Thursday, February 16, 2017

Adventures in one-handed cooking

In my perfect world, our bodies would be best fueled by pastries, magically prepared by somebody else, unless we enjoyed baking and were physically able to do it.

Sadly, I have come to learn that custards and cakes and croissants do not do the important work of vegetables, and you can't always talk somebody else to preparing those for you either. And the job is particularly daunting with two broken fingers in a splint.

In such a situation, the most important thing is to focus on your assets. In my case? Well, I have been really lucky, with lots from the start, even in the first few days while I was still reliving the eight (EIGHT!!) anaesthetic needles in Emerg every time I closed my eyes long enough to blink.

Pete was off work because it was the Christmas break. My dominant hand was in great shape. As long as I was working with something not too slippery or inclined to roll, I could use a knife. If I had something between my body and a plate to stabilize the plate's movement I could butter toast in a mostly straight line, even as the plate spun around. I could fill the kettle, and open up a tea bag packet by pinning it down with the edge of the splint and tearing at it with my right hand. I could prop a bag up on the counter, cut it open with scissors, and unload its contents into a pot of boiling water or a pool of olive oil in a hot frying pan. I could use measuring cups, and get plates out of the cupboard… and most excitingly (NOT) I could load and unload the dishwasher.

Best of all, I discovered that Bertolli olive oil comes in a lightweight plastic container with an easy-screw cap and two depressions on the sides to make it easy to hold onto. So much better for the one-handed than a smooth glass bottle that weighs a ton!

I couldn't put my favourite stoneware pans into the oven – they were too heavy for one hand – but I could cook just about anything on top of the stove and slip lightweight things into the oven on a cookie sheet if somebody else would be around to take them out again. What more could I ask for?


Rice is a magical base for almost anything, and you can eat it cold for lunch the next day, so it's great that you can cook that with one hand.  Water and rice in a measuring cup, scissors to open up packets of powdered chicken stock, and you're good to go. Spooning it out of the pot later is an adventure (round pots spin, have you noticed?) but nobody expects pretty when you have one hand.


I really missed cutting onions. There is something deeply satisfying to me about slicing them into long ribbons or chopping them into tiny squares...What does that say about me, I wonder? It doesn't matter – neither was an option without some way of stabilizing the uncut part, and I really didn't want to sleep with an onion-scented splint right under my nose. At first I used freeze-dried, diced onions, but they lost their appeal after Julia pointed out the freeze-drying process would have stripped away all their beneficial oils. After two weeks I was given a removable splint with better access and my fingers were a little stronger, and I was overjoyed to discover I could hold a fork well enough to jab it into an onion or a potato and slice through it, however crudely. I could almost see my horizons expanding.  I never got organized to ask someone to chop a ton of onions for me in advance to store in the fridge, and later on I was speechless to find some in the freezer section of the grocery store. Arg!


Washing vegetables is not really a problem… well, mushrooms are a bit of a drag with one hand, but it's preparing vegetables that slows you down, and some are definitely friendlier than others. For example, it takes a long time to cut the ends off green beans, and let's not even talk about shelling peas in a pod (and anyway, it's much more practical to eat the pod.) Asparagus just needs the woody end snapped off which is kind of fun to do with one hand and makes a satisfying pop. Tomatoes can roll very easily but if you're sautéing grape tomatoes you don't need to cut them – after a few minutes in heated olive oil they will burst and release an amazing flavour to share with anything else in the pan.

I quickly came to rely on frozen peas; asparagus; pre-trimmed, prewashed green beans in bags; bags of prewashed spinach; mini potatoes; grape tomatoes; prewashed, pre-sliced organic mushrooms, and frozen cauliflower and broccoli. Actually in the case of cauliflower and broccoli it wasn't so much rely as resent. I know there are ways to make those two things taste wonderful in spite of having been frozen, but those ways are not easy to pull off with one hand and a stove top (believe me, I tried).  In the end, I decided their only advantages outside of a cheese-laden casserole are being prewashed and trimmed down to floret size.  Which are big advantages, actually, so I will stop complaining now.

Potatoes have been my favourite thing to make; by resting a mini potato in the hole of my cutting board (meant for easier hanging storage, maybe?)  I can stabilize it enough to cut it in half, and from there I can set the flat side down and cut it however much I want. Once I have a lot of potatoes of similar size I can throw them into boiling water for 15 minutes, then set them cut side down into a heated frying pan prepared with olive oil and butter (Martha Stewart tells me that the olive oil keeps the butter from burning, and I believe her because the combination tastes so great.) Sprinkle some herbs and salt over top and let them crisp a bit and you almost have roast potatoes! It's sort of hashbrowns, obviously, but without the need to plan for leftovers.

Everything I am cooking now can be warmed over the next day or eaten cold, which is helpful for a person stuck working from home alone on days too cold for even three ponchos (honestly, who give someone a splint too wide to fit through a coat sleeve, in January, in Canada?) But actually storing those foods in the meantime presented all-new challenges. You know those new glass containers you can get, square-shaped with a lid that clips on on each side? Yeah, those are designed for people with two hands, or maybe one hand and a really really hard stomach. I couldn't always get those open, or even closed – one clip would pop open the minute I got another shut! And you wouldn't believe how many tries it took for me to figure out to take the lid off the teapot before I poured out a cup, since I couldn't hold it on with my left hand anymore.

Between cooking and the ponchos and not knitting and everything else that has to adjust, it's been a laugh a minute around here, let me tell you... but I am really, REALLY ready to have my hand back.  Ten more days, I think?  I can hope so, anyway.


Laurinda said...

Oh god, that sounds so frustrating! {{HUGS}}

Mary Keenan said...

I was kind of thinking of it as persistence and victory in the face of adversity but now that you mention it, it really is frustrating!!! I would so have loved to open a jar of peach jam tonight, and when I was treating myself to a few knit stitches I noticed a mistake four rounds back I had to drop down from three stitches to fix. Which was really, really hard. Also it's not possible to smooth skin cream over a flat surface with a hand that can still only make a cup shape, however shallow. SIGH