Last of the tomato glut

The joys of dealing with Government civil servants: they knew that I use a screen reader but still wanted to send me documents in large print!   I’d be more empathetic to their ignorance if they weren’t under a legal responsibility to make their services accessible.   If they don’t understand the basics as part of their professional skills base, what hope is there?

But, in case you too are befuddled by some of the adaptive technology speak, here’s a little crib:

Braille: used by some visually impaired people; often those who have had limited sight since an early age; learning Braille after about age 50 is difficult due to reduced fingertip sensitivity; many Braille users may also use other forms of IT accessibility; they may “print” Braille on special printers and may have electronic Braille readers.

Large print: some may require documents in different sizes (I used to use 36-point font in Bold; many will use other IT accessibility methods; many will adjust the size of an electronic document to print the appropriate size if they need a hard copy.

Screen magnification: various features enable the text, cursors and other features displayed on the screen to be enlarged; often this means that individuals cannot see the whole screen at one time (avoid material that is on the right); they may also print in large text.

Screen readers: people like me can only access documents independently that are provided electronically and formats other than Word may be inaccessible with their particular screen reader software; pdf documents are often inaccessible; tables ditto; images and logos are inaccessible; punctuation needs to be immaculate especially at the end of headings and in lists or all the words are read as a long sentence; documents don’t need to be in any different size font; Excel spreadsheets are highly risky; form completion can be impossible.

Hope that this little taster is useful –it doesn’t attempt to cover speech recognition and more.   Accessibility of electronic information varies between different software as some is free with such as Microsoft and Apple whereas other costly software is specifically created for disabled people.

Now for something much more fun and positive: immeasurably precious after months of nurturing, the last tomatoes are ripening and I wanted to make the best of those that had split or gone a little soft.   A pasta sauce was the answer:

1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped.

4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped.

2 sticks celery, peeled and finely chopped.

3-4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped.

10 pieces dried tomato, finely chopped.

tablespoon each of thyme, rosemary and tarragon leaves, chopped.

teaspoon ground black pepper.

3 tablespoons olive oil.

750-1000g ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped.

large pinch of salt.

tablespoon basil leaves, torn.

 

Sauté the onion, carrots, celery and herbs in the oil over a gentle heat for about an hour.

Add the tomatoes and salt and continue to gently cook,

Add the basil and any other fresh herbs to hand and continue to cook for about 30 minutes.

Serve with cooked pasta, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese, chopped black olives or the garnish of your choice.

My Tips:

The key to this sauce is the slow cooking.   I used a heat diffuser over the lowest gas flame possible and let it splutter away for at least two hours.   With the lid on, the vegetables reduced to about a quarter of their size before the tomatoes were added.   It took no effort after the initial chopping other than to stir occasionally and check nothing was sticking.

Delicious, robust and full of fresh goodness that celebrates tomatoes.

 

The next on-line cooking demo is at 1030 on 11 October.  Please do join in.  The links are:

Eventbrite link:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/winter-warmer-baking-session-with-penny-for-visually-impaired-people-tickets-171094306677

Facebook Link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/1073961713195536

 

 

 

 

London Pride

Staggering: the value of vulgarly ostentatious cars littering the streets in the capital.   Totally alien for we country mice.

Here we are: moving sluggishly towards better environmental living while some are still strutting their stuff: ridiculous personalised number plates; boorishly huge cars; speed capacities that can never be legal on UK roads.   It probably seems a bit sexist to guess that most of the drivers/owners are men but who else needs to constantly primp and preen their alleged prowess with something as culturally obsolete as a big fast car?   Though there were some women who flaunted names on their plates.   Too many with too little self-confidence.

Amazing what was on show during 12 hours in London and on the road. Some of them seem an alien race.

Back in the simplicity of home, the preserving goes on: more dried plums, tomatoes and apples; more grape juice; experimental grape jelly; outstanding homemade Christmas mincemeat with our own apples and honey.

The high spot has been making Karen’s Mum’s marmalade cake with a jar of homemade from Liz and then, of course, changing it a bit.   This is a very unusual mix with water, not much butter and the marmalade.   On the other hand, I made the whole thing in a saucepan and cooked it in a silicone loaf mould so not much washing up!

