Painstaking patisserie

 

Dre in Melbourne, Australia, showed me how to make her caramel éclair https://youtu.be/TqD9bEJz5y0 with the same level of spectacular professionalism that I discovered in pastry chef, Luis, in san Francisco. Are these a special breed of people? 

Certainly, being able to work in distinctly chilly pastry kitchens is a significant advantage.  Dre told me that she is always so cold that chocolate will harden on her skin.  Clearly, I’m never going to achieve her level of skill as chocolate just melts off me (if it isn’t licked up first!).

 

This éclair is the stuff of sucrose-induced dreams: even the choux pastry is embellished with shortbread that, horror of horrors, is then cut away.  There are three layers of filling: a bavarois custard, a butter cream and the final mousse set with chocolate –all having different mouth-feels of temperature, ooziness and flavour of caramel.  Nestling in the centre is a crunchy scattering of rice krispies individually coated in caramel and chocolate.  And   the unadulterated luxury and indulgence doesn’t stop there: the whole magnificent confection is topped with shards of dark chocolate and  a fluttering of real gold leaf.  This is a serious pastry that demands uninterrupted attention from first sight to the final crumb plucked from the plate.

 

Dre has specifically designed her patisserie shop www.chezdre.com.au to give the ambiance, sophistication and focus that her delectable creations deserve.  She is a woman at the height of her profession and anyone visiting Melbourne would reap the rewards of visiting this emporium of delights.

You can tell that I’m quite enthusiastic!  But her approach to employing a superb diversity of staff was just as admirable – and she benefits from the equal diversity of skills they bring from all over the world and every part of the community.  It must be so satisfying to make wonderful food amidst such an environment of skill and enthusiasm.

I’m just horribly sad that our video coverage was marred by the loss of a wallet containing the vital footage.  The police correctly didn’t anticipate any prospect of recovery but we did manage to capture the essential elements of Dre’s éclair – watch and drool!

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Ravioli masterclass

Gastronomic expert, Charlene www.charlenetrist.com, not only showed me how to make pumpkin and smoked egg ravioli but had worked out how to make every step accessible for a blind person https://youtu.be/M_pvfHgJB3w.

In her Melbourne home-kitchen, she whizzed increasingly thin sheets of pasta through a classic pasta mini-mangle machine while I plugged on with my hand-rolling method.  She achieved uniform perfection while my distinctly uneven efforts had that hand-crafted  authenticity .

But rolling was the easy bit: piping mashed pumpkin around a pastry cutter was a major challenge but even that paled with the prospect  of separating an egg and placing the delicate raw yolk inside the cutter ring.  Then I had to gently lift the ring without breaking the yolk.  This was a masterclass of using touch in the kitchen.  The final stage was to cover the filling with another piece of the pasta dough and press out all the air, keeping that pesky yolk intact and without  squeezing out the pumpkin mash.  I just about managed one ravilolo without disaster but it took a very long time.  I’d probably only attempt this dish for an intimate supper for two – struggling to make more than six of the ravioli  at a time would be too much a labour of love.

And the final test when you can’t see is to eat it.  If cooked to perfection as by Charlene, those tricky egg yolks will still be runny and destined to spill.  So, that sophisticated intimate supper becomes rather more domestic when you wisely eat with a spoon wearing your apron.

 

But it was excellent to try the most complex and difficult type of ravioli – now any other version will be dead simple in comparison!  All thanks to Charlene’s patience and expertise.  Keep up with her gastronomic adventures through her social media: https://www.facebook.com/charlene.trist andhttps://www.instagram.com/onthetable_withcharlene/

Beyond price

Kefir is a fermenting organism that you probably can’t buy.  You can discover it with Dani and me https://youtu.be/RutzBskV9hY in Melbourne, Australia.

Not only is she a published food writer and author www.danivalent.com specialising in recipes with the Thermamix, Dani seeks out the food specialities of the diverse multi-cultural inhabitants of Melbourne.

She described kefir grains to me as like “little pieces of cauliflower”.  They are added to milk to create those fermented drinks that are so popular now.  Dani, of course, went one better and fermented cream which, with her ubiquitous machine, was churned in to butter to serve with her homemade bread and fig jam.

