Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! Love, Waitrose

I was touched - I repeat, touched - that Waitrose devoted this rather large basket prominently placed in the baking aisle to Libby's pumpkin pie filling.  This could be that I was also in a bit of a panic mode when remembering that I had committed to making said pie for our ThanksChristmas dinner this Saturday.  Yes, I said ThanksChristmas - since John and I will be rockin' around the Christmas tree in Washington and Tom and Cristy will be dreaming of a white Christmas in Oz come December 25th, Alison came up with the great idea of celebrating two holidays at once in Leicester this weekend.  Sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows, I'm so making YOU.

I'm excited to force everyone to eat my disgusting but wonderfully tasty American concoctions.  Pumpkin pie trumps Christmas pudding any day.
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Friday, November 11, 2011

Baking a Speedy Recovery: Cinnamon Rolls


There are two activities in my life that I find ultra healing and restorative: yoga and baking.  If I'm feeling under the weather or off-balance, I'll turn to one or the other to make me feel right again.  And one of the few things I've managed to do this week while shuffling around my flat in my rose-print pajama pants and fleece robe is bake: it requires very little energy, produces highly calorific and tasty treats, and all the ingredients can be purchased at the local corner shop, thus requiring no more than a 2 minute walk.

I've never baked cinnamon rolls or anything other than cakes or cookies so was super hesitant to try this recipe as I have a huge fear of failing when it comes to cooking.  Not only was this recipe from Ramshackle Glam (yes, again - I've become a teeny tiny obsessed with Jordan's blog) super easy to follow, but it also produced great results - not bad for my first try, eh?  I love how you can control the sweetness easily and the way the brown sugar and cinnamon just melt beautifully in the middle. 

If you're reading this from the UK and are using a fan oven, the only modification I'd make is to bake for a little less than the recommended time, otherwise your rolls will turn out too brown and crunchy.  I also made a simple icing by mixing together one cup of icing sugar with a half teaspoon of vanilla extract and two tablespoons of milk, then drizzled over the rolls while they were still warm.  

Initially, I made these as a surprise for John as they're his favorites, but I'm also partial to a couple of warm cinnamon rolls and a hot cup of peppermint tea in the morning.  Not to mention that my flat now smells officially like Christmas.
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Saying "Thank You" When a Card Just Doesn't Cut It: The Magic of Hampers* (*and not the laundry kind)

There are some instances when a thank you card just isn't enough.  And when John's mom was over to take care of me after the operation (she came with me to the hospital as well and stayed with me for hours on end in the waiting and recovery rooms), I racked my brain to think of an appropriate way to thank her for her kindness, patience, and downright TLC - that is, when I wasn't drifting in and out of a painkiller haze.

When my head cleared, however, I realized the best way to thank her would be in the form of a gift basket filled with fruit or treats, or what Brits call "hampers" (that's what we Americans throw dirty laundry in, just in case you wanted to know).

Gift baskets always remind me of Christmas, because my dad always seemed to receive them at work around Christmas time and we'd spend the days in the run-up to Christmas munching on cheeses, crackers, and smoked sausages and salmon.  Mmm ... and I'm not talking about the Jimmy Dean variety here, y'all.

After unsuccessfully asking for suggestions in the Twittersphere (I even welcomed spam, but all I got was some unrelated restaurant recommendation - jeez, spambots can't even spam properly!), I turned to trusty Google and found Regency Hampers (who also deliver to the US, apparently, btw).  Their Bibury Thank You Hamper (pictured above) looked ah-MAZING, and exactly along the lines of what I was looking for.  It's packed with goodies you can enjoy right there and then, with friends, or later (the preserves looked especially scrumptious - particularly the strawberry and champagne jam).  I also thought it was sweet (though people might find it tacky, I don't know, I'm partial to a bit of tack now and then) that you can choose from a variety of ribbons with greetings, according to the sentiment of your choice.  Is that nice or tacky?  I don't know.  I went for the "thank you" ribbon anyway.

I chose the delivery date I wanted and tracked the parcel all the way to John's mom's hands, then received a text from her saying that she loved it.  WIN.

So, the next time someone does something extraordinary for you and a card just doesn't seem to be enough, I'd advise sending food.  In a nice basket.  Preferably with a gold ribbon.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

... And Meanwhile ...

I've received a delightful array of flowers from various sources (namely, Alison, Udita, and my co-workers) and numerous get-well-soon cards to cheer me up.  I feel so loved.  And I think I'm getting there. Almost.
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Friday, November 4, 2011

Handle With Care: "I'm American."

"I hope you don't mind, but I'm just gonna have to get naked in front of you now," I announced to John's mom, as I assessed the fact that I needed to change into the hospital gown as quickly as possible, after my surgeon swung by my bed and said that they were ready for me.  I was at the Royal Surrey County Hospital in Guildford, Surrey, for my first operation under general anesthetic at a NHS hospital.  Petrified didn't even begin to describe how I was feeling.