 

250ml water

220g sultanas (previously soaked in some alcohol if possible)

50g butter

220g orange marmalade.

150g sugar

3 eggs, beaten until fluffy.

300g self-raising flour.

Pinch salt.

 

Put the water, sultanas, butter and marmalade into a medium sized saucepan and bring to the boil.

Remove from the heat, stir in the sugar and leave to cool.

Mix in the eggs and then fold in the flour and salt.

Place in a silicone loaf mould and cook in a preheated oven 180C, Gas 4 for 45 minutes.

Reduce the heat to 165C, Gas 3, cover with a double layer of foil and cook for up to a further 60 minutes.

Check that the cake has reached about 95C or a skewer comes out clean before removing from oven to cool and turn out.

 

This cake was still moist a week later and had a subtle orange flavour – the sultanas sank a bit but nothing’s perfect!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Garden Party

 

Thanks to the Not Forgotten Association for organising a lunchtime musical entertainment at the Grange, near Arlesford in Hampshire, this week.

Amidst the singalong sessions, the high spots were: The venerable gentlemen of the Glen Miller Tribute Band, complete with huge American flags; the ladies of a certain age from a care home winning their champagne prize for distinctive pink wigs – definitely the Best Dressed; the owner of the striking 5 litre Audi v10 car who opened his rear engine compartment to show everyone his parts; the stream of volunteers from the military and business who’d given up their time to assist – even sprays of water in the hot September sun.   There was no doubt that songs over 50 years old got the best reception but nothing stopped the mature jivers strutting their stuff.

Lord Ashburton told us a little about the Grange’s history: originally a simple brick building, an ambitious owner centuries ago had commissioned the National Gallery architect to create something more splendid.   The result was a new-build: large and impressive with striking Doric portico.   Not to be outdone, a subsequent owner had added a flashy Ionic portico at the other end (in front of the old orangery).   Nowadays, the orangery has been replaced with a new building hosting opera and other events while the house is too dilapidated for occupation and has passed into the grasp of English Heritage.

At our more humble home, apples are still thumping off the trees.   Homemade Christmas mincemeat is one solution for using about a pound of peeled, cored and chopped fruit.   I’ll be doing an on-line demonstration of this at 1030 on Monday 13 September – sign up for a free ticket: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week we have also been managing a glut of tomatoes and decided to dry them.   The result is not quite the authentic “sun-blushed” type but will be good to bring the taste of summer into winter dishes.

Many people simply place dried tomatoes in jars covered with olive oil.   I was trying an extra step by using heat to both expel all air from the jar and avoid botulism.   I’m told that the bug is killed at 85C for 5 minutes.   I gave the jar 30 minutes at a degree higher to allow the temperature to fully penetrate the contents.   If I’m dead next year, you’ll know it didn’t work!

 

ripe tomatoes.

sea salt and ground black pepper.

a little vinegar (optional).

olive oil.

 

Halve or quarter the tomatoes and dip the cut sides in a mix of the salt and pepper.

Place on racks in a dehydrator or on parchment paper lined trays in the oven (150C, Gas 2).

Keep drying until they feel leathery.

Place in a jar or airtight container for 24 hours to “condition “.   The degree of driedness equals out between the tomato pieces.

If using, briefly dip in vinegar to offset the tomato sweetness with a little acidity.

Pack in a jar with a silicone ring and metal clip, topping up with oil.

Place the clipped closed jar in a sous-vide waterbath or saucepan and bring the temperature to 86C for 30 minutes.

Remove and cool in cold water.

Christmas preparations

 

The apple harvest always heralds the start of Christmas as I make the incredibly simple seasonal mincemeat with home-grown fruit.

