Post Title Too Long (And Silly!)

I will have my turkey sous vided.

Hmm? Oh, the title, right. It’s: That One Post Where Jack Climbs Onto His High Horse and Rides Away Into The Sunset With His Fat Head. You know the type of post that’s incoming, dear reader, the type of post where I position myself as a lifestyle guru helping the feeble minded masses understand that they can only make a choice against tradition when I tell them to because I’m special! Buy my Book! Subscribe to my…yeah, you get it, so, no, I’m not doing that. I’m just sharing a little of he work that went into giving myself a peace of mind this holiday season. I’ve attempted the free-from festive route, here if you’re looking to cater to more than one as it’s obviously worthwhile if you’re in charge of the food preparation for everyone, rather than, like Jack, trying to match everyone else single handedly. What am I talking about? Why food! FOOD! That seems to be all this holiday means to most. No, no, I’m not getting theological here, it’s just food has become the all encompassing effort this time of year and I’m here to tell you that it really doesn’t need to be. That alone won’t help against the societal pressure to conform, but let’s look at this idea and flesh it out a bit.

I will have it baked.

Marvelling at junk-food and the wizard behind the curtain. This was just a reminder of what I meant to say here, but it is fitting. Look, junk-food is junk, I don’t care how companies try to sell us on it, I’ve been in the thick of it, literally, you don’t weigh what I used to by abstaining, now I’m so far removed it’s like a distant dream. The thing about junk-food, hence to be known as trash, is that it’s deceptive, until you know how something is made you just can’t imagine all the fat and sugar that goes into even the smallest treat, couple that with all the preservatives and additives that comes in trash then I feel ill thinking about that. Your brain and companies conspire together to get you hooked, fats and sugar paired are deviously addictive, companies using the fear of missing out (FOMO) then make you feel as if this Christmas was the only time you can eat: Whatever. Realising that ignoring this part is vastly better for you regardless of your food issues is part of the path to just enjoying the holidays.

I just won’t have it Christmas Day.

Binging? This is binging! Again, fitting. You might be thinking of a few artisanal mince pies, a sip of brandy, my my, dear reader, how pretentious you are! Not like humble, Jack, ‘umble Jack even. But here’s the thing: You can’t be sure what extreme is when it comes to food. Different people have different requirements, they also have different thresholds. You might be satisfied with a little cookie, a nice meal and nothing more but to someone who like I was, am still in a way, who just can’t stop. Who will eat until they’re ill chasing that supposed satisfaction. Here’s a clue: It doesn’t exist. Food will not make the holidays better, but it can cause trouble for you for the rest of the year and the future. So, for me I’ll have some turkey, I’ll have it with my vegetables, my own gravies, I’ll enjoy it, but I won’t have anything out of the norm. No junk-food, no extra pilings of meat and vegetables, nothing I don’t need. And, you know what? I’ll be better and happier for it. When the fad diets come in I’ll be eight years at this and will have never stumbled. Why? Because I know what I’m doing works, I know what’s in my food and I know how to eat plenty, but never the wrong things.

So very smug.

So, you’re saying now what, right? I have dashed the plate from your grubby hands, dear reader, the gravy has been upturned and is soaking into the carpet already sodden with the tears of…what? Shut up and get to the point? How rude! Fine. Remember that it isn’t food-mas it’s not even a religious holiday if you’d rather it not be. I don’t celebrate it that way. It’s a time to remember to think of family and fiends, which should be every month, but we’re all idiots in that regard. Yesterday I watched my nephew marvel at the magical elf that has taken up residence in our house, he’s eight and his innocence is the greatest gift of all. His sisters keeping the illusion going for him the second greatest. There’s so much more to this than food, but it is so very hard to break away from that. For those who can dip, but not drown, good for you, but remember those who can’t. Support them in their choices because it really is just one day, but a mistake made then may be detrimental for many, many more days. Okay, I’ll leave you with Charles, the Dabbing Elf.

