Working with a Chronic Illness – Part 3: the Insurance Debacle

Last time I spoke to you, I told you how I’d become sick and lost my job, tried to make a welfare claim from Centrelink and, despite reports from two medical professionals, had been rejected because: a) I lived with my partner (even though we weren’t sharing finances) and b) my condition wasn’t “settled”.  I’d like to now tell you how it all got better but unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

Having been rejected for my Centrelink claim, the panic began to set in.  What was I going to do for money?  How would I pay my rent?  How would I buy food?  And more importantly, how would I pay for my myriad of doctor’s appointments and medication?  Sucking up my pride, I raised the subject with my partner.  At first he was furious with Centrelink.  How dare they assume he should support me just because we are living together?  I reasoned that if they did not have that policy, many couples would take advantage of the system.  He seemed to accept that but then became annoyed with me.  Why had I let myself be fired?  How sick could I really be?  Why didn’t I just “tough it out”?  He opined that I’d never liked the job or even working at all, and this was all an elaborate ruse to get me to stay at home on some kind of lovely never-ending holiday.  Anyone who’s ever had an invisible chronic illness will know these accusations.  Chronic illness defies the usual pattern: get sick, get diagnosed, get well.  When doctors, in whom we put so much faith, say “we don’t know what’s wrong with you and we can’t make you better” the people around us, trained and lay alike, start to get suspicious.

This arguing went on for some time, putting a huge strain on our relationship, but to his credit, my partner said he would not see me out on the street.  We came to an agreement, I would pay 1/3 of the household costs until I was back on my feet.  Not daring to push my luck, I agreed.  The only problem was, with an income of zero, how was I going to pay a third?

Things went from bad to worse.  Shortly after my Centrelink rejection I received a letter from my employer.  The letter not only confirmed my dismissal but added that I had actually been overpaid in excess of $1,000 and that I would have to pay that back immediately.

Through tears of humiliation, I emailed my old manager.  A man I’d previously had a fun and friendly relationship with.  I explained my situation, that I had no income, that I couldn’t even get benefits and that I was unable to pay a cent right now but would be willing to pay by instalments.  It is a sickening feeling when you know someone who has previously liked and admired you, pities you.  I went from being a capable, confident and attractive colleague to being a charity case.  The only difference was that our clients were probably better off than me as most of them received Centrelink payments!

Word soon got around of my demise and I received a few kind and thoughtful emails from my co-workers, one of whom suggested I might be able to claim income protection insurance through my superannuation.  A brilliant idea!  It had not occurred to me.  I’d never taken out an income protection insurance policy (and if you are in any kind of employment right now, I strongly suggest you do so immediately!!) but I was a new member of the superannuation fund for South Australian Government employees and part of their plan was to automatically include all members in an income protection insurance plan.

Elated, I downloaded the application form and began filling it out.  I discovered I already had all the documentation I needed from my doctors!  I checked the time periods and found that I had been a member of the fund long enough to apply and that if my application was accepted, I would be entitled to 75% of my salary for up to two years or until I was recovered.  I was thrilled!  75% of my salary would easily continue to pay my half of the bills and the relief of knowing I could take my time and heal without worrying constantly about money meant I would most likely get better sooner.  I was confident my application would be accepted, after all the insurance was intended to cover acute instances of illness, not “settled” conditions, like the Disability Support Pension I had been denied.  I posted my forms off and waited, quietly happy that my problems had been solved.

Then I got the rejection letter.  My application for income protection insurance, it said, had been denied due to “legislation”.  It did no further to explain what legislation, which provisions or why.  There was however, a name, email address and an invitation to contact them should I have any “further inquiries”.  I typed out my email, a polite enquiry as to which sections of which act/s were applicable and a reason for the decision to deny my application.

That afternoon my phone rang.  I can’t really explain what it’s like to be anxious to someone who hasn’t ever had the condition, but the notion of answering a phone to a private number when it may well be about something very serious, is terrifying.  The adrenalin racing through your body means you’re barely capable of constructing a coherent sentence and the likelihood of remembering anything that was discussed is slim to none.  Plus, being a lawyer and all, I prefer email over phone calls… I just like to have everything in writing.  I let it go to voicemail and listened to the message.  It was the lady from the super fund asking me to call her back.

I waited until the next day and wrote another email.  I thanked her for her call, apologised for missing it and asked if she could please reply to my query by email as I suffered from such severe anxiety at this time that talking on the phone was very difficult for me.  She did not reply.  I waited another week and emailed again, forwarding the previous message, and asking if she could kindly answer my questions by email.  Still nothing.  Two more weeks passed before I sent a third and final email asking if there was a reason no-one could email me?  This was a service for people who were unable to work due to whatever illness and I was surprised they weren’t more accommodating of each particular ailment.  If I was in a wheelchair, I said, they would hardly ask to me to walk up stairs to an interview room so why, with crippling anxiety, the very reason for my application, would they ask me to talk on the phone?  Still no reply.

