The following sections relate to different rooms/places I find myself in, and how MS has changed the way I react and interact with those places.
I like to cook. I don’t do all the meals as Annie is a good cook, but she doesn’t particularly enjoy it. Laura is also a good cook and she enjoys it, but being 14, she doesn’t enjoy the cleaning up. And, with so much to pack into a teenager’s life these days I would rather she spent cooking time doing homework or playing guitar. And James is a good cook as long as you want pizza.
I found that three areas were affected by my MS – some were physical, some mental and both these contributed to a lack of motivation. For several weeks Annie did all the evening meals, which made me feel inadequate, but not inadequate enough to get off my arse. So I did a quick ‘situation analysis’.
On the physical side, my favourite pan (a ‘wok’ type number that is great for stir fry as well as longer simmer dishes) had become very heavy – and was becoming an irritation to clean – it doesn’t fit in the dishwasher and isn’t ‘non-stick’). That one’s an easy fix – change to a lighter non-stick pan.
I had found something as simple as peeling potatoes difficult (for some reason the way you have to hold the peeler intensified the ‘spasticity’ in the right hand). Another easy fix there – if we wanted mashed or baked potatoes, Annie would do the peeling – and spuds come in many forms – pre-washed or frozen chips/wedges.
Some utensils simply lived in the wrong place. For example, the electric knife that once hid behind the plastic containers now has a prime location in a drawer – apart from being to locate easily, I don’t have to pick up all those plastic containers!
The mental side was the main one to address. You see, my timing was shot. I guess it’s part of how MS can affect the short-term memory and concentration. What was once intuitive now needed a lot of focus. A lot of dishes in my repertoire required different cooking times for different ingredients (bok choy just doesn’t like cooking for the same length of time as the carrots). What was once pleasurable had become stressful and the proof of the cooking is in the presentation and the eating. The finished product just wasn’t ‘plated’ as planned. I think Masterchef added the word ‘plated’ to the language.
Focus, for me, now requires a calm atmosphere and a kitchen can be far from that – and that’s part of the fun in a kitchen – it should be a place to chat about the day while knocking up a meal or to have the TV news or music happening in the background. It seemed preferable to keep the noise and change the menu slightly.
I find roasts are good. Whack a rack of lamb, chook, pork or beef in the oven and it takes care of that bit, often with potatoes thrown round it that will take the same time. That only leaves the timing of the accompanying veggies – and carrots, broccoli and peas can all steam for the same amount of time. Who needs bok choy anyway? And gravy can go in the microwave.
Compiling, rather than creating, can make life easy. Supermarkets have a good range of tasty bottled glomp that take the same time as rice to cook – and if you want to make your compilation feel/look created, throw some mushrooms or beans in with it.
Annie is a teacher and she takes a lunch from home. With some evening meals it takes no more effort to cook a bit extra so there are ‘leftovers’ for an easy packed lunch the following day. And some things, like curries, are actually tastier the second time around.
The BBQ was another area that required changing. Like most households, our BBQ is outside and the kitchen is inside – so, when combining a BBQ with cooked stuff, walking between both ‘stations’ was necessary – the walking part added a bit more stress, especially if having a wine at the time and arriving back at one ‘station’ to realise you left your glass at the other. But what brought home the need for change here was the presentation of some overcooked chicken skewers with undercooked vegetables. Another easy fix – have salad with a BBQ and oven-baked frozen chips take about the same time as the meat – and your glass of wine only has one base.
Cooking for a group can also be stressful – with guests to attend to you want to do a good job – recently we had 10 to feed for dinner and it was easy to take the normal spaghetti bolognaise and increase the ingredient quantities accordingly. A bolognaise sauce can sit and simmer for ages so the only timing is cooking the spaghetti while cutting up the crusty bread. And a meal like this creates a casual Italian style atmosphere that makes everyone relaxed and full of conversation.
I’m beginning to like the kitchen again. I’m also happy knowing there is no necessity to serve up a ‘gourmet’ meal every night. There’s nothing wrong with tinned spaghetti on toast, supermarket dishes that just need heating or take-away.
And for a simple dinner party menu where you may want to ‘impress’, go for a dish that can be mostly pre-prepared. Below is my recipe for a Thai Beef Salad. The salad can be quickly prepared and put in the fridge, as can the chilli dressing (separate from the salad). Then all you have to do is focus on cooking and slicing the beef – which can be served hot, warm or even close to cold, which makes for relaxed serving. It should only take 10 to 15 minutes to prepare the salad and dressing and about 5 minutes for the beef (on a hot BBQ or in a hot pan stovetop).
THAI BEEF SALAD
The salad – chop a telegraph cucumber (I prefer ‘batons’ to the ‘circular’ look), a Spanish (red) onion (rings or wedges), cherry tomatoes (halved) and a couple of shallots. Chop some mint and coriander and whack all that in a bowl. You can include lettuce, or arrange lettuce on the plate before serving (iceberg if including in the salad, soft lettuce if serving under).
The dressing (for 4 people) – 6 tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce, 2 tblsp fish sauce, 2 tsp brown sugar, half a cup of fresh lime or lemon juice (or the supermarket bottled juice is okay).
The meat – 500g of thick quality cut (rump, sirloin or fillet). Remove any fat, season with salt and ground black pepper. Heat some oil for frying and cook the steak about two and a half minutes each side (medium rare). Set aside to cool while finishing off the salad (wrap in foil if you want to keep it warmer).
Serving – drizzle half the dressing over the salad and give it a good toss. Thinly slice the meat (across the grain) and toss that through the salad. Arrange the lettuce on the serving plate, pile the meat and salad on top and drizzle over the remaining dressing. Looks good, tastes good and everyone can serve themselves!
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