The Surprise of Sobriety

Since I had my VSG, I have been in a Facebook Support group that has been brilliant for me, it is literally a space where there are no mutual friends so I can open up about things I wouldn’t necessarily tell people I know in person. It has also given me lots of things to think about.

One thing that comes up at least once a week is “When can we have wine after weight loss surgery?” and rule of thumb is a year, for multiple reasons.

  1. Booze is empty calories – and no you can’t mix protein powder in your chardonnay. (But if anyone has tried this please spill because I am so curious.)
  2. Cross addiction – this is a real thing. Fat people like to eat their feelings, we “misery eat” and when you take that comfort blanket away you run the risk of turning to something else, booze, shopping, sex, gambling, you find something else to fill the void.
  3. It’s bloody dangerous! You have had 80% of your stomach removed, absorption changes, you are now surgically a light weight and that bottle of rose you used to demolish solo watching Friends on Netflix could actually kill you.

But it was the booze question that got me to examine my own relationship with alcohol. Now before I go on with this – please believe me this is not going to be a preachy “You must stop drinking and never have fun” post, it’s honestly just my own reflections on my own drinking habits.

I drank too much. I don’t mean I would go out on Thursday and Friday night and sink a few pints and roll into work a little worse for wear, I am talking a bottle of wine a night, all alone, sitting in my living room watching Eastenders on BritBox, I am talking a bottle of wine to get through the trauma of brushing my daughter’s hair, and if there was a second bottle in the fridge there was no guarantee I wouldn’t drink that one too. I am talking years of “Oops we drank that entire 12 pack” of “Oh go on then just one more shot, one more margarita, one more bottle.”

I had developed my reputation as a party girl when I was in my teens, and in retrospect it helped numb my crippling anxiety and crappy self-esteem, but it also came with years of stupidity. It came with one night stands, it came with black outs, it came with puking, it came with an unwanted pregnancy and termination at 26, it came with stupid choices and stupid decisions. It came with running my mouth and spilling things that were best left unsaid and it came with betrayal. It’s easy to pretend I don’t remember it all but as I have gotten older I have remembered a great many things I had buried deep in my psyche.

We went to the UK over Christmas of 2018 and that was when this idea of sobriety started nagging away deep in my subconscious, but I didn’t really do anything much other than cut back to maybe 4 or 5 nights a week versus 7, and I still fell into that binge drinking category. In my social circle many of us drank heavily, it was just something we did, and oh how we laughed, oh how we gossiped and oh how we made stupid choices.

Then came some physical issues. I had this weird flesh colored rash on my arms and my chest, I seriously looked like I had some kind of weird impetigo. It was diagnosed as granuloma annulare and idiopathic skin disorder. I was so self conscious about it, hated wearing anything sleeveless because the lumps covered my forearms. I had labs drawn for an annual physical and one of my liver function tests was elevated, as was my ferritin, these 2 results together were a huge red flag. Daily drinking was really impacting me physically. My job performance was slipping, I was forgetful, overly emotional, I couldn’t sleep and I was perpetually anxious and depressed. I hated my job and I really hated myself. I felt like a failure, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend and as a nurse.

When I had the VSG I had to stop drinking (see above) and it was easier than I expected. I found that I liked being sober. I found that I liked waking up feeling good, without a headache, without the soul sucking fatigue of yet another hangover. I liked remembering going to bed, I rediscovered reading, and I rediscovered board games with my child. I actually truly  liked being sober. I am not going to lie, I have had a couple of glasses of wine – tiny little glasses, maybe 2-3 ounces, and while it has been okay, I have had zero desire to keep drinking, and one tiny glass has lasted me a good 3 hours. So now, it is really kind of pointless. I obviously do not “need” the wine to be social, I can brush my daughter’s hair without the need to chug a bottle (even though brushing her hair is still something that is incredibly traumatic for both of us.). I am a better wife and a better mother, I have more energy and much like when I stopped smoking, food is starting to taste better. I haven’t had my liver function tests checked in a while, so I am curious to see if they have improved, but the granuloma went away…at least until that weekend I had the 2 small glasses of wine. Now call me vain, but I do not want that bumpy “maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s plague” look back again.