At this stage, I was fuming.  I went in to law in the first place because I have a strong sense of social justice and this reeked of discrimination to me.  They knew I had anxiety, that was the symptom preventing me from working!  They knew I was uncomfortable with phone conversations and they knew how to very easily contact me by email or, heck, I would have even been happy with snail mail.  Society still has problems accepting mental health problems.  Those who have never had it or seen it first-hand seem to think its sufferers are either making it up, exaggerating or are “crazy”.  I was not crazy, my rational mind was functioning clearly.  I simply had adrenalin coursing through my body constantly and certain situations made it worse.  So why were they treating my ailments differently to “physical” ones?

Working in legal aid has taught me a few valuable things and one of those is to whom you complain when things aren’t going your way.  I wrote to the ombudsman about my situation, explaining everything in detail and declaring that I felt discriminated against.  They responded fairly quickly with a letter explaining that my application had been denied because I had not met the requisite time frame.  According to the legislation (which I had found on my own by this stage through research) an applicant had to be unwell for work for at least a week after their employer’s sick leave entitlements ran out, and only then would they be considered.  According to the ombudsman, the super fund was saying I had not met that threshold.

By this stage, I had been too sick to work for over three months.  I had no financial support from the government I’d happily paid my taxes to when well and now my own income protection insurance fund was trying to screw me- I was furious!  I wrote to them explaining in no uncertain terms that I most certainly did cross the threshold in that my sick leave had expired many months ago and since then I’d been living on sheer willpower.  Then the ombudsman started phoning me.

The second important lesson I have learnt from legal aid is to know when you’re defeated.  If you have already gone to the ombudsman, there is no higher authority to complain to, so if the ombudsman asks you to jump you either ask how high or get out of the contest. If they weren’t going to agree to email communications, I was at the end of the line.  Reluctantly, I returned the call.  Oh, now, I didn’t do it straight away!  No, that would be what a healthy person does.  I waited for a day or so, making notes of what I would say, outlining the relevant act and generally getting myself all worked up about it.  I dialled the number and hung up before it rang several times, like a teenager trying to call a cute boy.  Finally I worked up the courage to call and spoke to a polite young lass at the ombudsman’s office.

She apologised for making me use the phone but felt it would be “easier”.  I’m still annoyed by this statement to this day.  Of course it would be “easier” for her, that is what she wanted.  It was by no means easier for me.  In fact, considering the confusion regarding the facts and the laws, I felt it would have been much easier for any normal person to put the whole story in writing.  However, I had already done that and she still did not quite seem to understand the crux of my argument, so I suppose I must concede that for some people, written communication may not be very easy.  Although why they are working for the ombudsman in a quasi-legal role is another question altogether…

Anyway, the young girl I spoke to was very nice and genuinely tried to help, I’ll give her that.  The problem was, she’d never read the act and was unfamiliar with this kind of application.  The poor thing was probably new to the role and I had thrown her in the deep end.  We went over the problem again and again and she kept coming back with the same answer, you haven’t been sick for long enough.  I felt like banging my head against a wall!  I had been sick, too sick to work, and had doctors’ reports to confirm it, I said, for several months.  How on earth could that “not be long enough”?  Well, she looked into it and I looked into it and much to my dismay, one afternoon, I found my answer.  It was not in the relevant act itself, but the subordinate regulations… right down the bottom.  The way it was worded was unclear at first instance but after several readings it became clear, I was not entitled to any income protection insurance because I had lost my job.

I couldn’t believe it.  What on Earth is the point of income protection insurance if it doesn’t cover you in times of unemployment?  If I was still employed, I would have had an income and as such, would have no need for the insurance!  It was a complete catch-22.  If you don’t need help, you’re entitled to it but if you do, you’re not.  Ridiculous.  I was beside myself with anger but alas, that was what the law said and as I knew all too well, there is no arguing with the law.  I had lost and would not be getting any insurance payments.  I informed the ombudsman of my findings (I’m still not sure she really understood what had happened) and resigned myself to failure.  I was going to have to think of a new way to make money, something that suited my needs.

Advertisements

Working with a Chronic Illness – Part 2: The Welfare Nightmare

When I last talked about this, I told you of the many trials and tribulations that anyone with an invisible chronic illness faces if they try to stay in the workforce.  I told you how I’d felt progressively sicker and sicker, to the point where I simply couldn’t go in to the office anymore and eventually lost my job.  Today I want to tell you what happened after that.

For the blessed few, money is not a concern.  For the rest of us, it poses an every-present peril, a perpetual sword of Damocles, threating to drop and impale us should we put a fiscal foot wrong.  Losing your job is a pretty quick way to tempt the dangling sword and once it starts to drop, you better look out because it’s hard to hang a sword back up again when it’s sticking in your heart.

Let me take you back a little way.  I have never come from a wealthy background.  My family weren’t badly off, but we weren’t rich either.  I was one of the kids who had to stay home when my class went on the ski trip and our holidays were more around the house than around the world, so I’m used to having an inextravagant lifestyle.  When I was 14, my family kind of fell apart.  It’s a long story and for another time, but save to say I’ve been living independently on and off ever since then and when all you have to live off is $50 dollars a week, you learn to be thrifty!

