Tips for Cooking with Hearing Loss

Let me clarify the title of this article: hearing loss is not an ingredient in the recipes for good food, it’s often an ingredient in the cook.

Since first writing on this subject a few years ago, I’ve received a cochlear implant (CI) and it’s time to review just how well—or not—this technology has helped me in the kitchen.

Like many people waiting out the pandemic inside their house, I’ve been doing a lot of cooking. My go-to recipes are the easy-peasy-yet-yummy ones, and my current passion is Moroccan tagines with its spices and (homemade) preserved lemons. As a rule, I don’t like dishes that require more than two burners on the go at the same time, that are continued on the next page, or that make you keep scrolling down, down, and down on the webpage to find the actual instructions. 

The cook with hearing loss has more rules than the average hearing cook. Specifically: be alert and do not leave the kitchen until the recipe has been completed and is ready to serve.

Even as hearing aid user, I had difficulty hearing and identifying high frequency sounds and where they were coming from. Hissing and splattering are high frequency sounds, so I had several kitchen disasters over the years. Hearing-related mishaps do occur in other rooms, as well, but kitchen accidents are usually the messiest .

If I were to stay put in the kitchen while waiting for various steps to be completed, there would be fewer mishaps. But standing around waiting for something is not my strong suit. So, often I’ll ‘pop out for a moment’ to do something else. Then I forget about the kitchen activities because I don’t hear anything to remind me of them. And I don’t need to leave the room to miss important sound-moments such as:

  • When water comes to a boil
  • When the now-boiling water spills out and sizzles on the burner
  • When the water boils dry and the eggs meant to be hard boiled become hard rocks  burned to the bottom of the dry pot.
  • The timer going off on the microwave or oven that tells you the something needs to be done NOW!

Since being implanted four years ago, there have been improvements in my kitchen. Now I can hear the microwave beeping—from another room! I hear the small beeps that tell me my oven has reached 425 degrees! I hear the high frequency hissing of veggies in the pan! I hear the toast popping up! Also—the splat of spaghetti sauce exploding in the microwave.

I hear when the coffee pot is turning off after 2 hours, although it sounds the same as my sound processor telling me I need to change my batteries. And another amazing thing—that I never knew was even a thing—is the whiny-beep that tells us the fridge door isn’t properly closed.

Unfortunately, my implant has also amplified the sound of metal-on-metal. When the Hearing Husband is rummaging through the drawer that holds all the big utensils, the sound makes me crazy. Especially because he’s often looking in the wrong drawer! Just tell me what you need, guy, and I’ll gently extract it from the correct drawer. Also, unfortunately for my reactive tinnitus, when the exhaust fan is on at the same time I’m cooking, don’t even think of talking to me because I’m in Severe Sensory Overload. So, unless you are saying, ”here’s a glass of wine, Gael”, just stay away until I give you the all-clear.  

All cooks, regardless of hearing ability, use all the senses at our disposal when cooking food. Smell, taste, touch and, if we have them, hearing and vision. But people like me depend heavily on our vision to fill in the sounds we don’t hear—sounds that I bet the hearing cooks take for granted. Whoa, look at that steam coming out of the pot! It’s time to turn the heat down…lucky thing I saw it before the house blew up.

Even though my CI has helped enormously, it’s best that I stay close to the kitchen to hear, see and smell the good stuff before it can turn into bad stuff. But I do have a new secret weapon that lets me safely leave the kitchen—my Apple Watch. I set the timer on it and it vibrates when it’s time to do something! Any wrist-worn device will do; it’s very liberating.

Or—I can relax in a chair at the counter with a glass of white wine, watching the captioned news on my tablet while good food happens. And every once in a while, I can throw a splash of wine into my stovetop creation and hear the satisfying sizzle.

 

About Gael Hannan

Gael Hannan is a writer, speaker and advocate on hearing loss issues. In addition to her weekly blog for HearingHealthMatters.org, which has an international following, Gael wrote the acclaimed book "The Way I Hear It: A Life with Hearing Loss". She is regularly invited to present her uniquely humorous and insightful work to appreciative audiences around the world. Gael has received many awards for her work, which includes advocacy for a more inclusive society for people with hearing loss. She lives with her husband on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

1 Comment

  1. As a new Cochlear Implant recipient I can relate to this story. I have been known to burn up a garbage disposal and ask people to leave the kitchen because I cannot read lips and cook at the same time. I often put my hand on the counter or near the exhaust fan to feel vibrations and verify if things are working,
    I am learning new sounds everyday, but still rely on seeing most often. I love to cook and always have.

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