Counting spoons

It was such a beautiful day. F. and I sat out on Castle Sands, watching the waves and soaking in the sun.

IMG_8414Can you spot what’s unusual about this picture? Having trouble? What you don’t see is that I’m in the middle of a flare up. F. helped me up that rock and then helped me down again. The point of the picture is to show how normal I look even during a flare up. Rheumatoid Arthritis is mostly an invisible disease.

I’m one of the lucky ones. After a year and a half of aggressive treatment I went into remission. No bone damage. But that doesn’t mean the RA has gone away. Seven years on and I still ache in the mornings. Sometimes I’m just too tired to do, well, anything. This last flare up is the worst I’ve had in a while — I say is, because it isn’t fully gone yet. I went in today for a follow-up appointment on the steroids they gave me a few weeks ago: the steroids worked for two weeks, and now the problem joints are hurting again. I might be cycling again and walking without a cane, but it still hurts when people shake my hand during the passing of the peace at church.

IMG_8399This flare up has reminded me what it’s like to have RA. Not that I had forgotten the fact, but I had been in remission long enough that I didn’t have to think twice before every activity, to plan my meals around what my hands and knees could handle. (A moment to sing praises: F. brought a bar stool for my kitchen! Now I don’t have to stand on achey feet, ankles, knees, and hips if I need to cook on bad days. Though I wish I could have seen him cycling across town while carrying it…) To refer to The Spoon Theory, I had been in remission long enough that I had become lazy about keeping track of my spoons.

What causes a flare up? No one knows. No one knows what causes RA to start with, let alone why it goes into remission or comes back. Personally, I know I’m affected by changes in weather and spring this year has been unusually unpredictable. I’m also affected by stress, something I am intimately familiar with since I am in the final months of my PhD.

I may not look sick, but I am. The way I see it, I can either give up or keep fighting. This is my life and I want it full to the brim with adventure, ambition, laughter, and love. So I will keep pressing on. RA has taught me to recognise the noble in the mundane, to realise that being faithful in my life here is as important as saving the world. I will dream, I will compromise, I will accomplish — all while counting spoons.

Black Bean Chili

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A friend of mine shared this recipe with me a few years ago and it is a favourite of mine. It’s perfect on a cold winter evening, or on a cold wintry spring evening for that matter! I’ve made it with several variations: kidney beans and pinto beans instead of black beans, using adobo chili sauce or jalapeños instead of chipotle chilies in adobo sauce. The original black bean chili recipe wouldn’t use up a whole jar of my precious chipotle chilies in adobo sauce and I feel guilty about not using all of it, since chipotle chilies in adobo sauce are an imported item for me. But I had one small jar kicking around in my cupboard, and I realised that if I doubled the recipe, I wouldn’t waste half of the jar.

So here is the black bean chili recipe, doubled. It made enough for dinner, for F. to have seconds, and for both of us to have leftovers.

Black Bean Chili
Serves 6

  • 6 (15oz) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 (14 1/2oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 3 medium chipotles
  • 3 Tbs adobo sauce
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 3 Tbs chili powder
  • 4 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 avocados, cut into slices
  • sour cream
  • 200 grams cheddar cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Puree 2 can of beans, tomatoes, and chilies with sauce until smooth.
  2. Brown onion until transparent. Add chili powder and cumin to onion, cook about 20 secs, until fragrant. Add remaining beans and puree to onion. Simmer for 10 minutes (be sure to stir or you’ll have stuff stick to the bottom of the pan). Add half of the lime juice. Simmer a bit more (you can let this go as short or as long as you want.) Add the rest of the lime juice.
  3. Garnish with cilantro, sour cream, cheese, and avocado.

Best served with fresh cornbread with lots of butter. Mmm… enjoy!

Favourite things

Church square:

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The square outside the Town’s historic parish church, Holy Trinity, with benches, buskers, charity shops, and the local public library. I cross it often when going from South Street to Market Street.

