Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Lobster

Meet Larry... Larry the Lobster



As birthdays go, I'm not one to get that worked up about them, or presents. There's not much I want and I certainly don't hope for or expect lavish gifts that seem to be de rigueur these days. I'll always remember being asked if I knew I was getting the eternity ring the Husband gave me for Christmas several years ago - as if it was somehow something I'd asked for and was expecting or felt I had some kind of right to. I was completely gobsmacked by the question to be honest - I mean, it was a lovely, gorgeous present, but I would never have expected anything like it. And now that I'm on the right side of 40, honestly, what I enjoy about birthdays is the little things, time with family & friends, an excuse to have a little trip out - to a gin distillery perhaps.... I mean if people want to give me awesome things like a ghillie kettle, then that's all well and good, but presents don't matter to me in the same way that they seem to to some people (and I exclude children here - children are perfectly entitled to get excited about presents - I'm not such a miserable humbug...).


A ghillie kettle - the best 43rd brthday present agirl could get.


I wouldn't normally talk about birthday presents except that 10 days before my birthday, I received an early present, and a very surprising one at that. Imagine, if you will, the scene: I am taking 5 minutes out on a Sunday morning. My mother in law and her new husband who are visiting for the weekend have taken themselves off for a little excursion, and the Husband and the children are engaged in various bad weather day activities. I am crocheting (rock & roll).

My mother in law and husband return and I hear them asking where I am. "Are you sitting down Sally? You'd better put that crochet down

And the next thing I know, there's a plastic carrier bag being placed on my knee it feels heavy. Something shifts. I peer into the bag, and see dark shell. At first I think it's mussels, and then, a more vigorous shift - vigorous enough to make me jump and utter a most un-RecipeJunkie-like shriek: for I pride myself on my ability to deal with spiders, slugs and all many of creatures normally assigned the 'fear factor'....

in my defence, I defy anyone who wasn't expecting it not to react in a similar way to having a live, and rather angry, lobster dropped in their lap...

Fortunately, I didn't drop the bag, for if I had, the rather magnificent and indignant (justifiably so) Larry would have been allowed to get loose in our sitting room. His claws were rubber banded together, but he was fluttering the curious flaps he has on his belly in a rather aggressive manner, so I put him back safely in the bag on the kitchen work surface, and went to consult Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (well, his Fish book - our hotline isn't working at the moment...).




Angry and magnificent - could I really bring myself to plunge him into boiling water? Well, depending on your point of view, I'm sorry to disappoint you/pleased to say that I rose to the challenge. Based on Hugh's advice, I popped Larry into the freezer for a couple of hours, and then found the biggest cooking receptacle I could find, which turned out to be the jam pan. 

The theory about putting them in the freezer is that the lobster will drift off into a chilly coma and, when you plunge him into the boiling water, won't have time to come to and realise what's happening before it's all too late and you've got a beautifully pink ready to eat lobster ready for nothing more than some lemon juice and a slather of mayonnaise.



Water appropriately salinated, then, I applied the gas and waited for the water to boil - my VEGETARIAN mother in law looking on all the while. And reader when the time came, I did it. Larry went into the water.

How do I feel about this? I did feel slightly queasy about the whole thing, I must admit, but I'm not a vegetarian, and really, I should be prepared to kill something if I'm going to eat it. I felt there was a lesson to teach the children too - something about putting your money where your mouth is...

I have no such qualms about mussels - but they don't look like living things in the same way as Larry the lobster did, all his indignation intact before his swift consignment to the freezer. There was an element of 'face' going on too - I mean, presented with a lobster by your mother in law, what would you do? Wimp out, or rise to the challenge? I'll say no more.

We ate him, Larry. And he was delicious. Caught that morning, my mother in law & hubbie had acquired him from the fisherman who operates off Aberporth beach as he came in from his morning's work. Apparently, as the boat came in, a number of people appeared to select goodies. I've never seen this, and I'm pleased that it happens, because did you know that most of the fine and delicious sea food caught in these beautiful waters around Wales and the rest of the British Isles is all shipped to Europe? It's criminal, but apparently there's no market for it over here. They paid £10 for Larry - which makes me think, I need to get to know the fishing schedules a little more intimately...


Friday, 8 May 2015

Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

So, there it is then (as they say around here).

We have bought a house here in West Wales. 

