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Crip Up the Kitchen: A cookbook for disabled and neurodivergent cooks

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‘The kitchen is the worst room in the house if you are disabled,’ says the commercial food photographer, writer and advocate. With his cookbook debut, he is on a mission to change that

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Our cookbook of the week is Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook by Jules Sherred. To try a recipe from the book, check out: electric pressure cooker butter chicken, air fryer salmon and pear salad, and bread machine and air fryer paczki.

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The pandemic influenced cookbook authors in various ways. Jules Sherred, a Duncan, B.C.-based commercial food photographer, writer, and advocate for disability and trans rights had been developing recipes for fellow disabled and neurodivergent cooks since 2018. When COVID hit, he decided it needed to be a book.

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“A lot of people were being newly diagnosed or recognizing that they were neurodivergent because their regular ways of coping and masking were suddenly all upended. And then, people were getting sick and developing long COVID, and I was like, ‘I have the tools and the knowledge to be able to help you through this and help other people at the same time.’ And so, I put my head down and spent a few months really figuring out what the book needed to be, and how I could serve the most people possible.”

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After he wrote the proposal, Sherred took almost a year off to recover from the three surgeries he had in 2021. Once he returned to work, Crip Up the Kitchen (TouchWood Editions, 2023) came together quickly, hitting the printer a year from the day he signed the contract. “I just had no time to catch my breath. I’d be like, ‘Is this really happening?’ So, it was nonstop, head down and working on it.”

It’s impossible to be everything to everyone, says Sherred, so he focused on the most common symptoms. In doing so, he considered his own experiences and talked to his friends, many of whom have disabilities or are neurodivergent. He also reached out to readers of his website, Disabled Kitchen and Garden, and asked them the same question: “We’re not going to focus so much on the disability, but what would you say are your No. 1 symptoms — barriers to you feeling like you are productive because of your disabilities?”

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Book cover of Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook showing a spoon
Vancouver Island-based author and photographer Jules Sherred wrote his cookbook debut as a resource for disabled and neurodivergent cooks. Photo by TouchWood Editions

Many disabilities have shared symptoms, says Sherred, and he found similarities among the responses, such as pain, fatigue and impaired executive function (a.k.a. brain fog). “So, I focused on those because those I knew,” he adds, with a laugh. “I knew how to tackle those. And then, I was hoping that it would be universal enough.”

Sherred went through a five-year period where his neuropathic pain was so severe that he couldn’t cook. Even making a meal kit took up to an hour and a half, exhausting him in the process. Then, seated in his wheelchair, he couldn’t use the stove at all. A return to cooking meant creating his own systems, which he shares in Crip Up the Kitchen.

“I was grieving something, but I didn’t know I was grieving it until I was able to have it back. There was just this cloud in my life, and I didn’t know that I was missing it to the extent that I was missing it until I was able to develop techniques and things that worked for me.”

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Three tools — the electric pressure cooker (such as the Instant Pot), air fryer and bread machine — made all the difference. (He includes 15 “must-have” items in the book that help address mobility issues and reduce pain while cooking, and 12 more that he has amassed over time and finds beneficial.) Sherred details essentials such as how to organize “the most unfriendly room in the home — your kitchen” (and pantry), how to meal plan and prep, cook safely when disabled and convert stovetop recipes for the electric pressure cooker.

Author Jules Sherred
Author Jules Sherred is a commercial food photographer and stylist based in Duncan, B.C. Crip Up the Kitchen is his first book. Photo by Jules Sherred

The 50 recipes are organized by the amount of energy required: little effort and low prep times (20 recipes), some effort and medium prep times (16 recipes), all your ‘spoons’ (four recipes), plus an opening chapter devoted to 10 spice blends and basics. The majority of the recipes take 20 minutes or less to prepare, with prep times based on how long it takes Sherred, who uses a wheelchair and has limited hand mobility.

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Article content

“Most of the recipes are very low effort because that’s where most people live. And then there’s some medium effort and then there’s four recipes that will wipe you out (such as chicken dum biryani, Doukhobor borscht and matzo ball soup, all made in an electric pressure cooker) — but they’re of great cultural significance. And so, I included them because of their high cultural significance to different communities.”

Focusing on shared symptoms, Sherred used the “spoon theory” (developed by Christine Miserandino, writer, speaker and lupus patient advocate) to guide meal planning, food prep and the recipes themselves.

Each spoon represents a fixed amount of energy, according to the theory. Able-bodied people have cupfuls of energy to spend in a day, explains Sherred. In contrast, people with disabilities and neurodivergencies have a finite number of spoons, which they need to distribute throughout the day and consider how they’re going to refill them.

