Home-made Christmas presents and pies

Here’s how to make your own Christmas mincemeat https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCNMLQN37mE&feature=youtu.be.  Add a ribbon to the jar for a truly personal present or turn it into delicious treats to share with family and friends – or even the postman!

I was creating this traditional recipe, full of fruit and spices, for a seasonal special recording by the local Talking Newspaper team.   And the whole process is so straightforward that anyone can do it – it just takes talking scales for someone like me who can’t see.  And it’s the perfect recipe for using up those tail-ends of bottles of sherry, brandy, port etc.  If you have the time, it’s worth soaking the dried fruit in the alcohol for a few days (or more) before simply adding the rest of the ingredients, stirring and popping in the oven at the lowest temperature for three hours.   Remove the mix and let it cool a little before potting up in warm sterilised jars from the oven and its done.

Throughout I was chatting to Suzie, Chairman of Fareport Talking News, and Dee, her recording specialist.  Together with other volunteers, they create weekly recordings of the news and other articles to send to visually impaired people across our area of southern Hampshire.  Recordings are delivered on memory sticks that can be played on a computer or laptop.  For those who don’t use tech, there are special “speaker boom boxes” designed to be easy-to-use by anyone with little or no sight.  These boxes will also play audio books and have big buttons that can help anyone with limited hand movements.  Linking someone with limited sight to the local Talking Newspaper service could be a perfect Christmas present for them.

Suzie and Dee were enthusiastic about my kitchen equipment and particularly liked the electric lemon squeezer.  The only special “blind” equipment I have is the talking scales, thermometer and labelling system –all the rest are just mainstream High Street products.  But I do choose with care so the lemon squeezer isn’t just super-efficient but is much better at keeping the pips out of the juice; my “kettle” dispenses exactly the right amount of boiling water at the press of a button – no more pouring and guessing; the bread-maker produces the perfect dough or loaf but without all the mess of hand-kneading.

Blind people can be as good, or bad, as anyone else when it comes to cooking but a sharp knife in experienced hands, using all the senses and getting the best from kitchen gadgets makes everything so much easier.



One fifth of the world marking this day

What are we called: handicapped, crippled, disabled, impaired, mad, deaf-and-dumb, blind, peg-leg and much, much more and none of it great.  There are about 1.3 billion people, a fifth of people around the world, living with the consequences of physical or mental   ill-health.  Anyone reading this almost certainly knows friends or family members  who have disabilities and today’s the day to stand up for them.

Can the world afford to write us off?    Aren’t we voters, tax-payers, workers, customers, thinkers, artists, inventors, musicians, friends, spouses, parents, children just like everyone else?

Too often politicians, employers, businesses and public servants just see us as too difficult, too expensive and not worth bothering about.  Check out what they are doing on this International Day of People with Disabilities.    Ask them what they are doing to make all our lives better, happier and fulfilled.



Suck it up

Stuffing a curved banana in to the hollowed-out centre of a pineapple was the most difficult bit of this great desserthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8b3NfXTJ4TY&feature=youtu.be.  And we could hardly restrain our giggles.

Jennison, all the way from Silicon Valley, California, was learning more new cooking equipment with me.  The snazzy cutter produces a neat spiral of pineapple and leaves the centre ready for that banana.  Simply put it in a plastic bag with some brown sugar and raisins soaked in rum before sucking hard!  The aim is to get as much air out as possible before tying off.  Then, together, we tackled the vacuum packer – no problem at all for two blind people if you can remember the two simple buttons and hear the click when the seal has been made.  It’s as simple as that.

The water bath isn’t difficult for visually impaired people either.  We could feel the maximum and minimum water markers on the inside and, with the addition of some tactile “bump-ons”, the external controls don’t need sight either.  But the manufacturer still warns that some disabled people shouldn’t use the equipment without supervision!  Amazing that, in this day and age of equality legislation, they still have the cheek to design out accessibility.

The double-bagged pineapple goes in to the water at 73 degrees Centigrade to emerge 24 hours later soft, warm and utterly delicious.  Eat your heart out sous-vide designers.

