Tag Archives: cooking

An UNlimited Year in Review

This post marks my one year anniversary as a blogger for UNlimiters. I can hardly believe that it has been a year, and what a year it has been. I went from being unemployed, to working three part time jobs; from having Hepatitis C to being cured of the disease, and from writing once a month, to writing at least once a week. A lot has changed for me over this year, but many things have stayed the same, including the things I use every day in order to live my life Unlimited. For my anniversary post, I would like to revisit these items, and to share with you the top three I never want to be without.

My very first post highlighted an item that I used most often in my house, the crockpot. Growing up I don’t remember my Mom using the crockpot for anything other than baked beans. The other recipes I had eaten out of a crockpot left much to be desired; so at first I didn’t think I would like cooking with a crockpot. However, I was presently surprised. Crockpots are great for more than just beans, sauces and soups. You can make many delicious items in the crockpot, including desserts. It is a life saver during a busy work week or when I would rather spend time sewing than worrying about what is for dinner.

My second post featured an item I literally could not live without. I mean, I guess I probably could, but it would not be a very full or exciting life. The Hurri-Cane Crutch was introduced to me by a friend of my fathers who happened to know a guy that was trying to market a new kind of Lofstrand Crutch. I have used Lofstrand Crutches since I was about 6. Ever since I was introduced to the Hurri-Cane Crutch, I have never used another, and have tried quite a variety of mobility aids in my time. These crutches are light, stylish and practically indestructible.

Finally, this post featured an item that I had seen a hundred times while being around others with disabilities. Although the reacher was a familiar adaptive tool to me, it was not something I felt I needed. I grew up in an “adapt or fail” type of household. I was taught to adapt to my environment instead of expecting it to change to accommodate me. Thus, I equated the use of certain assistive technology with laziness. However, after starting a new job, I got tired of asking people to pick things up for me; I finally cave and bought the reacher. It has increased my independence and changed my perspective on assistive technology.

Life is about change, it is about learning and growing. The person you are today might not be the person you are tomorrow. You will learn new things, form new opinions and have new experiences, but that doesn’t mean we should discount the things that stay the same. It is the unchanging things in life that give us the confidence to do all the changing along the way.

Arthritic hands … mixing it up.

MX N TILTAbout 6 months ago I received this email from my friend Ellen. She knew that I was looking for ideas for my Unlimiters blog. It reads: I do have a suggestion …I have arthritis and find that when I cook or bake, holding a bowl in one hand while attempting to get the ingredients into a pan…as in brownies this afternoon, I have such difficulties scraping everything out.

I held on to it until she found an answer and now I can share it with you. She is thrilled with her 3 piece tilt ‘n mix bowls by Wilton. They are a lightweight plastic and the five little rubber feet stop the bowl from sliding around and they also allow the bowl to tip at different angles. This is perfect for Ellen.

Here is her technique. She puts her ingredients in the largest bowl and then tips it slightly, feeling confident that the bowl won’t slip. This makes it easier for her to stir with her arm instead of her wrist and that relieves the arthritis in her hands. She then puts her baking pan on the table in front of the bowl (that is held in place with the rubber feet) and leans in so that her body keeps the pan in place. It’s then an easy thing to simply tip the bowl further and scrape the contents into the pan.

So there you have it. A simple product but one that makes life easier for those with arthritic hands.

Single-Handed Cooking: A Few Tips

4817475546_b9f4e4b0ab_zStrangely, despite not being able to move my fingers I’ve grown to love cooking.  I’m slow at it, the kitchen looks like an explosion everytime I cook and I’ve burnt myself countless times, but despite all of that I still cook on a near-daily basis.

Not many quadriplegics do it, but I can’t help myself.  It’s in my genes. My mom is one of the best cooks I know. I grew up always envisioning I’d be a fabulous cook like my mom, and I’m dead set on making that dream a reality.

I will admit it’s not easy. A lot of considerations need to be made in order to cook without too much of a struggle. Good thing is that I have some experience under my belt, and I’m here to help. Check out my single-handed (and no finger-movement) cooking tips below.

Make Sure You’ve Got Your Balance

Safety in the kitchen is paramount and making sure you have your balance is huge when you’re cooking.  If you have balance issues, this is the first thing you need to resolve in order to start cooking. I do the “quad-hook” to keep my balance, but other people prefer to use chest straps.  Whenever you end up using, make sure it’s something you can count on.

