A favourite quote and a way by which to approach life.

Today is the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Master Chef meets Krypton Factor

You may know that I have a lot of allergies, most of which are anaphylactic, and many of which are to foods. The main things I'm allergic to are preservatives and colourings, and you'd be surprised at what you'd find these in, even in so-called healthy foods. One of the consequences of these allergies is that I can't eat any ready meals so I have to have all my food cooked from scratched. Yes, real cooking! I quite enjoy cooking, but I'm very limited these days in how much I can do because of my tendency to pass out when standing due to the POTS and vasovagal syncope. It's not very safe to faint whilst standing over a lit gas hob so these days I have carers come to cook for me three evenings a week. It can be a bit tying sometimes if I have things to do, or I want to be out, or if they turn up early, and I've never been the best at planning meals ahead so sometimes I get a little frustrated at having to be organised with this kind of thing. It's made a little trickier by the fact that they come at 4.30pm, which is far too early to have dinner so I need to think of things that I can either re-heat quickly later on or that take a long time to cook. Last year W bought me a slow cooker and that's been a god-send with these carers as they can do all the cooking bits then set the slow cooker away to do its stuff so that a few hours later I can have tea at a much more sensible time. Marvellous. All I need do is provide the recipe and ingredients...

It would, however, seem that cooking is an alien concept to many of the carers who come to me and the tasks I lay before them are akin to those on the Krypton Factor. Now it's not like I ask for anything particularly complicated - in fact that's another challenge for me as I have to try to find simple recipes - except that the mere thought of cooking anything other than a ready meal or heating up a takeaway appears to be very complicated. I have several different carers come to cook for me and I only really have confidence in one of them. They're all lovely people, yes, but you wouldn't find them on Master Chef. I had one who, on her first visit here, told me that her father is a chef so I optimistically thought that he may have passed on some of his culinary skills to her. Nope. She had to ask me how to cut the leek I'd put out with the ingredients for my dinner. On one of the days the following week a very sweet young carer (maybe in her late teens or very early twenties) came. She pointed at the pile of ingredients on the bench, made her face Dali-esque and squawked, 'What's that?!' It was a sweet potato. The day she came and I had a raw beetroot I'd been given on the bench I thought she was going to run away in fear so I had to reassure her very quickly that it wasn't part of that night's dinner; it was just on the bench as a place to put it. I then had to explain that it was a fresh beetroot, and no, not all beetroot comes pickled in jars. Bless her ... and God help me!

I guess I don't mind so much if the person who comes is honest about their cooking ability. I can allow for inexperience. I can prepare myself for perhaps not the tastiest meal I've ever had. So long as they make sure all the veg etc is suitably washed so that they don't accidentally kill me then I can pretty much let them off. It's when they're 'misleading' about their culinary skills that it gets me. I had one woman come - another friendly character - who, when I explained about my allergies and therefore the need to do 'from scratch' cooking, assured me that she was a good cook. She told me that she'd been married to a Morrocan man for seven years so had cooked all his meals from the raw ingredients and was quite experienced. After tasting the soup she made me I wonder if she's still married to the Moroccan man or if in fact he's dead. I set her the challenge of making me butternut squash and carrot soup with a little ginger and chilli. As always I'd set out the ingredients on the bench. As always I presumed she'd follow the recipe in terms of quantities, and I even provided scales for weighing out any ingredients she needed to weigh. I went off to have my bath (the heat of a bath or shower makes passing out more likely so I have a bath while the carer's around in case there are any problems) and left her to make the soup. When I returned to the kitchen I discovered that she hadn't actually fried the onions, garlic, ginger, chili, or any of the veg before adding the stock (homemade stock as I can't have the bought stuff); she'd simply chopped it all up, put it in the enormous pan, and filled said pan with all of the stock I had. And it was only after she'd left that I realised she had no discernment at all regarding quantities. She had used a whole green chili, a whole root of ginger, and a whole bulb of garlic! I let the thing, the concoction, the pot of poison bubble away in the hope that maybe it wouldn't be so bad really, but after I'd blitzed it in the liquidiser and tasted the tiniest of tiny amounts there was no fooling myself into thinking that this was edible. It had somehow transformed itself from appetising and tasty fresh vegetables to some kind of anti-food. I think I had boiled egg that night instead. The next time she turned up I lied that I was going to my dad's for dinner that night, but I still needed her there while I had a bath. I don't remember what I ended up doing for tea in the end, but I couldn't face sampling her cooking again, that was for sure. On the bright side, as she wasn't cooking for me that evening she offered to do other stuff so she did my ironing. The carer who comes on a Wednesday morning is supposed to do my ironing as well as the cleaning, but the one I've had most since my regular Wednesday carer left the agency is rubbish at ironing, doesn't like doing it, complains all the time she is doing it, and doesn't do very much of it. Needless to say, there was rather a lot of ironing to do. It all got done and I also didn't have to suffer her cooking. Bonus!

