The volume climbed at the WRNS 100 centenary lunch party while it took minimum effort to put together a great chicken dish to feed the crowd– see how we did it (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vMp_N573JSA).
Jo, my old naval colleague, took our week in Virginia Beach, USA, by the scruff of the neck and shook it until every minute was completely occupied. She produced a programme with military precision having co-opted a corps of collaborative cooks all ready to create their culinary magic on camera.
During one short week we managed to pack in four different sorts of bread, soup, three different fish dishes, party chicken, two desserts and the most peculiar “overnight casserole” that turned out to be a strange savoury bread-and-butter pudding! Amidst all of this, we caught a glimpse of Virginia Beach and the huge naval base at Norfolk, managed another lunch party and a great Mexican welcome dinner. It took all my stamina to keep up with the tight schedule but it was superb to meet so many other enthusiastic cooks. But there was no stopping Jo: she kept teaching her Pilates classes, taking her exercise sessions and even managed to pack in a country music concert – I just tried to catch up on sleep!
I was last in Norfolk, Virginia in the USA nearly 40 years ago: a young and ambitious officer in the Women’s Royal Naval Service pretending to know something about NATO intelligence and trying not to look completely foolish at an international naval conference. I look back at all that naivete and laugh!
This autumn, I’ll be passing through en route to Virginia Beach to meet Jo, another former WRNS officer. We did officer training together at the Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and then she took over from me in the NATO Intelligence job in Naples. And we haven’t been in contact since – until the WRNS centenary this year and Baking Blind came along.
It is thanks to Jo that I’ll have nearly a week of cooking opportunities with a bevy of home-cooks including another former Wren. I’ve been researching the area and local produce and am hugely disappointed to miss the season for their wonderful local peaches. It would have been good to try preserving them, make peach pies and cobblers and even try them with savoury dishes. It is just difficult to get comparable fruit here in rather chillier England.
I’ll be flying from San Jose in Costa Rica via Atlanta to Norfolk and then returning to the UK via Chicago – so my sense of these famous cities are going to be limited to the airports and the helpfulness of their passenger assistance teams. But, I’ll be able to name-drop and give the impression that I’m well-travelled in the United States – which takes me back to blagging my way through that intelligence conference all those years ago!
And all of this is thanks to James Holman, that Royal Navy officer who was blinded while serving like me but went on to travel the world about 200 years ago. Without his inspiration, San Francisco’s LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired wouldn’t have created the Holman prize and I would still be back in the chilly UK rather than pursuing my Baking Blind adventure across six continents.
You can keep track of my trip on YouTube.