Last weekend, I had the opportunity to join several other blind and visually impaired athletes in learning to prepare different types of post-game or post-training “recovery” food. Unfortunately, while the idea was a good one, the execution left us all wanting more. Instead of us all going around the various stations – mixing a smoothie, grilling our chicken for a sandwich, chopping vegetables for a salad – one person grilled all the chicken, the smoothies were pre-mixed for us, and two girls cut up the fixings for the biggest salad I have ever seen. We were all a bit disappointed, not being able to spread our culinary wings, and were left with the distinct impression that the woman leading the class had NO previous idea how blind people can and do navigate a kitchen competently and safely.
This situation is far from unique. I have known blind people whose families wouldn’t even let them near a stove, even well into adulthood. Someone I know well was terrified to give me the knife to chop up the eggs for potato salad, until I basically threatened her with it. So, in case you have wondered, here is how I have made cooking easy, safe, fun, and occasionally even yummy!
I start out by knowing what is where, and what packages, cans or bags feel like. I label cans or jars with an audio labeler called a Penfriend, just so I don’t repeat the embarrassing experience of adding a can of peaches to my crock-pot chili. Whether I put things away myself so I know where they are, or have set “spaces” for frozen vegetables or meat that Ben will not mess with (upon threat of death), I have found that one of the most helpful things in cooking is to know what you have, what you need (if you need an emergency shopping trip), and where it is. Whatever one uses, whether using audio, braille or large print labels, magnets, different shaped containers, elastic bands, sticky dots, so long as things stay organized and accessible, the kitchen can be a terrific place!
Cutting, measuring and Preparation
I personally don’t use any special tools for this, though there are grippy cutting boards and knives with built-in guards on the market. I hold the potato with two fingers of my left hand and cut with my right. It is not an overly fast process, but it is not slow either. And I still have all 10 fingers, so I can’t be messing up too badly! I buy measuring cups and measuring spoons with raised numbers that indicate their size, but those can be purchased at Wal-mart. Ben did find a microwave for me that has tactile buttons; what a lifesaver that is! You can label a flat-panel microwave (I did with my oven), but labels can move around after a while, which can get problematic…
Some people get out all items for whatever they are cooking or baking before even getting started; I find this overwhelming, personally, and have found that taking one or two things out at a time and putting them back makes for a less chaotic cooking environment.
I am incredibly fortunate that my family always encouraged me to take chances cooking. At 6 years old, I was boiling spaghetti for dinner; by 8,I was fixing hamburger patties. I obviously had assistance and guidance, but for the most part, I was free to make my mistakes. Now that I have been out on my own for over 10 years, I have discovered that I prefer crock-pot cooking or baking, rather than frying. I make a mean beef and barley soup that includes frying vegetables, and fry up ground beef for Mexican wontons, but I prefer the mixture of flavors taking their time in the oven or the crock-pot. On the occasions I do fry things, I tend to keep the heat at a medium setting, so that if I am chopping peppers while onions are frying, I am not so freaked out about the onions being cooked through at 3 minutes but stuck to the bottom of the pan sixty seconds later.
I also like the flexibility and less time-sensitive nature of the oven or crock-pot; I once forgot to add mushrooms to a chili recipe, and I asked Ben to add them halfway through the cooking process, and honestly no one knew the difference.
You can have your Dessert and Eat it Too
I once heard someone say that you can either successfully make cookies or cakes, but not both… I am a cake girl! I cannot, to save my life, make a good batch of cookies. No matter what I do or how I do it, my cookies wind up spreading all over the sheet, making one big giant cookie that may or may not have edges that can be easily cut. Tell me you want bread, cakes, or muffins, and I will make you yummy baked goodness… cookies, look elsewhere, please!
Things I suck At
I cannot make a grilled cheese sandwich to save my life; it goes back to my desire not to be so fixated on time. The first and only time I made one in recent memory, I got a phone call and completely forgot about it until the smoke alarm went off. Along this line, I cannot seem to make quesadillas, either; the last time I tried, I burned them so badly that you could smell it even hours afterward, and I picked off about a fingernail-sized chunk of cheese that was still edible.
And I have never been great at spreading things; I always seem to get a big glop of peanut butter on one corner of my toast, while the diagonal corner is completely dry and boring. What’s up with that?
Cooking is one thing that I do enjoy, but it is also the one thing that people are the most uneasy about letting me do, particularly in group settings. It’s a bit discouraging, since all I would need is someone to show me where stuff is and let me just go at it. Besides, I still have all 10 fingers, really long hair, and my house is still standing… what can go wrong?