Friday, 3 March 2017

Rheumatoid Arthritis - When You're Flaring, or Just Can't be Bothered Cooking

So, for followers of the Facebook page, you'll know that this week did not go as planned. Instead, Dragon Dad ended up in hospital with appendicitis. He's home now, recuperating from keyhole surgery to remove it - no keyhole surgery when I had MINE out years ago, and he thinks HE'S having a rough time... However, all the extra stress, lack of sleep, and running around doing the things he'd normally do as well as the stuff I do...and yes, I'm flaring. So, although he's in that picky stage of not feeling well, and wanting 'something tasty' (which can mean a whole lot more work than something basic) or stuff just to pick at rather than an actual meal, it's feeling like a WHOLE lot of work for me. I thought it might be timely to post some of the basic food strategies I maintain at home to cover times like this - and remind myself or them at the same time!

There are a few things that underpin how it works. Firstly it's what to keep on hand, and then simple things to do with those stores and the odd fresh addition to make things that are easy, nutritious, and don't require endless running around - that's the theory anyway!

Things to have in stock

In the pantry:

  • Tiny tins of tuna, plain and flavoured (they're 85gms I think)
  • Canned chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc
  • Crackers - whatever kind you like. I usually have Saladas and/or Saos
  • Rice - Jasmine, Basmati, short grain.
  • Noodles - regular pastas (spaghetti and something short like spirelli or penne), rice vermicelli, dried egg noodles
  • Stock - I keep litre and 250ml cartons of Campbell's Real Stock. Always have chicken and veg, and occasionally beef
  • Spices - a very little spice can go a long way to give something very simple a lift
In the fridge:
  • Olives
  • Cheese - I always have cheddar, parmesan, and usually one soft cheese - the latter depends on budget. Spreadable Philadelphia cream cheese if money's tight, or a soft goat's cheese if we're more flush
  • Eggs
  • Dips. We always have a tub of hummus in the fridge, and sometimes others as well
  • Range of veg - carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, capsicums, zucchini
In the freezer:
  • Skinless chicken breasts
  • Frozen peas - if you're not eating them, they make perfect emergency icepacks
  • Piece of steak
  • Mince
Vital kitchen equipment:
  • Food processor - grating by hand hurts. Food processors do it in seconds. My food processor is the one thing I spent real money on - it's not worth buying a cheap one
  • Stick blender - for small things when you don't want to get the processor out
What to do with these things

Tuna I've been known to just open a can of the flavoured ones and eat it with a spoon. Otherwise, good on crackers, dropped into a salad to add protein, rolled into a pita with some salad veg and/or cheese, or stirred through cooked pasta and topped with cheese.  
Canned beans and stuff Chick peas can be gently toasted in a frypan with a little oil and a mix of spices - try cumin, coriander, paprika, tumeric and a little salt and pepper. Nice warm, but can be kept in an airtight container for a day or so for a snack.
Cannellini beans can be mashed with crushed garlic, parsley or fresh oregano, slat pepper and a little olive oil to make a quick dip.
Drop any drained canned beans or pulses into a salad for added protein.
Make a quick salad with drained canned lentils, roasted beetroot or pumpkin (can be bought pre-cut), soft cheese, greens and light dressing.
Chickpeas and lentils can be stirred through steamed Basmati rice and topped with fried onions for a simple meal, or side dish. 
Rice First up, steamed rice can be divided and frozen in smaller quantities, so always make a full pot and do that, then you have it ready cooked and just requiring defrosting. 
Quick rice pudding (when I'm on my own and feeling like crap, I make this for dinner) 60g short grain rice, 600ml full cream milk, 30gms brown sugar. Stir together in an ovenproof dish and throw it in the oven at 150C for 2 hours. Check from the 90min mark as, depending on your oven and whether it's a deep or shallow dish, it could take longer or shorter to cook to a creamy consistency.
My mother's fried rice. Start with some cooked jasmine rice - one cup raw will give you two cups cooked. In a large frypan, saute one sliced brown onion until soft, add 1/8 finely shredded cabbage (both can be don in the food processor) and continue to saute til soft. Add 2T sultanas, and 1T pinenuts, stir through until sultanas are plump. Add rice and stir through gently to break up the clumps. Add 1T light soy sauce to moisten. You can add an omelette sliced into thin strips for added protein. ALWAYS make more than you need - it keeps in the fridge for a few days and reheats well.

