How to Make a Casserole – Confessions of a (Chronically Ill) Graduate Student


Many of us graduate students designate a “baking” day periodically. All the veggies for the week get chopped, dinners get made, things are frozen. Think NASA readying food for astronauts,  except instead of the moon we march off to battleground school at a slightly lower orbit. Sometimes I manage it. Here’s how it worked this week….

Friday: I decided this weekend I’ll cook a big chicken casserole to last a few days. Right now I’m on an elimination diet to detect food allergies/sensitivities, so a few changes would have to be made from the normal frozen veg, cream of something soup, and whatever meat came to hand.

Saturday: I shopped but was too tired/sick to go back through the huge store and pick up the chicken at the end of the run, lest I leave the store in an ambulance instead of all by me onesie.

Sunday: I went back and picked up the chicken. Still too tired to process the enormous family pack, so into the fridge it went.

Monday: I made the rice. In an cooker. It was a big day.

Tuesday: I finally figured I’d have to do something with that pile of chicken, and I was feeling … ok. I chopped, coated, fried, boiled, assembled, and installed it into a cozy oven. I had to put a chair into the kitchen to sit on during the process. Normally if I get that tired, I just give up and sit on the floor, but I was NOT going to surrender this time, and it was way too hard to get up off the floor to turn the chicken. Some of it may have turned out extra-brown. I turned the oven off when the casserole was done but was a little too tired at that moment to haul it out – and I basically forgot that it would still cook. I pulled it out later. I put it on the stove to cool – it wasn’t going to be that night’s dinner now – and basically forgot about it again. Finally, before crashing that night, I sampled it and checked that the meat was, in fact, done, wrapped it (still warm on the bottom) in plastic wrap, and wedged it into the fridge.

Wednesday: Finally ate chicken casserole.The result: A slightly crispy, rather unorthodox, extremely good chicken casserole.


My recipe:

  • Six chicken thighs, bone in, skin on (I pulled some of the skin off)
  • 3 cups rice, cooked (and refrigerated, in my case)
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • About 2 cups of Silk cashew/almond/pea protein milk
  • 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • About 1 cup (or 1/2 an extremely large) white onion, chopped
  • 2 heads broccoli, in small florets
  • 2 medium zucchini, thickly sliced
  • King Arthur flour, to coat the chicken and thicken the sauce
  • Avocado oil, to fry chicken
  • Seasonings to taste, sprinkled liberally on everything as I forgot what had been coated on which thing (I was aiming for a few different “flavors” of chicken thighs, but, well… brain fog, y’all).
    • salt
    • pepper
    • garlic
    • onion powder
    • chili powder
    • paprika
    • Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime
    • cumin
    • Italian seasonings blend

My messed-up assembly:

  • Cook rice. Leftover rice works brilliantly
  • Preheat oven to 350
  • Spread rice in layer in bottom of 13×9 large flat glass dish
  • Chop all vegetables. Put in large flat pan, season with salt, pepper, and garlic, and add about 2 cups water. Cook on high until you remember that they’re there; hopefully about 1/2 cup of water should still be in pot.
  • Evenly spread cooked veggies over rice. Give a halfhearted stir to semi-incorporate.
  • Prep chicken thighs by pulling any bits off that you don’t want to eat. Coat with a variety of seasonings. I aimed to have two traditional salt-pepper-garlic-onion-paprika; two Italian salt-pepper-garlic-Italian seasonings; and two “Mexican” with Fiesta Lime, cumin, chili powder – the works! Unfortunately I forgot which was which and put chili powder on about half. Oh well. It wasn’t much.
  • Coat chicken thighs with GF flour
  • Heat plenty of avocado oil in same pan used for veggies; aim for an even coat of entire pan.
  • Place chicken thighs in hot oil and cook on high, 2-4 minutes a side, flipping occasionally. Or just collapse in a chair and say “she’ll be right.” And flip the chicken when you can. I did mine in two batches; just add a little more oil. (If you have to do more than that, you may need to get rid of the burned bits and old oil.)
  • Put cooked chicken thighs on top of casserole. Dish will be too full to really bury them in there, but you can try.
  • Turn the heat on the pan down to medium. Add half a cup chicken broth, scraping the chicken and flour bits from the pan. Slowly add the “milk.” Add some more salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. Add the rest of the chicken broth and a little more GF flour to thicken slightly; should still be fairly liquid.
  • Pour concoction over the chicken breast/veggie/rice mix in the pan; make sure to hit the edges.
  • Cook in oven for 1 hour… and I’d recommend you actually remove it at that time, too, honestly. If you can. No worries if you can’t, though – this holds up pretty well.

