Tuesday, February 22, 2011

a daunting task

A blind child can't see his teacher standing at the door, silently reprimanding with her hands on her hips, her lips pursed. 

He can't see the lady with the tray of her daughter's birthday cupcakes for the class; he just knows there's suddenly new excitement in the room.

He also, now knows, what it means to nod.  He's been practicing; up and down for 'yes', side to side for 'no'. 

Their experiences live in my memory, dormant, emerging unexpectedly...

"Describe a car to me," I once asked of a young blind student.  Without hesitation, she said, "Well, it's like a sofa that moves." 
What could I say?  She was always hurriedly ushered into the back seat, where she sat for each and every ride.  The child had never walked around a car to grasp its size, felt the (four!) tires, or sat behind the steering wheel. 

A teenage student, who would later also lose most of her hearing, talked about food with me at lunch one day.  "So," I asked her, "What is okra like?"  "Oooh, so good," she exclaimed.  "They are little round things.  And they're crunchy!" 

I recall these conversations when I make dishes like this one.

I wash and peel carrots, wondering how many blind kids are unaware that carrots grow in the ground and hazelnuts on trees, the nut growing inside a hard shell and emerging with a papery skin which is very difficult to remove.

I slip thyme leaves from their stems by pulling them downward, the scent lingering on my fingers.

I toast the hazelnuts in the oven, first gauging when they are ready by the smell.  

I rely on all my senses, my good vision the most.  

I laugh remembering the stories.  I laugh to keep from crying.  

It's serious business; teaching unseeing children in a visual world. 

Multi-Grain Spaghetti with Carrot and Hazelnuts

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
1 cup carrots, peeled and cut into small, irregular chunks
salt and pepper
2/3 to 1 cup water
a large pinch of dried, red pepper flakes
3 to 4 ounces multigrain spaghetti
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan large enough to later hold the spaghetti. 

Add the carrots, add a little salt and pepper, and saute them until they have absorbed some oil and begun to soften. 

Add about 1/3 cup of water, allowing the carrots to continue to cook.  Repeat, adding additional cups of water, about 1/3 cup at a time.

While the carrots are cooking, boil the spaghetti according to package instrutions for al dente pasta. 

When the carrots are soft and the water has evaporated, add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.  Transfer the spaghetti to the pan.  Salt and pepper to taste, add the red pepper flakes and the thyme, and toss to coat the pasta with the oil. 

Transfer to a warm plate and serve with toasted hazelnuts on top. 

{one single serving}

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