Our regular columnist Ian Taverner, aka Mr Cookfulness, has started a cooking revolution that aims to bring the joy of cooking to everyone and he recently shared his 12 steps to help you find the joy in cooking
I can’t tell you how proud I am to be writing the regular recipes for this amazing magazine. Things have come a long way since I first attempted to cook again, after my health and life changing due to illness and disability. I know that cooking is so much more than just making a meal, I know that what you may be able to do today you might not be able to tomorrow, and that cooking can really test your physical and mental health to the point that a lot of people won’t try it. I absolutely get that, I was there for a long time too.
There is a vast array of barriers that the kitchen can throw in your way, and there is no one answer, no simple solution, but there are answers and there are solutions!
The way I gradually managed to get around these barriers is what now enables me to not just cook, but absolutely love to cook and get a real therapeutic buzz from it, every single day! I have distilled these solutions down into my “12 Steps”, and I am delighted to be sharing these with you now! You will see that most can be applied to everyday life too.
Some of you may find it easier than others, some of you may find change in how it impacts your day to day life, most will take a bit of practice, and things will go wrong but this is absolutely OK! This is what Cookfulness cooking is all about, to equip you to cook happily every single day. Flexible, accessible, joyful!
- Breathing and Visualisation
Yes, really! We have an in-built ability to catastrophise pretty much everything, sometimes based on fact, often on anything but! It is very real though and so starting before you even start, is really important. Just taking some nice, slow and deep breaths can make a huge difference. To accompany this I use visualisation to beat back the catastrophising. A quick example is to close your eyes (if you are able and willing), start to breathe deeply and slowly, and then picture you and your family or friends sat around a table, a big hot-pot is sitting in the middle, with crusty bread, rice, steaming away. The smells are incredible, everyone is smiling, talking, laughing. Your food is devoured by very happy people.YOU made that hot-pot!
YOU are there with your family and friends, enjoying it!
YOU are making people happy!Drink in the feeling of joy and happiness, let yourself smile, feel what that feels like and then capture that whole situation into your mind’s library. Use this to bring back these incredible feelings and emotions every time. Create different scenarios, really go for it in making yourself feel very special, all because you cooked!
- Give Yourself Time
Time can really be your enemy, your nemesis! It’s always against you, making you rush, making you not enjoy things. All cookbooks have cooking time and preparation time, but the latter only really works if you are of the same skill level and health as the person who wrote it. Let’s be honest, we aren’t!This is where “Give Yourself Time” comes in.I use this to give myself a buffer zone whenever I am cooking. It is the extra time you might need when preparing something, when cooking something, when serving something, to allow for how you are feeling, to give yourself the best possible chance to plan, cook and enjoy it, even if it takes a lot longer than the recipe says or even how long you took to do it last time.No more frustrations at yourself for not doing it as quickly as the book said, no more anxiety, but you have to “Give Yourself Time” upfront in order to do it. You will see that all my recipes include “prep time”, “cook time” and “give yourself time”, so you can create your own buffer. I don’t know how long things might take you, I don’t know how you are feeling each day, but by allowing yourself upfront this time, by gifting it to yourself, you can get the same levels of joy and satisfaction each and every time!
- Cookfulness Playlists
Music is so important to me. It is so powerful, it creates emotions, feelings, thoughts. Sometimes these can be powerfully negative, the big break up song for instance! I use music constantly to help me to cook, to help me prepare to cook, to help me absolutely love to cook.I collect music that makes me happy, music that I can associate to wonderful times, music that makes me want to sing, and I stack them all in my Cookfulness playlist. Before I even think about cooking, the playlist goes on. I listen, I sing, I enjoy, I flood myself with it.The key to this is to keep adding to it. Something you hear that you haven’t heard for ages, something by an artist you remember had other wonderful songs, something you hear for the first time and love it, something that is playing when something special happens that you can use to remind yourself of how great that was. Just keep adding. The more you hear, the more you add, the more you enjoy! Get your Cookfulness groove on!
- Widen Your Kitchen
No, not knocking down walls! The kitchen is not really designed for disability or chronic health conditions is it? Some are, but they can be very expensive. My solution is to not always be in the kitchen when preparing! I use my dining table, where I can sit safely, comfortably and happily to prepare certain things. If you have seen any of my demo’s and workshops you will know I do them all sitting down at the table. Yes, it takes a little longer and, yes, you may need help to transport things, but it really can be worth it I promise you.By taking myself out of the kitchen environment it changes your mindset, you don’t feel as rushed, you don’t feel as anxious.
- Smart Equipment
There are certain items that can make a massive difference to your ability to cook, which in turn can make a massive difference to how you feel about cooking. A good knife is really important, but also can either be incredibly expensive and/or just not right for you in terms of shape and feel. I only now use two knives that are from Active Hands, a wonderful British company providing amazing equipment to help with cooking and all aspects of life. One of the larger items is a steamer. Why? Well there’s no open, heavy pans of boiling water to navigate. They have an in-built timer and you can do multiple items safely all at once. And the added bonus is that steaming keeps a lot more of the goodness in vegetables than boiling does.Slowly building up your smart equipment means you have the ability to do things; peel, chop, grate, cook, no matter how you are feeling. You give yourself options and you give yourself permission to use these options.
