The benefit of RA hands

When I still lived with my parents, I was in charge of pies. I’d found the perfect recipe for the crust and loved experimenting with different fillings. Our kitchen wasn’t very wheelchair accessible, so my mother would place the ingredients and tools on the dining room table and I’d get to work. I love the feel of flour between my fingers — the cool softness of it, the way it packs into smooth shapes that fall apart with the slightest touch. After adding slices of butter, I’d mix it into the flour with a pastry cutter until it was a pile of pea-sized pellets and then get my hands in the bowl to smush them together into a ball of dough. You know the rest: rolling the dough into a large circle, carefully adding it to the pie pan, fluting the edges and adding the filling. Shortly thereafter, the delicious smell of baking pie would waft through the house.

I grew up in a baking household. For as long as I can remember, my mother’s baked goods were a regular part of our diet. When I was little, I helped — possibly “helped,” it may have gone faster without my assistance! I loved when she made bread, It was my job to crumble the yeast into the warm milk, stirring until it was dissolved. Then I stepped back and watched while my mother incorporated the flour and kneaded the dough, leaning the heels of her hands into it. This part, I couldn’t do. Juvenile arthritis in hands makes it impossible to work the dough as hard as it needs to come together and become bread.

When we moved to Canada, my mother continued making bread and also tried her hand at that uniquely North American treat called pies. Oddly enough, this master of baking couldn’t make a good pie crust. We went without pies for many years and then one day, I had a hankering for pie and while she was busy cutting up apples, I made the dough. It was the best pie crust we’d ever tasted. And from that moment on, I was the designated pie maker.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized why I could make pie crust and my mother couldn’t. It was during a conversation with a friend, who blithely proclaimed that “people can either make pies or bread.” She, too, was in the category of not being able to make a decent piecrust to save her life. All of a sudden, the pieces clicked into place and I realized why.

Bread needs kneading. A lot of kneading. To be a good bread-maker, you need strength in your arms from the shoulder all the way down to the hands. Pie crust, on the other hand, needs a gentle touch. Almost every piecrust recipe warns you against handling the dough too much — if you do, the finished crust won’t be light and flaky.

In other words: RA hands are perfect for making piecrust. Pain and lack of mobility work together to give you the gentleness this kind of dough needs. Once the pea-sized pellets have been gathered into a ball, you’re done. Any more manipulation of the dough will ruin the crust. That means you get to stop before your hands hurt!

The ability to make the perfect piecrust isn’t the only gift RA gives. Look around you in the inflammatory arthritis community and you will see support, advice and friendship. Together, we are creating positive change, each one of us gathering with others to make a whole. Like the pea-size pellets make the perfect dough when handled gently, all of us give to each other and work gently together to make something better.

Lene is the author of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain.

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