Food Diary – month 8: celebrating summer salads and new drinks discovered

After 8 months of following a gluten-free, potato-free, low-sugar diet I can report the good news that I now have:

  • Stable weight
  • No IBS
  • Clearer mind
  • Better sleep
  • More energy

A warm summer and a love of salads have made it very easy for me to stick to my diet plan, even when working away, on holiday and spending days waiting for relatives at Southampton General Hospital.

For most of the summer I have been able to gather salad leaves, red onions, tomatoes, beetroot and a few cucumbers from our garden. Whether home-grown or shop bought I like to prepare, wash and spin lettuce leaves in bulk and then store in a covered bowl or Tupperware container in the fridge. This way I have the base for many easy meals. So long as you haven’t added any dressing, or onion, a basic salad will keep in the fridge for days. Still keeping things simple.

In June and July I attended residential examiners’ meetings at the Holiday Inn, Guildford: one meeting of two days, the other of a week. I was a little apprehensive, but needlessly so. All meals were from a help yourself buffet and, most of the time, included an excellent range of gluten-free options. Avoiding potato was a little trickier – I ate rice at dinner every evening. Occasionally there was little on offer at lunchtime, but then the staff were very happy to provide me with a large mixed salad. I did take a small Lemon Polenta Cake with me to have instead of pastries with my morning coffee.

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It was at the Holiday Inn that I made the first of my drinks discoveries. Within the Conference Suite, there were the most amazing refreshment stations offering hot and cold drinks, fruit, and healthy snacks all designed to boost concentration. Among the cold drinks were waters infused with berries, citrus fruits or cucumber. When I returned home I researched the benefits of these waters and found my new favourite – cucumber, lemon and mint from 8 Great Benefits of Drinking Cucumber Water (+5 recipes).

I take 1 lemon and about half a small cucumber, cut some fresh mint from my garden and slice the lemon and cucumber. I divide them between my 2 fridge jugs and fill with still mineral water. The water needs to infuse for at least 4 hours. I often leave it over night, then drain into clean jugs and top off with a little more mineral water. To serve, I again dilute a little further with still or sparkling mineral water. The flavoured water will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.

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At about the same time I decided to try ginger tea. This tea had cropped up on Facebook a few times and I chose this recipe from Fun Inventors to try, and now have it every morning with my breakfast.

Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and therefore, supposedly, good for those of us with fibromyalgia, and we all know how marvellous honey is. Admittedly, I was concerned about grating ginger to prepare the tea first thing in the mornings. However, I had seen somewhere that grating enough to fill an ice-cube tray, covering with a little water and freezing was a good way to prevent your ginger from becoming stringy and I thought, much like making salad in bulk, it would be an easy way to make my tea each morning.

This works really well for me. It is much easier to grate a large piece of ginger than the tiny amount you would need each day, and the odd bit that’s left over I just slice up finely, so no waste at all.

I treated myself to this beautiful little pebble teapot with removable infuser and making my ginger tea couldn’t be simpler.

The good news is that I can report some definite improvements, however, in terms of pain it is more difficult due to a flare caused by over-activity, but even that is being controlled with very few painkillers. My weight, which often used to fluctuate 4-5lbs over a two-week period, has stabilised. I have been consistently just under 9 1/2 stone for the past 4 months, even with minimal exercise due to the recent flare. I’ve not had any indigestion or IBS symptoms. My mind is clearer, my sleep has improved further and I have more energy.

This is definitely working for me.
Positively living with fibromyalgia

 

 

When plans go wrong remember . . .

 The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, 

Gang aft agley,’

Robert Burns

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Field Mouse

 

 

I’ve always been a planner. I have lists of lists, diaries, calendars, post-it-notes, magnets holding notes to the fridge and notes pinned to a pin board; not to mention the notes, reminders and alarms set on my phone, pad and computer.

Once you get to grips with managing your fibro-symptoms planning reaches yet another level as you begin to micro-manage every aspect of your day, week, month, year. You master the art of pacing and adhere diligently to a self-care routine.

But fibromyalgia doesn’t exist in isolation.

Eight weeks ago my master plan was in place for my annual work marathon – A’ Level English Literature exam marking. I thought I had prepared for every eventuality and even preempted mere possibilities from derailing my plans. The plan was to complete the six to eight week exam marking period, travel to Scotland for a two-week holiday with my husband and return to my normal routine without having a flare-up.

Family and friends had been visited, telephoned and forewarned, “I’ll speak to you/see you when I’ve finished marking.” The house and garden were in good order (well acceptable to someone with fibromyalgia who can’t physically spring clean everything) and ready for minimal attention. The plan was:

Full attention on marking, minimal attention on everything else.

Our holiday was planned, my other work commitments were organised for another time, several blog posts were written and ready to be typed, cupboards were full and there were even meals in the freezer. Hotel accommodation for the final examiner meeting booked with a ground floor room and gluten-free menu requested. Several months of preparation well executed.

All that was needed was to implement my daily self-care routine and methodically work through the mountain of exam papers that was due to arrive, attend the final review meetings and, then, go on holiday.

