TMI in the kitchen with Andrea

So, long story probably very long, I went to my family doctor a couple of weeks ago with two issues. I try to visit him with more than one because his practice is so far away but I think he’s amazing and refuse to see anyone else out of convenience. He also allows me to go to him with more than one issue and doesn’t limit me to one in less than 5 minutes, “okayherearesomeantibioticstakethemuntilthey’refinished,takecare,bye.” like the walk-in clinics do.

I like sharing so here are the reasons why I saw my doctor:

1) I’ve pretty well lost my sense of taste and smell. It comes and goes but never regains fully, which is incredibly annoying. It’s also confusing from a sensory perspective because I’ve got the appetite, but when I’m eating, I don’t get that satisfaction from salivating over what I’m smelling and tasting. The only satisfaction comes from knowing that I was hungry, and now I’ve eaten, and now I’m not hungry. Believe me, losing my sense of smell does have its benefits living in a house with three males, but other than that, I want to be able to smell the body cream I’m taking the time to slather myself in. I want to smell my potted Jasmine plant when it’s in bloom.

This all started about six months ago when I had a gross cold that was entirely in my face. Normally, this is where most of my colds set up shop, but this time around my face was actually throbbing from the congestion. It was almost like I had grown a second heart in my cheek. Needless to say I was either not sleeping at all, or I was sleeping hopped up on a multitude of drugs, including, but not limited to: Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, decongestant pills, nasal spray (which I use as backup in the event the decongestant pills don’t work). Each time I feel a cold approaching I quickly devise a plan over whether or not I’m going to just let it run its course while I remain sleepless at night and tired during the day or if I’m going to drug myself so I can at least sleep at night and increase the chances of fighting it sooner.

What was I talking about again?
Oh ya, the cold I had six months ago.

So, I got the cold. Then it went away more or less in a relatively expedient fashion, however, about a week into returning to normalcy I had this horrible pain somewhere in my top left molar. I am thirty-five and have never had a cavity so this was deeply upsetting to me on various disappointing levels. It hurt like a mother and boy was I mad! < potential for TMI> The next night I had this urgency to blow my nose (the minimal symptoms were still there on and off). I like to make my nose blowing as productive as possible so I hung my body over the bed and just practiced my nose-blowing-technique-for-optimal-results procedure that my gp in Ottawa once taught me. You can even ask Nick this because he almost got the timer out, but I actually blew my nose, hanging over my bed, for about forty-five minutes straight, taking breaks only to breathe. I felt like I was draining the fluid from my spine after a while. Not only did it feel like I was blowing my nose on behalf of past, present, and future colds but I actually became very fascinated over where it was all coming from. It didn’t look like an infection either because it was clear as water and I was not tired and/or feverish, so that didn’t explain it. </ potential for TMI>

Sure enough, where I had become used to the throbbing cavity I was sure I had, by morning that pain was gone. I know from looking at anatomy books when I was probably too young to be looking at them, that there are things called maxillary sinuses which are behind our cheeks. I put two and two together and figured that the pain I felt in my molar was actually due to a problem with my maxillary sinuses! I rejoiced in not having a cavity, but wondered whether or not I actually had a problem with my sinuses now given last night’s episode and that my senses of smell and taste had waned.

About a month later yours truly got sick… again. This time, like a weather vane, I had that familiar pain in my molar and knew that my face was going to be attacked again within days. I prepared myself this time by steaming broccoli and my face simultaneously (I can be efficient when I put my mind to it) which probably looked something like this if I had crazy highlights:

(author’s illustration of self)

You’re probably like, Uh, remind me to never have dinner at Andrea’s house.

I chased breakfast, lunch, snupper™ (Nick and his son, Tom, made up that word. It’s a portmanteau for snack + supper. I think they’d be really happy to see it used here) and supper with drops of oil of oregano. Then, I draped a hot facecloth infused with a couple drops of eucalyptus oil over my face right before bed. Oh and ate no cheese as cheese can contribute to nasal congestion. I made it through the ordeal like a real champion but still came out of it with a decreased sense of smell and taste which, I was pretty sure, was actually getting worse. Every shower I’d do a smell test where I would see how far away my body wash could be from my nose before I could smell it. It’s pretty fragrant stuff, citrussy deliciousness. I’d start with it at my chest and squeeze the bottle a bit to get bursts of citrus smell out. Nothing. I’d bring it up six inches and repeat. Again, nothing. It wasn’t until my nostril was actually resting on the opening that I could smell any hint of it. Very frustrating.

I explained most of this to my doctor who ordered me an x-ray of my head just to be on the safe side.

Off I went…

Now, I know x-ray technicians see people all day long and I know they’re trained to just x-ray. We’re not supposed to have relationships with our x-ray technicians like we do with our physicians but still, this lady was like Gumby’s mother where I play the part of Gumby.