Dabbing is…like wiping your nose on your sleeve and being very proud of it.

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Journey To Better Health 2: Healthier Journeying

I’ve added a little more to the page: My Journey To Better Health. Just thought I’d share the newest part here too. All is good, dear reader, no exciting news, but wheels are turning. Slowly, but surely. See you again soon.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it dear reader? Or rather it hasn’t. Only a few months later and I’m finally adding to this. The journey will be continuing for quite some time. I’m resuming this on the tenth of December, twenty seventeen. On the eve of my next appointment. All should go well and bar something heart-rending you should see this continuation of this journey. When I last typed this I was hunched, bandaged and still had a surgical drain in. This part is where the craziness of the aftermath winds down, where normalcy and better days start to appear. In saying that I will have to start and stop a few more times. I hope to have word of what the next stages entail. There are at-least two more surgeries in the cards, if my legs can be fixed then that’ll make four in total. Four surgeries to mend some of the damage that the weight gain caused. I really can’t envision a day when I can look back at all this and not have to do it again and again. For now I’m grateful, scared, happy and just generally befuddled. Let’s resume my story, dear reader, it’s not all that exciting, but it is important, at-least to me. This is written a little more compressed and might tend to jump more as it’s a recap of the months after surgery split into the different aspects rather than a chronological look back.

So, surgical drains are a pain, both literally and figuratively. I had to keep the second in a week beyond what was necessary, mostly due to trying to find someone who could remove it. I will say that it was ultimately for the best, but in that moment all I wanted was to have it removed. My G.P was the one to remove it and, not getting too graphic, I was given a first hand-view of just how large and long that drain was. I’ve heard of the viper in your bosom, but the snake in your…anyway, as soon as it was removed, relatively painless, though I think the longer it stays in the more it wants to stay, I was standing much straighter immediately. I can’t tell you of the relief, there was a fear that I might end up needing to get my abdomen drained or another drain put in, a very extreme contingency, but your mind goes to all the worst scenarios. A jump to the future can cure you of any fears, everything was fine after and here was no need for anything to be done. So there I was still bound and bandaged, but much more mobile and starting to feel myself again.

Excuse the messy kitchen. The studio was busy (And imaginary).

It is hard to revisit these little pockets of time, they’re self-contained, you feel in the moment they exist that that’s it, this is life, then the bubble bursts and you find yourself in another. I’ve possibly said it before, but it really does feel as if you’d lived lifetimes in those short few months post surgery. The next big event was the formation of pressure sores due to the binder. To cut it down, what happened was I had to visit the hospital for an examination, the head surgeon came in to see me, which surprised the person examining me, as I’ve said, though it bears repeating, I’ve been extremely fortunate in the kindness of everyone involved, found out it’s a common thing when something that bulky, remember I had two binders on, is pressing into something numb. The nurses took care of me and I later started to remove the binder periodically which lessened the pressure and once it came off the sores healed in a flash. I’d like to talk about the binder in more detail. Not like you can stop me, heh.

A binder is an elasticated compression garment. I had to wear two due to my my size and the swelling. It was only when I neared the end of my need that I was able to wear just one, but I’ll get to that. I didn’t know anything about binders until I had to wear two for several months. The best advice is the same as I found early on and that is simply: Wear your binder. It will be itchy, perhaps smelly, it will probably cause pressure sores, but it will help you heal, keep you supported and I tell you honestly that I needed that support. In the very early stages after surgery even removing it for a few minutes was a mixture of anxiety and tired strain. I’ll never forget the first time I had it removed, lying on my back seeing my new stomach for the first time, then you jump ahead a few months and I was terrified to sleep without it, but managed, a month later again I had weaned myself off it and the muscles were strong. I may be repeating myself here, but I’m sure a lot of the people reading this or having heard it still know little about it. I wore those binders alongside a pair of compression stockings for so long that it feel like they were a permanent part of the new me. Now? It’s slowly fading away, I can hardly imagine being bound up like that. Strange how the mind copes and forgets, isn’t it, dear reader? To wean myself off it I started slow, as per the surgeons advice. I took it of at night, and yes you do feel as if your stomach will fall off, no joke, then left it off in the mornings after a week for a few hours, which was exhausting, both mentally and physically. Slowly I can to be able to do without, using it as needed, until a month or more later I was more comfortable without than with. Once it was off the pressure sores healed and that was the end of bandages and binders.

