Crumble challenge

Just a few minutes rubbing simple ingredients together

and you have the basics of a great pudding or savoury dish.

I was cooking with near-neighbour Gary who has very little sight due to his incredibly rare Bardet-Biedl Syndrome.  He’d challenged me to make an apple crumble as good as his own which features sultanas soaked in whisky.

I was determined to offer him a strong alternative in both fruit and topping departments.  Inspired by a French apple tart, I used raisins soaked in rum and the topping has no flour.

I devised this alternative crumble for my late mother who was wheat intolerant.  Although the main ingredient of oats may still not be suitable for those who need a strict gluten-free diet, they may work for many others.

It’s a very simple mix of 2 parts porridge oats to one part each butter, soft brown sugar and crushed hazelnuts.  I used to chop the nuts by hand but there were always too many shooting away on to the floor, Now, it is much easier and faster to use some kitchen equipment.  A mill attachment for a wand blender, a mill for coffee beans or, much noisier, a food processor.     Then the ingredients just need rubbing through your fingers until they are evenly blended together.  It takes about 40 minutes at Gas 4 to cook the fruit and topping.    I always have a bag of this crumble mix in the freezer – a pudding in minutes. And you can be very inventive with fruit combinations. In addition to apple, the rum-raisins are excellent in a tropical fruit crumble with pineapple, mango, bananas and more.  And ripe apricots are perfect on their own.

I’ve done savoury crumbles too: oats, butter, some nuts, herbs, ground dried garlic and other flavours to make a topping for par-cooked vegetables or even fish – there is no end to the inventions you can create.

Next time, I’m making a Sri Lankan beef curry with Steve – now I know how to use the tamarind paste that has been sitting in a cupboard for too long.




Sight loss is the easy bit

There are blind cooks everywhere like Gary

but few have the additional complications of his rare condition.  I learnt more as he showed me his paella-risotto -combi.

Back in my home kitchen, I was keen to hear from other local people with different levels of visual impairment.  There were tips to share and new recipes to test.  The common theme was  that limitations of sight needn’t limit life.

First up is Gary who has the incredibly rare Bardet-Biedl Syndrome that can result in extra fingers and toes, other physical drawbacks  and, commonly, gradually deteriorating sight.  Gary was typical in having had a busy and successful early career but found it increasingly difficult to work as his condition became more evident and was eventually diagnosed.

His enthusiasm and motivation remain undiminished: he’s active across the local community of blind people, led one organisation and actively supports others.  His frequent gym work-outs help him keep active and counter other consequences of his condition.  And, of course, he is an enthusiastic cook with a great repertoire  of recipes including his “roadkill”.

This is definitely not a name for a dish that is inviting or sets one drooling with anticipation.  But ignore the name and remember it as a one-pot wonder of a warmer as autumn draws in: chicken, herbs and spices made colourful with tomatoes.  With rice included in the pot as it cooks in the oven, it is easy on both the cook and washing-up.

Next time, I’ll show Gary my equally easy crumble recipe  inspired by him.





Home Sweet Home

My brother, Martin, cooked when I couldn’t:

We were celebrating my return from hospital.  Having survived the world tour cooking across six continents , I nearly died in a car accident in France.  I was there to discover new cooking opportunities but ended up in hospitals for five months: two months in Intensive Care and six weeks in a coma.  It was truly touch and go as to whether I’d survive and, if I did, whether I’d be paralysed from the neck down.  Looking back at the first video I made in the hospital it’s clear that I was still struggling.

But with excellent medical care, fantastic support and much love, I got through it and soon started to sound and look much stronger


When I eventually was able to return home, I still wasn’t well enough to stand and cook.  Former Royal Navy Fleet Catering Officer stepped in to the breach: Martin spent nearly a whole day making his magical Italian ragout for our special meal to mark the homecoming and all the efforts of family and friends to keep me going.

This is certainly one of those dishes that has to be cooked from the heart: chopping vegetables so fine that they virtually disappear; hours and hours of stirring and gentle simmering;  two types of minced meat with just the right balance of lean and fat; the weird but successful addition of milk; lashings of wine to evaporate and, ultimately, such rich  unctuousness   that anything more than simple plain pasta would be overwhelming.  This is definitely not a meal for the faint-hearted or cholesterol-conscious.

