Cooking Without Looking

Some people assume that since I can’t see, I don’t cook. One gentlemen even asserted that I must use Meals on Wheels. Others assume that my remaining senses are heightened and that I am some sort of cooking superhero. The truth is, a blind person’s cooking skills have nothing to do with the presence or absence of sight, or the presence or absence of superhero senses. Christine Ha, a MasterChef winner, is famous for her creations and happens to be blind. Molly Burke, a world famous blind YouTuber, can’t cook to save her life. As with a sighted person, cooking comes with practice and a motivation to learn, and is born out of an innate joy of preparing and sharing meals with loved ones. Cooking blind just requires some simple adaptations. Come along, let me show you.

Baking

Producing a light and flaky scone or a rich and fudgy brownie is as different from making a savory stir-fry or fresh tossed salad as night and day. It boils down to following a recipe and trusting that it’s a good one.

When I bake, I begin by pulling up a recipe on my phone or laptop and set it near but out of the way of my cooking area. This way, I can read the recipe with assistive technology as I bake. Next, I ensure my cooking zone, counter, sink, stove, etc. is clean and spotless. I wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hum Happy Birthday in my head twice, as per current food safe recommendations. Then I grab a clean bowl and begin measuring. I use Braille measuring cups, of course, and measure the wet ingredients with something called a liquid level indicator. I set it to the height I want to reach with whatever I am measuring and it beeps when the liquid reaches that line. Dry ingredients are a bit trickier. I scoop a cup of flour for instance and imagine I have measured close to an exact cup. But baking is an exact science, and there isn’t a lot of room for error. To check I have exactly one cup, I touch the side of the cup with one finger to find the Braille marker, and very lightly touch the top of the flour on the other side to check that my fingers are at the same height. I pour out or add an extra spoonful as needed and wash my hands again. I am the only person I know who washes her hands before and after measuring every single ingredient. Trust me, I am as much of a food safe cook as the next person. I just happen to have to feel what I am doing more than the rest of you. And yes, I tried wearing rubber gloves. If you want to know how that went for me, try cooking blindfolded before reading the rest of this post.

I’ve been baking solo since I was nine, but only began braving the oven when I was about thirteen. I was paranoid I would catch fire. I didn’t think I might burn a fingertip; I was convinced I would burst into flames at the slightest misstep. I conquered this by wearing oversized oven mitts that go halfway up my arms. No bursting into flames for me! In your face, oven! I either Braille label all my kitchen appliances or use tactile markers called bump dots to indicate temperatures and other important settings. I am too lazy to use a proper talking oven timer and simply time things on my phone. I haven’t burnt too many cookies doing this but don’t exactly recommend this lazy shortcut.

Salad

Chop chop chop. Ever seen a blind person wield a knife like nobody’s business? Most people don’t want to, though most of us blindies are perfectly safe. I was making Thanksgiving dinner with my sister a few years back, and she was having fits about how I hold the knife so close to my fingers. Five minutes later she cut herself. Friends, knives are sharp, and if you’re cooking with a blind person, trust they know what they’re doing and watch out for your own fingers.

I chop vegetables a little slower than most people. This is because I am inept at the art though, not really because I can’t see what I am doing. When I get going, I speed up. Anyway, the biggest difference making a salad blind is the way many of us position our hands. I hold the knife normally but hover my other hand over whatever I am chopping to ensure the knife’s blade is in the right spot. To a sighted person, it must look as if I am putting my fingertips in mortal peril, but I swear I am aware of where my fingers are at all times.

I can also tell by touch whether fruits and vegetables are too ripe, not ripe enough, or just right. Sighties judge by color, I judge by giving a gentle squeeze to check the firmness. I also trim roots, ends, and other things that don’t belong in a salad by feeling the different textures. And yes, I wash everything thoroughly before and after this process.

Chicken

There’s just something about a blind person near an open flame that makes sighties antsy. Okay, so you cook chicken in an ultra safe frying pan, but I know plenty of blind people who kill it at lighting campfires and cook over them. I am not one of these people, because I still have my fear of bursting into flames. When someone invents a full body oven mitt, I’ll try it.