When I finally hit the ripe old age of 20 and decided I wanted to go to university I was living alone, paying commercial rent and working 2 part time jobs.  This continued for the next 6 years while I studied, often taking on extra catering or promotional jobs to add to the kitty.  Life is expensive, particularly here in Australia, and the bills kept rolling in faster than I could earn.  Law textbooks are not cheap and a series of emergency dental care, root canal therapy, finding I needed glasses and having to buy an iPod (no really) put me in serious debt.  I don’t know quite who authorised the decision to give me accredit card in the first place, but some darn fool did and I took full (dis)advantage of it.

With an excess of $5,000 in consumer debt, my first priority on attaining professional employment was to pay it off.  I’m proud to say I did and it only took me about 18 months.  The down side is, I’d only just started to make actual savings when I got sick.

Being sick is expensive.  Or at least, trying to find out why you are sick is.  I spent literally thousands having test after test, being sent to a seemingly endless parade of specialists, each more useless than the last, and even having a colonoscopy to eliminate the threat of bowel disease.  Of course, the medical insurance I shell out over $70 a month for would not cover any of this (apparently it was all elective or “alternative”) so guess where that money came from?  Remember those savings?  Yep.  All gone in the blink of an eye.  By the time my sick leave ran out and my employer was saying bye-bye, I had nothing left to my name.

We Australians sometimes forget how lucky we are to live in a welfare state but when you fall on hard time, it’s reassuring to know the “safety net” (aka Centrelink) will be there to catch you.  Unless you happen to be in just the situation I was in, it would seem…

The day I was told my job contract would not be renewed (which also happened to be Valentine’s Day, how lovely) I contacted Centrelink.  (I tried to phone them, but those of you who have ever attempted calling Centrelink will know this is a feat near impossible.)  I registered my intention to claim and waited patiently, relieved after my hysteria that I would not be out on my bum, but that the taxes I’d paid would support me in my hour of need.

When the application pack arrived, I discovered things weren’t going to be simple.  I’d applied for welfare before as a youth but things were now considerably more complex; I had a partner.  Centrelink consider that you are legally living in a de-facto relationship if you live with anyone you are romantically involved with.  It does not matter if you are hetero or homosexual, married, committed or even monogamous.  If you live with them and you’re more than just friends, it will affect you.  I guess if you are just friends you can be “friends with benefits” (Government benefits!)

I suddenly realised that after living with my partner for less than a year, Centrelink was now treating me like a wife.  They did not just want to know my income, my assets, my savings, but his also.  This was difficult for many reasons, none moreso than the fact that we simply weren’t at a stage of the relationship where we shared that kind of information with each other!  My partner and I had an arrangement whereby we split the bills 50/50 and spent the rest on whatever we liked.  He was trying to start up his own business, I was paying off debt and buying food.  For me to have to ask him to provide written evidence of all of his income and assets including his personal and business tax returns and the company’s BAS statement, was not just inconvenient but painfully embarrassing.

Now, you need to know that we weren’t rich.  My car was a 1996 Barina worth less than $5k and I had no assets whatsoever.  My partner had invested what small savings he had into his new business and while that appeared to be a significant amount on paper, the reality is that money needed to stay in the business just to keep it breaking even.  With his less than average income and my income suddenly gone, we were only just getting by.  Centrelink apparently felt otherwise, according to their scale, we were too well off and I was denied sickness benefits.

Simple sickness benefits aren’t the only option if you’re unwell, Centrelink also has the Disability Support Pension for people with long-term ailments.  The interesting thing about the DSP is that it pays a substantially higher amount than sickness benefits… almost double.  Both require medical evidence in order to be granted, the only difference is with the latter, Centrelink has to be satisfied that you are unable to work for at least the next 2 years.  I decided to ask my doctor.

At this stage, I had two medical professionals, my GP and a psychologist I’d been seeing.  I’d been referred to the psychologist after my previous GP could not diagnose my problems and thus concluded they must be “all in my head.”  My psychologist had, after a year of therapy, opined that he didn’t not think my problem was mental at all, and referred me to a different GP.  Both agreed that I was very unwell.

On discussion with my GP it became evident that it is not enough to be sick to get the DSP.  You need to have a medical condition that Centrelink accept as being disabling.  Irritable Bowel Syndrome, no matter how crippling, is apparently not enough to keep you from working, and Pyrroluria?  Don’t even bother, she said.  Anxiety was a symptom I was struggling with at this time so my GP suggested applying on the basis of that.  She certified that I was suffering from severe anxiety and that, in her professional opinion, I may not be able to work for the next two years.  My psychologist was happy to confirm this diagnosis, writing a complementary report.  I submitted these to Centrelink and felt confident that at last, I could relax.

It came as a rude slap in the face when Centrelink advised I would have to attend an “assessment” meeting.  I was to attend a local office where a mental health professional would examine me for 30 minutes and make a decision regarding my health.  Even in theory I find this practice outrageous.  It is hard enough for a person with severe anxiety to leave the house just to go and see their own, trusted health professionals, let alone be critiqued by a stranger.  Moreover, I wonder at the scientific validity of their findings.  I fail to see how the 30 minute consultation of a highly strung patient can compete with reports from a doctor who had been treating the patient for a year.  Nonetheless, I attended.

