Special Stuff

I haven’t written here in ages because I’ve been working. And before that I was hyperfocussing on (in no particular order) keyrings, colour-coding, magazine-holders, Google Sheets, Alexa routines, Zapier automation, travel bags, transparent boxes, transparent bags, photo storage solutions, blackboard labels, smart plugs, health trackers, go-bags and more.

I have a million draft posts saved up from my last blogging frenzy but many of them have since become redundant as I’ve forgotten whatever strategy I had decided was THE answer that particular week. They languish abandoned in my Onedrive folder, staring at me accusingly. I’m too scared to open them and be reminded of my past enthusiasm and chastised for my neglect.

This post on food popped into my head today as it seems to have stood the test of time. Perhaps it’s because, having grown up in a family that prioritised food, my relationship with it has been one of the few constants in my life. Meals have given me structure when everything else was chaotic and cooking has soothed my mind in a way that nothing else could.

But when I’m in hyperfocus mode everything else falls by the wayside.  Even with my miraculous medication, I’m incapable of focussing on more than one thing at once. Life admin, housework, finances, friends, family and self-care all disappear into the recesses of my mind (unless they happen to be the subject of my focus).

Even the basics like eating and drinking can be a struggle. I am lucky enough to have inherited a love of cooking from my Mum and Dad. More importantly I’m not scared of it. I am comfortable in the kitchen and love to play around with ingredients and flavours. But , whilst I enjoy cooking, it too is a hyperfocus activity, It involves stirring a roux on the hob, keeping an eye on a cake in the oven whilst something bubbles away in the slow cooker and the dishwasher washes take-away containers. A true crime podcast is the essential soundtrack, interrupted only by Alexa’s reminders. The point isn’t to eat but to cook. It’s a standalone activity.

At the moment I’m obsessed with researching Congolese culture, not researching something to eat. My house resembles a crime scene, the dishes have stacked up and the inside of the fridge resembles a science experiment. 

It’s tempting to abandon eating completely, particularly as my medication suppresses appetite. I’ve not mastered this completely but I have a few strategies that help me to get at least some nutrients inside me.

I start translating as soon as the coffee hits my lips and I refuse to waste any of my precious morning focus time on breakfast. I’m probably out of bread, eggs or butter anyway and besides, I’m sick of fending off my cat as he eyes up my marmite on toast.  My solution is Special Stuff©, a term for home-made muesli coined by my parents. 

I combine oats, dried fruit, milled seeds (like this) nuts, desiccated coconut, freeze-dried fruit and – if I’m feeling naughty – chocolate chips in a huge container. I have a scoop-full with milk delivered by my lovely milk lady and throw in frozen blueberries if I can be bothered. Special Stuff© is constantly evolving so I never get bored. It’s a sort of nutritional insurance policy so whatever I consume that day, I know I have got at least some special stuff in my body.

Special Stuff prep

Sometimes I resort to Special Stuff for other meals when I’m short on time or ingredients. It’s got to be better than a take-away, right? (“Must be better than a take-away” is my (admittedly low) bar for healthy eating).

These delicious breakfast bars are a portable, albeit less healthy, version of Special Stuff.  Unlike flapjacks they are made from condensed milk rather than butter so I can store all the ingredients in the cupboard.

My freezer plays a vital role in keeping me fed, particularly when a big translation has turned Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into an unwelcome distraction. When I’m in cooking mode, I batch-cook healthy meals for the freezer like vegetable curry (Special Stuff’s spicier cousin) and brain-boosting fishcakes. I use this recipe but experiment with different flavours and ingredients. Pilchards make them meatier and pickled cucumber gives extra tang. Sometimes I add Indian spices for a change.

Delicious (albeit slightly soggy) fishcakes

Pea and ham soup is another favourite. I wash a ham hock then bring to the boil, cook it in the slow cooker with water, onion, carrot, bay leaf and any veg I have lying around, then remove it and add some dried split peas and cook again. I shred the ham hock and add it back in. It’s super cheap, filling and delicious.

I make a huge vat of cheese sauce for the freezer to use up leftover cheese (yes reallly). I’ve played around with using cake tins to freeze small portions so I can grab the quantity I need for macaroni cheese.

Cheese sauce for the freezer

I have freezer and cupboard ingredients for easy meals when my stock of home-made ready meals is running low.  The top drawer of my freezer contains leftover wine (honestly!) for bolognaise, herbs, spinach (it’s not as nice as fresh but a quick way to get my greens), ginger, celery and frozen onions.

I have a permanent stock of storecupboard ingredients, black olives, tuna and tomatoes for spaghetti sauce being the ones I reach for the most. Sun-dried tomatoes and pickled cucumber are also a godsend since most fresh cucumber ends up in the compost and forgotten squishy tomatoes are destined for sauces. Fishfinger butties are a staple too on the basis that, well, they’ve got to be better than a takeaway.

A trip to Aldi is long overdue

I love cookbooks but rely on them more for inspiration than instruction.  I prefer to improvise rather than be restricted by an ingredient list. ADHD brains can struggle with sequential instructions and miss crucial steps when following a recipe.  For this reason, Jessica McCabe swears by cookbooks intended for the teen market. 

Myself, I am evangelical about the Roasting Tin series of books by Rukmini Iyer.  The Quick Roasting Tin is the one I rely on the most when I have a translation deadline and want to save on time and washing up, but I recommend buying them all. I have friends coming tomorrow and I’m not ready for them. The coconut and lime dal from The Roasting Tin Around the World is going to save my bacon.

Rukmini Iyer’s coconut and lime dal

I’d love to hear your tips on eating healthily (or at all!) when you’re busy.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: