My Top 5 Tips for Cooking when Chronically Ill // Spoonie Post!

Something I have really struggled with since being unwell with ME and fibromyalgia is that I can’t spend much time in the kitchen any more.  I used to love cooking and baking, and would happily spend a few hours making food with some music on in the background.  Now that my stamina is so poor, my arms very weak and the fact that my pain is increased by exerting myself, cooking is something that has gone by the wayside a lot of times.

Top 5 Tips for Cooking with Chronic Illness

Top 5 Tips for Cooking with Chronic Illness

This blog post is aimed at those who can still cook (even if it’s only occasionally), but I do understand that not everyone with a chronic illness will be able to cook anymore.  I know I certainly can’t a lot of days.  If this is you, don’t feel guilty!  You can buy some pretty healthy frozen and ready meals these days, which will get you by until/if you feel a little better.

Simple and Vegetarian Cook Books

Simple and Vegetarian Cook Books

1 – Use a stool or chair in the kitchen

If you have a chronic illness, stamina is very often an issue.  I find that with my ME, I struggle to stand upright for more than a few minutes.  I will get very weak and wobbly and have to sit or lie down.  A stool or chair in the kitchen can really help!  You can sit at the counter or the dinner table whilst your chop all your ingredients.  If your chair is high enough, you can even sit in front of the hob, stirring your cooking.  Just be very careful of any hot sauces etc spitting near your face!

Red peppers

Red Peppers

If using a chair in the kitchen is impractical for you, consider doing your cooking in stages.  Firstly, weigh out, chop and prep your ingredients.  Go for a sit or lie down and a cup of tea.  Next, pop back and prepare plates, cutlery and any condiments you might want – take those to the table or put them on your tray.  After another short rest, you can actually do the cooking part.  With these inbuilt rest breaks, your body is less likely to protest, and hopefully you will suffer less pain and fatigue the next day.  I certainly find that if I do this, my fibromyalgia pain is less flared through the night and during the next day than if I powered through all in one go.

2 – Batch-cooking is your friend

I know personally I have some weeks where cooking just once or twice is a huge achievement!  I am often bedbound, but hate leaving all the cooking to my husband as he doesn’t get home from work until 7pm, after a long day and a train journey.  The best solution I have found (to avoid lots of takeaways!) is batch-cooking.  If you are going to expend energy in the kitchen anyway, it doesn’t use up any more to cook double, or even triple the amount.

Batch cooking - pasta bake

Batch Cooking – Pasta Bake

I rarely cook a meal that only makes one serving.  For example, I may cook a Quorn bolognese – we would have it with spaghetti the first night and I would cook double the spaghetti for us to have it again for lunch (my husband takes his lunch into the office with him).  Then we might have it a couple of nights later on a nice baked potato, with some cheese sprinkled on top.  It’s such a relief knowing you can fall back on a nutritious, hot meal when you’re struggling to get out of bed.

Tip: if you don’t like repetition or quickly get bored of the same food, simply freeze the extra portions in tupperware and defrost them a few weeks (or months) later!

3 – The microwave reduces time spent in the kitchen

It’s easy to relate microwaves to bland, oily ready meals – but microwave cooking doesn’t have to be unhealthy!  There are so many things that are quicker and easier to cook in the microwave these days, whilst still being nutritious.  A few of our favourites are Birds Eye frozen vegetable rice (several varieties are available), Innocent vegetable pots (for flavourful curries, risottos etc) and steamed vegetables.  I buy microwave bags which you just pop your chopped up veg into (not root vegetables, but anything else) and microwave for as little as 1.5 minutes.  Once on the plate, you can season with salt and pepper, and even add a little lemon juice or butter for flavour.

Baking - pink iced cupcakes

Baking – Pink Iced Cupcakes

If you’re craving comfort food and chocolate cake is the only way, even that can be done in minutes flat.  Google ‘microwave cake in a cup’ recipes – most contain just a handful of basic ingredients and can be weighed, mixed and cooked in less than 5 minutes!  Give this one a try.

4 – Meal planning is your saviour

Chronic illness makes it difficult to plan ahead – with both my ME and fibromyalgia, my symptoms fluctuate and can very in severity from hour to hour.  This can make forward-planning a challenge, but a loose meal plan can take away the daily stress of thinking about what to cook and eat.

Vegan Cook Books - Hansas and Thug Kitchen

Vegan Cook Books – Hansa’s & Thug Kitchen

During my slightly better periods, I try to make a loose meal plan for the week.  I generally only plan 5 evening meals, as sometimes we will have to get a takeaway, or I may just snack instead of having a meal if I’m feeling especially bad.  If you’re chronically ill, you will understand the challenges of brain fog… it can be really difficult to think clearly and productively.  Planning the meals when I’m clear-headed means that I can just glance at a list and not have to think about what food we have in the fridge and what ingredients will work together.

