Happy Christmas from Baking BLind

Greetings for your Christmas festivities as I celebrate an amazing three years of these blogs and videoshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xHayRrW9XM&feature=youtu.be

It’s difficult to believe everything that has happened since those very first Christmas cakes in 2016, captured by my brother Martin.  Soon after, my nephew Toby took over as videographer and, within months, we were competing for the Holman prize run by San Francisco’s LightHouse organisation for blind people.     There was stiff competition from 200 other blind people from 27 countries, but I was lucky enough to be one of the winners.  The $25,000 contributed to the costs of my adventure cooking across six continents, captured by Toby’s camera skills.  We spent nearly three months travelling and cooking in America (San Francisco and Virginia Beach), Costa Rica (San Jose and Tamarindo), China (Chongqing), Australia (Kiama, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth), Malawi (Lilongwe) and back in the UK.  It was exhausting, exhilarating, exciting and only possible due to the outstanding support of fabulous people at every location.

If you check out this video, you’ll see/hear that it was made in December 2017 when I was due to explore more cooking opportunities in Europe.  But it was never posted then as I was involved in a major car accident and ended up in French hospitals for 5 months.  I was extraordinarily lucky to survive at all and might have been paralysed from the neck down without the expertise of the French health services.

It’s still a long road to recovery as I’ve had to learn to sit, stand and walk again, overcome Post Traumatic stress Disorder, memory, concentration and speech problems – and more.

But, by summer 2018, I was able to cook again, and we created a new series of videos with other blind people in Hampshire.  I was privileged to receive an Honorary Doctorate and return to San Francisco  to make a presentation to the LightHouse gala dinner in November 2018.

It was that dinner’s charity auction that produced our next series of videos featuring a blind technology guru from Linked In – he paid an outrageous amount to the charity for the challenge of coming to cook with me for a few days in August this year.  Finally, I recorded a “Christmas special” feature with the local Talking News team – hoping to reach other blind and visually impaired people here in Hampshire.

Throughout the last 18 months, Toby and I have been plugging away to edit the hundreds of hours of video material we recorded.     Sometimes it has been a struggle with my health and medical conditions, but we have finally done it all – and weekly blogs throughout too.

Now I’m looking forward to this 2019 Christmas and have been busy throughout the seasons of the year, ready to create Christmas hampers for my family and friends.  This year, there’s Christmas cakes, puddings and mincemeat, marmalade plus apricot and cherry jams, tomato chilli jam, crystallised orange and quince .  There would have been more if I’d had the time and perhaps more preserving will be my next goal: capturing the tastes and textures of produce at its best.

I’ve been trying to write the book too:  a combination of travel and recipes punctuated by  dramas: nearly stranded by the Costa Rican tropical storm; prevented from leaving China; Toby’s near-drowning in Australia;  my accident and all the other tribulations and frustrations along the way.  But every part of this adventure has had its joyous side, wonderful people and life-changing experiences.  I’m still the same person at the end of it but, hopefully, a bit wiser, stronger and happier.  What more could anyone want?

My greetings and heart-felt thanks to everyone who has supported me every step of this adventure – just taking the time to read this and perhaps share it with someone else makes a difference.  Baking Blind isn’t about me but about helping other people realise that blindness or any other disability  doesn’t change the people we are, our ambitions and aspirations.  Just give us the chance to achieve them.

Happy Christmas and may the New year bring new challenges and successes.

 

 

 

 

 

Damson chilli Jam

Worth a try: • Damson chilli jam that uses the tail-end of the crop.

I mentioned that I’d made up this recipe a few weeks ago – using all those tiny and unripe damsons that aren’t worth much other effort.  It has been popular here:

2lb 4 oz small unripe damsons – stones in.

2 thumbs ginger – keep them small thumbs to avoid overwhelming the fruit.

2 chillies de-seeded

3 cloves garlic

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

12 oz sugar (with 8 oz it was still pretty tart).

Quarter pint cider vinegar

Just cover the   damsons with water and poach until soft and can remove stones when cooled – might need to put through a sieve.  If removing the stones by hand, it’s worth counting the damsons in to the pot and the stones out!

Finely grate/chop ginger, garlic and chilli – could do in a food processor.

Add all remaining ingredients except sugar to pan and return fruit pulp.

Bring to simmer, add sugar and cook until done then pot in to warmed and sterilised jars.

Good with cold meats, ham, cheese etc.  I’m going to use the riper ones to make damson gin!

Glut of apples.

Do you know? • What to do with a glut of apples?

A deluge of apples is falling in the garden – the trees are well over 100 years old.  We haven’t got round to picking them all yet but are trying to use the windfalls first: despite being battered, it seems just too wasteful to toss them in the compost.  The longest bit of this recipe is peeling and chopping the apples to get all those odd bits that are worth using.  I also managed to get hold of pullet eggs (much smaller than the usual eggs that the hens will go on to lay).  This mix uses extra flour to offset the moisture released from the apples – and you could add a further tsp or so of baking powder if you like).

140709 - Apple tree

225 gm butter

280 gm sugar

8 pullet eggs (or 4 large)

2 generous tsp vanilla extract

350 gm self-raising flour (or plain with some baking powder)

450 gm peeled apples – chopped in to about 1 cm cubes

Process the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add the eggs and vanilla extract slowly until a very light airy mix.  Pulse in the flour.  Gently fold in the apple.  Spoon in to about 2 inch muffin-type tins – I made about 24 individual little cakes.  Bake 20 minutes Gas 6.  Sprinkle on some extra sugar before or after cooking if the waistline permits!  You could add some ground cinnamon (a tsp or so) with the flour but I found that the delicate apple flavour became a bit blunted.

I am also extracting pasteurised apple juice from the peelings and other windfalls to make apple juice with a rather esoteric Scandinavian steamer pan.  A stack of tartes Tatin has gone in to the freezer.  I’m planning to dry apple slices in the dehydrator but think I’ll skip pressing juice for cider this year.

Damsons are destined for months soaking in gin or brandy to make liqueurs while all the small, less ripe ones have already been transformed in to a very good savoury chilli and ginger jam – delicious!