All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for February 2004

Cooking Up a (Simple) Storm

January 1, 2004
Karen Zielinski
Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis

RECENTLY, I RECEIVED several e-mails commenting on various topics, rather than asking me any specific MS-related questions. One theme that often came through was. . .do you cook? Are you too tired to cook? Do you have any easy recipes? So here goes!

I don't apologize for it, but I like to cook. After working all day with editing, typesetting, media, and deadlines, I enjoy going home and whipping up something that's fresh and tasty to eat. Cooking relaxes me, and it truly is an art!

But some days, I have a little more trouble than usual with this art-dicing onions, mixing flour, or pouring liquids into a pan. When the humidity gets a little higher, my hands get numb, and often, my coordination is off a bit because I don't sleep well in humid weather. Some people tell me not to cook on these days, but I have to because I usually have defrosted or purchased some meat or fresh vegetables that won't last too long. I've found that when I feel a little less coordinated on one of my cooking days, I can still prepare the meal by using a few commonsense strategies.

Energy Conservation and Work Simplification

I wanted to do whatever I could to conserve my energy while cooking, so I asked my friend Beth Longeway, an occupational therapist assistant, what she would recommend to help me on humid days when my hands were not functioning at their best and when I was feeling a little more tired or clumsy. (If you don't know an occupational therapist, contact your local college or hospital. Sometimes, as a community service, they offer brochures that list helpful information and they might even meet with people free of charge.)

"There are some very simple things that you can do when you're cooking that can help a great deal," Beth said. She offered some basic tips:

Organize work centers. Have all necessary equipment and supplies concentrated in one specific area. I already did this but didn't know it! When I cook, I try to keep all my stuff together: vegetables that I need to wash, dice, or slice; meat; pasta; soups; or any other vinegars, oils, or spices. If I'm baking, I go to my pantry and take my flour, sugar, baking powder, oil, and so forth, and place it on one area of my counter. I also place my bowls and mixer in the area. Everything is there, and I save energy, instead of running back to the pantry each time I need a baking ingredient.

Create an easy work flow. The easy flow of working on an assembly line accomplishes more in less time with less effort. For meals, take all necessary items from the refrigerator to the sink area, do all the prep there, and move on to the stove. When cooking is completed, move on to the table. Create an easy work height. It's important to eliminate excessive bending, stooping, and reaching. When I cook, I begin by standing at my sink to wash and prepare my vegetables. I have a sturdy step stool with three steps, and when I get a little tired, I sit down for about 15 minutes. I know how long to sit because my muscles get strong after I rest them for a while. Sitting off and on extends how long I can work at the sink, and I never experience fatigue when I do these steps in between standing. Avoid lifting, pushing, or carrying heavy things. When I'm cooking and need to move a bowl full of lots of ingredients, I slide it over my counter rather than carrying it. Pushing always seems to take less energy out of me than pulling, and I try to remember to use my entire body weight instead of individual muscle groups.

So, here's an example of a meal I cook using these commonsense tips.

Maple Glazed Pork Chops with Apples

Yield: 4 servings.

I place my ingredients into a big, lightweight bowl. From my pantry, I gather the maple syrup bottle, the cider vinegar, dried thyme, salt, sugar, and nutmeg. I get a tomato, three apples, and my pork chops out of my refrigerator, and place the bowl by my sink. I rinse the apples and tomato and set them aside to drain. I combine the syrup, vinegar, thyme, and salt into a small bowl, place the chops in a baking dish, and pour the glaze over them. I cover the dish and refrigerate for 1 hour.

While I let the chops marinate in the fridge, I set my table, take out the George Foreman grill from the cupboard, and slice a tomato into a bowl. I sprinkle the sliced tomato with balsamic vinegar, and place that in the fridge. That will be my simple salad. I wash off two small Idaho potatoes, and pierce them with a fork. I will microwave them later before I eat.

I core the apples and slice into half-inch thick slices. In a cup, I mix sugar and nutmeg. There usually is about 35 minutes left for the chops to marinate, so I sit down until my kitchen timer goes off. I remove the chops from the marinade, shaking off the excess. I pat the pork dry with paper towels. I spray the grill grid with cooking spray and preheat the grill for 5 minutes.

I grill the chops covered for 5 minutes. Then, I turn the chops and rotate at a right angle to create crossed grill marks and grill for 3 minutes longer. I then transfer the chops to a plate and keep them warm. Next, I place the apple slices on the grill, cook them 2 to 3 minutes, and then arrange the apples and chops on the plate and sprinkle with the sugar mixture.

I have someone get the water for dinner, and they often carry the platter to the table. I bring the baked potatoes and tomatoes to the table. The meal is simple, but very good. And I am not overtired!

Beth adds, "I think anyone with limited function can make this recipe (or others) if they're aware of some simple, practical tips." She also reminded me that there's a lot of adaptive kitchen equipment available for purchase at basic discount department stores. Items like jar openers, ergonomically correct vegetable peelers, knives, spoons, electric can openers, cutting boards (which enable you to use one hand to slice food), and many other items that make cooking safe and easy. Using an electric mixer can conserve your energy if you're tired-mixing a meat loaf or cookie dough might wear you out. Most major department stores carry many of these products. Now you're cooking!

This recipe comes from the book, Indoor Grilling for Dummies.

Copyright © 2004, Real Living with Multiple Sclerosis