Champion community spirit

Start your New Year by celebrating someone who makes a difference to our local lives: the BBC Radio Solent  Community Heroes Awards

I’m honoured to have been asked to judge one of the awards (Inclusion) but also wanted lots of other local people to be featured too.  Who do you know who has given years of unsung community service; who has changed lives or attitudes; who makes the lives of others better and happier?

All of you would fit one of the categories or know someone who does – so please get nominations in.  It would be wonderful to see some familiar faces at the dinner please.

Here are the details of the awards and nomination process:

There are seven categories as follows:

Young Achiever – Awarded to anyone aged 18 or under, who has demonstrated maturity beyond their years.

Coastal – someone who gives their time, energy & passion into making our coastline a better place, whether by marine conservation, protecting the environment, education or saving lives.

Services – Presented to a member of the emergency services or the armed forces for commitment to their profession.

Carer – Someone who cares for an individual or group of people on a regular basis.

Good Neighbour – Awarded to an individual or organisation that helps make the neighbourhood & local community a better place to live or work, either on a regular basis or through a single act of kindness or courage.

Inclusion – an individual or group who strives to break down barriers, enforce positive messages, reach out to minority groups and bring people together.

Volunteer – Awarded to a person or group who gives up their time voluntarily to help others, perhaps contributing to local sporting life, helping at a local charity or good cause.


The BBC Radio Solent Outstanding Achievement Award – a winner from the above categories will be picked as our overall Hero.

Nomination Details:

  • Must be over 18 to nominate someone.
  • Must have the nominee’s permission to put them forward for an award.
  • The deadline for nominations is midnight on Sunday 1st March 2020.
  • The shortlisted candidates will be announced on Friday 13thMarch
  • The Awards Dinner will be on Monday 30thMarch 2020 at Carey’s Manor in Brockenhurst   – hosted in partnership with student chefs from Brockenhurst College.



Happy Christmas from Baking BLind

Greetings for your Christmas festivities as I celebrate an amazing three years of these blogs and videos

It’s difficult to believe everything that has happened since those very first Christmas cakes in 2016, captured by my brother Martin.  Soon after, my nephew Toby took over as videographer and, within months, we were competing for the Holman prize run by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation for blind people.     There was stiff competition from 200 other blind people from 27 countries, but I was lucky enough to be one of the winners.  The $25,000 contributed to the costs of my adventure cooking across six continents, captured by Toby’s camera skills.  We spent nearly three months travelling and cooking in America (San Francisco and Virginia Beach), Costa Rica (San Jose and Tamarindo), China (Chongqing), Australia (Kiama, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth), Malawi (Lilongwe) and back in the UK.  It was exhausting, exhilarating, exciting and only possible due to the outstanding support of fabulous people at every location.

If you check out this video, you’ll see/hear that it was made in December 2017 when I was due to explore more cooking opportunities in Europe.  But it was never posted then as I was involved in a major car accident and ended up in French hospitals for 5 months.  I was extraordinarily lucky to survive at all and might have been paralysed from the neck down without the expertise of the French health services.

It’s still a long road to recovery as I’ve had to learn to sit, stand and walk again, overcome Post Traumatic stress Disorder, memory, concentration and speech problems – and more.

But, by summer 2018, I was able to cook again, and we created a new series of videos with other blind people in Hampshire.  I was privileged to receive an Honorary Doctorate and return to San Francisco  to make a presentation to the LightHouse gala dinner in November 2018.

It was that dinner’s charity auction that produced our next series of videos featuring a blind technology guru from Linked In – he paid an outrageous amount to the charity for the challenge of coming to cook with me for a few days in August this year.  Finally, I recorded a “Christmas special” feature with the local Talking News team – hoping to reach other blind and visually impaired people here in Hampshire.

Throughout the last 18 months, Toby and I have been plugging away to edit the hundreds of hours of video material we recorded.     Sometimes it has been a struggle with my health and medical conditions, but we have finally done it all – and weekly blogs throughout too.

Now I’m looking forward to this 2019 Christmas and have been busy throughout the seasons of the year, ready to create Christmas hampers for my family and friends.  This year, there’s Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat, marmalade plus apricot and cherry jams, tomato chilli jam, crystallised orange and quince .  There would have been more if I’d had the time and perhaps more preserving will be my next goal: capturing the tastes and textures of produce at its best.

I’ve been trying to write the book too:  a combination of travel and recipes punctuated by  dramas: nearly stranded by the Costa Rican tropical storm; prevented from leaving China; Toby’s near-drowning in Australia;  my accident and all the other tribulations and frustrations along the way.  But every part of this adventure has had its joyous side, wonderful people and life-changing experiences.  I’m still the same person at the end of it but, hopefully, a bit wiser, stronger and happier.  What more could anyone want?

My greetings and heart-felt thanks to everyone who has supported me every step of this adventure – just taking the time to read this and perhaps share it with someone else makes a difference.  Baking Blind isn’t about me but about helping other people realise that blindness or any other disability  doesn’t change the people we are, our ambitions and aspirations.  Just give us the chance to achieve them.

Happy Christmas and may the New year bring new challenges and successes.






Home-made Christmas presents and pies

Here’s how to make your own Christmas mincemeat  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 dessert  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 – 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.