Potato, spring onion, dill frittata

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Potato, spring onion, dill, & cheese frittata
(from BBC GoodFood)
Serves 2-3

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 400g cooked new potatoes, sliced
  • 4 eggs , beaten
  • 4 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 1 bunch dill, roughly chopped
  • 25g cheddar, grated
  1. Cook the potatoes in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and leave to dry for 5 minutes.
  2. In a small non-stick frying pan, heat oil over a medium heat. Add potatoes, then fry until beginning to crisp, about 8 mins. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, spring onions, dill and some seasoning. Heat the grill.
  3. Tip the eggs into frying pan, mix quickly, lower the heat, then sprinkle over cheese. After about 8 mins, once the top side has almost set, pop under the grill for 2-3 mins or until firm and golden. Slide out of the pan.

Serve with a green salad either hot or cold. This is great for easy, good-to-eat-cold leftovers.

Favourite things

Feline friends:

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This is Broccoli. I’ve posted about her, but she is still a highlight of every day I get to spend some time with her. She’s a neighbour’s cat whose owner doesn’t mind me stopping to say hello and give Broccoli some pets when I pass by their garden.

Forgiveness in ‘Melusine’

One of my favourite scenes from the Middle English Melusine comes just after Raymondin has been convinced by his brother to break the promise he made to his wife to never see her on Saturdays. Melusine has been cursed to turn into a half-serpent on Saturdays and she can only attain salvation if her husband agrees to never see her or to denounce her in public.

Up until this time she has been a model of virtue, overseeing their lands with justice, supporting the Christian community by building churches and monasteries, and raising their ten sons well. But one Saturday, Raymondin’s brother passes on a rumour that Melusine is having an affair and in a fit of jealousy Raymondin goes to see her. He makes a hole in the door to her chamber and sees her in the bath, serpent tail and all.

What do you expect at this point? Shock? Horror? Revulsion? But no, Raymondin is instead immediately struck with remorse. He banishes his brother from the castle for causing him to betray his wife, and then laments, ‘Alas, Melusine, of whom all the world spake well, now have I lost you for ever. Now have I found the end of my Joy… Farewell all my joy, all my comfort, and all my hope.’ He is so distraught that he spends the night in anxious grief.

And yet, Melusine returns to him at dawn on Sunday as usual. She knows he has seen her, but she knows also his remorse and repentance. When she gets into bed he sighs with ‘great suffering of heart’. Melusine holds him and asks, ‘My lord, what aileth you, are you sick?’ and then comforts him, saying, ‘Worry not, for if it please God you shall soon be whole.’

Raymondin answers, ‘By my faith, sweet love, I feel much better for your coming.’ You can almost hear the relief in his voice.

You might not think love is rare in medieval romance, and it isn’t, but it is unusual to see it in married couples. Medieval romance tends to focus on the lovers before they get married, rather than afterward, and often the woman in the couple is already in a loveless marriage. In Middle English romance the married couples who stand out who are still in love with each other are Sir Orfeo and Heurodis (in Sir Orfeo) and Melusine and Raymondin (in Melusine). Rarer still is the level of tenderness seen here in Melusine, both here and later when the curse takes Melusine away from her family. After Melusine has been cursed to stay in the form of a dragon until Judgement Day, Raymondin retreats to a hermitage, where he spends the rest of his days praying for Melusine’s salvation.

Sweet potato, greens, & broccoli tacos

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I used to be somewhat narrow minded in what constituted a taco. Beans or meat with lettuce, tomato, sour cream and cheese. Or beans or meat (or neither) with stir fried bell peppers and onions, like fajitas. I was sceptical of any other kind of fillings. The same goes with enchiladas or quesadillas. After a while, all of my Mexican food started to taste the same, just coming in different forms.

Butternut Squash and Kale Quesadillas by The Pioneer Woman and Classic Mushroom Quesadillas in Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers changed all this. Both of these reciipes were so delicious that they opened my eyes and taste buds to much more than bell peppers and onion — so much so that when left with cupboard items to come up with dinner one night, I came up with something new.