I’ll be demonstrating this and other apple basics on Monday 13 September at 1030.   You can sign up for a free ticket at:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/167476539839

If you have any problems, one of the Open Sight staff can help with registering: 02380 646 378

This week, I’ve been experimenting with honey cake.   I think that the last effort was in San Francisco using the recipe of Steve Edwards, winner of Professional Masterchef.   This weekend, at a gathering of local beekeepers, I learned about their “Hampshire honey cake” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1a3vl4wLeIcanNKMusmMAU0ph5SNCb0T2/view?usp=drive_open
I confess, having checked it out, I wouldn’t waste the ingredients.   One of the issues with using honey instead of sugar is that it contains about 17% water (23% for heather honey) which can make a much wetter mix.   One way to offset the water is to add more flour whereas my alternative here is to use some gentle heat to try to persuade the dry fruit to absorb the liquid.   The honey-soaked sultanas, even when coated with flour, still had a tendency to sink but I was too mean with the honey to rinse them.   The orange zest is just to offset the sweetness.   Using a ring mould means that the heat can get to the centre of the cake more easily but the wetter mix still needs longer cooking time to reach the cooked temperature – I prefer something over 95C (in this case, 98C).

And cooking with warm honey, sticky fruit and wobbly cake moulds is particularly testing when you can’t see!   Lots more cleaning up.

 

175g sultanas.

475g honey.

250G butter (one pack).

4 eggs.

250g self-raising flour.

zest of one orange.

 

Place the honey and sultanas in a pan and heat until warm (still comfortable for a finger).   Cover and leave to cool and the sultanas to absorb water from the honey (overnight) – repeat the following day.

On day three, gently reheat the honey until warm enough to drain the honey into the mixing bowl.   Allow to cool.

Whisk the butter into the honey until light and fluffy.

Whisk in the eggs, one at a time.

Fold in most of the flour, leaving a tablespoon or two to mix in with the sultanas.

Fold in the sultanas, coated with flour and the orange zest.

Place the mix in a lightly buttered and floured silicone ring mould.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180C, Gas 4 for 20 minutes before turning in the oven.

Cook for a further 20 minutes, covering loosely with foil if the top is getting too brown.

Allow to cool before turning out.

Next time, I might ignore the sultanas, add 100g chopped walnuts with the flour and top the cooked cake with a warmed honey glaze and walnut halves dry-roasted in a pan with a little honey added to make them sticky at the end!

 

:

 

 

 

Harvest exhaustion

Up to our ears in it all.   The honey is progressing through the conditioning into jars and we have even experimented with putting some into bag-in-boxes.   Should be good for ensuring the honey is stored in the dark and easier for me to dispense into recipe mixes using the tap.

But now we are getting overwhelmed with windfalls.   Luckily, another beekeeper produced five large punnets of blackberries so now there are bottles of our own bramble juice (just the apple and berries steamed to release their juices) that should keep for at least a year.   It will be delicious hot with a spoonful of honey and a pinch of cinnamon in the winter months.   And there’s another huge bucket of grapes: more delicious juice.

Alongside, I’ve started Christmas preparations: raisins, currant and sultanas for cakes, puddings and seasonal mincemeat all weighed out and steeping in brandy.

It sounds very domestic and the major challenge is where to store all the preserved produce when there’s lots more to come.   We are starting to view each cupboard longingly and wonder where we can relocate the existing contents.   But it is so satisfying to make the very best of what has been carefully nurtured and grown.

Did you know?   According to the Daily Telegraph, if a domestic TV Licence is in the name of a blind person, they are entitled to it at half price.

Something much simpler, easy and needs no attention: courtesy of Heston, this is my standard roast chicken recipe.   It just needs short preparation and time to cook.

 

1 litre warm water.

60g salt.

1 fresh chicken, any trussing removed.

1 lemon, juice and zest.

freshly chopped herbs of your choice.

1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped (optional).

salt and pepper.

55g butter.

a large glass of white wine.

 

Dissolve the salt in the warm water and allow to cool.

Place the chicken in the water, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Mix the lemon juice and zest, herbs, garlic (if using), seasoning and butter to make a paste.

Drain the chicken and push the paste between the skin and breast meat.

Push the left-over lemon halves and any spare herbs into the chicken cavity.

Place the chicken in a roasting pan, season and add the wine.

Cook in a preheated oven at 95C, Gas Slow or a quarter for 180-210 minutes or until the thickest part of the thigh has reached 70C.

Remove from the oven and cover with foil and a kitchen towel to keep warm and rest for an hour (while you roast potatoes).

Return to the oven at the highest temperature possible for 5-10 minutes to brown the skin.

