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Old 01-23-2006, 07:35 PM   #1
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Cooking with health concerns

Hi everybody. I'm a 28 year old guy with chronic fatigue syndrome and neurally mediated hypotension, and I'm trying to get on my feet in terms of cooking in general.

Links to my health problems if you care to read:

I face a number of problems in the kitchen that most people don't think about.
  • I can't stand up for more than about 10 minutes at a stretch without big problems. This is just huge for cooking, but maybe there are ways around it.
  • I wish to try a dietary treatment to my conditions that essentially removes dairy, sugar, refined (white mainly, but also rye and such) flours, white rice, white potatoes, and cured meats like ham, bacon, or deli meat of any kind. My mother has successfully rebounded from Fibromyalgia largely due to this diet, outlined by a local PhD nutritionist.
  • My actual cooking experience is limited (I watch lots of Food Network though. )
  • I have gotten advice along the lines of, "crockpot cooking might be good for you," or, "look into getting a food sealer," but I need more specific information, recipes, and advice beyond this.
I would love to be able to cook dishes that allow me to reheat without losing a lot in quality, such as soups, stews, or whatever, and most importantly, I'd like suggestions on tools, methods, overall ideas, and things like that to help me get over this pretty big hurdle. If this isn't enough info, I'll add more as needed of course, and look forward to discussing all of this with you guys in detail.

Thanks for your help,



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Old 01-23-2006, 09:31 PM   #2
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I think I'd look into getting a stool of some kind, with a back and on casters to use when cooking. This might help you to spend more than 10 minutes at a stretch in the kitchen. You could do chopping etc. seated at your kitchen table. Perhaps there is someone who can do prep work such as browning meat when you buy it and freeze it after it is browned to save a step. I often brown and drain ground beef when I buy it and freeze it that way to save time on a busy week night. When you make things like meatloaf, it is not really that much more work to make 2 to have one to freeze. Much of the hands-on work for soups (deboning chicken for example) can be done sitting. Hoope you can use some of these ideas.

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought him back.--unknown, at least to me
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Old 01-23-2006, 09:37 PM   #3
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Thanks. How do you chop while seated though? I can see using a paring knife in this fashion with an apron or some sort of protection, but for regular cutting board chopping, how does one obtain leverage from a seated position? I'm certainly not against the idea - just not sure how to implement it at the moment.

Would a grocery store brown as you discuss? I have gotten a good tip about having them pre-chop meat in small sizes. I don't know how far they'll go.
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Old 01-23-2006, 10:26 PM   #4
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Oh my goodness, Classic, having read the sites you posted - I can see why you have cooking problems. Hereafter I will better appreciate my ability to do "marathon" cooking where I make hundreds of ravioli, potstickers, etc. with impunity - though I'm very tired when finished I can do it.

If you had a cutting surface at knee or thigh level and a stool as Purr suggested I think your leverage would be fine. You will also need to use very sharp knives as they reduce the amount of leverage needed to some degree. I'm short (vertically challenged is the PC term, I think ) so I understand the leverage problem.

I'm learning Pressure Cooking and it might make a good fix for you as the cooking times are reduced tremendously and there is no standing/stirring. Everything goes in at once. Perhaps a crock pot as that does much the same as pressure cooking but takes a great deal longer - still you don't need to stand and stir.

As I understand it, if you're sitting your troubles are mitigated?

You can use a food processor for much of your chopping duties and those can be used while sitting. Or there are manual food choppers (a good example is the one by Pampered Chef and I SWEAR I am NOT Sellintg These!) but you could easily use it while sitting down and it is less likely to "purree" what you're chopping.

How about a sort of "lean stool" wherein you can rest for brief periods durring food preparation?

Are you cooking for just yourself or others? If for one I would strongly suggest getting a vaccuume sealer so that you can double or tripple recipes (which doesn't take much additional effort) and easily freeze several meals at a time. Reheating them is a breeze in the microwave.

One Crock Recipe I can think of (pulled out of my brain from long long ago) -

1 frying chicken cut up (you can buy it that way) or 4 lbs chicken pieces of your choice
1 onion, quarted or chopped
2 or 3 stalks celery - in 3" pieces
2 carrots halved and in 3" pieces
2 bay leaves
1/3 C Brown Rice
3 C Chicken broth (or water)
1/2 C white wine (opt)
Several Garlic cloves, peeled but otherwise whole (or to taste)
1 T Sweet Basil, ground between your fingers
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put everything but the salt and pepper into the crock pot. Cook on high about 4 1/2 hours or on low for about 9 hours. Chicken should be fork tender. If not turn on high and cook another 30 - 60 minutes. It's been a long time so you may want to check the chicken a few times.

