Cooking Without Looking

I wish I had thought of that phrase myself, but I have to admit that I borrowed it from a radio show for cooks who are blind. I’ve been cooking as a visually impaired person for about 47 years. When friends say they are amazed at what I can do in the kitchen, I remind them that I’ve had one or two years of practice. This is not to say that I’m a great cook, but I prepared meals for a family of four, and I still cook for myself and occasionally for friends. I can’t say that I enjoy cooking, but I do enjoy baking, especially if I don’t have forty other things to do that day and if I’m not in a hurry.

I usually start with a recipe. I collect recipes from various sources, magazines, friends, my mother, and my daughter. Most of them I have transcribed into Braille, and I’ve filed them according to categories in file folders. I’ve stored some of them in my documents on my computer and in a very old piece of technology called the Braille & speak.

Some people might be put off by the way I measure ingredients. I have two sets of nested measuring cups. If I’m measuring flour, for instance, and I need a cup and a half, I first fill the one-cup measuring cup, and then the half cup measuring cup. To make sure the flour is level, I use my finger to slide across the top. Oh, I could use a knife, but didn’t our grandmothers measure things by handfuls? If I need to measure a liquid, I hook a finger over the lip of the cup, and when the liquid reaches my finger, I stop pouring. Measuring liquids into measuring spoons is a little trickier, so I usually measure over the sink, except for vanilla, which I certainly don’t want to waste, and if I get a little extra into the cake, well then, so much the better. Cutting sticks of butter in half to reach 3//4 cups used to be a nuisance until they started packaging butter in quarter-cup sticks. What a nifty idea. I must not have been the only one who had trouble with that. For a tablespoon of butter, I do admit to doing a little guesswork, but again, can you really have too much butter?

Here are a few tips I’ve developed over the years for cooking or baking without benefit of sight.

Keep the vanilla in the fridge. It’s easier to feel it when the teaspoon is full if it’s cold. Keep olive oil in the fridge. It becomes solid and therefore easier to measure. Just put it in the microwave for a few seconds to liquefy again. If you’re going to make a peanut butter sandwich, freeze the bread first. The peanut butter will be easier to spread on frozen bread, and then wait a few minutes, and the bread will be thawed in no time. Refrigerate cookie dough. It’s easier to form into balls if it’s not room temperature. Always use a bowl or a pan that is bigger than you need. It doesn’t take any more work to clean a large pan than to clean a small one, but it sure is a lot of work cleaning up the stove if you slop the soup over the side. Keep your kitchen organized. Yes, I do keep my spices in alphabetical order. Label everything in your kitchen with Braille or other tactile methods. Don’t be self-conscious about touching the food. If you wash your hands first, there’s not a thing wrong with testing for doneness, like for cookies and cakes, by lightly touching the top. If it springs back, it’s done. Learn to use your hands. They were invented long before spatulas were.

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