I had yet another carer come tonight. I have to say that she was ever such a lovely person, and she did in the end manage to follow the recipe and produce a very nice dinner in the slow cooker for me. However, I also have to say that it is quite miraculous that she managed to follow the recipe and produce a very nice dinner in the slow cooker for me. When I told her that she'd be cooking from scratch she looked terrified, aghast, distraught. She came clean that she doesn't cook. I told her not to worry as I'd put all the ingredients out along with the recipe, and assured her that a slow cooker is really easy to use. She'd never seen a slow cooker before. She doesn't even use a conventional cooker. She lives off sandwiches. This was going to be a challenge ... for us both. Right then, time for some education. I introduced her to the concepts of fresh vegetables, cartons of butter beans, and uncooked wholegrain rice. I gave her her first sighting of saffron, and explained that she should use only a very tiny amount as it's so blooming expensive. That scared her. I got her a pan and showed her how to light the hob. I showed her the recipe book. I thought she was going to collapse with repressed hysteria. 'Oh,' she squeaked through tightened vocal chords, 'I've never used a recipe before. I'm not sure that I can. I mean, I'll try, but I'm scared. I've never done it before. It looks so complicated.' We read through the recipe together, and I explained that yes, she would have to use the hob a little bit to brown the leeks ... and I explained what 'browning the leeks' meant, and I reassured her that she'd be fine, and I went off to hide in the bath. After a while I could hear a lot of clattering and I could smell burning, but I figured that being in the bath surrounded by water was perhaps the safest place to be if the carer was going to accidentally set fire to the flat, so I stayed put and hoped I'd still have a kitchen by the time I plucked up the courage to get out of the bath and back to the carer. Thankfully I do still have a kitchen, and despite the burning smell I see no evidence of there having been any flames. When I reappeared though she did say that she hadn't washed the butter beans, and asked how she was meant to do that so I said to use either the sieve or the colander. She looked at me blankly. I showed her what a sieve looks like.


Valerie said...

I suppose the fact that cookery lessons ceased in schools had something to do with the girl's ignorance about cooking. I was approached by a young woman in the supermarket recently, she had a bag of potatoes in her hand, and she asked if they were all right to boil. Amazing!

BeckyG said...

Hi Valerie, You know I'm not sure I hold with your argument about the lack of cookery lessons in schools being the cause for these people's culinary incompetence. After all, my father was never taught cooking in school, and neither was my brother. Both are excellent at cooking (well, my dad was before he developed dementia). Even I was only taught cookery at school until I was 14, yet I can cook, I can follow a recipe, I know what a sweet potato is. Also, the carers aren't all just fresh out of school, with most of them being at least in the mid-late twenties. These people have to live, have to eat. How can they survive off just sandwiches? What excuse is there for living solely off ready meals? How can you not know what a sieve looks like? As you say, it's amazing that you should be approached by someone who doesn't know about boiling potatoes! It's alarming, though I have to say that I do also find it amusing.

Anonymous said...

I think it all stems from the family home! Perhaps they were brought up on ready meals, waffles and turkey twizzlewotsits.........
Food education should really start in the home and be added to at school with healthy school dinners with variety.
My sister was asked at a till in Tescos if Rhubarb was red celery as the chap couldn't find it on the list.
I asked if Tescos had Russets the other week.......... blank faces when I explained it was an apple!

My experience of carers hasn't extended to food really apart from a request for coca cola when I offered tea coffe or juice (I don't drink the stuff unless I have a bug and then I let it go flat!) Putting a duvet cover on was a challenge for one! How on earth did they get it in sideways?? Then floor cloth on work surfaces..... I hopped around with the squrty ecover after she left! Yick!

Kate Hayward xxx

Dawn said...

Gosh, and I thought my kitchen skills were bad! I must admit though, when I first lived on my own, putting food in the oven/microwave was my idea of cooking!
After years of experimenting, I'm pleased to say I've expanded upon my skills :) lol
Dawn xx

Sue said...

I have to agree that for the most part the inability to cook stems from the family home. My three -two boys and a girl, between the ages of 16 and 21 - all had very limited experience of cookery in school. I've always loved cooking, but my own disability makes cooking a chore these days. Nontheless I've made it a priority to ensure that all three are confident enough to follow a recipe (even our 17 year old son who is mildly autistic).

I get the impression that many of their friends, most of whose parents work full time, eat predominantly ready meals or snacks. Believe it or not I'm aware of several 16-17 year olds whose parents leave them money for take-away food EVERY lunch-time and evening. I've lost count of the times the kids have had friends for tea over the years who've had no table manners whatsoever, can't use a knife and fork (at 17!) and who proclaim that 'this is for the first proper meal I've had for ages!' frequently adding 'I wish my mum made proper food'.
It saddens me, but doesn't surprise me that so many of your carers are unable to cook. What angers me though, is that the agency involved knows that this is the duty they are being asked to do. In this case it's the agency who are letting you down badly.

BeckyG said...

Kate, based on my own experience of carers I'm sadly not surprised by your carers' lack of ability even in the duvet-putting-on department, but the floor cloth on the work surfaces is horrid. Sadly it doesn't surprise me though.

Dawn, I think a lot of people are unsure about cooking when they first leave home (not all, certainly, but some), but taking the time to learn how to cook and experiment in the kitchen is part of growing independence. At least I thought it was.

Sue, I think it's not just the actual kitchen skills that are passed down through the home, but also the whole attitude to cooking and nourishment from food. You're right that the agency are letting me down somewhat, especially as cooking is one of the main reasons they send carers to me, and sometimes it feels like more effort than it's worth. There's not a lot I can do about it though so for now I'll continue on with what I've got and hope that the people who come will gradually learn what a sieve is, what a pan's for, how to turn the cooker on, and what goes into a salad.