Friday, December 28, 2012

Turmeric Tea and the New Year

My decision to return to a more natural, less-processed life- and food-style is one that has been coming for a long time. I did this seven years ago with wonderful results (loss of 55lbs, cessation of diabetes symptoms and test results), but I slowly ebbed away from it. Not sure why. Just began to drift into the habits of others around me. This culminated this year with hanging around many smokers. Needless to say, there were many negative outcomes.

With the latest illness that dampened my sense of taste and smell, I knew I had to change. The smokers are no longer in close proximity, and my desire to return to former good habits returned with a vengeance. But, there is always something new to learn!
Turmeric Tea [light yellow milky tea in a white cup]

I discovered a tea that includes a ordinary spice in our cabinets that has been the subject of many studies and continues to be on the radar in health and wellness circles. That spice is turmeric. There are many versions of the tea, but the one I use is this:

8oz almond milk (I like Vanilla)
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
 (I don't have fresh right now, but I have a jar of minced ginger that keeps forever in the refrigerator! I used 1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Dash of black pepper (I have a jar that grates it from peppercorns)
1/2 tsp honey (or other sweetener) to taste

All you have to do is heat up the almond milk to near boiling, and mix in the other ingredients. I don't strain it, but if you don't like the feel of the spices, you could strain it for a smoother taste. Use the honey or other sweetener to your taste. This is as good as  or better than a homemade chai to me!

Turmeric, both fresh and dried powder form
There are many benefits to turmeric. A cousin of ginger, tt has been used for generations as a cooking spice companion to cumin in India, the West Indies and other locations. It is known in the Aurvedic and Chinese health and wellness circles as a potent anti-inflammatory and digestive aid. I am also studying aromatherapy, specifically essential oils and incense, but turmeric is often mentioned as a spice that can be used for its health properties.

But, I must discuss something that is very important. In my studies, I find so many different opinions on what works for different physical conditions. I can not give medical advice or even specific health and wellness advice. What I can do is point you toward established and well trusted links for information and remind everyone that they should always consult their doctor if they are going to add, subtract or change anything in their diet or lifestyle.

With that said, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, turmeric has been shown in studies to fight infections and some cancers, reduce inflammation and treat digestive problems. While this is encouraging, these studies have not been on humans and have concentrated on the main active substance in turmeric, curcumin, a powerful antioxidant. Curcumin fights free radicals in the body as well as lowers the levels of two enzymes in the body that cause inflammation.

Safety concerns around turmeric center around pregnant or breastfeeding women, who should not use it. Also, anyone with a history of ulcers or kidney stones should avoid turmeric as a health/wellness option. It has not been studied in children, so therefore there are no recommendations for that group as well. As a cooking spice, it is safe, but anything other than that, should be avoided by the groups mentioned.

Other areas of concern are diabetics (turmeric may lower blood sugar levels) and anyone on blood thinners (turmeric may act like a blood thinner as well) and medications to reduce stomach acid.

I know that seems a lot, but the safety of my readers is so important to me. So far, I drink one cup of turmeric tea a day. I find that any mucus in my chest and feelings of inflammation in my joints decrease soon after drinking it. Since there is also cinnamon in this tea, the effect may be enhanced, as cinnamon is also known to be an anti-inflammatory spice.

In the upcoming year, I will write more about my journey. There is so much to share! Some upcoming topics include:
  • No more flouride-laden toothpaste
  • Face and skin care from the pantry
  • Spice mixes without the preservatives
  • Natural eating on a budget 
Let me know if you try turmeric tea. Here is also a link for homemade chai tea. Enjoy!

Links for your research: 
American Cancer Society - Turmeric
University of Maryland Medical Center - Turmeric
Medline Plus - Turmeric

Reader Feedback:
What are you doing to increase health and wellness while saving money? And, if there is a food-related health and wellness subject you would like me to cover, let me know. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Foodie Reborn: The New Normal and Loving It!

Woman with eyes closed, breathing...