Confessions of a (chronically ill) graduate student

A big shout-out to the BBC (not that they need one!) They’re running a series on disability and business. Check out the links below for more information!

(No, I am not affiliated with the BBC in any way. : ) )

Confessions of a (chronically ill) graduate student

Today I almost cried because I got to do a completely normal graduate student thing: I rode in an elevator up to a library and studied at a carrel.

This feat brought to you by countless doctors and nurses, physical therapists, disability services, facilities management, and librarians.

It’s the little things that are, every so often, really the big things.


Auditory Disconnect

Have you ever had that moment when someone is speaking to you, and all you hear is gibberish? A meaningless phrase like “Pommel, any ore lapis?” or the like, just a jumble of words. However, when you stop and replay it in your mind, it ungarbles into something like “So Melanie, more tilapia?”

I do. Frequently. Possibly it’s because I’m not always paying attention to the person talking… or I’m “mentally” listening to music (a trick musicians in particular use) … or I’m just slagged by brain fog, and when someone speaks there is a time lag, like a bad voice-over on daytime television.

There are a few phrases I hear time and again, favorites of mine, and I’ve discovered these particular phrases get garbled a lot. Here’s a sample:

  • You don’t look sick!
    • What I hear: I don’t believe you are sick! 
  • You look like you’re feeling better!
    • What I hear: Congratulations, in the last few weeks your sense of fashion and makeup skills have improved! You go, girl! Also, I have no idea how invisible chronic illnesses work.
  • Get better soon!
    • What I hear: I don’t understand the word “chronic” very well, so I’m going to try to put a timetable on this. 
  • Do you really need all those medicines?
    • What I hear: I *still* don’t believe you’re really sick. And I don’t trust doctors, medical research, chemistry, “big pharma” or you to have determined what you need. Also, you’re a wuss for needing medicines to help you.
  • Just tough it out.
    • What I hear: I *STILL* don’t think you’re sick, so you’re a wuss and can overcome your very real illness with a bit more mental effort.
  • Are you sure it’s not just stress?
    • What I hear: I understand stress and there’s a million books about it, so this is fixable, and all in your head. Also, I STILL DON’T BELIEVE YOU ARE REALLY PHYSICALLY SICK.
  • I don’t think you need any more tests or diagnosis. I mean, what does it matter?
    • What I hear: Like, I don’t understand how knowing what’s wrong is going to help your treatment, and I’m tired of all of this. So I think you should just give up and be generically “sick.” But hey! I do finally understand that you’re sick and have a lot of things wrong with your body! 
  • Maybe you should rest.
    • Just give up. Also, it’s taking you too long to do something, so you should get out of the way and let the normal people handle this.
  • I think you should just live your life.
    • I think what you’re doing to make sure you are healthy isn’t really “living,” because I’m narrow-minded and only believe that there is one way to live. And now I’m going to tell you how to do that… 
  • Well, I get tired and my joints sometimes hurt too.
    • What I hear: I’m now going to compare my normal life to yours to minimize what you’re going through and to convince myself that you’re just exaggerating because then nothing like this could happen to me, all right? Also, you’re a wuss, and probably not
      really that sick.
  • Maybe you should try sucking on the pickled liver of a sea anemone?
    • Ok, maybe I *haven’t* heard this one! 🙂  but I have heard plenty of deeply suspicious suggestions about how to regain my health, delivered with nearly cult- fanaticism.  And a suspicious lack of hard evidence. The problem is, while I’m desperate enough to try some of these cures, and while my healthy friends with functioning bodies might be able to handle such cures or even benefit, for me that same cure might be incredibly damaging.

Oops! Auditory disconnect. Please hang up, and try again. 🙂

Thankfully, I usually find that the person saying these wonderful phrases cares and simply misunderstands my condition. I need to relax, take an emotional step back, and explain, gently, how come my chronic illnesses are not going to simple go away with rest and chicken casserole (which I will still take, thank you!)

Rarely, I’m fighting against 1) long-standing prejudices against medical treatment, 2) a deep fear of being sick themselves, and 3) a healthy resentment against anyone living a different life or having any advantage over “normal” – even if that difference is as small as going up a ramp instead of stairs.

And that’s just it. It’s a fight, against misunderstanding, fear, resentment, and prejudice. It is one that has to be fought, no matter how it manifests… and although frankly I don’t think it will ever be won, certainly I think we can do better to improve the lot of everyone by fighting. I’m certainly going to try.

And I also may invest in noise-canceling headphones. Because sometimes auditory disconnection is the way to go. 🙂