Use an Apron; Cut Off the Ties

Since I can only use one hand very well while cooking, you can call me the spill queen. I don’t care what I’m cooking, some of it will end up on my lap (flour by the way is one of my arch enemies). Because of this – I love to wear aprons, but they’re not the easiest to put on when you can’t stand up. I cut the ties off my aprons since they’re not necessary (as I’m not standing). Easing, accessible solution.

Prep Everything Before Turning On the Heat

A really important thing you need to do before turning on the burners is to prep everything you’re cooking with first.  It can take longer to do things when you’re arms and hands are compromised, so make sure you have everything poured, measured out, chopped, whatever, and put to the side just like a cooking show. This will make sure you don’t burn anything while taking too long to prep food.

Know Your Limits

Don’t get too cocky and try to make something that you can’t cook on your own safely, say a pot roast in the oven and pulling it out when it’s done, and ending up spilling it on you. The best thing you can do is accept what you can’t do in the kitchen, be ok with it, and instead try to get really good at what you can cook.

Buy Pre-Cut Foods When Possible

To make things easier, look for pre-cut foods is they’re available. Pre-cut vegetables, meats, cheese, potatoes; if it eliminates one extra step from your cooking process it’s a good thing. And don’t feel like it’s cheating either. You have a great excuse; you don’t want to overuse the strength in your arms over the years as you use them.

Get a Sharp Knife

To help your arms along the way as well, a sharp knife will do you good big time. If and when you do have to cut things, an extremely sharp knife at least will make the job a lot easier physically. A lightweight knife is good as well, such as a ceramic knife by a Cusinart.

Maybe you don’t like cooking and that’s cool, but if you do, don’t ever let your disability stop you. I’ve even seen a high injured quadriplegic stir a soup using a very long stir spoon in his mouth; that’s the commitment I’ve seen to the love of cooking.

With a little bit of planning, smart thinking and a few self-imposed restrictions, becoming a decent cook is possible. I’m living proof (and you should try my bread pudding).

What cooking tips do you have?

Products mentioned

– Ceramic knife by Cuisnart

Robo Stir

Before I was a busy, working Mom, I used to love cooking. Time in the kitchen became my creative outlet. I prided myself on preparing delicious and nutritious meals with little regard to the amount of time required.

Now the stress of having to cook every single day has worn on my creativity and passion. Lately, it feels more like a chore. Every once in awhile I find something that reignites my passion in the kitchen, but for the most part it has been relegated to something that is looming everyday on my “to do” list.

In addition to the stress of having to come up with a menu every single day, spending time on my feet has become increasingly difficult. I’m now in my 7th month of pregnancy, and I’m tired! My prostheses fits, a fact for which I am grateful, but my gait has been compromised because of my growing baby bump. Walking, standing and moving in general are all becoming more fatigue inducing. At the end of the day, all I want to do is slip off my leg and relax on the couch. Instead, I find myself in the kitchen desperately trying to cook a quasi-nutritious meal in the least amount of time.

This past Christmas I received the Robo Stir from my Mom. At the time I thought that it was a clever contraption, but I never envisioned Imagethat it would become my go-to tool in the kitchen. After all, I’ve had little success with the “As Seen on TV” miracle products.

I wasn’t expecting much, but shortly after the holidays I pulled the Robo Stir from its clam shell package and decided to give it a try. I have to admit that I was shocked not only by how well this little pot stirrer works, but by the amount of time it saves me on my feet. Right now, anything that keeps me off my feet and saves me energy is elevated to one of my favorite things!

From stirring cheese and spaghetti sauces to basic gravy, this wonderful little device has been a godsend in my kitchen. After I make the sauce, I simply put the Robo Stir into the pot and press the button. The stirrer keeps everything moving, allowing it to cook evenly and without burning. And my favorite perk- I no longer have to stand at the stove. While everything is coming together I can sit down and relax.

The Robo Stir has UNlimited me in the kitchen. I have been impressed with how consistently everything is stirred. As a bonus, I have yet to have anything burn while using it. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same when I’m stirring by hand. Perhaps surpassing the function, I love that I can sit down and relax while cooking dinner. I have such limited energy right now that anytime I can save myself standing it is worthwhile!

