“OH YEAH.” That’s Rachel Pavone’s enthusiastic, unhesitant response to the question “Are you a good cook?” That’s what happens, she adds, when you grow up with a father who cooked in an Italian restaurant. “He made pizza at home including crust from scratch.” Rachel said her mother was a whiz in the kitchen too. So much so that along the way Rachel and her sister learned many methods and recipes. Unfortunately, those recipes do not include exactly how her dad made his mouthwatering pasta sauce. “I have the recipe,” Rachel laments, “but it never turns out as good as his did.”
Rachel, a Vision Rehabilitation Therapist at the Council, began losing her sight just before college, but she never slowed down in the kitchen. Now she shows others with limited or no vision how to smoothly navigate kitchen spaces and use special tools to keep cooking. She says it’s first and foremost about safety.
“The most intimidating tasks when I first started losing vision were using the stove and the oven because of the heat. It scares you with the heat,” Rachel says. “Also knives were intimidating. That’s another thing that scares people, sharp knives.”
Rachel has general tips and practices to keep things safe and running smoothly in the kitchen. Also tips on specific utensils and accessories. On the former, she advises people with impaired vision who live with sighted partners or roommates to make sure their housemates always keep items that could cut or harm somebody in the same place.
“You always want to have sharp knives,” Rachel says. “But you want to have the training to do things safely. When you’re done using knives, make it a practice to always put them behind the faucet with the sharp edge toward the wall.”
Stoves and ovens bring other tips to Rachel’s mind. She says to explore the appliance when the stove is turned off. Get to know it. Stand off to the side of the hot oven when opening the door. That way you’ll avoid the sometimes-disorienting waft of heat that greets the cook in the face from the front.
Then there are common sense items. “Always use wooden spoons at the stove,” Rachel advises. “Metal spoons heat up and can burn to the touch.” Speaking of specific utensils, here’s a list of a few go-to cooking items available in the Sharper Vision Store that are perfect for real or wannabe chefs with vision loss:
- Finger guards
- Knife with adjustable guide for consistent slicing
- High-contrast cutting board that is dark on one side, light on the other
- Tactile stickers or “bump dots” for identifying knobs and settings
The Pavones always went the traditional American way with Thanksgiving meals. Rachel describes an “all hands on deck” operation to prepare the annual feast. “We’d get an obscene amount of bread, like six or seven loaves, and make the stuffing the night before,” she says. “We made the potatoes first thing in the morning. And pies! Always something with apples but my sister would make the whipped cream. The mascarpone whipped cream. That was our one Italian item. And we always watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV while we cooked.”
Another of the chefs in Rachel’s childhood kitchen was her grandmother, Marilyn, who was a baker. Rachel says that while many Pavone family recipes will go to the grave with their originators, Marilyn’s mascarpone whipped cream—the one that still tops the family’s Thanksgiving desserts to this day—is not among them. In fact, Rachel is generous enough to share it with us here:
Pavone Family Mascarpone Whipped Cream
2/3 cups mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and either use a hand mixer or whisk to whip the mixture till it is light and fluffy.