A Sight for Sore Eyes
The Lighter Side to Facing Vision Loss
VISION-IMPAIRED CHIEF COOK
Way back when I was newly married and living in the United Arab Emirates, my sister-in-law gave me a stack of Quick Cooking magazines to take back with me. I loved them and even though my outcomes didn’t resemble the pictures, I felt accomplished! Somewhat. I remember my first pot of rice. My then-husband picked up a large wooden spoonful of the brown glutinous mixture and said, “What’s this?” He dumped the contents in the trash and started over again, making edible Egyptian rice.
I have come a long way since those days. Well, at least a little way from those meals, which were also referred to as my “concoctions.”
Back in the United States, I’m now cooking for different taste palates with diabetic and spice restrictions and definite time restraints.
When it became too much for my mother to cook, I took over that task. I used to get very stressed because my mother and brother were accustomed to eating at a punctual 5:00 pm.
I struggled to make that deadline. That was because in the morning, I usually forgot to take the meat out of the freezer. Then at about 2 0’clock, I would remember but want to finish just one more paragraph of writing done. So twenty-five minutes later, I’d race to the basement, choose a meat and grab it from the freezer, zip up to my apartment. There, I’d slit open the wrap, run it under the hottest water I could so I could pry it away from the Styrofoam base. Sometimes that also required thumping it against the counter, digging in with a knife, and returning to the hot water. With the meat on a plate, I threw it into the microwave to thaw it out so I could cook it. At 3:00, I’d frantically search the Internet for a recipe that we had most of the ingredients for and hope it wasn’t too complicated.
I kept one eye on the clock and one on the stove so whatever I had on there wouldn’t burn. I had no eyes left for the dog, so sometimes both he and I would find ourselves in a crumpled heap on the floor. Thank goodness, neither of us ever received any burns. I tried to keep him gated away during dinner but sometimes I was so intent on getting our meal out, I forgot that, too.
I would always warn myself to start early enough to cook without rushing. In theory, I had that rule covered. But in actuality, I was always in a mad dash to finish. Add to that my vision-impairment and preparing dinner was quite the adventure.
I still use a cookbook for each dish so I’d always have an open cookbook, sugar and flour canisters, measuring spoons, a magnifying glass, olive oil, mixing bowls and pans strewn around the kitchen, which was small to begin with.
My friend also called me without fail in the middle of my preparation to ask me, highly amused, if dinner was under motion and under control. I usually had only a moment to talk since with the various buzzers sounding off, the dog underfoot, and my unpredictable vision, I found it difficult to multi-task.
“Gotta go,” I screeched, “The potatoes are boiling over!”
“Don’t forget to turn the burner off,” I’d hear him holler before I threw my phone down.
Sometimes in the chaos I’d hear his voice with the typical, “Amy pick up. You forgot to turn off your phone. I can hear everything going, including your groans, the dog barking and the cat meowing.”
“Oh, sorry!” I usually said and before he could ask the inevitable question, I’d head him off with, “And no, the plastic bags are nowhere near any of the burners.”
“And puh-leez, no paper towels,” he often added, ensuring I’d never hear the end of that fiasco.
On another day, I spent five hours making lasagna, combining the best of two different recipes. I had cleared the counter and table space of all those ingredients and placed the final layer on the lasagna, then carefully slid it into the oven to bake. I was incredibly proud of this dish. I had even washed and dried the dishes while preparing it, such was my organization that day.
When the buzzer went off, with an oven mitt in each hand, I carefully lifted the lasagna out of the oven. The air smelled of old world Italian. Ahhhh! I swiveled to place it on the adjacent counter to cool before taking it down to my mother’s kitchen where I would serve it to my family.
I lowered it down … but unfortunately, my eyes mistook the edge of the counter for the counter, and my lovely, saucy, five-cheese lasagna hit the floor breaking the glass baking dish into a hundred pieces!
I stared, transfixed at the mess at my feet. I couldn’t move. My mother, brother and I had all been sooooo looking forward to tasting that lasagna all afternoon. Seeing shards of glass mixed in with the perfectly arranged noodles, sauce and cheese put me over the edge and I burst into tears. If it hadn’t been for my mother, who for once wisely said nothing, I wouldn’t have been able to bear the pain of that day’s disaster. She took over and cleaned up for me as I sat down, in tears, crying over spilled … lasagna!
We can laugh at that catastrophe now (or I can) but back then it was painful! My vision impairment still enters into my cooking. I have to keep the salt and sugar far apart or someone might get a big surprise when he or she digs into one of my side dishes!
In addition, since I don’t have visual reminders of what is open or closed, I often leave the cupboard doors and an occasional drawer flung half-open. I also have the oven and stove and microwave gong–sometimes all at the same time. So, I often run into something ajar and leave the worse for my wear.
My poor family waits trembling, never knowing if their anticipation will be warranted or if their appetites appeased. I’ve learned to use timers to help me remember to take meat out of freezer (at least by noon!) and I try to come up with a menu plan in advance. I think I’ve got the timing down…if only my eyes would cooperate!
On the days my vision acts up, I roll my eyes and say, “Well, by default, I’m the chief cook here. Unfortunately, the only choice we have is to eat my food or go out for fast food.” Sometimes, my family chooses the latter.
Mistakes range from missing ingredients (breadcrumbs in the meatloaf – making it look like some dark unleavened bread) to watery gravy because I grabbed the cream of tartar instead of cornstarch to thicken it. My arm felt like it would fall off after hours of stirring with no results.
After the usual fifth visit from my brother asking “Is supper almost ready?” I take it from my apartment down to my mother’s kitchen, course by course, and hope for the best!
These days most of the time, my dog, Buddy, is unscathed, the meal is on time and actually, edible.
When everything comes together nicely, I say, “Great job, eyes! What would I have done without you?” They love the praise and dance merrily. I allow them to as long as my body doesn’t follow suit!
That activity, my friends, with all the unseen open cupboard doors and drawers can cause another catastrophe! No dancing in the kitchen.
My success is better left savored but not celebrated!