Going Flat – Off with her Breasts!

Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy without Reconstruction (what?).

Six weeks ago I had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction. In lay person’s terms, I had my breasts amputated and I will not be replacing them with ‘new’ ones.  The prophylactic part just means that I did it to keep me safe, based on the facts available to me, rather than because I am in any immediate danger, which I am not. I am now 3 years cancer free and doing well.

To Blog or Not to Blog

I really wasn’t sure that I was going to write about this on my blog or if I did write about it, when or how I would do it. This is partly because there are so many wonderful women writing about their experiences with mastectomy with and without reconstruction every day that I wasn’t sure if I would have anything unique to say. It is also because my blog is supposed to be about what I do in my spare time and not just my health. However, having been asked and asked by friends and family if I would be writing about the experience I now feel that my story deserves to be told and who better to tell it but me. Keeping myself safe is what I do in my spare time so I guess that kind of works too!

The Background

I have known for about 3 years that I would be removing my breasts but I had to wait for a period of time after I had radiotherapy to be able to have a successful surgery leading to the best result possible.

The Problem

At first, like so many other people in similar positions to mine, I was bombarded with breast surgeon and plastic surgeon appointments and repeatedly educated about the different ways that my breasts could be reconstructed when the time was right. There are numerous methods of reconstruction, some suiting me better than others.

Brown Train Railway Near MountainIt felt a little like I was on train going fast to who knows where except that I didn’t feel that the direction was right for me.  Even though I wasn’t quite sure where it was going, it wasn’t  quite right. Something didn’t feel right but it took me a while to speak up.

 

 

The truth of the matter is that as soon as I knew that I was going to remove my breasts, I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to replace them with anything. This was at the time  a really difficult concept to verbalise, especially to the most important people in my life. When everyone around you assumes that you will want new breasts to make you feel ‘whole’ or ‘normal’, even the doctors and the nurses that you see so often, and everyone speaks as if they know what is best for you, it’s really easy to go dumb and go along for the ride. I let myself be ‘dragged’ along this path, very slowly, for about two and a half years.

During this time I met with people that had reconstructed to see if it made me feel better about what I was going to do. It didn’t. They had done something that was entirely right for them but something didn’t feel right about it for me.

I browsed the internet tirelessly looking for a ‘sign’. Looking for something that would help to make me comfortable with the idea of adding these foreign bodies to my chest and having what would be a third surgery since the journey started and not necessarily a final surgery, to achieve this. I didn’t find it. The more I read and the more I spoke with people, the more off-put I was becoming.

I knew that in theory there was the option to remove my breasts and not reconstruct but it wasn’t an option that had been offered to me by the medical profession. None of my friends or my family had suggested it. I wondered if I was being selfish even thinking about it. If I removed my breasts and didn’t reconstruct, it wouldn’t just affect me. I have a husband. I have a son. I have parents. I have friends. What would this mean for everyone else? All these people that had been part of my journey for the last few years. I managed to sort of joke about it a few times with my husband and with some close friends but I never really talked about it as a viable option. I was still being carried along.

The Theory

I knew that there was a prosthetics industry. So by definition there must be a huge number of women out there that have removed one breast or more because these prosthetics must be being used. If all the women were reconstructing then there would be no need for these breast forms to exist.  It struck me that maybe there were a lot of women that weren’t reconstructing after all but because they wore some type of breast form under their clothing, it wasn’t so obvious. I knew I had to find out more. Maybe these thoughts that I had been having about not having ‘new’ breasts weren’t so radical after all.

The Research

I attacked my reading and research with a new vigor and from a totally new angle. Who were these women that weren’t reconstructing? Were they all wearing ‘fake’ boobs (or foobs)? Were there any support groups that I could access to speak to these women?

I started to ask, in passing, about people who had not reconstructed in some of the breast cancer groups that I am in on Facebook and a lady who ‘went flat’ told me about a group called ‘Flat and Fabulous‘. Initially I thought that she was joking. She wasn’t joking. I asked to join the group, answering the screening questions and waited with baited breath. Then I was a member. I was inside. I was suddenly free. I was home. I felt the weight rising above my shoulders.