5 – Go gadget crazy!

Whatever challenges your illness(es) throws at you, there is a gadget out there for you!  If you find unscrewing jar lids difficult, get hold of a gripper.  If you often drop things, try to cook using sturdy cookware – you can get plastic utensils and silicone baking tins/pans.  If you find it difficult to reach your arms above your head, or to bend down; try to store the things you use most often at chest height so they are easy to reach.

Starbucks Plastic Cup

Starbucks Plastic Cup

If you enjoy baking, an electric whisk is absolutely invaluable!  It can give you smooth cake batter without the pain caused by over-using your arms.  I only drink out of these really solid plastic cups with screw on lids and a straw (above) – mainly because I drop and knock over my drinks way too frequently, but I also find a straw more comfortable to drink from due to my TMJ.


If all else fails…

If all else fails and you simply aren’t well enough to cook, getting frustrated will just make you feel worse.  Grab a takeaway menu or a ready meal, make sure you have something to eat, and try again tomorrow.

I hope this post was of some use to you – it’s something I have struggled a lot with over time, so I wanted to share what I’ve learnt to making cooking easier (or even just make it possible in the first place!)  If you’ve picked up anything useful from my list, share it with your fellow spoonies and please do let me know if anything has helped you!

Easter 2015 gifts and my husband’s birthday

Morning guys and dolls,

It was a bit of an odd Easter for me this year.  Usually I go home to my mum’s for the weekend and we have my Granddad and Uncle to stay.  My brother comes home too.  However this year, one of my best friends got married on Easter Sunday.  I spent the evening before at her house (pre-wedding Dominos and PJ party – amazing!), so we “postponed” Easter in our family and will be celebrating next weekend instead.

However that didn’t stop my husband and I swapping Easter gifts.  Now, I told him just to buy a cheap Easter egg as I couldn’t afford to get him anything more this year, due to being on half sick pay at the moment.  But as he is very naughty (read: awesome), he ignored me!

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He got me a Milkybar easter egg – Bluebell the cow, yum!  But that’s not all… he also proceeded to hand over a massive selection of chocolate-themed beauty goodies!  Now, my husband knows that I am trying to switch to cruelty free makeup and skincare products, so he had checked these brands out and was happy with them.

I hadn’t heard of Faith in Nature before, but my husband gave me this soap, shampoo, conditioner and shower gel/foam bath.  They are all chocolate scented, and I can’t wait to try them!

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He also got me a small Philip B Chocolate Milk Body Wash & Bubble Bath.  It smells delicious – pretty much exactly like chocolate milk!  Although it doesn’t bubble too much, it left my skin smelling sweet after my bath.  Yum!

I also received six Montagne Jeunesse chocolate face masks.  This is a brand I already use but I have yet to try the chocolate masks – I usually get fruity ones.  I can’t wait to try these, as I am trying to do quite regular masks at the moment to keep my skin happy.  I am very prone to hormonal break outs, so I am trying to give it any help I can.

Finally, were these Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula lip butters – Dark Chocolate & Peppermint, and Dark Chocolate & Cherry.  Not only do they smell amazing, they also taste exactly like they smell!  I hope they’re safe to eat as I can’t stop licking them off my lips!  They are very hydrating and seem to have helped the condition of my lips.  I feel very lucky to have received such decadent and thoughtful Easter gifts!

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It was also my husband’s birthday on Saturday.  We had a bit of a “fake birthday” on Friday instead, so that I could spend Saturday resting in preparation for the wedding.

Every year since we met, I have made him a birthday cake.  I’ve always loved to bake and let him choose what cake I make each year.  Since being unwell, I can rarely bake anymore, but I refused to let my horrible illnesses stand in the way of tradition – and cake!  So I baked him a cake, but I baked it spoonie-style.

I got hold of a Betty Crocker Chocolate Fudge box cake mix, to which you simply add eggs, oil and water.  I also bought a tub of their chocolate frosting.  Now, I would never have made “box cake” before but if it was that or nothing, then box cake it was.  I asked him if he wanted any additional flavour adding (eg mint chocolate or chocolate orange) but he very randomly chose cola…!  I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but the birthday boy had spoken!

I have to say, it came out really well.  The cola flavouring was a little strange, but definitely in a nice way.  The sponge was really moist and the icing tasted great.  Overall, I have to say, the Betty Crocker cake kits really are very good.  I’m pretty impressed!