A wonderful house. A house that I have carried around in my heart since I stepped over the threshold in January, through the stress and embuggerance that is buying houses in England and Wales (it may be the same else where - I don't know - I understand that in other places it is a lot easier), through the initial silence between our offer being accepted and anything actually happening, through the last minute boundary issue and the changing of completion dates (which also coincided with me doing my back in and Blue sustaining a minor head injury, all while the Husband was back in England for a series of meetings. Never a dull moment, I tell you),,the mysterious missing document (not ours) on completion day a couple of days ago, to moving day.

The bottom line is that my home will always be where the Husband and the children are, but to be able to live in a house like this and call it ours, for it to coincide with where the Husband and children are, so making it home, well, it makes me very happy.

There is work to be done, and I'm sure there will be much cursing and swearing as we go, but for now, it's all good. Busy, but good. And you know me well enough by now to know that in amongst the hectic pace of life, there is always time for cake, especially a lemon cake. 

Loosely based (isn't it always) in this case on yet another of Mr Dan Lepard's fine creations, this came about more as the result of having another purge through the cupboards in advance of moving day than anything else. I seem to have a selection of opened packets of poppy seeds in my cupboards yet no recollection of using them in anything, I didn't have enough lemons, my oatmeal was medium and not fine, and yet, this is a divine cake. More texture than your classic lemon drizzle, good flavour, and a good keeper (it actually makes quite a lot of cake). It also tastes fantastic with a cup of tea - great for keeping removal men incentivised...

Lemon & Poppy Seed Cake

250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g medium oatmeal
30g poppy seeds
225g golden caster sugar
125g unsalted butter at room temperature
100ml vegetable oil
zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp lemon extract
4 large eggs
50 ml hot water

150g caster sugar (doesn't have to be golden), plus extra
juice of 2 lemons

Line a 20cm square, high sided tin with greaseproof paper, and pre-heat the oven to 180 C (160C fan).

Sift together the flour  baking powder then add the oatmeal and poppy seeds, stir to combine, and set aside.

Beat together the sugar, butter, oil, lemon zest and extract until the whole thing is  pale and light, then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Once the eggs are all combined, beat in the hot water until everything is smooth.

Beat the flour, oatmeal and poppy seeds into the batter, then transfer into the prepared tin and bake for around 45-50 minutes.

Make the lemon syrup by combining 150g caster sugar with the juice of 2 lemons in a small saucepan and gently heating till the sugar is dissolved. While the cake is still warm, poke holes all over it with a skewer and pour the syrup all over it.

Leave the cake to cool, then sprinkle over a couple of extra spoons of caster sugar. Yes, I know it's a lot, but sometimes, it's necessary. Cut into generous pieces and put the kettle on.

Enjoy!





Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Chorizo & Chard risotto

The joy and the curse of the veg box is that you never know what you are going to get. Potatoes, carrots, onions are usually a given, but then what. Just as you've getting used to a steady stream of turnips, celeriac, beetroots, cabbage and the like, when (I assume) the polytunnel starts to bear fruit (well, veg) and the green veg starts its assault. Chard, cavolo nero (posh kale), delicious, punchy salad. We get delicious mushrooms in our box on a reasonably regular basis, and cauliflower too. A joy indeed, but really, it means waiting till the box comes before you start meal planning (if that's how you roll, and I do), even if it's only a loose nod to the contents of the cupboards, the freezer and, yes, the box, before replenishing as necessary. 

Otherwise, I'd end up with lots to cook and nothing coherent to eat.





There were a number of reasons I was keen to get back to a veg box - in our rented house, there has been limited scope for veg growing and as it's always been a temporary measure, the Husband has restrained himself from too much planting. I much prefer buying from a local organic farm too, and veg box schemes mean you can get your veg delivered - much as I'd like to spend my days flitting from farm shop to farm shop, it's just not practical. Finally, if I buy from shops where I make the choice, especially in supermarkets, I tend to steer away from anything I know the children will turn their noses up at. I know, it's weak, but you have to pick your battles... 

Presented with a box of veg means that the kids are, in turn, far more likely to be presented with something that they wouldn't neccessarily choose, but sometimes I reserve the goodies - things I know they will be sniffy about but I love - to cook with just for the Husband and I - and this reflects the sort of cooking that really sums me up - not really following a recipe and just seeing how it turns out. It's not quite as free and easy as it might seem though - I nearly always have chorizo or bacon in the fridge, which makes it much easier to produce a meal rather than a plate of deliciously cooked veg.

