At 33, I’ve finally honed in on my cooking skills. I can’t move my fingers, but I can move my wrists. This is quite a personal feat for me. Cooking wasn’t something I thought I could do full-force, other than flipping grilled-cheese sandwiches and baking fries.
After my injury, going straight into college, I lived on my own version of the four food groups – coffee for breakfast, fried food from the on-campus grill for lunch, a mid-day snack of a Hot Pocket and Little Debbies for dessert. Yum-o.
And the one time I did try cooking in college – grilling a chicken breast in a skillet for Jason down the hall (he loved calling me “Tiff Tiff.” oh how I miss him) – I burned my hand where I couldn’t feel and got a horrid 3rd degree burn. Yeah…it took several years for me to want to try again after that.
Cooking however finally became something I tried again, 4 years after college, on Valentine’s Day. I was wanting to bake pink cupcakes for my boyfriend 100% on my own, but I was deathly afraid of one thing – getting them out of the oven. I had never baked before, but I knew getting a hot pan out wasn’t something I should try. I couldn’t grip the pan.
And then…the first big revelation (out of many more to follow) occurred: I realized was wrong. It was totally possible. All I needed to do was start thinking outside of the box. The solution turns out was right in front of my face: Pull the rack out, let them cool on said rack, and then slide the pan on your lap once it’s cooled. Simple, safe and totally obvious.
My brain finally broke out of the “I can’t do anything if I can’t do it normal” rut.
And I took this moment to start coming up with hundreds of other solutions in the kitchen. I now saw ideas everywhere I looked. Things are only hard in the kitchen, or anywhere else in life, as you make them. And my solutions have totally improved my life. Cooking, a lot like gardening, completely nurtures the soul. I love it infinity.
To open cans on my own, I wouldn’t be anywhere with my Automatic Can Opener. My mom bought one for me years ago and I refer to it as my “cutie pie robot.” Set it on an unopened can and watch it wake up and do its thing. Kinda cool.
I also wouldn’t be anywhere without a product I got last year from an inventor with paraplegia – My4Hands. This is a sturdy piece of plastic and fits perfectly on your lap, creating more “counterspace.” I have a super tiny kitchen and being in a wheelchair makes it even more cramped, so I fell in love with My4Hand. It’s great for setting hot things on too (thank you Dale Lehn!)
Another big thing I started to do to make cooking easier was to start buying pans and utensils I could use. I bought silverware with thicker plastic handles so I could hold them, I amassed a collection of pots and pans that had a plastic handle attached to each one. I wanted to be in control. Handles on pots is key to holding them without finger movement.
It takes a while to figure all of this out, but you figure out what you need as you go along. Trial and error is the name of the game.
The thing about cooking is that once you get good at it, you’ll want to do it more and more. Being able to create a beautiful dish without assistance helps me cope with my disability in an amazing way. From preparing healthy salads with my Slap Chop (to cut veggies quick) to baking a Jell-O cake for the 4th of July each year, I can *almost* do it all.
Maybe by the time I’m 40 I’ll be on Chopped (hrm doubtful, possible only if they come up with a “quadriplegic” 3 hour special).
What gadgets have made cooking possible for you?