My life in their hands – and not safely

I should have guessed.   Directions to a black door set between two shops should have alerted me to the fact that this was a bit of a back-street dive.   Clearly an old over-shop accommodation that had been rather badly converted into business premises up precipitous, winding stairs.

Those premises were equally unprepossessing with uneven floors and unexpected steps up and down.

Most I was there for some further treatment following the accident and, most depressing, was that the therapist was asking my (male) taxi driver where he would like to have the consultation.   I had thought that my (female) name on the appointment would have been a clue.   She was clearly convinced that I’d be happy to go through all my medical details and history in the public surrounding of the reception space.   Thankfully, driver John has been around me long enough to reject all attempts to talk with him rather than me.   I began to wonder if she had ever noticed or talked to anyone with a white cane.

Through more difficult passageways to the consulting room where I was plonked on an uncomfortable couch.   She rattled through a long list of clearly unfamiliar medical conditions and was stumped by some clearly contradictory legalistic statements.   I wondered if anyone else had ever properly read all this verbiage.   I kept asking for details of their contractual terms and conditions, insurance cover, health and safety information without success.   I asked the therapist about her own qualifications and an add-on to Level 3, whatever that means, wasn’t very reassuring.

She was absolutely trying to do her best but had clearly never been trained to interact with anyone with a disability (20% of the population/market) by the doctors running the service.   If they could manage an operation that was so blatantly failing to comply with equality legislation, what other safeguarding laws were being broken too?

The final devastating and decisive realisation came as John collected me later: she hadn’t even been wearing her face mask properly, I had no idea as to how long it had just been covering her mouth and chin when, in close proximity, she’d been exposing me to risk of Covid or other infection.   This wasn’t just discrimination but high risk.   Even my local hairdresser has far higher professional standards.

Alternative arrangements with a different therapy organisation are going to be needed in the future.   How could anyone contemplate charging money for such an amateur service?

 

 

 

 

 

Laziness rather than a recipe.

Have you ever tried eating with your eyes shut?   The main problem is trying to cut up food that you can’t see: how big is the piece?  Is it completely detached?   Is it dripping with sauce?

Instead of all the messy confusion, as a blind cook, I tend to do all the chopping up while I’m cooking: meat; vegetables; anything else.   That way, I can just use a fork to find each mouthful with more chances of success.

But, again, cutting, chopping, peeling etc aren’t as straightforward when you can’t see.   Next week, we are doing a Masterclass of roast vegetables with all the right equipment to share tips and practical solutions: Monday 10 January at 1030 (London time).

You don’t need to be blind to take part so please sign up – no cost and there will be lots of time for sharing ideas:

Eventbrite link:

Register here for Roast Vegetables baking session 10th January 2022

 

OSH Website link:

https://www.opensight.org.uk/event/baking-blind-with-penny-roast-vegetables

 

Facebook link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/218142287175775

 

On a similar topic, roast potatoes that you could part-prepare were a whole new concept this Christmas but they worked perfectly.   I peeled enough for two days, tipped the chunks into cold salted water and brought them to a simmer for a couple of minutes.   Drained and tipped into foil trays, they just needed liberal anointment with goose fat or oil.   One tray went into a hot oven (200C, Gas 6) for 30-45 minutes, basting halfway.   The other tray was covered and popped in the fridge overnight.   Next day, they cooked even more quickly and were just as good.

 

Hope you can join us on Monday.

 

Words:

Standard plus:

Blind cook, chopping food, Masterclass in the kitchen, roast vegetables, roast potatoes, Covid cookbook, tips for blind people, https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/

www.pennymelvillebrown.com

 

 

 

 

Joyeux Noël

One of our Christmas packages caused all sorts of questions.   The trouble and cost of sending several thousand little parcels to ex-military blind people was truly kind.   Although the card wasn’t accessible, I’m told it used an image of First World war men injured and blinded in the trenches, leading each other to safety.   It is a famously poignant statue of remembrance that conveys the pathos and spirit of men supporting each other during conflict.

But it does rather beg the question as to whether this is how we want to be seen over a century later.   Nowadays, the vast majority of blind ex-military people include both men and women who left the Services decades before losing their sight.   There is a much smaller proportion of us who were blinded by and during our time in uniform and, with 21st century attitudes, adaptations and accessibility, we are capable of so much more than was possible 100 years ago.   Enabling us to achieve fulfilling and rewarding lives, embark on new careers and fulfil our potential should surely be the key goal and more powerful image for all those who so generously offer us support.

The remainder of the package was just as thought-provoking: a sachet of hot chocolate drink and a shortbread biscuit!

Let me also share a perfect recipe for any mass entertaining you might be planning: Crème Noël.   This is my answer for advance mass production of desserts.   I was able to use my sous-vide water bath, but a bain marie in the oven should work just as well.

