Cooking with a chronic illness – the reality…


Next week I need to cook, I’m getting a bit low on frozen meals and, frankly, I have a deep-seated need to do one of the things I do best, even though I can’t do it very often. To do this, I need to be able to rest as much as possible between now and then.

I have a new problem, fresh in this week, in that I can’t eat normal-sized meals** – I have to force them down, and then feel dreadful for hours after – so what I’m aiming for is well flavoured dishes that make me want to eat them, even if it’s only a small portion.

**And as I have only one meal a day, this is not a good thing.

The first job is to extract the big muscle from the centre of a boned shoulder of pork (the easiest way is to slice the whole shoulder then peel out the steaks from their connective tissue), which will yield 6-10 steaks, depending on the size of the muscle and how thick they’re cut. The rest of the shoulder, skinned and dressed, the fat kept to be rendered down for lard,** will go into a dish of Szechuan pork (some might also be frozen – depends on the yield).

**Every bit of pork fat I get is frozen until I have enough for this; it’s not cost effective, but the flavour is vastly superior to commercial lard, which is over-refined and, frankly, useless for cooking as it adds nothing but grease. The shoulder will yield plenty, and I have a bag of diced panceta fat in the freezer which will add even more flavour, as well as quite a bit of panceta which is mostly fat – in it goes.  It’s a chance you take buying panceta online from Spanish grocers – it’s cured belly pork and it’s the nature of the beast that sometimes it has more fat than meat.

Then, it’s veggie time – a vegetarian chilli made with butternut squash, baby courgettes, parsnips, and long, sweet, red peppers (all roasted first to concentrate their flavour, and leave behind some intensely-flavoured oil and juices), and lots of cannellini beans, in a tomato-based chilli sauce flavoured with the roasting oil,  garlic, shallots, sweet paprika, and chillies, of course. The roasting tin will be deglazed, too, so no flavour is wasted.

To avoid the roasted veg turning to mush, they’ll be added to the chilli sauce at about the half-way point (the peppers having been peeled and chopped), with the canned beans going in at the end, just to heat through.

Any excess veg will be frozen, to later go into a soup, with butterbeans, a small chicken breast, sliced, on a base of shallots, carrots and a little garlic, sweated in butter with a little olive oil, and flavoured with lemon zest.

This also makes a perfect midwinter soup,  made more simply with just parsnips, chicken, butterbeans and lemon zest, on the same base – the parsnips, in this case, will cook down to thicken the soup.

The other chicken breast – they tend to come in pairs – will be beaten out thin, then fried, hot and fast, in olive oil and butter with a couple of flattened garlic cloves and served with crushed new potatoes drizzled with the pan juices.

To get me through till then, today (Sunday), I’m making a pan of green split pea soup with bacon. The bacon is a tad salty, sufficient to stop the split peas cooking properly (never season dried pulses until the end, as salt will keep them from softening), so I’ll cut it up and poach it separately in a little water,  and toss it in later, using the cooking liquid to season the soup instead of salt.

And that, hopefully, will give me food that will make want to eat, and enjoy, rather than just food as fuel.

Lemon note: The zest is the only part of the lemon I ever use in cooking, as I find the juice far too acidic and dominant – even in small quantities, whatever you put it in, or on, tastes primarily, and has the acid bite, of lemon juice. The zest, though, is much more gentle and, of course, not remotely acidic.

The rest of the lemons won’t be wasted, though. I’ve bought 4 organic, unwaxed lemons, from which the zest will be thinly peeled with a Rex peeler (the perfect tool for the job**). Some will be used immediately, and the rest bagged and frozen. The lemons too, will be frozen, and at some point will be made into fresh lemonade.

**It’s also the perfect spoonie tool, being very easy to hold and weighing just a few grams; the blade removes peel very thinly, reducing waste.

Back in the early 90s, when my ME was at its worst, I’d slice an unwaxed lemon very thinly, zest, pith and all, and layer it in the bottom of a cafetiere with plenty of sugar. I let it sit for a couple of hours, while the sugar extracted the juice and flavour (the pith made it bitter, but I like bitter), then add cold water, give it a good stir, put in the plunger and press the bejesus out of it.

The result never failed to pull me out of the regular afternoon crash. OK, the huge sugar hit probably helped, but eating sweet foods, like jam, did nothing, so I suspect something in the lemons perked me up, too.

Anyway, that’s the plan – we’ll see how it works out. Oh, and you might well get the feeling that I’m fond of “butter with a little olive oil”. I am, because it adds flavour and the oil stops the butter from burning. It’s also excellent for frying fish, as it will brown quickly without overcooking.

Of course – official DWP disclaimer – it’s entirely possible that next weekend I’ll just crash in flames, in which case the meat will be frozen, as will the fresh chillies, chopped, and mixed with olive oil, and the veggies will have to take their chances.

And that, Duncan Smith, you smug, mendacious, son of a bitch, is just one of the realities of life for those of us with chronic illness, and I’m by no means unique.

In fact, right now, I’m in so much pain** it’s not certain I’ll even be able to make my bloody soup! Even though the hardest part is just peeling and chopping a couple of onions.

**That it’s partly my fault is no consolation. My Amitriptyline and Furosemide are in almost identical foil strips. I’ve come close several time, late at night and dozy, to taking the latter instead of the former – and last night I did. My kidneys really don’t appreciate it (neither do I as I was up half the night peeing!).


5 thoughts on “Cooking with a chronic illness – the reality…

  1. I try to organize myself to cook once a week also. Otherwise eating can become to much to cope with by the end of the day. Thanks for sharing your tips. Finding foods that can be frozen & reheated can become tiresome so I’ve tended to cook the same thing of late. I need some variety to try to tempt my appetite so will try your vege/cannellini beans recipe, it sounds yum as well as nutritious. Thanks Ron 🙂

    • Use a couple of packs of Napolina passata for the sauce** – easier than what I normally do – push canned tomatoes through a sieve. The chilli will freeze. The veg might go mushy, but it’ll taste fine. And I forgot – there’s a healthy dose of dried Oregano in there, too.

      **And Napolina beans – best canned pulses available. Not cheap, but if you factor in the fuel used, they cost almost exactly the same as soaking and cooking your own.

  2. I’m extremely grateful that my husband likes to cook because I don’t. He is also inclined to take a day here and there to make several meals in advance and freeze them. I’m so happy he does because I’m often unwell and when I’m not on my feet, so to speak, and he’s away working I eat those meals.

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