Cooking in an Unfamiliar Environment
Last week I went away for yet another training camp in Mallorca. Only this time it was slightly different. For the first time in my 10 years of being on the British Cycling Paracycling Squad, we went self-catering. Now I love cooking, and in many ways found this idea very appealing as it gave me far more control over what I would be eating, but it also filled me with quite a bit of trepidation.
My biggest concern was, what would the kitchen be like? Would I be able to use everything on my own? Obviously the environment would not have been designed with a blind person in mind and so it would likely be far trickier to use than in my own home environment. I must admit, I was also a little nervous that people wouldn’t like my cooking. Most people now know I like cooking and have a food blog and so there would be a level of expectation of my food. In Cooking On Gas I explain some of the considerations around choosing your source of heat for your hob when you can’t see and how I really struggle with a flat top stove. I was fully expecting the kitchen in Mallorca to be flat top, as most modern kitchen’s have one and I was correct. I also explain in my post about my Talking Microwave that often microwaves are hard to programme when you can’t see. Turns out, this one was also hard to programme if you could see, so at least I wasn’t on my own, but highlighted yet another issue with making sure a kitchen is accessible. The other issue we came across with the facilities we had was that there was only a limited amount of equipment, 1 knife, 1 chopping board, 1 small frying pan and 2 other pans was pretty much all we had. Fortunately, in our apartment, there were only 3 of us and we were willing to share and work together, but it was quite restrictive.
The biggest issue I had with the limited equipment was food hygiene. At home I have specific and separate chopping boards and knives for meat, fish and vegetables, and I wasn’t comfortable with not having the facilities to maintain my food hygiene standards. This was further emphasised as a problem in our apartment, as one of us doesn’t eat meat, so it would be wrong to have to risk contamination. Fortunately there were spares in other apartments that we were able to access.
The hob was a flat top 2-ring electric stove. It took me a little while to learn how to work with it, but I did eventually manage to figure it out through trial and error and only the occasional burned finger. It did however mean that my first attempt at boiling eggs did not quite go to plan as it took me 5 minutes or more to work out how to get the pan hot enough to keep the water boiling, making the eggs a little too hard boiled and incredibly difficult to peel.
The pans themselves were also not great. One of them didn’t quite have a flat bottom and so would wobble around on the hob. They also were definitely not non-stick and when I tried to cook pasta, ended up sticking the majority of it to the bottom of the pan, something I’ve never experienced before. We did however manage to successfully make several meals on the hob including fajitas, veggie chilli and Corrine made a rather tasty curry.
My biggest problem was the microwave. At home I use mine daily to make my porridge in the morning. I wanted to continue this routine while away and so got Corrine to show me how to use it. Unfortunately this wasn’t simple. The controls were a flat screen with touch buttons. We figured out the easiest way to make it accessible was to only stick to one button at the bottom right hand corner that did 30 second bursts of heat. If you pressed it multiple times before it started then it would add up the time, but you had to be quick and keep count of presses. Fortunately at least, each time you pressed the button it beeped, which gave me a point of reference. I did really struggle with the microwave though and kept exploding my porridge all over the inside of the machine. Out of the 6 times I made my porridge, I only successfully kept all of it in the bowl twice. I really won’t miss that microwave. We did successfully make scrambled eggs in it once, but that was with the help of Corrine and I doubt I would have achieved it without her.
I obviously couldn’t take my talking microwave with me, but I did miss it. The one talking thing I did take with me to help in the kitchen was my talking scales. This did at least allow me to control my portion sizes and maintain some routine. I also took my measuring cup, but that is it. Next time if i’m faced with a similar situation, I would try and take more things with me including my own knives and my Joseph Joseph chop-to-pot chopping boards as these were the tools I think I missed the most. One of the things I learned while I was away, is that its not just me that struggles to transfer prepared vegetables from chopping board to pan without any spillage and my chop to pot boards are brilliant at preventing this from happening.
For all of my concerns and reservations, I did at least manage to successfully cook on my own one night for everyone. I chose to keep it simple by making a jambalaya, which only requires one pan and minimal equipment. As Corrine doesn’t eat meat, only fish, I made it with prawns instead of chicken or chorizo and added lots of vegetables including kidney beans, sweetcorn, tomatoes, celery, pepper, courgette and spinach. The most difficult part of the meal was making sure the rice was cooked enough. I know the timings perfectly with the rice I use at home and on my own cooker, but I needed to adjust them with this one. Frustratingly it took longer than planned for the rice to cook and wasn’t quite the usual texture, but it still tasted good and everyone who tried it seemed to like it fortunately.
Overall it was an interesting experience. It proved to me that I can adapt and cook in a strange environment with a little help and teamwork around me. It highlighted the adaptations I’ve unconsciously made at home to make cooking easier and it identified the things I take for granted in my kitchen. Overall I think it was a success, as I didn’t cut myself, or burn myself, set fire to the place or burn my food. My food wasn’t quite to the standard i’m used to or set myself, but it was edible and healthy and I was able to help and cook for the people around me. It was however a little more stressful than normal and required a lot more planning. It is an experience I would prefer not to repeat and I was very glad to get home and back to my own kitchen. I was very relieved to discover on my first morning home that I could still make porridge and not have to clean up mess from the inside of the microwave each day. Its the simple things really I guess.
Thanks for reading and speak soon.