This quantity filled more than 24 small screw-top jars which provided an ample portion for each guest.

 

800 ml double cream.

400 ml milk.

16 egg yolks.

192g honey (or caster sugar).

4 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

4 teaspoons vanilla extract.

mincemeat – 1 teaspoon per serving.

Preheat the water bath to 80°C.

Warm the milk and cream together in a small saucepan to 60°C

Whisk the remaining ingredients (except the mincemeat) together in a bowl.

Gradually whisk in the warm cream and milk.

Place a teaspoon of mincemeat in each jar and then fill with the whisked mixture.

Screw the jar lids in place tightly and submerge in the water bath for 60 minutes.

Remove and chill quickly.   Store in the fridge up to 2-3 days.

My Tips:

I used the homemade mincemeat and served with little star-shaped shortbread biscuits (recipes in the free recipe booklet https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/).

Simply divide all the quantities by 4 for just six servings.

If not using a sous-vide, fill a deep roasting tin with water and heat in the oven until the water reaches 80C.   Place the jars in the water and monitor the temperature during the cooking time.

I gave away 8 egg whites and am experimenting with freezing the remainder.

 

My next on-line cooking demo is at 1030 on Monday 10 January (details to follow) with roast vegetables as the focus for cutting, chopping and peeling when you can’t see.

Check out my new website: www.pennymelvillebrown.com

 

 

 

 

Now for something completely different

Time to catch your breath too.   I’m sitting in the cool winter sun, enjoying the scents of hyacinths and freshly baked bread, knowing that its too late to post any more Christmas cards and that any forgotten presents are hereby relegated to obscurity.  The interminable list is fully ticked up-to-date and there’s nothing to do until the turkey makes its entrance.

In case you’ve moved on from roast potatoes, mountains of sprouts and stuffing balls, here’s a little recipe that I used to entertain friends last weekend.

We were all carefully Covid-safe, even lunching outside courtesy of an outdoor heater resembling a rocket.   Just handing out warm bowls of spicy but not too hot lamb curry was a good way of being hospitable without putting people at risk.   It sounds like a lot of ingredients, but this is mainly just the normal spices which I have handy in tins.  Easy to cook as, after the initial browning, the curry can just sit on the hob and gently glug away for a few hours without any further help.   This is a perfect dish to make a day or two ahead, chill well and then reheat for the non-party.   With a rice cooker filled to the brim, the whole meal fed at least 20 hungry people.

about 100g lentils.

10 pieces cinnamon

3 heaped teaspoons coriander seeds

3 heaped teaspoons cumin seeds

12 green cardamom pods

15 cloves

3 teaspoons mustard seeds

4-6 tablespoons oil.

7 onions, peeled and diced

8 portions GGG*

2.5kg lamb, diced.

5 heaped teaspoons garam masala

2.5 flat teaspoons chilli powder

2.5 flat teaspoons paprika

2.5 flat teaspoons ground black pepper

2.5 heaped teaspoons cumin powder

2.5 heaped teaspoons ground coriander

2.5 teaspoons turmeric

2 heaped teaspoons fenugreek leaves

6 carrots, peeled and diced

5 courgettes, diced

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced.

4 tins coconut milk, plus 1 tin water from washing them out

tamarind paste and/or lemon juice.

 

Place the lentils in a bowl and fill with cold water.   Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Dry roast the whole spices and set aside.

Heat the oil and cook the onion until at least golden brown or even darker.

Add the GGG and lamb in handfuls, searing each until coloured on each side.

Add the ground spices and allow to cook a little.   They may stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add the whole spices, carrots, courgettes and sweet potatoes, coconut milk and water and scrape the bottom of the pan clean.

Bring to a very gentle bubble, add the lentils and cook for at least 2 hours.

Adjust the seasoning by adding tamarind paste and/or lemon juice to balance the sweetness of the coconut and add a little salt to taste.

*(GGG is 4 parts fresh root ginger: 2 parts garlic: 1-part green chilli blitzed together in a food processor and then divided into 1 heaped teaspoon portions before freezing.   Defrost as many portions as needed.)

Check out the fresh videos on my new website: www.pennymelvillebrown.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas gift

 

For you and anyone you know: a seasonal recipe booklet with links to demos: https://www.pennymelvillebrown.com/free-christmas-cookbook/

Check out unseen videos on my new website: www.pennymelvillebrown.com

It all celebrates the Covid cookbook blogs plus the on-line demonstrations for visually impaired people that I’ve been doing during the pandemic.

Just a way of saying “Happy Christmas” and hopefully bringing a smile!

Please feel free to add to your own websites, social media, e-mails or whatever else – its all about spreading seasonal cheer!