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Article content

Crip Up the Kitchen includes the chart Sherred used when writing and photographing the book, showing the number of spoons required for various activities. He still refers to it, changing the specifics to suit the project of the moment.

“I assess my spoon levels in the morning, and then I pick an activity, what I’m going to do, based on that. I reassess after lunch. If I still have some more spoons to spend, then I will pick more activities based on that number. The goal is to always have at least one spoon at the end of the day so that I’m not falling asleep on the couch at six o’clock, and I can enjoy an evening of relaxation with my family and with my animals.”

Paczki, filled Polish doughnuts, on a plate
Jules Sherred’s bread machine and air fryer paczki. Photo by Jules Sherred

Occasionally, he “overspends” his spoons, adds Sherred. This is where mindfulness comes in — knowing what your boundaries are and working within them. “Sometimes it means that we stay in bed and do self-care. And congratulations, you did self-care. That means you probably are more likely to have spoons tomorrow to do other things. So, it’s always about setting yourself up to succeed instead of for failure.”

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Article content

In addition to structuring the book according to the effort required to make the recipes, Sherred wanted to represent as many cultural backgrounds — and cooking techniques shared across different food cultures — as possible.

His hope, says Sherred, is that people will learn how to use the techniques in the book to create their own recipes and make dishes that are culturally relevant to them. “Because something I’m also very aware of, is that first of all, especially for a new Canadian coming to Canada, one of the first things that’s difficult and people get cut off from is their culturally appropriate foods, which not only has mental health ramifications, but also physical health ramifications.”

Since Crip Up the Kitchen was published in May, Sherred has been getting emails and direct messages from people with disabilities saying that after reading the book, they feel like they can cook again.

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Article content

Author, disability activist and poet J. Albert Mann said, “I’ve never felt so understood and supported as I did reading Crip Up the Kitchen. Sherred is the kitchen whisperer for chronic pain folks like me who have avoided that room in the house for most of my life.”

This was his ultimate goal, says Sherred. “That’s what I want people to get away from this is that you’re seen. You’re loved. You’re good just the way you are. And I hope that you’re able to get that joy back, if that is something that is a source of joy for you and that you have been missing.”

Article content

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Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

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‘The kitchen is the worst room in the house if you are disabled,’ says the commercial food photographer, writer and advocate. With his cookbook debut, he is on a mission to change that

Get the latest from Laura Brehaut straight to your inbox

Article content

Our cookbook of the week is Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook by Jules Sherred. To try a recipe from the book, check out: electric pressure cooker butter chicken, air fryer salmon and pear salad, and bread machine and air fryer paczki.

Advertisement 2

Article content

The pandemic influenced cookbook authors in various ways. Jules Sherred, a Duncan, B.C.-based commercial food photographer, writer, and advocate for disability and trans rights had been developing recipes for fellow disabled and neurodivergent cooks since 2018. When COVID hit, he decided it needed to be a book.

Article content

“A lot of people were being newly diagnosed or recognizing that they were neurodivergent because their regular ways of coping and masking were suddenly all upended. And then, people were getting sick and developing long COVID, and I was like, ‘I have the tools and the knowledge to be able to help you through this and help other people at the same time.’ And so, I put my head down and spent a few months really figuring out what the book needed to be, and how I could serve the most people possible.”

Advertisement 3

Article content

After he wrote the proposal, Sherred took almost a year off to recover from the three surgeries he had in 2021. Once he returned to work, Crip Up the Kitchen (TouchWood Editions, 2023) came together quickly, hitting the printer a year from the day he signed the contract. “I just had no time to catch my breath. I’d be like, ‘Is this really happening?’ So, it was nonstop, head down and working on it.”

It’s impossible to be everything to everyone, says Sherred, so he focused on the most common symptoms. In doing so, he considered his own experiences and talked to his friends, many of whom have disabilities or are neurodivergent. He also reached out to readers of his website, Disabled Kitchen and Garden, and asked them the same question: “We’re not going to focus so much on the disability, but what would you say are your No. 1 symptoms — barriers to you feeling like you are productive because of your disabilities?”

Advertisement 4

Article content

Book cover of Crip Up the Kitchen: Tools, Tips and Recipes for the Disabled Cook showing a spoon
Vancouver Island-based author and photographer Jules Sherred wrote his cookbook debut as a resource for disabled and neurodivergent cooks. Photo by TouchWood Editions

Many disabilities have shared symptoms, says Sherred, and he found similarities among the responses, such as pain, fatigue and impaired executive function (a.k.a. brain fog). “So, I focused on those because those I knew,” he adds, with a laugh. “I knew how to tackle those. And then, I was hoping that it would be universal enough.”