I remember being as tightly wound as a spring as I sat in the Centrelink waiting room.  I crossed my legs hard against each other, resisting the urge to run.  Anxiety is a perplexing condition, it makes you feel under attack even when no threat is present and I felt like a gazelle with a pride of lions closing in.  My heart was racing, my mouth dry and every muscle clenching so tightly it hurt.  I have very little memory of what was said when they called me in except that I was asked an awful lot of questions I couldn’t answer.  What was my diagnosis?  What was I taking?  What had I had in the past?  Who had I previously seen?  With all the blood in my body fuelling the thumping heart in my chest, my poor brain was running on empty and I think I actually cried for the shame of not knowing these simple things.  I felt put on the spot, examined like counterfeit tender, exposed, raw and ashamed.  Had I done enough to convince them I was feeling the way I was?  Who could say.  I tried to remain positive and hoped for the best.

Two weeks later, I received my rejection letter.  The reason for the decision, it stated in black and white print, was that I was well qualified.  With two university degree and recent employment history, the assessor felt I was capable of working.  At that moment, I could have punched him.  How on Earth does having a degree (or two, as the case may be) make a sick person better?  Would a man with cerebral palsy be able to continue working regardless of his condition, simply because he was well qualified?  I think not.  I felt discriminated against and ripped off.  I was genuinely sick, had the doctors’ reports to prove it and Centrelink still weren’t going to pay out because no doubt they have some money-saving policy that says if you can’t measure an illness, just say it doesn’t exist.  I cried a lot that day… that whole month actually.

Centrelink has an appeal process put in place by legislation.  This is to ensure the rights of the weak are not trampled by those of the giant.  I know there are centres who assist people in situations like mine but my mixture of anxiety, pride and shame prevented me from calling them.  How could I say “I was a lawyer who used to help people, and now I’m just a person who needs legal help”?  It was all too embarrassing.  I began drafting a letter to Centrelink, demanding a review and explaining why I did not believe my qualifications or experience were relevant considerations.  I knew I had ample time and was in no rush to post it, fearing that it may actually go to the tribunal and that if this eventuated, there was no way my anxiety would allow me to represent myself in a quasi-courtroom.

It is an ironic flaw in the system that people who need help cannot get it.  The realities of anxiety and depression are oft overlooked by lawmakers who do not seem to realise that truly anxious and/or depressed people will not continue to fight even when the law is on their side.  The will back down at the first rejection, the stress of an ongoing battle is simply too much to consider enduring.  I wonder how many people with mental health issues have had to go without the benefits that rightfully ought be theirs simply because they were too mortified by the prospect of an appeal?  I would wager there’d be a significant few.

The more I thought about it, the more I upset myself and, after countless sleepless nights, I decided to just let it go.  I would simply have to find another way to support myself.  Shortly after making this decision, I received another letter from Centrelink telling me again that my application had been denied (way to rub salt in the wound guys) but this time for an entirely different reason.  According to this letter, my condition was not “settled” and it was a prerequisite of the DSP that any medical condition be as treated as it possibly could be before a grant of aid would be given.  In short, because I hadn’t tested every single treatment method possible, I was not entitled to anything.  Because I had not seen a psychiatrist and taken psychotropic medication, despite the fact that this was pyrroluria and not purely mental illness, I was on my own.  By this stage I had run out of tears.  I was going to have to come up with something else.

To be continued…

All In a Ferment over Pickl-Its!

 

Today I am pleased to announce I did not give myself food poisoning and my linen press no longer smells like rotten cabbage.  What an achievement!  These might not seem like especially likely events but up until a few days ago, in my house, they were.  You see I have been experimenting with the ancient food preparation method of fermentation and, well, let’s just say I’m not naturally gifted at it.  There have been more disasters than successes, but I have finally found the secret… it’s Pickl-It jars!

Those of you who are familiar with Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride’s Gut And Psychology diet (GAPS) will know how strongly she recommends naturally fermented foods.  This is because the GAPS patient is bereft of the “good” bacteria in our digestive system and it needs to be replaced.  We can be low in good bacteria for a number of reasons; maybe we took too many antibiotics or analgesics, the contraceptive pill, had a poor diet (low fat is particularly bad apparently!) or maybe we just inherited too few good bacteria from our mothers.  For me it was all of the above and the result is Gut Dysbiosis and Leaky Bowel Syndrome.

Why can’t you just take probiotics?  Well, you can, in fact it’s recommended, it’s just you’re unlikely to actually find a commercially available probiotic product that’s got enough good stuff.  Dr Natasha opines that most probiotic products on the market are either not strong enough, do not contain strong enough strains of bacteria or simply do not contain enough variety of bacteria to be beneficial for the gut (over a hundred species of bacteria have been identified as being beneficial for the gut and a healthy digestive system should contain most of them).  And that’s if the bacteria are even still alive which, due to the poor quality control systems in the industry, many are not.  The best way to ensure you’re getting a wide variety of live probiotic bacteria every day is to grow it yourself and eat it.

