In the Kitchen

Wouldn’t it be nice to have hands that worked without aching?  Unfortunately, meds to treat autoimmune arthritis only slow the disease; they don’t halt progression or provide a cure.  In the kitchen, achy hands make meal prep a challenge.

CanOpenerAlthough I try to cook with fresh ingredients, sometimes it is necessary to open cans.  My preferred method of opening a can has been to hand the can and opener to someone and raise my eyebrows in a silent plea for help.  Unfortunately, my kids are growing up and either playing sports or heading to college, which throws a wrench in my can-opening options.  Everyone in the house recognized the problem, so my kids did some research in an attempt to find me the best electric can opener on the market.  I have great kids!  They gave me a Hamilton Beach 76606Z for Christmas, which means I’ve had it long enough to know that it is a very good can opener.  I can now open cans even if there’s nobody else in the house and my hands and wrists prevent use of a traditional-style can opener.

MandolineThe other kitchen acquisition that has helped tremendously is a good-quality mandoline.  Note the “good quality” modifier. I used to have an inexpensive model, and cutting things with it was an exercise in frustration.  The one I replaced it with is fabulous.  I first saw it demonstrated at a fair, then did some research before buying.  The price on Amazon has come down in the past year and beats the fair price by a good bit.  This mandoline will slice tomatoes, pickles, mushrooms, potatoes, and probably anything else you might want to slice (except avocados — it gets jammed on the pit when slicing so effortlessly you don’t realize you’re already that far into the fruit).  I like the fact that the slice thickness is determined by a fixed bed.  You choose the thickness you want and easily insert the appropriate cutting bed. My old mandoline had a knob that I turned to adjust the cut-depth and it had a tendency to slip while in use.  With this setup, there is nothing that can slip and inadvertently change the slice-size.  I also like the V-blade, because it will slice soft things like tomatoes just as perfectly as it slices firm foods like potatoes.  I also like that it’s mostly stainless steel instead of plastic. The Borner V6 comes with a holder that can be mounted on the kitchen wall.  Since there’s no space on my walls to mount anything, I just leave it sitting on the counter beside my KA.

My favorite cooking tool is a crockpot.  Any kind, every kind.  Start oatmeal at bedtime and it’s ready in the morning when you get up.  Start supper in the morning, and it will be ready to eat when you get home in the evening.  Everyone should own at least one crockpot (IMHO).

If your budget is like mine, you can’t afford a personal chef. A few good kitchen tools will make a world of difference.

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Disclaimer:  while I’m not opposed to people sending me gadgets or money, that didn’t happen here.  I bought my mandoline and crockpots, and my kids bought my can opener.

Sun Sensitivity

SunWarningAvoiding sun exposure — a requirement with certain prescriptions — presents a problem sometimes.  Since I normally burn in 15-20 minutes and am afraid to find out what a medicine that makes me more photosensitive would do, I usually use lots of sunscreen and stay out of the sun.  Sunscreen use is important, but not a cure-all for photosensitivity.  When outdoors, it’s important to find (or create) shade.

This past spring and summer I found avoiding the sun especially challenging since my boys played baseball. Outdoors. Every. Day.  High school baseball began in March and ran through mid-May, while community league for my younger son began in April with games in May and June, followed by five weeks of all-stars tournaments, culminating in July’s playoffs.  August saw even more time out in the sun after invitations to turn out for fall ball.  To avoid some serious photosensitivity rashes/blisters, watching my kids play baseball has required some creativity.

I present to you (drum roll…)

The Baseball Chair

Baseball Chair

Unlike commercial portable chairs, my awning extends out to the sides, in front, and behind for extra shade.  It has a flap to block evening sun from the back, as well as flaps that can hang down on the sides when needed.

I can’t tell you the number of parents who approached me and asked about my chair – where I got it, where they could find plans, if I’d make one for them, if they could snap photos and try to make their own…

If you want to make your own chair to watch kids’ sports outdoors without breaking out in hives, this is easy to build.  It has to be for me to make it.  As to cost, I can’t say since I used materials I had on hand:  old PVC pipe and decorator fabric that is now hopelessly out of style.  The base and uprights are made from Schedule 40 so it’s nice and strong, as is the back bar of the awning.  The sides and front of the awning are of the lighter-weight Class 200 PVC.

Notice the handy pockets added to the sides. These are especially nice for holding pencils, the scorebook, snacks, etc.  I want to add a cup holder to one of the uprights, and am looking for a battery-operated fan — that would have been really nice during some of those extra-hot games.

Covered Baseball ChairSince I live in western Washington where we are noted for our liquid sunshine, I made a rain fly for the chair, too.  That aspect of the chair still needs some fine-tuning, but I can attest to the fact that it kept me and the scorebook dry during a few games that were eventually cancelled a few innings later than they should have been.

