Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Five things, but not really

Pkchukiss has tagged me to tell you five things you didn't know about me.

Thing the First
Recently I got hand eczema. I didn't know that's what I had, because I'd never had it before. All I knew was that I woke up one morning with the most unbelievably itchy hands EVER. I wanted to get some needles and dig them into my palms, they were that itchy. I had scratched my hands raw in my sleep, particularly on the fleshy bit of the palm next to the thumb on my right hand, and on the fleshy bit of the palm down from the little finger on the other hand. Some fingers were also affected, and the side of my left hand. I itched and itched and itched.

I thought, of course, that I was dying. I had some terrible, terminal disease that manifests as itchy hands. My body was riddled with, um, something, and it had come out in my hands. It was too late for me. This awful Thing was going to spread all over until I was a seething mass of itchiness, and then I was going to die.

(Either that or I was about to become very, very rich and then give away all my money.)

I decided to consult my favourite doctor just in case there was a miracle cure, and within a couple of seconds my mood had flipped from the depths of despair to overwhelming relief as I discovered that I was not going to die after all, at least not yet. What I had was, it turned out, something quite common and treatable and not serious, although extremely irritating. The advice from Dr. Google was to see a dermatologist and get some steroid cream.

I was too busy for that, so I followed the OTHER advice from the good doctor, which was to use the greasiest hand cream (non-smelly) I could find, and wear cotton gloves as much as possible. This I did. I found white cotton gloves at the ¥100 yen store, smothered my hands in greasy hand cream, and wore the gloves at the computer and at night (to stop me from scratching in my sleep). I looked like a Japanese taxi driver, and The Man teased me, but it worked.

The hand eczema is clearing up. It took a couple of weeks, but it is almost gone now. It now looks like I burned my hands in a couple of places, but they stopped itching so much after the first couple of days and since then the redness has lessened greatly.

Who would have thought that there was a kind of eczema that only afflicts hands?

Thing the Second
I make fabulous custard. My custard has no frills - it is so simple it is like baby food, but it is the sort of baby food that makes you want to be a baby again. You taste it, think, Well, that's not so special, it's sort of ... nothing. Perhaps I'll have another little bit to make sure, it is kind of smooth and, er, comforting ... and the next thing you know you have eaten so much you feel a bit bulgy. But just one more spoonful won't hurt, will it?

One time, for a party, everybody was asked to cook and bring something. I can't cook well and didn't dare attempt anything fancy, so I made custard and stewed some apples. You can't get cooking apples in Japan, so I used ordinary sweet apples and added lemon juice. Then I made a huge amount of custard. I made a BUCKET of custard. Right after making it I felt foolish. Who takes ordinary, plain, no-frills custard to a party?

At the party I was a bit embarrassed to bring out my offering, but I needn't have been. It may not have been very glamorous but it disappeared like magic. The best compliment I got was from an English bloke who took his first mouthful while he was telling me a really interesting story about his travels. He spooned in some custard, his eyes lit up, he went bright pink with pleasure, and he completely forgot what he was talking about. The expression on his face told me that he had been transported straight back into childhood. An angelic smile spread over his face, and he lost every bit of sophistication he had acquired on his extensive worldly travels.

"Mmmmmmmm, custard!!!!!" he said, wonderingly.

He didn't need to say any more than that. He glowed, and spooned up custard like a greedy, happy child. I looked around and saw that almost everybody was reacting the same way. It was brilliant. Custard is a great equalizer. People were shoveling it in as if they had been deprived of custard for twenty years, and perhaps they had. They probably thought of custard as food for children that they were too mature for, and had never thought of making it for themselves.

I certainly hadn't expected that reaction. What a relief! Custard is not a grown up thing to take to a party, but it turned out not to matter.

Here's how to make my really simple custard:

This makes a lot, but the original recipe (from an old housemate - hi you, if you're still reading!) was never enough. I made three of these for the party, and it vanished amazingly quickly. There weren't THAT many people, and everybody had already eaten a lot of very good food before the custard and apple came out.

You will need:
1 litre of milk (whole, none of that low-fat rubbish)
3 eggs
3 dessert spoons (about) of sugar
3 dessert spoons and a bit (about) of cornstarch (depends on how thick you like your custard - if you like it thick make it four spoons)
vanilla essence
a good book

- Break the eggs into a saucepan, add the sugar and milk, and beat it until it grows bubbles. Then beat it some more. Beating it a lot will make it smoother in the end. Do not stint on beating. Beat with vim and vigour. (Pretend it's your boss if that helps.)

- Put it over a very low heat, and stir constantly until it is warm (not hot)

- Mix the cornstarch with a little water, and pour it slowly into the mix, stirring all the time.

- Keep stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, and stirring, all over the same very low heat. This is where the book comes in. Stirring constantly is boring, and a good book is helpful at this point. You can read and stir at the same time. DO NOT STOP STIRRING WHEN YOU GET TO AN EXCITING BIT. DO NOT USE MORE HEAT TO HURRY THINGS UP. You do not want lumpy custard.

- When the custard starts to thicken, put down the book and stir more concentratedly. Do not let it boil, and stir it carefully to stop any lumps from forming and to stop it from sticking to the bottom. Stir thoroughly and with passion. Put your heart into it.

- When it seems thick enough, take it off the heat.

- Add a bit of vanilla essence.

(You can stop stirring after that.)

When it cools it will thicken quite a bit more. It is good hot or cold. (But it will be baby food. Do not expect it to be fancy. It isn't.)

For the stewed apple, slice a couple of apples, use the juice from a lemon as well as a DRIBBLE of water (you can add more if needed), cook until it's mushy, and then add enough sugar to make it NOT TOO SWEET. This is important. The custard will be boring if the apple is too sweet. It needs a bit of tartness.

Serve with a little stewed apple at the bottom of the bowl, and a huge dollop of custard covering it. My plan at the party was to fancy it up a bit by sticking a completely unnecessary strawberry or slice of kiwifruit or something on top, but I forgot, and then when I remembered the custard had all gone.

Things the Third, Fourth and Fifth
To follow, eventually. I interrupted writing this to make some custard, then ate so much I have to lie down for a while.


Radioactive Jam said...

Seems like there's another highly specific kind of eczema that only affects eyelids. Sorry you had to learn about the hands variety... ah, you know.

First hand.

Paula said...

Glad your hands are better. That custard sounds heavenly! I love soft, comforting sweets.

kenju said...

Dr. Google? I think I've met him.

You have me so hungry for custard now I'll never get to sleep!

Badaunt said...

RaJ: I wish you hadn't mentioned the eyelid thing. I'm sure my eyelids are itchy, now.

(And about that pun? *groooaaaaan*)

Paula: It IS heavenly. Promise.

Kenju: Well, you have the recipe! What's wrong with making custard at midnight? I did.

Kay said...

I had this on my FACE.....people said steroids, I said no. Got to a naturopathic dr. who gave me calendula-chickweed cream--it worked! Then it came back, and I used calendula-chickweed cream again---it clears it up--skin is better than before....do they have it where you are?

Wiccachicky said...

Oh, I feel for you on the eczema. I get it on my legs and stomach often - totally sucks. The dermatologist gave me a steroid cream plus a low dose steroid pill - so if I break out, I'll take one of the pills and then use the cream for a few days. It seems to do the trick, though it still sucks when it happens.