Yesterday on Facebook, I wrote the following:
Eating a bowl of chili for lunch. Man, it looks good! You know, losing most of my sense of taste and smell makes me appreciate so much in life. I take so much more time now to savor and experience food. I close my eyes and try to catch the slightest aroma. I chew slower and relish textures, putting the faintest tastes down to new memories. I have a new found appreciation for everything I put in my mouth.
It was a profound moment. One that at once acknowledged the changes in my life, and yet, pointed toward the future of how life is so much more interesting and precious.

Often throughout the last two months, I hesitated to write in this blog. I felt that I couldn't do anyone's restaurant or food creation justice, because of the changes I'd been through. I knew in my head that I needed to go on (see the last two entries here and there), but I just couldn't seem to convince my heart that anyone wanted to see me stumble through trying to describe things I could barely taste. I couldn't reconcile it until yesterday afternoon.

Yesterday, I sat down to a bowl of my quick chili, made from a recipe I've worked on for many years. This last creation contained three types of meat; ground turkey, ground beef (20/80) and a good portion of a leftover slow-cooker roast. After two days, I knew it would be perfectly blended and as I reheated a bowl, I performed the ritual that lately has become my norm. I lifted the bowl to my nose, closed my eyes, and breathed in; first the right side and then the left. With eyes closed, I concentrated on scent alone, and I inhaled through each side independently.

I know I can smell from the right side. It is the left side that is blunted and weak. Still, I inhaled, only now with purpose. I know I am training my mind to pick up on whatever it can catch. I am like a visually-impaired person, first learning to use a white cane; relying on other senses and even an inner sense to guide me.

Only after doing this for a couple of seconds, do I begin to taste the food. Again, one side is stronger than the other. I start with the strong side but quickly include the weaker side so that the participation is complete. Closing my eyes once again, I savored the taste of the rice against the longer grain of the roast. The smooth, silky slip of French Onion Dip - a last minute sub for sour cream (which turned out to be a hit!) - descends into and in between the spicy beans and granules of ground meats. As I chew, the mixture blends together, breaks apart into different sensations and melds back again.

It is glorious!

In the past, being a foodie was something I took for granted. I had a wonderful sense of smell, inherited from my mother (she was the type to smell the gas from the stove before you opened the door!) and I enjoyed everything new and different. Where friends hesitated, I dove right into different cuisines, dishes and ethnic treats. From my teen years on, sampling the new and revisiting the tried and true was a mainstay of my life, regardless of where I lived or jobs I held. Now, with my senses dulled, I'm forced to appreciate every....single...thing, every...single...bite. Things as simply as tomato soup or a cheddar multi-grain chip or liverwurst on swirl rye and pump; nothing is taken for granted.

Pile of multi-grain chips. Savory bits of cheddar crunch!

No longer do I rush any meal. No longer am I bored at repeats of any food. If it has spent a day or two blending flavors, I stop to notice it. I close my eyes and breathe in deeply at every plate and glass before even taking a bite or a sip.

The old adage is true. What was meant to destroy me has made me stronger. An illness I thought would destroy my desire for food and its aftermath is the driving force for how I enjoy food more and more.

In about two days, I will join the local advocacy group W.E.A.N. - Charlotte for a holiday get-together at disability-friendly Cheddars restaurant in the University area of Charlotte. It will be the first restaurant/food spot review since October. I can't wait! I intend to savor every dish...and maybe even those of my dining mates! I am a foodie reborn!

Stay tuned...

Readers Turn to Share: 
What has made you stronger though you were convinced at first it wouldn't?  How has it changed your  relationship to ordinary things in life or social interactions?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cooking Is Therapy

Image created by Ops! Studio
I am sure others could write more eloquently on this subject. There are programs that use cooking as a rehabilitative program for people who are marginalized in society. There are cooking classes for children with autism. So, I know there are experts in the field of therapy who could take this and make it into a dissertation. But, my ability to focus has changed since I became ill over a month ago, so I am only going to write what I can.

Every day is a struggle for me lately. Not sure whether it was the original illness or the steroids that followed, but my cognitive skills have suffered. Not really complaining, but between that and the loss of the ability to smell and taste clearly, writing a blog about food has changed position on my priority list.

Until just about an hour ago.