Hindsight is of course 20-20, but when I look back over everything we have been through in the past 4 years as a family, I wonder how much of it would have been different had I been sober, and had I been present, truly present, not present just for the 45 minutes it would take for me to open the wine after getting home from work. I wonder how much money I could have saved without dropping $9.99 a night on that nice rose or chardonnay? Oh yes, that would be $3,646.35 a year!

So here I go into this brave new world (at least for me) where alcohol will be something that is just there, but not something I need just to get through the day or the night. I knew that having the VSG would be life changing, I just didn’t anticipate this change. But, I welcome it with open arms, an open heart and an open mind.

I am not an elephant! I am not an animal! I am a human being!

I was all excited, I had been cleared by Mean Melanie and Awful Andrea. My coworkers could finally relax, I was about to get a surgical date. Except I wasn’t. Except my sleep study that was completed a year ago had shown some mild apnea – basically my oxygen saturation dropped down to the mid 80s for a total of 30 minutes out of 8 hours. This prompted a pulmonary appointment, and that resulted in……

“You are going to need c-pap because people with sleep apnea tend to die after surgery”

Okay that is a slight exaggeration – there is an increased risk of death, near neath or critical respiratory events in obese patients with apnea, but it is a pretty small increase. This of course meant I now had to have a c-pap machine. Tick tock, tick tock…surgery moves ever further away. it’s been over a year since I started this process, and I ready to just get it done…but here is another delay (also don’t even get me started on an extra group meeting – this time a pre-op support group, in case you missed my post about Fat Class – I hate group therapy of any kind!).

Tick tock. Tick tock. It takes 2 weeks to get the machine, and with the machine comes a slew of ethical problems. The machine has a modem, the provider of said modem is AT&T, my data is transmitted to the device company who can then share it with the home care company, the insurance company, my doctors. This is actually more of an insurance thing – basically if you don’t use it, you lose it or get a huge bill for it. I am not thrilled about my sleep data being out there in the interwebs, it feels all too big brother, but no c-pap, no surgery so here we are,

Night one wasn’t awful, I managed 4.5 hours with the blasted thing on, night 2 was awful. Seriously that pressure goes up, you breath through your mouth and you feel like you are suffocating. I lasted 2.5 hours. Tonight I will try the addition of a chin strap to keep my mouth shut (husband is doing a happy dance…).

And every time I put it on I instantly quote John Merrick…….

CPAP

Adventures From Fat Class

Let me totally upfront here, I hate “group” anything. I hate working groups, I hate group therapy, I guess I am just not as much of a team player sometimes. I will do anything for anyone, but please do not make do a project with other people. But here I was on a Thursday evening in a room filled with strangers, in the mandatory Pre-Operative Bariatric Educational Program.

It.was.painful

Questions and comments included “Does this mean I can never eat cake again?”  “Is broccoli a vegetable?” “But I don’t like cooking, McDonalds is just easier” from the attendees and gems like this by the facilitators; “You can never drink out of a straw again,” “You cannot drink coffee for a year, or alcohol ever again,” “You must empty all the junk food out of your house,” “At first you should drink out of a sippy cup, to control how much water you are drinking,” “If you don’t do these things you will fail.’ I started to despair. I was willing to go through this for the positive reasons – weight loss, improvement of overall health and well being, and here I was hearing questions that shocked me and advice that basically made me feel as if my life was over, and that moving forward I would forever be the girl drinking tap water from a Tommy Tippee cup, eating kale in the corner at parties, otherwise my newly stapled stomach would expand and I would be fat again, or I would die.

