In order to keep myself fit and and to strengthen my core, I have been following an exercise plan called Blogilates - http://www.blogilates.com/. It works every muscle in the body without needing any extra equipment. While I was doing an exercise called the Grasshopper, which works chest, triceps, back, and glutes, I really felt my muscles working, I realised then how lucky I was to be able to do this. In the midst of my life with M.E., exercise was impossible; the pain was unbearable. Even the tiniest amount of muscle use was exhausting, from washing my hair and having a shower to climbing the stairs - it all became so difficult.
M.E. Stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis and Myalgic literally stands for muscle (My) pain (Algic). It felt as though the muscles were actually being ripped apart with every use. Some days were better than others, but of course on those days I tended to do more and then suffered with what the medical community call “pay-back”, which then left me exhausted and in pain again. It was a vicious circle.
As with all my symptoms of M.E., the pain was something that I needed to feel. You could call it a type of labour pain waiting for the birth of person I was always meant to be. As with all difficult times, it was about my perception of the situation and how I wanted to see it. You can't get the rainbow without the storm and the pains were part of my storm.
I had never seen myself as weak before the illness and I know that none of my friends would have seen me as that either, but from my experiences with M.E. I have become a much stronger person, both inside and out - I now truly know who I am at my core.
Thinking about this week’s blog got me looking at foods that can help alleviate pain. I was delighted to see that one study stated that chocolate can actually help by distracting the brain from feeling the symptoms. As it is also Bramley Apple season, the recipe I am sharing this week is based on a Keith Floyd, Floyd on France, recipe from the Lorraine region of France. His incorporated pears but mine uses Herefordshire Bramley Apples, Raisins and Dark Chocolate.
Bramley Apples are a favourite for me because the ones I am using here are from a tree in my parents’ garden - every mouthful for me is a trip down memory lane.
Bramley apple and raisin tarts
500 g Bramley apples, peeled, cored and chopped into large chunks
125 g golden caster sugar
30 g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150 g raisins
Grated rind of a lemon
200 g plain flour, sifted
125 g cold unsalted butter
2 egg yolks, beaten
Pinch of salt
1 egg yolk for glaze
Poach the apples in 300 ml water with the chocolate, lemon zest, sugar and raisins for about 30-40 minutes on a low heat until you have a thickish compote.
Make the pastry: Put the flour, butter and salt in a food processor and whizz until it becomes like breadcrumbs. Add 4 tablespoons of cold water and the beaten egg yolks and mix until the mixture comes together. If necessary add more egg yolk mixture. Wrap in clingfilm and keep in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to thickness of about 6 mm, cut into rounds with large pastry cutter and put a small dollop of the compote in the centre of each circle (make sure the compote is cool otherwise it will start to melt the butter in the pastry). Fold each tart in two and seal the edges with water. I used a pastry crimper to really seal the edges, but you can also use the prongs of a fork.
Use the remaining egg yolk (beaten) to glaze, sprinkle each with a little sugar and place tarts on a baking sheet covered in greaseproof paper or Silpat. Bake in a preheated oven (200°C) for about 20 minutes until golden and crispy.