132. 10 Tips for the Disabled Cook

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I forget if I ever mentioned this, but Ed LOVES cooking.  He actually wants to be the Next Food Network Star and prefers to be called “Chef Blueberry.”  He makes all sorts of delicious things, and since it’s all imaginary food, it’s completely non-caloric!  It’s a good thing he’s around since my own kitchen mobility issues have put a damper on my cooking abilities.

To be clear, I was never a fantastic cook – I was simply at the level where I would not (nor would my houseguests) go hungry.  I was also able to occasionally invite people over, e.g. the time I was serving experimental pie to DnA and I opened the freezer, threw the ice cream in and slammed the door shut so everything else wouldn’t fall out.

These days I have more limitations than just skill, e.g., mobility (I often “cruise” in the kitchen like a baby – holding on to furniture), carrying things (can’t carry it unless it’s very small; it’s best if I can carry with one hand, put my hand on a surface for stability, and move the object along the countertop), knives = scary, stove and oven = scary, etc.  Yeah.  So cooking is a bit of a challenge for me.

One day I was flipping through a Crate & Barrel catalog, or maybe it was Williams-Sonoma, and I came to the pots and pans sections.  Looking at all that nice cookware that I can’t use made me burst into tears – because while pots and pans might make some people feel weighed down by the responsibility of feeding a family and washing up, they signify a life of independence that is beyond my reach at present.  So since then I’ve tried to cook more like S (OT6) taught me in Rehab.  I use the stove (under supervision) and the toaster oven (the size and location makes it doable for me.)  I also asked people on FB and at AVMSurvivors.org for any suggestions they might have.  I’ve compiled some of their ideas along with mine below, and thank them for sharing their tips with me (and you).

10 Tips for the Disabled Cook

  1. Be prepared to pay more.
    Since I am unable to cut things up I’m prepared to pay more for pre-cut things like crudités and chicken.  You can also use frozen veggies for soups and stir-frys. I might prefer my carrots to be julienned, but I’ll get over them being in little cubes.  I could always go get a pack of shredded carrots, though (like they sell for carrot-slaw).
  2. The crockpot is your friend.
    Many folks suggested slowcooker cooking, including an extremely knowledgeable friend of mine who has a background in catering.  She also pointed out that cooking with the crockpot might not necessitate exact measurements – if you like peas, add more!  This is a major bonus since I’m not into measuring a whole lot, and the crockpot is safer/easier to use than the stove/oven.
  3. Use electric pans that can be positioned at a comfortable height/place.
    Mommy has an electric wok, an electric frying pan and a couple of induction plates that I could put on a table low enough for me to pull up a chair to. 
  4. Google “Cooking Utensils for Disabled People”
    I had no idea these things existed.  Also, mainstream-cooking items like a mandolin slicer or a Ninja/Cuisinart/Vitamix could help chop your veggies etc. but you might need someone to help you wash these things.  Also, an AVMer suggested I try cutting some things up with a spoon – makes sense since I do this all the time at meals.  You might have to perforate with a fork first (like when you split an English muffin) but it’s worth a shot!  
  5. Look out for picture-heavy recipes or Youtube food tutorials
    Reading and following instructions is great therapy, but in case you have vision and/or cognition issues, look out for recipes w/ step by step pics or watch food tutorials on Youtube.  I had a coworker who would Youtube recipes all the time when his mom (who lived in a different time zone) was sleeping and he couldn’t call her.  Also, I received a fabulous tutorial from K (ProfJ’s sister) on my FB page for Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken.  This sort of thing is ideal because you get the gist of the recipe and important things are spelled out on-screen in big print.  Thank you, K!!
  6. Ask for help.
    There are some things there are no workarounds for, e.g. draining pasta and putting cookies (or anything) in the oven.  In these cases, it is not a good idea to exercise your independence and just “try” – ask for help.  Also, some people have trouble remembering to do things like turn off the stove.  If this is the case, cook with a partner or ask someone to come check on you every 5 minutes or so.  Also, if you have any friends/family members who are OT’s, ask them for tips!
  7. Allow extra prep time.
    People say that you should always gather all your ingredients before you start.  I think this is a good idea – but what might take you 5 minutes would likely take me 15.  Or 30.  So time-sensitive cooking is not a good idea for me. 
  8. Grippy is good.
    One of the last times I was at the airport I rode in the chair but wanted to walk through the security thing.  When I couldn’t do this they would just push me through and then I’d get the pat down, but since I can walk now I take off my brace/weights and get out of my chair.  The problem last time was that the floor was very nice and shiny…and therefore slippery.  I wished I had thought to wear grippy socks like in the hospital.  I ended up getting rolled over to the heavy-duty full body scanner since it had a texturized rubber mat in front of it that I liked the look of.  So grippy is good – for TSA and for cooking, too.  I met someone who primarily uses one hand and has learned to function in the kitchen through trial and error.  She uses a silicon baking mitt (we have potholders) to keep things from slipping on the counter.  E.g. you put the silicon mat on the table, a bowl on top of it, and then you can stir it with one hand without it slipping around.
  9. Organize Organize Organize:  This is a good tip for everyone, but especially for those of us who have some processing issues.  I am blessed to be in a situation where Mommy cooks for our family but some folks find themselves dealing with a brain injury AND having to care for a family and put dinner on the table.  So plan out your meal beforehand – what side dishes will go with your entree etc?  Some people can just wing it, but listing everything beforehand helps you remember what to do as well as schedule breaks if necessary.
  10. Above all else – be safe.  Soon after we came home Ai Ai caught me trying to toast a muffin in the toaster oven.  Now I can toast things, but then it was a bad idea to try using the toaster oven without supervision.  She extracted my muffin for me, which was great – I had obviously figured out how to put the muffin in but I hadn’t gotten far enough in my thought process to think about how I was going to take it out.  In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done that.  The idea of cooking can be intensely frustrating since the ability to produce food for you and others to eat is an instinctive human desire, but the inability to do so makes you feel sad.  :(.  But in the grand scheme of things it’s better to order a pizza than hurt yourself.

Psst – wanna see some recipes?  Click here.  

3 thoughts on “132. 10 Tips for the Disabled Cook

  1. Ning – Great and helpful post. Just checked out the AVM Survivors website referenced above – fantastic resource. Proud of you for moving from one who is “lurking around” on the site :), to one who is an active participant. I think a network like this is a huge blessing and I hope it is an encouragement to you to know that even though each survivor’s experience is so very different, you are not alone. Love you and miss you. Is Ed feeling any better today?

    • Thank you for asking after Ed. He is better but still tired. He came downstairs today to see Mommy and felt well enough to wear his party hat. Xxoo

  2. Ok – I’ll stop grumbling about preping and celaning up for family meals. I take so much for granted and you help me reset my perspective. Wish we could have tea and PB muffins. Yum!! Let’s pretend. Love, K

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