Apologies if you find any discontinuities in what follows. Even though it’s only a little over 1,000 words it’s taken me almost 4 days to finish – an indicator of just how crappy things are right now.
When I write about cooking I’m often moved to include a disclaimer, pointing out that this is the exception, rather than the rule, and that most days cooking is way beyond me. So, on the occasional days when I am able to cook, I make stews and casseroles, which can be frozen against the times – most days – when I’m unable to do more than reheat something.
As this is the 7th anniversary of my blog it seemed an apposite time to show why this is.
A normal cook will belly up to the workspace, sharpen his/her knives, get stuck in, and leave when the prep’s finished and the dish is cooking, at which point it can often be left more or less to its own devices.
For Spoonies – this Spoonie, at any rate – things are very different.
My workspace always has a restaurant-standard mise en place setup – all ingredients and utensils needed are assembled in and around the workspace prior to starting, as it’s the sensible way to go – it means I barely have to move from the spot once I start. Except, of course, when I need to rest.
There have been a couple of changes since I last visited this subject. The coffee gear, now, is where the induction hob used to be, and vice-versa, which means the hob and its pot are right next to the prep area, and the noisy espresso machine and coffee grinder are off the worktop, making the kitchen quieter.
Yesterday I made a very basic pot of Mince and Tatties. Traditionally, the mince is cooked separately from the potatoes – I prefer the one-pot option, which for me goes like this:-
Start Time 10.15
1. Peel and chop alliums (a roughly equal mix of Echalion shallots and cooking onions).
2. Sit for a 15 minute rest as pain has staged a comeback. Nothing else I can do as meds were maxed out by 06.30. No more until noon, when I can have another shot of Oramorph and a couple of Paracetamol.
3. Peel and slice carrots. Retrieve diced celeriac from freezer. Retrieve a portion of beef in gravy for that evening’s meal while there. I had that with frozen roasties, resurrected in the deep fryer.
I should, of course, be doing all this prep with the aid of my food processor. The trouble is I’ve been doing it with a knife in my hand for 60 years – and I’ve found that an impossible habit to break.
A tip: With the best will in the world, celeriac looks manky, with its brown mottling running through it. It’s perfectly natural, and harmless, but many find it off-putting. If you peel and dice a whole one, put it in a plastic food bag (or two), with a good splash of Aspall cider vinegar. Seal the bag and slosh it around until all the contents are wet with the vinegar. Drain it off, seal again and freeze. Within hours the diced celeriac will be (mostly) a pristine white. It will still taste the same, and the vinegar is so mild you won’t taste that either, but it will look much more appetising.
Now on with the show…
4. Brown the mince. The mince needs frequent attention so, instead of just hanging around, as I had to be on my feet I peeled and washed the spuds, and left them in a bowl of cold water to take the fridge chill off them. Set the mince aside to cool when browned.
5. Sweat off the alliums.
6. A longish rest while they soften and cook down, just given an occasional stir.
7. Back to kitchen to finish off, adding the mince (crumble it in your hands as it will have stuck together in clumps while browning), and root veg, plus stock and herbs.
8. Except for adding the peeled and chopped potatoes towards the end, I can relax now.
Elapsed time so far 2.5 hours. An induction hob simmers at a lower temperature than a cooker’s hob, so takes longer. The extra time taken is offset by the reduced need to stir the pot as the contents are less likely to stick and burn.
Actual time spent on activity, approximately 40 minutes, including prepping the spuds.
The balance of the time was spent resting, and regretting that I’d underestimated my pain level quite badly. While sitting and doing nothing more strenuous than reading the papers online, or typing, it wasn’t too bad – once on my feet it was back to normal – and excruciating.
When I’d finished in the kitchen I had the choice of letting nature take its course – which meant I’d sleep for about 6 hours whether I wanted to or not – or I could load up with coffee (which is what I did), and seek refuge from pain in morphine (did that too). I honestly have no idea how much morphine I took that day. I do know it was probably more than was good for me. That’s not unusual – I have to eat, after all and my health requires that I have a high-protein diet, which means I have to cook when I can, as ready meals are crap.
And that’s how life is, not just for me but for many millions of disabled people – Spoonies** – whose life is almost literally measured out in coffee spoons (some lucky people might get tablespoons – pretty damn sure mine are salt spoons some days!). And this was, let me stress, one of my better days.
We are not, as this toxic, obscenely corrupt, and in some cases arguably homicidally insane, government would have you believe, living lives of luxury on the paupers pittance of disability benefits or, in my case, the state pension, supplemented by my DLA without which I simply couldn’t pay my way. For most of us life is a daily battle with soul-destroying illness, made worse by financial problems and by a government seemingly dedicated to our extermination.