Baby it’s cold outside…

Step into Life / Kensington Gardens – for more information: Here

Mid winter and we start to notice that our waistlines have thickened the days are shorter and the morning’s are dark. We have spent the majority of winter in heated offices, cars, supermarkets and eaten heavier foods and possibly consumed more red wine than we would in the warmer months. Who in their right mind goes out to exercise in this weather?

Well as it happens quite a few people, and if you are like me and you start to wonder how can I fit it all in, then you need to set the alarm at 5.15am to make that 6am class on the oval or have your workout gear with you and make the 6pm class after work. For the past few years I have worked from home. Working from home appeals to me on a number of levels but the number one reason I have for being a fan of the “work from home” office is that it allows you to fit in your hour exercise for the day relatively easily.

I’ve always been an early riser and I love exercising in the morning. After work is too hard for me. By about 4.30pm I am done, my brain doesn’t fire and I do my best work very early in the morning. I am also hungry and ready for dinner at 6pm so that rules out after work workouts for me.

Here are some tips to help you make that early start.

1. Always have your exercise gear ready to go. I have a special drawer which contains only my workout clothes summer and winter. Beanies, gloves, cycling gear, rainproof jackets. Keep it washed and clean. Straight back to that drawer – no messing around trying to find an outfit at 5am.

2. Have the right clothing to suit the season and the activity. I have lots of layers, lightweight and quick drying. The secret to cold mornings is layers and what is this aversion Australians have for wearing hats ! Wearing a warm beanie in the morning solves most of the “cold” problems. Invest in one and some warm gloves whilst you are at it.

3. Correct shoes for exercising. Running shoes for running and all rounder shoes for everything else.

4. I also have a “gym bag” that has my shower proof jacket, a set of outdoor gloves and a beanie. My water bottle is always full ready to go in the fridge.

Exercising outdoors has its health benefits, exercise and sunlight together can get your blood flowing, providing organs with much needed nutrients to give us energy, stave off the blues and trim the waistline. Working out outside can also increase your metabolism. Watching the sunrise is pretty awesome too.

Research has shown that regular exercise strengthens your immune system so it can fight off bacterial and viral infections. This is important particularly in winter when you are exposed to cold and flu bugs. It’s also important to maintain an exercise programme to ensure constant care and boosting to your immune system. Sharing breakfast or a coffee post workout is always a nice thing to do too.

Some days my group outdoor exercise group is the only time I leave the house in winter. I have been training with Step into Life (SIL) at Kensington Gardens now for 8 years. SIL provide all the encouragement I need to get out there and actually do some focused training. I was very unfit when I started and I remember that every muscle in my body hurt and it was good to have trainers there to not only monitor me but also encourage you to try different activities. After 8 years I have made some amazing friends and the group fitness focus means you have and get encouragment from the group as well as the trainers. So if you live in my area, contact Annki here to come and have a try.

Do I have to eat ? When the dreaded stomach peg becomes the easier option, and you realise you are never eating pizza again.

Before I left Australia I had been suffering a constant sore throat, I put it down to stress and the fact that I was upheaving my life to go and do something else. I had assured myself that it would disappear and after five days on Phu Quoc island I realised I wasn’t getting better.

A heavy chest cold had settled in too and my ears hurt, I was swallowing razor blades and well, I felt like hell. My other blogs posts explain fully as to exactly where I was health wise https://thefoodmanifestoblog.wordpress.com/2019/03/05/nil-by-mouth-and-by-that-i-wasnt-expecting-6-months/

So fast forward 9 months and I am back home in Australia and trying to make myself eat and not rely on the stomach peg that was inserted back in December 2018. The life giving food peg and administer of all things water, medicine and food. Using the peg is relatively easy but you have to learn how to fill syringes, get them on to the end of the peg, keep them kinked, don’t push too fast or it all comes out every other orifice. Wash the syringes, have towels and wipes for mess and know that it will get all over your clothes if you are not careful.

