Expert help with home-made liqueur.

Liqueur glasses of the pale yellow liquid being clinked together Long-term friend, Peter, shared his years of experience: he presides over the National Association of Wine and Beer makers (www.nawb.org.uk), is a national judge and multi-prize winner.  He helped me turn a few lemons and some vodka in to a very respectable home-made version of Limoncello liqueur from Italy.

You can watch us make it on YouTube or download the recipe from bakingblind.com

Dead easy – the most arduous bit was remembering to shake the jar every day!

Two laughing people and lemonsServe at room temperature or chilled and you could pour over ice-cream.  You can experiment with different fruits: oranges, raspberries, limes or a mix.

You can experiment with different fruits: oranges, raspberries, limes or a mix.The funnel lined with a damp coffee filter is held firmly above the large jar.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

penny@bakingblind.com

Why are people with health conditions and disabilities being kept imprisoned?

No, I’m not talking about all of those behind bars but the every day “prisons” that restrict our liberty to move freely around buildings and public spaces or to find suitable homes.  It’s been obvious for decades that the population is getting older which means more people acquiring impairments.  If the built environment, like any other aspect of life, can’t keep up with the changes, more and more of us will be fettered by the barriers of bricks and mortar.

The answer, summarising the House of Commons report https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/631/631.pdf, is that to many who create, occupy or manage the environment seem to think that accessibility is just “nice-to-do”.  Imagine if architects, builders, planners, employers and others decided that other bits of law are equally optional?

And no-one is properly taking them to task: “the burden of ensuring that an accessible environment is achieved falls too heavily at present on individual disabled people, an approach that we consider to be neither morally nor practically sustainable.”

We need someone with a big stick to beat this drum for us:  they have nominated the politician who ends up leading the Department for Communities and Local Government after the election.

But, it’s not just top down: many planning decisions are made locally but the suggestion is that the Planning Inspectorate should be investigated for not paying enough attention to equality law when granting planning consent.

During the election campaign, we are hearing lots of promises about building new houses and the increasing cost of care as more people are living longer.  But absolutely not enough about “future-proofing” all those new homes so that they can still be lived in by people who are older and more likely to have disabilities.    And there’s no point making new buildings and homes work for everyone if it feels unsafe moving about outside because open spaces are too difficult to navigate.

It’s one more factor causing disabled people to be more impoverished and isolated (http://wp.me/p5FTN6-cD).

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000Lily flower arrangement

Professional chef supports Baking Blind.

Penny and Mike hovering over a small stainless steel pan of strawberries.Outstanding to have Mike give his time, enthusiasm and expertise in sharing his recipes and tricks-of-the-trade with me.  Together we made a glorious ice-cream and two different sauces to ripple through – perfect as there is some hope of sun this summer.

Cooking alongside a professional chef could have been daunting: would I be quick enough, accurate enough and clean enough?  On the day, no fear as we happily cooked together: he realised what might be tricky and we found ways of working around blindness.  Exactly what I’d like to achieve if my bid for the international Holman prize should succeed.

I’ve eaten his food for years when he was working at my favourite local brasserie and his ever-changing range of home-made ice-creams was always my favourite dessert choice.  He even catered a big birthday party for me a couple of years ago.  This is a chef on top of his form who has recently launched his own business: catering for that special private dinner party at home to big corporate functions extending over whole weekends.The pale cream ice-cream served in two glasses, each with a different flavour so one has red strawberry stripes and the other, brown caramel sauce.

You can watch us working together: we didn’t include the noisy churning in the ice-cream maker because not everyone has one but the recipe can still work with just a freezer and occasional stir to break up the ice crystals.  The salted caramel sauce would work with lots of other puddings – especially the sticky toffee sort – while the strawberry compote is delicious by itself or with meringues, a crisp biscuit, and some sponge – endless variations!  And absolutely none of this is difficult and every ingredient is easy to find.  Desserts that are so wonderfully wicked that they need to be locked away in a freezer – preferably with guards and barbed wire!

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Watch me make them on YouTube or download the recipe here

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com

Blind Navy veteran is UK finalist in international competition.

