Perfect timing: cooking for mind, body and soul

In 2017, my Baking Blind project https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWTJYx7jGA3xaR4830wJSRg?view_as=subscriber won the inaugural  international Holman prize for blind people with ambition.  Now another blind cook has even better ideas and seeks your support for the 2020 competition for which she is already a semi-finalist.

When all of us are facing the current pandemic, Orly plans to show how good nutritional food can contribute to our physical and mental health. Orly says, “I want to create, empower, and inspire, through a cooking show series on Youtube; to also create an accessible app available to all across the world with guest speakers and recipes to delight and nourish our mind, body, and soul. “

She is uniquely qualified herself having recently graduated as a chef and survived her own difficult background: “I am a recovering opiate addict, who experienced situations of domestic abuse and poor health.  Please go on YouTube and click the like button and share, on my 90 second video to help me strengthen my application.

https://youtu.be/VnTwTJh3YpY

She’s also just launching her new website:

www.nourishedbylight.com

When so many of us are stuck at home and not having a great time, it’s worth a couple of minutes to support Orly and give her ambitions a further boost.

 

Melbourne Cup

Where else is there a public holiday for a horse race but Australia?  Good food  https://youtu.be/3XAAJec4WDg is a key part of the celebrations that start days earlier and  carry on for more.

I was visiting the renowned local catering college, Holmesglen https://www.holmesglen.edu.aus

as they were preparing a special meal for the “ladies who lunch” festivities of Oaks Day.  The event gives the ladies a chance to slip in to their finery and celebrate away from the racetrack – without their stilettos sinking in to the grass!

Students from all stages of their training were creating a menu of suitably elegant sophistication: ceviche of snapper and salmon followed by wafer-thin smoked beef with cured egg yolk.  The kitchens were so awash with the noise of determined chefs that I ended up doing an interview in a store cupboard.

But the main reason that my host, fellow former Royal Navy Commander Colin, had arranged the college visit was to see the hospitality and catering training undertaken by members of the Australian Defence Forces.  It all fitted with the Navy theme of the Holman prize and my own military background.  Security was tight so we didn’t film the students but I was invited to give them a short talk about my own time in uniform – heaven knows what all those young people thought about this old blind woman.  I must have seemed a totally alien being to them!

Next time, back to a home kitchen and I learn about the legendary Thermamix – and whether this ultimate kitchen gadget can work for a blind person.

 

Communicating through cooking

Sesame oil, fresh ginger, garlic and star anise are some of the key flavours of cooking in Chongqing in China.  Charlie combined them all with beef https://youtu.be/4YLf63Me6ME  to create a rich, succulent dish in his two-tier kitchen hanging over the Yangtze River gorge.

As the designated sous chef, my role was limited to chopping tomatoes and mushrooms but it meant I had time to chat with a local radio presenter and even do a short interview.  Her programme covers new cultures – introducing the citizens of Chongqing to different music and arts.

Charlie himself is active in the cultural scene:  his backpacker hostel decorated by different artists is the perfect alternative to anyone who has had enough of super-sophisticated high rise hotels.  It was a delight to catch another aspect of the creative side of China.

Charlie was the most generous of hosts: not only did he give us an extraordinary lunch but, as we left, he pressed a bracelet in to my hand.  It was a circle of simple wooden beads made special having been blessed by monks and given by him.  A precious moment of a very happy day.

I think that we showed how food transcends barriers of disability, culture, language and more: once we were working together, it was easy to communicate our shared enthusiasm and experiences.  A true meeting of minds and a language that goes beyond words.

 

Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com

One of the best experiences

 

 

Meet the fabulously delightful Charlie https://youtu.be/EiviasoF-NY.

His wildly eclectic back-packers hostel in Chongqing, China, is perched on the very lip of the Yangtze River gorge.    The building extends down the side of the gorge so, while we could walk in to his dining room, there were steep steps down the outside of the house to his kitchen.  And even the kitchen is at different heights with another steep step between the work surface and the cooking area.             

Earlier that day, local architects Matthew and Julia had showed me one of the caverns under the city.  It is built on mudstone – a relatively soft rock created by millions of years of sediment from the river.  There is a web of tunnels and caverns beneath the city which the residents used as shelters during the Second World War when Chongqing became the alternate Chinese capital.  For me, the best element of the cavern was a sonorous echo which managed to make even my be-bopping voice sonorous.

Charlie’s hostel is lower down the gorge side than the main city so we approached through narrow alleyways cut through the mudstone.  I could feel the rock walls laced with the roots of the trees growing many feet above our heads.

Charlie presented us with his own version of sweet and sour pork – in all, we tasted three different versions during our time in China – and his was embellished with his own vanilla sauce.  With the speed of his cooking and the difficulties in translation, it was a challenge to catch the recipe but, in reality, it is very simple.  Poached pork is cooked in vinegar (with other seasoning) until the liquid has reduced and then sugar is tossed in to caramelise.  The best tip is to take enough time to let the liquid evaporate – an easy dish but it takes patience.

Do have a look at his kitchen too – it gives a perspective on Chinese home-life that is full of history, tradition, charm and originality.  It was very special to learn from his generosity of spirit and get a real sense of the joy and exuberance of Chinese life.

 

 

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

You Tube

penny@bakingblind.com

Masterclass: Chinese breakfast dumplings.

Nothing like those floating-on-stew versions.  These are delicate morsels of pork and leek wrapped in thin dough “skins” and steamed for the people of Chongqing to eat on their way to another busy working day – and so much healthier than our traditional English fry-up.  You can see (https://youtu.be/rTcgbQwDLsw) my very poor efforts to make them despite the help of a dumpling professional.