So, where am I now? Well, the scars are still itchy, the muscles still a little tender, slightly swollen, worsening as the day progress or as my activity increases, but the scars are softening. I have itching inside which is unpleasant. It means nerves are regrowing. For a while it was hard and swollen, now it’s softening and less swollen. Still, I haven’t taken a single pain killer since the one after the surgery. It’ll be a full year before I’m back to where I was, better really. I have further surgeries to go, the new year will start the appointments again and then I find where I go from here. There may well be more to share in my little story, that’ll be for another day, dear reader. For now, I just look after myself and give myself the peace of a little forgetfulness. I’ll buy clothes that I could never wear, have a hope for the future I haven’t had in a long time and start to realise that there is an end to this, it will take years, but there will be a finish.

Thanks for reading.

Icy Buds


Parsley and stolen Thyme. Come back next year you two.

No, no, I meant frost on the budding flowers. Yes, we are buds, but I…okay, yes. Dear Buds, I’ve been pottering around the garden. My mobility is improving all the time, what’s funny is that with every stage that comes you assume that’s it, that there will be no great improvement and when it improves yet again I’m still shocked. It’ll all happen in time, I know, but what still is taking time to process is that this too will end. For now, let’s talk about gardens, or what remains of it at least.

I’m gradually cutting the rose back.

No way will I cut a live flower.

Let the leaves take in the last of the sunlight.

I have a habit of following my own hunches, dear reader, that’s not to say that I’m always right or that I refuse to listen. No, I take in all I’m told and base my hunches on that. Thus my roses are staying uncut until they fully die back. I sprayed them a month back and they’re still spotless now, if I’d let them they’d have blackspot again. The weather has been strange and instead of following the arbitrary dates and seasons I’ll look at the plants and base my decisions on them instead. Let’s face it: They probably know more about nature than I do, they’re outside all he time. Reading the leaves, so to speak, watching the clouds, looking at what has died back and what is flourishing, mostly weeds sadly, is the way I garden. It’s worked the last three years, hopefully it always will.

The Canna Indica bulbs are huge. I hope they flower more next year.

The Honeysuckle can be seen again. I have to tie a rope to hold back the Dahlias for next year.

I wonder which will do better? Perhaps Jasmine will reach the top first.

Ignore the weeds! I’ve been puling huge handfuls, but the work of weeding is never done. Come warmer weather and a better healed abdomen I’ll be able to tackle them fully. For now I just keep them off the bulbs and plants. This will probably be the last Jack post of the year, dear reader, as you can see there just isn’t much happening and the weather is getting colder. For now I’ll just sit here and plan, research and imagine. Come next year all your gardening post needs will be met. For now I fiddle with recipes, hopefully posting a few and wait for warmer days.

One Hundred and Twelve Days

No, Jack is not creatively bankrupt! How dare you, here I am artistically listing the days that have passed since my surgery and…okay, yes, I couldn’t think of anything clever to say, but it is strange to imagine that it’s only been sixteen weeks. The further on I get in the healing process the more time seems to return to normal. The first weeks were a hazy rush of seeming lifetimes hurtling past me. The further I went, the more the routine returned to normal the slower and slower time has become. It’s all but back to the way it was before, well, without the lost feeling brought about by the waiting and uncertainty.