My plans were ‘best laid’. . .

. . . they went ‘agley’.

Life intervened. Two close family members had hospital appointments and subsequent surgeries – one was expected, although not during my marking period, the other totally unexpected. I achieved everything planned, except blog posts, but it took a lot longer than it should.

Priorities change. The welfare of loved ones becomes paramount, followed by primary work commitments and self-care (and this becomes very basic). Everything else can wait – things do resort to normal and we can just pick up where we left off.

Except when you have fibromyalgia there is the inevitable flare-up and this is where my plans went ‘agley’.

The good news is though,that when you have lived with fibromyalgia for a while you learn to remember how you feel during the good times and what you have to do get that feeling back.

Knowing that with a little compassion and time you can regain your baseline makes it so much easier to begin again.

So now I have a new plan. Just as the mouse doesn’t give up but begins again and builds another nest, I plan to:

  • Return to my morning routine
  • Be compassionate with myself
  • Do one thing each day that will move me toward my goals
Taking one day at a  time and . . .
Managing fibromyalgia

 

Food Diary – my new shopping list, snacks and cheats and a wonderful alternative to bread

In this series of posts Sally shares the first stages of her lifestyle change to a gluten-free, potato-free and low sugar diet, as one of the ways to manage her fibromyalgia symptoms.

By the end of my second full week, and into the third weekend, I felt confident that I was forming new habits and that a basic pattern of meals was emerging. Although, at this time it was hard to pin point any particular improvements to specific symptoms, other than the IBS, I was experiencing enough of an improvement in my general wellbeing to want to continue.

One of the most challenging aspects of this way of eating (gluten-free, potato-free, low sugar and no hydrogenated oils as recommended in Dr Blatman’s Food Brochure) is shopping for the ingredients. Most supermarkets have ‘Free From’ aisles but none of them carry a wide enough range to cover everything I need. The same applies to health food shops, especially when you live in a semi-rural area where the stores aren’t deemed big enough to carry a full range. For my basic ingredients I now shop at two different Asian food shops, thankfully New Milton, Hampshire is diverse enough to have them, two different health food shops and five different supermarkets. However, the supermarkets are mostly needed for branded snack items.

The second problem is the time and energy required, not just for the shopping, but also for the preparation, cooking and clearing away. This leads to the third problem of having things to hand to eat when your energy resources are low.

For now I thought I would share with you the changes I have made to my store cupboard, the snacks I have come to rely on and the easiest, most wonderful recipe I have found for a bread replacement.

This is the shopping list I use to make sure I have everything I need in the cupboards.

Shopping List

There are one or two specifically gluten-free items to look out for when shopping, mainly those ingredients used for flavouring:

  • Swiss Bouillon – I’ve used this product for years because, as a loose powder rather than stock cube, it gives me control over the strength of my stock and a sprinkle can be used as extra seasoning. The gluten-free/ organic variety is less salty.
  • Soy Sauces and Teriyaki Sauces both contain gluten.
  • Worcestershire Sauce contains gluten
  • Malt vinegar contains gluten
  • Not all rice is gluten-free, the sticky variety contains gluten

I mention these because, having thought I had excluded gluten from my diet, I have still experienced some IBS symptoms on occasions and, when I was checking on my store cupboard ingredients for this post, discovered the above sources of gluten. Originally I had thought that I had only a slight gluten intolerance: too much bread made me feel bloated and uncomfortable and eating pizza was disastrous. Now I realise that it is more significant than that. The times when I have experienced IBS symptoms have been following the use of soy sauces, teriyaki sauce and Worcestershire sauce. This explains why sometimes mince dishes and stews agree with me and other times they don’t.

Stir-fry meals are still possible as, thankfully, most sweet chilli sauces don’t contain gluten – but do check the labels.

Snacks and Cheats

Right at the start of this process I set myself two rules. Rules are there to be broken and on occasions that’s fine, especially when the two rules aren’t always compatible.

Rule Number 1:

No substitutes

Rule Number 2:

Few ingredients and simple method

There were very good reasons behind my rules: I have fibromyalgia so things have to be relatively easy and I’m a foodie, I confess, I have to enjoy what I’m eating.

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My preferred snacks have always been rather Mediterranean: olives, almonds, cheeses and cured meats. Unfortunately, I don’t live in a Mediterranean region, so these things aren’t always available.

 

Here we have what I call my safety net – a selection of ‘off-the-shelf’ items that I’m happy to eat.

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Again, it’s important to check the labels on these products. They may be gluten-free but that doesn’t mean they are free from the other things I’m supposed to be avoiding. One particular ingredient that is often used in gluten-free products is potato starch. Mrs Crimble’s Chocolate Macaroons, that I have so depended on for my sugar boosts, contains potato starch. This would explain why I feel bad if I have eaten them on too many consecutive days. Another is hydrogenated oil, which is often found in processed foods. And then there’s the sugar! And, of course, they are expensive.

This is why these products are for emergencies and not for everyday consumption.