Either serve pieces on a plate or stir well and you have soup!

Good luck - and keep posting.

Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with abandon or not at all. Oregon native transplanted to Chicago....
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Old 01-23-2006, 11:39 PM   #5
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First off, I really appreciate that you followed those links to get a better idea - that's really helpful and nice of you as well.

That recipe looks great too, and meets all the requirements as far as I can tell. I would not use the wine due to sugar content even though I would like the taste. Does that get replaced with stock or water, or nothing? Why wouldn't I salt/pepper at the beginning of the process? Is that a crock-pot issue that I don't know about?

I am trying to learn to cook for myself only here - I live with my parents because of my health, but I want to be able to develop some autonomy and look toward the future from a worst-case scenario standpoint.

A stool is important, but is of somewhat limited value. The trouble with them is that you're legs extend almost as far down as when you're standing, so I have many of the same problems. Additionally, you have to contend with a countertop for space when you're trying to cut. That said, I still need to try to get one again. We had 2 but never used them at the time. Now it's a bigger deal. I can take period breaks, but the effects are limited, because it takes hours to undo minutes of "damage" so to speak. Better than nothing possibly, but I still want to try to plan for the fastest prep time with good results that I can.

I could handle pressure cooking but would prefer other methods for nutrional purposes. My arguments along these lines are thin, but since I can pick at this point I'd tend towards other methods. Cooking time is not a very big deal compared with preparation time, especially if the finished product can sit for a while without losing anything, either in a fridge or on the stove. One-pan cooking would probably work reasonably well with the right ingredients too. I also have much better success prepping late at night closer to bedtime. For instance, at 12:30 I could go chop up 3 bell peppers and put them in a container for later, so long as the rest of the day wasn't rough to begin with.

Luckily for me, I tend to like stirred together kinds of meals. For instance, I always make a sort of stew out of pot roast. I could see liking a lot of one-pot meals in this fashion.

I am particularly interested in finding ways to prepare leafy greens like kale or swiss chard with other ingredients. I know I can steam or cook in a pot as a stand alone affair, but I'd like to have more options along those lines as well.
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Old 01-24-2006, 05:17 AM   #6
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Hi - My son is in a wheelchair, a quad with a spinal cord injury; he likes to help out in the kitchen, and has the same problems with sitting and chopping. We got an inexpensive little wooden 'side table', or microwave table - look at Walmart or Target - and cut the legs down, then added wheels that will lock in place. When you're measuring for the height, sit in whatever chair you'll be using and make sure the table is wide enough for your chair to fit in between the legs. Also give yourself an inch or two for putting a cutting board on top of the table; when you're using a cutting board, you can put a piece of that knobby-looking plastic shelf liner underneath the board, so it won't slip.
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Old 01-24-2006, 06:57 AM   #7
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Hi Andy,
I have MS and the worst symptom is the fatige. Standing in the kitchen is difficult for me, and adding to the problem is my arthritis in knees and back.

Is your kitchen floor tile, linoleum, wood or carpet? The worst is tile; standing on it will tire you out faster than anything. linoleum and wood are only a little better. Anything with padding is best. I got one of those small kitchen rugs to keep by the sink/stove area, where I do most of the work, and that allows me to get more done.

Stir frying might be one of the best things you can do. Buy the veggies already cut up, either in cello bags or at the salad bar. Make sure onion or at least scallion is part of the ingredients. Garlic is good too, and if you don't want to take the time to chop it (tho how long can it take to cut up a li'l ol' clove of garlic?) you can buy the already minced garlic. Just use more than you normally would. If you want a meat stir fry, you can buy the chicken, beef, or pork already cut for stir fry in your supermarket. You can also buy shrimp ready to go in the pan.

Heat some oil in a skillet, and when it's hot, throw in the onion and garlic. When the onion is translucent, throw in other veggies. Add whatever meat you bought, and stir fry a few minutes until it is done. The whole stir-fry process is only a few minutes.

Before you take it out, you can add a pre-made sauce, such as teriyaki. I like to experiment with whatever is in the fridge... wine, fruit juice, red sauces, etc. But for ease and time, you can buy zillions (or at least 30) of bottled sauces.