Sweet potato, broccoli, & green tacos
(Inspired by The Pioneer Woman and Mexican Food Made Simple)
Serves 2

  • 2 sweet potatoes, cubed
  • 1 head of broccoli, chopped into florets
  • 1 bunch of greens, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 avocados, cut into slices
  • 1/2 a lemon, zested
  • a splash of white wine
  • parmesan or grana padano cheese
  • chili powder to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  1. Heat  olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add sweet potato and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Cook for several minutes, turning gently with a spatula.
  2. Add the broccoli and keep cooking until the sweet potato is tender.
  3. Add in the greens. Toss it around with tongs and cook it for 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Add a splash of white wine and give it a good stir.
  5. When the wine is evaporated, add the minced garlic and zest of half a lemon. Stir to combine flavours.

Serve in tortillas with avocado slices and parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Pride and Prejudice

Opening line: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.’

pride&prejudicePoor Mr Bingley didn’t know what he was getting into when he bought the house of Netherfield near the village of Meryton. This novel follows the families of his neighbours: the Bennets primarily, and the Philips and the Lucases.

Though often branded as ‘chick lit’, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is more about the social and economic conventions involved in marriage in the Regency period. I avoid a full summary partly because most of my readers have read this novel or seen the various film adaptations, and, if they haven’t, it is difficult to summarise the novel without giving away the the different misunderstandings that the novel so hinges upon.

Yes, dear readers, I have finally read a Jane Austen novel. I had refused to read the novel for so long precisely because it was branded as chick lit. I usually post the image of the cover of the edition that I read, but the library copy I read was another instance of having chick lit/romance cover, with the subtitle, ‘A classic romance’.

Why now? And why Pride and Prejudice, when it was Persuasion I promised Kelly I would read before I die? Because I am also reading Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azir Nafisi, a memoir in books. The memoir is divided into four sections, one for each author, with an emphasis on one novel in each section. The only author I hadn’t read, and had no good reason not to read, was Austen. And since Nafisi discusses Pride and Prejudice in her memoir, that is the Austen book I chose to read.

So how did I find it? It was a pleasant read that I think will improve with time. The first third was a bit slow going for me, but once the main cast of characters were introduced and the conflict came into play the novel picked up my interest. And, coincidentally, the year I finally decide to read a book by Jane Austen it is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. The BBC has done a documentary of restaging the Netherfield Ball, and you can read the article about it here: BBC Party like it’s 1813. I look forward to watching the documentary and maybe even watching one or both of the film adaptations.

Salmon with lemon and coriander

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Lola is visiting for a few days. She had just gone grocery shopping in London before coming up to Scotland, so she brought the food up with her, including some salmon filets. Armed with salmon, lemon, and fresh coriander, I set out to find a recipe to do our reunion meal justice. I found two recipes, one from two little chefs and another from Yummy.ph, altered and combined them. The result is just delicious.

Salmon with lemon and coriander
Serves 4

  • 1 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp oregano
  • 4 salmon fillets, about 1 inch thick
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the lemon-coriander dressing

  • 1 Tbs lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 Tbs fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly oil heavy roasting pan or line pain with foil and lightly oil foil.
  2. Combine lemon juice, oil, garlic, coriander, cumin, and oregano in a bowl and mix well. Pour mixture over fish and lightly rub it into fish flesh. Let fish marinate 15 to 20 minutes.
  3. Set fish in roasting pan, skin side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast fish about 10 minutes; it should just flake and have changed color in the thickest part.
  4. Prepare the lemon-coriander dressing: Whisk all ingredients in a small bowl and serve with the salmon filets.

Tip: If you’ve lined the pan with foil, slide spatula just under meat so that the skin stays stuck to foil, and lift meat out.

Serve with your favourite side dishes. The salmon will be really flavourful — enjoy!