Just about an hour ago, I took out all the ingredients for my Pumpkin Bread recipe. What started out as a simple recipe downloaded from a food site has turned into an annual ritual for my family, neighbors and friends. As I took everything out, I could feel my spirits rise just a bit. Then I went and sat down.

I am not one to linger on the negativity, but I felt overwhelmed. Just to do a simple recipe that I've done many times before seemed too much. After another 20 minutes went by, I returned to the kitchen and began to measure and mix my ingredients.

And, then it happened. I felt whole. Measuring the spices, mixing my dry and wet ingredients separately, pulling upon the knowledge I know is stored in my head; all this felt exhilarating!

As everything became incorporated and I poured the batter into two floured and greased glass loaf pans, the sense of accomplishment was almost palatable, and I heard the words in my mind: Cooking Is Therapy. that was all I needed to hear and know.

It may be that I will always need a taste-tester. And it is difficult to accept that for an indefinite period of time, I am without the ability to taste and smell clearly. It has rocked my little foodie world.

But, today, after sliding the pans into a 350 degree oven, I felt the desire and capacity to write about this experience; a capacity I haven't felt for nearly six weeks.

Two glass loaf pans in the oven!
I can't say whether my writing will be the same. I know two of my sense are not. Just faintly, I caught the scent of nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and clove as I added them to the dry ingredients. A little stronger was the sweetness of the batter (the sense of sweetness is the only one that has returned to a decent level) and I remembered how well it went with a Spiced Cream Cheese Dip. I may have to write from memory and share only the past. But, cooking is my therapy. It is my gateway to the world and a way to continue to share and connect.

As the holidays approach, I will continue to make sweet treats for my family (my sister is supposed to ship cinnamon baking chips next week!). It is okay to talk about sweet things this time of year and if it spurs my cooking and writing, all the better! If you are not into home baking or are just looking for good sweets around Charlotte, NC, please don't forget our local bakers and confectioners. Here are some of my favorites. Please feel free to list some of your local or online favorites!

Charlotte, NC
- Nona Sweets
- Southern Cake Queen (Mobile)
- The Blushing Bakeshop
- Suarez Bakery

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Two Weeks of Highs and Lows and a New Resolve

Realizing that I have not posted in over two weeks, I have to bring you, my readers, up to date on where I am physically right now. It doesn't seem possible, and yet, so much has happened in 14-16 days. One of the most miraculous things has happen to me, and then another devastating physical setback has happened as well.

Roughly, just over two weeks, the miraculous happened. After thinking that I was completely deaf in my right ear for all of my life (I have no recollection of hearing in that ear from my childhood), I found out that while severely hard of hearing, I can hear and understand language using a hearing aid. This was a complete shock to me, because a hearing aid has never been offered as a option my whole life. I've seen specialists after specialist from New York to Baltimore and even two recommended audiologists here in Charlotte, NC, only to be turned away.

The angel in disguise of a doctor is Sean McCalvin of Beltone. He and his lovely wife, JoAnna, will never know the depths of admiration I feel for them. They run a compassionate, caring facility that is completely interested in honest, courteous service to those dealing with  hearing issues. Please Google them if you are local, and feel free to tell them I recommended you. I feel as if I made friends, not just medical partners. As I told everyone who would sit still, the event changed my life.

But, isn't life interesting? We never know what is around the corner, because the next thing coming around the bend could make life better or just a little harder. Though I never run from a challenge, it is never easy to revisit a physical setback.

Starting October 10th and culminating by the 13th, I suffered my second bout of Bell's Palsy. A quick explanation of Bell's Palsy is facial paralysis that usually affects one side of the face, stemming from inflammation to the cranial nerves. Six years ago, I dealt with right-sided paralysis (that left me with lingering vertigo), this time it was my left side. Recognizing the symptoms right away, I avoided the ER and made an appointment with my wonderful general doctor, Gregory Collins, MD. He took one look at me, asked me to smile, then prescribed the usual regimen: steroids and anti-viral medication. I have also added essential B vitamins, biotin and other supplements that can promote healing.

At this point, how can I describe my feelings and position in life right now?