She told me tales of how the grains are brought in to the country by migrants and refugees so that they can continue their food cultures and heritage – often secretly fermenting under beds or sinks.  Rather than money changing hands, getting hold of this precious ingredient may depend more on seeking out and befriending someone who counts kefir as part of their culinary identity.  And it probably helps to have an equally precious ingredient or cooking secret to share in return.

Accessibility designed out

If you like cooking, have you heard of Thermamix?  I made bread https://youtu.be/n01siF8Lp9o with one of these machines in Melbourne, Australia, with food writer and author, Dani Valent www.danivalent.com.

Thermamix machines combine weighing scales, food processing,  heating etc –like a soup-maker on steroids.  They are pricey large pieces of electrical kitchen kit that many people in Australia and world-wide swear by.

 

Dani invited me to use either the sleek modern digital plastic version with carrying handle, touch-screen and more or the old metal TM31 with tactile buttons, knobs  and dials.  No choice: the new version is wholly inaccessible for a blind  cook whereas I learned the trusty and satisfyingly sturdy old one in a matter of minutes.  All the TM31 needs is an audio chip to speak the digital display and it would be the perfect cooking aid for anyone with visual impairment.  Meanwhile, those smug designers have excluded us from the market and   consigned us to find second-hand old TM31s.

 

But how did it make the bread?  Just excellent: two minutes stirring and warming the yeast before the flour was added for a 2 minute knead.  Then the dough was out of the machine, shaped and baked in under 20 minutes!    No excuse for running out of bread ever again.  The rolls were perfectly fluffy and light with a crisp crust – no wonder people like this machine so much!

Next time, Dani is talking about her Thermamix cook book and an ingredient that you can’t even buy!

 

 

 

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.

 

Secrets of living with blindness

Maribel from Melbourne down-under shares her survival tips https://youtu.be/cX8dvHsuamE.      But her ideas go way beyond blindness and can be used by anyone facing a life-changing event – not just a disability.

 

 

 

 

 

Her secrets are:

 

Acceptance.    Accepting whatever it is you have to cope with – not avoiding, hiding or denying the situation, tough as that sounds.

Collaboration.  Letting other people help you.

Courage.  You do have to be brave to face life again.

Organisation.  Vital for blindness but key too for other major life changes.

Sense of humour.  Being able to laugh at yourself and with other people re-builds relationships.

Sense of intuition.  Trust your instincts about what is right for you.

Use all your senses.  Vital for a visually impaired person but equally important for everyone: it’s a richer life when you experience every sensation  and live in the moment.

I can recognise all of Maribel’s secrets and and recommend them to anyone facing a life crisis.  It might not be possible to tackle every one of these at once but they do provide a pathway for the future.

Since Maribel and I met, she has gone from strength to strength: publishing her memoire and getting her new guide dog, Dindi.  She’s also spreading her ideas wider afield on Australian breakfast TV and through her podcasts:

Cooking ‘Blind’ on Sydney TV

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyCwxaXdRX4&feature=youtu.be

Podcast: Cooking in a Tactile Kitchen ABC Radio Part 1 (14 mins)

https://maribelsteel.com/listen-to-cooking-blind-in-a-tactile-kitchen/

Podcast: Cooking in a Tactile Kitchen ABC Radio Part 2 (14 Mins)

https://maribelsteel.com/listen-to-cooking-blind-in-a-tactile-kitchen-part-2/

 

Penny

http://www.bakingblind.com

Maribel is another great blind cook

Maribel is another great blind cook: see us making her mother’s classic Spanish dish of eggs à la flamencohttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_9OnaZzQTkI&feature=youtu.be in her sunny Melbourne home.

Maribel maribelsteel.com was a driving force behind my baking Blind trip to Australia, and we had a fabulous time cooking together, sharing laughs and songs plus our ideas about living with blindness.

Not only a great cook and singer, Maribel is already a published author, speaker, blogger and general all-round entrepreneurial woman who is unstinting in sharing her own experiences.  We talked about why people who can’t see still want to choose the colour of their clothes.  On that day, quite by chance, we were both wearing red and she had even chosen crockery to match!  My coordinated luggage definitely came up second-best.  But, since then, I’ve tried to go one better and now have a red cane too – who wants a boring white one?

I hope that this little video gives an insight into life with a disability.  There were just two women having fun together, totally unfazed by their blindness, completely competent and capable.

