Blind baker pounds dough with the Cheeseboard Collective

Strong community ties are a key feature of this landmark establishment in Berkeley, California (http://cheeseboardcollective.coop/).  Not only are all their sourdough breads, pizzas and cheeses in huge demand, but they take special care to foster community spirit.  They were wonderfully welcoming to this blind cook and you can see how they shared some of their favourite bakes (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_29MPwF6vE) .

Their Collective ethos has been established for decades and creates real workplace equality and shared responsibility.  Talking to Cathy, Erin and other members of the crew, it was obvious how much they enjoyed their baking, were proud of their products and felt strongly that they were a great team.  It’s difficult to imagine a better basis for a successful business – and it clearly is with their delicious food just flying off the shelves.

I had to be quick to keep up with their production rate and managed just some of their breads: focaccia, zampanos and bialys – all made to their exacting standards.  I’ve captured key elements of the recipes but recommend the Cheeseboard Collective cookbook for the real bread enthusiasts.

And this was my last cooking day in California before flying off to Costa Rica to cook in the jungle – all thanks to the Holman prize from San Francisco’s LightHouse for blind and visually impaired people.

Show that you support disabled people like me: Like and Share on Facebook and Twitter; Subscribe and Comment on the YouTube video.

Penny

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Meet the sourdough professionals

California’s Cheeseboard Collective is an inspiration to anyone who wants to make, smell and greedily devour absolutely fantastic sourdough bread (http://cheeseboardcollective.coop/).  Watch my day with them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv817PSnH6s) and learn some true tricks of the trade.

The recipe is giant sized:   it takes a massive mixer to handle over 245 pounds or 112 kilos of this wonderful bread dough.  But, with a hoist and chains, you can see it is a one-woman job!  Perhaps not your idea of an easy morning in the kitchen – but there are some key principles to apply to your own bread making.

The Cheeseboard Collective is famous for creating one pizza each day and so popular that customers queue up in the street.  They also have an amazing selection of cheeses (hence the name!) and racks upon racks of different breads made with the sourdough (I’ll show you those next time).

This is a video to give you a real idea of how proper bread (not that woolly sliced stuff) is made and, with the help of their recipe book, you can make your own starter and sourdough too.  My thanks to them and the LightHouse organisation in San Francisco for helping me arrange this remarkable day.

Penny

Ben and Blanche saved us

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.

Penny

Crackers at China Live

Top chef Luis turned under-cooked rice and grass from the coast of China in to an amazing fine dining experience (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B2E48p7eViU).

You will be as staggered as I by the amount of time (potentially three days), the attention to detail and the amazing interpretation of a beach after a bonfire!  This was Luis’ inspiration in creating the seagrass cracker that was the crowning glory to his delicate dessert with passion fruit cream

And he didn’t stop there but delicately added bubbles of smoke flavour to the plate!  This is where the chef with Michelin experience stands head and shoulders ahead of the home cook.    And even more so when that cook can’t see either.

It was a fabulous dessert and he generously shared both his recipe and the tricks of the trade – check out the video.

I was lucky enough to cook alongside him at the outstanding China Live restaurant in San Francisco’s famous China Town thanks to winning the Holman prize run by the city’s LightHouse organisation for blind people.

 

 

Penny

Can blind cook survive in professional kitchen?

Imagine the challenge of cooking alongside a Michelin-level chef making eclectic Chinese cuisine from authentic ingredients in an ultra-high-tech kitchen – without any sight at all (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqRx8cGznGs).  Then double the anxiety and stress because everything is being captured on video and it will be your first test of the Baking blind world tour.

Yes, I was very nervous that I’d make a complete mess of the day: bang around the kitchen, drop the ingredients and generally look stupid.  Thank goodness for consummate professional Executive Pastry Chef Luis who not only cooks at the top of his game in the prestigious China Live restaurant  in San Francisco but is also a compelling instructor at the local college.  He chose to show me his seagrass cake with passion fruit cream.  Not only utterly delicious and a fabulous example of fine dining but capable of being translated in to this blind home cook’s repertoire.  If I can do it, anyone can!

I’d never heard of seagrass which comes from the coast of China and is used in place of flour to produce an ultra-light sponge  that is flecked with green and brown.  And the passion fruit powder is definitely on my shopping list to create desserts with real intense flavour – you can find it on the web.    Luis showed me new ways of making the cake and cream – just basic for him but great learning for me.

China Live is in the famous Chinatown area of San Francisco and is not to be missed.  Across five floors, it offers every aspect of Chinese cuisine from the more relaxed café at the entrance to the fine dining and banqueting facilities.  They also sell authentic ingredients and innovative ceramics and equipment.  We lunched on some fried dumplings that were just outstanding.  Big thumbs up.

San Francisco was the starting point of my adventure cooking across six continents  because it is also the base of the LightHouse organisation that created and funded my international Holman prize.  My goal over all the coming video episodes is to show that a shared passion, whether for cooking, work or anything else, breaks down barriers of disability.  I think that you will see that Luis happily treated me like any other semi-competent cook: we just got on with the job in hand because my blindness didn’t matter.

Penny

Letter from America.

Am I going to survive this adventure?  So far, it has been pretty touch and go with about 12 hours of activities every day, still not sleeping much due to the time differences and trying to keep up with all the information and new experiences (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQXRXfOINO8).  But hasn’t it been fun and exciting meeting the Holman prize co-winners Ojok and Ahmet plus all the LightHouse team!  A wild round of meetings, breakfasts, lunches, briefings, trips, video shoots, interviews, catching up on the washing, technical IT training and lots more.

Drama of the first week was Ojok struggling to make his trip from Uganda after passport difficulties but he finally got here four days later and still was an absolute whizz when we visited one of the local bee farms.  He brought samples of his own honey which was completely different: smokey and spicey.

We’ve had lots of San Francisco food and the most odd was being offered a salad of “massaged kale”.  I had visions of Swedish-style cooks giving the reluctant leaves a good rub down in the kitchens so it was a bit disillusioning to hear that all they do is toss the kale in to brine.  But massaging is all the rage and a bit more authentic elsewhere: scrunching up the kale once it has been dressed with oil and vinegar to soften up the stems etc.

I’ve already posted the honey cake recipe I made while Ahmet and Ojok were sailing in the San Francisco Bay – I get too seasick to have joined them.  And there are lots more recipes to come from all the restaurants where I’ve been cooking once we have managed to edit the videos: peach galettes from One Market, seagrass cake and passion fruit mousse from China Live, barbecued shrimp and grits plus fried chicken and waffles from the Brown Sugar Kitchen, a bounty of different sourdough focaccia breads from the Cheeseboard Collective – and you wonder why I don’t sleep much!

My top drama of the week was escaping from a truly awful hotel where I spent the weekend solo and where they didn’t have the slightest idea about disability or accessibility.  I was rescued by Ben (another blind sailor) and Blanche who’d I’d met last Friday.  They welcomed Toby and I in to their Oakland home and have given us a real taste of wonderful, heart-warming American hospitality.   In a city of fast-action, hipster development and energy, there’s still the great friendship and kindness that has given this trip an outstanding start.

Finally, there is still that difference in language (the old potato and tomato “let’s call the whole thing off” song).  I was really taken aback to be called “bad arse” – not quite the done thing in the UK to have one’s posterior the subject of adverse comment – but it seems to be rather more positive here:   tough, competent and relentless!

Thank you to the LightHouse for all of these fabulous images and the experience itself!

 

Penny