It’s strange because it feels as if I have two stomachs, no, like like a cow! Stop being udderly ridiculous, no jokes of that kine (Hah! Take that cow puns) will be allowed. What I mean is: I’m healing, stitched, glued, pulled and moved. There are pains, though minor, to Jack at least, remember this is the lunk-head who joked after waking up from major surgery. There are phantom actions to forget, no more avoiding stretching, moving fast or pulling, well, mostly it’s still healing that way too, but I’m as light on my feet as someone of my size and low athletic ability can be. It’s so far from the mess that it was that I’m still amazed. That’s the other side: It’s done. I’m free. A year of healing and I’ll most likely be better than I have ever been in nearly two decades. It’s so hard to realise that fully yet. In time, when everything is finished I’ll finally be completely free from this journey that I started.

What then? I honestly have no idea. There are things I’m doing now that I haven’t been able to do. I’m actually buying clothes. Comfortable clothes, the clothing I want to buy. Sure the selection is still limited, the surgeries won’t suddenly make all tall and broad clothing appear is stores, but I can buy something and keep it. Not have to think of the surgery and how I’ll have to start over. I’m really scared to imagine the full finish, those three months, which in truth I can’t fully recall, damaged me, they’ve put a spike in my joy and I can’t remove it, but that’s okay, I have to admit it, because it true, but I’ll still go ahead. Making plans in-spite of the fear. I have my old tattoo plans that will need to be revisited. Terrible chance has made me what I am in part, but this journey was all by my own hands, no matter how hard it was I’ve never stopped. I added to myself with my own will. I hope that one day, maybe in the not too distant future you’ll see a post typed by a Jack that can leave the mess of himself behind fully. I’ve spoken before how I like to imagine my past selves standing in the distance cheering me on. They’ve been shuffled off, but never forgotten. I’m not some inspiration figure, larger than life and twice as obnoxious. No, dear reader, I’m the slightly rough looking, soil son, the realist and the striver. When this journey ends I’ll begin another, what it will be is anyone’s guess. I hope you’ll stick by me.

Pecan Butter

I have to write about nut butter? It’s nutty and buttery. Done.

Ah, the humble pecan. That…er…what is a pecan, besides a nut? I’ll Google it, but later. If you let Jack away to read about plants then you’ll never see me again, dear reader. A pecan is a fancy walnut. Shush. That’s true and I will deny having ever said it if it isn’t. As with all recipes of this simplistic type I have to work very hard to pad out the following post. The reason I decided to make pecan butter is that a packet of pecans is a fraction of the price of pecan butter, which is insanely expensive. A tiny jar would run you twelve euros, sized like that little jar above. So, I decided to make my own and hope my food processor would be up to the task. It’s just a bog-standard variety, no fancy high-speed setting or anything other than basic functions really. It works, I can’t complain. You can obviously adjust the amount of nuts to suit yourselves. The one warning is that pecans toast fast, absurdly fast. Burnt caramel might be tasty, seared steak delicious, but burnt nuts are burnt nuts.  Don’t do that.

Light affects the colour, it’s brown-ish.

Taste is like a pecan, I don’t add anything at this stage as if I am going to flavour it I can do so when I’m using it. I’ll probably use it in cooking more than as a spread. It’s worth pointing out that it can be much runnier than store bought nut butters. It’s the problem of needing oil to blend. Still, it doesn’t really affect much when you’re dolloping it on your porridge or scooping it into a smoothie. Keeping it in the fridge will probably make it solidify. The joys of home-made, dear reader, are unending discoveries. I do have a few ideas I’ll try it with. I like combining tahini with nut butters, adding some raw garlic, some honey or maple syrup and a little salt. Some water to thin and you make a really handy cold sauce for pasta. Nut butters are great, a staple of my diet. Making your own can be cost effective, but for me it’s just a novelty. Still, it may mean more recipes and that’s never a bad thing, right, dear reader?

Ingredients

250g Pecans
2-4 Tbsp Olive Oil or Any Other Mild Tasting Oil

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 175c (Fan) and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.

2. Spread the Pecans out and then bake for 4-5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning as needed, until fragrant and slightly browned. Be careful of burning.