Rediscovering A Blast From My Past

Because I acquired my disability shortly after birth, I have spent my life using adaptive equipment and assistive technology. Some of these items I still use today, like my crutches and my bath chair. Other items, like my leg braces and adaptive writing utensils, I no longer use at all. Every once in a while though, one of those long ago items will become useful again and I then wonder why I ever stopped using it in the first place.

Recently, I have been struggling with things that slip; like my feet on the kitchen floor, the cutting board on the counter, my ruler on my cutting matt, my butt on the chair in my sewing room. All of these things are frustrating at the very least, and have the potential to be very dangerous. I’ve tried to come up with various solutions that didn’t involve spending a small fortune on non-slip rugs and rubber coated kitchen supplies. I have put blue tape on my ruler and my cutting board. I even considered the possibility of rubber cementing the bottoms of my most used kitchen supplies to see if that would help. Then I had a flashback to my first grade classroom, where my teacher, Ms. Hart used to put prices of blue rubber sheeting under my paper so it wouldn’t slip when I wrote.

All it took was one quick post to a CP forum I am part of to discover an item called dycem; big plus side is that it is available online. Dycem is great; it is tacky on both sides and will stick to nearly everything. It can be cut to any size so I can use it on the floor under my feet, on my chair under my butt, under my cutting mat and ever under my ruler when I am cutting fabric. I can even use it under fabric when I need to trace a template. But that’s not all, dycem is not only good at preventing all manners of slippage, is also great for adding grip to items. It can be used to open jars and bottles, or strips can be added to handles, pens or even a toothbrush to supply a better grip.

Dycem has a million possible uses. And it is not just for people with disabilities. Dycem can be useful to anyone who is sick of having their stuff slide around; I can even see it being a great tool for mothers with young children. Dycem is also reusable and washable, so one small roll can last quite a long time and be used for several different applications. If you find you are regularly putting Dycem under certain items regularly, it can be permanently adhered to any surface with a little superglue. I think I might glue some to the back of a clipboard so that I can finally carry papers around the office without them sliding off my lap. What do/would you use dycem for?

Super Bowl Prep

Rumor has it that a big football game is being played on Sunday. Admittedly, I am not a football fan but instead become the hostage companion of my sport fanatic husband during every big game/match/event.  While I doubt I’ll ever relish watching the game, I have learned to embrace the festivities. For me, the Super Bowl is all about gluttony.

In our house, no big game would be complete without chili, nachos and assorted snacks. For my husband and son, the food magically appears at the end of each quarter. So engrossed in the television, I am fairly confident that both fail to realize that I am the one in the kitchen prepping and cooking all afternoon.

I have always loved to cook but it has become more difficult during the past few months. Between my prosthetic issues and my pregnancy, it is uncomfortable for me to stand for long periods of time. Thankfully I have cabinets full of appliances to help make the task both easy and fun.

In order to minimize the prep time required for our football feast, I will be relying heavily upon one of my favorite appliances- the food processor.  I have tried a few other mini choppers over the years and have always been dissatisfied. For a growing family, the 1 ½ cup choppers simply weren’t big enough.  I found I was spending more time chopping and emptying small batches from the machine than I would have spent had I just pulled out the knives myself.

Storing and pulling out the cumbersome and heavy 12 cup food processors became more trouble than what it was worth, especially when I was looking for quick prep work.  I was more apt to let the food processor in the cabinet because the assembly and cleaning required was simply too time consuming.

This Sunday I will be relying heavily upon my Cuisinart Mini-Prep 4 Cup Food Processor. For our family, the four cup capacity is ideal. The motor is strong, providing even and consistent pulsing blades capable of chopping through everything from onions to hard cheese.  Although the bowl is larger, the machine is lightweight and compact. (Keeping appliances within each reach is a huge factor in whether or not I will use it.)

Thanks to my strong little chopper, I am saved both the time and the ensuing discomfort which comes from food preparation.  I love to cook, but I also appreciate anything that simplifies my life! With the chopping simplified, I’ll be done in the kitchen and able to enjoy my favorite part of the Super Bowl- the halftime show.  Image

The Perfect Solution….Or Not

We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen a product on television, or in the store, and thought to ourselves, “This is the greatest thing ever! I must have it, and together we will achieve so much.” So we buy it, filled with possibility, and then we use it only to discover we have been duped. The product is a total failure.