Using the Chinese method for steaming rice (I'm lazy and don't rinse it, and it still works just fine), add a mix of sliced veg on top of the rice just before you put the lid on for the fifteen minute steam. Turn off heat and leave lid on for a further five minutes. Remove lid, add a splash of Kecap Manis (sweet soy sauce) and stir through - steamed rice and veg!
Noodles and pasta You can keep cold cooked pasta in the fridge in a sealed container for a few days quite safely and microwave or steam to reheat. It also freezes.

Heat a pack of consomme or stock (the 250ml on for a single serve). Drop in some vermicelli, blanched veg, and sliced poached chicken - almost instant chicken noodle soup that's WAY better than the packet stuff.
While pasta is cooking, combine in a bowl a drained can of tuna in oil, a couple of knobs of butter, a handful of grated parmesan (buy pre-grated), one beaten egg, and some minced parsley. Drain pasta, and immediately stir mix through hot pasta off the heat. the residual heat will cook the egg and melt the cheese and butter, forming a creamy sauce.

Leftover pasta can be gently reheated in a pan with some butter, then scramble an egg through it and top with grated cheese for a quick snack - one of my guilty pleasures!
Eggs The ultimate lifesaver when you really don't feel like eating but know you have to...
Keep a bowl of hard boiled eggs in the fridge. They'll keep well for a few days. Use for snacks, slice one onto crackers or toast, add to a salad - the options are endless. On really bad mornings, I'll peel and eat one while I have my tea so I can take my drugs.
Combine in a blender with milk and a banana and/or berries for a morning smoothy - or just a drop of vanilla and some honey if you don't have the fruit handy.
Even cooking eggs doesn't take much effort - and scrambling them is easiest to make and eat.

Chicken breasts While they CAN be a bit pricey, they can also offer some of the easiest options to ensure you're getting enough easily digested protein. I keep a container of poached chicken breasts in the fridge and use them for all sorts of things.
To poach... In a wide, shallow pan, combine a litre of chicken stock (from the pantry), a sliced lemon, garlic cloves you've just cracked with the skin left on, a few peppercorns if you have them, and sprigs of fresh thyme if you have them. Brig to boil. Add chicken breasts in a single layer - the pan needs to be deep enough to cover them. Bring back to boil, and boil - covered - for three minutes. Turn off heat and leave in the liquid with the lid on for 15 minutes. Remove and drain and they're done. The stock can be strained and frozen to use later. Chicken can be eaten hot or cold. We slice it into salads, sandwiches, soups, etc. Dragon Dad's favourite meal at the moment is cooked rice, slices of poached chicken, a serve of pickled cabbage and some hot sauce...
Sausages and mince 

Grill or fry sausages gently, and drain well. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Use as is to snack on, or for sandwiches, or sliced into a salad. 
Make up small meatballs - Google for recipes, there are thousands online, but I can recommend Yotam Ottolenghi for various styles of kofte. And get the kids involved - they'll have a ball (see what I did there?!) rolling them into golf ball sized balls. Then fry or bake - I usually sear then throw them in the oven to cook through. Drain, cool and store in airtight containers in the fridge and use as you'd use the sausages. 

Obviously, some of these things require more energy and preparation than others. They also very much reflect our taste and food preferences. But they should serve to offer ideas and jump off points that can be adapted to your taste and energy levels. Tonight, because I'm flaring and Dragon Dad wants 'something tasty', I'm making mushroom pizza - NOT my usual pizza with the homemade yeasted bread base, the fast easy version...with Lebanese bread from the local bakery for the base, ready made passata, and read grated mozzarella. the only thing I have to 'make' are the mushrooms, which I precook in olive oil with garlic and thyme. Lots of short cuts, but very little compromise on flavour - because there's no reason not to eat well, even when you're feeling crap.


  1. I follow that other important tip. Find Sheryl. Yes your advice is most more sound, but when adding your advice with mine, it is a killer combination. I am sorry about Dragon Dad. I hope he does well.

    1. LOL, Rick!!
      He is improving, although is still quite uncomfortable and, consequently, irritable!