Where are all the other blind cooks?

Back in Hampshire, I managed to find Steve and his Sri Lankan beef curry – but I’d been lucky to discover him. https://youtu.be/gS0RlZ9lF4o

There must be thousands of visually impaired people across such a big county but it was difficult to locate some who would cook with me.  Begging e-mails to the organisations for blind people plus the other charities and voluntary sector organisations failed.  Was it me?  Was it the prospect of the video camera?  Or are blind people not cooking?

Thanks to Southampton Sight, that supports people from beyond the city, I managed to find Steve, Kate and Sue who all generously shared their time, recipes and cooking tips.

Steve’s curry was especially new: I’d never used Sri Lankan flavours and my tube of tamarind paste had been languishing, unloved and neglected, in the cupboard for more years than its “Best Before” date could bear.

Most inspiring was Steve himself.    He is one of those precise and meticulous cooks who gets all his ingredients prepared first and then can cook easily without making a mess – which is important when you can’t see well.  He has enough residual sight to be able to read the spice labels with a magnifying glass.  This is always tricky with any level of sight loss so I try to always keep the spices in the same order and then trust to memory, smell and taste.  He was particularly careful with the tin of coconut – notorious for that large lump of coconut solid that usually slides out of the tin at the last moment to splash in to the pan.  His advice was to give the tin a good stir at the start and break up the solids.

Most caring was his concern that his usual level of chili would be too much for me and the other guests.  It’s a fine cook who is ready to lay down his own taste for the sake of others.  And it was delicious.

If you know anyone who has lost some or all their sight, why not encourage them with their cooking?  Being independent in the kitchen can be so satisfying  and rewarding.  Perhaps one of the videos might help show what’s possible?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crumble challenge

Just a few minutes rubbing simple ingredients together https://youtu.be/KLoqXRAN1QA

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mz2pEXCS4X4&feature=youtu.be

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: https://youtu.be/bM1uxyiwx8s.

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBMOMDSInYY 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 https://youtu.be/h7nJI57H-M8

 

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:https://www.dropbox.com/s/c55ul5y87zouzjh/Participant%20Information%20Sheet.docx?dl=0

If you are interested in participating, please contact Dr Eva Kašperová (Email: e.kasperova@mmu.ac.uk, 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 (https://youtu.be/KtWv-awdX2s  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.