Anyway, back to cooking chicken, or any meat really, the method is the same. I dump the sliced chicken into the frying pan, add spices, and stir it every once in a while to make sure it doesn’t stick. I let the approximate amount of time pass for it to be cooked, then use a spatula to scoop a piece onto a small plate. I lightly probe the piece with a finger. If it is firm and the cut edges are rough, it is done. If it is tender in the middle and the edges are still smooth, the chicken is not done. If I am cooking for myself only, I toss the chicken back into the frying pan and repeat the process until it is fully cooked. If I am cooking for others, I discard the small slice and repeat the process until the chicken is done.

I firmly believe a blind person can cook or bake anything if they have been taught some simple methods like the ones I have mentioned. I had it easy growing up as my mom is also blind, and she passed along every shred of adaptive cooking wisdom I have. I wouldn’t call myself a great cook by any means. In fact, I’m positive I am far from it. But I have average cooking skills for my age, and my blindness has never been an issue in the kitchen. Let me rephrase that. My blindness has never been an issue for me in the kitchen. A lot of people have a problem watching me and my alternative cooking methods, and that majorly stresses me out. Sighties also have a terrible habit of moving everything within reach, which is really frustrating to work with. I have a short VIP cooking list of those friends and family members who are super fun to cook with though, and the rest will learn in time.

The moral of the story? Cooking blind is not difficult, as long as you have had some practice or basic instruction. It’s the people blindies cook with that make it hard.

Be kind, and be aware.

Have questions? Got a topic in mind you’d like me to write about? Please feel free to contact me

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0 thoughts on “Cooking Without Looking

  1. Love this entry, Jenna! I can just picture you in my mind, cooking up a storm of nutritious and tasty meals. Keep on chopping and cooking!

  2. Thank you for writing this! I love this blog, and this post put alot of my concerns to rest about how I will manage in the kitchen if/when I lose the last 10% of my sight. My one disadvantage however, is that I do not know Braille, which would probably be helpful. I do have a question, not sure if you have written already on this, but how do you manage at the grocery store if you are by yourself? Stores make me nervous, especially crowded ones, so I have been avoiding them and having my groceries delivered, but this is more costly. Thank you again, I will keep reading!

    1. Carolyn, thank you so much for reading! I have honestly never received such a heartwarming comment. I am so touched that my words made a difference. If/when you lose that last 10% I’m sure you will do well! The adaptation period will be hard, but the fact that you’re already thinking about it and planning ahead is so smart and so important for future positivity and motivation.
      As for not knowing braille, totally understandable! There are tactile measuring cups out there that could help you. My favorite type has raised horizontal lines up the side of the measuring cup to indicate 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, and 1 cup, all the way up to two cups. The shorter the lines, the smaller the fraction. So for instance, the 1 cup and 2 cup lines are very long, the 1/2 and 1 and 1/2 cup markings are shorter, and the 1/4 and 3/4 lines are super short. You just feel the lines length and you know what measurement you’re at. I hope that explanation makes sense, it looks a bit confusing reading it back haha. I actually use this tactile measurer more than my braille cups to save time.

      Grr groceries stores. I don’t like them either honestly. I also get my groceries delivered. I used to go to the store and get assistance finding what I wanted, but shopping online gave me more options and insured I really did get the best prices.
      One of my best friends has had a lot of success shopping with Aira. If you live in the US, you could check if any local groceries stores are free access locations. To my understanding, this means an Aira agent will help you shop for free so you wouldn’t have to pay for minutes. I’m in Canada, and free access locations haven’t come here yet, but I’m excited for the day they do.
      I hope that helps! Thanks for your insightful words and fantastic questions!

      1. Jenna, thank you so much for the great tips in your reply! They are extremely helpful. I had not heard of Aira before, and not only does this service put my anxiety at ease a bit, but I have forwarded it to my friend whose neice has been losing her sight and just recently believed she would have to give up her job. With this resource, maybe she will be able to get the assistance she needs to maintain her lifestyle and work. Thank you!

  3. Oh, I love it! Priceless post! Remember that meal I was trying to make at Craig’s? Grace and Tracey got into the act and everything assumed super powers and began flying around the room, anywhere but within my reach! I finally gave up and left the kitchen. They meant well, but it’s the most things I’ ve ever seen be moved at one time! 🙂 A great read! Love, Mom.

    “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8 (NIV)

  4. Girl, this was such an informative post. You are such a spectacular person. Not only that you’re going to town and writing about all you do, but you do it in such a fun, positive and informative way. Keep up the fantastic work, hon. I’m so proud of you.

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