Sherred went through a five-year period where his neuropathic pain was so severe that he couldn’t cook. Even making a meal kit took up to an hour and a half, exhausting him in the process. Then, seated in his wheelchair, he couldn’t use the stove at all. A return to cooking meant creating his own systems, which he shares in Crip Up the Kitchen.

“I was grieving something, but I didn’t know I was grieving it until I was able to have it back. There was just this cloud in my life, and I didn’t know that I was missing it to the extent that I was missing it until I was able to develop techniques and things that worked for me.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

Three tools — the electric pressure cooker (such as the Instant Pot), air fryer and bread machine — made all the difference. (He includes 15 “must-have” items in the book that help address mobility issues and reduce pain while cooking, and 12 more that he has amassed over time and finds beneficial.) Sherred details essentials such as how to organize “the most unfriendly room in the home — your kitchen” (and pantry), how to meal plan and prep, cook safely when disabled and convert stovetop recipes for the electric pressure cooker.

Author Jules Sherred
Author Jules Sherred is a commercial food photographer and stylist based in Duncan, B.C. Crip Up the Kitchen is his first book. Photo by Jules Sherred

The 50 recipes are organized by the amount of energy required: little effort and low prep times (20 recipes), some effort and medium prep times (16 recipes), all your ‘spoons’ (four recipes), plus an opening chapter devoted to 10 spice blends and basics. The majority of the recipes take 20 minutes or less to prepare, with prep times based on how long it takes Sherred, who uses a wheelchair and has limited hand mobility.

Advertisement 6

Article content

“Most of the recipes are very low effort because that’s where most people live. And then there’s some medium effort and then there’s four recipes that will wipe you out (such as chicken dum biryani, Doukhobor borscht and matzo ball soup, all made in an electric pressure cooker) — but they’re of great cultural significance. And so, I included them because of their high cultural significance to different communities.”

Focusing on shared symptoms, Sherred used the “spoon theory” (developed by Christine Miserandino, writer, speaker and lupus patient advocate) to guide meal planning, food prep and the recipes themselves.

Each spoon represents a fixed amount of energy, according to the theory. Able-bodied people have cupfuls of energy to spend in a day, explains Sherred. In contrast, people with disabilities and neurodivergencies have a finite number of spoons, which they need to distribute throughout the day and consider how they’re going to refill them.

Advertisement 7

Article content

Crip Up the Kitchen includes the chart Sherred used when writing and photographing the book, showing the number of spoons required for various activities. He still refers to it, changing the specifics to suit the project of the moment.

“I assess my spoon levels in the morning, and then I pick an activity, what I’m going to do, based on that. I reassess after lunch. If I still have some more spoons to spend, then I will pick more activities based on that number. The goal is to always have at least one spoon at the end of the day so that I’m not falling asleep on the couch at six o’clock, and I can enjoy an evening of relaxation with my family and with my animals.”

Paczki, filled Polish doughnuts, on a plate
Jules Sherred’s bread machine and air fryer paczki. Photo by Jules Sherred

Occasionally, he “overspends” his spoons, adds Sherred. This is where mindfulness comes in — knowing what your boundaries are and working within them. “Sometimes it means that we stay in bed and do self-care. And congratulations, you did self-care. That means you probably are more likely to have spoons tomorrow to do other things. So, it’s always about setting yourself up to succeed instead of for failure.”

Advertisement 8

Article content

In addition to structuring the book according to the effort required to make the recipes, Sherred wanted to represent as many cultural backgrounds — and cooking techniques shared across different food cultures — as possible.

His hope, says Sherred, is that people will learn how to use the techniques in the book to create their own recipes and make dishes that are culturally relevant to them. “Because something I’m also very aware of, is that first of all, especially for a new Canadian coming to Canada, one of the first things that’s difficult and people get cut off from is their culturally appropriate foods, which not only has mental health ramifications, but also physical health ramifications.”

Since Crip Up the Kitchen was published in May, Sherred has been getting emails and direct messages from people with disabilities saying that after reading the book, they feel like they can cook again.

Advertisement 9

Article content

Author, disability activist and poet J. Albert Mann said, “I’ve never felt so understood and supported as I did reading Crip Up the Kitchen. Sherred is the kitchen whisperer for chronic pain folks like me who have avoided that room in the house for most of my life.”

This was his ultimate goal, says Sherred. “That’s what I want people to get away from this is that you’re seen. You’re loved. You’re good just the way you are. And I hope that you’re able to get that joy back, if that is something that is a source of joy for you and that you have been missing.”

Article content

Get the latest from Laura Brehaut straight to your inbox

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Join the Conversation

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