I tried to make my own fermented foods a few times… it did not pan out so well.  I followed a few different recipes I found online, some using starter cultures, others au natural.  I made sauerkraut take 1, sauerkraut take 2, pickled vegetable medley, dill pickle cucumbers and more.  The sad part is, most of those ended up in the great beyond (aka the wheelie bin), frothing with mould and emitting a foul odour that I can only speculate would rival the Bog of Eternal Stench.  You see, fermentation is an anaerobic process and if air gets into it, it’s ruined.  It is for this reason that trying to do your ferments in jars and buckets is hit and miss.

And then I discovered Pickl-Its.  Pickl-It is a US company who took the simple Fido jar, drilled a hole in the lid and added a one way air-lock which allowed CO2 to escape, but no air to get in.  Brilliant.  There’s no more faffing about with plates in buckets, the Pickl-It jar works every time.  Simple as that.

I’m pleased to say that after all my previous failures, I made 2 huge jars of vegetable medley and, after 4 weeks of fermenting, they are perfect!  And all I had to do was sterilise the jars, chop the veggies and put it all together.  I love it when things just work, don’t you?

Dressing for Digestive Illness: The Drapey Lady Look

I was shopping with a friend of mine the other day on King William Road.  For those of you who know Adelaide, you’ll know that the shopping strip along KW Road in Hyde Park is infamously well-to-do and predominantly inhabited by wealthy mature ladies.  As my friend and I peered in the windows of the clothing stores who cater to this market, she stated to me most matter of factly, 90“There’s a look I really don’t like for older women… the drapey lady look”.  I quizzed her on this subject and it seems the “drapey lady” look essentially comprises of leggings and long, loose, “drapey” tunic tops and cardigan coats.  The kind of thing you might see at Metallicus or the like.  I looked at her, looked in the shop window, looked down at myself and began to laugh.  I may only be 32, but it would appear I am already one of the dreaded “drapey ladies”!

You see, draping is brilliant for covering up less than desirable lumps and bumps.  It is the perfect style for the mature woman as it is feminine, functional and bets of all, conceals tummy, hips and thighs.  A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have dared attempt this look.  I was fit, firm and happy to wear jeans and a tee shirt.  But then I got sick.

Maintaining a slim figure never came easy to me.  I exercised 6 times a week, doing resistance and cardiovascular training as well as yoga and dance.  I ate a dietician recommended diet, low fat, low calories and truckloads of vegetables but still it was a struggle.  So when I got sick and all of a sudden I didn’t feel like going to Pump class and eating a green salad, the weight came piling on.

In addition to getting bigger all over, there was the daily bloating.  My midriff may not actually be expanding like some kind of gas-filled blimp but by Jove, it sure feels like it!  Some days just wearing clothing with a waistband can be excruciating and so enter drapey lady fashion.  Hey, any excuse to buy a new wardrobe, right?

I’m a bit of an unusual drapey lady, my shape is more hourglass/skittle than apple, so the draping for me tends to begin at the high-waist, rather than the chest.  By wearing clothing that fits snugly through the bust and high waist, then skimming over my hips and thighs, I feel I’m adequately concealing my sore and swollen belly and what’s more important, I’m comfortable.

Here are a few pieces I bought recently to further my drapey lady look.

Glunge, long sleeved pullover in Limeade, $24.95, Cotton On

This works well with stretchy skinny jeans or leggings and a mini skirt for a Rodarte Black Swan inspired off-duty ballerina look.  Plus, because it’s such a sheer lightweight fabric, it drapes gently across the body without adding extra bulk so can be worn layered on cold days or as is on warmer ones.

Chic Style oversized white shirt, $46.99, Romwe.com

Every lady, drapey or not, needs a classic white shirt and this season’s oversized interpretation is perfect for covering thunder thighs.  I’m a big fan!

Neutral Pleat Detail Culottes, $25, Warehouse

Ok, so it’s not exactly the drapey lady signature style, but it is drapey and it works for me.  I love anything high waisted… I can cinch the waistband up and over my bulging belly on bad days and take the pressure off.  Waaaay better than the whole hipster jeans trend, that was just painful.

Meridian Wood Post earrings in Neon Lime Green, US$7, Paragraph Loop on Etsy

I’m a bit excited about the coming neon and pastel colour trend coming for Summer, even though both neons and pastels typically make me look sick.  Well, that’s one good thing about being sick I guess… nothing can actually make you look any worse- ha!  Seriously though, I’m in love with these earrings and if a drapey lady needs one accessory, it’s a pair of bright and exciting earrings to draw the eye up and away from all that drapery.  These definitely nail the brief.

The Gar-ject Garlic Press

I want to tell you today about a rather brilliant little device I’ve found that’s making my life less, well, smelly.  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to start talking about enemas again, I’m talking about the smell of garlic.  You know that pungent aroma, it can be so intoxicating, drifting through the house, mixed with hot butter and baking bread.  It does not smell so sweet however, on your fingers… for hours afterwards.