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PS – how many times can you say “chocolate” in one post??  😀

Banana Oat Breakfast Muffins – Recipe

Morning guys, happy Friday!

As someone who is chronically ill, mornings are my most difficult time.  I wake up stiff, in pain, and often unable to get out of bed for quite a long time.  Which is problematic, as I’m also one of those people who wake up hungry!  I love breakfast and never understand how people skip it.

I have taken to keeping some snacks in my bedside drawer so that if I’m alone and can’t get to the kitchen, I have access to something to eat.  I tend to keep cereal bars and bananas etc. #lifehack 🙂

My husband saw the following recipe on Bloglovin and thought it would be perfect for situations like this.  The muffins can be wrapped in clingfilm and kept in my drawer until the morning, so I have access to something quick and healthy to eat for breakfast.  And yes, he is amazing.  So he made a double batch (lucky, as they were quickly devoured!) and they were perfect.  He tells me they were very quick and simple to make and he will definitely be making them again soon.

Here’s the recipe, from Katie Krysh’s blog My Keep Calm and Carry On.

BANANA OAT BREAKFAST MUFFINS:
+2.5 cups old fashioned oats
+1 cup plain low fat greek yogurt
+2 eggs
+1/2 cup honey
+2 tsp baking powder
+1 tsp baking soda (bicarb of soda)
+2 tbsp ground flax seed
+1 tsp vanilla
+2 ripe bananas
 
DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350F/170C degrees. Spray tin with non-stick cooking spray or line 12 muffin tins with liners.
2. Place the oats in the food processor and pulse for about 10 seconds. Add remaining ingredients to the food processor.
3. Process until everything is mixed together and oats are smooth.
4. Add in any extras you want to the batter (blueberries, chocolate chips, anything!)
5. Divide batter among cupcake liners and bake for 18-20 minutes or until toothpick comes clean. Let them cool on a wire rack.
Hope you enjoy the recipe.  If you like it, let me know!  Obviously I didn’t create it and all love should go to Katie Krysh, I just wanted to spread the word of how nice these are!
P.S you may wonder how if mornings are so bad, I can be blogging at 9am… the joy of pre-scheduled posts 😉

Hummingbird Bakery Carrot Cake Recipe

I used to be a prolific baker before I got ill.  I would still love to bake now, but rarely have the spare energy.  Either that or I’m stuck in bed, and not much baking can be done from there!!  But there is a recipe I used to make over and over again, as it was so easy and absolutely delicious.  I know it’s not very modest to say, but I love my own baking (!) and this is one of my favourites to eat.  I have made it as below, decorated with nuts, but my favourite version was one I made for my mum’s 60th birthday, which I iced with cute little carrots 🙂  Here it is!  I usually do ice down the sides, but my mum doesn’t like too much icing (I know, really?!!)

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You can buy the original Hummingbird Bakery Cook Book here.  I have it and it’s great – it covers all the cake, cupcake and icing/frosting bases you could need!

Hummingbird Bakery Carrot Cake Recipe

300g soft light brown sugar
3 eggs
300ml sunflower oil
300g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract (I use at least a tsp personally)
300g carrots, grated
Zest of half an orange
50g shelled walnuts, chopped, plus extra, to decorate (I swap for pecans as I hate walnuts!)
50g pecans, chopped, plus extra to decorate

For the icing

600g icing sugar
100g butter, at room temperature
250g cream cheese, cold (you can use reduced fat if you like)

  • Preheat the oven to 170C (fan). Prepare 3 x 20cm cake tins with loose bottoms by greasing then lining the bottoms with greaseproof paper.
  • Put the sugar, eggs and oil in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment and beat until all the ingredients are well mixed (don’t worry if it looks slightly split). Slowly add the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, orange zest and vanilla extract and continue to beat until well mixed.
  • Stir in the grated carrots and walnuts by hand. Pour into the prepared cake tins and smooth over. Bake in the preheated oven for 20–25 minutes (mine took 40 minutes, which seems to be the feedback from other cooks, too), or until golden brown and the sponge bounces back when touched. Leave the cakes to cool slightly in the tins before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  • To make the icing, beat the butter and sugar with the paddle attachment again until well mixed. Add the cream cheese, then beat again until well mixed. Turn the speed to high and continue to beat until light and fluffy but stop when you reach this point; if you over beat it the mixture will turn runny.
  • When the cakes are cold, spread about one-quarter of the cream cheese icing over it with a palette knife. Place a second cake on top and spread another quarter of the icing over it. Top with the last cake and spread the remaining icing over the top and sides. Decorate with walnuts (or pecans!) around the edges and chopped pecans on top. Add an extra dusting of cinnamon if you like.