Ah, sick days. Thankfully, until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t had one in a while. Being freelance means it can be hard to take a guilt-free duvet day, so even when I’m sniffily and surrounded on the sofa by snotty tissues, I find it hard not to check in. Not a day goes by where I don’t hear those emails ding-donging into my inbox, unless something really bad happens. But if you follow me on Twitter, you might know that a few weeks back something really bad kinda did happen. A bout of gastroenteritis sent me into a little something called diabetic ketoacidosis and, as a result, I was admitted to hospital. It wasn’t much fun, a little scary to say the least, but thankfully now I’m back at home no more than a little bruised and queasy, and feeling better by the minute.
There’s only so long on the sofa I can handle before I start to get bored. A few days after I got out of hospital Matt had to go back to work, and mentally I was fine. Totally back to normal – thinking about normal things, needing to be entertained. It was just the physical element that was letting me down. Naturally, my thoughts turned to food. Obviously, the less said about hospital food, the better. Eating in hospital when you have diabetes? Even worse. Luckily, for once, I wasn’t really in the mood for food. When I started getting better, there were two things I craved. 1) Ready Salted Crisps. Walkers, if possible. 2) Thick, soapy white bread spread with salty butter. 3) The ultimate blend of the two: a crisp sandwich! So that was the first port of call.
Once I got home to my own living room, bathed, feet up, favourite teddy under one arm (hey, I may be 27, but he’s been with me through every bout of ill-health so far. He’s going nowhere), I started thinking about real sustenance again. I had to take it slowly, of course. Day one, I couldn’t actually turn my thoughts into physical things – so other than one half of a tuna sandwich lovingly made for me, I settled on buying Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers (the first series) from iTunes and whiling the afternoon away watching him stirring up pork and apples in his shallow casserole, folding berries into whipped mascarpone and sizzling sausages with mustard and honey at his perfect, shiny, kitchen island while he cooed softly to the camera. Oh, Nigel. You brought me back to life. When the six episodes ran out, I bulldozed through The Kitchen Diaries autumn section like nobody’s business, wrapped in my waffle knit blanket, with the curtains shut. If I could’ve found a copy of Toast without getting up from my comfy spot on the sofa, I would’ve devoured that too. There’s nothing so healing as Nigel Slater’s voice tiptoeing around your brain.
Day two, time to eat! And move about a bit! I dislodged myself from my sofa dent and went to the cooker. I wanted buttery, wholesome and filling, but I could stand at the hob for approximately 4 minutes before I fell over. Plus, I hadn’t been shopping in a while. Matt had diligently bought everything I’d asked for, but I hadn’t been thinking about real food at that point – just asking for tea, crisps, bread, oven chips (which I weirdly craved, having not eaten them since my student days) and fruit juice. Now ready to kick the bland stuff, I went rifling through my fridge and cupboards to find onions, potatoes, half a tin of sweetcorn, and in a totally *ahhh, heavens opening* moment, a little wedge of chorizo.
I turned the oven on to preheat, chopped in record time, perched at the kitchen island on a tall stool, and then had a little rest. Later I pulled that stool up to the oven, and got it all frying. Onions first, followed by potatoes, then I left it sizzling with a lid on over a low heat for 15 minutes before throwing in chorizo and sweetcorn. After five minutes I poured over 4 eggs and slid it into the oven for 20 minutes until it had a little smidgen of wobble left in the middle. Spanish omelettes (or tortillas) are so low maintenance. I turned it out onto my butchers block and carved it into wedges, which I happily revisited over the next 4-6 hours, testing the waters with a little bit more each time, squidging each segment between a folded piece of bread. For my tastebuds, and my extremely empty belly, this was pure heaven. salty, savoury and with just a touch of spice, it got me back on track. After that I didn’t look back, I even dashed a few drops of Tabasco over the last piece I ate.
That experience, of cooking from a seated position, swaddled in a dressing gown, with an extreme hunger in my tummy reminded me of a memory I have. I was 13, it was the 23rd December, and I was sitting on a ward in Bristol Children’s Hospital. It was diabetes related again (it always is)- a nasty cold had developed into a chest infection and then pneumonia, and I was so desperate to get home in time for Christmas. The Play Specialist was really pushing for me to make a collage, but I was a moody teenager on a ward full of sick babies and I was cross. I hadn’t consumed anything other than a glass of that sickly sweet apple juice that looks like (sorry) extremely unhealthy wee, every mealtime for about 4 days. My mum asked the nurse if she could make me some toast. It was the thinnest, cheapest white bread in existence, but man was it good. Crispy, almost burnt around the edges and deliciously anaemic in the centre, spread with real butter. I ate it and it was like colour started bleeding back into the scene around me. I was home by the end of the day. Even now, I genuinely think that moment is responsible for my constant need to have butter in the butter dish at all times.
Back to this year, the week that followed that spanish omelette brought all the comfort food I could take. Spaghetti Bolognese started me off, then sausage and mash with onion gravy which no one makes better than my husband. On my first trip outside the house I wolfed down a Patty Smith’s burger like never before. These days, I’m off a purely beige diet and back to eating normally. That’s if normally includes a whole kilo of cheese shared between four of us on the weekend just gone. I went to the Scottish Highlands for a four day break with some friends, which was probably the most restorative, healing trip I could’ve gone on. It was so beautiful, so peaceful, I absolutely loved it. I’ll be back soon with some photos.
What do you eat when you’re poorly? Is there a specific food memory that you have relating to a bout of ill-health? Tell me your stories of eating to replenish, heal and recover.