I will also note that I have tasted very many gluten-free products that I have hated, but this is a positive blog, so I will only share the ones I like and that suit me. Hopefully, this will help you when searching for your own ‘safety net’ items.

Now to the promised recipe:

Brazilian Cheese Bread or Pão de Queijo

I found this recipe on-line when our daughter was living at home and had been advised to follow a gluten-free diet by our doctor. An internet search will reveal many recipes, which are all very similar. When I found this one I wrote it in to my recipe book and now can’t remember where I found it, so if you think it’s yours let me know and I’ll credit you.

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Brazilian Cheese Breads

These cheese breads are wonderful. They are not really like bread – you wouldn’t slice them, add butter and a filling or use them as toast, but they are a very good alternative to a bread roll with soup or on the side of a salad. The cheese filling can be varied according to taste, use and whatever’s in your fridge.

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And, because they are made from a batter, they make a great alternative to Yorkshire pudding with your roast beef. I even flavour mine with some horseradish sauce by adding some to the batter before cooking. For this meal I was organised enough to grease on section of the Yorkshire pudding tray with butter for my batter and oil in the others for my husbands standard Yorkshire pudding, which meant only one tray to wash up. Keep things simple!

To make them you need:

1 egg

175gs tapioca flour

80 ml olive oil (I use a light one rather than a heavy extra virgin oil)

160 ml milk (here it’s best to use at least semi-skimmed, preferably whole milk)

65gs grated cheese (I use half cheddar and half parmesan. All cheddar makes them quite chewy)

tsp salt (to taste)

Method:

  • Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees celsius or gas 6.
  • Grease a cupcake tray with butter (you only need to do the number of cups you want to fill)
  • Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until you have a smooth batter.
  • Pour batter evenly into cupcake tray and bake at top of oven for 15-20 minutes, until batter has puffed up and is slightly brown. Leave to cool before eating.

The batter will keep in a covered container for up to 1 week in the fridge.

You can flavour the batter with herbs and spices if you wish. I make a plain batter and add flavourings at the time of cooking.

Leftovers (if there are any) can be stored in an airtight container and are best eaten within 24 hours, otherwise they go dry.

These never last long and your gluten eating friends and family will devour them.

The most difficult part of this recipe is cleaning the blender. It’s best to have one with components that can go in the dishwasher. And a top tip from my husband, who got fed up with me continually asking him to loosen the jug from the base:

Put the empty jug back on the blender, then turn the jug in the opposite direction to normal so as to loosen it slightly rather than tightening. Lift off and remove base with ease. Works every time.

Fibro-foodie settling into a new way of eating and

Positively living with fibromyalgia

Food Diary Week 2 – Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

In this series of posts Sally shares the first stages of her lifestyle change to a gluten-free, potato-free and low sugar diet, as one of the ways to manage her fibromyalgia symptoms.

Here Sally is still trying to make life easy: she turns to some old favourites, makes good use of leftovers and has her first real disaster. All is made better though thanks to another of Nigella’s cake recipes and a new found respect for polenta.


Monday Lunch

Pate rocket and cherry tomatoes on gluten-free crisp breads

I hadn’t yet baked, well, I hadn’t organised myself to go shopping and I didn’t have any ground almonds. Coffee time was approaching and my cake and biscuit tins were empty. So, off to our local village shop for more of those chocolate macaroons and I had a quick browse of the other gluten-free items. Knowing I had nothing substantial for lunch, I decided to try a packet of Schär Crispbreads, which were reasonably priced.

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These have now become a store cupboard addition. One of the few off-the-shelf gluten-free products I don’t despise. They have a nice crunch, last longer in the mouth than rice cakes and are less sweet. They have a better flavour than many of the slimming style crisp breads and crackers and are quite palatable on their own or with toppings – a good discovery.

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Dinner

Chicken, mushroom and spinach risotto

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A leftovers favourite and one that fits with the ethos of my voluntary work as a Love Food Hate Waste  champion, but one you have to be feeling fit to make. This is how I do it:

I use 100g of risotto rice per person, make up 500ml vegetable stock per person (I use Swiss Bouillon powder rather than a stock cube as you have more control over the flavour) and add either onion or shallot (garlic sometimes), parmesan cheese, butter and whatever else I have available. For this one I used leftover cooked chicken (without the skin) from Sunday’s roast, half a bag of spinach and a few mushrooms.

  • First I cook the spinach and mushrooms separately and make up the stock, which I leave in a pan on the stove at a low simmer.
  • Finely dice the onion or shallot. Heat some butter in a heavy based saucepan (I never weigh my butter, but roughly 25g per person). Add the onion/shallot and garlic if using and sweat until they become transparent.
  • Add the rice and stir so that the grains are coated in the melted butter. Add more butter if you need to. Too much just makes a richer risotto, so don’t worry.
  • Add a ladle of hot stock and stir continuously allowing the rice to absorb the stock. Repeat adding stock and stirring, until the rice has swollen and you can bite it when you taste it. Don’t worry if you haven’t used all the stock. If you need more stock you can use some boiling water from the kettle. If you use a lot of water and it tastes a bit bland then sprinkle a little Swiss Bouillon powder over the risotto and stir.
  • Reduce the heat to low. Grate in parmesan cheese to taste.
  • Add the other ingredients and distribute well throughout the risotto and allow them to heat through.

