Genuine friendship and generosity was the hallmark of my baking Blind tour (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=90jr_YL1Fbs). It made all the difference right from the very start when, by complete chance, I met Ben and Blanche over dinner in San Francisco. They were fellow guests alongside myself and the two other winners of the Holman prize for blind people hosted by the city’s LightHouse organisation who were funding and running the competition. I’d been staying in the LightHouse accommodation throughout our induction week – it is very geared up to their training function with the sort of communal washing facilities and shared accommodation that took me straight back to my days as a new entry trainee in the royal Navy in the 1970s. Then I needed to move to a hotel in the city for the start of my project and what a rude shock that turned out to be!
Keeping costs down was a priority so I’d found an economic hotel through my travel company, Bridge the World. But the request for an accessible disability-friendly room had clearly got lost in translation mid-Atlantic! The bathroom was almost too hazardous to use at all and there was no possibility of me leaving the room for the 36 hours before Toby, my videographer, arrived. Top marks go to the reception staff who volunteered to bring me food as there was no restaurant – but I did get a bit fed up with pizza every time. The hotel management simply didn’t understand the concept of disability accessible at any point from the very steep entry steps, the risky corridors and the ancient lift (or should I say elevator?).
It was simply a matter of staying put, barely moving around the room and waiting for the chance to escape. And what a relief that Ben and Blanche had spontaneously offered us accommodation just a day earlier. We were due to move our activities across the San Francisco Bay next day and their home was going to be much more sensible for locations in Oakland and Berkeley.
If you have seen the two videos of me cooking with Luis at China Live in the city, you saw me at rather a low spot: tired after two days in the miserable hotel, despondent about the accommodation and desperate to escape. Which is exactly what we did within an hour of completing the session: bags packed, in to a taxi and over the Bridge to the warm and genuine welcome of Ben and Blanche. He is also visually impaired, hence his connection to LightHouse, but a great sailor who regaled us with his tales of the sea. Blanche was the hostess with the mostest kindness and care. It felt like coming home!
So, by the next day, after a decent night’s sleep and supper of real rather than processed food cooked by foodie Ben, we were raring to go at the renowned Oakland Brown Sugar Kitchen. This gave me a glimpse of the traditional Southern food – this week I’m learning about Creole shrimp and grits and chef-owner Tanya Holland (www.brownsugarkitchen.com www.tanyaholland.com) has shared her Creole spice mix and recipe (www.bakingblind.com) with us. Next week, her waffles and fried chicken for those who want the real American versions.