I've had two similar operations in the US at a private hospital in Washington, which cost me a mind-blowingly cool $10,000 two years ago as I had returned to America as an uninsured visitor, needing emergency surgery.  I was used to hospitals with lazy Susans and electric blankets.  Shiny floors and art on the walls.  So I wasn't sure how I'd fare in a state-funded, public hospital.  Call it prejudice.  I was ashamed to admit that I had somewhat bought into the anti-NHS hype at some of my frustrating, low points.  Luckily, my US surgeon was able to refer me to his best friend, who happened to be an English maxillofacial surgeon practicing at the Royal Surrey County Hospital, which is how I found myself pulling on highly unflattering anti-embolism stockings on Wednesday afternoon, preparing for the OR.

"Got your sexy socks on?" asked the nurse who was helping me get ready.  "Yup," I replied, showing her the green tights.  "Okay, well, just make yourself comfortable in your bed and we'll wheel you in," she said.  I was a little confused.  They were actually going to wheel me into the operating room?  This was new.  In the States, you get up and walk into the operating room and literally lie down on the table, waiting for the anesthesiologist to work his magic.  "Have you never had a procedure here?" she asked.  "Not in this country," I replied.  "Ooh, yes, you're American!  I LOVE your accent!  Why are you even HERE?" she gushed.  Her friendly chatter helped me feel more at ease and as soon as I hit the prep room, where the anesthesiologist (or anaesthetist, for you Brits) who had consulted me before the op, was waiting.  A team of nurses were by his side - all friendly, smiling, and professional.  It was at that point that I finally let go of my anxiety and put my trust in the men in the green scrubs.  They knew what they were doing.  "I promised you something good to help you relax," said the anesthesiologist kindly, pressing drugs into my IV.

When I came around, after the operation, I remember crying.  I don't know why it happened because I wasn't even upset.  But the nurse handed me some tissues and comforted me.  I wanted to tell him that he reminded me of someone from TV, but I couldn't get the words out.  He asked me about my pain levels and fed painkillers into my IV accordingly.  I specifically asked not to be on morphine before as it made me sick after my previous two surgeries, so I was glad that the anesthesiologist had listened to my concerns.  I was also glad that I had been able to speak to him before the operation and he asked, on more than one occasion, about how I was feeling, what I was afraid of or nervous about.  My surgeon came around shortly after while I was coming around, telling me that the surgery had gone very well and that he'd see me in two weeks.

I had been previously told that if I needed to stay overnight, I'd be in a ward with a few other beds, rather than a private room, which I was slightly anxious about, but okay with.  However, I was given oxygen for quite a while after the operation and wheeled into a private room with my own bathroom, while a very nice nurse came by and kindly brushed my hair from my face while saying, "Keep the oxygen on, my darling, it'll just help brush the cobwebs away."  John's mom came in and quietly read in the corner, staying with me for a few hours afterward, until the same, lovely nurse came in and asked how I was feeling and if I'd like to stay overnight.  I told her I would like to if it was all right with her.  I felt really bad about taking away beds from other people if they needed it more.  I kept expecting them to wheel me back to the bay, but I was able to stay in the room on my own for the rest of the evening, which was perfect.

The junior nurse who had checked me in at the start came in and asked if I wanted some hot food.  I was a bit incredulous at the thought of eating after having had my jaw/sinus operated on, but decided to try anyway.  The menu was immense - she rattled off a selection of probably twenty or so choices and I settled for some swede mash.  "The pasta is quite soft too," she said. "Shall I put some on a plate and you can just try some?"  I ended up eating it all.  And it might have been the drugs I was on, but it was absolutely delicious.

Soon after, I fell asleep and Alison returned to London, with plans to pick me up when I was discharged the next day.  The night nurses came in quietly in intervals to check my blood pressure and offer me painkillers, food, and anything else I wanted.  They were friendly, patient, and understanding - unlike the brusque, non-communicative night team I encountered in the US.

So how would I rate my first overnight stay and surgical experience at a British NHS hospital?  I have to say that it was truly amazing.  I'm so grateful to the kindness, compassion, and thoughtfulness I was shown during my stay there.  I'm thankful for the expertise of the doctors and nurses who treated me and who looked after me in the hours following the operation.

I know that the Royal Surrey is an exception and that not all NHS hospitals across the UK are up to its standards.  I've seen friends receive some rather appalling treatment in London hospitals, for example.  I also know that I'm an exception, having had a special referral to attend this specific hospital in Surrey.  But I must say, after having paid no costs towards the hospital after my surgery (except for the antibiotics and painkillers I took home, which will total just over £14), I'm glad to pay my UK taxes every month and I'm glad to make the NHS contribution that comes out of my paycheck - if it means I can receive treatment of that caliber.
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