When all this happened, I was on my way to creating an accepted niche for this blog, and was about to embark on creating a new non-profit for the Charlotte, NC area called Celebrate Connections. My calendar was filling up with volunteer and networking opportunities. There were new speaking and panel discussion opportunities. I looked forward to more travel, interaction and advocacy. Establishing myself as a trusted and consistent local advocate was my first and foremost goal. And, giddy with the knowledge of my ability to hear, I immediately launched an online fundraiser campaign to help me cover the cost of the hearing aid. As my goal always includes awareness and advocacy, a good friend and I concocted hearing awareness and fundraising events that would gather friends and family, but also reach out to the public.

All of which has slowed down to a crawl.

Right now, I have to keep stress to a minimum. I have to concentrate on massages, exercises and rest to promote healing of the inflamed and damaged nerves in my face. And, I have to regain my shaken sense of self.

I have never been a vain person, but I am very aware of my frozen face. Eating is not a spectator sport. Having only one eye to rely on (and that being my weaker eye) and renewed disorientation and vertigo means that someone must drive me everywhere, and accompany me up steps and down inclines. I move slowly and very deliberately.

I can't imagine going out to sample any new food spot. Literally, I can barely taste or smell anything unless it is highly seasoned and it still tastes like a 9-volt battery with seasoning. How does a foodie survive this?

Dear readers, I realize that we don't have the answers to why we go through things. I will not try to answer that question. But I tell you this much I have come to understand in these last two weeks. I understand that if I allow this to stop me, I am not fit to be an advocate. If I don't continue to write this blog, go out and speak to people and make a difference, then I have no right to say I can support and empower anyone. If I do not try to experience all I love in life, culture and food, I need to stop right now.

All support and empowerment starts within ourselves. I know on what power I draw my strength, and I ask you to bear with me while I heal. Often, I am in my bed, typing with two fingers on a very slow tablet. Today, I set the alarm and allowed myself 20 minutes to write this blog post. There are no pictures and no links. That takes longer, but I will get back to supplying extra resources and links later.

If you will bear with me, I will continue to take on my challenges. If I don't, how can I ask you to take on yours?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

CaptionCall Phone - Call Me!

Today is the day!

Today, James, my CaptionCall representative, came to install a wonderful new captioning phone in my house. For some of you who have visited my home, you know I have four extensions spread out throughout the house, though you may not know why. For one, they are there so I don't have to run from any particular room to another to get the phone, but also, because I deal with SSD - Single Sided Deafness. With multiple extensions, I don't have to guess or wonder if the phone is ringing.

I have dealt with SSD or unilateral hearing loss almost all of my life, but lately, it has become a frustration with which I have lost patience. To hear family members while at a get-together, to hear all of the conversation when out with friends at a neighborhood pub or restaurant, to attend a outdoor festival or exhibit opening; all these types of events have become harder and harder for me to enjoy. I find myself avoiding large gathering, even though my passion for disability awareness demands I deal with events. How I dealt with it as a child, I don't remember exactly, but I do know I avoided the lunch room at school and stayed with a small group of kids on the playground, choosing quieter games than the noisy, crowd-related ones. There wasn't very much volleyball or softball for me.

[Description: Cubicle with welcome mat, flowers and paper at the front]
As an adult, I chose jobs that didn't have a lot of background noise, favoring assignments and positions where I had my own cubicle or office. But, meetings were and are still hard. I am about to be fitted with a hearing device that may help me soon, but today, it was all about making phone usage easier.

Two years ago, when I had a virtual contract job, as overjoyed as I was to work at home, I knew I needed a headset to make the experience of talking to our vendors and bankers easier. I bought a Plantronic T10 and a Fanstel Amplified phone. Both had their uses and I enjoyed using both. But, I quickly outgrew the Plantronic and accidentally dropped the Fanstel, which caused several features to stop working. So for the last year, I have been without a desk phone.

Since the goal is to start a non-profit this year, I knew I had to change this situation. I believe I found out about the CaptionCall phone through an Facebook affiliate, CCAC Captioning. After filling out a form, James contacted me and set up an appointment to install the phone.