Normal garlic presses require first for the garlic to be peeled.  The artful cook can peel a clove with limited skin contact but it after crushing that the problems begin.  To get the remaining bits of skin and flesh, trapped in the regular garlic press, must be picked out with a knife… or your fingers.  Dreamfarm designs has done away with these tedious requirements in one fell swoop with the invention of the Gar-ject!

The name “Gar-ject” is a contraction of “garlic” and “eject”, named so because that is precisely what it does.  After crushing the garlic, you simply lift the lever around to the other side, give it a little squeeze and press the “eject” button.  There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching the garlic scraps fling out of the Garject and into the bin!

What’s even better is that the Gar-ject eliminates the need to peel the garlic too.  You simply plonk your clove in the device, squeeze to crush, invert and eject.  No skin-to-garlic contact at all!

Since the dawn of civilisation, wise folk have known the benefits of eating garlic.  And for the very reasonable price of $39.95, that’s something I’ll be able to do frequently… without the giveaway stinky hands.

GAPS Maltese “Widow’s” Soup

Every so often you come across a recipe that changes your repertoire; a bright star against the galaxy of so many average meals.  It’s delicious, easy to make, not too expensive and healthy and before you know it, you’re making it every few weeks and you have the ingredient list saved to memory.  The Maltese dish Soppa Tal Armla was one such dish for me.

I was watching Food Safari do Maltese on SBS one night and saw them prepare this soup. The name literally translates to “widow’s soup” and is so named because it contains no meat, only cheese and beans as proteins.  Presumably in ye olde Malta, widow’s couldn’t afford a bit of meat or fish, not even soup making quality, but she could afford some cracking Maltese cheese.

My version deviates quite a lot from the original recipe, in particular I have added (gasp!) meat and I have sadly had to omit the cheese.  *sad face*  Although the intrinsic flavour of the soup remains through the base ingredients, I feel it’s hardly fair to call it “widow’s soup” when this is clearly the meaty soup of a married (or de facto) woman.  As such, not speaking enough (ok, any) Maltese to change the title to that, I’ve simply dubbed it Maltese soup or, “soppa tal Malta”.

Soppa Tal Malta
(suitable for GAPS Intro Stage 5)

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp butter/ghee
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 4 carrots, peeled & diced
  • 1 kohlrabi, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup peas
  • ½ a cauliflower cut into bite size pieces
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • 1L chicken stock
  • 200g finely shredded chicken (I use the meat I strip off the carcass after making the stock)
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • Salt & pepper

Method

  1. Heat butter and ghee in a soup tureen over med-low heat until ghee is liquid
  2. Add onion and fry until clarified
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (only a few seconds, usually)
  4. Add stock, tomato paste, carrots, kohl rabi, cauliflower, peas, parsley and seasoning
  5. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes
  6. Add chicken and cook until warm
  7. Serve sprinkled with fresh parsley (I like to stir in some sauerkraut for good measure too, those are the purple pieces you can see in the image)

GAPS Toad In The Hole

When I was a little girl, about 10 years old, my mum bought a children’s cookbook at a library book sale.  It was a British book, with old fashioned oven temperatures, but filled with traditional classic cooking like basic roast beef and coconut ice.  It was my fist cookbook and the recipes I loved in that tome have stuck with me for life.  One such beloved recipe was the aforementioned coconut ice, despite the multitude of burnt hand and mouth injuries incurred… how many times did I stick my fingers in that liquid lava, expecting sweet salvation, only to be rewarded with a skin-peeling scald and a bandaged hand for a week?  Ah, the impulsiveness of youth.  Thankfully however, not all the dishes were quite so dangerous and one that brought me many satisfying meals with minimal war wounds was toad in the hole.

Now those of you who were raised with American cooking would know toad in the hole as an egg, fried in a piece of bread, but I am talking about the old English toad in the hole: sausages, baked in a pudding of fluffy, spongy pancake batter.  The dish works for breakfast, lunch or dinner and is perfect for soaking up gravy and filling up tums.

Sadly, the classic toad in the hole recipe is not GAPS friendly, relying heavily on wheat.  The recipe is easy to remember: 8 sausages, 1 cup self-raising flour, 1 cup milk, 1 egg and a pinch of salt.  The milk aspect is easily altered but substituting wheat flour is tricky.

Without toast, cereal, pancakes, fruit or any of the usual morning fare, GAPS breakfasts be something of an ordeal so when toad in the hole popped in to my head, it became an obsession.  Must… have… toad!

I found some lovely sausages at my local butcher, just meat and garlic, and set about creating my own toad in the hole.  It’s not quite the same as the memories of my childhood, but it is fluffy, spongey and tasty.  Perfect for breakfast on those frosty Winter mornings, piping hot with a side of onion gravy.