The peg dangles (literally) from your stomach and gets in the way of everything. I tuck mine into my undies and apparently when they inserted mine they made it very short compared to others. My biggest issue was breaking the ‘seal’ that plugged the feed tube. I have had to go to Gastroenterology Department two times to get them to replace it. Apparently they had never seen this happen before, and suggested I was being too rough with it. Given I can’t turn the peg every day as I should, much like an ear ring … I doubt I am too rough on it. I threatened to go to Bunnings and get my own if they didn’t fix it. They fixed the problem by cutting the seal of a new peg and giving it to me. I am now month five with my peg. The last week or so it has become the only way I can take it anything either water, food or meds. I am also about to go into week 12 post treatment, 3 months since the chemotherapy, radiotherapy finished and 6 months since my surgery.

The past couple of weeks I have noted rapid changes in my skin texture, jaw numbness and the width to which I can (or cannot) open my mouth, also known as Trismus. The pain if I consume anything is excruciating. I have spent days in tears and I can honestly say I have never known pain like it. This is the after affects of radiotherapy. It’s not swallowing that hurts but the sensitivity my gums experience when anything other than ice cold milk is in contact with them. I am not eating anything now, I do try, but it ends with me doubled over in pain and in tears. It’s so debilitating and the small amount of social contact I had with the outside world is now nil. I can’t manage coffee or smoothies out side of my own home.

You should be able to get three fingers in between your teeth … I am a long way from home!

So I sit here on a rather dreary Sunday wondering whether this is ever going to get better, the solitude I am some times grateful for, but mostly I spend my time trying to heal, all my energy and focus is on me and getting better. It would appear that there is no end to this awful disease.

Hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos! Since we started the treatment I have lost 10 kilos.

With this being my third month post treatment I also get to have another PET scan ($$) and it’s my first to see whether they “got it” … there are no guarantees with the scanning, you could still have cancer and it’s not picked up. So I decided that they have got it all and that I am cancer free. What else can you do ? Next week too I am going to give cold laser a go to assist with the dewlap forming under my chin as a result of having 30 lymph nodes cut out. Accupuncture seems to alleviate some serious saliva issues through stimulating my saliva glands, and thrice daily face and neck stretches. Early days they keep telling me, early days.

May I have some more serviettes please? Week # 4 post treatment.

Today marks my mum’s 89th birthday and I am eternally grateful that she has been here for this most horrendous journey of mine with Head and Neck Cancer. This week marks week four post treatment. Although I have received conflicting information regarding what to expect, mostly it’s been accurate but to be fair, recuperation is different for everybody. The first two weeks after the radio and chemo therapy finished were appalling. They did not sugar coat it, and you just have to get through it best you can. Hold your breath and run straight towards it, keep going until you have to surface for air again.

I stayed with mum for those two weeks. Ideal because we both sat in very comfortable leather armchairs watching Edie McGuire followed by Channel Nine News. Leg rugs and soft food (or in my case no food) and lights out by 8pm. I suddenly realised how much closer to a nursing home I was getting. Still, it allowed me to spend time with mum and I was happy to sleep during the day and most of the night except for regular spitting into an old honey bucket every five minutes, I slept well with the help of some opioid.

For those to go through this it’s hard to explain how you are going to feel, I had this clawing tightness in my throat, gagging sensations that resulted in vomiting (a little not bucket loads) and the tricky part is to look after your teeth. Mouth sores and ulcers (I was lucky and did not suffer too badly) I kept up regular swilling of bicarb soda. I kept flossing and did what the specialist dentist told me to do religiously. My dentist Sharon gave me a scraper – best utensil ever.

Soft tooth brush, scraper and Christmas Tree flossing

Food wise I have dabbled with soup, smoothies ( which I couldn’t stand before this disease let alone now!) pulverised vegetables and pasta. Sounds appetising huh? then you eventually have no taste, or rather for me nothing tasted as it should. I had an iced coffee with ice-cream in it – I could tell it was cold but it could have been plaster for all I knew and could taste. I appeared to have lost the ability to taste ‘sweet’ and I don’t trust myself to cook because what I can taste and what it actually tastes like are two very different things. I have read that venturing out to public eating places can be challenging. No one these days makes good soup – well they do, but they are few and far between. I think I want something to eat, I can feel my appetite then ‘poof’ nothing. So mostly I dine at the home based buffet which is below.