She was small, her demeanor abrupt, but her voice gentle. She made no sense. She guided me to a white board that had what looked like electrical tape formed into a pattern that resembled an easy maze. She tapped the top of a stool and told me to sit, facing the white board. It was a tight squeeze so I pushed the stool back a little bit so I could sit properly. The next thing I knew her knee was resting on the seat but also against my tail bone, her hands on my shoulders, and she pushed my face against the white board in the kind of position I remember doing when I was a kid on a school bus to passing cars. It would have been nice if she told me that my face and the white board were going to have a brief, almost intimate, encounter with each other. There were three more positions after that, none of which felt respectful or natural, but whatever, it’s all in the name of my sinuses.

Exactly a week later I got a call from my doctor’s office asking me to come in that afternoon. This told me they found something and must deal with it like, yesterday.

When he entered the room, the first thing he said was, “Oh my you’re a mess.” I was like, “I am?” He was like, “Yes, it’s bad. Your face is a mess.” He read the diagnosis to me: Complete, bilateral opacification of the maxillary sinus. Um, ew. Opacification… opacity… opaque… “See, normally in an x-ray, healthy sinuses are indicated as a dark grey, yours showed up completely opaque which tells me you’re not using your maxillary sinuses at all and are completely relying on your frontal sinus (which are the ones behind our eyebrows).”

It looked something similar to this:

You know, although brutal and tremendously unsexy, I felt vindicated in a way because I knew something was wrong.

He ordered a CT scan for me, which I had this past Saturday at 8:AM. Not exactly the way I wanted to launch into my extra-long, long weekend but okay. The CT scan guy was nice and very approachable. Not like Gumby’s mum up there. He also placed a puppy pee mat on the head rest which I called him on right away. It was good though, because it was blue bordered with a white absorbent pad which is perfectly matched for medical colours.

Or, maybe the puppy pee mats are actually medical padssss…

The results of this will be in in seven to ten days. I’m also on the waiting list for a referral to an ENT. How precious. Something about a camera in my sinuses. Oh, and I was also prescribed 15-days-worth of antibiotics which have caused my stomach nothing but grief in addition to making my mouth taste like I’m sucking on a handful of pennies from the 1970s. I can taste! Party.

Do I paint a pretty picture, or what?

2) A few months ago, one evening my arms felt flabby so I decided to do the triceps exercises that my Kettlebell’s information sheet recommended. I worked so hard at those exercises and kept telling myself no pain no gain… it’s allll for the bikini arms. Well, the next morning I went to reach for the glass of water on my night table and couldn’t lift it for the life of me. Actually, come to think of it, I could barely even grip it. I figured I probably over did it a bit the day before, popped an Advil (druggie) and went on with my day which was spent lifting everything with my left arm because my right arm was useless. “This sucks major,” I thought to myself. “stupid Kettlebell!” Fast forward three months and I’m discussing this very topic with my doctor which immediately followed my sinus discussion. “Is it tender here?” “Gah!” “What about here?” “Fffffu.” “You’ve got lateral epicondylitis which is otherwise known as tennis elbow.” “Otherwise known as stupid, frigging Kettlebell elbow…” I thought to myself. “Take extra-strength Ibuprofen every four hours even if you’re not in pain. Ice it. Massage it. You can also buy a tennis elbow strap. This will last a while.”

I don’t even play tennis!

You’re thinking, didn’t her post title say something about kitchens?

Here’s where the kitchen part comes in!

Women reading this will know that antibiotics can cause a YI. Those fun little adventures all in the name of killing infections, thereby also causing one, but in a different area. Please. This is not funny. So anyway, once was enough for me when I was a little girl and thank goats I have a mother who was on the up and up about naturopathy. Dr. Weil was our resident guru. The trick, she’d say, is you need to load up your guts with probiotics because the antibiotics kill all the bacteria, even the good stuff. I was put on a strict regime of nothing but yogurt, Kefir and acidophilus.

Yogurt, Balkan-style straight up, has forever been a part of my regular diet. I don’t buy the flavoured stuff, or the stuff that needs commercials to market their benefit. If prepared Kefir weren’t so frigging expensive (between $5 and $6 for a measly 454 ml container) I’d be eating it regularly, too.