Serve and enjoy – wonderfully moist, excellent cold and always a winner.

 

 

 

Honey plus a workhorse of a tart

Life is picking up pace after the leisurely months of lock-down.   This week has included the monthly Open Sight cooking session https://youtu.be/jRIznF2wFAY plus our first substantial harvest of honey.

The dribbles extracted late last summer and earlier this Spring were simply the overtures to the symphony of delectable stickiness that pervaded every surface.   The whole process had been pre-scripted and thought-through: honeycomb frames from the hives; removing the wax cell cappings; extracting honey in a sort of handraulic spin-dryer; filtering out odd bee legs, pollen and dust.  Of course, the best laid plans and all that went awry, and every surface was sticky.   Thank goodness for the vinegar advice following a recent icing sugar disaster: a couple of capfuls into the bucket for the fourth attempt to wash the floor worked.

Now we have a tank of glorious golden honey that has been settling for a couple of days.   It is good enough to eat now but conditioning for 30 minutes at 62C will help maintain the runny consistency.   The fabulous sous-vide water-bath is in action again.   It is proving invaluable for basic cooking, making yoghurt and, now, getting the honey ready for jars.   More of this saga next time.

Meanwhile, this is the savoury tart we blind cooks made together on-line recently.   It has endless uses and combinations.   I’ve slightly adapted the pastry from versions I learned in San Francisco and from the blessed Delia.   It has my special methods for baking that suit a blind cook or anyone else.

 

110g butter, frozen, grated and re-frozen.

220g plain flour, chilled in the fridge overnight.

1 teaspoon salt.

1 egg.

a little cold water.

 

4 leeks, finely sliced and washed.

4 eggs, beaten.

2 heaped tablespoons crème fraîche.

Salt and pepper.

 

(To prepare the butter: freeze the block then coarsely grate before placing in a bag or box and re-freezing.)

Mix the frozen butter into the chilled flour and salt, breaking down the butter to about the size of a grain of rice.

Beat the egg in about the same volume of water and gradually mix into the flour mix, adding a little more water, until the pastry comes together.

Chill the pastry for at least 30 minutes.

Roll out the pastry and line a large loose-bottomed tart tin.   Press the pastry into the corners and prick all over with a fork.

Line the pastry-filled tin with kitchen foil, pressing down in the corners and covering the edges.

Chill for 30 minutes.

Bake at 180C, Gas 4 for 12 minutes – this is “baking blind”.

Break the eggs for the filling into a bowl and beat.

Remove the foil, brush the base and internal sides of the pastry with some of the beaten egg and return to the oven for another 3 minutes.

Remove the pastry case and brush again with beaten egg.   Ideally, allow to cool and rest for an hour.

Meanwhile, cook the leeks in the microwave until soft and allow to cool.

Beat the crème fraîche and seasoning into the eggs.

Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the leeks and place in tart

Place the whole tart tin on a large piece of kitchen foil.

Fill the tart with the egg mixture.

Fold the foil over the tart to make a loose tent and bake for at least 40 minutes until the centre is just setting.   The foil catches any spills and protects the pastry from getting overcooked.

Allow to cool a little before serving warm.

 

This seems a long recipe but keeping some frozen and/or grated butter ready in the freezer makes it simple.   I also make the pastry and freeze it for using later and even freeze the pre-cooked tart cases too.   A little time on this preparation makes the final stages quick and easy.

There is no end to the fillings with the savoury custard but most need to be at least part-cooked e.g.   mushrooms with the leeks; smoked salmon or trout with chopped dill and a spoonful of horseradish sauce; asparagus and chopped ham; courgettes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, black olives.

The pastry case has other potential: fill with cooked apple puree, top with slices of eating apple plus a dusting of sugar and butter knobs before returning to the oven for about 20 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

August windfalls

Local fellow beekeeper, Peter, turned up with a bucket of his grapes.   Each one had been individually hand-picked and, although some were instantly consumed, the rest wasn’t going to last long.   They went into the Scandinavian steamer which is, bottom to top: hot water tank to produce the steam; juice reservoir with natty tube for decanting into bottles; large container for raw fruit; lid.   The steam comes up through the middle, heats the fruit cells until they burst whereupon the juice drips down into the reservoir where it is heated by the water.   The result: virtually pasteurised fruit juice that will last a year.