The Answers

The group already had over 5000 women in it. It also had some spin off groups for particular aspects of being flat like fashion discussions or breast cancer issues. Some were considering ‘going flat’ like I was. Some went flat to try and avoid a cancer. Some went flat after non cancerous medical issues. Many went flat after failed reconstruction or after years or problems following reconstruction when enough had become enough. This is called ‘explanting’ and it’s a term that was totally new to me! Some are flat just on one side, having removed just one breast. It was enlightening.

Here was a group of engaged, positive people who were happy to answer questions, share their stories and even bare their scars so that people like me could make the best decisions possible. Some of the women wear foobs some of the time, some of them wear them all of the time and many of them never wear foobs. They just go flat. Flat and fabulous because why be ashamed? This wasn’t scaremongering or celebrity articles but real people with real stories making really positive decisions and supporting each other in these decisions. Not everyone who joins the group stays because some decide that reconstruction is the right decision for them (something the group and I entirely respect) and leave to join more appropriate groups.

After a little lingering I started to become active in the group asking lots of seemingly stupid questions and having them answered with open hearts. These people understood every aspect of the decision that I was about to make. I had never met one person until finding this group that could really understand what I was going through. No one in the group pushes being flat over reconstruction, rather they push the right to the option of going flat and to receive good information so that the best decisions can be made. So that no one gets swept along with the tide like I was being and like so many before me had been. Thank goodness I had found these ladies in time. I wasn’t going to be someone who was ‘explanting’.

Lessons Learned

I had learned many things.

  • Reconstruction doesn’t always involve just one surgery. It often requires more than one and it can be a process rather than a procedure, sometimes lasting many years and often requiring repeat procedures.
  • The surgery that was recommended for me was an 8 to 10 hour surgery and would have had a recovery time of many months. There was a high chance of failure.
  • Any reconstruction can fail.
  • Reconstruction can cause health issues.
  • ‘New’ breasts will have scars and patches of different colour skin and won’t look like the originals.
  • ‘New’ breasts in addition to the non real look won’t have nipples.
  • ‘New’ breasts can be cold and hard and have no feeling. They aren’t going to be an erogenous zone!
  • If you really want to look like you have breasts, from the outside of your clothes, it’s really easy to do.
  • It’s OK to want to be flat.

In my heart, I had now come to a very new place although I hadn’t voiced it outside of the group.

  • I knew that I wanted to remove my breasts but I didn’t want to replace them with ‘new’ ones.
  • I didn’t want breasts that I couldn’t feel.
  • I didn’t want long difficult surgery and the possibility of more surgeries down the line.
  • I didn’t want ‘new’ boobs just to fill a t-shirt and look ‘normal’ to outsiders. My right breast tried to kill and me and I didn’t trust the left one (which technically at that point had a higher chance of actually killing me than the one that had had cancer did!).  Why would I want to replace these breasts with fake ones? What would they give me? I wouldn’t feel them. They wouldn’t look good. I knew that I would look at them and be sad whenever I saw them. They certainly weren’t going to ‘complete’ me. I felt quite complete already.
  • ‘New’ breasts would never replace what I was going to lose but would be a constant reminder that my body, as it was, wasn’t good enough, except it is good enough. It’s fought hard and deserves some respect.
  • I don’t need breasts or ovaries to feel like me. Me is who I am on any given day. Me is the woman who has been through so much and has so far to go because I am alive.

The Big Moment

It was time to speak up. I told my husband that I wanted to speak to him about the whole ‘surgery thing’ for a moment. I said something along the lines of   “As you know I have been thinking about this for a long time. I’ve done a lot of reading and found some support. What would you say, honestly, if I said I wanted to remove these breasts and not reconstruct. Not at the time. Not ever. That I wanted to live flat.”

His answer was “Get it booked!”.