The CaptionCall phone works by quickly relaying the voice of your caller through a voice-recognition and transcription service, sending back the written transcript of the conversation. I can scroll throughout the written part, while still hearing my caller.  We have ATT U-Verse, so James connected the phone to our router and even though my router wanted to give him a hard time, the service was up and ready in a short time.

[Description: CaptonCall Phone in black on desk]
[Description: Lighted screen on phon
First off, I LOVE the screen! It is large enough that I don't have to squint or lean over to read it. The type is large and back-lit which works for me. I admit my visual impairment is not severe, so this may not work for everyone. The handset is comfortable and the stylish black unit fits in with my large flat-screen monitor and CCTV. It can hold 200 contacts and allows me to change speaker volume, switch ringer tones as well as amplify the ringer.

I will let you know in a follow-up post if there are any complications, but so far, so good. When my youngest son called to tell me he was on his way home, the accuracy was above 90%, and I enjoyed being able to scroll back over our conversation. There is a momentary delay, but remember, the caller's voice is sent through voice recognition and a transcription service, and it is minimal.

The CaptionCall phone will help me immensely to stay productive as my phone load increases. It will allow me to follow a conversation as well as clarify anything I may miss. I cannot tell you how much this phone will make a difference in my productivity!

And, if that were not enough, right now, the phone and the service are FREE. This is a limited time offer that includes a free CaptionCall phone, free delivery and installation assistance, and ongoing free captioning service funded by the FCC.  There are no hidden charges and no out of pocket expenses. And, the only requirement to participate in this offer is that you have difficulty hearing on the phone due to hearing loss.

So, if you think you can use this product or know someone else who can, please feel free to:
  • Use promo code: CBS67503
  • Go to
  • Click on green "Request Info" link at the top of the page
  • Enter the promo code and your information.
Someone will get in touch with you, talk to you about the phone and set up a time for an installation. As long as you have a phone line and the Internet, you are good!

Now, it is your turn. Do you have the CaptionCall phone already? How is it working for you? Feel free to send in your experiences and suggestions. I am looking forward to "hearing" from you!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kitchen Skills, Gimmicks and Accessible Technology

Every day on FB, people post videos from Youtube. Some are cute, some are silly.

Today, I came across this video that shows how to use a empty water bottle to separate egg yolks from the whites. My oldest son leaned over my shoulder as I watched it, and let me know he thought it was cool. I thought so, too! I mean, I sure didn't think to use the suction capability of an empty water bottle to suck the egg  yolk up and deposit it in another container. Sounds simple and yet, I didn't think of it. Wow! Take a look and see for yourself.

However, a very good FB friend and fellow disability advocate chimed in to say that she didn't like gimmicks like this, and that it would be better to teach good kitchen skills instead. Being an accomplished chef and former restaurant owner, she naturally leans toward good technique and skill in the kitchen.

Although I agree with her for the most part, my son has autism and has never mastered the rocking the egg back and forth in the shell technique. I was happy he took such a liking to this. After all, in our house, we encourage cooking even if someone hasn't mastered all the traditional kitchen skills. Sometimes, it is more important to focus on making kitchen chores fun or learning how to be prepare a meal using a gadget or two rather than rely on Mom for food prep.

My son at 20, loves to cook in the kitchen. He first became responsible for meals when he was 9 and his brother was 4 and 1/2. At the time, I was dealing with severely limited mobility and after losing my only set of contact lenses, was legally blind. As a single parent, I found myself leaving dinner up to him. Of course, in the beginning, I sat nearby as long as I could sit, but as he became more and more accomplished, I would only listen in and use my sense of smell to supervise. With the typical limited fine motor skills many children with autism deal with, he did what he could handle, and used gadgets where it saved time and avoided adding confusion and frustration.

For example, he learned strong knife skills from making sure he had a sharp knife to how to hold a chef knife properly. Using the color-coded cutting board I had been given for my visual impairment, he learned how to cut onions, celery, etc. But, I also allowed him to use the food processor in order to speed up the dicing process or avoid dealing with knives if he felt uncomfortable or was excessively tired that day.