His bucket made 15 bottles of precious homemade grape juice and then we topped up the fruit with windfall apples.   It’s steaming away to make apple and grape juice for homemade granola, and we can hardly keep up with the apples dropping from the trees!

The blustery winds and sharp showers brought down even more apples from the exceedingly venerable fruit trees.   They are probably at least 130 years old and a good mix of eating and cooking varieties.   This very moist apple cake is ideal for using any of the windfalls.

 

340g self-raising flour.

1 rounded teaspoon baking powder.

1 teaspoon salt.

340g soft brown sugar.

170g butter, cubed.

100g dates, chopped.

30g walnuts, shelled and chopped.

650g prepared mixed apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped.

4 eggs, beaten.

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste.

 

Spray a silicon ring mould with oil and dust with flour.

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients.

Add the dates, walnut pieces and chopped apples and mix so that the apple is well covered with flour.

Beat the vanilla with the eggs and gradually stir into the mix.

Stir thoroughly then place in cake mould.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 165C, Gas 3 for 90 -120 minutes, covering with a double layer of foil with a steam hole after 60 minutes.

Allow to cool before turning out.

 

I like my cakes to reach an internal temperature of at least 95C.   The quantity of cold, wet apple means that this cake takes a longer time than expected to bake.

Mixing by hand is a good way to feel how well everything is combined before placing handfuls in the mould.   Messy but I’m easy to clean afterwards.

A ring mould allows the heat to reach the middle of the cake but you could halve the ingredients and cook in a loaf tin lined with parchment paper.

My next experiment is to replace the sugar with honey – not sure what proportions will work.

 

 

National Disability Smorgasbord

 

The concept was utterly brilliant.   A perfect political move: a strategy targeting over 14 million people, a fifth of the population, of whom the vast majority are voters.

And it goes on giving: With hospital waiting lists already topping 5 million and forecast to reach 14 million, there’s potential to double that disabled constituency.   Just ask someone like Peter who’s been waiting two years for a hip replacement: constant pain, can hardly walk, had to give up work, income crashed.   With 40% of the population to play for, it’s no wonder that politicians and public servants are aiming to up their game (Command paper 512 Published 28 July 2021).

How does this new National Disability Strategy measure up?   Surely everyone can applaud the broad ambitions buried away in Part 2 of this long document:

  1. Ensure fairness and equality – we will empower disabled people by promoting fairness and equality in opportunities, outcomes and experiences, including work.
  2. Consider disability from the start – we will embed inclusive and accessible approaches and services to avoid creating disabling experiences from the outset.
  3. Support independent living – we will actively encourage initiatives that support all disabled people to have choice and control in life.
  4. Increase participation – we will enable greater inclusion of a diverse disabled population in the development and delivery of services, products and policies.
  5. Deliver joined up responses – we will work across organisational boundaries and improve data and evidence to better understand and respond to complex issues that affect disabled people.”

 

So good so far and, sometime, someone will hopefully provide the baseline and target data so we can actually measure performance against all those stirringly impressive goals.   But there’s another wrinkle: surely the Equality Act has already had 10 years to achieve pretty much the same?   It may be too optimistic to expect a mere ”strategy” to do better when it doesn’t have the muscle of legislation or the alleged enforcement role of the EHRC.

Step forward Part 3 to provide that essential accountability muscle: hapless Ministers making personal commitments for their respective Departmental actions.   Presumably, each time there’s a reshuffle, new faces and names will simply replace them.   Perhaps it would be a good idea to include the top mandarins too as they might have more longevity?

It seems curmudgeonly to look this gift horse in the mouth by asking if the commitments of Government Departments tackle the most important challenges facing disabled people.   The original strategy concept seemed so brilliant, but the end-product gives the overwhelming impression of civil servants desperately cobbling together actions that were already underway or would cost little or nothing in the future.   For example, extending jury service to Deaf people is certainly overdue but where’s the data and commitment to reducing the wholly disproportionate number of prisoners with mental health conditions.   Both are important but probably don’t have the same impact on society and fairness.   Likewise, there are huge gaps in the “strategy”: The Treasury doesn’t feature so presumably there’s no link between financial or tax policy and fairness; likewise, that massive NHS waiting list and its potential to double the disabled population doesn’t merit a mention.

