Cooking in the Dark

I’ve always loved to cook. When I was in elementary school, I remember checking out kiddie cookbooks and pestering my mom to buy ingredients for recipes I wanted to try.

When my husband and I started a family, cooking became not just a matter of fun, but of necessity. Not only were we frequently getting by on a single income, we had some strong food sensitivities to deal with. Not only was I makeing most of our meals at home, but I was doing it from basic ingredients rather than mixes or prepackaged dishes.

After I lost my eyesight, the knowledge, skills, and muscle memory of all those years of cooking were still there, waiting to be drawn on. I was weak in the aftermath of my brain tumor and surgery, and even now, my stamina isn’t what I’d like it to be. But even in those early days, my husband and I saw no reason I shouldn’t try things out and do as much as I felt able.

Starting Small

The first thing I remember cooking was boiled eggs. I was up before everyone else one weekend morning, and I didn’t want to wake someone up just to fix breakfast for me. After some thought, I decided boiled eggs should be easy enough, and I would at least see how far I could get. After all, I could always wake someone up if it turned out I needed help.

I put some water in the pot and stirred in salt.  I used my fingers, so I could be sure it all dissolved. I put a dozen eggs in the pot, then topped off the water so that it covered them all. I positioned the pot on the burner, turned it to medium, and prowled the kitchen, feeling the pot and lid occasionally, until I felt the vibrations of a good, rolling boil. I couldn’t read the numbers on the digital timer, but I knew how to zero it out. Add twenty minutes, and voila!

When the timer went off, I scooped them into a container of cold water with a slotted spoon. Breakfast was delicious.

A few weeks after that, when my husband was delayed at work, I sliced hot dogs and opened cans of baked beans so that dinner was nearly ready when he got home. Since then, I’ve gotten ever more adventurous. I’ve rolled enchiladas, boiled cabbage and stuffed cabbage rolls, even baked my own bread once again.

Not all of my attempts have worked out quite so well. I ruined a later batch of eggs because I turned off the pot before they’d come to a complete boil. In a rare feat of kitchen ingenuity, I managed to create rice that was half crunchy, half gluey–and wholly inedible. I’ve burned myself, though not too badly, thank goodness! I’ve stepped back and asked my husband or my sons to jump in and help me with something because I lost my nerve and wasn’t quite sure I could manage it after all.

But you know what? Everybody makes mistakes. Show me someone who’s never had a kitchen disaster, and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t spent much time in the kitchen.

Experience is the Best Teacher

I haven’t had any formal training in cooking while blind. A few friends and professionals have offered tips, but it’s mostly been trial and error, drawing on my previous experiences and what I thought might work.

I have to give my family a lot of credit. As a parent, I know it’s not easy to stand back and watch someone fumble through something you could do much more efficiently, especially as they get more and more frustrated. But they did, and I learned.

The best advice I can give to someone with vision loss who wants to cook again is: Get in there and give it a try! The best advice I can give to their family members is: Let them!

It’s great if you want to stand by in case they need your help, but unless something’s on fire, don’t be too quick to jump in and offer to help. Let them see how far they can get on their own. You may both be surprised.

What’s cooking lately

I’m pretty pleased with my cooking skills, but my kitchen remains a work in progress.

My husband and I have marked the controls on our appliances with raised markers that allow me to use them by touch, and designated certain food items I use frequently with rubber bands or flags of masking tape. But I still need to mark most of my spices, cans, and jars so I’m not stuck having to find someone to pull out a can of beans or tell me which bottle is the chili powder.

As I mentioned in a guest post my friend Crystal was kind enough to post on her blog, I’m trying to rein in our budget by keeping a freezer inventory and planning meals. Now I’ve got a handle on what’s in there, but I still have to ask someone else to find it!

And I still need a system of tracking leftovers, because nothing is more irritating than to find out something I would have enjoyed has  gone bad because I didn’t know it was in the fridge.

I do have materials and ideas for all of these things; it’s just a matter of setting aside the time and finding someone to help me ID everything.

Readers, what about you? Did you start cooking as a kid, or come to it later in life? Or do you prefer to cook as little as possible? How is your kitchen organized? Want to come over for dinner sometime?

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2 thoughts on “Cooking in the Dark

  1. I boil rice over all the time. Or get the mush or crunchy result. I can see perfectly well. I have found a rice cooker helps me make rice without a mess and with reasonable results. My best results however are with a solar oven. I think with that you would have to figure angle by how the sun feels on your back. Basically throw it in there with the right amount of water and come back in about 45 minutes to perfect rice. You can burn yourself on either-use mitts.

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    1. Hi, Susan! Thanks for stopping by! I hadn’t thought about a rice cooker. If I lived alone, I’d definitely have to get one. For now, I just ask my husband to make it. I’ve run across recipes for doing rice in my beloved slow cooker, but I haven’t tried them yet.

      I think solar cookers are awesome, and they’d probably work great here in sunny NC. Many years ago, my husband and I found instructions on the internet to make our own solar cooker. Ours never worked well, and I don’t know whether it was because of the materials we used, or if we were trying to cook too much at a time in it. It certainly didn’t help that one of our cats thought that it was his special tanning bed, and wouldn’t stop lying on the glass top!

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