Thursday, 14 March 2013

Roasted Cod… with a Brain Defect

One of the factors that make cooking such an ordeal for me is something that I’ve left largely unmentioned in these cooking posts. I have memory difficulties as a result of a head injury at birth. Hence, performing a multi-step operation involving many food products- something that takes lots of stages and involves doing different things at the same time- has always been a challenge. But it’s a challenge I decided to undertake regardless, and since November '11 when I cooked a cheese soufflé of all things, I’ve documented every recipe I’ve cooked right here.

I’ve rarely been explicit about why I’ve blogged up these meals. I’ve not made it particularly clear that making a meal is- or was- a major struggle, and I’ve not been open about the process of how someone with a memory difficulty goes about the act of cooking. Until now.

So, I’ll detail the process in the hope that it might help others with memory difficulties who are trying to attain the kind of independence that I’ve strived for.

First up, you’ll need the cookbook. I’m using The Hairy Dieters. You’ll also need an Android phone to do things the way I’m doing it. Download the Notes app and create a new list inside this app. Title the list “shopping” and list out all of the ingredients you’ll need to buy.

Go shopping. As you buy each item, the app will allow you to “strike” them off, so you can still see what you’ve picked up and what you still need to find on the shelves.

Second, lay out all of your ingredients at home. Open the cookbook on the relevant page and bookmark it. Use your phone to photograph all of the ingredients. 

Keep a notebook and pen nearby. (Not too close to the ingredients, though- don’t get food stains on your notes.) Follow the instructions. Make a note of any problems that you have. Was the recipe clear? How did you find juggling tasks? The more detailed your notes, the easier it will be to correct mistakes. It will also be easier to write up the process later, like I do.

Photograph all of the stages of cooking, as shown. 

Take the meal, the notebook and the pen to the table. Eat. Review the meal. Does it taste good? Was it worth the effort / money? Were there any other thoughts you had?

To answer: yes, yes, no.

One of the issues that arise because of memory difficulties is not that you particularly forget something; it's that you just don't think of something to begin with. Take, for instance, the cheese soufflé where I didn't know what “separate the eggs” meant, or the quiche that I only eight a third of as my parents were away and I had no-one to share it with. In this instance, it never occurred to me that I could cut the quiche into sections, box them up separately, freeze the boxes and take each box out one at a time for meals. I've got to make these mistakes (and throw half a meal away) to learn. But it's also important to document that somewhere- perhaps on a blog like this one. This might help the technique to become “crystallised” in your brain. This means what you've learned will ingrain, and you won't have to rely on notes for every little thing.

This week, I cooked Roasted Cod with Parma Ham and Peppers. It served 4, but as I'd only be taking it to my mum and dad's to eat and they'd have cooked something themselves as well, I cut the ingredients in half. Or at least, I tried to.

Constantly halving every instruction is a bit of a test, and I ended up cutting up too many peppers. Also, I bought actual cod instead of cod fillets. The only fillets I know of are those that are already boxed and breadcrumbed and ready to bung in the oven. I suppose I could have looked for a third kind.

This became a problem when The Bikers ask to “remove any bones you see with tweezers.” As I hadn't bought fillets, this would have taken hours. Also, the only tweezers I own come from my Swiss Army knife, and they're so small that the bones snap off when I'm trying to extract them. So I gave up with that. The parents and I would just have to take a bit of care when eating.

It tasted good. I took the remainder to my parent's house the next day. We couldn't mic it up again because of the shape of the food, and also the texture would have been ruined. But reheating it in the oven worked and didn't dry it out as badly as we'd suspected. They liked it too.

In conclusion, the constant documentation in photograph and hand-written note form allowed me to pinpoint what went well and what didn't go so well. And on the whole, it was a successful meal. Knowledge is power, as Sir Francis Bacon reportedly said.

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