Blind people everywhere want their chance of success.

This week’s video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nE8OiKvVV6E) takes us to San Jose, capital of Costa Rica, in South America and different people, new food, risky places and even dangers!

Even the flight team contributed to our international recipe collection en route Costa Rica via Los Angeles.  Kate, one of the Delta flight stewards, shared her salad dressing ingredients of avocado, tomatoes, green chilli and mango – all whizzed together.

In the Costa Rica capital, San Jose, the tourist information desk saved our bacon by helping us get a taxi to the location of the National Association for Blind People.  One of the complicating factors of this developing nation is that there are no real addresses anywhere!  We had the same problem later when searching for chef Mario’s home.  The solution is to ring your destination and someone comes out to watch for your arrival.

Again, as this is a developing country, some of the everyday conveniences we take for granted were missing.  For example, it would be very unusual to have a dishwasher.  Most kitchens only have a cold water supply which makes cleaning greasy pots and pans more laborious.  And, as you’ll hear over the coming weeks, sometimes even the cold water fails at the most inconvenient moments!

It was very humbling to start my visit by addressing the association of blind people.  They wanted to hear about the Holman prize adventure and my own experience of blindness.  Their response was hugely positive: they asked lots of questions, invited me to stay with them and visit El Salvador.  The cooking theme clearly touched their enthusiasm: many were asking for their own course while others had skills and recipes to share.  The upshot was that, on the spot, we organised another group session when I would cook at the capital’s top cookery school with them in a week’s time.  Many were very keen to get back to work and wanted help to start their own businesses and become self-employed.  Our collective cheer was to encourage other people to “Give us a chance”,   whether in work or other activities, rather than just considering us as needy blind people.

As this country continues to progress, there is also a pressing need to increase support for blind and other disabled people – I’d have loved the chance to do more, share more of my experience and help others become more independent.

Next week, I start my jungle cooking adventure – really challenging!

Penny

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Truly out of my comfort zone!

Cook’s nightmare? Long hours, little sleep or food, endlessly damp from the torrential rain, dog and cat underfoot, no hot water and, for hours, no water at all, biting ants and other flying insects, chaotic kitchen, unfamiliar equipment,  strange ingredients and stranger combinations (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKFHEgyP9-0).  And, for this particular blind cook, trip hazards galore plus a particularly unpleasant muddy puddle!

I’d love to say that I took all of this in my stride and turned out a stream of fabulous food.  But the tomato and avocado crumble was just boring and even my second attempt at meringues barely passed muster (the sugar and damp, I think).

Yet Noam and I somehow managed to turn out two evenings of seven course dishes for guests at his Tamarindo restaurant on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.  The first day was a challenge: starting soon after 0800 and not getting back to the hotel until nearly 2300 because the guests were late starting due to the weather and even later finishing.  We were trying to combine the ideas of some classic British dishes and techniques with some completely different ingredients.  So while the tartar sauce with the beer-battered fish included the usual capers, we also threw in slithers of watermelon skin pickled in beer and vinegar!   My mini-Victoria sponges were flavoured with chilli and coriander and topped with a tamarind and pineapple sauce – a million miles from lemon drizzle cake.  We turned the ever-popular Coronation chicken in to a cold prawn curry with mango or papaya, served on top of double-fried plantain slices to give the crunch of poppadum’s.  And the little lemon meringue tarts tasted great when made with lemon mandarinos but the meringue was just too flabby.

This week of real culinary adventure should have ended with a great cook-in with the Costa Rican organisation of blind people   (Patronato Nacional De Ciegos)but the rainy season put paid to that.  I’d got lots of support and enthusiasm from them at the start of the week and we were all set to work together at one of the best cookery schools in the capital, San Jose.  But the hair-raising six hour drive from Tamarindo gave us a sense of just how devastating the rainy season can be: roads awash and flooded, rivers breaking their banks, trees uprooted and general chaos and devastation.  The Government has been warning people to stay at home so the decision to abandon our plan was inevitable.

So not a nightmare but a true adventure, full of challenge and fresh ideas  that I hope will inspire and stimulate my thinking about food for years to come.

I’ll write more about the menu, our dishes and the ingredients in the coming months –all thanks to Noam and his friend, Victor, who kept us safe over hundreds of miles of treacherous roads

Please Like, Comment and Subscribe to my YouTube channel to keep up with the next wild adventure.

Penny

Cooking in Costa Rica.

Major long-haul: departing San Francisco one day to fly up to Los Angeles, change planes and an overnight flight down to San Jose ( capital of Costa Rica) to arrive early the following morning.  I’m not quite sure what videographer, Toby, and I will do for the next few hours before I have a speaking gig with some local disability organisations and media.  I thought I might explore how good self-employment can be for disabled people using my own experience of running a business for over 17 years  (www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk) with the last seven helping others to do the same through the Work for Yourself projects.  And then before there’s a chance of shower and sleep, we have a five hour drive across the country to Tamarindo on the Pacific coast.

Over the following days, I’ll be developing some dishes with local restaurateur, Noam and trying to get a sense of the wonderful wildlife and beaches.  Perhaps even a swim in the sea?

Noam and I are then returning to San Jose to give a cookery demonstration to local blind people.  Because we aren’t sure what facilities might be available, we will go ready to be flexible and inventive.  I feel rather presumptuous trying to show people how to get the best from their local produce when they probably know very well already – but perhaps I can offer an English spin?    And some will have ideas to share too.

Noam is delighted that my adventure is helping him to work more closely with not-for-profit organisations – and he has lots of skills to share with them.  I’m hoping that, between all of us, we can generate more promotion and public interest to get stronger support for the organisations helping blind people.

With luck, we’ll have a final day to get a better sense of the country, do the washing and even sleep before jetting back to the USA.

San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired selected me as one of the three international blind winners of the Holman prize which has made all of this possible.  And there was a feature all about us in the San Francisco Chronicle!

Keep up with my travels at on YouTube.

Penny