Category Archives: Blind

A feast for the senses

The class gathered after lunch and went to the Ellen Noël Art Museum, where Steve and Ann gave a fun class on glazing pottery.

We were each given a huge bowl, big enough for a teenager’s breakfast, and invited to glaze them while we listened to Steve talking about artists and pottery, music and war.

I used my blindfold.

In the darkness, the warm organic curve of the bowl sat, solid, its bisque waiting for the colors that I could only feel.

The glazes, Steve says, change colors in ways that are hard to predict. Pale yellow glaze turns to brilliant green after the fire. Mixing green and blue may give you fuscia.

With my blindfold, it was simply an exploration that was tentative, creative and unselfconscious. I look forward to seeing what I have created.bowl exterior

Update I have the bowl!
bowl interior

The Ellen Noël Art Museum also houses the Sensory Museum.

The Sensory Museum is full of fragrant herbs and fascinating textures. The museum’s walls and the trees mute the city’s sounds. It is quietly profound, sharing its peace freely. I let my fellow students bustle ahead as I enjoyed the peace, the wa of the garden.

One of the displays is a strange granite obelisk, carved into a sort of a vertical marimba.  Running my cane tip along the petals of stone elicits a chiming musical scale, like glass soda bottles from an almost forgotten summer in my childhood.

Benches made of gnarled roots invite. Listening to others discovering can be peaceful, too.

A sinuous pillar of stone beckons. Each thin layer of stone is rough and sharp, in contrast to the dancing shape of the column.

Windchimes and birds debate, languidly. The traffic is respectfully distant.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is also a touching museum, but it is a place for restless investigation, for insatiable curiosity. The Sensory Museum is a place to catch your breath. To recenter. To relearn that the wonders of the world are not all meant to be seen.

The Logan Roadhouse in Odessa, Texas

I joined two other students from my blind guy 101 class at the Logan Roadhouse. We enjoyed lunch there.

The Logan Roadhouse is one of a class of chain steakhouses. Its décor runs to domestic beer signs and cowboy accoutrements. Country music twangs soulfully in the background.

Logan’s is surprisingly good at presentation. The meals they served looked like it had been whisked off of a good commercial- fresh, crisp, plentiful and well-made. Presentation is not the lost art I had thought it was.

My steak salad was colourful and tasty, with avocado making a surprising (and pleasant) textural counterpoint to the juicy steak. The ranch dressing was cool and crisp. If they’d added some bell peppers or cucumbers for crunch it would have been perfect, but it was quite acceptable as served. The steak was a good bit more rare than I had ordered but was still quite decent.

One friend ordered a classic burger, which looked as though a master chef had been challenged to make a perfect burger. I wish I’d had a camera. I would make a poster of this and caption it THIS IS WHAT BURGERS SHOULD LOOK LIKE.

My other friend ordered a steak, and, while the steak was quite tasty, he found the weak spot of today. His steak was underdone (he had requested medium and got rare, despite the little plastic toothpick claiming MEDIUM) and they goofed his side orders. The waiter was quick and polite as he corrected the order.

All told, I’d certainly eat here again. The prices were decent, the service fast and friendly, and the food fresh and wonderfully presented.

Walmart on four senses

A simple salad. Considering that this picture is the only time I ever saw it, I think the presentation came out pretty well.
A simple salad. Considering that this picture is the only time I ever saw it, I think the presentation came out pretty well.

Day three of blind life 101, we went shopping.

 

On the last day of the class we are having a party. I’m contributing meatballs and lava cake (recipes on this blog) and a spice rub called pixie dust (which I will eventually be selling through this blog. Hey, a guy’s got to live).

Tuesday, we conspired to make a list of everything that we wanted to eat and thought we could prepare while blindfolded.

Today, each of the eleven students was given a section of the resulting shopping list and turned loose in a Walmart Supercenter.

As you might imagine, Walmart is different place with four senses. The store is beyond massive.

The entryway, with carts crashing and bustling foot traffic, is uncomfortably dynamic. It is hard to determine where you are and what is going on. I felt like a kitten on a highway island, almost literally afraid. I stayed by a wall, needing the reassurance of at least one thing that wasn’t moving and clanking and rushing by.

My section of the list covered pasta, sauce and spices. All located in two aisles close togeter, so, should be simple? Sort of.

The Walmart grocery section starts, as most grocery stores in America do, with produce and the deli. Fresh good-for-you foods get you attention, and high-priced tasty meats woo you. I couldn’t see the produce, but its bouquet is alluring. Less attractive is the confusing collection of islands and angles! I’ve never treasured simple squares and predictable angles before, but navigating without sight made it take almost as much time struggling through produce as it did for the rest of the shopping.

On the bright side, have you ever just felt a pineapple? Aggressively spiky, heavy in the hand, with a sweet tangy scent that is like nothing else. I think I enjoyed just holding one more than I have ever liked looking at them.

The hermetically sealed spices would have been impossible to differentiate without my friendly native guide. I’d rather shop in a health food store where I could smell the bulk spices. As it was, I could feel the package and guesstimate if it was enough of whatever spice they told me if was. Unsatisfying.

Pasta and sauce were similar. Fettuccine In a box is a dense, shifting weight that rustles. Bottled sauce is a cool, smooth handful that sloshes a bit when shaken. The spices were uniform light plastic cylinders, indistinguishable from each other. I wish that there was a scratch and sniff on the bottles!

