Before I got sick I used to LOVE cooking. Growing up in a single parent household allowed me to explore this, and I often made meals for my mom and I as I grew older. Truth be told, in my younger years my creativity in the kitchen didn’t always turn out that great. Mom came home from long days at work to a dinner of fried ramen noodles and tuna melts on English muffins at times. But she and I both loved food and we always enjoyed dinner together.
Once I hit college and started living on my own for the first time I grew more bold with my creativity and flavors. And by the time I hit my early twenties I had become quite a good cook. I loved preparing elaborate dishes for friends and room mates like Eggs Benedict, Beef Wellington, and Crepes Suzette. I especially loved baking and desserts. While I was a proficient cook when I made casseroles, steaks, pastas, and sauces from scratch, I learned in the dessert department I was titled as a semi-homemade baker. This means I used store bought cake and brownie mixes, and doctored them with liqueurs, nuts, candies, and flavorings to create unique desserts and baked goods. And I was good. Friends and family would always ask me to bring something to dinners, parties, and bbqs. I’d even done small catering jobs for couples and families that I knew for special occasions. I loved cooking and it was as simple as that.
But when I got sick it became harder and harder to continue doing what I loved. It would be difficult to stand for long periods of time at my kitchen counter stirring and chopping and mixing. My hands were always swollen and it was hard to grip spoons and tongs and spatulas. If I was weak it was especially hard because at times I couldn’t even hold a wooden spoon, let alone pick up a pot of sauce off the stove, or carry a tray out of the oven.
I began to cook and bake less. And because of this I could feel the light fade from within. I could no longer do one of my passions each day and it began to eat away at me. My doctors suggested carrying ready made meals in the freezer that I could “zap” in the microwave, or soups and ramen that wouldn’t take long to heat. The thing about those items though, are that they often severely lack in flavor, and can be akin to eating a meal of cardboard flavored with salty sludge. They were gross, and a home chefs worse nightmare. But what could I do? I had to eat! And sometimes just using the microwave was a struggle.
Over the years I’ve read thousands of tips on how to make meals in advance, or recipes that are based on not cooking at all. But I’m not a salad girl. For me, a salad is not a meal, and I’m always hungry an hour later. Making casseroles and meals in advance are all good and well IF you are well enough to spend half a day doing this. I’m not always up to that though. It sounds like a great idea in theory, but lacks in execution. So I had to resort to flavorless meals or eating out a lot, which ends up being more expensive than I can afford.
However this evening, I had a food miracle happen. Well, it wasn’t a miracle. I just happened to make a delicious meal in under ten minutes while having a flare. It didn’t even occur to me,when I was at Target last week shopping for groceries, that a meal made up of ready made components could in fact have flavor if you used the right ingredients/products. Because my mom, whom is my primary caretaker, was going out of town for a month I wanted to stock up on frozen meals in case I got sick and had no way to get to a store. So I stocked my freezer with steamable vegetable packets. Birdseye makes a great variety of different steamable vegetables, and even a couple of potatoes or pasta sides that have vegetables and a light sauce. I ate a bag of pasta and broccoli just the other night and it was not too bad. I mean those are meant to be eaten as side dishes but the entire bag was only 400 calories and it filled me up just fine. And with a little salt and pepper it made a fine microwavable meal.
As well as the steamable veggies, I also grabbed steamable rice cups, they make a ton of varieties (I like the jasmine and brown rice the best), breakfast Hot Pockets, breakfast breads to make toast, and a couple packets of ground beef, beef strips, and chicken strips. By the time mom left for her vacation, my freezer was packed to the gills with food. And I felt a lot better about being on my own.
Today was Easter, and that usually means a day spent with family. But mom is away, and my other family plans fell through. I hadn’t thought I’d need to come up with a dinner plan so this afternoon I took a packet of frozen beef strips out of the freezer in hopes that I would feel well enough to cook later. The problem was that I woke up in a flare, and it had not died down all day. When I woke from a nap at 6pm I was worried about the amount of pain that I was still in. Happy only about the fact that I was seeing my PCP tomorrow who could hopefully provide me with some relief.
I started to get hungry around 7 and checked on my beef strips to find they had successfully defrosted. Still, I didn’t know what to cook and my feet were sore as it was. That’s when I eyed a packet of Teriyaki sauce of picked up from the refrigerated section at Target on a whim. It had been on sale for $1.99 and I grabbed it as I made my way to the register. In that moment the components of my dinner fell together. I threw a packet of frozen broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower into the microwave for 6 minutes to steam. And in that time I cooked the beef strips in the teriyaki sauce on the stove. When the 6 mins were up I transferred the vegetables into the pan with the meat and sauce, and next “zapped” a cup of jasmine rice. When the rice was done I tipped half the cup into a bowl, spooned out the meat and veggies and sauce and voila! I made a delicious and nutritious meal in 8 minutes! I couldn’t believe how easy it was. And the best part was that my feet were ok. I hadn’t been standing long enough for them to ache, though my memory foam house slippers probably helped a lot. Also with cheap prices at Target, that whole meal only cost about $10. When I was done with dinner, I transferred the remaining rice and stir fry into a Tupperware container, a perfect size meal for tomorrow’s lunch or dinner.
After a couple of years or sadness that I can’t cook tasty food anymore I really felt vindicated. Obviously the teriyaki sauce packet was a big help, and it was definitely categorized as semi-homemade, but the point was that it tasted good and didn’t come out of a box. I was flaring and still able to make something good. And I know that my flare is relatively mild compared to others. I know that I can’t do this all the time. But even if I made a meal like this once or twice a week, then that’s one or two times I don’t have to eat cardboard for dinner. And I am very ok with that. And I’m also very okay with the smile it left on my face for making me happy in the kitchen again.
I’ll take it!
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