I've been getting my veg from the Troed y Rhiw organic farm based a little further up the coast from us, and it's been a pleasure. A good variety of great quality, reasonably priced, organic vegetables turning up every week - what's not to like?

To call this risotto is stretching it, but I used risotto rice, so risotto it is. I also made use of what I think were scallions in the veg box, larger than spring onions, and delicately garlic flavoured and scented, as well as some delicious chard and lovely mushrooms.

Chorizo & Chard 'risotto'

For 2+ (depending on how hungry you are)

125g dried mushrooms (extravagant, but they were hanging about and needed using up - don't go out and get  them especially)
75g diced cooking chorizo
a splash of olive oil
2-3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
2 large fresh mushrooms, sliced
a couple of handfuls of chard, stalks and leaves separated, stalks quite finely chopped, leaves sliced up
150-200g risotto rice
around 600ml good quality chicken stock
salt & pepper
grated parmesan, to serve

Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl & just cover with some warm water. Leave to soak for half an hour or so.

In a large frying pan, gently cook the chorizo till the fat starts to run, then chuck in the scallions & the chipped chard stems (leave the leaves for later) and cook for a little longer - a couple of minutes, maybe. If it looks a bit dry, splash in a little more olive oil.



Drain the soaked mushrooms - add the liquid to the stock - and add the soaked and fresh mushrooms to the pan. Stir a couple of times, then add in the rice, cook for a minute or so, then start doing the risotto thing with the stock - add a little at a time, about a ladleful, and gently cook away till the stock is absorbed before adding another ladleful. 

After about 15-20 minutes test the rice to see how it's doing. You want it to have a little bite left, but for it all to be creamy and delicious. When you think it's nearly done (sorry, can't be more specific - just guess. I do), add the chard leaves to the pan and stir them in so that they wilt down, and add a good grind of black pepper too, and salt if required.

Once everything's cooked, serve your risotto with grated parmesan. 






Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Dà Mhìle Gin (and other things)

A couple of years ago, a friend turned up at a party we were holding with a bottle of gin. Welsh gin. Organic gin. There was about a quarter of a bottle left when she arrived, none when she left. "Pretty good gin", I thought. So imagine my surprise and delight when, not long after we arrived in this most westerly part of Wales, that we were a mere couple of miles away from the Da Mhile gin distillery...



You don't have to look too hard on here to know that my tipple of choice is a G&T. I don't know when it first wheedled its way to the top of my list of alcoholic refreshment - certainly not during my student days when Mad Dog 20 20 and pints of 'Blastaway' topped the list (cheap, effective); nor during my time living in France, where red wine, sold by the litre and decanted direct into your own plastic bottles at the tabac, and tequila, were the drinks of choice. Perhaps it was while the Husband and I were dancing around each other in the early days of our relationship, mostly at various military black tie 'dos' where a G&T was de rigeur 'before dinner' (unless it was the summer when Pimms was OK)....

As I have tasted different gins, I have come to appreciate that there is gin and there is gin. A green bottle, once something I considered to be the height of sophistication, would now be something of a last resort, and I am half alarmed to find that I now classify gin, secretly (although clearly not so secretly now I've shared), quietly, into 'everyday' gin and 'special gin'. There's also gin for adulterating (sloes, bullace plums...). A quick recce reveals that I have no less than 7 different gins knocking around at home at the moment, clearly covering every eventuality. And let's not even start to talk about tonic.

Which brings me neatly on to Dà Mhìle.

There's been a huge upsurge in the craft gin movement over the last few years which only serves to fuel my interest: a highlight of going to CarFest South a couple of years ago was meeting the Warner Edwards boys and cracking open a bottle of their elderflower gin to drink with some fever tree tonic in the late afternoon sun with a great friend before Scouting for Girls appeared on stage; a  trip to the Good Food show 18 months ago now sticks largely in my mind for the variety of different gins I had tasted before 11:00 a.m. (a girl has to make the most of these occasions...); my epic trip to the London Gin Club last November...

I visited Dà Mhìle (pronounced "da-vee-lay" - it's Scots gaelic for 2,000 - I'll explain later) with a friend a couple of weeks ago - a beautiful sunny day, which also happened to be my birthday - great timing, don't you think! 