Then came the food journals. I tried, I really tried. I wanted to use an electronic format so that it would mesh better with my life, but that was wrong. I finally developed a spread sheet which was acceptable. However, with the food journal comes the criticism of everything you put in your mouth. I used the wrong protein powder, my breakfast smoothies were all wrong because I didn’t add spinach and or kale to them, I should not have gone out for Mother’s Day dinner, and as for the cooking contest I participated in and won? Well that was just a high crime! I explained that I didn’t actually eat anything that I prepared beyond a half dozen sea urchins and a single scallop, but I guess this was a symptom of my need to cook elaborate meals …..

I struggled through the meetings, but they were utterly soul sucking. I had one make up class to do, as I missed one due to a work commitment, and after that class I literally waited in the parking lot for one of the attendees to reassure her as she was sitting there looking progressively more terrified throughout the 90 minute meeting.

In the midst of my fat classes, I found out that a friend had very quietly had the same procedure at a sister hospital, so we started comparing notes. He had never filled in a single food journal, he was drinking coffee, he was using a straw, he had never used a sippy cup, hell he had even had a piece of cake at his daughter’s birthday! He gave me hope.

After fat class was done I met again with the nutritionist, who by this time I had quietly nicknamed “Mean Melanie” because she never had anything nice to say, she always had a criticism. We spent 70 minutes together where we locked horns . I asked her about the differences between their program and the one at the sister institution – I was simply told “Our program is better.” I never did get a full answer, but by the end of the 70 minutes we had found some common ground. I agreed to do food journals, but in my spreadsheet format, she agreed to back off on the negativity

I had a final meeting with the “Awful Andrea” the NP, who it seems is well known for not being exactly warm and fuzzy. She doesn’t seem to trust me and I don’t like her so I guess we are even… and at least fat class is in the past…..

My Diet is Going to Be Changing

Not so long after my 50th birthday I was trying on clothes at Nordstrom’s or Macy’s and took a long hard look at myself in my undies and thought “Yikes.” I have been a yo yo dieter for years, the hardest thing is I truly love food, i love thinking about food, reading about food, and making food. However, I also weight a hefty 250 pounds and that is not sustainable if I want to be around for my little girl. I also realize that as a post-menopausal woman weight is increasingly easier to gain and increasingly harder to lose.

One evening after work, I wandered upstairs in my building to hear about weight loss surgery. This was not an easy decision, because I remember when people I worked with started having gastric bypass back in Arizona and ended up woefully malnourished. I had heard all the horror stories. When I walked in I was a little heartened by the girl who stage whispered “Why is she here? She’s skinny, ” but I sat through the entire presentation and realized just how much had changed in the world of weight loss surgery. I randomly spoke to a colleague right after that meeting, a colleague who is super healthy, eats pretty much what she wants and it turns out that she had undergone the less invasive weight loss surgery – the vertical sleeve gastrectomy (VSG), and had no regrets. Now, this is me, so of course I dithered for a few months, and finally made an appointment to see the surgeon to talk about the VSG procedure. I just barely meet criteria for this surgery – I am “not quite fat enough” for immediate qualification, but I have a very mild case of sleep apnea so that counted as my “co-morbid condition.” I naturally dithered again, and decided to wait until Spring 2019 to have the surgery so that we could go home for the Christmas holidays.

We came back from the UK and off I went to meet with the Heart and Wellness Team at a local hospital (I say local but every appointment the GPS took me a different way, and I could not make that drive without GPS.). This team consisted of a nutritionist and a nurse practitioner. The first nutritionist I saw was lovely, the NP I did not warm to, but I figured since I would be working with her we had time to develop a rapport.

After these first appointments I went off to see a psychologist to complete a massive battery of tests to make sure I was sane enough to proceed, and did not have any underlying eating disorders or anything that would make the surgery inadvisable. I passed that with flying colors, well, kind of….I am apparently defensive and “further exploration of her weekend cooking and eating habits could be helpful, particularly from a nutritionist’s perspective.” I guess my love of cooking somewhat challenging and elaborate meals on weekends (you know when I have the time) is somehow a teensy bit pathological. (And yes, I know that was a defensive response ….). But I was cleared to move on to the next steps of what was going to turn into a very trying and frustrating process. It all started with “fat class.”