 

Although there’s a lot of stirring and I have to spoon the risotto from the pan when it’s still on the stove, as it’s much to heavy for me to move, I find making risotto quite therapeutic. A bowl full of creamy risotto is the perfect comfort food.


Tuesday Lunch

Leftovers Spanish Omelette

Roasted vegetables (from Sunday’s dinner), 2 cherry tomatoes, half a red onion and the last of the polenta, which had become quite, dry.

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This is a delicious new favourite and, apart from the tricky manoeuvre of holding a plate over the pan so as to flip the omelette over, quick and easy.

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Dinner

Beef Stew, Spring Greens and Cauliflower

(Dumplings and potatoes for my husband, of course)


Wednesday Lunch

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Avocado, Tuna and Egg Salad

The tuna and egg make this a rather substantial salad. I always prepare more basic salad than I need (lettuce, cucumber, celery) and keep it, without any dressing on it, in an airtight container in the fridge. This way I have some easy lunches for a few days.

I love fresh cooked beetroot with salads and beetroot has the added advantage of being a natural antidepressant, apparently it boosts your serotonin levels – certainly makes me smile when I taste it.

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Dinner

Beef Stew

Similar to Tuesday’s dinner – I like cooking meals that last more than one day.


So, having had a few easy days and having eaten all of the chocolate macaroons, I decided to try a different cake recipe.

When I found Nigella’s Chocolate Olive Oil Cake I also found her recipe for Lemon Polenta Cake. I’d seen one of the Masterchef: The Professionals finalists make a pistachio and polenta cake, which looked stunning and had gone down well with the judges. Polenta in a cake then must be good.

 

And it is. This cake is utterly divine. It’s moist, buttery with a wonderful citrus zing – a perfect companion for a black Americano in the morning. Once again, it’s popular with everyone. There is no favourite between this and the Chocolate Olive Oil Cake. They are both loved equally and devoured quickly.

Another easy recipe – my only concern was the polenta I was going to use. I’ve learned that there are two kinds: coarse and fine; but I have only been able to find one kind in the supermarkets, which seems to be a general, non-specific polenta. I went with it. It worked!


Thursday Morning Coffee

Guess? Black Americano and Lemon Polenta Cake

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Gorgeous!

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Lunch

Tuna Salad

All leftover from Wednesday – just needed assembling.

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Dinner

Fish pie and vegetables

A challenge. I’d found some reduced price fish pie mix and prawns when shopping, knew we had a leek and some eggs and we love fish pie. It’s a real treat. This is naturally gluten-free because of its potato topping, but I’m not eating potato! No problem, I thought. I made up the fish with leeks and hard-boiled eggs as I usually do and divided it between two small dishes. I topped one with mashed potato and cheese for my husband and the other with a mashed sweet potato and cheese for me.

 

Happy husband. Miserable me – yuck!

The sweet potato was far too sweet and certainly wasn’t helped by the addition of the cheese, which made it very sickly, especially when combined with the rich filling. A disaster! And one I can’t see my way to fixing at the moment.

 

Fibro-foodie sad about the fish pie,
. . . but happy to have cake. Hope there’s enough for the weekend.
 Positively living with fibromyalgia

 

Food Diary Week 1 – Friday, Saturday and Sunday

In this series of posts Sally shares the first stages of her lifestyle change to a gluten-free, potato-free and low sugar diet, as one of the ways to manage her fibromyalgia symptoms.

Here she is trying to make life easy: repeating some lunchtime dishes, cooking some old favourites and missing cake.

Easy Days . . .

Friday Lunch

Pea and Ham Soup

(Another tub of soup from the freezer)

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Dinner

Salmon, broccoli and carrots

(. . . and boiled potatoes for my husband)

This is my version of convenience food and a method I have used for some years.

DSCF2592I buy a pack of two salmon fillets from the supermarket.

Peel back the shrink-wrap cover and pour a little olive oil over the fillets, which are still in the packaging.

Next cut a large end off a lemon (you don’t need as much as half a lemon).

Squeeze the juice over the salmon, then, cut the remainder into chunks and place around the fish.

Add 4/5 black peppercorns and herbs of your choice. Here I’ve used parsley, thyme and bay.

Place the shrink-wrap covering back over the fish and leave to marinade for as long as you want. If I’m organized, I’ll do this during the day and put the fish back in the fridge. If I’m not, I only marinade for as long as it takes me to prepare the vegetables or salad and I’m ready to cook.

Once the vegetables are cooking, if you’re having vegetables, start cooking the salmon. I have a wonderful pan for this. It’s one of those that doesn’t need any fat or much liquid and comes from a set my husband found for me when I first had fibromyalgia and found it difficult to pick up saucepans – more about them another time.DSCF2591

So for my pan, I place the pan on the heat, flick it with some cold water (if it sizzles I know the pan is hot enough), place the salmon skin side down in the pan and pour the juices from the marinade over it. Pop the lid on, reduce the heat to low and cook for 5 -7 minutes until the shade of pink has changed colour. We like ours just cooked, so slightly darker pink inside, but you can cook yours however you like it. Once the fish is cooked turn off the heat and leave to rest in the pan until everything else is ready. The cooking process does continue, so if you don’t want it cooked anymore take it out of the pan.