With every best wish for a super Christmas and New Year,

Penny

 

Obituary for Donna Treploy

I have suffered a bereavement this weekend.   For years, I have been receiving e-mails from Donna at my bank.   I realised that she was probably sending out vast numbers of e-mails to people she didn’t really know.   But she did give me the sense that I was dealing with a real person at the bank.   It was reassuring to know that there was a human hand at work somewhere.

But, over the weekend, I found she had moved jobs and I was getting her e-mails from a new location.   I tried to reply and discover what was happening but that e-mail was undeliverable.   I checked out her e-mail address and, with a screen reader, listened to each letter with care.   Imagine my chagrin and burst bubble on learning that she’d always been Do not reply.   Just shows what misunderstandings adaptive technology can create!

My last on-line cooking demo this year is at 1030 on Monday 13 December.   You can sign up here:

Eventbrite:

https://open-sight-humous.eventbrite.co.uk

or follow-on Facebook:

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/events/289090496430530

If you would like a free copy of a simple and accessible Christmas recipe booklet  with links to video demonstrations (about 20 pages), just drop me a line at penny@laylands.co.uk.

 

 

There’s at least a billion of us!

A little video about the months and years surviving life-changing injuries on top of blindness: https://youtu.be/T_oQCLQyUpE

I’ve also just talked to George who is the leading light of blind cricket in India – here’s a link to the podcast: https://anchor.fm/eyeway/episodes/Eyeway-Conversations-with-Penny-Melville-Brown-e1avb82

You’ve guessed why I’m focussing on disability: about 20% of the world population is like me and 3 December is our International Day.

I wonder if the powers-that-be, the Governments, businesses, employers, IT developers and the global economic system remember that 1-in-5 of us have impairments.

Anyone trying to get through the financial impact of the pandemic would do well to remember the enormous potential of all of us shoppers and workers.   We could make all the difference.   Let’s de-bunk the perceptions that having a disability instantly renders you poor (not worth selling to) and incompetent (not worth employing).   I’m neither and nor are the thousands of other people I’ve met around the world over very many years.   This is a market and pool of talent that is ripe for the picking and the timing is perfect too.

Meanwhile, here’s a little recipe to spice up those autumn pears:

6-8 pears, cored and cut into chunks.

8 pieces crystallised ginger, chopped.

1 orange, juice only.

3 eggs, weighed.

Same weight butter, honey and self-raising flour.

2 heaped teaspoons ground ginger.

 

Place the pears, crystallised ginger and orange juice in an ovenproof dish.

Whizz the butter and honey in a food processor.

Add the eggs to the mix one at a time with a little flour.

Pulse in the last of the flour and ground ginger.

Pour the mix over the pears and cook in a pre-heated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 40 minutes.

 

Hot and warming for chilly winter days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Too much process, not enough outcome

Listening to Dame Kate Bingham of vaccine delivery fame on the radio: she was commenting on the Civil Service and their inability to respond quickly enough to the pandemic.

Having worked with many Departments, I can recognise her weariness.   Just lately I commented on a Disability Strategy: not a number in sight.   There was no sense of what targets might be met or by when which, of course, meant that there was no chance of measuring progress or failure.

But perhaps we are too simplistic when laying all the blame on those civil servants.   Perhaps it is a Ministerial trait, of all hues, to avoid publishing anything to which they, their Department and Civil Servants can be held to account.   Promising lots is easy but delivery is difficult.   All sorts of problems can arise in the interim, including a pandemic, that throw the best laid plans awry.

On the other hand, isn’t it better to know where a plan has failed, for whatever reason, in order to pick up the pieces, reset the goals and start again?   Talking of plans failing…. …

It was Christmas cakes this week: one big one, 3 smaller and 22 individual.   Just imagine a mix using 4 packs of butter, a kilo of honey, 16 eggs and a kilo of flour.   The Kenwood made short work of the basic mix although the bowl was about full to over-flowing.

There’s an extra-large food quality plastic box kept specially for this annual purpose: alternately layering in the cake mix with masses of brandy-soaked fruit and nuts.   It all went so well with more folding in and spooning into the cake moulds.

Ready for the oven until I remembered that the lemon and orange zest and juice had been forgotten.   Thank goodness for Karen, who diligently and delicately mixed the fresh fruit into the cakes en situ – too messy for me to attempt.

Covered with foil, the cakes took about 2-4 hours to cook at 135C, Gas 1.   Ample time for washing up bowls, work surfaces and me: sticky to the elbows.

Now I’ve time to inject them with more brandy before the final decorations.   I made tiny Christmas crackers in pewter that get piled on top.