Crock pots are great because they are one-dish meals and you can make enough for your whole family, thereby contributing to the household without much effort. Here's a really easy recipe: toss a turkey breast into the pot. Add one envelope of onion soup mix and one can of cranberry sauce. Cover the pot, turn it to low, and cook for 8 to 10 hours. Let someone else take it out though. That might be difficult for you. Although you can use the same ingredients with chicken parts or turkey parts, and not have to worry about that. You can also put in some more liquid, say 4 oz of chicken broth, and a cup of brown rice, and there you have most of your meal already.
If it can't be fixed with chocolate... why bother?
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Old 01-24-2006, 07:55 AM   #8
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Classical, my ex husband had your illness (in England it is called myalgic encephalomyelitis, but it is the same thing), so I understand your problem very well. He also liked cooking himself, though he needed help when something physical was required, like kneading or lots of chopping, he always tried to do as much as possible by himself, and he did have a fairly comfortable stool to rest on in the kitchen. Also he had a large sturdy wooden board to place on his lap, in case the kitchen counter was too high for him to work on while being seated. Also, this is not something he used, but I think a good food processor and blender will greatly reduce your labour, as very often chopping, slicing and dicing the food is the most time consuming, tedious part of the cooking.

Anyway, I only knew him for just over a year (and he was about your age, he had suffered this illness for about 4years), but towards the end of this period he had succeeded in walking around, even outside on the street, by himself without the support of a walking stick (this was a must for him when I met him), and his health was improving quite well. I know this is an upredictable illness, and you are almost constantly suffering...but there are some cases where people have regained their health. So keep your chin up and don't give up hope... my best wishes are with you!
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Old 01-24-2006, 10:33 AM   #9
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Classical, I have a lot of physical problems too. I find that a kitchen stool helps a lot. It just has to be high enough to get me to the counter. I also have a little Rubbermaid plastic footstool to prop my feet on, so my legs don't hang down. Depending on how complicated the recipe, I do my cooking a little at a time. If I'm doing a dinner for company, it takes me 3-4 days to get the cooking done. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners take me a week.
One dish meals have become my specialty, not only for ease of preparation, but also because it saves on washing pots & pans (my husband's job).

You are right to be watching your diet. After following advice from a friend who is a holistic practitioner, I found that my dietary habits really do make a difference in my pain. He recommends eliminating pork, beef and processed meats from the diet in addition to the other things you mentioned. I think that's pretty extreme. I find that a limited amount of lean pork and beef now and then doesn't bother me. We are fortunate because we have a good source of venison, which replaces beef in most of our dishes. We eat a lot of chicken, turkey and fish...lamb is good too, but hard to find in our area, and very pricey.

One question: do you have anyone to help you? My husband is a great sous chef...don't know what I'd do without him.
We get by with a little help from our friends
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Old 01-24-2006, 03:39 PM   #10
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Hi Classical (welcome to DC!), I have numerous health concerns as well, and standing for long periods of time is often completely impossible for me too. After several years like this I can say that some of the things that have helped me are:

-A food processor, the one that I currently have has a blender attatchment, a juicer attachment and lots of blades and beaters. You can chop, grate, mince, puree, blend, etc in a matter of moments and this can literally sae you hours or work if you have a lot of preperation to do. As well if you have a freezer you can chop up 2, 3 or even more times the amount of veggies, etc that you need put them in freezer proof bags (labled) and store them for another meal.

-Cutting/peeling/coring fruit/shelling nuts/etc while sitting at the kitchen table or even some place softer like a sofa if you have a table or enough room to more around (and won't stain the furniture). Most days I can do a lot more if I'm sitting than standing.

-A microwave - they might get passed over sometimes but a nuker is an awesome tool in the kitchen. You can defrost quickly, cook spuds or rice, reheat meals, melt chocolate, boil water and a plethora of other handy things in mere moments (usually) without having to stand while they are being prepared.

-Wash as you go - if you are making a big meal that builds up a lot of dishes (okay, I guess this only applies to people like me who do not have a dishwasher ) try to wash them in stages while you already on your feet, instead of letting them build up and than having to do them for 1/2 hour later (this really helps me, as I find the sedimentary standing involved in washing dishes to often be very uncomfortable).


"The most indispensable ingredient of all good home cooking: love, for those you are cooking for" ~ Sophia Loren
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