How this brave cook is preparing her way to better health

Despite a series of medical crises, Auckland mum Rachel is inspiring thousands to get creative in the kitchen

For Auckland foodie Rachel Hart, baking isn’t just about making delicious treats for the lunchbox – it’s helping her cope with the health issues that have plagued her life.

Every day, Rachel struggles with severe pain and debilitating numbness, and the past few years have been a blur of surgeries and medical struggles. But since launching her popular One Handed Baker cooking blog, she’s discovered that even the simplest recipes can soothe the soul.

“I try to be positive and upbeat in general, but I have really tough days and I think baking absolutely helps with depression,” says Rachel, 43. “It’s soothing and it helps me forget about other things going on. I had no idea the blog would take off like it did, but the messages of support I received on social media have been amazing. That encouragement made all the difference to me.

For the British-born journalist – who is mum to Max, 16, and daughter Macy, 15 – it all started with a fall at work. A journalist at TV3 at the time, she was chasing a story when she had a bad fall, landing flat on her back on concrete.

“I remember I jumped back, finished the story and went on air,” she explains. “Then the next day I was in the hospital with a fractured spine.”

After surgery and several serious complications, Rachel needed something to take her mind off things. So she decided to create a cooking blog to share her love of simple home cooking.

An operation in 2020 left her hand numb.

“I called it One Handed Baker to recognize the multitasking all moms do,” she says. “A lot of times when I was cooking at home, I was tidying up or helping my daughter with her homework at the same time. Then when I started blogging, I usually had my phone in one hand while I was cooking for to be able to film what I was doing.”

It wasn’t long before the blog and social media took off, and One Handed Baker now has over 26,000 followers on Instagram and Facebook. Little did Rachel know, however, that her nickname would take on new meaning as new health issues arose.

Another slip ended in a serious knee fracture and after months of getting around on crutches, the strain of using them caused a series of shoulder problems, requiring further surgery. Things took another turn when Rachel – who has also worked on radio stations like The Edge and More FM – launched a cooking segment on the now-defunct TV series The Café.

The former TV3 journalist was a regular at the Café.

“Filming the series was very fast and busy, and the pain made it even more difficult,” she recalls. “At first no one knew about my health issues, but it became apparent when I started wearing a sling. No matter how difficult it was, I knew I just had to smile because nobody likes to see a grumpy mum on TV! But it was really all in.”

Throughout the tough times, the kind messages from her viewers and bloggers have kept her going. “I was getting messages from people saying I had inspired them, including people who were also living with disabilities. It really lifted my spirits.”

With the pain worsening, Rachel returned to the hospital for another complex shoulder operation in November 2020. Although she is no stranger to medical procedures, she could never have predicted what would happen next.

The support of her husband Alex is the icing on the cake.

“I woke up from surgery with no sensation in my right hand – and I’m right-handed! The surgery triggered an autoimmune response that turned off signals from my brain to my hand and arm.

“Without the use of my hand, I can no longer drive, hold a pen, tie my shoelaces or peel vegetables. My life is so different now. I never imagined this would ever happen to me and my doctors either because it is quite infrequent.

These days, Rachel struggles with severe spasms of sudden pain, tremors and speech problems, as well as a long list of medical conditions. But the tenacious mum says her husband Alex and two children are helping her through her darkest days, and now that she’s truly a ‘one-handed baker’, she’s more determined than ever to stay positive and continue to cook.

“Fortunately, I can hold a wooden spoon in my left hand and make simple recipes,” she says. “I think the simplest ones are usually the best anyway. The operation made me very clumsy, so I broke countless glasses and bowls, but I still do! You just gotta keep going.”