Next time, I’m making Christmas mincemeat with two of the local Talking Newspapers’ team.



Don’t try this at home

Fish fingers: not sea-life but real fingers dipped in flour and batter – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cOXzP3NGzFk&feature=youtu.be so that we could put the fish in to hot oil safely – or that’s what John promised us!

He was showing us two blind people how to cook classic English fish and chips safely.  Usually there’s lots of deep fat frying with hot oil and other hazards that are even more dangerous when you can’t see.  For this special version, we were shallow frying in just a little oil but still needed to handle the coated fish – so battering our hands was the answer.

Jennison, accessibility awareness lead for Linked In from Silicon Valley, California, was my fellow guinea pig for this experiment and he was understandably nervous about any injury to the hands he relies on for his high-tech, keyboard intensive work and lifestyle.  And he was a very novice cook too.  I take my hat off to him for being brave enough to give this a try.

I was less brave as I knew that I could rely on John’s expert good-hearted and ever-generous expertise and supervision.   With all his care, we produced two very respectable pieces of battered cod to serve up with the super-safe chips, tartar sauce and distinctly unimpressive mushy peas.   I’ve definitely not cooked anything in batter for quarter of a century.  Even if I don’t do it frequently in the future, it was liberating to overcome another of those “blindness barriers”.

Next time, Jennison and I tackle the vacuum-packer and cooking sous-vide.



Stand up and be counted


Whether you love Brexit or loathe it, whatever your politics, make sure you have your say on 12 December.

Lots of politicians have been talking about “What the People Want”.  Now is our chance to make sure that they really hear our voices.

Being too busy or not bothering to vote is a cop out.    If we the people want to be taken seriously, we have to play our part too.

If you’re worried that your vote won’t make a difference, use it tactically.    That might mean voting for someone who isn’t your first choice.  Search on-line to get an understanding of which political party might come closest to your own views and might benefit from your vote.  Local polls, the results of the 2017 General Election and the 2019 European election can all give you some pointers.

For many people, this election might mean voting for the least worse option but, at least, that might mean avoiding that worse result.  Even if the result isn’t what you’d like, it might make the politicians  think, speak and act more carefully when their majorities are slashed.

By using our votes we  will be doing our best to make our voices heard.

Buttons and dials

Even blind cooks can make super-chips with the right equipment https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dy2ZPSntfH4&feature=youtu.be.

And I definitely don’t mean a deep fat fryer: far too risky.

Instead, friend and co-cook John produced one of those air-fryers that’s so much safer and keeps the calories down too.  For me and fellow blind cook, Jennison, it was the design that was the absolute winner: good tactile buttons.  I know that the more expensive, sleek, digital, wipe-clean plastic versions can seem more convincing   but, even when you can see, the click of a button or the twist of a knob is so much more meaningful.

I’m convinced that human interaction with ingredients, processes and equipment is a vital part of the creativity and care of chefs and cooks I met around the world.

Charlene from Melbourne https://youtu.be/M_pvfHgJB3w was absolutely right that cooking is all about senses and sensuality.  Designers need to ensure maximum stimulation of all our senses when they are creating a piece of kitchen equipment or it becomes a barrier rather than an enabler: languishing at the back of a cupboard without regard or recommendation.

As a blind cook, the senses are, of course, key for me but I don’t believe that anyone else wants their kitchen experience to be one of sensory deprivation.  If we have no personal interaction with our food until the moment we eat it, aren’t we missing out?    Isn’t that sensory stimulation the very core of successful design?

Next week, when we cook the fish, Jennison and I take this thinking to the ultimate: John persuaded us to flour and batter our fingers so they wouldn’t burn when we were handling the fish in the pan!





Invitation to Toby’s new exhibition

My nephew and Baking Blind videographer, Toby, is primarily a great artist and will be showing his latest series of pieces  in London this month.  We would be delighted if you could join him for his exhibition opening night on 21 November.

He said, “The artworks are all inspired by the golden age of science fiction. Sort of fictional fiction. Got it? Below I’ve attached one of the artworks as a little taster. The premise imagines what would happen if nature upped sticks and left. That pun can be interchanged with, what happens when the trees really leave.