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I like mine with a little mayonnaise (from a jar is fine) and my husband likes his with some sweet chilli sauce. Easy!

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Holly and Ozzie at Barton-on-Sea

Any leftover skin is a treat for the dogs.

You can use this method with other types of fish. You can cook it in a frying pan or on a griddle, even wrapped in foil in the oven or on the barbecue. If you have more fish than you need, that’s a bonus: it’s great cold with a lunchtime salad or in a sandwich for the bread eaters in your house.


 

Saturday Lunch

Scrambled eggs, polenta cakes and smoked salmon

Lunches are often repetitive. Just think, how many times a week you used to eat sandwiches. Anyway, I liked this and the addition of some smoked salmon was a bit like changing the filling in your sandwich.

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Tea Time

I haven’t mentioned tea time before because, usually, I just have a cup of herbal tea. Today was different. Today was the third day that I hadn’t had any cake with my morning coffee and I was in urgent need of sugar. I resorted to the gluten-free aisle of our village Co-op store where, thankfully, I found some Mrs Crimble’s Chocolate Macaroons – one of the few ‘off-the-shelf’ gluten-free products I don’t mind eating. So, . . .

Chamomile tea and 3 (I really needed sugar) chocolate macaroons

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Dinner

Chilli and Rice

Another dish I’ve been making for years, which doesn’t contain gluten, so long as you’re careful with the sauce. I use Swiss Bouillon powder to make my stock and a teaspoon of Marmite for depth and flavour. Otherwise, use your normal recipe. I’ll write up my method next time I make it to share with you.


 

Moving into Week 2 but it’s still the weekend

Sunday

I have chocolate macaroons with my morning coffee – sugar craving satisfied.

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Lunch

Avocado, Mozzarella and Tomato Salad

Oh dear – same as last Sunday. We are creatures of habit. This is one of my husband’s favourites which is why we have it at weekends when he’s home.

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Tea time (sugar craving not satisfied)

Chamomile tea and the last chocolate macaroon

Did I mention that I had bought two packets? Good job too – one packet was consumed by my husband and his visiting son.

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Dinner

Roast chicken with roasted vegetables (butternut squash, peppers and red onion), spring greens and carrots

(and, of course, roast potatoes for my husband)

 


 

So, one week and one day without eating gluten, potatoes or hydrogenated oil, although I’m not sure about the oil content in the chocolate macaroons, and very little sugar. Remember I only have a handful of berries and drizzle of honey on my breakfast.

How do I feel? . . . good.

No dramatic reduction in pain or increase in energy but I’m not expecting anything too soon – I’m a realist. There have been some noticeable improvements in other symptoms that are worth mentioning:

My body seems happier

My digestive system feels more settled – very little gurgling, no stomach cramps, no nausea and things are definitely better when I go to the loo.

My brain fog is less dense and my muscles feel less lethargic.

Encouraging signs! BUT . . .

There are TWO difficulties with this new way of eating:

  1. It requires a huge amount of cooking. That in, itself, is not a problem, I quite like cooking. The problem is the time and energy required.
  2. I’ve seen many things I want to try but the ingredients aren’t available in a lot of shops. More time and energy required.

Perhaps I should add a third difficulty: COST. This is not a cheap way to eat.

Easy day means less satisfying food (and no sugar)

Less satisfying food means feeling weak.

And then there’re pastries, which brings me back to morning coffees again. I miss having a croissant with my coffee. I miss having a pain au chocolate with my coffee.

If my husband wants something sweet we can go and buy it. If I want something sweet I have to make it, and that requires planning.

 

I MUST sort out my store cupboard and I MUST MAKE CAKE!!

 

Fibro-foodie mourning for coffee and pastries but still …

Positively living with fibromyalgia

Food Diary Week 1 – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday

In this series of posts Sally shares the first stages of her lifestyle change to a gluten-free, potato free and low sugar diet, as one of the ways to manage her fibromyalgia symptoms.

This post features some firsts: a proper poached egg and attempts with polenta.

I’m writing up my diary notes about 14 weeks after starting them. I never thought there would be so much to say about my daily meals. After a few weeks though a regular pattern of dishes emerges as I find what suits me best, so I shall write-up the diary posts to that point and then any further discoveries as I make them. I really hadn’t intended for this blog to be a food blog; there are so many other factors that affect our lives when living with fibromyalgia – food is just where I am at the moment.

Tuesday Lunch

Pea and Ham Soup

All my energy had gone into providing cake for my morning coffees, so Tuesday’s lunch sent me to the freezer for some Pea and ham Soup. It was a cold day and I wanted something warming and filling that didn’t need to be accompanied by bread.