I am no stranger to this scenario. Often, I think I have found something that is perfect for me, only to find out it doesn’t work the way I need it to at all. In an effort to be kind, and perhaps save you a bit of money, I thought I might share some of these failures, along with the products I replaced them with.

This first item might come is a bit of a shock. In fact, most people probably find this item very useful; but as a left handed person with fine motor issues, I just cannot recommend it. It’s the mandolin slicer. These things are supposed to cut through veggies like butter, slicing items for salad and other recipes with ease. I’ve used mine exactly three times since purchasing it, three years ago. It is the most frustrating piece of kitchen equipment I have ever owned. First, it is hard to set up, then you have to get just the right rhythm going in order for the blade to go all the way though the veggie without catching, then you have to keep re-adjusting the guard. By them time I slice one carrot, I am tired, frustrated and usually bleeding, no matter how careful I try to be.

I ended up replacing it with this slicer instead. It’s a little noisy, and like with most slicers you may have to cut the larger veggies into smaller chunks first; but the set up and cleanup is much easier. Plus, there is little chance of slicing off the tip of your finger by accident.

The second thing I bought that didn’t work out was the Pasta Boat; many of you probably saw the infomercial. Well, I fell for it hook, line and sinker, and my dear husband bought me one. I was so excited. As an Italian, I eat a ton of pasta, as a diabetic, my husband does not. I thought the Pasta Boat would be safer and easier to use, especially since I was only making pasta for one. After the first use, I knew I had thought wrong. The pasta did not cook in the time listed on the instructions, and when it finally did cook through, I opened the door to find that water was all over my microwave.

As of now, I have not found a successful mechanism for my pasta cooking dilemma. I do want to find something that would prevent me from handling boiling water and I am considering trying this; though I am still a little weary of infomercial products. Has anyone tried it?

Thoughtful Gifts for Safer Cooking

41okrFQJoDL._SY300_The other day a glorious thing happened. I received one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received from a man I was dating. And it was a Christmas gifts too. Love, love, love.

He had wrapped four separate gives that were all intended for me, and all had a special purpose in which to make my life easier (that sure beat the unwrapped box of chocolate covered peanuts my ex-boyfriend got me last year).

You see I love to cook. And if you look at some of my past blog posts you’ll see this to be true in all its glory. I can’t move my fingers though, just my arms and wrists, so that makes cooking a bit tricky; even a bit dangerous as the burns on my hands will tell.

Because of this a very thoughtful person decided to gift me with a handful of gifts that all explicitly helped me out in this area of my life. Never had I ever received such a thoughtful gift before. Check out what he bought me below.

Ceramic knife

If you have a hard time moving your hands, the last thing you need is a big clumsy knife that isn’t sharp. I never knew they existed before, but there is such a thing as a ceramic knife and they amazing. I would say the weight difference is about 65% lighter. That’s a huge change for anyone, let alone someone who can only move half of the muscles in their arm.

He purchased a Faberware Chef’s Knife that’s ceramic.The one drawback to these knives is that they have a tendency to chip, so be careful when handling them and don’t let them hit anything too hard.

Check it out: Faberware Ceramic Chef Knife

Straight straws

Many people with disabilities are addicted to using straws, and I’m one of these crazy straw lovers. It all started in the hospital and I haven’t looked back since. They’re just so handy, especially when you can’t pick up a cup unless it has a handle (so lame). But any straw just won’t do. I really dislike flexible straws. When they’re in a cup and bent, the liquid always leaks out. One of my biggest pet peeves.

The natural solution is getting straight straws of course, but finding these is not easy. It seems they’re going to the wayside with flexible straws taking over the world. But if you look closely in certain stores, they can still be found. My awesome gifter found straight straws on Amazon. Now I need like 20 more boxes.

Check them out: Perfect Stix Clear Straight Straws

Silicone baking mat

In an attempt to help me cook safely and with less burns, he next got me a Healthy Chef Baking Mat. This brilliant invention is made out of silicone and can withstand temperatures up to 428 degrees. While its original intention is to put it in the oven as a cookie sheet to make food healthier (it has raised mounds to encourage grease to drip away from the food), it can also be cut up and used as a shield from the heat.