 

All Aboard the WABAC Machine

I started this blog to write about food in the year leading up to me 50th birthday, and it never really worked out. Life kept getting in the way and we truly had, to quote HRH Queen Elizabeth II, an ” annus horriblis. ” SO I spent the year focusing on the family and just trying to hold things together. I wasn’t easy, there were days where even a simple grilled cheese felt like an impossible task. A much needed mini trip to upstate New York to a friend’s farm helped and then a 2 week trip back to the UK over the Christmas holidays really went a long way to healing some of the residual wounds. And, so now I am starting again, and will try to keep this more updated and more food focused, starting with the rebrand to match my Instagram.

Now, please join  me in the WABAC machine….

I was always a picky eater. My mum likes to tell the story of how I would eat anything until at the tender age of two I got my first glasses. Once I could actually see it was game over, and mealtimes became a veritable minefield. My mum would cajole and threaten and hide foods in other foods. I was a stubborn and willful child and the more she threatened and cajoled the more I dug in my heels. I was seriously the kid who could pick the cauliflower out of mashed potatoes.

Leaving home was life changing, that meant I actually had to feed myself or starve, and since you can’t really life on PB&J (no matter what my own picky eater tells me) I had to learn to cook. Leaving home allowed me to experiment, and it allowed me to learn, and you know what? I realized I was actually a pretty good cook. I learned by trial and error, by under cooking, overcooking, under seasoning, over seasoning and even once by blowing up a Pyrex casserole dish. I went to library and borrowed recipe books, I watched all the recipe segments on television. I force fed my family and friends.

I went on to discover the small butchers and cheese mongers in a local market, and my palate continued to expand, and then in 1990 I discovered Master Chef. It was such a simple show when it first started, home cooks making a 3 course meal in 2 hours. I never missed an episode and I practiced and practiced and finally entered. I made it into the heats! I was so excited, but then I made the fatal mistake of requesting a schedule change at work. The person i asked to relay the message for me was called Gillian Wood, and well, Gillian hated me. She called me back so apologetic, so sad, but she had asked the ward sister and they could not possibly change my schedule, so devastated I pulled out. It was several months later when I was getting ready to leave that job to come tot he USA that I found out that Gillian had straight up lied, she had never asked a single soul. I am pleased to report that karma eventually bit her very hard in the backside.

Coming to US opened up even more opportunities for me, new flavors, new ingredients and new friends to experiment on. Living in Seattle afforded me membership in the $100 club at the Pike Place Market  for my weekly purchases of the freshest fish and seafood. Tucson afforded me homemade tortillas and oh so many spices. Louisiana taught me the simple joys of collard greens in bacon fat, the dish that truly proves that everything tastes better with bacon and finally moving to a major metropolitan area like Boston afforded me more food choices than I could ever imagine.

Of course the past 21 years I have had a partner in crime in the form of Robert, who has suffered through disasters and lived to tell the tale, and who has always been my most stalwart supporter. (Hell, he has even eaten 3 Thanksgiving dinners just to keep me happy.) This past year, he did 2 simple things to reignite my desire to cook, he bought me a dutch oven and introduced me to Phaidon and their line of incredible recipe books.

Now some 20 plus years later, I have no desire to enter the insanity of a reality TV show (not even GBBO) but I continue to cook, and have in recent years really upped my baking game. I want to show everyone that we all can cook, and really we all can bake. Baking is is more precise, whereas cooking a meal allows for a little more creativity.

I am Awful At Meal Planning

I have this wonderful idea that every weekend before I go grocery shopping I will meal plan for the entire week and we will eat wholesome, home cooked meals in the dining room as a family, chatting about our day. It’s a delightful plan isn’t it? Yeah, it rarely works. But I keep trying. So let me try and plan for the next week……..

