The Perils of Cooking with Achromotopsia
Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 9:46PM
Richard Windsor

by Steff Green

Last night, I burnt the chicken.

This is not - as my husband would have you believe - a regular occurrence in our home. For starters, we don't normally buy chicken. I am head chef – the husband's entire culinary repertoire consists of spaghetti on toast and frozen pork schnitzel – and I can't cook chicken. I won't cook chicken.

Except for when my husband whines about his chicken craving for a week. Then I cook chicken. And we already know how brilliantly that turned out.

The thing about living with achromatopsia is that most of the time you don't notice it. You don't wake up in the morning thinking "Oh, what a beautiful grey day
it is today!" or "Wow, I sure don't know what I'm going to do about finding a matching outfit to wear today". You develop adaptations seemingly without thinking. There's no "Achromatopsia for Dummies" book – we make it all up as we go along.

Take cooking, for example. When I cook meat, I can tell it is done by timing and smell. I set the stove timer for the amount of time it should take a piece of meat to cook based on a series of complex algorithmic equations (the size and thickness of the cut). When the timer goes off, if the meat smells "right" I serve up.

I'll admit, it's not a foolproof system. But with most types of meat, if the fillet is a little undercooked, well, it simply adds to the flavor. I bet all achromatopsic chefs (and their long-suffering spouses) develop a taste for rare meat.

For the past eight years, I've used the time and smell cooking system to provide sustenance at four different flats, and never once has anyone complained. I let the sighted flatmates cook chicken on their cooking nights. When it’s my turn to cook, I can whip up a tasty steak, lamb casserole or chili.

But with chicken, it's different. If you undercook chicken, you will become VERY SICK.

Chicken can be deceptive – the meat smells the same from the "not even nearly done" stage through the "perfectly cooked" to "now I'm slightly dry and stringy" stages. It's only when you reach the "I hope you like char-grilled" stage that the smell changes somewhat. And by then, the fire alarm’s ringing and you’re feeling awfully embarrassed.

Or course, the recommended method for deciding if chicken is cooked is to prick it and watch the juices run? Have you ever bent so close to a piece of sizzling meat the tip of your nose is getting burnt, only to discover you cannot tell the difference between pink and clear juice.

And sure, I could ask someone for help, but that defeats the purpose of being an independent, modern women. What if I was stranded by myself in the middle of an avalanche, with only a gas stove and a chicken breast to sustain me? Who would I ask for help, then?

And so, I burnt the chicken, but at least no one got sick. My husband, smelling something burning, wandered into the kitchen. "What's this?" he asks, regarding the black lump on his plate with disdain.

"It's Chicken cordon bleu.”

“It looks like Chicken been-in-the-oven-too-long.”

"Better safe than sorry," I say, scraping the charred remains of drumsticks from the bottom of the pan.

My husband, with a knowing smile that only the spouse of an achromatopsic can understand, simply picked up the car keys and drove out to get some KFC.



Steff Green is a freelance writer, artist and heavy metal fan living with achromotopsia in New Zealand. She works as a marketing copywriter and accessible formats producer in New Zealand, but she's also been an archaeologist, a museum curator, a lab technician, and a builder's laborer. As well as writing for and her own blog Steff Metal, she paints, practices medieval sword fighting and makes a mean apple pie.

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