What we plan on doing is cutting a small piece to fit the outside of my hand, which is where a majority of my cooking burns occur. We’ll glue it to a Velcro strap back that will go around my hand to complete it. Can’t wait to show you guys how it turns out once it’s done.

Check it out: Healthy Chef Baking Mat

No-break acrylic dishware

About 10 years ago I got smart and started buying acrylic dishware. I can drop it without worrying about it breaking. That’s a huge bonus in my world. Lately however I’ve lost several of my pieces. So my very thoughtful gifter also decided to purchase me an adorable acrylic cereal bowl. And he bought one in a girly print that makes my mornings a bit cooler now, a Pikachu bowl.

Check it out: Pokemon Cereal Bowl

Don’t you think I’m not appreciating this very thoughtful gift too. This kind of thoughtfulness is rare and doesn’t happen every day, even though every girl deserves it.

What is one of the most thoughtful gifts you’ve received?

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Christmas Cookie Season – Making Baking Work

Growing up I loved making Christmas cookies with my mom and sisters. We would designate a day before Christmas and make cookies all day long. That day was awesome; messy, but oh was it fulfilling…

After my injury things changed. My fingers were paralyzed, baking cookies was no longer easy-breezy fun. Heck, I couldn’t even hold a sugar shaker anymore without dropping it.  It wholly depressed me how difficult my passion had become.

And the worst thing was feeling like baking was the last thing I wanted to do; not at all like “me.” I resented how my injury changed so much about my life and personality. I was determined not to let this new feeling I had towards baking last.

So I made this resolution 8 years ago to figure out how to bake again, and I haven’t looked back. Ever since OT, I always knew baking was possible; they showed me it was. I just knew it was going to take a lot of work, patience and a few adapted instruments along the way.

I started by sticking with just a few simple Christmas cookie recipes.  Knowing your limitations is #1 rule when baking with a disability. This means I nixed a few of the more complicated recipes off my list – Rosettes, Peanut Butter Balls and a few others – and added a few more I knew I could do easily. Anything that required a VERY specific amount of dexterity was removed.

I learned the lesson of knowing your limitations the hard way too, not even thinking of my limitations in the beginning. My first go at it, I discovered midway through baking a recipe I couldn’t finish it (I sure felt silly). The thing to remember is this – always think critically about your skills when creating a list of the Christmas cookies you want to bake this year.

Keep it simple – pre-cut sugar cookies, bars, candy, drop cookies, no-bake cookies – anything that requires minimal dexterity is best. I also began using my toaster oven to bake since it was at countertop level, which made it way easier to put in/remove pans and I still use my toaster oven till this day.

I also created a nifty way to remove pans from the oven when they’re still hot by using an infinity scarf. I just push then scarf around the pan, then lift it up in the center of the pan to take it out of the oven. After taking the hot pan out, I love using My4Hands too, a thick piece of plastic that goes on my lap and protects my skin from hot pans. It works awesomely.

Don’t forget – homemade Christmas cookies make great gifts too. All your hard work is more appreciated this way too, when loved ones can see all the extra TLC you put into their gifts.

What’s your favorite Christmas cookie?

Products mentioned

Oster Stainless Steel Toaster Oven

Old Navy Fleece Infinity Scarf

My4Hands

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

My New Toy

I used to love to cook, especially for my family and friends.  While I don’t throw lavish dinner parties, I do thoroughly enjoy preparing meals that my husband will brag about at work.  Like any activity, the pleasure is often erased when it morphs from being a hobby into a responsibility or job.

I still have moments of pure creativity in the kitchen, but for the most part the activity has become just another chore rather than a conduit for relaxation.  Between working and taking care of the house and family, I have too much to do and not enough time. In reality, spending hours standing just isn’t as much fun as it was before my amputation.

I have come to realize that I don’t mind cooking, but I do resent the fact that it has to be done on a daily basis. It is a vicious cycle that never stops. A sucker for an infomercial, I have cabinets bursting with “quick and easy” cooking gizmos and appliances.

Instead of taking hours to prepare a meal, I am interested in creating healthy and palatable options with as little time as possible. Unfortunately many of the “revolutionary designs” simply don’t work, or are too complicated for me to utilize on a regular basis.  I am at a point in my life where I need quick and easy.