- Smart Ingredients
Just like smart equipment, you can do exactly the same with ingredients! I have several go-to smart ingredients, they mean I have options regardless of how I am feeling. Take the onion for instance, it is the bedrock of a lot of dishes but can be truly lethal to peel and chop, so I have a bag of frozen ready-chopped in the freezer, a jar of dried onion powder in the cupboard and, sometimes, a pack of dried onion flakes too. These I build up over time, they are very cost effective and they don’t really go off. It is all about options and giving yourself permission to access these options.Is using pre-chopped, chilled and frozen veg or fruit OK? You bet it is! It is not lazy, it is not cheating, it is very, very, very smart cooking!
- Little Extra Cooking
Batch cooking is wonderful but can be a really big ask for disabled people, so I now do a “Little Extra Cooking”. It really is just what it says. Whenever I am making something I will see if I have enough ingredients to make a portion or two more. Then freeze it or fridge it so you have another dish ready for when you really can’t face cooking.By doing this, rather than the full batch cook, you don’t end up with lots of the same dish in the freezer, you don’t exhaust making for the masses, and you are more likely to enjoy it when you come to make and eat it again.I do this not just with, say, a bolognese, but it could be a sauce, a soup, vegetables, anything, because this then builds up a stock in your fridge and freezer for the days you just can’t do it. These days happen, it is absolutely ok. Now you can dip into the freezer and get out something you made. It doesn’t matter if you made it three weeks ago, you still made it and you should still be incredibly proud of yourself the day you reheat it and eat it!
- Plan For The Unplanned
As we all know, life can throw curve balls and there will be days when cooking is just not possible. In step seven, I talked about little extra cooking and how that can help build up a little stock of fully or partially made dishes in your freezer for when you need it.This is planning for the unplanned. Always remember, you were the one who made it!
- Try Something New
It is very easy to get into the world of having the same few dishes because you know family and friends will eat them or it’s something you are comfortable making. That is absolutely understandable and ok. However, there is a real joy in trying something new. It can spark things in you that you thought were gone. Creativity, excitement, anticipation, achievement!I am not saying go crazy, as that can have the opposite effect and put you off for good. Whenever you are out shopping or doing your online shop, just try and find one ingredient you haven’t used before, anything. See what you can make with it! I use the World Kitchen aisle a lot for this, it is online too, as it is full of things I have maybe not heard of or tried to cook with.There will be things that you hate, that go wrong, and that is also absolutely fine too! The fact is that you tried it. It is so good to ignite the fires of passion in your cooking and trying something new, once a week or a month, is genuinely wonderful, I promise you! In these times of financial difficulty this can be really difficult I know, but even a different brand of beans can be great!
- Whatever You Make It’s Right
Yes, it is true! How many times have you been totally deflated that your dish looks nothing like the picture? How many times been upset that it’s burnt, or it doesn’t taste like you thought it would? Forget this!Whatever you make, is right, is a wonderful thing to tell yourself. It is not all about the final dish that comes out, it is about the time you had getting there! You need to remember how much joy you had preparing it, finding ingredients, the music, the method, the time, and that it was joyous! If it comes out looking completely different to the picture or your expectations, so what! You made it, it’s right!
- Create New Memories
This circles back to visualisation in step one, music in step three, in fact all of the steps! If you are able to enjoy cooking, it makes you happy and gives you a real boost, then these moments are what you need to lock in as your new memories. The more you have of these in your brain locker, the more you can draw on when you need a boost, just to remind yourself how flipping amazing you are and how much you love cooking!If you remind yourself every day about creating new memories, then you can look and see them either when they happen or just after. Create them, store them, use them!
- Celebrate everything!
This really is it! Celebrate the heck out of everything, every little thing! You managed to cook when feeling bad, you managed to eat your food even when you didn’t cook, you managed to peel a potato, you tried a new ingredient or variation of a dish, you burnt the heck out of something, it’s all to be celebrated and wildly!You need to tell yourself to celebrate, remind yourself to celebrate and then it will become easier and easier. To start with you might feel stupid, a fraud, but that is normal. We find it hard to celebrate things when a lot is against us, but this is why it is even more important to celebrate every darn thing!You deserve it!
This may seem a lot right now, too much, too far, but just try one at a time and see what happens. Don’t be afraid of things going wrong, like steps 10, 11 and 12 say, whatever you made it was right, you are creating new memories regardless and celebrate it like you won gold!
I want you to see and feel cooking as a key part of your day, not something you squeeze in because you have to. Give it the time you need, put it high on your daily do’s as a major achievement to celebrate and be super proud of. Cooking really can make you happy, I promise!
If you want to know more, are interested in how Ian Taverner may be able to help you, your organisation, charity or hospital, then you can follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @Cookfulness, or check out the website Cookfulness.co.uk, find Cookfulness on YouTube, or email Cookfulness@gmail.com.
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