I’m hugely lucky to be a finalist:  hundreds of blind people from all over the world have taken part In the San Francisco-based Lighthouse Holman competition with outstanding ideas and amazing ambitions.  Yet we are only the flag-bearers: there are millions more blind and disabled people globally with equal aspirations and determination.  But it can take the Head and shoulders of Penny smilingsort of imagination behind the Holman prize to unleash all that talent.

Baking Blind  started as a modest and simple home-grown venture.  After years working in the disability field, I needed a better way to change attitudes. Brother Martin had some spare time so he videoed while I baked and the YouTube channel was born in time for Christmas.  But an idea alone doesn’t get far if no-one else knows about it!

The Holman competition was the new catalyst:  Challenging me to voice my goals, demanding more visibility and galvanising a rather modest toe-in-the-water towards a more professional splash.    After six months, I’m still at the start of the learning curve but we are making progress.

Penny chopping while filming for bakingblind.comI’ve thrown caution to the wind and want to take Baking Blind global!  If I succeed, the competition would make travel across six continents possible for me and my current videographer – cooking with professionals and home-cooks, sighted or not.  Thanks to the support of enthusiasts in America, Costa Rica, Australia, China and Malawi, we’d gather enough material to produce a whole year of vlogs and blogs.  Probably most importantly, the prestige of the competition would lift the profile of everything we are trying to do: creating a Launch pad to change minds about life with blindness in all those countries and, perhaps, even further afield.

Now, amazingly, there is just a chance to take another leap forward.  Next month, a committee of the best and brightest blind people internationally and the author of the James Holman biography will judge the projects of us 11 finalists and announce three winners in early July.

There’s a Navy theme too that is important personally: the competition commemorates James Holman who, like me , lost his sight while serving in the Royal Navy, but he went on to travel the globe solo about 200 years ago as celebrated in the “A Sense of the world” biography.  It’s difficult to imagine how he managed without all the technology and equipment that nowadays makes life with blindness possible.    But I hope that our shared military backgrounds give me some of his courage and character.  His early years in the Navy were spent just a few miles from where I live and there are almost certainly still some landmarks he would have recognised in Portsmouth Naval Base where I often worked.    This year adds another dimension: it is the centenary of the Women’s Royal Naval Service so I’ve already been sharing Navy memories and Baking Blind ideas through the WRNS 100 Facebook page.

So please wish me luck and keep your fingers crossed – I’m trying to balance the excitement with the reality of a great bunch of fellow finalists.  You can check out their inspirational ideas.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com

Fledgling baby Navy Pussers at HMS PEMBROKE.

We were endlessly teased about being on the Long Sec’s Course (its all in the name).  Held at the old naval shore establishment, HMS PEMBROKE, near Chatham, it aimed to equip us to be Secretaries in other establishments (for the WRNS officers) and at sea (for the men).Formal photo with two rows of young naval officers in uniform

But please don’t go thinking that this was all about typing and shorthand – it was much more concerned with the breadth of running the non-fighting aspects of a Royal Navy organisation: some basic personnel and legal matters, security, document control and administration, catering and finance.  It was the first step in becoming a “Pusser” -naval slang for a purser – a branch that has now morphed in to Logistics.

As a course, we had to march around the parade ground with disastrous results as one of the men simply couldn’t keep in step.  I’d forgotten about the camping trip when another still kept to his bow tie and monocle while we girls still accessorised for the country.  It sounds a bit Bertie Wooster after all these years!

Penny in blouse and natty scarf with male colleague in full jacket, bow tie and monacleWriting this, I have so little memory of the course but more about the dramas.  We did have to manage a full scale fire evacuation exercise of Wrens Quarters in the middle of the night – lots of very disgruntled girls freezing in nighties and slippers.  The social side had its highlights too: a night the chaps lifted a piano in to the night bar, utterly fatal drinking games, one of the girls chasing the Irish doctor down a corridor wielding a stiletto-heeled shoe, the mornings after … And we had a wonderful time at the Chatham Navy Days – seeing who could visit the most ships’ wardrooms.

I’d already been told that I was off to Naples for my first proper job which was very unusual so had to fit in time getting all my white tropical uniform and kit – back to HMS DAUNTLESS as time was so tight.    I’m sure that there were a perfectly dreadful pair of flat lace-up canvas shoes that never came out of the box.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

The cards are stacked against us but who is dealing?