In fact, when it comes to separating egg yolks from whites, we already had a gadget. While strolling through one of my favorite kitchen accessory stores, Sur le Table, I found the gadget pictured to the left. My son loves it! This item allowed him to separate many eggs quickly and put the covered whites in the fridge for another use. We use this at least once a week. My young son who deals with memory deficits and has yet to master many cooking techniques uses it as well. With its color-coded cups and lids (the cups are different sizes as well, so I can feel the difference if need be) and simple measurements, this has been well worth the purchase.

I also thought about a recent Gadget Magic workshop I attended at Metrolina Association for the Blind. Many gadgets that were meant for other reasons were re-purposed to assist people with visual impairments and other impairments remain active in their kitchen.

So, in the end, I come away wanting to share with you ideas my friend had to help interest children in the cooking process while promoting good skills, but also want to remind you to have some fun! Do something unique! Look at the world a little differently and see how you can spark interest in the kitchen. Watch a video and experiment with gadgets with you children. Especially if you or your children are dealing with disabling conditions, getting comfortable in the kitchen is important, whether you can "rock the egg" or not.

Mia's suggestions:
  1. Teach the shell method as a magic trick and give prize to the one who does it with out breaking the yoke and dropping it into the bowl.
  2. Teach all cooking to kids as magic.
  3. Have toddlers dress up like the characters from Ratatouille the Movie or Merlin the Magician.
  4. When they are older,  use it a a science experiment.
  5. Have the little ones grow herbs in window boxes.
  6. Put seeds in egg containers, on damp cotton balls or put seedlings in toilet roll centers filled with soil. Teach them Seed to Plate Mentality. When you do, their IQ goes up, their health is better, and you have peace at meal-time because they are eating what they grew.
  7. Ask questions at the table (Q: What does a scientist call a vinaigrette? A: an emulsion!) and let the first one who gets it right choose what the family has for desert.
A Closing Word from Mia:
  • With morbid obesity killing our country, we must make food interesting smart and part of every day life.
I second that thought!

Now, it is your turn.  Do you use gadgets or "gimmicks" in the kitchen? What are some of your favorites? What are some tips and suggestions you can give families to promote interest in the kitchen?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

My Three Sons - New Flavor!

While walking through my local Harris Teeter, I love to come across the display tables! There is always some delicious, delectable drop of goodness to be found and yesterday was no different.

Right near the cheese and bread aisle was a table for My Three Sons (MTS). I was kind of surprised, because MTS has been a regular now for some time. If you read my blog post on pimiento cheese, you know they are one of my favorites. But, to my greater surprise and happiness, there was a new flavor: Spicy White Cheddar.

In fact, not only was there a new flavor, but a new product.

Clear cups with covers, filled with pita chips on the bottom and a small container of pimiento cheese resting on top.

Had to bring one home for the family [Snack cup]
New to the market are snack cups; a convenient travel up with pita chips on the bottom and a small container of pimiento cheese on top. Obviously made for those of us who can't wait to return home to get back to our pimiento cheese, these snack cup would easily fit in a lunch bag with a cooling gel pack. The snack cup come with Original flavor and Spicy White Cheddar.

The new flavor, Spicy White Cheddar, was marvelous! A smoky and even cayenne pepper heat permeated the super flavorful white cheddar cheese spread. Not too hot, it was a perfect mix of Vermont cheddar cheese and warmth. I guess you can tell I love it.

For now, the snack pack will be available in Original and the Spicy White Cheddar. I had to ask when a full tub of the new flavor would be available. With a secretive smile, our server murmured, "There is a tub, but right now, the snack cup will be available at Harris Teeter only. Oh, I just LOVE to be in on the special flavors and locations!! I couldn't worm any other secrets out of her, so for now, run, roll, stroll down to your nearest Harris Teeter and try Spicy White Cheddar.

Leave me a comment when you have tried it, and let me know what you think. Hope the new tubs are out by the holidays! My Three Sons, are you listening?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Cooking Without Looking Show

More than a year ago, during my many perusals of FB, I came across a page about a cooking show called Cooking Without Looking. Now, I can't pass up any cooking/foodie-related show, so I clicked the link to check it out. What I thought was a simple click has turned into an online friendship with the creator and executive producer, Ren'ee Rentmeester, and a deep, loyal love for her show.