Wang Yi, our hostess for the day, introduced her aunt, Yinyishu, who has worked in a baozi   shop for over 25 years.  It is tough work that starts at 3 in the morning as her customers want their breakfast at about 6.00 a.m.

The dough for the Jiaozi dumplings is just flour and water with a pinch of salt while yeast is added for the baozi version.  The fillings are very similar: finely minced pork, ginger and lotus root pieces plus leek in the jiaozi   and spring onion in the baozi.

The shaping of the dumplings was the difficult part.  The risen baozi   dough was the most straightforward: small circles of dough rolled thinner all around the edge and then simply folded in half over the filling and pinched closed.  But the jiaozi    confounded everyone: the same small circles with thinner edges that were somehow rolled and pinched over the middle of the filling while the whole dumpling was rotated in the other hand.  They were just too soft and delicate for my sense of touch to decipher.  Yinyishu couldn’t stand my ineptitude and finished the lot!  Even Julia, from the local Rotary Club who was helping with translation, had difficulty.

And further thanks to Hanying who allowed us all in to her kitchen for the dumpling class.  Her apartment is in one of a group of blocks surrounded by expansive lawns and gardens in Chongqing, the largest city in the world.  It was a privilege to be in her home and to hear the children playing outside, neighbours chatting on a bench in the sun and the soft buzz of traffic in the distance.  Her kitchen was completely familiar in layout and design – every feature I’d recognise from my own but just tiny to match the smaller stature of Chinese people.  I felt rather like a giant looming over her and could sit on the work surfaces as if they were high-stools.

The whole day was a perfect experience of life in developing China: the modern vibrant environment alongside cuisine that still has all the traditional skills and flavours.

Penny

Pressing the flesh: rare, medium or well-done?

Two young blind masseuses spent an afternoon with the top Intercontinental chefs and me in Chongqing, China.  We were all trying to learn from each other: some basic cooking, Chinese medical massage and living with blindness.  Head chef Jack taught us to use our sense of touch to test how well a beef steak is cooked (https://youtu.be/BvIuYBQwehI).    This very simple professional tip is perfect for blind people anywhere – and anyone else too.

During our time in the city, I learned that other blind people weren’t very obvious.  Perhaps they don’t get out much or perhaps they tend not to use white canes.  Either way, my videographer Toby didn’t spot many during our stay in the world’s largest city with a population of about 37 million.  There would have been many citizens with different levels of visual impairment arising from all the conditions that are recognised world-wide: many would be age-related, others linked to past malnutrition in this country of massive economic growth.

Medical massage is a key work opportunity for young people who attend the local blind school to gain the necessary qualifications.  They then practice in a massage clinic that is also their home.  The patient couches become their beds at night and an “auntie” comes in to cook their meals.    Living and working in the same place obviously has lots of advantages but possibly less chance of learning how to cook.  My thanks to the Rotary Club of Chongqing for bringing us all together as part of their initiative to support local visually impaired people.

Like me, the blind girls probably hadn’t had much time in a professional kitchen in a prestigious hotel but we all managed to enjoy the opportunity together rather than being over-awed by the location.

The two girls quickly learned from Jack.  He’d probably also had very little experience of blind people in his kitchen but was wonderful with all three of us: patient and empathetic, caring and courteous.  I just stood back while the rapport developed between him and the blind girls: they were all completely immersed with their experience of each other.

For the beef dish, Jack showed Wan Lin a safer way of handling her knife and how to toss the pan of vegetables.  Alongside, we had Julia and food and Beverages Manager, Sam, both translating plus Toby shooting video and a small audience.  From this chaos Jack still managed to produce an excellent dish – what a professional!

And the trick with steak: the muscle at the base of your thumb becomes harder as you fold your thumb and fingers: thumb only – rare; two fingers folded- medium; three – well-done – but the video explanation is probably easier!

Next time, we use taste to refine a simple salad.

Penny

China starts the New Year.

Chongqing is the largest city in the world – and the most exhilarating.  Rather than me trying to describe it without sight, my intrepid videographer and nephew, Toby, explored the excitement, dynamism and visual magic in his video (https://youtu.be/s8Y7PXLpmvM) cityscape.  This marks the start of the second leg of our Holman adventure: China, Australia and Malawi all coming over the next few months.

Helped by local architects Julia and Matthew, we learned to appreciate the delicate balance between past millennia of civilisation and the surge of current building.  The ancient mudstone conceals a labyrinth of caves and tunnels where the population sheltered from Japanese bombing in the 1940s while the city became the temporary capital of China during the hostilities.  Now, that bedrock also supports glittering glass and steel towers alongside more traditional homes and businesses.

With some 37 million inhabitants (more than half the total population of the UK), the city is a magnet for those who want to work and share in the benefits of modern growth.  Like any other city, there is tension between the demands for excellent work and living conditions and the preservation of authentic local character.   We managed to experience both:  singing to the echo of the mudstone caves; the dazzling night-time light displays; the traditional flower market with exotic plants and miniature gardens; the superb modern apartments and eclectic backpacker hostel.

Most importantly, of course, were all the wonderful people from the International Women’s Group, the Rotary Club that sponsored our visit and everyone who took part in our cooking videos – professional chefs and home-cooks.  Each and every one of them gave us hospitality, kindness and invaluable enthusiasm that we continue to treasure.

And Toby was inspired to add more fabulous drawings to his freelance architectural illustrator portfolio – images rich in detail and atmosphere (www.Tobymelvillebrown.com ).

Next time, see me cooking at the prestigious Intercontinental Hotel with one of their top chefs: an authentic Chinese chicken dish that you can try at home too.

Penny