I really had to fight the tears. That weight that was hovering above my shoulders was gone. I think I was shaking. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. He had never tried to push me into reconstruction and I had no right to assume he would even question what I was proposing but this still blew me away.

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Pre-Op

I emailed my breast surgeon and told him I needed to come in and speak to him about having a mastectomy without reconstruction. Not at the time and not in the future. (The way in which the operation is done is different if there is a possibility of reconstruction at a future time and I wanted to be flat, fabulous, finished and get on with my life. I was quite sure now. I felt at peace and I wasn’t worried at all. I had been worried for two and a half years.)

Not only did I feel elated I also felt very different. I also knew, at that very moment, that I wasn’t the sort of person that would wear fake boobs under my clothes every day, if ever, although I was going to order some knitted ones just in case, so that I could leave my options open.

When I met with my surgeon, he asked me to explain why I wanted to do this. He checked that I understood what it meant for my body image and that I was 100% sure that I didn’t want reconstruction in the future. Over the course of 3 appointments, he asked me to confirm I was sure, respectfully, each time. He never at any time tried to persuade me otherwise.

I was lucky enough to be in the know about some of the problems that can happen with this operation to larger ladies with good sized busts because of the Facebook group. I knew that I didn’t want to remove my breasts only to be left with lumps of fat under my arms that looked like sideways boobs (known as dog ears!). I talked it through with my surgeon and he agreed that my scars would go from my back, around my front and back to the other side, so that I would be totally flat and not have any pockets or lumps or bumps. He got it. He understood.

The Surgery

In the lead-up to the surgery, my blood pressure was normal for the first time since my diagnosis back in 2014. If ever there was as sign that this was the right thing to do, this was it.

When the time came, he did an incredible job. The surgery lasted much longer than he expected and was a little more difficult but the breast tissue is gone and the pathology came back clear. I had no reason to suspect otherwise but it’s still good to know.

How has it been?

Today, it is 6 weeks later. I am recovering well and I am back at work. I will start physiotherapy shortly because I have a restricted range of movement in my arms but this is already improving. I’ve had a small infection that has cleared but may leave a little scarring. I’m not driving yet. I still can’t lift too much and annoyingly can’t cut up food well to cook. The pain is much improved but it’s going to be some time before it is gone completely. I’m still completely wiped out when I walk too much or generally do too much and a nice afternoon nap isn’t to be scoffed at!

When you don’t have breasts and you aren’t very slim, you get a Buddha belly. My belly now protrudes from where the bottom of my bra used to be and I look pregnant (ironic as I have no ovaries). I’ll work on this as I get stronger. Even some really slim ladies end up with this. It seems to be the mastectomy legacy.

So far, apart from the pain thing, I am really loving being flat. I’m lighter and I can move more easily. I don’t need to wear bras. I can fit into size small clothes which is something I haven’t done since about the age of 12. I’m having fun with scarves and ruffles and new styles and my wardrobe is going to take a little work but on the whole, I love it. It was the right decision. My chest has sensation. It is waking up a little each day. I can feel it. I can touch it and know it is me. I will never be able to repay the help that I have been given both online and offline. The number of people that have cooked for us, chopped up food for me, driven me places, carried things for me. What a community I live in. I am so lucky!

To answer those recurring questions.

Are you going to reconstruct? No

Why? It isn’t for me. 

Might you do it in the future? No

Don’t people stare? Actually I have become invisible. People stared at me and my large bust all the time before. No one even looks at me now.

Did you ever order those knitted boobs from Knitted Knockers or Awesome Breastforms? Yes, I did. Just in case. I love them because they are purple but I honestly don’t see me wearing them apart from maybe for that odd special occasion when the dress with the boob place just has to be worn. Or maybe I will just have it altered. 🙂 There is a set with nipples and a set without and both came personalised from a wonderful volunteer. 

What Now?

So life is good and in my spare time, oh there is so much to do. I guess I did have something to say after all. As to if it unique or not, well I really couldn’t say.

The only real problem I have in life is that I can no longer laugh my tits off!