The strategy is like that weary buffet after someone has taken all the choice cuts: an unappetising mismatched miscellany of scraps.   If this brilliant concept is to realise its political potential, Government needs to go back to the drawing board: ask Departments to share the data about where their current policies, practices and procedures have the most negative impact on fairness and equality for disabled people and then tell us what they are going to do about it.   We want dates, data and targets that will prove that there has been real progress plus the carrots and sticks to motivate them.   Meanwhile, this disabled person isn’t holding her breath for any significant change and just wishes that Government acknowledged that equality law applies to them too: leading the way would encourage the rest of society to do better too.

 

(P.S.   It’s taken me longer than hoped to read the strategy: the “Special” Policy Adviser in the Cabinet Office didn’t really understand what accessibility means in relation to blind people – say no more)

 

 

Summer party

The first proper entertaining for nearly two years to celebrate four wedding anniversaries (56, 51, 44 and 3 years plus two birthdays for which I’m too polite to mention the decades).   With my problems of fatigue, memory, concentration and organisation, it had been a daunting prospect but, with good old Naval planning, it all worked.   The key was a timetable that would please any First Lieutenant: a menu designed for some elements to be made weeks beforehand and frozen (smoked salmon mousse, chocolate truffle torte, honey and ginger ice-cream); just the right amounts for the shopping list: a count-down of actions for the weeks and days before the event.   With a few bits of preparation to do each day, a four-course lunch for over a dozen was just achievable.

However, the weather was stubbornly outside my control and thunderstorms were forecast.   The gazebo was up, tables out, seating Covid-spaced and fingers firmly crossed.   We were immensely lucky: there was torrential rain and lightning just a few miles away while we sat in warm relaxing sun.   With the last guests departing some eight hours later, I felt I’d regained my entertaining confidence.

And, of course, there was a cake to complete our celebrations.   It is my standard rich fruit cake but with honey replacing sugar (you can tell how old the recipe is as it still uses Imperial measures!).   Actually making the cake takes no time, it is the preparation, weighing and cooking that takes a while.   Finished with marzipan and royal icing before being festooned with myriad champagne and star candles, it was an attempt to celebrate all those years of marriage and life.

 

4oz currants.

4oz sultanas.

8oz raisins.

brandy to cover.

8oz butter.

8oz honey.

4 eggs .

12 oz self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon grated nutmeg

2 heaped teaspoons mixed spice.

half teaspoon salt

2oz (home-made) candied peel.

8oz glace cherries.

2oz soft dried apricots, chopped.

2oz dried apple flakes, chopped (optional).

2oz dates, chopped.

2 oz dried figs, chopped.

1 orange, zest and juice.

1 lemon, zest and juice.

3oz whole almonds chopped.

3oz Brazil nuts, chopped.

 

Place the raisins, currants and sultanas in a jar or similar container, cover with brandy and leave to soak for several weeks.

Cream the butter and honey.

Whisk in the eggs one at a time with a teaspoon of flour.

Fold in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the drained fruit (reserving the brandy), other fruit and nuts.

Place the mix in a 10-inch cake mould (silicone or greased and lined).

Cook in a pre-heated oven at 140C, Gas 1 for 2 hours 15 minutes then reduce to 120C, Gas Half for a further 45 minutes.   The internal temperature of the cake should reach about 96C.

When cool, remove from cake mould and, over a week, inject the cake with the sieved reserved brandy.

Decorate as you like.

 

If replacing the honey with soft brown sugar, reduce the flour to 8 ounces.

I used the same recipe for an Easter Simnel cake but with a rolled layer of marzipan on top of the first half of the mix before topping with the remainder before cooking.

 

 

 

 

Filled with despair

Stand by for a toot!

I’ve been working in the disability field with Government Departments, businesses and employers, charities and more for over 20 years but feel an utter failure as the battle for fairness seems harder than ever.