I generally make this soup whenever we buy a ham hock from our local farm shop. Having boiled the ham for one meal and planned to use the leftovers for another, it always seemed a shame to waste the stock. So in the spirit of Love Food Hate Waste, for which I am a volunteer champion, I make this soup and put it in the freezer.

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Pea and Ham soup with a swirl of cream

For this soup I loosely follow Nigel Slater’s recipe – it has few ingredients and has the simplest method I’ve found, which fits my Rule Number 2. Really I use the recipe as a guide to quantities as my stock is made and flavoured when I cook the ham. The stock doesn’t even have to be used the same day, it will keep a few days in the fridge until you are organised or motivated enough to make the soup. However, the split peas do need to be soaked overnight. Sometimes I soak the peas and don’t want to make the soup the next day. On the advice of my chef husband, I just rinse the peas and place them in fresh water until the following day.

Anyway, when I’m ready I strain the stock, reduce it to the volume I want, allow it to cool, strain and add the peas, bring to the boil and simmer for an hour or until the peas are soft, leave to cool, then blend. I then return the soup to a pan and adjust the thickness with the addition of some vegetable stock or water, according to taste. Simple.

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Tuesday Dinner

Roast pork, roast parsnips and sweet potato, broccoli, carrots and runner beans (more from the freezer and the last of last year’s crop) and, of course, roast potatoes for my husband.

Sunday seemed to have moved to Tuesday, but I was happy to go with the flow.

I couldn’t eat it all. My husband had cooked and the replacement of roast potatoes with roast sweet potato made for a very filling meal, especially with so many vegetables. He hasn’t yet adjusted to cooking for only two now that our children have left home. A little note to self – only half the quantity of sweet potato needed for future roasts.


 

Wednesday Lunch

Poached egg on spinach and a griddled field mushroom

This one was a fridge raid. I’d been so obsessed with cake that I had failed to plan properly for my lunches. The lovely, large open field mushroom looked a good alternative to toast or a muffin (the sight of half a bag of spinach had made me think of eggs Florentine, and I had plenty of eggs).

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Perfect poached egg

Now I had never actually cooked a proper poached egg. I’d cooked them in a poaching pan and ‘en cocotte’ but never in a pan of boiling water. I know 47 years old and I’d never cooked a proper poached egg. Here’s why. Whenever I had gone to make them in the past, my chef husband would go all ‘cheffy’ and take over. I watched and learned. When our daughter was old enough to cook, I taught her, using my husband’s methods, to make perfect poached eggs – but never poached one myself. So this was my chance to make my first proper poached egg. After griddling the mushroom and wilting the spinach I brought my pan of water, with enough white wine vinegar to taste, to the boil, broke my egg into a cup, swirled the water with a spoon vigorously and dropped the egg into the centre of the vortex and watched the white coagulate around the yolk. I then lifted it out when it looked firm enough and gently patted it dry in a clean tea towel. Wow! I was thrilled.

 

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Grilled Field Mushroom, Spinach and Poached Egg

A new lunchtime favourite – if only I can repeat a perfect poached egg.

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Wednesday Dinner

Bolognese with polenta

(Spaghetti instead of polenta for my husband)

Another first, well almost – polenta. I’d tried once before, about a year ago with instant polenta for our daughter and, frankly, it was awful. This time I referred to my Italian cookery bible, The Silver Spoon and followed these instructions:

Polenta Recipe

taken from The Silver Spoon

To serve 6

500g/ 1lb 2 oz  polenta flour

1.75 litres/ 3 pints  of water

salt

  1. Bring salted water to boil in one pan and a smaller amount in another pan (this is to be used as extra liquid if the polenta becomes too thick).
  2. Sprinkle the polenta into the pan while stirring continuously.
  3. As soon as the polenta thickens, soften it with a drop of water from the extra water. This is the secret to cooking polenta successfully, as polenta thickens with heat and softens with water.
  4. Cook for between 45 minutes and 1 hour; the longer the cooking time, the more easily the polenta is digested.
  5. Serve with a little cold milk or butter, or sauce such as tomato or cheese. Polenta can also be served with stews and braised meat, or baked with cheese, butter and meat sauce.

Cooked polenta should be stored wrapped in a tea towel at the bottom of the refrigerator.

 

Well, it was better than the ‘instant’ method I’d followed before but only just passable. I took a closer look at the packet and found this one was also an ‘instant’ variety. I think I’m going to have to do some research as the cooked dish looked nothing like the picture in the book. Fortunately, I had also heard that you should tip polenta into a tin and flatten into shape. This I had done before transferring the left-over polenta to a clean tea towel for storage.


Thursday Lunch

Scrambled Eggs and Fried Polenta Cakes

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Scrambled eggs and polenta cakes

Not wanting waste the polenta I’d made the day before I decided to make some polenta cakes as an alternative to toast. Using a pastry cutter, I cut some cakes from the now firmer polenta and fried them in a little olive oil and butter as if sautéing potatoes. This was a much better way to eat polenta and worked very well with the scrambled eggs.