Recently I have acquired a new kitchen appliance (i.e. toy) that has helped to erase my “what’s for dinner” woes. Unlike my other culinary purchases, this appliance has stayed on my counter top since its acquisition. We use it several times a week, and have yet to make anything that isn’t delicious.

I don’t often fry food, so I was hesitant to purchase the Actifry. Like most kids, Robby loves tater tots and chicken nuggets. While this is an easy lunch, I hated turning up my oven and heating up my entire kitchen in the heat of the summer days. I figured that if I only used this appliance for the tater tot lunches, it would be worth it.

It turns out that my solution for avoiding the oven has become my go to appliance. Since I can make pounds of fried food with only a tablespoon of oil using this machine, I feel more comfortable serving french fries, fried chicken and other treats to Robby and my husband. The Actifry is a self-contained appliance which is not filled with oil, so I no longer feel compelled to stand guard like I did with a traditional fryer. The fact that I can turn it on and sit down on the couch is not an attribute I take lightly!

If you love fried foods, or if you are a busy Mom struggling to fill the menu on a daily basis, I would encourage you to check out the Actifry. It has truly UNlimited me in the kitchen by reducing prep time, minimizing clean-up and allowing me to conserve my energies. I appreciate anything that simplifies my life and promotes healthier eating, and the Actifry fits the bill on both counts.

At UNlimiters, we’re always looking for products that help us live more independent and easier lives. Have you found a product that has improved your life? Let us know in the Shout section of our store and we’ll try to add it to our selection.

Slow-Cookers: Cooking Safely and Easily with a Disability

Cooking is a huge part of living independently, and it is something that nearly every young adult struggles with in the beginning. For people with disabilities, cooking is about more than learning recipes; it is a physical challenge, one that can sometimes be dangerous. As a person with Cerebral Palsy, I deal with things like poor fine motor skills, a startle reflex, muscle spasms and balance issues that aren’t exactly compatible with hot surfaces, boiling water or sizzling oil.

For a long time I resorted to cooking prepackaged meals. I ate a lot of frozen and instant foods, and when I was feeling really adventurous, I would make Hamburger Helper. This wasn’t exactly healthy or appetizing. When my husband and I bought our first house, complete with a large and spacious kitchen, I decided to get serious about cooking.

For months I would spend hours in the kitchen after work, trying to put together the meals I saw on the cooking channel. It looked so easy; but by the time the meal was complete, my feet hurt, my back hurt, I was sweating profusely, and I usually had at least one minor injury. My food tasted okay, but I knew there had to be an easier way.

My Mother-in-Law was the one who suggested a slow-cooker. She bought me a programmable Crockpot and suggested I give it a try. I was skeptical. My own mother had never used a slow-cooker, and the only things I had ever seen come out of one were chili and those little cocktail wieners they have at graduation parties. Since, I didn’t have a better idea; I decided to give it a try.

I quickly discovered that the slow-cooker was the answer I’d been searching for. It cut the time and effort I spent in kitchen in half; and it was safer than the stove or the oven. I also discovered that there are literally thousands of recipes that can be made in a slow-cooker from classics like pot roast and macaroni and cheese, to desserts and even drinks. Hundreds of books and websites are dedicated to slow-cooker recipes. My favorites include Best Loved Slow Cooker Recipes and allrecipes.com

Of course, the down-side to slow-cookers is that they are slow. In order to be successful, dinners must be prepped in the morning so they can cook all day; and let’s be honest, most of us don’t like getting up earlier than we have too. Perhaps the best discovery I’ve made is that slow-cookers can cook foods that are frozen. This means that you can prep a week’s worth of meals ahead of time and then freeze them, cutting out the daily prep altogether. One of my favorite resources for freezer recipes is this ebook: From Your Freezer to Your Family: Slow Cooker Freezer Recipes.

Of course, I don’t use my slow-cooker every day, but it has made life in my kitchen a whole lot easier; and I think it is safe to say, my husband doesn’t miss the hamburger helper.

At UNlimiters, we’re always looking for products that help us live more independent and easier lives. Have you found a product that has improved your life? Let us know in the Shout section of our store and we’ll try to add it to our selection.

Cooking my favorites, and trying desperately not to make a mess

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?

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