COPING WITH ARTHRITIS IN THE KITCHEN
Your hands were once so pretty. Long, tapered fingers showed off rings to their best advantage and tied beautiful bows on packages. You opened jars with ease and squeezed frosting from your piping bag to create rosettes on birthday cakes. When did your third finger get so big? When did nodules develop on your forefingers? You wouldn’t really care if they didn’t hurt so terribly. When you awaken in the morning the pain shoots all the way into your wrists. Doctors tell you it’s arthritis and there’s no cure. Then they write prescriptions for various medications, most of which are in the anti-inflammatory family. But, you know that any drug you ingest into your system to cure one area invades the entire body with the potential of side effects to harm. Read the small print. There are no free lunches. And, the worst part is that in order to remove the tops from prescription and over-the- counter pain killers, you have to be a relative of Houdini, the great Magician. Press the two sides and unscrew the top! Push down and turn in one movement. Then, find a knife and cut around the foil, somehow pull out the cotton and that strange cylindrical non-edible thing that keeps it fresh to finally find a pill. By the time you extricate the little fellow, you’re too tired to take it. Darn! Darnation! No! Damn! Darn isn’t strong enough. You like to garden and you like to cook. And, now you can’t push your shovel into the good earth to dig a hole or open one of those new dang-fangled security tops on a jar. You want to call up the manufacturer and say, “Poison me! I really don’t care. Just let me open a container of coffee cream without having to locate a tab I can’t see in order to release the impossibly sealed plastic cover.
So, you have arthritis. You saw the same symptoms in your mother and grandmother but thought it would never happen to you. You saw old folk clumsily grab at things with their whole hands rather than as you did with your lithe fingers. You saw them drop things but didn’t understand their clumsiness. And, now, suddenly, here you are and you don’t like it one bit. How is a person going to cook when fingers can’t work properly?
In the first place, stop trying to pull things open with your hands. Use a pair of scissors. And, if the ones you own are dull, splurge for a sharp pair.
Don’t try to pull or cut away garlic cloves from the whole head. Instead, place the whole garlic head in the palm of your hand root end touching your hand and whack the pointed end one time on the counter. The individual cloves will loosen to separate easily. Soak the cloves in cold water for ten minutes to easily remove the skin.
Instead of holding an onion or potato in one hand to slice with the other, set it on your counter to cut. The counter will take the punishment rather than your hands and wrists. Raw onions and potatoes are particularly difficult to peel. Bring water to a boil and submerge the whole raw onion. Boil five minutes. Pour off water. The skin will slide off easily under cold, running water. Do the same with potatoes, cooking until the skin slides off. Then you can brown them in the oven with the meat or poultry.
Use the smallest or largest knives available. The in-between sizes stress the knuckles. Have them sharpened by a professional often. The sharper the knife, the less effort it takes to cut and slice. Small serrated edge knives are an excellent choice for easy cutting.
Have you ever thought about how you use a large knife? Most people hold the handle, placing their forefinger on the top reaching out towards the blade to steady the knife. This creates a strain on the first knuckle, making it bulge. Chop like a chef, not a housewife. Notice how it’s done on the Food Channel. The professional cook grips her (his) knife in a circle around the handle with the thumb slightly extended. Rest your thumb and first finger of your other hand on the pointed end. Then, move the knife in a semi-circular pattern, without moving the pointed end. It takes a bit of practice to encircle the handle with your whole hand, but the results are worth it.
Purchase a food processor. The little fellows can be found for under $30.00 and perform well. There are a zillion other gadgets on the market that claim to open jars, cut apples, slice, dice and chop. Some of them even work!
Mornings are the worst time for arthritic fingers. They won’t bend, and, when they do, the joints crack, securing them in a closed position until you force them open with your other hand. Kitchen sponge to the rescue!! Instead of hassling, hold your hands under warm water, squeezing a sponge. Close – Squeeze – Open. Close – Squeeze – Open. Continue with this exercise until the stiffness begins to subside. The water should be comfortably warm, not hot.
The worst enemy of arthritic fingers is the scouring pad. Cleaning pots and roasting pans is pure torture. Treat yourself to disposable aluminum pans for roasting. Don’t let it bother you when people say that “real cooks” don’t use them. And, then, discard them after use. If they were meant to be scrubbed and reused, they wouldn’t be called “disposable”. Don’t be such a perfectionist. Those days are over. If you have a dishwasher, stop scrubbing everything clean before loading it. So what if there’s a ring around the inside of cups and pots. You know they’re clean. When you wash dishes, begin by cleaning them with a long handled brush. Then, leave them to soak before finishing the job with a soft soapy cloth. It’s not necessary to attack them. They’re not going anywhere and you don’t have to be in a hurry. Remember not to work under water that’s too hot or clean out a cold deep freeze without wearing mittens. Too hot and too cold temperatures make arthritic hands worse.
Cast off cast iron pots and pans and anything else that’s heavy. Give them to the children or charity and purchase lightweight, cheap stuff sold in the supermarket.
Purchase meat and poultry already cut, or ask the meat department to cut and remove the fat for you. Rinse and cook vegetables without trimming them. Once they’re cooked, they are easier to handle.
If you’re not allergic to latex, wear thin latex gloves when working in the kitchen. Before pulling them on, put a few drops of olive oil in each. You’ll be giving your hands a beauty treatment while protecting them.