Coconut Fruit Sliced Into Two

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vegan Crunchy Bites

I’ve been recovering from a planned mastectomy for the last few weeks which means that at the moment, I can’t do some of the most simple things in the kitchen. I can’t cut vegetables easily, stir things properly or reach most of the shelves in the kitchen. Clearly, this means that my ability to cook is somewhat restricted but I decided to try anyway and this was the result.

I’m calling it Vegan Crunchy Bites but I guess you could also name it vegan popcorn ‘chicken’ or similar if you preferred! As a vegetarian, it has never been my preference to name vegetarian meals as if they were meat. They are a treat in themselves!

If you have read any of my previous ‘recipes’ then you will know that weighing and measuring really isn’t my thing. This concoction was no exception.

The bites are made from the humble TVP (soya) chunk. “Oh gross” I hear you murmur because if you have only ever encountered the TVP chunk in a boring sloppy dish where it had no flavour at all then I can quite understand your reaction.  This, however, is the way to deal with them. TVP is actually a great food as it is high in complete protein, has no fat, is incredibly cheap (never buy it branded, it is exactly the same thing!) and it is full of lots of other things that we are supposed to eat lots of!

The first step was to soak some chunks in hot water with a little flavour in it. Today I used a garlic clove and a little vegan garlic dressing but you can use absolutely any dried or fresh flavouring that you want to try. Marmite works brilliantly at this stage as would any type of soup stock or a stock cube.

After the chunks had soaked for about 30 mins I popped them into a clean tea towel and squeezed as much of the liquid out as possible. I didn’t go mad but made sure they weren’t dripping wet anymore and much of the liquid had been removed.

The key to this recipe is to coat the chunks in some type of spiced flour mix, then to drop them into some type of liquid mix, to coat them in another type if spiced flour mix and then to fry them until crispy and mouthwateringly good. I vary the way I do this pretty much every time according to what I have but today’s effort worked quite well so I’ll tell you about that!

First, I coated the chunks in red lentil flour (full of flavour and protein) and salt, pepper and curry powder. I did this on the plastic plate in the photo. Instead of the lentil flour you could use cornflour but actually, this worked much better and I think I will stick with it.

Secondly, I made up a dipping liquid of tahini (Wow more protein!), garlic powder and water. You could use any liquid here, of course, this was just today’s choice.

Thirdly, after clearing the plate to use again, I made a coating of polenta, salt, pepper, nutritional yeast and garlic powder ready for coating the chunks. You could use any flour or crumb or substitute here too of course.

I think quickly dropped batches of the chunks into the liquid, then into the polenta coating and popped them straight into the frying pan.

The result – mouthwateringly yummy, moreish, crunchy vegan bites.

Today’s batch is accompanied by some HP Brown Sauce because although I live in Israel, comfort food has to have my tastes of Britain, my birthplace, for them to really comfort me. Its served on plastic because I can’t do the washing up easily either!

How do you make yours?

 

 

 

 

 

How to Add a Favourite in Waze

 

Waze is invaluable when you need directions.  You type in where you want to go, pick from a route, press go and you are ready to drive.  Sometimes, however, you want to have a location ready for use at a later time. You can add a location as a favourite and select it from a list when you want to use it.

It’s really simple to add a favourite in Waze . For Android just follow these simple steps;

 

  • Open Waze by tapping the Waze icon.

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  • Tap the magnifying glass in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

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  • Under your name and any waiting messages, you will see 3 titles – ‘Recent’, ‘Favourites’ and ‘Planned’. Tap ‘Favourites’.

 

  • Tap on ‘Add new favourite’, next to the plus sign.

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  • Type in the address that you want to add and press the magnifying glass in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen to search for it.

 

  • Choose the place you want, from the list presented to you, by tapping it.

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  • A box will pop up with ‘Give it a name’. You can keep the name that it gives you or name it something that is easier to remember and search for. When you are happy with the name, tap ‘Done’.