After a couple of false turns on the road, it being much harder to follow google maps on a phone round here where the roads are small, twisty and mostly unlabelled, we turned off down the mile long track from the main road, signed for Caws Teifi - the award winning, and frankly delicious, cheese also made here - and landed up in what first appeared to be a largely deserted farmyard complete with scratching chickens and a couple of old tractors. Still, our host, Mike, met us and took us into the distillery which is housed in what was previously a cow shed.

The place itself has a great history - it's been home of Caws Teifi award winning cheese since 1982, although production moved to a purpose built facility on the farm in 2004, freeing up space for the distillery. The farm and land was purchased by Dutch cheesemakers John & Patrice Savage-Onstwedder and Paula Vanwerkhoven who moved to this part of Wales from the Netherlands in the 70s. Cheese making established, John wanted to make whisky, and commissioned the first organic whisky, distilled from 11 tonnes of organic Welsh barley he had delivered to the Springbank Distillery in Scotland. The resulting single malt, 7 years old, 2,000 bottles for the millenium, hence 'da mhile' is much sort after by collectors and incredibly delicious if you're a whisky fan, but this is all about the gin. 

Once the cheese operation moved to the new facility, the distillery could become a reality. The operation is still in the early days - the licence having been granted in 2010, and it taking another 3 years to start production. Gin, with its relatively quick turnaround from alcohol to bottle, is where it's at today, although some whisky is made available every year.

Mike explained the history of the operation at Glynhynod Farm - from cheese to gin, and then took us to meet the beautiful still and explained the distilling process to us



At Da Mhile, they focus on small batches of gin - and other spirits -the distillery licence is for only 350 litres. But while the batches may be small, they are unfeasibly delicious. The first product of the distillery, an orange liqueur, won a True Taste Award for its first batch.

The distillery now produces 3 gins: the botanical gin which my friend brought along to the party I mentioned, a seaweed infused gin and an oak-aged gin which has the smoky hints of the fresh 2013 single grain  whisky barrels that the gin is kept in before bottling.

If you visit the distillery, you can taste these beauties in the amazing gallery that's been constructed over the distillery - a beautiful warm light space used to art exhibitions as well as gin drinking, with views across the lush wooded valley - a Welsh paradise. However, it's well worth looking Da Mhile gin out wherever you are because it's wonderful.

The botanical gin is smooth, infused, I'm told, with 20 botanicals. I'm not gong to flatter myself that I know how to describe gin in high faluting terms, or insult you, so I shall leave it to the tasting notes from the website "The nose is subtle fresh rose petals, then spice and a hint of juniper. The initial palate is floral with bitter, fresh notes of dandelion and peppery cloves. The texture is silky, exuding a superb botanical mouth-feel finished by intense juniper tones and peppermint cool." Whatever, It's lush.Try it with Fever Tree elderflower tonic. You'll thank me.

The seaweed gin, a delicate pale green, is a less complex gin, and is then infused in seaweed, which comes, dried, from the West coast of Ireland. Apparently, seaweed gathered on the local beaches on the West Wales coast can't be classed as organic because of the possibility of pollution, so farmed seaweed from the West Coast of Ireland is the next best thing - and makes for a different and very enjoyable gin., designed to compliment seafood and lay the ghost that says you shouldn't drink gin with oysters- this is something I intend to address myself at the earliest opportunity, given that I remember necking a G&T in a smart restaurant once before my starter of oysters turned up for this very reason...

The oak-aged gin is something very different, akin to a Dutch Jenever. The fact that it's aged in whisky barrels is apparent both from the colour, a pale gold, and the taste. I can confidently say that it's unlike any gin I've ever tasted, and really delicious, although the smokiness may not be to everyone's taste. It's a warming drink, definitely one for winter evenings. 



So which to choose? Well, in the end, and because it was my birthday, I bought a bottle of each. All special gin, each different. We bought some cheese too. Then my friend and I headed off for a late lunch...

If you're close enough to visit, or on holiday in the area, you're welcome to go along and check out the distillery for yourself, although this is no slick visitor centre operation - you'll get up close to the process (and the odd chicken), shown round by the people actually involved in the distilling process who can answer all your questions. The best times to visit are 11 and 3 p.m. - best to get in touch with them first. 

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Sticky Ginger Cake with Lemon Icing

So I was sneaking a piece of this ginger cake from the kitchen when I realised that I hadn't written a blog for OVER A MONTH. 




There's a lot going on, of which more, I hope, in a few weeks when 'the lot' has concluded and I can tell you all about it (I expect you are intrigued now).