(This is the same recipe as the Easter Simnel cake earlier this year but four times the amounts and no marzipan in the middle.   I’ll be posting it in my free Christmas recipe booklet at the start of December – watch out for it or get in touch for a copy.)

My last on-line cooking demo this year is at 1030 on Monday 13 December.   You can sign up here:

Eventbrite:

https://open-sight-humous.eventbrite.co.uk

or follow-on Facebook:

Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/events/289090496430530

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gammon rillettes

“Two-thirds of women in the Armed Forces have experienced bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination during their career.” (Parliamentary Report in 2021).

I’ve never been a shrinking violet but still faced the sort of sexual harassment and discrimination that is clearly systemic now.

Joining the Women’s royal Naval Service back in the late 70s, I was completely unprepared for a culture in which women could be denigrated and side-lined.   I still remember physical sexual harassment on two occasions (both by senior officers); being told a job opportunity wasn’t for me because the senior officer would make decisions “with his glands”; being ignored when I complained of discrimination.   There was more and many others faced similar problems.   When involved with the performance appraisal system for some 37,000 RN and RM other ranks, we tried to make improvements by including “equality” in their assessments.   But the officer corps utterly refused to consider that such applied to them.   Years later after leaving the Navy, when advising the MOD, I tried again to Persuade the then Chief of the Defence Staff that equality was fundamental but met with angry rebuttal.   Now it has come back to bite them and about time too.

Just tried to book a Covid booster jab: earliest is a month away and they judge distance as “as the crow flies”.   Portsmouth or Southampton may be only a few miles away if you can walk on water but us lesser beings have to cope with the traffic – and heaven help other older people with disabilities.   I’m not convinced that there is the same sense of urgency or the practical arrangements to make all of this workable when winter flue and other bugs are imminent.

Meanwhile, I was happily making at least 30 delicious meals from a couple of gammon hocks: Under £8 for all the ingredients!

A couple of gammon hocks.

A mix of vegetables, chopped (carrots, onion, celery, parsnip).

Herbs and seasoning (spoonful of black pepper corns, handfuls of fresh rosemary and thyme leaves)

Seal all in a bag and vacuum pack before placing in a sous vide water bath at 70C for 30 hours.   Alternatively, seal in a roasting bag and cook in a very low oven until the centre of the meat reaches 70C – perhaps 6-12 hours depending on size).

Remove the skin, fat and bones to leave just the meat, vegetables and stock.

Shred some of the meat and pack into silicone muffin trays, topped with a little stock mixed with gelatine.   Chill.  (Served with homemade apple, date and walnut chutney plus a little salad garnish for a light supper/lunch or a starter)

Meanwhile, add soaked dried split peas to the stock and vegetables and simmer until the peas are soft.   Whizz until smooth, adjust seasoning and top with small pieces of meat: pea and ham soup.

Freeze the remaining meat for more meals on other days.

Vary the gammon rillettes with chopped parsley, some soaked mustard seeds or both.

 

 

 

 

Fills me with despair

Who would believe that both the United Nations and the UK Government couldn’t plan well enough to make the COP 26 event fully accessible for disabled people.   But I guess that they assume that none of us was likely to be there.   That’s over a billion people worldwide who have just been relegated to the side-lines.

On a more positive note, this year has been one of receiving bounty from many home-growers with surplus produce.   There have been our own apples, Ursula’s quinces, Peter’s blackberries, plums and grapes and now, Joan’s Sarpo Mira potatoes.   These came from her allotment and were a bit too knobbly, slightly damaged or too small to be worth storing.   They’ve promptly been cooked and frozen: enough for 18 individual meals!   Thank goodness we’ve saved them from the compost.

Pommes dauphinoises doesn’t really deserve the title of a recipe but I have learned to use milk rather than cream for better results.   Peeled and sliced potatoes are simply layered into an ovenproof dish with some chopped garlic, butter flakes, salt and pepper between each layer.   Pour milk to nearly cover the top layer and put in the oven at 180C, Gas 4 until the potatoes are soft (probably at least an hour depending on how deep is your dish).   Allow to cool if freezing or devour greedily straight away.

I swear by my potato masher.   It is like one of those hand wand whisks but has a very different action.   Instead of just chopping/whizzing the potato which risks it becoming too starchy, the blades push the potato through little holes – just like an old-fashioned hand-masher.   Perfect for your neeps and tatties or other mash/puree.   I’m sure that the uses are endless and there’s another blade that is apparently for making cakes – never used it!

My apologies for getting the date wrong for the great Christmas pudding free demo next week: Monday 8 November at 1030.   Book via:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/190904710127

I’m trying to eat up the last of the 2020 puddings which have lasted perfectly in a cupboard and take only 3 minutes in the microwave on Defrost.   Christmas any day of the year which pleases the sous chef enormously.