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Dawn Approaches

Dawn approaches was written on July 11th, 2016. Two years have passed since I wrote it.  I can still remember being frozen still at the airport as the words flooded into my head and I decided to write them down. My brother died 6 days later.

Dawn Approaches.

Dawn approaches. The light is breaking through.
All around me weary but excited travelers are waiting to board their flights.
The noise of happy chatter is deafening.
I can barely hear my thoughts but this is a blessing.
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Everyone here seems excited with anticipation for what awaits them upon landing.
Some are traveling for work.
Most are traveling for pleasure.
A few perhaps for new beginnings.
My heart is breaking because I am traveling for an ending.
To be there at the end.
I’m terrified someone will ask me why I am flying for fear that I may have to speak the words. “My brother is dying.”
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Everyone is praying for a miracle.
In my heart, I know that the miracle has been the last ten months.
Now it is time for a different type of miracle.
The miracle of a peaceful end and our lives continuing.
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In the next few days, there will be a new dawn.
It will be a less rich dawn and we will have to learn to live again.
Life without a brother and a brother in law, a son and a son in law, a husband, an uncle, a nephew, a cousin and a friend.
Dawn approaches.
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We are still learning to live again. I think perhaps we always will be. More about our journey can be read about here Life is for Living.
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Enjoying Evernote

Why I love Evernote

When it comes to software I am pretty savvy but this doesn’t mean I don’t want something to be user-friendly. When I choose software I want it to be intuitive, simple, organic and easy to use. I don’t think that is too much to ask but it’s amazing just how many programs don’t hit the mark.

For those of you that haven’t used it or heard of it, Evernote is basically a filing system, It’s a filing system that is very easy to use, has intuitive methods of information entry and sophisticated methods of search and retrieval.  Some people use it at work and some at home and in my case, I use it for just about everything.

I can have everything at my fingertips in one place. I can use tags, notes, notebooks and the search facility and I can find anything that I want in a couple of seconds, even when I have put it in the ‘wrong’ place. Actually, that is really one the amazing things about Evernote. Although you can have a notebook and note structure (and I do – a sample can be seen below)  there isn’t really a need to do that apart from making it pleasing to the eye. You can throw items anywhere as long as they are labeled properly and they will be found quickly anyway.

I can email straight to Evernote. I have a personal Evernote email address and I can both forward and compose emails and have them drop straight into my Evernote ‘inbox’. I have no need to lose things or to keep them hanging around in my emails either.

Capture

There is a Web Clipper extension that means I can clip anything I want from the web and that also pops straight where I want it. I can clip exactly what I want, when I want, send it to exactly where I want and tag it for easy retrieval at the same time without even leaving my browser.

 

 

 

 

I can even record audio notes and text notes straight from my phone’s home screen and have those pop straight in too!

The most important aspect of Evernote is that I can access it on any device at all – even one that isn’t mine via a web browser. I never need to worry about leaving the information that I needed at home.

Great Uses for Evernote

Research

As a genealogist, I am always researching numerous areas of interest and often have dozens of work in progress research on the go at the same time.  My research may be for my personal tree or I may be working on other genealogical projects.  Although I use fantastic Genealogy software to record my verified findings and sources,  I prefer to use Evernote to keep track of my ongoing research.  I letter the notebooks so that they are pleasing to my eye in this view and I can keep track of them easily but the actual notes within the notebooks are tagged for easy of access and retrieval. Evernote makes this very easy.  The search facility is incredible too. When it comes to research of any type, Evernote is a powerful workhorse!

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Learning

I am always learning.  There is just so much to learn. I haven’t got the best short-term memory though so I like to keep everything written down and close to hand. If I find something I need to learn or remember, in it pops to Evernote.

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I have been learning HTML, CSS, and Javascript and I am finding Evernote invaluable for saving links, infographics, code snippets, articles, videos and more. Once again tagging and search facility mean that I can always find the note that I am looking for with just a couple of clicks, even when I have thousands of notes.

I also use it to keep track of my spoken language learning.

