By Cesar Lazcano
I was born with a type of glaucoma that caused me to lose all vision in my right eye. Yet I did just about everything growing up, never thinking I had a visual impairment. At least, I never paid too much attention to it. In high school, I played so many sports – soccer, wrestling, track and field, cross country. Even when I got a bit older, on my days off from work, I’d religiously run 5-plus miles and go to the gym.
But by age 25, I lost all vision in my left eye after my retina was scarred from a number of retinal detachments and multiple corrective surgeries.
It was a depressing time for me. I lost everything, from my first car that I’d fully paid off just a few months before my surgeries to my pursuit of becoming a firefighter. I thought my life was practically over.
I noticed changes in my health too. After my eye surgeries and later on, I started to notice how nothing in my closet would fit. Even though I couldn’t see it myself, I knew I wasn’t healthy. I realized I had to change or things were going to get a lot harder for me.
I became disciplined in working out and eating a healthy vegetarian diet. Because of the nature of my eye surgeries, I was restricted in how much weight I could lift; I started from a mere 30-lb dumbbell and slowly picked up from there. I started competing in adaptive sports for the blind, such as blind baseball (more famously known as Beep Baseball) and in running 5K and 10K races with the assistance of tethered sighted runners. I also competed in 100-meter sprints in track and field in an effort to participate in Pre-Paralympic tournaments.
I would soon find out these sports would become my saving grace from a spiraling depression. I became friends with many athletes who were blind just like me. With them, I felt more at ease with myself. I knew I wasn’t alone anymore, that there were many others with similar conditions – some more tragic than my own. It’s a good feeling to focus on your sprints or try to swing a bat and then think about your struggle with blindness.
With them, I felt more at ease with myself. I knew I wasn’t alone anymore.
The difference between me and these other athletes, though, was how they were able to live an independent life and I couldn’t.
I soon moved to Littleton, Colorado, where I began an intensive 9-month independent training program for individuals who are blind or those who are starting to lose their vision. The Colorado Center for the Blind, where I was taking the program, teaches students how to read and write braille, how to travel with a cane, how to type and use a computer and other accessible tech. The Center for the Blind also taught students home management – my favorite – where I learned how to cook.
Every single one of those skills has become essential in my everyday life now. And when I’m not using these skills, I find myself in the kitchen trying to find out what recipe I want to whip up.
How do I do it? The best way to know my kitchen is by memorizing its layout. Practice makes perfect in every sense of the phrase. When starting a recipe, I have to always rely on my other senses – my other senses have become more heightened because of my lack of vision. But the answer is more simple than that: I’ve learned that I just have to concentrate more.
You don’t just use one sense when you’re cooking. When I’m chopping celery, for example, I listen to the sound the chopping makes, and I move the celery as I’m chopping and feel how long or small I’m cutting it. Just right there I’m using two senses. And then all of a sudden I hear the timer on my phone go off, and then I start to smell the ingredients in the stock pot. And I try a taste of the stew by dropping a few drops on my hand. In that case, I’ve used all of my senses. With a pot of water, I have to listen closely to hear it boil. I smell or taste a certain food or ingredient to know if it’s gone bad or not. I use my sense of touch to feel French bread, or blueberry muffins, to know how spongy or hard it’s getting.
People can get so perplexed about how a blind person can manage to cook anything. How can they if they can’t see?
Cooking is something you take for granted when you have sight, I think. Whether or not you’re good or great at cooking, you know you can still make yourself a sandwich. Now that I can cook, I no longer have to worry who’s going to make food for me or about the impending doom about how I’d make food later on in life. Now I make whatever I want at any time. And not only do I feel independent making food for myself, but I can cook for others. That’s something I truly cherish.
To pass the program at the Center for the Blind, everyone must be able to make a graduation meal for the entire center, staff, students and guests – with help from no one. And I did just that with my graduation meal that hosted a little over 60 people. It took me three days to finish my graduation meal – it was a challenge. I felt like Gordon Ramsey. I cooked Italian country soup, a side of Greek eggrolls and a tres leches parfait for dessert. When people were enjoying every dish I had made and getting up to get more, I knew my hard work had paid off.
People can get so perplexed about how a blind person can manage to cook anything. How can they if they can’t see? I find myself answering this question many times. And my answer is: If you can do it, then so can I. I just do things a little bit differently.
Cesar’s Greek Egg Rolls
16 egg roll wrappers
20 oz. Simply Potatoes Shredded Hash Browns
3 C. fresh spinach
1 small red pepper diced
1 lb. bacon cooked, crispy and diced
3 green onions diced
½ C. goat cheese
1 1/2 Tbsp. all-purpose Greek seasoning
1 Tbsp. salt for taste
Vegetable oil for frying
¼ C. sun dried tomatoes
1 Tbsp. garlic salt
Cook bacon. Use bacon drippings to sauté potatoes for 5 minutes. Put potatoes, drained of excess grease, in a bowl. Stir in spinach, red peppers, bacon, onions, goat cheese, Greek seasoning and salt. Let cool.
Heat oil to 350 Fahrenheit. While the oil is heating, take out the egg roll wrappers. Take a wrapper and lightly wet its outer edges with water so that it will stick together when rolled. Put ½ cup of potato mixture in wrapper and roll according to the directions on the package. Put aside until all the egg rolls are filled. Fry egg rolls approximate 5 min. or until golden brown. Let them drain and rest on a paper towel until all the egg rolls are cooked. Do not over crowd egg rolls in the oil. Most deep fryers usually fit 4 to 5 at a time. Serve and enjoy!
Cesar Lazcano is originally from Casa Grande, Arizona, a small town between Phoenix and Tucson. Lazcano will be attending a 6-month small business training program to pursue his own business in the snack vending industry.