GAPS Toad In The Hole

Ingredients

  • 8 grain-free sausages
  • 3/4 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 cup coconut flour
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 5 organic eggs
  • 1 tsp bicarb soda (not really GAPS legal, but a teensy bit surely won’t hurt…?)
  • Good pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp ghee/coconut oil, melted

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 175oC
  2. Pan fry or grill sausages over gentle heat until they are cooked through
  3. Grease ovenproof casserole dish with ghee/coconut oil
  4. Arrange sausages in casserole dish
  5. Combine eggs, almond milk, flours, salt and bicarb soda, mix thoroughly
  6. Pour batter over sausages
  7. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until golden and skewer comes out clean.

GAPS Intro Diet – Stage 5 Meal Plan

Week 4 of the GAPS Intro Diet rapidly approaches and I do feel like I’m getting the hang of this thing.  Getting out of Stage 1, whether rightly or wrongly, has freed up my food choices and made this diet a whole lot more manageable.  You see, I am what is known in the common lexicon as a “foodie”.  I love food beyond the level of normalty; in fact it is the prospect of breakfast that gets me out of bed in the morning!  It’s not that I’m a gutz (ok, maybe just a little bit) it’s not about eating for quantity, it’s about flavours, textures, aromas and experiences.  The way a perfectly flaky, buttery croissant can send your mind to a Paris café or freshly baked bread served hot and with butter conjures visions of mediaeval British breakfasts.  For me, food is entertainment, a hobby and the focal point of almost of social interactions.  Being restricted to boiled food might be acceptable fate for those who lived previously on packet-pasta and two minute noodles but for the budding gourmet, it has been quite a challenge.  As Brillat-Savarin pointed out in his thesis of gourmandism, The Physiology of Taste, “Professors never eat boiled beef, out of respect for their principles and because they know the incontestable truth that boiled beef is flesh without its juice.”

 

For those who don’t know, the stages of the GAPS Intro Diet are as follows (note, everything needs to be the best quality you can afford.  Meat should be grass-fed and organic, eggs are organic, veggies organic, seasonal and locally grown, fermented products home-made and containing live cultures, dairy should be unhomogenised and ideally, raw):

 

Stage 1

Home-made meat stock

Boiled meat, stripped off the bones used to make the stock

Soup, made from the above and with peeled, non-fibrous vegetables, cooked until very soft

Sauerkraut juice, mixed into soup

Raw garlic, mixed into soup

Homemade fermented dairy –     high fat, low protein for constipation sufferers (ie. crème fraiche)

Low fat, high protein for diarrhoea sufferers (ie. kefir, yoghurt)

Stage 2

All of Stage 1 foods

Raw egg yolks, added to soup (I confess I skipped this part.  I have never been able to eat raw egg of any kind, they just gross me out!  I was raised by a germaphobic veterinary pathologist who refused any undercooked animal products for hygiene purposes and I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, because I still baulk at gooey scrambled eggs, even in restaurants!)

Stews and casseroles made from meat boiled in stock

Fresh herbs (but no spices)

Fermented fish

Homemade ghee

Stage 3

All of Stage 1 & 2 foods

Avocado

Activated nut butter

Scrambled eggs

Fermented vegetables

Stage 4

All of Stage 1, 2 & 3 foods

Roasted and grilled meats

Olive oil

Vegetable juice

Nut bread

Stage 5

All of Stage 1, 2 ,3 & 4 foods

Cooked apple

Raw vegetables

Some fruit juices

Stage 6

All of Stage 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5 foods

Raw apple

Baked things from the Full GAPS Diet

 

 

I consider myself at Stage 5 but I’m holding off adding fruits as I know they cause so much trouble for many people, particularly those with salicylate insensitivity of fructose malabsorption.

 

It seems like a very limited diet and it is, but I will not let that discourage me!  The eternal foodie loves a challenge and there is no reason I cannot live well on this eating plan.  Here is my plan for this coming week.

 

 

 

 

GAPS Intro Diet – Stage 5 (sans fruit)
Meal Plan

 

SUNDAY

 

Breakfast

Fried chipolatas (all natural,   just meat & garlic)

Carrot latkes

Beetroot, carrot & celery   juice

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Lunch

Borscht with crème fraiche   & snipped chives

Nut bread

Afternoon Tea

Activated nut mix

Dinner

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Beef pot roast w shallots &   green beans, Jerusalem artichokes

Stewed rhubarb (it’s a   vegetable, not a fruit, remember!) w crème fraiche and crumbled walnuts

 

MONDAY


Breakfast

Leftover carrot latkes;

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Lunch

Leftover pot roast

Carrot, celery & beetroot   juice

Afternoon Tea

Activated nut mix

Dinner

Chicken broth w sauerkraut;

Swordfish en papillote w cauliflower   mash and steamed broccoli

 

TUESDAY

 

Breakfast

Coconut flour toad in the hole   (British version, sausages in batter)

Onion gravy

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Lunch

Classic lamb and vegetable soup

Carrot, celery & beetroot   juice

Afternoon Tea

Activated nut mix

Dinner

Chicken broth w sauerkraut;

Pan-fried porterhouse steak w   chimmi churri sauce;

Boiled carrots and steamed   brocrabi (new vegetable I discovered at the markets!)