Paperless Filing

I am always going to have paper filing. I’m just a self-confessed hoarder and the more I get rid of the more I seem to accumulate. I have, however, got the intention of at some point in the future being completely paperless. Any filing that I receive by email I send straight along to my Evernote email address and in it pops, straight to where it needs to be. This is great and I would be lost without the function! I have a fabulous mobile scanner which has allowed me to easily scan items straight into Evernote too.  Bit by bit I am killing paper files and in time, I will get there (I hope).

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Planning  Trips

I love to use Evernote for planning, especially planning trips. I can keep records of travel and accommodation arrangements, places to visit, people to see, language and currency information too. Pretty much anything that I may want to have at my fingertips before and during the trip, will be stored in Evernote. I’m currently planning a trip to Poland so my travel notebooks are filling up fast. I love the ability to save to Evernote straight from a webpage. It saves me time and it keeps me organised.

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Saving Recipes and Planning Parties

Let’s not forget the food (as if I could). I use Evernote to save recipes straight from websites all the time. I use it to plan meals when I entertain. I use it to store recipes that I invent too. If I want to cook something and want an idea, I pop straight to my food files and start searching by the ingredients that I have. Saving articles straight from the web using the web clipper means that I have really attractive photos too.

 

What do you use Evernote for and Why do you Like it?

Dal Makhani

Sometimes I just need comfort food and my go-to comfort food is usually something Indian. I love Indian food and as a vegetarian, it offers me lots of fantastic options. No one is ever going to miss the meat or fish in an Indian meal because there are just too many warming satisfying tastes and textures going on.

As I had soaked and cooked a huge batch of black lentils and had them sat in the fridge already, Dal Makhani was just begging to be made. It would have been rude not to I think.

I’m not a great one for following a recipe and I tend to make it up as I go along but today’s batch went something like this;

Ingredients

  • The remainder of a large pack of black lentils, cooked and ready to go.
  • A good dash of vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped quite finely
  • A large tin of tomatoes (and the same amount of water using the tin)
  • A small tub of tomato paste
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp chili powder
  • ½ tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper

 

Method

Well, it really couldn’t be simpler which is great because I am a lazy cook. It’s a hot country and I don’t want to be stood in the kitchen longer than I have to be, much as I love to cook.

  • Fry the onions in the oil until they smell great and soften a little
  • Add the ginger and garlic and stir
  • Add everything else
  • Simmer for about 20 minutes

This version is actually vegan.

If you want to make it creamy, you can add a little butter/margarine, yogurt/vegan yogurt, milk/almond milk or cream/cream substitute. I added just a little butter and milk to mine in the bowl so that I could keep the pan-ful vegan and it can be eaten by any of my guests and with anything that I want to serve it with.  Right now though, it’s just an indulgent bowlful for me. It would go well with rice or any type of bread but it’s just perfect on its own which is precisely how I am currently enjoying it

I think that this type of food is pretty forgiving so if you fancy giving it a go but don’t have an ingredient, fear not, make a substitution or two and see what happens. I suspect it will still be wonderful and filling. Let me know how you get on!

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Home Made Sesame Sticks

As a child, one of my favourite yummy items were the crunchy sesame snacks that my grandma used to buy for me at the supermarket. As time went on, most shops in the UK stopped selling them in bags on their own but it was still possible to get them mixed in with other savoury snacks. By the time I was an adult, I had stopped seeing them anywhere at all.

I always remembered the sesame snacks with fondness but thought that they were probably a snack of a bye-gone era for me.

That was until I saw something very similar in a Trader Joe’s Store in Boston, Massachusetts in the USA when I was there for a conference 4 years ago. I bought three 1kg bags, ate one during my 10 days there and brought the other two back home to Israel.

The taste, texture, and smell of these divine snacks brought back memories of my grandma and my childhood and they were wonderful as were the memories they evoked. There was now a problem. How would I get more?

I realised that I was going to have to find a recipe for them and try and make them at home but I wasn’t sure how good they would be. In the end, I found a few recipes, added a little bit of my own flair and hey presto, here are today’s homemade sesame sticks.

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