“Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost” - Erol Ozan
Happy Valentine’s Day! This day is also another anniversary for me - it is 13 years ago today that I first became ill with M.E. I had no idea Then how ill I was to become, all that I knew was that I felt more poorly than I had ever felt in my life before.
My stressful, hectic life had finally caught up with me. I had ignored the signs for too long - the exhaustion, the numerous chest infections which had persisted over the previous year, the tears I had shed for no apparent reason at times over the past few months. I didn't stop, so my body stopped me, literally until I couldn't move. It forced me to rest, it forced me to reassess my life and what was important to me. It also forced me to discover myself - a term which is loosely used these days, but it is true. I didn't know me, I knew a lot about everyone else, because it was easier to do that than to find out about who I was.
As the time went on over the first year with the condition, which incidentally was the most difficult to bear, mainly because I felt in shock about what was happening to me - it took some time to adjust to where I was and also because I felt lost. It was as though I was between two worlds - the person who I was before the illness and the person I was to become when recovery finally came - and I believed it would. Little did I know that recovery would take so long, but at that time I didn't know the secrets I now do to get me to recovery, but like many journeys in life, sometimes when we get lost, even a sat nav won’t help us. We need to find our own way through the maze to get to where we need to be and that was how it was for me.
The difficulty with being in between two worlds is that we often don't understand what is happening. I felt as though I was in a foreign country when I didn't know any of the language yet and I also didn't know who or how to ask for help. This was a language I needed to teach myself and gradually I found my way, very slowly to being more calm and when the time came to ask for the help I needed, it appeared in the shape of two wonderful doctors. I was very scared about getting help, because I was terrified of recovery, and I believed if I did get better, I would go back to being who I was before and that would mean getting ill all over again. I also didn't know where I was going, so how would I cope when I got there?
As with all things though, I adjusted. My brain started to work again. Very slowly it adapted to my new way of life. Starting to learn to walk again, to talk again and to be again. All this was to take time and a lot of patience on my part but once I did start, life did seem to get better very slowly.
Things do take longer than we think though and when we are learning a new skill we can often make mistakes along the way. The important thing with mistakes though is what we learn from them. Like a child learning to tie their shoe laces for the first time, it can appear so difficult, but each day they try and try again and eventually they can do it. The process of learning, making mistakes and then correcting those mistakes forms a protein sheath around the neurons in our brains called myelin which strengthens the more we learn and then speeds up the processes in the neurons. It is important to make mistakes and then correct them because then a stronger bond is formed in the brain and it helps us to grow as human beings and to get a talent for that skill. That is why when I started to get out again and learned to walk again, breathing correctly, life seemed to take on new meaning for me. I was becoming more confident because I was learning a new skill, making a few mistakes and the correcting them - confidence was starting to build, but again that took time.
When I look back to February 14th 2004 and that first year with the illness, I honestly didn't believe that I would ever recover. I bring myself back to now and celebrate at how far I have come. As with many serious illnesses, there are many stages - feeling so ill, the shock at the diagnosis, the realisation of what is happening then the fight to recover and finally the pride in the journey towards our own recovery, looking back at how far we have each come. Each step along the journey with that illness takes us closer to who we are to become because of the illness. I can now say I am more comfortable in my own skin than I have ever been and I need to thank M.E. for that because without it, I may never have met my true self!
The recipe I have made this week involves patience. In celebration of all things Valentine’s I have decided to make some cupcake roses. The patience is needed for making the little iced roses which sit upon each cupcake. They are formed in a little mould which can get very sticky if not prepared properly and if there is not enough sugar paste, parts of the roses can be missing; if there is too much, the roses do not take on a set shape. The recipe is from a wonderful book called Cox Cookies & Cake by Eric Lanlard and Patrick Cox bringing the design of the patissier and the designer (shoes in particular!) together - http://amzn.to/2kNWJFO
Valentine’s Rose Cupcakes
Makes 12 cupcakes
250 g unsalted butter, softened
250 g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
185 g self-raising flour
60 g plain flour
185 ml milk
250 g unsalted butter, softened
500 g icing sugar
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
edible red food colouring paste
Preheat the oven to 200℃ (180℃ fan). In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Then add the vanilla extract. Sift in the flours and add the milk a little at a time alternating with the flour, beginning and ending with the flour until smooth.
Add the mixture to the cupcake cases (I recommend using an ice cream scoop for evenly sized cupcakes). Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes until the cakes are done (a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean). Leave to cool in the tin(s) for 5 minutes and then put onto a wire rack until completely cool before icing.
For the frosting, beat the butter in a large bowl until creamy and then add the icing sugar (place a cloth over the bowl or the sugar could powder around the room!) Then add the milk, the vanilla extract and the food colouring paste (I use a cocktail stick and add various amounts until the icing is the colour I need). Put into a piping bag with a nozzle and pipe over the cupcakes.
To make the sugar paste roses, take a small clump of sugar paste (keep the rest in cling film as it does dry very quickly), then take a cocktail stick and dip it into the edible food colouring paste. Scrape the cocktail stick into the middle of the sugar paste and then work it with your fingers to create a red sugar paste (your hands will get messy, so I recommend washing your hands as soon as you have the colour you want).
Take a small piece of the coloured sugar paste (again put the remainder in cling film until you are ready to use it). Prepare the rose mould by rubbing a little Trex vegetable shortening into the mould(s) then press the small piece of sugar paste into the rose mould and work it gently into the mould, ensuring all edges fit within the shape. When you are happy, turn the mould upside down and gently bending the mould, work the piece of sugar paste out and leave to dry. Continue with the remaining roses.
Place the roses on the iced cup cakes and then spray with coloured spray frosting and dust with edible glitter or other decorations.
Enjoy - perfect with a glass of pink champagne!