Not too long ago, when I heard that the show's website was going through an overhaul, I reached out to Ren'ee and asked her if I could interview her in celebration of the new site. As a foodie, I felt honored to cross the geographical barriers of our locations, and "sit down" with a woman with a grand vision.

Ren'ee's bio reads like an intriguing journey of an unfolding focus. It begins with the early expression of her love with media and journalism at 17, when she went to work for WLUK-TV in Green Bay, WI. And, with her degree in Journalism (minor in Political Science/International Relations), she began her career in full at an CBS-TV affiliate in Miami in a series of positions that range from Promotion/Ad Copywriter to Press/Community Relations Director/Producer.

A twice Emmy nominee, Ren'ee won an American Heart Association award for a series of PSA on people who experienced a stroke in middle-age. After opening her own Advertistin/Public/Media Relations company in 1996 to growing success, winning an award for volunteering for March of Dimes, and sitting on numerous boards, Ren'ee began researching the area that would lead to her ground-breaking series.

In 2000, the non-profit Vision World Foundation was born, which is the parent company for the show, Cooking Without Looking. The show has rave reviews from people from it's immediate viewing area in South Florida to people who now have access to past show clips and recipes on Youtube, Vimeo and Facebook.

The Cooking Without Looking Group (from left to right) Celia Chacon, Allen Preston, Ren'ee Rentmeester and Annette Watkins
The three hosts and guest chefs all deal with visual impairments of varying degrees. But, the show does more than just give quick tips and recipes for the visually impaired. There is a section where helpful kitchen items are discussed and awareness is given to different eye conditions and disorders. In the discussion, there is not the typical emphasis on "tragedy and inspirational characters," but on people who live real lives, love to cook and eat good food. That approach, I believe, is the reason for it's success. 

Too often, stories, shows and the media make disability awareness and advocacy focus on the heroic character instead of the neighbor next door, who has a great recipe collection. On Cooking Without Looking, the emphasis is on adaptation so we all can enjoy a good meal. We hear about accommodations as the meat sizzles in the background, creating the perfect kitchen ambiance. We watch a tool being used to incorporate ingredients into a sauce as the hosts toss about humorous banter. For me, this show illustrates my approach to advocacy; let's enjoy each other's company and differences: let's focus on life and food! 

Below is the complete interview with Ren'ee Rentmeester, creator of The Cooking Without Looking Show. Don't forget to sign up for the FREE Ebook at the new and improved website, and share the site with others!

F4A: What made you start Cooking Without Looking?
I had served on many boards of non-profits for most of my life because, as a person in the media, you must reach out into the community, and this meant lending my media expertise pro bono to both national and local non-profits.

I wanted to start something where we could help people who, no matter what their race, creed, ethnicity, financial situation, needed help. Blindness worked, so, as I did my research (2001) I found that there were a multitude of blind people on listservs who loved to cook. In fact, those were the most popular listservs. That's how I began my research since I had never met anyone who was blind. I could get an honest assessment since people where just writing about their experiences as people who were blind.

That intrigued me, so I began looking around Miami blind chefs, and I found one. We shot a pilot for PBS, and it got picked up. As it went on, many people wanted  just regular, everyday people who were blind, and that's when I started to speak to groups and there was an amazing number of people without eyesight who told me
they always wanted to be cooking on TV.

F4A: Can you tell me a little bit about each host and what they bring to the show?

Annette Watkins: She has been with us from the very beginning. She does the Food for Thought Segment where we feature what's new in accessibility, doctors, research, etc. She also gives us the 'healthy' recipes for improved eyesight. Annette has Stargaardt's.

Allen Preston: He's also been with us from the beginning. He talks about tips and keeping it clean, and some of the simpler recipes.

Chef Don White: Our classically trained chef, Don gives us food history, tips, and some of the most amazingly delicious recipes that you can cook on a budget.