The dish would make a perfect brunch: simple ingredients of garlic, onion, peppers, tomatoes and chorizo sausage gently sautéed before sharing between individual dishes that were each topped with a fresh egg before oven-baking.  You don’t really need a recipe for something so straightforward. 

We ended the morning on her sunny balcony, enjoying the sounds and smells of the city.  Maribel and her partner, Harry, broke into a song that summed up our thinking: “Everything’s going to be alright!”

Chefs and cooks champion diversity.

I set out to use cooking to change attitudes towards blindness and other disabilities – and China showed me how well this works.  Last week with aboriginal Fred, simply cooking a fish together was a bridge between our very different cultures.  This week, gastronomically diverse Melbourne showed that great cooks and chefs aren’t constrained by issues of race, nationality, ethnicity, disability, gender or other false barriers: food is all about generosity, sharing, learning from each other, crossing culinary borders and using the best ideas and ingredients, whatever their source.   The Greek “Euro Bites” eatery was a prime example (www.eurobites.com.au).

It was a special treat to encounter new ingredients and equipment:  gastronome Charlene (https://www.facebook.com/charlene.trist)  used smoked fresh eggs in both the pasta and the filling of her ravioli dish – these eggs have long shelf-life and would be ideal in a savoury soufflé, kedgeree and much more.  The Chef’s Hat emporium (www.chefshat.com.au) offered every sort of cooking equipment.  Food writer Dani (www.danivalent.com) introduced me to the widely popular Thermomix to produce fluffily delicious bread rolls in under an hour.    I’d been rather sceptical about the prospect of just filling an éclair until I spent time with Dre, an amazingly entrepreneurial pastry chef who is already expanding her patisserie and restaurant empire (www.bibelot.com.au).  Maribel, who is also blind (www.maribelsteel.com), was utterly inspirational: already a published writer and travel blogger, she is a wonderful cook, singer and champion for visually impaired people – you can hear her and partner Harry (www.springstudio.com.au) on the Melbourne video.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were hosted by the Bostock family: another link to the Royal Navy and James Holman (after whom the prize that is funding me is named).  Former Royal Navy Commander Colin also arranged for me to spend a morning with the Australian Defence Force catering and hospitality trainees at Holmesglen college (www.holmesglen.edu.au) – another military reminder.  The Bostocks were unstinting in their generosity and friendship while daughter Sarah shared her knowledge on indigenous culture.

Following that trail, we moved on to Perth to meet up with Lynda, a former Women’s Royal Naval Service officer, who took us to the Maalinup aboriginal art gallery and bush tucker garden (www.www.maalinup.com.au) to meet artist PhilNarkle (www.philnarkle.com.au).  Now we have some small authentic artefacts to share with those who can only follow our adventures from afar.

And great news on the Australian equality agenda: a strong turn-out has just voted Yes to same-sex marriage: the people have spoken!

All of this is part of my adventure cooking around six continents funded by the international Holman prize run by San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind.  You can see the short composite videos we post at the end of each visit and, when we have had a chance to edit all the material back in the UK, we will be posting all the cooking sessions and recipes in the New Year.

Malawi next – if South African Airways can find an aircraft that works (we have a 24 hour delay in Perth)

Penny

Baking Blind in Melbourne.

Years ago, I was in Melbourne for one of the World Blind Union conferences and I’ve got lots of great memories of this city that still retained the charm of a much smaller town.     Now I’m on my way back with my Baking Blind adventure .

I particularly remember a whole series of water features along the popular river bank area that is the centre of social life.  Each water feature seemed at least 10 foot tall with water running down the outside and, at night, great gas jets lit up from their tops with amazing whooshes.  It wasn’t just one quick burn off but the whole line of water features would come to light in series and patterns of burns – it was just magical for someone who couldn’t see to get a sense through the sound and heat.  And there was another water feature of jets that sprang from the pavement – and the children could be occupied for hours dodging between the sporadic spouts.

I remember taking a boat down the river to the sea for a visit to the tiny island crammed with little penguins.

This new visit promises another wonderful series of memories.  I’m being hosted by Colin, another former royal Navy Commander, who is arranging for me to cook with Australian Defence Force trainees.  Maribel has been championing Baking Blind with local professional chefs so that, between the pair of them, I’ll have a whole variety of cooking experiences.

You can keep in touch with my adventures on YouTube.

And all of this has happened because San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired selected me as one of three winners of their inaugural international Holman prize for blind people.

Penny