3. Add the Pecans to a food processor, while still warm, and blend until a smooth glossy paste has been formed. Add Oil as needed to facilitate blending and stop every few minutes to prevent food processor over-heating. Store it in the fridge.

Tootin’ Roots

Lowering the tone of the blog one root at a time.

I’ve been excavating, dear reader, rummaging in the soil for roots. You may remember my mystery artichokes, which it was decided were probably Jerusalem Artichokes, or Sunchokes. Which only the root of which is used. I decided to check out the roots of these newly established plants and as you can see they’ve grown quite a bit from the small pullet-egg sized roots, these were just the surface roots, I mostly wanted to see what hey were like and to confirm that they were most likely sunchokes. In double checking via Google I came across a third name or them, a nickname rather. They’re called Fartichokes due to their high levels of inulin. Marvel at the seven feet tall far jokes! I will probably try them at some point, most likely next Winter, but I’d like to see them flower and they might achieve that in their second year. The flowers aren’t supposed to be all that eye catching, but still.

It’s funny to think I’m thinking years in the future. When I was waiting for the surgery it was all but impossible to plan anything for the future, you never knew when you’d get a call. For now I still have to wait on some things, I can’t get tattooed until all the surgeries are through, it might cause trouble and I want all my healing devoted to my muscles which are doing well, stating to feel looser and vastly superior at even this early stage than they were before. It’s only that I’m now free from that pain, no back pain since the surgery!, that I really see how much pain I was in, just how much care and consideration I had to give each moment. I still find myself trying not to strain the phantom divide in the muscles. Let that be the title of Jack’s autobiography: The Phantom Divide. Snazzy.

They started to die back so I grabbed them. Not bad for a fluke.

Oh! I almost forgot, I checked my weight to make sure it’s hanging in there and it hasn’t gone up since the surgery. The lost six pounds, of skin, remain lost. My diet is set in stone and I’ve given up the soft drinks, over a month now, possibly, I forget, so it isn’t all that surprising, but what I found shocking was that weight gain is very common after surgeries like this. I can’t imagine going trough all I did and then putting the weight back on, not even a little of it. The countdown is starting, in just over a week I’ll be back talking about he next surgeries. Sitting shitless in a cold room. Worth the chill and red faces, dear reader, al of this is worthwhile. I’ll see you soon, possibly with a new recipe.

Nightshade Substitutions You Might Not Have Tried

Dear reader, you know my tendency when discussing fairly common themes like substitutions to descend into snarky flippancy, right? Yeah, have no fear I’m as sardonic as ever! Let’s start this with the ever common opening: What are nightshades? Seriously, Google that, you’re here to be helped not to be faced with formulaic word-count increasers. You’re also here for actually experience, not just vague guesses and half-hearted reiterations of familiar ideas. I haven’t spent the last, what? Five years at this to start telling you I have a taco seasoning that’s better than the countless near identical recipes you’ve seen, because I’m not here to sell you on my brand nor am I here to threat you like the idiot I was made to feel time and time again when I placed my faith in the faint hope that maybe this time the recipe would be something new. Jack remembers the struggle, dear reader. As I sit here with strangely tight, but not unpleasantly so, abdominal muscles, abs of steel and a heart of gold, that’s honest Jack, I tell you honestly that I believe the substitutions here are, if not wholly original, very useful and worth considering.

Now, I’ve probably talked about these all a one point or another, but as new readers, all dear, old or new, come to the blog, while I sit here wondering why, it never hurts to collect what I know in a single post now and again. Now maybe you’ll think the effort to procure some of these too much to bother with and that’s fair, but it may help you with a little inspiration. Now, things like sweet potatoes for potatoes are a great idea, but there’s no point pointing that out again. I hope what I share here, all ideas I still use day to day, though there are others on the blog, almost all recipes are nightshade free after all, will make you stop and think. Maybe you share this post and help someone out. Maybe you put Jack in your will and bequeath him a haunted mansion. Who knows? I’m tossing this post into the churning sea of free from in the hopes it’ll act as a life-preserver for someone who was like me: Confused, scared, angry and unwilling to just settle. Okay, enough preamble, onto the meat of the matter.