A bit of history: more than quarter of a century ago in 1995, there was the Disability Discrimination Act that placed legal duties on all sorts of bodies to make reasonable adjustments.   In 2010, the Equality Act was more specific about requiring all those public, private and voluntary sector organisations to make information available in alternative, accessible formats.   But we are still banging our heads against this brick wall and the most awful ignorance and prejudice.

This is the sort of stuff I face in just one week:

* One new disability charity wanted a quote for their leaflet.   Not only did they want to define me by my disability rather than my professional activities, they had the temerity to re-write the quote into the most ghastly mediocre and mundane words alongside factual errors.   I stepped back from it all.

* Another charity was trying to set up on-line links between visually impaired people.   It all fell apart as their hierarchy had decreed use of a notoriously inaccessible on-line conferencing system.   Pity their procurement team were so completely ignorant of the law, their beneficiaries, their needs and accessible technology.   One wonders how they manage to operate at all.

* I was asked to take part in some research into disability and employment, but the consent form wasn’t accessible.   It is (nearly) laughable to ask blind people to tick or initial boxes.   Even if I could, how would I know which side of the paper to scan and send back to them?   My solution was to write a statement confirming I’d read everything, gave my consent and an electronic signature.   But not good enough for their ethics committee.   Their solution: they’d send a hard copy.   Did they think I’d miraculously recover my sight?   When ethics are so blinkered about reality, I wonder whether they have any credibility at all?

* An environmental charity was seeking membership and donations.   I would have been interested had they been able to provide information in some accessible way – a simple Word document attached to an e-mail (how quick, simple and cheap is that?).   But all too difficult.   Yet they claim to have an “equality and diversity specialist”.   Pitiful.

* I wanted to get more involved in the sous-chef’s beekeeping but, once again, the national association doesn’t provide information in a format I can read.   Their response: they are “actively” pursuing a solution – it has already taken them 11 years not to succeed so I’m not holding my breath.

Most of this is probably less important and little skin off my nose but restricts how I can take part in the life that others enjoy.

But it becomes more crucial elsewhere.   Take health for an example.   Years ago, the (then) Chief Medical Officer reported that blind people have more health problems than others.   One reason is not difficult to find: the NHS is still appalling at making adjustments for people who can’t see.   Telling our GPs about our needs doesn’t make any difference.   Imagine the fun and games of opening a package with all sorts of paraphernalia.   Eventually, I discover it is a bowel cancer test kit.   I leave it to your imagination as to how blind people can manage to use it, complete any paperwork and return it.

In the midst of this pandemic, resorting to on-line “E-consult” seems to be the only way to get some health care.   How do we do that when we can’t see the screen?

Making information and communications available to everyone isn’t just about equality and fairness, it becomes a matter of life and death.

If you are involved in sending out information: a simple Word attachment without fancy layouts, logos etc is quick and easy – or just paste it into an e-mail.   Done and dusted: legal and fair.

Cath from Blind Veterans contributed the ginger cake featured on the latest on-line live baking session https://youtu.be/myfVZVzVflU

.   We were all rather concerned that the mix was too wet, cooking in the microwave was too risky and that it just wasn’t done.   But her 9-minute cake turned out beautifully.   The trick is to have faith in the timing and accept that it will continue to cook while resting.

It is not a cake that is going to last as it gets somewhat dry after a couple of days.   I treated mine more like a pudding: cooked in a silicone ring mould which left the perfect opening for accompanying pear slices gently cooked with crystallised ginger plus the reduced poaching liquid.

145g milk.

115g butter.

85g syrup and treacle (about 2 tablespoons of each).

85g brown sugar.

115g self-raising flour.

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda.

1 teaspoon mixed spice.

2 level tablespoons ground ginger.

Pinch of salt.

2 eggs, beaten.

 

Gently heat the milk, butter, syrup, treacle and sugar until warm and the sugar has dissolved either in a pan or the microwave.

Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl (I used a hand whisk).

Add the heated ingredients and mix in.

Add the eggs and mix well.

Pour into a microwave-proof ring container that has been lightly buttered and floured.

Cook on High Power for 9 minutes.

The cake should feel barely done: soft and spongy but will get firmer as it rests and cools before turning out.