I’m a terrible cook.
I don’t want to be, but I am. I wish I could blame that on being blind, but we’ve got plenty of neat little tips and tricks to help cook food I should really be better about following. A lot of cooking while blind is just following common sense stuff that’d be smart even fully sighted – setting timers after you’re done cooking to make sure your burners are off and cool, being extra careful your handles are turned inwards and your pans centered, etc. Little things like that are worth paying a little more attention to when blind, because it’s not always so easy to notice when things are still on or you’re about to spill a mess of spaghetti sauce over your stove (been there, done that).
Here are some assorted tips I’ve either learned, been taught (either by the CCB or by Montana’s Blind and Low Vision reps), or have found out by horrible, horrible mistakes.
-Knives were surprisingly tricky for me completely blind when wearing sleep shades at the CCB. I never seriously cut myself, Keeping them pointed in one direction in a drawer is a must, but for cutting, I invariably use the ones from my chopping block, because I’m more familiar with where they’re at. You’re also not in any danger of cutting yourself by putting them into a block
Wash knives immediately. It’s something I’m terrible about doing, but I shouldn’t be, because in a sink full of dishes, errant knives are a royal pain in the… well, hand.
When you’re chopping or slicing, take time to orient your food in such a way that it’s not close to the edges. Elementary, right? Except when you go chasing that carrot slice or chunk of chicken, you’ll know it’s never far. I’ve also been doing a bit of side research on this topic, and the brilliant AFB website has some great tips for kitchen cooking, including this gem for knives: if you don’t know what side is sharp, rock the blade against your chopping board. Most blades are slightly curved, and will rock if it’s the sharp edge. Thought that was neat.
-Large print instruments are great and all, but sometimes it’s just not feasible. In that case, I highly recommend sticky dots of various sizes and textures. These are generally available through your state’s vocational rehabilitation services, but they’re also widely available on Amazon and elsewhere. I use these on a lot of things in the kitchen, especially my microwave (the buttons on it are inscrutable, so I put dots on the start, stop, and set time buttons), my oven’s temperature gauge (I put dots at 350, 400, and 450, with another on the notch at the top), and on my electric heat’s thermostat at about 55 degrees and 72-ish, which are the low and highs I like in fall and winter).
-Spices are tricky business because it can be really hard to guess how much you’re actually tilting into whatever you’re measuring or cooking.. I have a particularly hard time with pepper and larger flake-like spices. The proper solution for this is two-fold – use your hand to better figure out how much is coming out of the bottles. I’d also recommend measuring spices above a bowl – even measuring by hand isn’t foolproof, so it definitely helps to avoid waste.
-Use your other senses when you’re cooking. Meats can be really tricky, but so long as you’ve got a finger, you’ve got a pretty good gauge of how done meat is – generally. Try this the next time you’re frying chicken or a burger – poke the middle before, during, and after it’s done. Make note of the differences. When it’s done just right (again, usually – exceptions to this will come in a sec), there will be a bit of springiness to the meat. Overdone meat will have a slightly crisper, caked-on feel to it, and has less give to it. Underdone meat is hard to describe in words, but if you have a bit of arm fat, it has the sort of feel that a chicken wing under your arm does.
Now… thicker meats are hard, and unfortunately, I’m not your best Sherpa for them. Personally, I like to beat the hell out of my meat (shaddup) in order to make sure it can be cooked evenly with ease, but I understand that’s not always ideal for steaks and what not. For that, I’d recommend looking up tips from the NFB or AFB.
You’d also be surprised at how much you’ll learn about cooking and baking with your senses of smell and hearing. Take something as simple as tea – there are three very distinct stages of water boiling, and it’s never so apparent as when you’re heating water up in a kettle. A soft boil is kind of a faint gurgle, a hard boil is pretty obviously a bubbling roil, but in between is the sweet spot, a calmer moment when the water isn’t doing anything at all. Listen for that, and you’ve got the perfect water every time.
French fries have a distinct certain aromatic explosion when they’re just about ready (when baked – I don’t fry generally). Most things with a crispier outside and frozen innards will follow that same general formula – it takes some practice, but get in the habit of checking your timers when you really start to smell foods like fries, chicken nuggets, or the like. It won’t vary much if you’re staying to the same general servings.
-Crock pots aren’t just amazing for bachelorhood, but they’re really damn handy for this blind guy, too. Anything you can cook in one pot without fussing all day with burners or ovens is great, but I wish more crock-pots came with the old-timey twist knobs instead of digital buttons for their displays.
I’m also stupidly fond of Foreman grills for a lot of reasons, but also largely because there’s no fuss about it. You pop the plates in, slide a grease trap into place, and you’ve got consistently cooked foods every time so long as your foods sizes are relatively equal. It’s also a great way to completely forego the problem of errant grease spattering everywhere, and since I”m not overly fond of grease anyways, that’s a double bonus for me.
-Don’t shy away from recipes because they require techniques you haven’t encountered yet being blind or low vision. This is something I need to do more often myself. For example, I don’t cook a lot of pork because I have so little experience with it. There are resources and forums out there for the blind, not to mention dozens of Youtubers looking for their next great B&LV cooking tip video. And try starting smaller, too, so you’re not wasting as much food on experiments.
I might revisit this blog post idea in the future, but for now, I think that’ll do it. Blind and low vision friends, feel free to toss your hat into this ring – and don’t be afraid to correct me where I’m wrong or offering bad advice. Like I said at the beginning, I’m a godawful cook, but I’m sure having fun trying to get better.
See you next time, and stay tuned for news about Forever and Farewell, my upcoming romance novel! First draft is done, and it should be in your hands possibly before Christmas!