One viciously toothed object is key to conquering the kitchen with arthritis

If my parents hadn’t bought a dowdy condo with an out of date kitchen configured for an elderly lady, I never would have discovered the single most useful object that empowers me to help myself to prepare food with my arthritic hands.

V shaped wooden jar opener screwed to bottom of upper cabinetIt’s a jar opener with a double row of teeth that might put a very small shark to shame. I found a modern one called a Gator Gripper online at SMC Woodworking in 2018. At $16.95 + shipping, I rate it a great bargain after many months of use.

There’s no brand name on my parents’ original jar opener, but it was screwed into dark brown stained cabinetry circa 1970. It could have been made by a friend or it might be a commercially manufactured object. The previous owner of the condo lived there for decades and the unit wasn’t sold until after her death. I’m just grateful that the lady bought this magic gripper because it makes any screw top a breeze to open, regardless of hand strength or manual dexterity.

Unless weakness of the hand makes it necessary for one to hold a jar with both, most people can easily open jars single-handedly with the Gator Gripper. Better yet, its design makes tiny lids as easy as large ones to grip. I’ve opened vitamin and nail polish bottles with this thing as well as water bottles, sauce jars, and home-canned mason jars. It works equally well gripping plastic and metal tops.

Opening bottles and jars safely before I remembered the probable burst of pain with which my hands would react was one of the longest lessons it took me to learn* when I developed autoimmune arthritis. I might be feeling fairly well, but the grip and squeeze and twist of a sealed jar almost always leads to lightening bolts of shock up multiple fingers.

Coffee bottle, Chameleon Cold Brew brand

Coffee trapped inside a glass prison!

Coffee bottle with screw top wedged into jar opener’s gripping teeth

The fight for liquid freedom!

Coffee bottle with lid off

Success for coffee lovers everywhere… in my kitchen

My husband has a more equivocal relationship with the jar opener than I do, though he’s the one that actually ordered the Gator Gripper for me. Now that one lives in our kitchen, he has trust issues. DH recognizes that I prefer being able do things for myself, and that being unable to get past a step as trivial as “open the jar” when cooking is demoralizing.

Then again, the jar opener does employ very sharp teeth to do its job, and DH is something of a pessimist. The design of the product is an open, inviting v-shape. It hangs, welcoming, beneath the upper cupboard near the fridge where I usually stand when I’m preparing food.

I see the jar opener as welcoming my tightly shut twist-off; DH sees it as welcoming unsuspecting fingers, hungry for human blood.

“Someone could cut himself,” my husband says doubtfully. “There’s nothing to prevent you from sticking your hand in there and slicing open a finger.”

It’s true. This is a grown up’s kitchen implement. Then again, I see very few of my visitors patting or probing the undersides of my upper cabinets when in my kitchen.

The Gator Gripper’s position more than four feet above the floor and over a countertop workbench is enough to ease my mind that visiting toddlers are unlikely victims. My own kids are plenty tall enough to reach it, but also plenty mature enough to understand that sawtoothed blades and phalanges don’t mix.

Large knife block full of Cutco knives

Warning: Knives are not toys

I figure, in a kitchen with a knife rack in plain sight, the jar opener represents only a minimal additional risk.

My parents sold their condo and moved back into a house when my mother couldn’t make the adjustment to a downsized life. They unscrewed that jar opener and brought it with them to their new home, however, and I’m grateful that they did.

There are minor renovations I would enjoy making in my own kitchen, but I can’t imagine any scenario in which I’d live without my jar opener going forward, save, perhaps, for the abolishment of all screwtops by executive order.

And, even then, I’d probably keep my trusty Gator Gripper tucked away under that cabinet just in case. After all, someone could show up with contraband. Prohibition taught us that plenty of bottles make their way around even after the most teetotaling fiat.