I don't know why I was sneaking the cake, because there was no one else in the house, and only my thighs will tell the tale but anyway, there I was taking a guilty bite of this delicious thing and realised that it just had to be shared with the world before, like everything else I've made, my culinary adventures, in the last few weeks, it's been eaten and forgotten, a blissful memory... The ramson pesto, in all its green, wild-garlicky glory, for example,



the crumpets I made (so chuffed), 




the brilliant burger, 



and, of course, THE LOBSTER will simply have to wait - may be even till next year - only immortalised in my Instagram feed until then...



It's not just 'the lot' either ('the lot' that I don't want to jinx by talking about it)  - generally life has been incredibly busy. We've also had the Easter holidays, visitors, and just the most beautiful run of weather. And because everyone says "Oh, yes, Wales, well it's bound to rain again soon", you just have to get out and make the most of it. Not, exactly, a hardship, when getting out and making the most of it involves lots of this




and plenty of that




and quite a bit more of the other, 




but I'm starting to think that this is part of a conspiracy to keep this most fantastic of places a secret. Sorry if I've just blown it, but, honestly, this is the most stunning place, and the weather is not nearly as bad as you might have been led to believe...

But back to the blogging, I am afraid I've been spending a lot of time on the beach, my floors are covered in a fine dusting of sand, and I've gone a little bit more native and taken up crochet. I won't, you'll be pleased to hear, start blogging about the crochet, but neverthless, it's eating in to time I'd otherwise have spent tapping away.


This cake however, fits perfectly with the season and the weather. It's ideal beach cake, I made a slab of it to take camping with friends last weekend on the Gower. A combination of Martin Dorey's The Campervan Cookbooks' sticky ginger treacle cake, and Nigella's fresh ginger bread from Domestic Goddess, it's old fashioned and delicious and just what you want to eat with a cup of tea after a day on the beach.




Sticky Ginger Cake with Lemon Icing

200 ml semi-skimmed milk
3 tbsp black treacle
100g butter
75g plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp cinammon
200g soft brown sugar
125g oats
A good chunk (maybe 3 inches or so) fresh ginger, peeled & finely grated

Juice of half a lemon (although you may not need all of it)
175g icing sugar

Grease & line a 20cm square cake tin, and pre-heat the oven to 150C (130C fan)

Tip the milk into a small pan. Add the treacle and butter and slowly bring to the boil so that everything melts into the milk.

Keeping an eye on the pan, sieve the flour, bicarb and cinammon into a large bowl, and mix in the sugar and oats. 

When the butter & treacle has melted into the milk, add the grated ginger, give it a quick stir and pour into the flour mixture, then stir to combine.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 50 minutes.

Leave to cool in the cake tin, then make the icing. Sieve the icing sugar then slowly mix in the lemon juice to make a thick, spreadable icing - not too runny, you want a layer on the top (preferably one you can leave teeth marks in) rather than dribbles down the side - and smear it over the cake. When the icing has hardened, cut the cake into 16 pieces, wrap in greaseproof paper and head out.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Slow roast pork (possibly again)

Thank you all of you who read my last post. I know this is normally a place for me to share my fairly inane, and fairly unoriginal drivellings about food, but occasionally, you know, an issue arises which is more important than what we ate for dinner. Actually, most things are more important than what we ate for dinner, but I can't always articulate what I feel about those things. My friend's situation, the chronic category 5 endometriosis and the fact that she has borne it  without complaining for all these years, I feel deeply about that, and as we live so far apart, writing the post was the only thing I felt I could do. The good news is that it's had huge page viewings and even made it to the front page of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network yesterday which I was incredibly chuffed about.

But today, my friend is still in hospital, and nothing has stirred me to action, so it's back to the food. Although if you haven't read my last post, please do...

There's a bit in one of the Wind in the Willows stories which talks about it being a 'golden afternoon' - late summer is the season, and if memory serves me correctly, it's when Toad has encouraged Ratty and Mole to join him in a gypsy caravan, before the onset of the motor car. Well, it's only March, but the weather has been golden over the last few days here on the West Wales coast. The tide has been low in the mornings, so my day has started with a good dose of beach, and the kids even braved the sea after school a couple of days ago.