It seems as though everyone and his brother has a cure for arthritis. From flax seed to glucosamine -chondroitin and msm, to apple cider and vinegar to ginger tea and Certo, everyone’s an expert. Eat cayenne and garlic. Cook with lots of ginger and turmeric. Pour coriander on everything to relieve the pain. Eat chlorophyll. Drink carrot juice, wheat grass and cherry juice. Avoid caffeine and chocolate. Eat oysters, wheat germ, salmon and oily fish, such as sardines with their bones. Fill your plate with green and yellow vegetables, peas and legumes, but stay away from tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, and peppers. We won’t even talk about tobacco and alcohol. Massage affected joints with mustard oil. Rub painful joints with capsaicin, the oil found in hot peppers. Cover the painful area with a heating pad for 15 minutes. Wait another 15 minutes. Then cover it with an ice pack. Several weeks ago a friend suggested I take cod liver oil capsules. Ancient recollection of these smelly little gooey things was spitting them out after Mother left the room. Since I’m not on any arthritic medication, I figured that the worst scenario could be that I would be followed by a parade of cats when I left the house. Perhaps it’s psychological, but my fingers seem to be a bit better. I’ve also purchased natural vitamins. Whether I ever get around to taking them is another story. I’ve done this before, throwing them away after the expiration date. Some folk are terrific with pills. They line them up on the table three times a day religiously and follow the rules of eating first, or is it eat after? I can never remember.
So, now that we’re experts on arthritis, what’s the real answer? The real answer is, of course, how lucky we are to have reached the stage where we can complain about a few aches and pains. The real answer is to enjoy life every day pretending that the pain will go away tomorrow. And, if it doesn’t, we’ll be happy to live with it!
RECIPES TO PAMPER THE FINGERS
SOUP À LA BIÈRE: Adapted from André Surmain’s Alsation gourmet soup served at his renowned restaurant, Lutèce, in New York City.
Yield: 1-2 Servings
10 ounce can concentrated chicken broth (1-1/4 cups)
1/2 cup beer (you may use non-alcoholic, if you desire)
2 slices crusted bread
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tablespoon heavy cream or plain yogurt
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Pinch cayenne or white pepper
||Bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the beer. Break the bread into pieces and add. Reduce heat to low and simmer 15 minutes, stirring with a whisk several times. Add nutmeg to taste. Stir in cream or yogurt. Taste for salt and pepper, and zip up the flavor with a pinch of cayenne or white pepper.
POACHED SALMON IN THE MICROWAVE
Yield: 1 Serving
2 tablespoons lemon juice (juice from 1/2 lemon)
2 tablespoons water or white wine
1/2 pound salmon steak
Sprinkling of salt and pepper
1/4 tablespoon dried tarragon (store dried green spices in refrigerator for freshness)
1/8 teaspoon dried dill weed
1 tablespoon butter or butter substitute, softened
||Combine lemon juice and water (wine) and pour into a shallow microwavable casserole dish. Set salmon in. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with tarragon and dill. Spread butter on top.
||Cover loosely with waxed paper. Microwave on high (100%) 3-5 minutes, or until it flakes with a fork. Check after 3 minutes. Salmon becomes dry when overcooked.
||Serve with a white or sweet potato that has been microwaved in advance.
LEMON GARLIC CHICKEN
Yield: 2 or more servings
Small (2-2 1/2 pound) whole chicken or Cornish game hen
4 whole garlic cloves, unpeeled, cut in half
2 whole shallots, unpeeled, cut in half
1 lemon (preferably Meyer), sliced on the round
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Salt and pepper
Hot Hungarian paprika
1-2 tablespoons olive oil or softened butter or butter substitute
1/2 cup water
1 rib celery
Whole sweet potato(es)
||Preheat oven to 400°F.
||Wash the chicken inside and out. Set into a small disposable roasting pan. Stuff the cavity with garlic, shallots, sliced lemon, and rosemary.
||Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Sprinkle very lightly with hot Hungarian paprika and smooth it with your fingers into the skin with the olive oil.
||Place the pan into the oven and roast 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Add water. Slice the celery rib and set pieces under the chicken. Add sweet potato(es).
||Cook 1 hour for chicken; 45 minutes for Cornish game hen. Test with meat thermometer (160°F), or wiggle the leg and insert a knife. If leg wiggles easily and knife inserted shows clear liquid without trace of color, it is done.
BURGUNDY BEEF STEW
Yield: 6 Servings
3 pounds beef round eye or bottom round roast (purchase meat in one piece)
Approximately one cup flour for dredging
1/4 cup vegetable or peanut oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic in a jar (refrigerator section of market)
1 cup diced onions (frozen food section of market)
½ cup red Burgundy wine
10 ounce can (1-1/4 cups) concentrated beef broth
Baby carrots, pre-peeled in the package
New potatoes or Red Bliss potatoes, unpeeled
||In order to insure absolute freshness and the size of the beef cubes, have the meat department cut the large piece into two-inch pieces while you wait.
||Lightly salt and pepper the meat. Pour flour into a plastic bag. Put the meat in a few cubes at a time and shake to cover with flour.
||Heat the oil to the sizzling point in a pot with a wide bottom. Brown the meat well. Add garlic, onions, wine, and beef broth and bring to a boil, stirring to remove bits of flour that have stuck to the bottom. Lower heat to medium. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for at least one hour, or until meat is tender. If it boils too hard, reduce heat.
||Add carrots and washed whole potatoes and continue cooking over low heat another 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. If you like a bit of a zip, add a little chili powder or thyme.
Serve alone or over boiled wide noodles with fresh bread and a green salad on the side.
AND, NOW FOR A SIMPLE DESSERT:
Yield: 2 large apples
2 large Granny Smith apples
1/4 cup apple juice
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon softened butter or butter substitute
Small disposable baking pan
||Preheat oven to 350°F.
||Wash and cut off the tops of the apples. Don’t bother to peel and core.
||Combine apple juice, sugar, and butter in the pan. Set in gingersnaps. Add the apples. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake 30-40 minutes, or until apples are soft. Spoon sauce and cookies, which will have softened, over apples to serve.`