*The other contender for “why can’t I make this adjustment?” was opening heavy commercial doors. I’ve gotten much, much better and trained myself to always use the power/disabled access button where available, and I almost always remember to turn around and push doors with my back instead of using my hands and wrists now, but making this a habit took several years.

Thanksgiving lessons learned: one mom’s (grateful) battle to enjoy labor-intensive holidays

I love that Thanksgiving reminds me to take stock and be thankful for the abundance of blessings in my life. I am blessed. I am thankful. I’m grateful for a holiday devoted to that awareness.

Thanksgiving give thanks - 1But then there is the reality of celebrating Thanksgiving in America as a mom. It involves a lot of cooking, a lot of shopping, and a lot of stress.

Let’s all keep in mind that I’m not a great cook. I can produce reasonably healthy and palatable food for my family; I don’t enjoy cooking.

Shopping the gauntlet

I start shopping right after Halloween. I buy the wine as early as possible for obvious reasons. I pick up our family celiac’s favorite gluten free stuffing mix from Trader Joe’s as soon as it arrives for the season.

Pantry goods are easy to buy ahead of the rush, and doing so helps spread out over multiple weeks the costs of a sit down dinner for 20.

I’m grateful for Amazon Fresh delivering my last minute, fresh foods on the day before Thanksgiving. Grocery stores are hellish just before this holiday! Having the items I want dropped off right to my door is a Really Wonderful Thing.

We enjoy seasonal, local bounty direct from family-owned farms in New England via Farmers To You. This year ’round service is especially gratifying as the autumn harvest rolls in. I’ve posted before about my commitment to support our regional food shed with my grocery dollars.

A humanely raised turkey from Misty Knoll Farms as the centerpiece of our feast is something I’m proud to feed my family and friends.

Cleaning the house

As we catalogue my faults, let’s remember that I’m not much of a housekeeper, either. Hosting a large meal raises certain expectations for minimizing the usual daily clutter. Having out of town relatives to stay means prepping the guest room and the downstairs bathroom, too.

I have to confess: this year, I didn’t get as much done as I’d have liked to prepare for houseguests. I struggled to forgive myself for that, but I used up every iota of energy that I had prepping for Thanksgiving in other ways, choosing to prioritize the feeding of 20 people from seven households over the immediate comforts of close relatives.

I’m grateful that I’ve gotten better at acknowledging my limits; I’ll keep working on accepting those limitations with grace.

Planning on the level of a precision strike

The only way a less-than-stellar cook is going to get a meal for twenty on the table in something resembling good time is to create a plan that incorporates all the prep and cooking times for multiple recipes and integrate them temporally. Continue reading

Sharing much-adapted recipes while giving credit where it is due

Since I'm a rather reluctant cook—producing meals because I or my family need to eat, not from a sense of creative purpose—I have a lopsided relationship to recipes, whether found in a cookbook or online.

Those few recipes that hit the sweet spot of "easy to prepare" yet "delicious to eat" while simultaneously "nutritious and healthful" are, almost literally, treasures. I cherish them. I wouldn't want to live without them.

If I share a recipe on this blog, it's because I find it life altering in its perfection for these needs/wants. I probably won't do this very often.

cookbooks-on-shelf-1.jpg

On the other hand, the search for appropriate recipes is a frustration to a non-cook like me who's just trying to get a meal on the table.

"Easy" and "simple" are often slapped upon a series of steps that I find arduous (lots of chopping), painful (washing lots of vegetables under cold water), disgusting (slimy hands-on handling of meat), or terrifying (flaming cooktop vs. the safety of my nicely enclosed slow cooker or oven.)*

Even seemingly more straightforward tags like "gluten free" are often attached to recipes that abound in other taboo ingredients or inclusions I can't conscientiously allow in my family's diet.

As a parent whose kids have always benefited digestively by avoiding dairy, the addition of a celiac diagnosis for another much-loved family member has compounded the difficulty of satisfying everyone without almost literally poisoning someone else.