Sabrina Deaton and Dr. Marc Gannon: present 'Macular Moment' and discuss research for the number one eye disease, Macular Degeneration. Dr. Gannon is director of the Low Vision Institute and has been a long time supporter (right from the beginning) of the Cooking Without Looking TV Show.

F4A: What are the challenges in producing a show like this?

Actually, I had to think about this because we have so much fun, that I  haven't stopped to think about the challenges. Mostly, it's getting advertisers to understand that if you have a show with people who are blind in it, that that means you will have your regular viewers, plus the blind folks. They think that only blind people will watch.

We've found that to be incorrect. In the 11 years we've been producing the show, it's really about 50/50 blind to sighted. The fact of the matter is that anyone who cooks can use all of these tips. It's just that if you're blind or have a visual impairment, they make it easier for you.

Other people who are especially attracted to the show:
- Beginner cooks;
- Bachelors/Bachelorettes;
- College students;
- Newlyweds;
- The self-admitted “cooking impaired”;
- People who like to cook, and would like some new, out-of-the-box tips;
- People who eat…

F4A: Do you have any difficulty getting guests to be on the show?

No, as a matter of fact, they call us and invite themselves, lol!

F4A: Do you have difficulty getting sponsors? What is the response of the corporate/entertainment world?

The response has changed throughout the years. But, it's a constant educational process. We are always fighting off the old stereotypes of what people believe blind people are or what they do.

F4A: Who comes up with the recipes? 

Everyone brings their own recipes. To help them make their choices, I tell them to imagine that they want to impress company which is coming over. What would
they like to make?

F4A: Are there bloopers? What are they like?

Yes, there are bloopers, but not as many as you would think. On some shows, we do outtakes at the end of the show. One of our famous ones was when a blind chef with macular degeneration grabbed for what he thought was a white towel. It was really a bowl of whipped cream.

When I edit, I leave those in because people have told me that when they see someone on TV make a mistake, it empowers them to go back into the kitchen and cook fearlessly.

F4A: What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in producing this show?

I've learned not to fear blindness because I've met so many people who have gone blind and just used it as a challenge which they have to overcome.

Also, it's not about the's about the ability we all possess. When I counsel people who call in telling me that they've lost their eyesight, I try to help them understand that there's so much more to them than their eyesight. There's so much more life to be lived beyond what we see.

F4A: Is there anything the community of PwDs can do to support the show?

Glad you asked. We see how excited people get about Christine, the blind chef on the Masters. We are trying to get The Food Network, namely their sister station, The Cooking Channel to understand the necessity for this show. We want them to know with the Baby Boomer population, the blind/visually impaired/low vision community is growing by leaps and bounds. Also, this will add to the number of people watching the network, not limit it to people with limited eyesight.

Here are the contact names and numbers to call in your support:

Food Network General Manager: Bob Tuschman
Vice President of Programming for the Cooking Channel: Jen Quainton (
 Food Network Main Line:  212.398.8836
Just ask for Bob Tuschman or Jen Quainton
Lauren, his assistant:  212.401.5360

F4A: Are there any future plans, additions or changes for the show?

We are shooting on location and out of the studio. We are building a new website. People will be able to become one of our club members for a $27 fee.

Scott Treeman is a pianist who is blind and he scores the original music for our show. Our announcer is a young blind broadcaster by the name of Brian Macko.

F4A: Will there be a cook book/dvd released? I want one!

We have a Cooking Without Looking TV Show Cookbook with recipes from
the first three seasons. It comes with a descriptive CD.

We also have OFFICIAL Cooking Without Looking TV Show Aprons just like the hosts wear.

F4A: Are there plans to close caption the segments? I want to share this with everyone in my network, and I have several friends who will tune in if there is captioning.

All shows are closed captioned.

F4A: What do you want people to remember about you and the show?

I want people to remember that we were the first TV show to illustrate that just because you don't have eye sight doesn't mean that you have to give up on your hopes and dreams for a meaningful life. That, there's a place for you to exhibit your own special skills; and that no matter what life hands us, there's a way around our challenges.

Our show is about inclusion, and not exclusion. There's room for everyone at this party we call, 'life.'