A big pre-party shopping would be quite a chore, especially without a sighted assistant. Shopping in a crowd would be a nightmare! Picture every shopper during a Christmas shopping rush glaring at me after I had whacked their shins (inadvertently of course) with my white cane.

I learned that shopping blind is possible, but not an easy task.

For those who crave pictures, here’s a salad I made (blindfolded of course) for lunch. We had lasagna as well, but it vanished so quickly that I don’t think anyone got a picture!

 

A Knife in the Dark

blind knife 1

On Tuesday I got to cook again in my blind guy class.

I got to cut veggies, chicken and beef for fajitas. Again, an everyday task with the upgrade of a blindfold.

I started with the peppers, as the simplest of the lot. There were four of them, quite firm (not ripe enough for salad, but acceptable for cooking). I’ve no idea what color they were. Picking off sticky labels by feel is almost as fun as dental work.

I halved them, cored them by feel, pulled out the pith and shook out the loose seeds. Five, six, seven… where did the last half get to? It was hiding in the collander. I held the pepper open side up, tipped it almost half way to the left, laid the shamefully dull knife along my left forefinger and carefully sliced the crisp pepper. It whispered to the knife as I cut, ending with a quiet pop as the first slice fell free.

I felt as though I had been doing veggie prep for an hour or more. Tense, careful, slightly fatigued.

By the end of the eighth pepper half, I felt less tense,  more tired, but slightly more confident.

When I snuck an unblindfolded glimpse of the finished peppers, they weren’t as even as they would normally be, but they were better than I had feared. They had taken about four times as long as I would normally expect.

The onions came next. A dull knife is no friend to firm onions, but it was the tool I had on hand. I made a mental note to bring a sharpening stone if I ever get to take this class again.

Peeling an onion by feel is interesting. The papery outer skin is obvious to the touch, and the ends are easy to find and remove, dull knife aside. Once they were peeled, dicing them was fairly straightforward.

The beef was a whole new thing. Unlike the veggies, the (cooked) beef was irregular,  cold to the touch and tougher to cut with my accursedly dull knife. Fortunately it was mostly large steaks, so I managed to hack it into strips that a blind man might think were even and thin.

blind knife 2

The chicken was the worst. Irregular, ranging from tiny shreds to slabs the size of catcher’s mitts. The fatigue from the previous prep was catching up to me, leaving me more tense and nervous with each cut. I did have the advantage that I’d discovered how to set the meat for chopping and how to quickly transfer the finished product to a tray to my left.

I think that I was almost as quick at chopping chicken as I am without the blindfold. It is a LOT more work, though.

I didn’t get to eat any of the fajitas (an appointment called me away before lunch) but I did ask Steve to get a few pictures for me.

The Case of the Blind Baker

I’m legally blind.

This week I went to a class on living skills for the blind. One of the classes was kitchen skills. So, while wearing a blindfold, I got to bake brownies.

Unless you are totally blind, you probably don’t realize how much you use your eyes. I still have one working eye, so this class, while useful, has been (pun intended) an eye opener for me.

We met at the Life Unlimited Church in Odessa, Texas. A number of counselors from the Criss Cole Rehabilitative Center were on hand to help us learn the new skills.

The kitchen at Life Unlimited is huge, enviably well equipped, and well lit (not that that helped me today).

Berta, whose voice indicated that she is young, cheerful, and Hispanic, helped me with the simple preparation. She brought me a mixing bowl, two boxes of brownie mix, and the tools and groceries needed to make them.

Cooking, without the assistance or interference of one’s eyes is a strangely sensual experience. Opening the boxes by feel reminded me strongly of learning how to cook as a child – everything was new, although mutedly familiar. Pouring the mix into the large, clattering bowl, I carefully felt for and cracked four eggs into what I hoped was the middle of the mixing bowl.

Measuring oil while blindfolded is a tricky task. The oil, at room temperature, flows silently. It is hard to tell when you have filled the measuring cup to its top — I overflowed a bit. Most of the time, one can put a finger over the edge of the measuring cup, and feel when the liquid reaches the top, but the oil had almost no feeling, so it overflowed a bit. Berta kindly told me when the measuring cup was full.

Adding water to the mix was easier, since we had a bottle of chilled drinking water, so I could feel when that reached the top of the measuring cup.

Stirring the batter, and determining when it was fully stirred, was, again, a new task. The batter is heavy, silky, strangely organic feeling as it slips through and around the wire whip.

I’ve done this many times, but this time, unable to simply glance at the better to tell when it was properly mixed, I had to call for help again. Berta pointed out that the eggs’ yolks were still not incorporated. We managed to smoosh them and stir them in.

The oven, by now preheated to 350 degrees, was warm to the touch and inspired caution; I’ve burned myself before, being careless, but without sight I was predictably careful and set both pans in the oven safely.

I was going to use my phone as a timer, but Berta stopped me, pointing out that my hands were well smirched with brownie batter. She set a timer for me.

Two boxes of store brand brownies would hardly be the topic for a tale of adventure, on a normal day, but the added fillip of making them without sight has made this afternoon one to remember!

I’m going to try making my meatball recipe, lava cake and a spice rub later this week. I’ll post more then.

And I may ask one of the counselors to take a picture of me then. This will have to be a picture-free post since I have no camera, tripod, nor wife nearby today.