I got the idea that I’m going to make the damn stuff myself. I’ve been seeing the Kefir kits at Choices Marketplace so I knew it was possible to make it but was so hard and fast with my Balkan that I never thought to take it on. This time, though, since I’m on a long, 15-day course of antibiotics it entered my head to hunker down and figure out how to make it. I did some research and found that the kits don’t make endless batches; they’re more or less a temporary gimmick you spend money for. You basically make one or two batches and that’s it. What you really need are the live, milk Kefir grains. And, they really are live bacteria – more on this in a moment. The thing is, none of the grocery stores sell it for some reason. Just as well though, they’d probably mark it up exorbitantly. Instead, the live milk grains are available via a type of underground market thing, only they’re legal. Most of the DIY forums advised of Googling “distributors” although by “distributors” I mean they are just ordinary people who give away their colonies. The reason they can do this is because the live bacteria will continue to multiply. So, the mass actually grows. All they need is milk fat to feed off. Within a month your colony could very well double in size. And, as long as you keep it well fed, you can make Kefir from it until the end of time.

I Craigslisted for my distributor and found a nice lady nearby who sold me 2-tbsp for $20. She admitted it was a bit of a hefty starter price but, I guess if you can sell it, might as well sell it. I knew that in the long run, this $20 investment would save me major on the cost for the already processed, grocery store Kefir. Only four of those and my $20 is paid off.

The fantastic thing about it is it’s ready in less than 24-hours where the longer it ferments, the more tangy it is. So, every evening I prepare my Kefir and, by the next evening, it’s ready to be added to the big jar I have going in the fridge. I swear, I don’t know why every Kefir drinker doesn’t do this! Not only that, but it feels like an elementary school science project entry without a hypothesis, which is entirely fun. Well, at least for me it is.

Tania wanted me to document my first batch in photos so I will post them here for all to see. If you’re close by, and you’d like some of my Kefir grains to try your own then leave a comment and we’ll discuss business. My readers get a special deal though because I won’t charge you a penny. Just have to wait a few more weeks though while my colony develops into an entire family tree.

Here’s my precious first batch in photos:

So, that’s my colony in the jar to which I will add milk. That special lump of live bacteria is what will cause the milk to ferment, thereby creating trillions of live probiotics in about 24 hours. The rule of thumb is 2 cups of milk for 2 tablespoons of Kefir grains. I have a bit more than 2 tablespoons of Kefir so I’ve readied 2 1/2 cups of milk.

Once the milk’s combined with the Kefir the job is done. The thing is it needs to be covered with something that will let it breathe as gasses will produce during the fermentation process. I just use paper towel secured with an elastic band.

The warmer the temperature, the better, and the faster the fermentation process. Cooler temperatures will also result in a thicker Kefir. Keep the mix in a dark, dry place and check on it in 24 hours.

Same time, next day and the fermentation process is complete. Place a sieve over a bowl and strain the liquid through gently pushing the colony around until all the liquid is through. A sieve is better than cheesecloth, I’ve found, because the liquid is viscous from the live bacteria and you don’t want to leave any of that behind. What ends up in the bowl is your Kefir! I take that and pour it into a big, canning jar which I keep in my fridge.

Tags: , , , ,

7 Responses to TMI in the kitchen with Andrea

  1. Nicole says:

    I very much enjoyed your drawings. I miss the MSN art you used to do @ Ageus

  2. colleen steel says:

    I really enjoyed your blog Andrea. I love your writing style and look forward to reading more!
    Colleen Steel

  3. Andrea says:

    Thanks Colleen 🙂

  4. Tania says:

    Thank you for the photo journalism! The pictures I had imagined in my mind when you first described it in no way matched the actual photos! One question, though: is there ANY potential risk involved with the kefir process? Maybe I’m just icked by the idea of a ‘bacteria colony’ … and YIs, lol

  5. Andrea says:

    Oh, T. We have “good bacteria” all over our bodies; inside and out. The good bacteria fight against the bad bacteria intruders. It’s like why some doctors advise against anti-bacterial soap. Although it will kill the bad bacteria, it will also kill the good bacteria that our bodies need. As a result our immune system weakens.

    The probiotics in Kefir are on the good bacteria team that stomachs have naturally. This good bacteria is found in a lot of food we eat, the amount just varies. Fermented food (Kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, etc.) has a higher concentration of probiotics.

    It’s like this:

    Antibiotics kill off everything. Even the good bacteria (probiotics) in our body that occur naturally. This makes us susceptible to attacks from bad bacteria because the army of good bacteria has been killed off. This is why some women get YIs. There is nothing in our bodies to defend the attack.

    Probiotics do not cause disease so there is no way you could eat too much of it.

    How’s that? 🙂

  6. Jodie says:

    Alright, you’ve got my attention now. I’m quite interested in this whole Kefir thing, but wonder if it requires a lot of upkeep?

    Teach me your ways, oh wise one!

  7. Andrea says:

    Not a lot of upkeep, no. It’s just the same routine over and over again. All they really need is to have fat to live off. Then, when the colony gets to be too big, you share a couple tbsps or you can eat it! Or, if you need to take a week or two off, then just leave it sitting in some milk so the bacteria have something to chow on.


Leave a Reply