 

WEDNESDAY

 

Breakfast

Toasted almond bread w butter   and a drizzle of honey

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Boiled egg

Lunch

¼ roast chicken

Coleslaw (cabbage, celery,   parsley, homemade mayonnaise)

Carrot, celery & beetroot   juice

Afternoon Tea

Activated nut mix

Dinner

Chicken broth w sauerkraut;

Zucchini-ribbon-pasta spaghetti   bolognaise

 

THURSDAY

Breakfast

Leftover toad in the hole

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Lunch

Leftover zucchini spaghetti;

Carrot, celery & beetroot   juice

Afternoon Tea

Coconut slice

Dinner

Chicken broth w sauerkraut;

Chicken pot pies w almond crust

 

FRIDAY

 

Breakfast

Lemon & rosemary nut   muffins

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Boiled egg

Lunch

Salad of prawns, avocado, oak   lettuce, beetroot and cucumber dressed with extra virgin olive oil

Carrot, celery & beetroot   juice;

Afternoon Tea

Activated nut mix

Dinner

Chicken broth w sauerkraut;

Grilled lamb chops with baked   pumpkin chips & salad

Coconut slice

 

SATURDAY

 

Breakfast

Organic, nitrite free bacon;

Fried eggs;

Fried mushrooms;

Wilted baby spinach;

Carrot, celery & beetroot   juice

Morning Tea

Chicken broth w sauerkraut

Lunch

Café lunch with friend!
Chicken salad;

sparkling mineral water;

peppermint tea
(no different to all the dieting women eat, really, so relatively   inconspicuous)

Afternoon Tea

Pumpkin and nut butter muffin

Dinner

Dinner at restaurant with   friends!

Grilled steak;

Steamed vegetables w butter;

Lime with soda;

30ml of home-made limoncello (it’s   made of vodka and the organic lemons off our tree so it’s got to be ok,   right?)

 

 

 

GAPS Intro Diet Week 3 – Still Nothing

As I sat in my apple cider vinegar detox bath this morning, sipping home-made chicken broth with sauerkraut I couldn’t help but ask myself when the flippin’ heck is this darned GAPS Diet going to start working?  I’ve been on the GAPS Intro Diet for 3 weeks now and although yes, there have been some, let’s call them “adaptations”, I’ve otherwise been really good with sticking to the diet and what have you.

 

For the first week I survived on broth, boiled meat and sauerkraut juice, then progressing in the following weeks to include cultured crème fraiche, eggs, activated nuts, vegetable juice, fried and roast meats, avocado and finally some raw vegetables.  I can honestly say, I have never been as excited to eat a lettuce leaf in my whole entire life as I was last Saturday afternoon!

 

The only thing I’ve been doing different to the guidelines is I perhaps haven’t eaten enough sauerkraut (of my first 2 jars, one went mouldy and the other ran out of juice pretty early on!) and I haven’t been having enemas.  I moved through to stage 4/5 anyway, despite my symptoms not going away.  I think this was the right thing to do, considering:

a)      My main symptom is abdominal pain;

b)      Constipation can cause abdominal pain;

c)       My pain did not go away in a week of GAPS Intro, rather it worsened;

d)      GAPS Intro made me more constipated than ever before; and

e)      Dr Natasha suggests just moving ahead with the Intro Diet if you are constipated,

then it seemed to me that I’ve been doing everything right.  Except for the darned enemas.  Grr.

 

So it looks like I may need to go back to Stage 1 (nooooo!).  If this wasn’t hard enough news to contemplate (I really can’t tell you how much I thoroughly detest boiled meat) it comes at the worst possible time.  Well, ok, maybe it’s not the worst possible time, that would probably be if I was homeless or dying or something, but it’s still not good.  You see, the end of Winter is upon us.  It is only the start of August, true, but the days are getting longer and warmer already and the skies are clear and blue.  I can feel the onset of Spring and this is not stew weather!

 

GAPS Intro is very much a seasonal diet.  Slow cooked meats and stews served with fermented vegetables is a perfect diet for the middle of an old fashioned Winter.  Back in the old country, not many fresh veggies would have been available now, so it makes sense to eat pickles, and those blustering, icy winds make you crave nothing more than a hot, hearty soup.

 

As the diet progresses, you eventually start to introduce nuts, many of which are in season in Winter, and then crisp, fresh, raw vegetables, perfect at the beginning of Spring.  Eventually, Summer hits and this is represented by the end of the GAPS Intro Diet where the patient introduces fruits.  The whole diet is really structured perfectly to be commenced at the very start of Winter and completed during Summer.  Trying to do it in reverse would be painful (no-one wants to eat hot soup on a 43 degree day, let alone cook the bloody thing) so I’m not looking forward to reverting as the weather warms up… not at all.

 

So here’s my plan: I continue on Stage 5 of GAPS Intro until my enema kit arrives.  Then I will work my backwards (in the diet, you dirty people!) slowly eliminating one food at a time to see if I improve.  If I get back to Stage 1 and I still have not improved, I may have to stay on it for a little while.  That’s when the kit may come in handy… we’ll see.