One fifth of the population has a much tougher time than the rest and it’s been getting worse.  We are becoming an isolated and impoverished underclass because the law and decades of Government policy just don’t work.    Optimistically, this could simply be due to rather incompetent and poorly coordinated policies that, together, have a disproportionate impact on the weakest in society but others might see it as just cynical targeting of the most vulnerable.

Life is a constant uphill battle for nearly 12 million of us with long-term health conditions and disabilities.  And, it’s official according to the report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission

https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publication-download/being-disabled-britain-journey-less-equal

If nearly one in five of us have health conditions or impairments, the chances are high that you come within the disability definition or know someone who does.  Here are some of the battles we face:

  • You won’t do as well as others at school, are more likely to be excluded and to drop out of education.  Not surprisingly: “the proportion of disabled people with no qualifications was nearly three times that of non-disabled people in 2015/16”.
  • Your social and community life is probably limited by transport problems.  Alongside, getting health, tax, benefits and other public services has probably become increasingly difficult – not least due to the wide gap in your access to online services compared with other people.
  • You are more likely to face health inequalities, face major health conditions and die younger.  If you have a mental health condition (whether your “original” disability or as a result of it), life is even more difficult
  • You are more likely to have experienced crime and feel unsafe while the criminal justice system still isn’t good at understanding disability hate crime
  • If you are in prison, you are more likely to have a mental health condition than the rest of the general population.  Health and social care detentions have increased but assessment and treatment is still problematic.
  • You are less likely to be in work and Government initiatives such as the Work Programme, Work Choice and Access To Work haven’t made much difference.  Even if you do work, you are likely to be earning less.  With  all of this against you, its not surprisingly you are more likely to be living in poverty  and this has been made worse by the combined effects of the much disputed and criticised benefit changes.   Other changes in the legal aid system have limited your access to justice, for example, there has been a 54% drop in disability discrimination cases going to employment tribunals.
  • Overall, you probably still experience the very obvious negative attitudes towards disabled people throughout Britain and all aspects of our society – and which can be even worse for those with mental health conditions, learning disability or memory impairment.
  • And not much of all this is likely to change while your voice isn’t heard:  it is more difficult for us to vote and we are few and far between in politics or the key decision making roles in our public institutions.

 

It seems that life has become more difficult over many years but we aren’t seeing any coordinated action to make it better.  What are the politicians, the courts, the Commission and all those others with power and influence doing?    I suspect that we can’t rely on morality and conscience to create change.  But the financial imperatives are striking: we are probably the most expensive section of the population and the vast majority want to contribute to society and the economy.  But it’s going to take a much more robust, cross-Government change of attitudes to make a difference.

And I’m not suggesting that any one political party is offering the solution.  We need manifestos that recognise that nearly 20% of voters (and all their families and carers) want big improvements – and solutions that are good for the economy and everyone else too.

Before using your vote, check out each manifesto: do they recognise the full range of problems, have practical answers and the funding to make it all a reality?

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

Some you win, some you lose!

Watch me make them here or download the recipe

White bowl of colourful shredded leaves, sliced onions and peppers with golden mango pieces.

Smashing lettuce: a great trick to remove the Iceberg lettuce core.  Hold it firmly with the stem side down.  Smash the stem firmly on to the worktop and you should just be able to remove all the core intact.  It feels and sounds pretty brutal first time but really works.

My regular co-cook, John the taxi-driver, was madly enthusiastic about the healthy mango dressing for a summer chicken salad and the low-carbohydrate bread for club sandwiches. John and Penny close up to the frying pan to catch the smell of mango, chilli and lime.

He was absolutely right about the first: fresh and zingy chicken that is perfect for hot summer days.  So simple that there’s nothing to go wrong and so delicious that you’ll want more!

But he was hugely disappointed with the gluten-free almond and coconut flour bread –chewing reduced it to a paste that went straight in to the bin.  If I try it again, I might add some xanthium gum and yeast, herbs, nuts, seeds or anything to improve the taste and texture.  Not one of our best experiments but worth a try if you are desperate!

Club sandwich cut in half to reveal layers of lettuce, chicken tomato and bacon

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com