Parts list:

  • (8) 90-degree elbows
  • (4) 45-degree elbows
  • (4) T’s for the awning
  • (2) T’s for each side you want to hang a pocket on
  • (2) long bolts (must be longer than 2x pipe diameter)
  • (6) washers
  • (2) acorn nuts (rounded caps to completely cover the ends of the bolts)
  • PVC pipe – exact lengths depend on how tall you are, so I won’t give dimensions
  • canvas or strong fabric – you’ll get much better shade if you use a double-layer
  • clear plastic, optional

A few tips I discovered:  regulations change frequently, and plumbers end up with pipe in the warehouse that they can’t use.  Sometimes they’re willing to give it away if you catch them on the right day and ask nicely.  This is not true of the big box stores where you buy materials for do-it-yourself projects.  If you must purchase connectors (T’s and elbows), they’re less expensive in packs of 10.  Some PVC will not stand up to sun exposure, so it’s important to use the right type.

I Can. Can You?

“How do you have the energy to do all that?!  I’d be exhausted!”  That’s a comment I’ve heard quite a bit these past few weeks.  Truth be told, I am exhausted.  I’m also mighty happy to be accomplishing things.

Instead of avoiding taxing activities, I try to find the most efficient (and least expensive) way to get them done.  Yes, I get tired.  No, I can’t work a full-time job and then spend seven hours in the evening canning fruit like I did twenty years ago, but I can still manage to put enough by that we have food to eat without wondering how to pronounce all the chemicals on an ingredient label.

My tips for how I manage canning season with RA would just as easily apply to other situations:

Know Your Limitations
In preserving foods, the hardest part, for me, is picking.  There’s much more fruit than I’m physically able to pick – especially when the fruit is overhead and my rotator cuffs don’t want to do their job.  When I pick, I pick from the lower branches, and leave the upper branches for people who are a) taller, b) tree-climbers, or c) comfortable picking from ladders.  I know my limitations.

It can be difficult admitting that we have limitations.  We’d like to think we’re invincible.  RA teaches us otherwise.  Work with what you have.  Whether it’s canning or anything else, knowing our limitations is important.

Work Smart
One of my favorite quotes, by R.G. LeTourneau, is “Work smart, not hard.”

I look for ways to work smart.  When heavily laden branches are relieved of their burden, the boughs rise – usually several feet.   If I started picking apples closest to the ground, and worked my way upward, the branches would quickly spring up out of my reach, limiting how many apples I’d be able to pick.  Instead, I start picking as high as I can reach.  As the empty branches move upward, the lower apples are still within reach.  I’m able to pick much more by grabbing those upper apples before they move too high.

That’s true with the rest of life, too.  Hard isn’t required.  Focus on working smart.

Accept Help
Sometimes we want to prove we’re capable of doing things on our own, but it’s okay to accept help.  People want to help.  After canning twelve lug of peaches, knowing I’d be starting on apples next, I posted about it on Facebook.  The responses included:

If we put one more person in the kitchen for peaches, we’d be tripping over one another.  Apples are a different story.  Apples are tons more work than peaches, and I need help. I have to set aside my pride and ask – or accept help when it’s offered.  People really do want to help.

I’ve been thinking about this.  My children have no qualms about inviting friends over to help them pick apples.  The apples need to be picked, and it’s fun to do things with friends, so they invite friends over.  Everyone has a lot of fun. One weekend my daughters and their friend had been picking apples for about an hour when I heard a knock at the door.  It was the friend’s parents.  They’d heard we had apples to pick and wanted to help.

Whether it’s canning season, or grocery shopping, or working in an office, accept help!

Develop Efficient Processes
Know what you need to do, then figure out the best way to do it.  Apples and peaches, rhubarb and cherries, as well as beans, corn, and pumpkin are all very different foods; they need different processes.  It can be hard to break away from the habit of doing things the way we’ve always done them, but it’s a good idea to step back, analyze what’s truly needed, then eliminate all the extra (unneeded) steps to fine-tune your workflow.  Make everything as efficient as possible.

Always ask if there’s a better way to do things.  For example, every recipe I’ve ever seen for applesauce involves putting cut-up apples into a pot on the stove-top, adding apple juice/cider, then cooking carefully to avoid scorching the food.  My shoulders don’t like all that stirring.  My feet do not like standing at the stove long enough to cook apples down into sauce.  I’m guessing yours don’t, either.  There’s no need!  It’s significantly easier to make applesauce a different way.

It doesn’t apply only to canning applesauce.  I’ve found ways to streamline many different tasks.  Never settle for doing things the way others have always done them.  Aim for efficiency.

Life with rheumatoid arthritis can be tricky.  To make things easier, it’s a good idea sometimes to pause, analyze situations, know your limitations, accept help, develop efficient processes, and work smart.