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You may have recently noticed me “starring” in a couple of cooking videos for Active Hands, putting my skills to the test in creating such culinary delights as spaghetti bolognese followed by fruit crumble. I use inverted commas around “starring” because the real star of these videos is Ian Taverner. Ian, who suffers from fibromyalgia and mental health issues, decided to use his conditions to create a recipe book, Cookfulness, for anyone who suffers from similar mental or physical issues. As some of the effects of fibromyalgia include muscle tiredness and general fatigue, we found there to be quite an overlap with our kitchen aids, especially as many of our customers have conditions involving fatigue. Not only did it seem like an ideal collaboration, but Ian’s story is very much an inspiring tale to be told.

This is Cookfulness…

Ian Taverner showing his bright yellow Cookfulness book

A state of calm and warmth, awareness and enjoyment, readiness and nowness for before, during and after cooking.

Ian has always loved food. As a child he would spend hours in the kitchen cooking and baking with his mum, and this passion only grew as he entered adulthood. However, about ten years ago, he developed fibromyalgia, a long term chronic pain condition which left him severely fatigued and depressed. His mental health continued to decline as he found he had lost his passion for cooking due to the strain and anxiety he was feeling. 

The two together erupted like an angry volcano, leaving me at times unable to walk, function, think, talk, not much at all!

On top of everything he was going through, Ian could also see just how badly his condition was affecting his family; with his wife not only having to be both mother and father to their young daughters, but also carer to him. Ian knew things couldn’t go on like this.

He began attending an NHS Pain Specialist Centre in order to find ways of coping and living with the pain, whilst at the same time pushing himself as hard as he could to be reinvigorated and rediscover his passion for life. He got himself back in the kitchen, began creating recipes, and started cooking – not following Michelin chefs to-the-letter instructions, but rather taking his time, experimenting with what felt right, and cooking for the joy of it. After years of sinking into pain and depression, Ian had found his spark again!

Ian in his kitchen

Cooking can be great for your mental and physical health, whether ill or not. For me, it’s given me back a reason, a target, a love of life. How powerful is that!

The more Ian cooked, the more he was inspired. He began generating music playlists to listen to as he cooked and, much to his surprise, found he had also developed a flair for poetry! He realised that if cooking was able to help him with his mental and physical conditions, then surely it could help others too. Thus he began creating and compiling his recipes, everything from soups and smoothies to main courses and desserts, with the aim of developing a cookery book specifically aimed at those of us who, for one reason or another, may struggle with certain aspects of life. And in October of last year, after pouring hundreds of hours into it, Cookfulness: A Therapeutic Approach To Cooking hit the shelves!

Unlike the majority of cookbooks, Cookfulness doesn’t throw you in at the deep end with assumptions about your skill level and ability; instead focusing on the very first step in the process – to actually want to cook! There is a section at the front giving you hints and tips on how to deal with and prepare for things such as pain, anxiety and brain fog; letting you know that it’s okay to make mistakes when cooking. Another section gives a list of the most useful items to have in your kitchen, along with a list of handy cupboard ingredients you can use to give your recipes a ‘tweak’. There are no pictures showing how your finished product ‘is supposed to look’, as Ian firmly believes that “whatever you end up with will be right!” He also encourages you to create some upbeat, energising playlists for when you cook, something that will heighten your overall enjoyment and experience.

Ian from Cookfulness is peeling a carrot. He needs a palm peeler from Active Hands really but sadly, isn't using one!

Loving food is really hard, especially when you don’t love yourself. Creativity though can spark your brain and body into life, giving you a purpose, a meaning for being. If you try practicing Cookfulness, using different guests, different dishes, it can really help you get your juices flowing and ignite the flames of cooking passion.

The recipes themselves are set out in such a clear and understandable way that you can see the thought that has gone into every little detail. Each one comes with a star difficulty rating, realistic preparation and cooking times, a list of kitchen items you will need, and a few hints, tips and tweaks. The ingredients and method are laid out in an equally easy to follow way, making it accessible to both novice and expert (myself being far closer to the former than the latter)! I can honestly say I had never made spaghetti bolognese before this that had not involved sauce that came from a jar, or any kind of fruit crumble full stop. My inexperience in the kitchen, coupled with my injury had always left me feeling too intimidated to attempt “from scratch” recipes, however after combining my numerous kitchen aids with this cookbook, I think I can officially say that my Dolmio days are numbered!

In the months since his book’s launch, Ian has been kept exceptionally busy with the likes of a 10 date blog tour and numerous interviews, including one for BBC News. He is currently filming a series of Cookfulness videos for the Live Well With Pain website and has begun incorporating a number of Active Hands’ kitchen aids into these, demonstrating just how useful they are when it comes to fatigued muscles and lack of grip.

Ian testing out a range of Active Hands products

I use a lot of your kitchen utensils as they are brilliant and they take away the stress and anxiety that things like opening cans, jars etc can bring. The knife, well it’s my absolute favourite!!

Cookfulness by Ian Taverner is available now from Amazon, Waterstones, and many other quality bookstores!

Gareth Herridge