Home based buffet where you can go back as many times as you like!

Week # 5 and now my saliva glands and taste buds are taking a hit. My surgery scar is healing nicely and my spit bucket has decreased in size. I also decided to go back to my exercise group for company and fresh air as much as any kind of disciplinary exercise. I have lost 8/9 kgs since I came back to Australia. In that sense I feel good but it’s a hell of a way to lose those pesky last 5 kilos. I hope to take up running and kick boxing again in the not too distant future, in the meantime I am taking it day by day. One day is good, the next it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

Step into Life Kensington Gardens – My fellow SIL comrades helped me through treatment and for that I am eternally grateful.

So we now head for week #6 with my eye on week #8 to see how much progress we have made. Something is new and different every day and I ventured out to have a fresh juice with a friend a week back and well, let’s just say that was not that successful. Although I discovered that I could swallow more than previously I had to have 3 big glasses to ensure I could add enough ice to my fruit juice to get it down ( the colder the better), watermelon plays havoc with your tongue and tastebuds, and I pretty much depleted their stash of serviettes for wiping, mopping up and generally making me look as though I had a two year old with me. Suffice to say that the G&T I tried at my local tasted like kerosene and is something I wont be trying again in a hurry. Ce La Vie.

Chicken and Corn Soup

My version based on Helen Gregor’s original recipe it’s one of my favourite soups to make all year round you will need the following kitchen utensils.

  • stock pot or pressure cooker
  • large stainless steel bowl
  • medium stainless steel bowl
  • large strainer

Ingredients: Stock or Soup Base

  • 1kg chicken or chicken pieces
  • 2 litres of water
  • 2.5cm ginger -skinned and grated
  • 1 onion quartered
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 3 sprigs of parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 470g canned creamed corn
  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 4 tablespoons of cornflour
  • 4 tablespoons of water (tepid) to mix with cornflour
  • 2 egg whites (optional) whisked until soft peaks form
  • $2 shallots for garnish (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil (to finish)

I also add garlic and sometimes celery to the original stock mixture, I also add a lot more ginger than the recipe asks – personal taste, but ginger has amazing health benefits and I find this amount of liquid needs it.

Method: Making the Base Stock

For those that are scared of making stock and soup – It’s super easy and the only way you will make a really good flavoured soup. I am pretty rustic about it these days, but literally getting organised with the ingredients before- hand it’s the best way to go – mise en place. Place it in the biggest pot you have and then add all the other ingredients. Water, garlic (optional) onion, peppercorns, celery (optional)

Bring it to the boil and if needed, skim scum as it comes to surface.

Reduce heat and gently simmer. For about a 1.5 hours. In a stockpot it should take about 30 minutes.

Method:

Strain the stock – hopefully you have a colander or strainer big enough for the job. If you don’t, I’d advise purchasing one.

Once you have strained the ‘stock’, wash the stock pot out and then pour the liquid back into the stock pot.

Put all the other ingredients into the liquid that is; creamed corn, chicken stock powder, sesame oil and additional ginger. TASTE IT – adjust seasoning to taste, I normally put in a bit more white pepper at this stage.

Method Continued:

Pull the chicken off the carcass and add to the soup. You may like to dice it, it should pull off easily in your hands. Use the second stainless steel bowl for this. Give some to the cat whilst he’s in the kitchen.

Lastly, pour the corn flour and water mixture slowly into the hot stock and continually stir whilst pouring. Too avoid lumps put a little of the hot stock in the combined mixture. Continue to stir until the soup starts to thicken. Lastly, add the whipped egg whites slowly into the hot stock. Fold them gently in and serve. You will have a layer of egg white on top but keep folding through the hot soup to cook the egg white. Stir in the sesame oil. Serve with chopped shallots.