After my jaunt to Aberporth with Fred this morning, I stopped off at the farm shop which is just off the main A487 coast road at Tanygroes (if you were interested). Down a little lane is the Golwg y Mor Farm Fresh Meats shop, and if you are in the area for any reason, like a holiday, or because you live here, it's well worth a visit. The meat is fabulous, and the company friendly and chatty. It's one of the things I really love about living here. People have the time to chat, to pass the time of day. On the downside, it makes work avoidance far too easy - I was struggling to leave the beach in the first place, and I ended up delaying the inevitable enforced time in front of the lap top by at least another 20 minutes chatting about this and that...

The conversation this morning turned to the fact that people have been slow cooking pork for years - the Rayburn being a perfect medium to bung in the joint and forget about it all day - but that all of a sudden it's 'the new thing'. He was saying he gets people coming in asking for meat to make 'pulled pork' as if it's the latest thing. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall et al have a lot to answer for - but in a good way, because if they have opened up the eyes of the cooking public to the beauty that is slow roast meat, that can only be a good thing.

I was, myself, in there for something to slow roast. A piece of pork to whack in the oven when I got home, and leave all day, delicious smells permeating the house, and meaning that when dinner time came, I simply had to knock up some veggies and do some gravy. Veg box day yesterday produced lovely chard, carrots and celeriac, amongst other things. Simply steamed the first two, and made mash with the third - perfect accompaniments. 

Speaking of unoriginal drivel about food, I know there are a million recipes for slow roast pork on the internet, and there may even be a version of this somewhere on this blog, but it's so good, and so easy that I thought it was worth posting again.

Slow roast Pork Shoulder (or whatever, it doesn't have to be shoulder)

! piece of pork - about 2 kg
a little oil to grease your roasting tin, plus 1 tbsp
1 medium onion
some sprigs of thyme
2 tbsp fennel seed
zest of a lemon
2 cloves of garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
a good pinch of sea salt
A large wine glass of white wine & water (or all water if you don't have any white wine left over from the previous night)

Pre-heat the oven to 220C

Grease a smallish roasting tin - it needs to be big enough to take the pork, but not so big that the liquid evaporates during the long cooking . Peel the onion, slice it and lay slices over the base of the tin, and chuck on a couple of the thyme stalks.

Pick off the leaves of the rest of the thyme stalks and add to a pestle & mortar (or whatever you use) with the fennel seed, lemon zest and garlic. 




Bash all this together with some sea salt and mix in the tbsp of oil, then lay the pork on the onions and smear all over with this rub/paste.

Put the whole lot in the oven and cook at the high temperature for 20-30 minutes, then remove from the oven and turn the heat down to around 110C. Tip the wine/water into the tin and cover the roasting tin snugly with foil. Return the tin to the oven and cook for as long as you need - I left mine in for about 7 hours before doing anything to it.




About 1 hr before you want to eat, remove the pork from the oven and turn the heat back up. Remove the foil and retun the pork to the oven to crisp up the crackling. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't burn - and cook for about 45 minutes.




Once the crackling is done, leave the meat to rest for 15 minutes or so, then remove the crackling and divide it into equal sized pieces (once you've checked that it's properly crispy and delicious of course), and pull the meat apart to serve. 



Monday, 16 March 2015

The curse of Endometriosis

I have a friend. She is a fabulous woman, and I love her dearly. She makes great cakes.

Strong, vocal in her opinions, forthright and not afraid to stand up for what she believes in, she is a passionate teacher, a strong advocate for the rights of women and girls, a campaigner for the underdog. She is also a loving wife and mother, and devoted animal lover. I have only known her for a few years. We met in a playground, our daughters looked around the same age, and so, it turned out, they were destined to go to school together and become good friends. Our dogs are best friends too, and I have had the pleasure of getting to know her and discovering all these amazing things about her.

But, I'm sure, you have already realised, this isn't just me having a love-fest about my friend. Just as I didn't know her fascinating, family history, her travels from South Africa and back; her politically active, strongly anti-apartheid family background which has surely shaped her own strength of character, I didn't know that she suffered from endometriosis.

And it is a testament to her strength that I didn't really realise not only that she has this to deal with, but also quite how debilitating the disease is. 

And it's a shitty disease (perhaps if we're using bodily adjectives, I should call it a bloody disease, but shitty sums up how I feel about it, knowing what I now know about it). It comes about when endometrial cells from the womb lining, the bits that bleed when women have a period, move to other parts of the body, set up camp, and carry on bleeding. And unlike monthly bleeding from the womb as part of the menstrual cycle, there's no where for the blood to go. Is this starting to sound a little bit horrible? My friend, it is - but please do read on.

