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Cooking An Injure… WITH An Injured Brain

Cooking An Injure… WITH An Injured Brain

February 07, 2018   -   Scott B Harris

Ok I’m not going to talk about how I cook an injured brain because I’m not really into cannibalism all that much, so I’m going to talk about how I cook WITH an injured brain instead. Cooking is one of those things that you either love or you hate and I’ll be honest with you here, I love food. Unfortunately for me, my love for food is only one credential in a long list that are required to be a half decent chef. My injured brain is what challenges me a lot of the time but I have learnt some tips and tricks from my days at rehab that go a long way to creating a half eatable plate of grub.

Back in 2009, after I had just been released from prison… hospital, I was going back to Epworth as an outpatient. Whilst most of my therapies were trying to get my body ticking over again, occupation therapy was there to teach me those life skills I needed in order to live an independent life. Cooking was at the top of the list of essentials that I needed to relearn, behind eating, drinking and wiping the ol’ bum. I’m only going to talk about cooking because I think the others may turn this into a messy blog. Ok, enough with the toilet humor.

The first time I was aloud near a flame, with the supervision of course, I set out to cook a nice, sweet, creamy bowl of the finest Fettuccini Carbonara going round. With the supervision of Claire (my OT), making sure I followed the recipe to a T.

From that cook-off, I learnt some valuable lessons that I need to employ every time it’s Scott’s turn to make dinner. The first is about preparation. As I’ve mentioned, probably on numerous occasions, preparation is everything and is probably the key to cooking. Before my accident, with a perfectly functioning uninjured brain, it was a case of throwing the onion in the pan and letting it cook whilst I chop up zucchini and crush up the garlic. While the pan is pan is simmering, I would usually be able to skim over the recipe to make sure my ‘T’s are being followed. Obviously with more challenging dishes a little more meticulous planning was required but nowhere near the meticulousness needed in this day and age.

As simple as this dish was, Claire had me get every single thing chopped up, put in a little bowl ready for each step. I got the ingredient list by reading through the recipe from start to finish, which was actually done before I lay a fined on a deadly blade.

After I had the entire ingredient list chopped up and ready to go I gave the recipe another read through to make sure I was on the path ready to burn (metaphorically speaking of course).

Ready, set, spaghetti; as they say in the schoolyard. Having the ingredients ready to go gave me the ability to use my brainpower on other thing like not burning the place down. The meal started and finished without a hitch and I thoroughly enjoyed the food I made.

I basically did exactly what they do on every cooking show you’ve ever watched and this is actually a good practice that everyone should follow. Where this is a practice everyone should follow, this is a practice that I must follow every time. When I’m on cooking duty, I have been known to take a good hour and a half to two hours to just prep it all. I will read through the recipe and make sure I’m following it to a ‘T’ as best as I can.

As simple as this looks, I sometimes go a little dyslexic and that ‘T’ that I’m following actually reads as a ‘U’. By this, I mean that I will follow the recipe but for some reason I may skip over a step or at least part of a step or get the step wrong. ‘Oh, it says 1 Tsp of SUGAR not 1 Tbls of SALT… oopsies.’ What happens here is that I will read a step and without deliberately assuming, I will just add in the salt because that’s what I assume goes in it. I liken this to reading. When we read a text, our brains assume that ‘Thsi txet reasd liek thsi’ where in fact ‘This text actually reads like this’. This is because we ‘assume’ what we are reading right? Well, this is much the same when I’m cooking. I assume I know what I’m cooking.

Awareness is the key here. I know that this happens so I can come prepared. To combat this, I sometimes find myself reading over the one step three or four times in three or four different sections. I’m getting a lot better these days but don’t get me wrong, I still have my cook-off blunders.

I’ll finish off by telling you what happened after my first cooking experience in rehab. Well let’s just say that this wasn’t such an easy meal to recreate on my own, that’s for sure. At home in the following weeks I thought I’d treat my parents to a nice, sweet, creamy bowl of the finest Fettuccini Carbonara going round… bless my parents for putting on a brave face. I literally made a dogs breakfast of that meal.

Soon after this cooking blunder, I was away with friends and I thought I’d try this dish once again. ‘Assuming’ what I’d done wrong the first time, I was about to treat them to a nice, sweet, creamy bowl of the finest Fettuccini Carbonara going round… bless my friends for putting on a brave face. Yep, dogs breakfast.

Ok, so now that I’d stuffed this meal up twice, I assumed I had learnt the ropes of my cooking blunders, so I set out to right all my wrongs. At home in the following weeks I thought I’d treat my parents to another nice, sweet, creamy bowl of the finest Fettuccini Carbonara going round… and again… bless my parents for putting on a brave face. I literally made a dogs breakfast of that meal, again, except this time my dog didn’t actually go near it.

I kid you not, I cooked this meal SEVEN times and each time I stuffed it up. There wasn’t even seven steps to get wrong! WTF? It was at that point that I put that recipe down and thought that it’s best to leave it on the shelf where it belongs. In the following years, I went back to find the recipe and it’s nowhere to be seen. Maybe this was a sign from the cooking gods?

Maybe one day I’ll treat Jasmine to nice, sweet, creamy bowl of the finest Fettuccini Carbonara going round. Lucky her I say.

What are some cooking tips and tricks (and blunders) that you have learnt that have made battling the hotplate easier for you?

5 thoughts on “Cooking An Injure… WITH An Injured Brain”

  1. I have not tried any real cooking since my injury. I do manage to cook a pot of rolled oats or fry and egg without it turning into something inedible. But I must admit, s single pot item is not what I would consider cooking. Cooking a meal would definitely push me beyond my ability to keep track of things and have it turn out edible.

  2. Two suggestions to try: 1. watch “how to videos” for something. Many years ago, I watched a Julia Child show on how to cook an omelet. I can’t even *imagine* how all the information from watching could have been put into words on the page of a cookbook. You could *see* how to stir and flip and when the butter was ready and so on. Even pasta directions, which *seems* like they should be easy leaves many little details…how often do you stir; how do you get the heat just right so it neither boils over nor stops boiling. In that regard, it may be easier to move the pan slightly off center of the burner than to get the heat exactly right. 2. Choose dishes where the ingredient proportions are not so super fussy. I talk about this in my blog post “Parametric Recipes and American Democracy.” That post is mostly about “live and let live” in politics, but it does talk about real cooking as well. I like to do things like omelets, soups, mixed vegetables, salads — where mostly there are a lot of choices about ingredients and the end result does not depend on absolute precision of steps, amounts, times etc. Of course, you still have to pay attention completely to what you’re doing and not get distracted by TV, friends, etc. but they are much more forgiving than, say, a soufflé. https://petersironwood.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/parametric-recipes-and-american-democracy/

  3. Cooking is complex and draws on skills of order, timing, organization and procedural actions amongst many other maths and other skills.skil A great piece about the importance of all these things and their challenges but it has made me VERY hungry!

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