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amputee baking

Back In the Kitchen


Back In the Kitchen

When I became an amputee, there was one other lady who lived in Charlotte who was a quadruple amputee. Her amputations resulted from sepsis as well, but in her case the infection began after a kidney stone. In my early days as an amputee, this dear woman came to visit me on multiple occasions to provide encouragement as well as instruction on how to use my (then) new prosthetics. She drove to my house, which amazed me because I did not think I would ever be able to drive. She showed me how she could use an adaptive fork to eat relatively gracefully. With light in her eyes, she bragged about her young grandchildren and told me about how they've adjusted to her prosthetics. Apparently, she was even able to babysit them with little problem. And she even told me about how she was able to go back to work full-time!

This woman gave me hope in so many ways - it seemed like there was nothing that she couldn't do! But she also shared with me the things that, after six years as an amputee, she still found impossible to do on her own. Between her husband and her home health aide, she still received help each day with showering, dressing, and preparing meals. She talked of how, in her early days of being an amputee, she had tried cooking and such, but "it was too frustrating, so I just told my husband that it would be his responsibility from that point on.”

In those early days, I was awed by her abilities and, while I was hopeful that I would one day reach equal "footing" with her; I never would have aspired to surpass her abilities.

As such, I resigned myself to never having the ability to cook, meaning that I was perfectly proud of myself when I managed to heat up some leftovers.

Before I became disabled, I would not have called myself a gourmet cook; but I could get dinner on the table most nights of the week, and I could prepare something special now and again. But baking. Baking was something I could do. And it was something I loved to do. Cookies, cakes, banana pudding. I especially loved making and decorating birthday cakes.

And then there was my “Amish Cinnamon Bread.” We also lovingly referred to it as "Bread That's Really Cake." This title came about because Ben one day referred to it as "Bread" when he asked for a piece at breakfast. Then Brook firmly told our boy that it was not bread at all but that it was truly CAKE because it was sugary and had the nutritional value of a of a piece of cake, meaning nil. From that day forward, Ben called it "Bread That's Really Cake." That title rolled off his tongue as if that were the most natural of names - just like "Tom John Tom" was the most normal of names for a Christmas elf during advent...

My mouth still waters when I think about the batter for Amish Cinnamon Bread, which is also called "Friendship Bread," and began with a “starter” that consisted of a concoction of flour, milk, and a whole lot of sugar. My husband Brook lovingly referred to the starter as my “science project.” He was never very fond of the gallon-sized Ziploc bag that, in his eyes, cluttered the kitchen countertops and became disastrous the few times that it leaked.

What follows is THE recipe - even after five years, I am writing this by heart (and I purposely don't refer to it as “from memory”).  

This “science project” always sat on my kitchen counter in a gallon-sized ziplock bag. I imagine that, once I was comatose in the ICU, someone had to throw my bread starter in the trash. I am fairly confident that Brook didn't perform this task lightly; doing so would have been an admission that I would not be home again baking any time soon.  

There was a rather complicated  process wherein the day you bake is assigned the title of “Day  One.” Each day you pick up the bag and squishy-squash it around. On Day Three you add a cup of sugar, a cup of flour, and a cup of milk. On Day Seven you repeat the process. Then on Day Ten, you pour the concoction into a rather large bowl. With a wooden (not metal!) spoon, you stir until the mixture is combined but still lumpy. Pour one cup of the new mixture into each of four new ziplock bags.

Give three of the bags to three different friends so that they, too, can bake —hence the nickname “Friendship Bread.” The fourth bag becomes your new starter, and what’s left in the bowl becomes the start of the bread batter for what you’ll be baking!

In order to get the “rest” of the recipe, you’ll have to PM me…

For many years, I baked this bread consistently every ten days (give or take a day or two). I never got sick of this bread, though Brook was consistently sick of having my “science project” cluttering up the kitchen countertop. I added pumpkin to the concoction from October through December. I brought this to family gatherings, potluck dinners, PTO gatherings, school and church bake sales, new neighbors, families with new babies or sick loved ones. One year I started baking and freezing loaves in September so that I’d have enough for family, friends, and teacher gifts that Christmas. If memory serves me correctly, I had close to forty loaves frozen for the holidays. But even more loaves were sacrificed to my cravings for sugar and sweets; I would plan my long runs for “baking days” so that I would have zero guilt for my bowl-licking tendencies.

One of the things I miss the most about having human hands is my ability to bake, specifically baking my Amish bread. I would love to try it again, but something is holding me back. Possibly the fear of ruining it, or at least the memory of it? Or perhaps the fear that baking will be full of more difficulty, pain and frustration than joy - much like what has happened with running.

I’ll never know unless I try. However, if I never try, then the hope and possibility will forever remain. In some ways, I don't want to ruin the good memories I have with my baking by trying to replace them with the new (and probably slower, less graceful moves). It is analogous to not wanting your kids to see your ailing and failing parents; you want them to remember their grandparents from when they were young, vibrant, and strong! Why should you ruin their memories? And why should I ruin mine?

Still, what if baking is like driving? What if it comes back easily? What if I realize that, with it, comes freedom? What if it allows me to prove that I still have abilities? Somehow though, I doubt that would be true…I have the stinking suspicion that baking is more like running and cooking than driving and walking.

Now, as for cooking. I do not have these amazing memories of certain dishes I cooked. I've always been more of a pragmatic cook. I'd rely on tried and true family recipes, most of them fairly easy, rather than seek out new dishes on the Internet. If I tasted something I liked at a friend's house, then I might ask for the recipe; but that was the extent of my "stepping out of the recipe box."

When it comes to cooking, it has always been more about taking care of people. Comforting them, helping them, celebrating them. Or simply filling their bellies so that the whining subsides.

Unlike with baking, I have begun to "cook" again. Mostly heating things up; but still, I can get dinner on the table. Ladies from my beloved CMG (which stands for Christian Mothers Group but is better known as the Christian Mafia Group because they "always have your back.") provided meals for my family for over three years. Then they progressed to making us freezer meals - packed in ziplock bags so that I could simply defrost, warm, and serve. These meals were wonderful, not only for their convenience, fresh ingredients, variety, and gourmet quality; but also because they allowed me to feel like I was actually feeding my family those meals myself, like I was a "real" mom. Don't get me wrong; just serving these meals was difficult for me and my prosthetic hands. It took me quite some time to be able to open a Ziploc bag. It's also dangerous for me to take hot pans out of the oven - burning my hand may not be physically painful, but it doesn't look too great on my prosthetics


But there's also side dishes to consider; even a salad can be tough. Here's what happens when I try to cut vegetables!

There have been other snafus as well. One day I was going to make a chicken salad using canned chicken, and I cut both "hands" straight through the glove AND shell of the prosthetic. So much for canned chicken being cheaper than fresh. That was the most expensive can of chicken I ever bought.

But all in all, I am doing much better than I ever would have expected. Simple meals I can do, with a bit of effort and a sous chef (a.k.a. Seaford kid) of the day. I can do chili, most crock pot meals, and my new favorite one-pan meals with chicken, roast potatoes, and broccoli. And I have to say that I have gotten pretty good at cheese quesadillas.

As for the Amish Cinnamon Bread...To be continued.