Sandra Lee — How to Cook with Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Growing up in Santa Monica, CA, celebrity chef Sandra Lee remembers her grandma baking a special cream cheese and peach cake for an
aunt's birthday. Grandma Lorraine made the dessert with love, peaches and a dash of pain.

“She rubbed her hands a lot,” the host of the Food Network TV show Semi-Homemade Cooking With Sandra Lee recalls. “I knew she was fatigued, in pain, and that her hands were swollen. But at three and four years old, I didn't understand why.”

Lee's grandma had rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic, progressive disease of the immune system that causes stiffness, inflammation and damage to the joints of the hands and feet. (See A Joint Project, p. 45 in ABILITY Magazine). Grandma Lorraine’s challenges were exacerbated by the fact that she worked in the cafeteria at the local Rand Corporation, where she prepared meals for the multitudes.

Still, cooking brought her a great deal of joy.

“She baked for showers, weddings and church bake sales.” said Lee, who’s recent book is called Made From Scratch: A Memoir. As a youngster, she followed her grandma around the kitchen, picking up pointers. For instance, her grandmother never boiled the macaroni for mac and cheese. “She’d bake it all together, tossing the noodles in butter, adding her water, cheese, cream and putting it in a dish.” Voila, one pan to wash.

Today, Lee’s many books, as well as her Food Network show, in which she uses 70 percent store-bought products with 30 percent fresh ingredients, is built on tips gleaned from grandma, who died nearly a decade ago.
In tribute to the woman who most inspired her, Lee recently added a component to her business and charitable work called I Can With RA. The program helps cooks living with the condition shop, organize their kitchens and whip up delicious dishes in a way that causes the least discomfort.

The eldest of five, Lee learned how to be enterprising early on. She and younger sister, Cindy, went to live with their grandmother when her mother, a teen parent, found herself overwhelmed by the responsibilities of rearing small children. Times were hard. Lee’s grandmother applied for welfare and food stamps, which created a financial bridge until the two children were older and reunited with their mother, then living in Washington state.

“My grandmother taught me to save money and to be a coupon clipper, which introduces you to new, innovative products, ingredient combinations, great flavor and taste. She took a less expensive roast over a more expensive cut and told the butcher to cube it,” which helped it cook down and become tender more quickly.

Her grandmother’s way of managing RA was to keep her kitchen tools at hand, right there on the counter, which Lee does to this day. Having a family member with arthritis also made Lee aware that those with the condition must deal with dietary concerns, creating meals that are low in salt and sugar, while foregoing alcohol.

On her website for cooks with RA, the author urges them to “take someone with you to the grocery store, and to use paper plates, so you don’t have to do dishes.” Lee herself says that she eats off of paper plates a couple of days a week.
She urges cooks with RA—and really everyone—to use bamboo steamers to cut down on caloric fats. Steamers with stacked layers, she says, allow you to prepare two different items, a fish and a vegetable, for instance, all at once.

The celebrity chef adds that buying pre-chopped or pre-sliced veggies, which might cost a bit more, is another way to make meals more painless. She suggests that picking something up at a salad bar, letting the bakery slice a fresh, multigrain loaf of bread, or having a fishmonger crack shellfish are additional ways to be gentle to one’s hands

“I try to keep prep time within a 20-minute range, because when we’re hungry, we’re hungry now,” she says.

More tips from Lee to organize your kitchen:

Use open shelving so that prep tools and plates are easier to access.

Put items high enough so that you don’t have to bend.

Pour pasta into a metal colander and carefully set that inside a pot of boiling water. When your macaroni is done, use oven mitts to lift it up and drain it right there at the stove, so you don’t have to lug a heavy pot of water back over to the sink.

Lee, working in partnership with Bristol-Myers Squibb and the Arthritis Foundation, has bonded with an RA support group of women over the last year and a half, helping them to get cooking, stay encouraged and brainstorm ways to help themselves and others. They’ve also given her valuable ideas for her new website, such as using pots and bowls with two handles, so that the weight is distributed between both hands and therefore feels lighter.. continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Sandra Lee issue include Headlines — NY’s New Gov, Dancing with Marlee and more; Green Pages — Living With Ed, Fair Trade Goodies; Best Practices — Companies Doing It Right; Starbucks — A New Perspective on Diversity; Accessible Alaska — Cruising the Wilderness; DRLC — Removing Barriers to Education; Senator Harkin — Voting Access for All; Allen Rucker — Ahhh! A Trip to the Spa; Rohan Murphy — Paralympic Powerhouse; Walter Reed — Performing for the Troops; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Sandra Lee issue: (Vol 2008 April/May)

Sandra Lee — How to Cook with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Big Brain — Does Size Matter?

Accessible Alaska — Cruising the Wilderness

PepsiCo — Effervescent Corporate Culture

Ouch! — The First in a Series on Managing Pain

Allen Rucker — Ahhh! A Trip to the Spa

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