From talking to my friend, it seems that these little territories of cell, or endometrium, form their own little menstrual cycles, too. You might be bleeding from your womb one week, the next, the little encampment that's taken root on your bowel might decide to bleed, then the patch in your lung, your liver. It's an extensive, insidious disease that seems to burrow its way through the body, embedding itself where it feels like it, and causing merry hell. It also causes chronic pain, fatigue and problems with conception. The arrival of my friend's daughter was hailed as nothing short of a miracle - and in more ways than one, as the hormonal changes did, for a time, quell the angry march of the endometriosis through her body.

I saw my friend in half term, just a few weeks ago. She'd been in hospital to have some of the endometriosis removed from her lung because she was quite literally drowning in her own blood - the endometriosis on her lung was bleeding and as the blood had no where to go, it was just filling her lungs up. Being my friend, she was keen to get back to work, to carry on. Because being a woman, she was being stoical, brave and carrying on - like women are supposed to do in the face of these 'weakenesses'. 

As surely as I know my friend, I know that this is not a weakness. I remember the horror of my own monthly period - bleeding, cramps, the hormonal raging - and basically being told to get on with it, with a little help from paracetamol and the odd hot water bottle. Women's problems; the curse. Something not to be talked about, or made a fuss of. A dark secret.

I don't give a stuff if you suggest that periods are somehow dirty and shouldn't be talked about. For goodness sake, it's part of a natural process of having children - and I have been able to deal with the physical and emotional challenges of my own cycle through use of a little marvel called the marena coil, but then, I don't have endometriosis.

My friend does have endometrioses. It's in her lungs, her bowel, her liver and plenty of other places the doctors are not even sure about. She has 5 consultants involved in her care, but until now, despite the dogged efforts of her utterly fabulous GP, there doesn't seem to have been a clear strategy for going forward. But even on a simple presentation, it's a debilitating condition. Imagine have part of your body bleeding that you couldn't stop or get to and the blood couldn't escape. Imagine that every time you went to the loo, the action aggravated the colony of angry endometrium cells on your bowel or bladder causing cramping and bleeding. Imagine drowning on your own blood because you've got it on your lung. No really, imagine what it would be like.

And now, my friend is back in hospital. It seems that her liver, her diaphragm and her lung have fused. She is having scans and will probably need surgery to resection her lung before a whole series of further operations to deal with the endometriosis they know about and also the stuff they haven't yet found. Every time I've spoken to her after a spell in hospital, there always seems to have been the suggestion that as well as the places they know about, it could be in other places too. Hopefully, now they can deal with it - but really should it have taken it to get to this awful point before she stopped having to cope and real action is being taken? 

Endometriosis is somehow seen as a woman's problem, It is, of course, related to menstruation  but did you know what happens? What it is? I didn't really either, and you wouldn't be alone, because it seems very little is known about the disease even though a study published in 2009 showed that 10% of women suffer from it - that's 176 million of us worldwide. This 'women's issue' costs the UK economy over £8 billion in treatment, loss of work and healthcare costs, and yet so little is known about it, and no research is done. I am no stranger to the wonders of medical research - my son had leukaemia, and the progress made in research meant that he had a 75% rate of survival as compared with a 4% chance had he been diagnosed 25 years earlier. Endometriosis is not cancer - but perhaps that's part of the problem Perhaps it's only seen as 'a woman's issue; so there's no need to plough money and time into finding a cure. And yet it's the second most common gynaecological condition in women in the UK, affecting a similar number of women as diabetes.

The lack of understanding and research into the disease causes huge problems. On average it takes 7.5 years for a diagnosis - which in itself means some women waiting a whole lot longer than that. It can often be attributed to irritable bowel syndrome, and reading stories on the Endometriosis UK website, it's shocking how many women are simply told, from a horrifyingly early age, that they just have to get on with it, that the pain and everything that goes with it is just part of being a woman.

Endometriosis is not part of being a woman. It's a disease, and it needs to be recognised as such, researched and dealt with. As I've discovered more and more about it, I've come to see it as Horrible. Shitty. Debilitating. And more needs to be done about it.

If you've made it to the end of this post, thank you, and thank you from my friend, who is passionate about raising awareness of this disease. And you could make her even happier by signing this petition calling for more discussion of the disease in Parliament which will hopefully lead to more research funding ensuring faster diagnosis and better treatment.



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