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10 Kitchen and Life Skills I've Relearned Since Losing My Left Hand - Personal History

10 Kitchen and Life Skills I've Relearned Since Losing My Left Hand - Personal History
From The Kitchn - December 5, 2017

You can spend years perfecting your skills in the kitchen and amassing an arsenal of supplies, but what good are they if you lose the most important tool of all?

It was last December and, although the holiday season's inevitable craziness was getting to me, I was the good kind of exhausted. I was the baker for a small, beloved cafe and my calendar for the next year was already filled with cooking classes and workshops I was going to teach, exciting collaborations with local artists, and even a trip to my homeland of Georgia.

But then my life violently veered onto a different path when, a week before Christmas, I nearly lost my whole hand in a rollover car accident.

In the end, my surgeons were able to save my hand, but at the price of two fingers and essentially all hand function. In addition to coping with a new normal, it's also been a year of countless surgeries and rehab appointmentsneither I nor my doctors and therapists have given up on getting my hand to work like it did before. Even though I have not set foot in a professional kitchen since the accident, I have not allowed my loss to hold me back from cooking and baking.

My drive to create in the kitchen propels me to work through my frustrations, tears, and moments of doubt. In turn, each foray into the kitchen has been both a small triumph, as well as a lesson in patience, resourcefulness, and self-discovery. Here, I share with you 10 kitchen skills I have had to relearn since losing my left hand, and the life lessons I have acquired along the way.

1. Prepping fruits and vegetables: Be patient.

In the first few months when my hand was perpetually in a large cast or big splint, I turned to an ingenious Swedish cutting board to assist in prepping foods. When finally freed of the bulk, I remember trying to chop a red onion for the first time, my left hand cautiously attempting to hold the vegetable in place. What once took me 30 seconds at most now involved minutes of careful concentration and painfully slow cutting. After half an onion, I walked away in angry tears.

I have since learned to be more patient with myselfcooking should be a source of joy, not stress or defeat. I remind myself that no one is timing my knife skills and my dish wo not taste bad if my onion is unevenly chopped. With time and practice I have been able to adapt, relying more on my palm to anchor down objects. I am still nowhere as efficient and precise as I once was, but I am improving nonetheless, and that's fulfilling in and of itself.

2. Cutting my food: Do not be afraid to ask for help.

When you are not 3 years old, it's hard to stomach having someone else cut up your food for you. My fork serves a dual purpose these days, and it works well enough most of the time, but it's those tougher cuts of meatsteaks, chops, etc.that are a nuisance.

At first, especially if out in public, I'd be embarrassed to ask whoever I was dining with to cut my food for me. Eventually, I realized it was a win-win situation. My friends and family felt good about assisting me, and I was left full and satisfied with my meal. At home, it's a different story. I will pick up the piece of meat in its entirety and take one giant, satisfying bite out of it.

3. Moving heavy objects: Know my own strength.

It's not all frustratingI am also often surprised by a task I am still able to do. However, the kitchen can be a dangerous place if you are not careful, so I test everything new out carefully.I have been focusing on my right arm at the gym to ensure I can still pick up and move around heavy skillets, baking pans, and sheet pans of food. A pot of boiling water or soup, though, no matter how strong my right arm is, still requires both hands.

To be extra safe, I will even place trivets at different points on the counter, like a trail of breadcrumbs, to make sure I can put down the vessel if it gets to be too heavy. It's all about striking a balance between being confident and having a safety net, too.

4. Opening cans: Think outside the box.

A few months ago, I was going to a dinner party and said I would bring a three-bean salad. Some parsley, red onion, a few cans of beanseasy enough. That is, until I actually went to open the cans of beans and realized that I could not actually use a can opener with only my right hand. It also did not help that my two-dollar can opener from college barely worked even when I had two hands. Determined, I spent the next 30 minutes alternating between puncturing individual holes into the lids and twisting the handle with my left elbow. At the time, I was frustrated and angry and vowed never to cook with beans again.

Looking back, I am proud that I did not back down from the obstacle and instead faced it in a creative way (I do wish I had a video of myself stabbing those cans as a reminder of how far I have come). To keep it from happening again, however, I have invested in one of these.

5. Opening jars: Stop complaining and just do something about it.

A jar is another headache for us one-handed folk. My go-to method for a while was squeezing the jar between my thighs and opening the lid that way. Tucking the jar into the crook of my elbow also worked. Both methods, however, kept resulting in pickle juice or some other unsavory liquid all over myself. I complained over and over again about jars and why they had to be so difficult to open until my mom could not take it anymore ("Then stop complaining and do something about it," she said). Sometimes it takes another's voice of reason to give you the impetus you need.

6. Baking a cake: Invest in the right tools.

7. Separating eggs: Arrive thoroughly prepared (and read the recipe).

8. Salt and pepper: Have goals, but be practical.

9. Grating zest and cheese: Delegate better and get more done.

10. Plastic wrap: Cheaper is not necessarily better.

Final Thoughts on One Year After Losing My Left Hand

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