On the Shelf: A Tour of the Accessible Kitchen (Part 1)

From time to time, I glance at the list of topics I plan to cover in the future of On the Blink, and nothing stands out. As I run my eye over the items on the list, I try to imagine the entry I would compose for each one. Feeling uninspired but eager to write, I publicize my lack of inspiration and ask my friends for help. This entry is a result of one of those times.

My friends’ most recent suggestions included: piano lessons, Tolkien, favorite pastries, favorite childhood hobbies, hummus, cooking tips, mangoes, literary influences, pets, challenges I’ve found a way around, favorite recipes, and more. The careful reader will indubitably observe a prevalent theme in this list.

So I am embarking on another food-related entry, not of my own volition, but because I am friends with a bunch of foodies and they demand it! However, this post will not be limited to food. I will attempt to present cooking as a challenge overcome – not my challenge per se, but a perceived challenge. After all, sighted people often expect blind cooks to have difficulties, and some ill-informed person once said that you eat with your eyes. So maybe we’ll be tackling some clichés here as well!

Let’s begin with the tools I use for cooking.

If you walk into our kitchen from the hallway entrance, you can look to your left and see what we have designated as “Emily’s shelves” — a wire rack of four large shelves, each packed to the gills with my preferred cooking materials. The top shelf boasts nothing but spices, arranged by flavor and classification. Dried herbs like thyme, rosemary, herbes de Provence, oregano, and tarragon are grouped together. Allspice, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, curry powder, and garam massala make up what I call the “aromatics” section. Between the aromatics and the peppers (cayenne, smoked paprika, black pepper, and red pepper flakes), stands a small, plucky line of extracts. The vanilla, hazelnut, orange, and eggnog extract, each packaged in a little bottle, are an easy tactile divider between the sections of the spice rack. Because spices are often sold in uniform containers, arrangement of the rack is key. I haven’t bothered to make braille labels for each bottle, because it takes less time to pick up the spice and flip open the lid. Rosemary, with its punchy, woodsy aroma, smells drastically different from tarragon, a warmer, smoother scent.

The next shelf down holds all my teas and coffees. Some tea is stored in a wooden tea box with 12 sections for individual teabags. Other loose teas sit on the rack in their canisters. Unlike the spices, the teas are packaged in unique containers, making them easy to identify by touch. The next rack down is the snack rack, but it also contains miscellaneous ingredients for cooking – hot sauce, instant coffee, crystalized ginger, flaxseed, cider vinegar, dried fruit, almonds, nutella, and olive oil. I keep these here so that I don’t have to search the pantry for them. I’m too short to reach most items in our cabinets anyway.

The bottom shelf offers all the implements necessary to my culinary success. From the ground up, the rack holds two cutting boards – one red and one black. I use these when I’m preparing food, because foods contrast nicely with the dark surface. Most kitchens are designed with bright lighting, and a white cutting board intensifies the glare. Even when I’m dicing a red onion, I prefer to use the red cutting board.

(I use red onions not only because I love their flavor, but because the red peel is much easier for me to see. I have difficulty peeling yellow onions because their papery skin does not offer as much contrast to the white layers underneath.)

If you continue to explore the bottom shelf, you will find an 8-inch skillet, an avocado green omelette pan, a bright red reusable water bottle, a glass measuring cup for liquids, and matching sets of metal measuring cups and spoons. Like the cutting boards, the skillet provides a dark (contrasting) surface on which to sauté veggies or scramble eggs. The omelette pan does not offer a high contrast surface, but it does what I have not yet learned to do: it successfully flips my omelettes! And yes, as the color attests, it is from the seventies – it has good kitchen juju because Mom used it to make Dad tons of omelettes in their early years!

The glass measuring cup has large bold numbers that are easy for me to read. The metal measuring cups and spoons have engraved measurements on them which I can feel and read! Though I don’t cook with the red water bottle, I take it everywhere; its bright hue makes it easy to spot on a desk at work or on the risers at chorus rehearsal.

Two dark purple oven mitts hang from the ornamental scrollwork on the sides of the shelving. The outside of the mitts is a rubbery silicon material, while the inside is lined with fabric. When I put them on, they cover most of my arm – an ideal complement to my limited depth perception as I’m reaching into the oven to retrieve what I’ve prepared.

Crystal helped me pick out the oven mitts at the outlets in St. Augustine. The mitts I chose came in two colors: dark purple and pumpkin orange. I desperately wanted the orange, a much lighter shade than the purple, but, as I reached for them, Crystal sternly asked, “Can you see those as well as you can see the purple ones?” I grumbled and shook my head, and, reluctantly, I put back the orange and picked up the purple. The mitts are dark and easy for me to spot on the counter, the table, or the pale surface of the stovetop.

As you move around the kitchen, you’ll find other items that I frequently use – the garlic press, the cheese grater, the large chef’s knife, the Y-shaped vegetable peeler – but these items are not especially tailored to my visual preferences. All the cooks of the house use these items so they stay in their usual places and are easy to locate when I need them.

You will also pass by our microwave, and you might notice that its white surface bears some unconventional markings. Mom has taken a thick permanent marker and traced over the lines of the touchpad, making it much easier to spot the buttons. Sometimes, little circles of tactile tape (a scratchy tape often used to mark the edges of stairs) will appear near the important buttons on the dishwasher or stove – but unfortunately, they disappear after a thorough scrubbing of the appliance.

Knowing my way around the kitchen, I feel confident trying out new recipes or conducting culinary experiments. Nothing can impede my preparation of a quiche, a stir-fry, a casserole, a Greek pasta salad, or a batch of ginger cookies.

But I must use this culinary access responsibly.

Now that I am very familiar with all our appliances, I am not relieved of my dishwashing duties when my tactile labels fall off!

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