Now tomorrow is a total wash – we are taking Poppy and her friend to the Animal Kingdom in Maine and then having dinner with Isabella and her family. This leaves me Sunday, just Sunday to grocery shop and meal prep – and here is the thing Sunday is supposed to be gorgeous and to be honest we have the offer a beach day in Ipswich!

But to next week – what might I make? So we do a meat share with Walden Farms, and I have a freezer full of meat to be used up. I found a recipe for ragu that involves using a joint of beef and Italian sausage which sounds delightful and the fun part is I get to use my new baby to cook it! Yes! My hubby (and taste tester) came through for me and bought my a gorgeous Le Creuset dutch oven for the Big 5-0. (I am now looking to add the balti dish and the tangine – just for starters). The ragu could easily do for two meals – a basic spaghetti dish and a lasagna.

That is only 2 days….I do have a lonely packet of chicken breasts and one of chicken legs so maybe that same pot will conjure up a nice coq-au-vin (without the mushrooms because yuck….we all hate mushrooms…). I could serve this with mixed beans from the Salem Farmers Market.

I also really want to make this, and I do have fresh beets and an amazing goat cheese…

39982750_1048501495308911_5963700053435482112_n

And I want to make this, although I would use the thinly sliced pork tenderloin that I have on hand, but getting Cayuga pinto beans might be a little tricky….

Pork lon with cayuga pinto beans, zucchini, squash and lima beans

Both of these recipes are from “Culinary History of the Finger Lakes by Laura Winter Falk.” This is an amazing book I snagged in the gift shop at the Museum of the Earth in Ithaca and I am excited to try the handful of recipes in this fascinating history of one of the most beautiful parts of America.

These 2 dishes alone get back to my original point – I suck at meal planning because I aim to high! I forget that I don’t get home until 5.30pm, and that these could result in us eating around 10pm, which to be honest ius way past my bedtime!

Watch this space, maybe I will pull it off…..

 

7 Weeks Post Fifty

All of a sudden I am 45 weeks from 51 and really the past year didn’t quite work out as I had planned. It really became very chaotic and not a little traumatic. But as they say, onward and upwards. let’s try this again.

We just spent a long weekend in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. Just being out in the country helped rekindle my desire to focus on home cooking and family. We have just weathered a brutal year of health issues among other things, and for a while I wasn’t sure that we would survive as a family, but we are pulling together and working hard to make this work.

One of the things I really appreciated about our time at our friends’ farm was the simplicity. Now, I am not saying I want to run off and live on a farm (sorry Michelle), but I know we can transfer some of that simplicity to our everyday life in our small city.

What lies ahead? More time at the Farmer’s Market buying fresh fruit and vegetables, more meal planning and more baking. I dug out my copy of Make the Bread and Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese (check out her blog below)  as a motivation to try new things, and to rekindle my love of some old things.

http://www.tipsybaker.com/p/make-bread-buy-butter.html

Tomato sauce… I used to make homemade tomato sauce all the time and it was delicious, it also saved us a bunch of money. I used to make meatballs by hand, and homemade lasagna – and they were all also delicious and easy to freeze.

So what else could be on the menu? Peanut butter maybe, jam, pickles, maybe I will even get back to baking bread from time to time, according to Jennifer Reese even bagels are easy enough to make at home….Should I also try some cheese making? I do have a bacon making kit which could be an awful lot of fun!

I also want to get Poppy in the kitchen and more interested in what we are eating, in the hope that it might help with her pickiness. She is finally starting to show some interest in helping out. Poppy also has an idea about us making videos of our kitchen adventures, which I think is a spectacular idea, but given my inability to keep up with a written blog please don’t hold your breath for videos!

Oh – last thing….check out this lovely Finger Lakes vineyard! The Cheese Shop of Salem sells their dry reisling and it is delicious as is their chardonnay and rose pinot noir!

https://www.thirstyowl.com/

https://www.thecheeseshopofsalem.com/