Amaranth. Yeah, yeah, I hear ya, you’re saying that Jack never shuts up with the pigweed. I can say with certainty that I created this recipe for the most creamy nightshade free side myself. By mistake if I’m honest. It’s not only free from nightshades, but also dairy, eggs, sugar, corn and just nearly everything, if you’re stuck with a nut allergy there’s a tahini option just begging to be tweaked. What makes the cashew version so good, aside being creamy, decadently rich, but still healthy as they come, is that it can be adjusted to the texture  you want, less nut butter will make it looser and lighter, whereas less oil and more nut butter will make a thicker, chewier side. It’s the reason you see it here so often. While I do love quinoa, it’s been a friend for a long time, the versatility and taste of nut butter amaranth just wins out every time. Plain amaranth wouldn’t be a match for potatoes, it’d be like making porridge and passing it off as mash. This is on a while other level.

Fries?

Mash?

Stuffing?

Harlequin Squash. If you search harlequin squash on the recipe page you’ll see so many hits, with very good reason, harlequin squash is hands down the greatest potato replacement I’ve ever eaten. It can make anything from gnocchi to roasts, but, big but, I have no idea of the availability of harlequin squash outside of growing your own. Now, the markets here aren’t very big, the selection wouldn’t be considerable, so perhaps you’ll be able to find it amongst he squashes. I’ve eaten quite a few in my time and I’ve never tasted one to match potatoes like this does. The first one I ever ate made me panic as it was so like eating a potato. If you’ve ever read a gardening post you’ll know the great love I have or this big berry, there’s a reason I’ve spent a good seven or eight months each year of the last three years growing these wonders. If here was ever something I’d push as a necessary part of a nightshade free diet this would be it. I hope they’ll become as popular as they deserve to be.

Korma?

Savoury Strawberry Sauce?

Raspberry?

Berries. Now it’s not to say that nightshade free sauces are rare, they’re not, I have literally dozens, but the use of fruit like a tomato in recipes can’t quite be replicated that easily. I’ve often seen vinegar used with berries, but histamine intolerances says no. But I feel that the fresh, slightly tart sweet balance of fruit is really interesting and worth exploring. Tomato ketchup was a common ingredients in the messes I used to call meals, but I couldn’t say that I could tell it was a fruit. The loss of tomato is the loss of a, sometimes subtle, backing flavour. You’d notice the absence if not the presence. Instead of just trying to emulate here I’ve instead tried to celebrate the ingredient. You’ll know you’re eating a strawberry curry sure, but you’ll enjoy the flavours. This is a case of if you can’t have, then take a different tact. Fruit pairs with so much, like the ever present tomato they can fit in almost anywhere.

Sichuan Flower Pepper. An old friend I’ve since revisited. This is the only spice that ever came close to cayenne. It has a numbing heat, when it touches the tongue there’s a burning numbing sensation, you’ll want to be moderate in your use of this. Though not the sinus-clearing fiery heat of cayenne, it’s very potent. Mix a little into your sauces for a potent punch. Combine with raw garlic to tear the roof off your mouth. I tell you I loved the intense heat when I used to eat it, the hotter the better, but too much does detract from the experience of savouring food. A little here and here, is pleasant though. When spicy heat is all but non-existent this is very welcome in any nightshade free pantry.

So, there we go, dear reader, just a few of the ingredients in my free from pantry. Not all by any means, but ones with parallels. I suppose I do miss nightshades, more the convenience than the taste really. It’s been so long since they’ve comprised any part of my diet that I just don’t even think of them as food. There’s no need I suppose, I’ve found replacements that have exceeded all expectations. Hopefully you’ve found this edifying, interesting and somewhat useful. I’ll be back again soon, dear reader.