By Barry Hill
I love food. I think it is my favourite thing after my wife and my computer. Ok, breathing and such like is up there with things that I’d miss more than my computer, but I really do love it.
Like many blind people, I do make attempts at cooking, but things don’t always go to plan. The plan is to create something that is cordon bleu, but it sometimes comes out more black and blue.
My first ever attempt at cooking as a blind man was a cheese sandwich. Ok, not so much cooking, but I feel that it was a challenging start to my culinary skills. I got the bread, the block of cheese, the butter at room temperature and all the tools I needed to successfully make a simple cheese sandwich. What I ended up with was as much butter on my hands as on the bread if you didn’t include the lumps that had ripped holes in the bread instead of spreading. Room temperature, it turns out, isn’t quite high enough for easy spreading butter. And the cheese wasn’t so much sliced evenly as hacked wedges and lumps. Got a great tip for anyone starting out with a cheese sandwich. Use grated cheese and mayonnaise instead of butter. Oh, and get a dog to clean up the grated cheese trail that you will leave from kitchen to table.
From this humble beginning, I persevered, and still make mistakes 25 years later. One thing I still do, though, is to get everything ready before starting. This saves me franticallydashing around the kitchen trying to get a gadget to tell the difference between beans and custard. Believe me, custard on toast doesn’t work.
Tins are the blight of a blind person’s kitchen life. When I lived alone, getting my shopping delivered was just fantastic, but I had to be careful what I ordered. For instance, I’d order tomatoes one week then soup the next week. The reason for this was that I put the different food in certain places in my cupboard so that I would know what was what. Clever, eh? Well…
One lunch time, I fancied some soup, so I got a tin of what I thought was chunky veg soup out, gave it a shake to confirm that it sounded like soup, opened it, and discovered that I’d opened a tin of tomatoes. Ah well. Into a container and in the fridge for another meal. I grabbed another tin, shook it, opened it and put the second tin of tomatoes in the fridge. Ok, third time lucky. Shook, opened and dipped a finger in to feel the chunks of veg. Sorted. I tipped it into the pan on the hob and buttered some bread, and my hand of course. I served my now steaming bowl of soup and settled down to eat it.. The first dip of the bread tasted really odd, so I tried again. It was mixed fruit. I didn’t even know I had mixed fruit in my cupboard! Damned evil pixies.
Still, getting the wrong food is not always a problem. In fact,I do it on purpose sometimes. No, I don’t deliberately have mixed fruit soup. I call it ‘potluck dinner’. I have things in my freezer that feel pretty much the same as other things. Left over chilli in a tub feels like left over anything when it’s frozen. Likewise, a bag of pretty much any meat from my butchers feels pretty much like all other meats unless there’s a bone in it. I mean, I’m not going to get a leg of lamb confused with a bag of mince or sausages mixed up with chops, but you get the idea. The potluck is that I don’t really know what I’m having until it’s defrosted. This can be a bitch if I’ve got my heart and appetite set on chilli and find that I’ve defrosted gravy. It’s nice to dip your bread in your gravy, but not when that’s all you’ve got to eat.
I’m a pretty good cook these days, but I do like to cheat. I used to chop my own chillies, squash my fresh garlic through one of those garlic presses that leaves most of the clove in the damned thing, and grate fresh ginger. Not a problem until I get an itchy eye. You only do that the once in your life, believe me. These days, my wife kindly keeps me stocked up with jars of Lazy Chilli, Lazy Garlic and Lazy Ginger. Just don’t get them mixed up. A couple of teaspoons of chilli instead of garlic to liven your casserole will test your tastebuds and maybe even your partners trust in your cooking.
The worst thing about the food and blind combo is when food has gone off. Yeah, I try to smell my food if I think it might be going off, but my sense of smell is rather screwed too. Taking a whack with a steering wheel in a car crash isn’t healthy for one’s sense of smell, so I’m told).
Quite often, the first I know that something has gone a bit furry or sour is to taste it. Don’t be kidded that it’s penicillin so it must be good for you. It’s going to wreak havoc with your guts and leave your bum-hole in tatters.
However, some things don’t taste off when they are, especially after they’ve been curried. In these cases, the first I know of it is natures colonic irrigation known commonly as diarrhoea. Incidentally, here’s a tip that I use to spell diarrhoea. I use the mnemonic ‘do it at Roger Rabbits house or even Alice’s’. You’re welcome.
Is there a solution? Well, I did read a while ago about a gadget that can smell if things have gone off, but do you really think I could be arsed to reach for a gadget every time I wanted something fresh to eat? Nope. The only way that technology would work is if I had a fridge with some built-in auto detect and destroy system. Even I, with limitations to my senses, would be able to tell that the lump of charcoal where a bottle of milk recently stood would not be palatable. Still, this system might make it difficult to keep that fermented yaksmilk or smelly blue cheese that I love so much in the fridge. Blue cheese, not fermented Yaks milk. You think blue cheese smells? It’s like perfume compared to fermented yaks milk. Incidentally, even with full sensory capabilities, how do you tell if blue cheese has gone off? It’s not a problem in my fridge as it isn’t in there long enough to go off. Some people are addicted to chocolate, some to coffee. My drug of choice is cheese. There is a contemporary method that I now use quite effectively. She’s called Angie. some might say that getting a wife is quite a drastic move just to test my food, but that’s not the only reason why I have a wife. There are things like love, mutual support, companionship and the like, but it is undeniably handy having someone around who can spot the furry cheese before I eat it.