 

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Thursday Dinner

Rib-eye steak, baked sweet potato slices and salad

(Homemade fries instead of sweet potato for my husband)

Ooh, a treat – 30% off rib-eye steaks in the supermarket!

I spoiled my husband with homemade fries and, with great self-discipline, baked myself some sweet potato slices.

This new way of eating is supposed to be helping my fibromyalgia symptoms, so I certainly don’t want to make any extra work for myself, but there are some compromises I can’t ask my husband to make – and one is giving up potatoes. And he deserves to be spoiled, when I’m able, as he puts up with such a lot during my bad spells. So, as long as the main part of our meals is the same, it really isn’t a problem to cook a potato alternative for myself.

 

Fibro-foodie adapting to new ways of cooking

Positively living with fibromyalgia

 

Do you ever just forget you have fibromyalgia and act instinctively?

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Holly and me at Milford Beach
Friday 13 May 2016, I had one of those moments. Actually I didn’t forget I had fibromyalgia, but I was the only one who could rescue my dog and motivator, Holly. So, after briefly thinking, “How on earth am I going to get down there?” and “I’m going to suffer for this!”I climbed down the rocks.
Who would have thought that within three weeks of these photos being taken I would have to rescue Holly from being trapped between the rocks?

Holly and Ozzie swimming at the place where Holly became trapped less than three weeks later
This time the tide was out, it had just stopped raining but there was a rumble of thunder in the distance and with four hops Holly was at the shore line. As she tried to climb back up the rocks she couldn’t get enough grip to pull herself up and ended up trapped in a pool of water among the lower rocks – a very distraught Holly and a somewhat incredulous Mummy.

“Would I be that stupid?”
Of came my coat and I cautiously climbed down the immensely slippery rocks, walked along the shore a little way to where she was patiently waiting for me. Once I had a hold of her scruff she, very graciously, slid up onto a flat rock, shook herself, gave me a big cuddle and climbed back up the wall.
All that was left was for me to get back up the wall. At least she waited at the top and watched me until I was safe.
I would like to think that Holly has realised she is not invincible and how much her mummy loves her, but I think that realisation rests with me.

And, yes I am suffering now. Full doses of paracetamol and twice daily smotherings of ibruprofen gel. Sleepless nights, migraines and the agony that only a fibromyalgia sufferer can understand. All at a time when I have been carefully managing my baseline in preparation for six weeks’ full-time work next month, when the exam marking season begins. That will be another post entirely.

Oh, and Holly? – she’s just fine.

Hindered by my motivator but still –

Positvely living with fibromyalgia

 

Food Diary Week 1 – Morning Coffees

In this series of posts Sally shares the first stages of her lifestyle change to a gluten-free, potato-free and low-sugar diet, as one of the ways to manage her fibromyalgia symptoms.

This post focuses on her latest obsession – Morning Coffee

Coffee-time, Tuesday morning and I was eager to see how well the Chocolate Olive Oil cake had stored over-night – I wasn’t disappointed. I was elated. Moist, chocolatey and just firm enough to cut a slice and remove it from the tin with ease. This is not a ‘pick me up and eat me’ cake. It definitely requires a spoon or fork.

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A perfect excuse for me to celebrate this moment with my ancestors and serve my slice of cake on a plate from a service inherited from my great-aunt on my mother’s side and a pastry fork from a set given me by a great-aunt on my father’s side. These two wonderful women had been a huge part of my childhood. The latter had been an amazing cook, who probably deserves a whole post to herself.

So I have coffee, cake and some wistful mindfulness that hasn’t been interrupted by an awareness of any of my fibro-symptoms and I realise that focusing on the food I am putting in my body is working at a far deeper level than nutrition alone. I like it.

I have a slight variation on Wednesday: black Americano rather than cappuccino. Sometimes my body says, ‘no milk’ and I listen.

Thursday morning, there’s coffee but NO CAKE! I had shared it with other family members and there was none left.

I seem to be fixating on morning coffee and perhaps I should explain.

Firstly, my early career was in the Hospitality Industry, mostly within Food and Beverage departments. When you begin a shift at 6am you are in full need of a morning coffee break and ours used to consist of coffee and pastries leftover from breakfast. Having said that, my morning coffee obsession probably goes back even further to a family tradition of ‘elevenses’. I spent much of my non-school time with my ‘greats and grands’ – aunties, uncles and grandparents when I was growing up and, no matter who I was with, everything stopped at 11am for a drink and a biscuit. Bring ‘elevenses’ to 10.20 am – morning break on most schools’ timetables and, at this time I’m in my thirties and a teacher, I’m certainly ready for coffee and a sugar fix.

On a more serious nutritional and dietary note, I learned many years ago that my body likes regular, small meals spaced throughout the day. Failure to give my body what it likes results in severe migraines. Morning coffee is one of those meals. It also seems ironic that I’m fixating on sugar when I’m supposedly following a low-sugar diet. Well that’s exactly it – with the exception of some berries and a little honey on my breakfast and the occasional dessert, I eat very little sugar. And, now that I don’t eat gluten or potatoes, I feel the need for a little something sweet in my day. Now all I need is little variety. Think I’ll try a lemon polenta cake next week.