Which is to say, I almost never find a recipe that doesn't require a little modification for my purposes. More often, recipes require a lot of changes before I can even attempt them.

All of which brings me, at long last, to my point today.

Bear with me. Really, I'm getting there.

There's a fair amount of angst amongst internet recipe creators about ownership and giving credit where credit is due.

I get it. Attribution is important. It's a laudable goal. I completely support the rights of those who create content to be acknowledged for, and compensated for, their work. I don't steal music. I only post my own mediocre photos (or my husband's much better ones) to this blog.

On the other hand, I also totally get why recipes are not protected by copyright law in the same manner as many other written works.

Here is a really nice explanation of how US copyright law applies to recipes.

A list of ingredients and the basic steps to combine them are too far removed from the tangible reality of what a recipe really is. It's like protecting the rights to a complete assembly instruction manual vs. declaring you own the act of rotating a screwdriver to drive in a screw…

When I use a recipe, it ends up looking like this after a few attempts:

recipe Waffle Gluten Free

Gluten Free Waffle frozen - 1

Resulting waffles, frozen, because I hear people like to look at pictures of food

If I find a recipe online that I'm going to try, I print it out. I'll use it "as is" if it will print on one page. If I'm using a cookbook from the library, I photocopy the required pages for a given recipe.

I need a print out to use while cooking—I've come far too close to destroying my iPad trying to skip this step and use a virtual recipe in the actual kitchen. I've tried for decades to switch to a digital recipe collection, and failed completely at every attempt. I would never subject a library book to my kitchen shenanigans.

Cookbook binder - 1

If I use a recipe and like it, or if it's going to print out on multiple pages or with multiple photos illuminating nothing confusing, I cut and paste the text into an editor.

I'm bound and determined to create a document that formats a recipe how I like to read it.

I'm very text-oriented. I only want a photo if it clarifies a step. Best example: bread dough stages.I find photos of completed dishes superfluous, not inspirational. For my use, pictures are routinely discarded.

I also strip away narrative content because it's a distraction. It might have led me to try a recipe, but I don't need to read that again. I've already been convinced to make the dish. If something seems important, I might move it to the end and add an Author's Note section.

For the past year or so, I've started appending the link to my document when I find a recipe online. It never occurred to me to do that even a few years ago. I wasn't publishing anything, and I'm not the friend people ask for culinary inspiration.

Odds are, if a recipe becomes a part of my life, I'll never want to reference the original source again. Eventually, I will have the essentials of the original recipe as text in my computer, and I will have added many notes, and adjusted many ingredients. I will have made the dish dozens of times, optimizing the process for my skills in my kitchen.

It's a tricky thing to say when the recipe stopped being "the originator's" and became "mine," but I believe that does happen eventually. How would you quantify that shift? Any change at all? 10% changed? 25%? Or in years that have passed? Or oceans and continents crossed?

If I'm this free and loose with a recipe, I can't imagine how much more innovation is introduced by serious cooks.

All of which is to say, excluding acts of outright theft perpetrated by scoundrels who copy and paste content wholesale to their own sites, I think there is room for interpretation about where your content ends and another's begins.

If I post a recipe here, I will make every attempt to accurately state its origins, but I may make mistakes. I may not remember my own source, but I might recall the story of how a dish grew to prominence in my own humble kitchen.

My personal stake in this subject is simply feeding my family nourishing food at a level of effort I can afford to undertake, and keeping track of how I did it.

Sharing a recipe represents my sincere wish to save another person a little effort, perhaps making his or her life better in that moment.

I'm curious to know how this topic resonates with others. Is there more that should be said? Am I wrong if I share a recipe whose origin I don't know?

 

*We can talk about my weird fear of the stove top some other time. My husband assumes I was burned at the stake in a former life. But, seriously, the gas stove is ON FIRE, INSIDE MY HOUSE. How can that be right? Someone should EXTINGUISH that!