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M.E., hibernation and "waking up"

How a simple lime recipe woke up my creativity

Having been struggling with a horrible flu virus this past week reminded me of the time when first diagnosed with M.E. Although I have now been in recovery for four years, it is no bad thing to have been reminded of those days becoming aware of how seriously ill I was. It is easy when we are "over" something to forget what it was really like to be living that life. The fear of not knowing what each day is going to bring, the loss of our lives as we have known them before and the worry of what the future may bring. I have therefore decided, as a way of bringing awareness of M.E. symptoms to the greater population, and to help those currently living with M.E., to write a weekly blog highlighting the symptoms I suffered as part of the condition. I explain a little bit about each symptom and how I felt at that time. I want to do this in both an educational and inspirational way, so have decided to use my love of baking as a metaphor for the symptoms I experienced during my 9 years with the condition. I hope that this will give a different approach to portraying the symptoms and will allow you to understand them better, plus you get to bake a cake or dessert at the end!

I am using baking in my blogs because it helped to give me an escape, for a short amount of time, from my symptoms during the condition. I started baking within the first few months of diagnosis and can remember, as though it were yesterday, the cake I made. It was a recipe from one of my favourite restaurants in the world, Joe’s Stone Crabs, in Miami. I had only visited there the year before diagnosis, so the flavours were still alive in my mind. The recipe I chose then was a Key Lime Cake (see below). This was a moist sponge cake drenched in a lime syrup whilst still warm from baking and then showered with icing sugar before serving. This cake “woke me up” emotionally to the creativity of baking, it took me away from my symptoms for ¾ hour and made me proud to have created something so delicious. Small achievements are important when you have M.E., as with other serious conditions, as celebrations can be few and far between because so little is accomplished and confidence drops very quickly, therefore anything to boost inner-confidence is important. (See end of blog for the recipe I have decided to made this week.)

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As this is my first blog, I would like to start with something I read about only a few weeks ago - M.E. is a form of semi-hibernation - which is how I felt at the time. Scientists in the U.S. have found a link with M.E. to semi-hibernation in some animals. As though the body needs to shut down for a period of time. In this state, the metabolism adjusts to a difficult environment by slowing down — enabling existence, but not much more. Hibernation can be defined as: “an extended period of energy-saving torpor (decreased physiological activity in an animal). The body slows down and breathing, temperature and heart-rate all decrease." This is not surprising to me as, at the time of my diagnosis, everything had slowed down for me - may be this was necessary as I had been living such a stressful life before in the corporate world in which I had been working? My body needed to take a complete rest. If I did too much on a "good" day, I would suffer payback over the next few days where the effects of the symptoms would be horrendous - again a message for me that rest was needed in the early part of the condition. Now, with all hibernation, there does come a time to wake up, both physically and mentally. This can be difficult, as I found, as new “rest habits” have been created in a physiological sense. The start on the road to recovery is possible though with the help of a very supportive and encouraging medical community, for both the mind and body. I was very lucky to get this, others are not so lucky as we see on the news regularly. Hence, by baking waking me up creatively, allowed me a small step on this road and the lime recipe above started the process.

Here is the recipe I have just made. I encourage you to bake it, as the flavours are wonderful and it will give you a taste of the long forgotten summer (at least here in the U.K.!) I have decided to use limes again because of their power to wake us up with their zingy, zesty flavour and their ability to add tang to many things including my favourite tipple of a gin and tonic! This recipe is from a 1963 American recipe book called the Copper Kettle Cook Book, a wonderfully, retro recipe book. Here is a link to the book in Amazon should any of you be interested in purchasing it:

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I hope you enjoy baking and eating this. One thing I recommend is to use the 4 egg whites for the meringue, I missed that when making the recipe and only used the 3 left from the yolks used for the custard; this led to a slight gap forming between the meringue and the pastry after cooling which you will see from the photos (this did not affect the taste in any way though). The 4 whites will give you a more voluminous meringue and will allow you to spread the mixture right to the pastry case totally covering the custard.

As this is an American recipe, measures are in cups. Here is a helpful conversion page if you are in the UK and elsewhere.

Creativity KEY LIME PIE



2 cups sifted plain flour

Just under cup of unsalted butter (cold) cut into 1 inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

6 to 8 tablespoons cold water

Filling and meringue:

3 eggs - divided

1 extra egg white

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon grated lime zest

15 ounce can sweetened condensed milk

1 or 2 drops of green food colouring

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 teaspoon lime juice (for meringue)

Preheat the oven to 200℃ (180℃ fan)

For the pastry, put the flour, salt and the butter into the bowl of a food processor and whizz until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.

With the motor running, gradually add the water until the pastry forms into a ball.  

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Remove from bowl, wrap in clingfilm and place in the refrigerator for about ½ an hour to allow the gluten in the flour to rest.

When ready, remove the pastry ball from the fridge and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out to about the thickness of just under a £1 coin. Add to your pie tin and leave the edges as they are (the pie may shrink in the oven so this allows you to cut away part way through baking to give a perfect edge to the pie). (TIP: keep a little pastry back before baking in case you need to fill any cracks during baking). Prick the pastry with a fork and lay some parchment/greaseproof paper on top. Fill with baking beans or dried pulses which will prevent the pastry from rising too much during the blind baking process.

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Put the pastry into the oven for about 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, remove from the oven and remove the baking beans.  Cut back the pastry to its correct height for the tin and check for any splits or tears and then fill with the spare pastry.  Put the pastry back into the oven for another 5 minutes until nicely browned (you need it to bake well so that you don't end up with a soggy bottom when the filing is in).

Meanwhile, make the filling.  Beat the three egg yolks until light and pale and add the ½ cup lime juice and the lime zest.  Beat in the condensed milk and the food colouring to give the filling a natural lime tint.  When the pastry case is out of the oven, pour the custard into the case and then mix the meringue topping.

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Beat 4 egg whites until stiff but not dry (they should not move in the bowl but should have a shine to them) and then beat into them gradually the 1/2 cup caster sugar and the 1 teaspoon of lime juice.  Spread the meringue thickly over the custard all the way to the pie crust and bringing the tops of the meringue to peaks at regular intervals on the top.  

Bake the pie at 200℃ (180℃ fan) for about 15 minutes until the pie is delicately browned.

The pie needs to be served cold from the fridge.

I hope you enjoy!