Fibro-foodie – enjoying food and listening to my body to help manage my symptoms.

Positively living with fibromyalgia

‘To thine own self be true’: great advice from The Bard for fibromyalgia sufferers

 

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For the desert island that is fibromyalgia –  it’s a bit heavy, you may need a Man Friday.

In true fibro-style this post comes after the event: the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare. But only a few days after.

Missing this self-imposed deadline made those all too familiar feelings of failure and guilt threaten to spoil my days and probably ruin my week. Yet, ironically, this predicament was the complete opposite of the inspiration within the one quote I had planned to share.

This above all: to thine own self be true

Advice given by Polonius to his son Laertes in Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3, Line 83

Written on a fridge magnet souvenir from a trip to Shakespeare’s Birth Place and as the motto of the secondary school where I trained to be an English teacher, those eight words with the power of iambic pentameter had seeped into my subconscious.

Back then I truly believed I was being true to myself; I could have it all: professional career, family, prospects… in reality, little bits of everything. I certainly quoted it often to my students, mostly the girls. The fictional guidance of father to son had become actual guidance from female teacher to female student. What power!

Once fibromyalgia had freed me from the shackles of employment and the ability to physically care for others the full power of this quote struck me.

As my fibro-self I fully live by this mantra each and every day.

To live well, when you have a chronic illness, you have to accept your situation and recognise your values. And because we have little time and energy we have to focus on what really matters – our ‘true’ values and put them ‘above all’. To our own selves we must be true:

  • We get to know our minds, bodies and souls profoundly
  • We listen to our bodies and learn to say NO to things that will overload us – we know the consequence of yes is PAIN
  • Through mourning what we can no longer do we learn what is most important to us

As the universal theory of literature, so derided in my university years, dictates: Shakespeare speaks to us all and especially to us, my fibro-friends.

So in celebration of 400 years since the great man’s death…

To your own self be true and positively live with fibromyalgia

 

 

Food Diary: let’s start with the first meal of the day-breakfast

 

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.

Adelle Davis (1904 – 1974)

Good nutritional advice for many but not good advice for someone with fibromyalgia, unless you have someone to cook you a Full English everyday and provide room service. We need to keep it simple.

For weeks I have been recording what I eat, taking photos and experimenting with new recipes and in the excitement and turmoil I have found myself lost in the woods with no clear way of expressing any of this in my blog. How to present photos, recipes, ideas and where to share them, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and so on and on and on: I find myself suffering from technological overwhelm and, of course, brain fog.

Good job then that the changes I’ve made to my diet are having the desired effects and other fibro symptoms are improving. With this reassuring thought in mind I have decided to keep things simple and begin at the beginning, with breakfast.

I rarely vary my breakfast. My body discovered it liked oatbran everyday when I first tried the Dukan Diet. For most of the year I have a simple, oatbran porridge for breakfast. I didn’t particularly like the galettes in the Dukan Recipe book so I added my daily portion of oatbran to other things, until my very good friend Suzanne Earwicker, told me that she made a porridge that resembled Ready-Brek. At first, I couldn’t bring myself to try it – I hated Ready-Brek as a child, probably because we often made it in a microwave. Anyway, eventually I had a go at making it, found the consistency that I liked and have stuck with it ever since.

I make my porridge by putting 4 dessert spoons of oatbran in a saucepan. I then cover with the milk of my choice, which at the moment is skimmed milk (This is because I am using quite a bit of fat, as in butter, cream and olive oil, in other areas of my diet.) Stir to the boil, reduce heat and simmer. I like a slightly runny, smooth consistency-just so that there’s still some movement in it. Serve with a little extra cold milk, honey or maple syrup and a handful of berries.

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Breakfast – Oatbran Porridge with Raspberries, Blueberries and Honey

If you are following the weight loss part of the Dukan Diet then you will need to use skimmed milk and only add sweetener. Otherwise you can add anything you like. Stewed apple is rather nice and a great way to use up surplus apples. I choose the berries because they fit the dietary guidance from Martin Budd, my naturopath, that helps with my iron stores. Maple syrup makes a good alternative to honey.

The only time I vary this breakfast is in warmer weather or when on holiday in a hot country – just don’t want porridge in the heat. I still consume my 4 dessert spoons of oatbran but this time I add them to plain yoghurt: creamy, Greek yoghurt is my favourite and, again, I add fresh fruit and honey. I always travel with my pillow and a pot of oatbran sufficient for my stay.

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I have been eating oatbran daily now for quite a few years and do have a particular favourite. I’m not normally influenced by brands and have therefore tried many supermarket own brands and unspecified oatbrans from health food shops, but I have to say the Mornflake variety is so good that I buy it in bulk whenever I’m in a shop that sells it.

This breakfast has the added advantage of fitting in with the philosophy of Love Food Hate Waste for which I am a volunteer champion. The oats store well in a kilner type jar or tupperware container, you can make as much or as little as you need and, if you are adding fruit toppings, you can make use of stewed or left-over fruits.

Perfect fibro-foodie breakfast