December.  The ulcer was situated on a small lump in my stomach.  Until the start of November, I felt well and healthy; after that I started getting sicker and sicker. I was diagnosed at the end of December, based on biopsy results from the second gastroscopy.  On 17th January, I was so ill that I was admitted to hospital for almost 3 weeks.  Poor DH was by my side for the whole thing.  He was worried sick and only left my hospital room to go home to sleep.  (After I was discharged on 5th February, he was so knackered that he slept for about 20 hours.)

I’m still shocked at how sick I was.  I realise now that I was close to death.

As well as being a lump in my stomach, the lymphoma was in my liver, kidneys, right shoulder, chest and pancreas. I had no energy, no muscle tone (I’d struggled to climb the stairs at home), no concentration, and was swollen with fluid in my legs, abdomen and lungs.  At one point in the hospital, I was carrying 20kg (44lb!) of excess water.  The hospital even put me on oxygen. I wasn’t hungry and struggled to eat.  Over 3 months, I lost over a stone and a half in weight. (That’s 21lb or  9.5kg.)

I had my first round of chemo in the hospital and immediately started feeling better.  The miracle happened two weekends later, when I woke up on the Saturday and suddenly felt “normal”.  I had energy and an appetite, and could knit and read, neither of which I’d been able to do for weeks.  Ironically, the night before, I’d been so deeply asleep that the nurse struggled to wake me for my obs and nearly called a code. (I was dreaming and he’d been incorporated into my dream.  It was only when DH’s voice cut through the dream that I woke up.)  I was discharged the following Monday.

My treatment is 6 rounds of chemotherapy, consisting of 4 separate drugs, on a 3 week cycle.  I had my third round last week and, beyond chemo screwing up my tastebuds - again - I’m feeling good.  Seriously, my biggest frustration is that I can’t taste coffee.  My taste for it does come back towards the end of week 3 in the chemo cycle, so it’s not permanent but meanwhile I have to drink tea.

Of course, it’s not just coffee that I can’t taste at this point.  The lack of taste applies to most proteins, making meals tasteless or just taste of one ingredient, e.g. vinegar in Hot & Sour Soup (which should taste of chicken and didn’t).  It’s totally off-putting.  I can, however, taste Vegemite.  Yesterday’s snack:



Other side effects that I’ve experienced are peeling skin and, of course, beyond a few determined strands, I have lost most of my hair.





Still have my eyebrows and eyelashes though. (NB:  I had the length cut off, a few days after my diagnosis, and donated it to the Little Princess Trust, who make wigs for little girls undergoing chemo.  Might as well make something good from my situation.)

I’ve been home for 5 weeks now and spend my days watching television, knitting, listening to podcasts and reading. We go for a walk every afternoon and I cook dinner most days.  I go to the hospital every Monday, either for blood tests and a dressing change to my PICC line or those plus chemotherapy.  A chemo day is at least 5 hours long, so I have to make sure I have enough to read.  I’m working my way through Dorothy L Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey novels in publication order - although initially I reread Gaudy Night - and am currently on book 6, Five Red Herrings.  

Work-wise, I’ve been signed off sick for 6 months by the hospital, so will return to work at the end of July.  I’m still burning up my sick leave at the moment and won’t be on Statutory Sick Pay until April.  It’s £116.25 per week, which isn’t much - less than the UK half minimum wage.  Fortunately, we have plenty of savings so can easily cover my share of the bills.

- Pam

2023 American Road-trip - Stop 2, Savannah

After last weekend’s NASA trip and witnessing a rocket launch, on the Sunday we headed for Savannah.  As the only driver, the Lost American is a complete hero, because the drive to Savannah was terrible; three thunder storms accompanied by torrential rain.  Several times, the traffic ground to a halt when you could barely see the vehicle in front of you.  

In Savannah, we stayed in the old part of town, on East Bay Street, a short walk downhill to the restaurants and bars along the river.  How do I describe Savannah?  It’s a cross between Kensington and New Orleans, built on a river bank with a major port upstream from the city centre.  

Yes, you can enjoy your pre-dinner drinks on River Street, while watching container ships traverse the river under their own steam.







For dinner, we went to the Fiddlers Bar and Grill, where I had oysters, mussels and the first flounder I’ve encountered outside Australia.  Yum!




After dinner, we wandered a bit through the old town, before heading back to our hotel.  There were trees dripping with moss, gaslights, and even a bar with a cricket picture on the wall:





My first gas lamp:






Next morning, we did a trolley bus tour, which combined history with tourist stops, including a stop outside the only remaining house in Savannah to have intact slave quarters (now a museum). 



 On other stops, there was an actor who addressed us in creole before explaining its origins, and a 17th century gentleman who explained how Georgia gained its colonial charter (the original inspiration for the colony was to rescue impecunious gentlemen from debtors’ prison). The tour was the only time slavery was mentioned to us while we were in Savannah.

This building is the courthouse, which is under reconstruction after the roof collapsed, bringing down two floors with it.