Counting Down to the New Year is a series of 12 posts in which I reflect on 2014 and prepare for 2015.
At some point after the onset of chronic pain, cooking went from being one of my favorite activities to a chore that I cross off my list. I still enjoy the thought of cooking, and at times I do enjoy putting a meal together. But for the most part, cooking has become a huge hassle. Over time I’ve come up with tips and tricks along the way that make cooking easier, and perhaps at times even enjoyable again.
A recipe fit for a spoonie has the following qualities: easy and fast to make, healthy, and still manages to be delicious.
Here are some of my favorites. As a warning, these are simply ideas of recipes, not including amounts or exact instructions. If you have a baseline knowledge of cooking, these are just ideas of recipes that have worked for me when I am low on spoons and want to cook up something healthy that still tastes good.
1 – Avocado Toast – Toast with avocado and an assortment of other toppings is one of my go-to lunches. It is easy to make, inexpensive, health, vegan, and the high calorie avocado does its job to keep me full until dinner.
At its most basic, avocado toast includes toasted bread (I use Trader Joes Gluten Free) with about ½ of an avocado (depending on the size) smashed onto it with a fork. This is then topped with a sprinkle of salt and perhaps a dash of pepper flakes or splash of lime.
From here, you get more creative and add whatever happens to be in the fridge: tomato slices, red onion, Kalamata olives, sprouts, pico de gallo, leftover salad. If you aren’t vegan, the options are even more vast: hard boiled eggs, goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, feta. Healthy and delicious!
2 – Crockpot Vegetarian Chili – The point is to quickly throw everything into the pot and wait until it magically turns into something delicious.
I typically use whatever I happen to have in the cupboard: Canned kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans. Canned tomato or salsa. Canned green chilies or chipotle chilies in sauce. Spices such as cayenne, cumin, oregano, and garlic. Towards the end of the cooking time, I throw in half a bag of frozen corn. Top with avocado and corn chips to serve.
The leftovers are great for making enchiladas or burritos. The leftovers can be served over rice, used in tacos, or put on chips and baked to make healthy nachos.
If you don’t feel comfortable throwing ingredients together that are in your cupboard, here is a vegetarian chili recipe I have made to success. If it looks too complicated, you can leave out many of the chopped veggies it calls for, and it will still taste great.
3 – Roasted Veggie Pasta – This is a great way to get a ton of vegetables into your diet. I start by chopping up a ton of veggies, or if I don’t have enough spoons I buy a package of pre-chopped veggies.
Any veggie will do such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, squash, etc… Coat the chopped veggies with olive oil and your favorite combination of Italian spices such as oregano, basil, thyme, garlic powder, pepper flakes, pepper, and salt. Roast at a high temperature until cooked to your liking. Mix the cooked veggies with cooked pasta (gluten free) and more olive oil, salt, and pepper if needed. Obviously Parmesan would be amazing with this if you aren’t vegan.
4 – Salad w/ Fries – Some of you may find this strange, but in Western PA where I grew up, it was common to put French fries right on top of salad, usually with chicken as well. I still do this all the time, just without the chicken.
Make up a huge salad with greens, cucumbers, olives, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and any other veggies you have on hand. Cook up a package of frozen fries or potato wedges if you have the spoons. The fries go directly on top of the salad, occasionally with a hard-boiled egg or canned tuna fish, and I top with balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt for a dressing.
5 – Tuna Fish Sandwich – You can’t go wrong with a tuna fish sandwich. You can make it as easy or complicated as you like. I mix canned tuna fish with olive oil, mustard, relish, salt, pepper, and a bit of apple cider vinegar (as a healthier substitute for mayo). Sometimes I leave it that simple, but when I have enough spoons, I add miniature diced veggies such as onion, cucumber, peppers, grated carrot, various pickles, and any other veggies I have on hand.
The mixed tuna fish is put on gluten free toasted bread or a toasted corn tortilla wrap with lettuce, pickles, tomato, and mustard. Delicious. I like this sandwich because the simplest version requires very little energy to make, but more can be added as you are able.
6 – Asian Style Noodle Soup – This is a true favorite and perfect comfort food for the days you are feeling less than wonderful.
I buy a carton of good quality vegetable broth and simmer it on the stove with garlic and ginger. Towards the end I add vegetables such as mushrooms, bok choy, and other greens. I cook up a package of rice noodles. The broth is poured on top of the noodles, and I add soy sauce, sesame oil, and hot pepper oil to the individual bowls.
This recipe can be simplified by skipping the step where you simmer the broth with garlic and ginger – it will still taste good without it. You can even skip adding the vegetables.
7 – Stir Fried Rice – This is another great recipes for getting in your vegetables. It is simple and to the point, and I often make up a huge batch and it will be my dinner for over the course of a week.
Chop up a ton of vegetables such as mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, green beans, zucchini, broccoli, asparagus, etc… Stir fry them in olive oil until tender. Add cold cooked rice and stirfry until everything is heated and cooked through. Add soy sauce to taste. Top each individual serving with Sriracha sauce to your liking.
I’m always on the lookout for recipes fit for spoonies. I would absolutely love if you would post in the comments your ideas for me and everyone else to use!
***I also want to gauge interest on a small project I am considering. Over time I am realizing that cooking can pose quite a problem for individuals with chronic pain and illness. I am considering putting together a small e-book about Cooking with Chronic Pain that would include practical tips and advice for managing cooking when you have a chronic condition. It would also include recipes that meet the requirements of short standing time, easy and quick to make, healthy, and still delicious. Do you think there is a need for such a book? And if not, I would be curious to look through similar resources that have already been created if you know of any. Thanks!