For someone who’d been living on rather plain hospital fare for months, it was a distinct shock to the system but gloriously indulgent and heart-warming.  What a wonderful welcome and huge incentive to get back in to the kitchen.    Next time, you can see that I’d been inspired by Martin and was cooking again.


Blighted by benefits?

My thriving 20 year-old business has been blighted by apparently random decisions about the Access To Work support I need – and the dispute has been going on for 5 years!  If you have good or bad experiences about how changes in benefit policies have changed your life as a disabled person, please take part in this research project.  I’ve worked with Eva before in relation to self-employed disabled people and I’m going to tell her my story too.

Research Study: The impact of benefit changes on disabled self-employed people

Are you a disabled business owner, or self-employed, based in the UK? Have you been affected by changes to disability and work-related benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance and Access to Work, over the past decade? If so, consider supporting a research study funded by Manchester Metropolitan University on the impact of benefit changes on (1) personal well-being, (2) working practices and (3) business performance of disabled people and those with long-term health conditions who are in self-employment.

Since 2010, consecutive UK Governments have initiated welfare reforms to cut public spending. Disabled people have been particularly affected, for example, by the introduction of more restrictive criteria on claiming certain benefits. Little is known about the effects of these changes on the individual chances of remaining and thriving in self-employment or business ownership. The study will inform policy makers by contributing to our understanding of the role that welfare support plays in enabling, or constraining, self-employed people and those aspiring to become self-employed.

Taking part in the study involves an interview, face-to-face or over the telephone. More information can be found on the following link:

If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr Eva Kašperová (Email:, Tel: 07944856484).


Meet International Music Star

Supported by rock star, Madonna, meet Lazarus who is soon to become famous through a film about his life.  Cooking with the albino group in Malawi (  I learnt about the challenges they face and the success they achieve. With the pale skin and hair resulting from their albinism, these are people who stand out in Africa.    Some people still think that they are ghosts or spirits; many have been attacked in the past, some killed and their bones dug up for export for ritual magic.    Getting work is extra challenging especially as many have visual impairments too.  Thank goodness that the Government of Malawi is taking action to help them with special creams that are reducing the risk of skin cancer.

But, like people everywhere, members of this group still have ambition, determination, motivation and lust for life.  Take Virginia who has become a school teacher, influencing future generations to develop more inclusive attitudes.  Although she recognises that not everyone is kind and understanding of her situation, she continues undaunted to make the very best of her talents.

Lazarus is made of the same stuff: he had been playing music at every opportunity to provide for his family – doing what he can do best.  Now, with the help of Madonna, a film of his life and music is due for release.  He’s already been featured on the BBC World Service and his star will continue to shine.

Who would have believed that just hoping to cook with local people in Malawi would have brought me such revelations?  There is no end to the surprises  and abilities of people all over the world.  My thanks to everyone at the Association of Persons with Albinism in Malawi.



Feast with Albino group

Open fires on the ground, peeling pumpkin leaves and sifting grit from rice  – my experience of every day cooking in Malawi.

I was cooking with a group of local people who have

albinism – the condition that means that they don’t have colour in their skin or hair.  That all makes life risky in the hot climate of Africa as they are very prone to skin damage and cancer from the sun.  And many have very limited eyesight too.

Malawi has a wonderful climate for growing staple ingredients such as maize (used in their nsima porridge-like

dish) and tomatoes (which feature in lots of food).  Sea fish is difficult to obtain because Malawi is land-locked but there are many fresh water fish available from Lake Malawi – and these are either dried or cooked fresh.

Lack of electricity and refrigeration determine how many food stuffs are used.  Much is dried so that it can be stored safely; potassium permanganate is used to kill off bugs; much of the cooking takes place outside in simple terracotta pots sitting on bricks above a fire; most food is boiled – again to kill any bacteria.

And everything that has food value is eaten: the leaves of okra, beans and pumpkins.

For me, the live chicken was probably the most disconcerting ingredient – especially as it was still laing eggs as it walked in to the compound.  I didn’t see it being despatched but there were more eggs inside that we discovered: hard-boiled after the bird had been cooked.

When food can be sparse and limited, its understandable that every resource has to be used  for the people to get the carbohydrates, vitamins and protein they need – especially as most have tough physical jobs.  It is very different to our “Western” lifestyles where food is  more than abundant and most of us do much less arduous office work.