Melinda Winner hopes cookbook will inspire those with physical challenges
By Ashley Dunn
ZEPHYRHILLS — Melinda Winner can cook an entire meal without using her hands.
It’s not a party trick or a quirky conversation starter. For Winner, it’s a way of life.
Winner was born with a birth defect that left her right arm with very limited use. Over her 48 years, she has also developed five forms of arthritis — including rheumatoid arthritis, an inflammatory form of arthritis that causes joint pain and damage. According to the Mayo Clinic, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms make even the simplest activities — such as opening a jar or taking a walk — difficult to manage.
“I can’t remember what it feels like not to have pain,” she said.
Despite her physical struggles, Winner has always loved to cook. She was 10 years old when she made her first dish, peanut butter and jelly sandwich pinwheels with powdered sugar sprinkled on top.
To cope with the pain she feels on a daily basis, she’s developed techniques for zesting, slicing, chopping, peeling, rolling, sifting, shredding and lifting things in the kitchen.
Now, Winner said she’s hoping to help others with physical challenges get cooking. Her new book, “A Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis,” not only provides dozens of recipes, but also inspires readers to regain their independence in the kitchen.
//Growing up disabled
Winner moved to Zephyrhills over the summer. Her family has been a part of the East Pasco city for more than 100 years; her mother was born and raised on Coats Road.
Winner was born and raised in Pennsylvania, the youngest of 10 children. She knew she was different, but at home, no one ever made a big deal about her arm.
“I really didn’t look at myself as handicapped,” she said.
When she started kindergarten however, it became clear that her birth defect was a major concern to other people. Her classmates would taunt her and make her cry. The school district wanted to send her to a school for the mentally challenged.
Winner said she learned quickly that she had to be a survivor.
“My mother used to tell me ‘You live till you die,’” Winner said. “I’ve adapted her theory to fit my situation. Yes you live till you die, but what you do in between is your choice.”
At 10 years old, Winner’s legs would hurt so much, she would cry every night. Her mother told her it was growing pains. At 25, Winner had her first “paralyzed with pain” experience. She couldn’t move. If anyone touched her, she would scream. The pain was so intense and unbearable. It lasted for 13 days. A rheumatologist diagnosed her with severe, aggressive rheumatoid arthritis, which leads to deformity and disability. She said she thinks she’s probably had the ailment since she was a child.
“It’s some of the most horrendous pain you’ll ever experience in your entire life,” Winner said.
She has since been diagnosed with four additional forms of arthritis.
Despite her hardships, Winner approaches life head on.
“If you get up and tell yourself you’re a sufferer, that’s what you’re going to be,” she said. “But if you get up everyday and tell yourself you’re a survivor, you’ll strive to do better.”
She went to culinary school in Pennsylvania and studied to be a chef. She worked at the Sheraton Inn in Greensburg, Pa. She worked for a vending company catering parties for radio and television stations. Then she started her own catering business. She moved to North Carolina and worked in the motion picture business, and then as a celebrity interviewer. She went to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina to help with relief efforts.
All the while, she cooked. Last year, Winner was featured on the Food Network’s “Ultimate Recipe Showdown.” To see a clip, visit http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/melinda-winner/30009.html.
Her ultimate goal is to own a teaching restaurant and hire people who have physical challenges.
“I want to teach them that there’s a million ways that you can cook,” Winner said on the showdown. “You just have to reinvent your life. You have to reinvent techniques.”
Winner has developed those techniques herself, and she’s included them in “A Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis,” her second cookbook.
The first part of the book is dedicated to recipes that Winner has created by experimenting with different ingredients. She developed Southern Slaw Red Cabbage Cake with Cream Cheese Icing, for example, when she had made too much red cabbage and didn’t want to throw it away.
“And it works,” she said. “It tastes great.”
The second part of the book is devoted to showcase the methods that Winner has created for those with physical challenges. She explains how to core an apple, for instance, using a corer and your forearms instead of your hands. You can also use a fork instead of your hand to hold a piece of fruit in place while you slice or chop it. There are pictures to illustrate each technique.
At the end of each recipe, Winner points out which methods to use.
In the back of the book, there are also helpful tips on how those with arthritis can arrange a kitchen to avoid pain as much as possible.
But, Winner said, anyone with severe forms of arthritis knows pain isn’t completely avoidable. Still, it doesn’t mean that those with physical challenges shouldn’t try.
“You’re going to hurt no matter what you do, so get up and do something,” Winner said. “You only get one life — live it.”
Title: “A Complete Illustrated Guide to Cooking with Arthritis”
Author: Melinda Winner
Publisher: Tate Publishing
Availability: The book is available at any bookstore nationwide. It can also be ordered through the publisher at www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore or by visiting www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com or www.target.com. This is also an eLIVE title, meaning each copy contains a code redeemable for a free audio version from www.TatePublishing.com.
About the author
In addition to being an author, Melinda Winner is also a speaker and offers free seminars on living and cooking with arthritis to churches, schools and health offices. She also has several events coming up, including a book signing at Walden Books, 2262 University Mall in Tampa on Nov. 21 from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information about Winner, visit www.cookingwitharthritis.com.
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