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.

http://www.tobymelvillebrown.com

 

 

Old friend meets new

Prawns and leeks –an unusual and simple starter for novice California cook Jennison with the help of Hampshire kitchen master, John https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adrVxI6Dq38&feature=youtu.be.

Star of many of the Baking Blind cooking videos over the last few years, John featured in the Three Blind Mice episode https://youtu.be/6SaB88MiUu4  when we made cakes for a Comic Relief bake-sale.

We first met years ago as he is one of the regular taxi drivers who have been ferrying me around for, heavens, about quarter of a century!  As usual, I’d been chatting away and doubtless nattering on about my latest recipe or similar when he revealed that he’s an avid cook too.  After that, there was no stopping us: every journey was a feast of food, recipes and tips.

He has links to the Royal Navy too having cooked in local naval establishments, galleys and wardrooms before moving on to catering in several local pubs.  Now he’s a leading light of the largest local taxi firm which gives him more work flexibility.   We have spent many happy times on journeys: swapping recipes and techniques.  John is just like so many of the other chefs and cooks I met around the world: full of cheer, generosity and enthusiasm.

He often drove me when I got back to the UK after the car crash and took special care when I was still coping with my driving-related PTSD.  He turned up with boxes of his home-made suppers and lunches which were invaluable when I didn’t have the strength to cook.  John even made over 200 roses for my wedding cake which he’d iced, and his brother-in-law had made.  Our cooking has made a special friendship.

So, he was exactly the person I asked to collect Jennison from his Heathrow hotel: he knew all about helping a blind passenger and could regale him with our shared kitchen experiences.  And he’d volunteered to give LinkedIn’s technology accessibility champion, Jennison, a day of his time too.  Our first recipe was this prawn and leek starter and next week we find safe ways for blind people to triple cook the best chips ever.

 

Brave new cook

Congratulations to Jennison: he’d paid a vast amount to do something completely new and alien – cooking with me!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7SMn5s67w-0&feature=youtu.be

As a blind person himself, he told me that his mother had limited his role in the kitchen to “manual labour” and now he’d travelled half way round the world, from San Francisco to Hampshire in the UK,  with the specific aim of new experiences, new challenges and, hopefully, good food.  Back at home in Silicon Valley, he barely needs a kitchen.  His work place at LinkedIn provides three meals a day, all free, and the rest of the time he eats out or orders in.  It seemed that his closest encounter with a frying pan was re-heating part-cooked frozen turkey sausages.  His being blind isn’t much of a factor – it is much more the lifestyle  common to many of the tech jocks – he couldn’t think of anyone he knows who cooks!

So a few days in the kitchen was a steep learning curve for him.  Squeezing sausage meat for Scotch eggs was probably his most searing experience but , for this curry,  he had his first encounter with chopping an onion and, of course, succeeded.  Although my method might not be as cheffy as a professional, it works for someone who can’t see.

I’d chosen the dish because Indian cuisine is so close to English hearts and stomachs.  Also, the medley of whole and ground spices dry-roasting in the pan would stimulate his sense of smell when he couldn’t see.  Its also a very simple dish that even a novice cook can try at home with great results.

Next time, Jennison and I are instructed by my friend and taxi driver, John, in the delights of a prawn and leek starter.

 

 

Technology guru in the kitchen

Blind like me, Jennison leads on accessibility for Linked In based in Silicon Valley (California) and told me his ideas about technology for people with disabilitieshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4o033mvLWkI&feature=youtu.be.  This video is longer than usual – more like a podcast-with-pictures.

We’d met months earlier when I was visiting San Francisco to make a presentation about my Baking Blind world tour https://youtu.be/g04RcvQgWXk

Part of that evening’s gala dinner was a charity auction for which I’d donated accommodation and three cooking sessions with me in Hampshire.  The local LightHouse organisation had added the flights to create a special item.  There were many others including a kayaking trip with Ahmet, co-winner of the Holman prize, and a “Red Special “guitar signed by rock-group Queen’s Brian May.    All the proceeds were destined for the recovery of the LightHouse’s summer camp for blind people, destroyed in a wildfire.  It was good to have raised the most money for this worthwhile cause.

Jennison and I had juggled dates for months to fit in with our commitments but, at last, he was here in Hampshire.  I inveigled   my great co-cook and taxi driver, John, to collect Jennison from the airport so he arrived with his ears ringing with cooking tales.  We had fun over the next few days creating a smoked salmon tart, sticky toffee puddings (he hated chopping the dates), apple crumble and more.    I think he found making Scotch eggs the most traumatic: squeezing sausage meat out of the sausage skins and trying to peel softly boiled eggs without breaking them.  But they are delicious just rolled in breadcrumbs, a spray of oil and oven baked.

Then we had a full-on morning with John who had given lots of thought as to how we could make classic English fish and chips without the risk of deep-fat frying.

Most important was learning about Jennison’s role in the field of technology.  He described his efforts to make more social media, other applications, soft and hardware plus websites more accessible – not just for blind people but for anyone who has a health condition that makes IT difficult.  Throughout the six videos in this short series, you can hear his ideas and his Global Accessibility Awareness Day plus our thoughts on making kitchens more useful too.

As quite a novice cook, Jennison was at the start of his kitchen journey and next time you can see his very first onion-chopping experience.

 

 

Is Braille the answer?

Sue and I were making her indulgent coffee cake https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNC0uwo0Xcg&feature=youtu.be complete with butter icing and walnut decoration.  For me, its one of those cakes that brings back memories of childhood, licking the bowl and making sure that there were still enough walnuts left for at least one apiece.

She was one of the Southampton Sight   www.southamptonsight.org.uk volunteers who had come equipped with a Braille cookbook.  But, as Braille is so very bulky when printed, one “normal” cookbook turned out to be five volumes when reproduced in Braille.  The system of raised dots representing each word, letter or number uses more space and thicker paper which adds to its bulk.  There are alternatives such as Braille touch pads that respond to electronic documents: presenting them as changing tactile symbols as the document is “read” – but these aren’t always ideal when you want a ready reference like a cookbook.

Sue had learned this way of reading when she was young and agreed with the advice I’d been given, after about age 50 one’s fingertip sensitivity has lessened so it is much more difficult to learn Braille.  Remembering that relatively few people have no or little vision from childhood while much sight-loss is associated with older age, it is not surprising that not many people (perhaps 10,000) use this system in the UK.

The lesson is that, if you are producing documents for the public or any audience that might include people with limited vision, don’t automatically think that Braille is the answer.  Certainly, you might offer it as an option alongside large print   but, as more and more people use electronic documents, make sure that these work with screen magnification and screen readers.  Documents in pdf formats are notoriously poor with screen readers if they haven’t been created in a suitable format – so don’t rely on these either.

My answer is to always keep an original version of a document in Word which can then be used with adaptive technology, including a Braille printer or touchscreen, can be printed in any size and can also work with screen readers and magnification.  Such a document may not solve every problem but will be close.

And, of course, the Equality Act makes this applicable to any organisation (public, private or voluntary sector) serving the public and employers who know that they have visually impaired staff.    It needn’t be difficult or expensive to comply with the law – it just takes a bit of forward-thinking