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Posted on Wed. Jul. 02, 2014 - 12:32 am EDT

Blind grandmother still active in kitchen

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I still want to learn…

A. How to be a better person and how to accomplish something in my life.

I can’t wait to…

A. Turn 65 and start a new phase of my life. Life doesn’t stop until you do.

Fort Wayne — Nancy Ake has always loved to cook, even preferring homemade meals to eating out. So when the Fort Wayne woman lost her eyesight, she didn’t let that stop her.

And now Ake, who is legally blind in one eye and severely visually impaired in the other, is putting her skills to the test.

Ake, who is vice president of the board for the Indiana Association Workers for the Blind, is among the participants in the League for the Blind & Disabled’s home-cook competition, which she learned about at a support group meeting.

The preliminary cook-off takes place next week, with the final event Sept. 7. The competition is part of the league’s fundraiser, Cooking Blind with Fox Network’s MasterChef Christine Ha.

“I’m not doing it to win. I’m doing it to show people that just because you’re blind, you can still do it,” the 64-year-old says. “I told the workers membership that just because I’m visually impaired, it’s not going to stop me. I still enjoy cooking. I’ve always loved to cook.”

Contestants must use a particular food item (in this case, apples) when preparing their dishes.

Before her failing eyesight caused her to retire in January 2009 from retail management, Ake tried to have quick and easy dishes in mind for her family’s dinners.

“I worked a lot of retail store hours. People called off, and I had a (casserole). These are dishes for working moms. I know how busy you can get,” she says.

To round out the meal, Ake suggests serving a salad with the casseroles.

Although she’s on a stricter budget than when she was working full-time, Ake says she will still make sure vegetables are included in her meals.

“Even if I use canned vegetables, I rinse off with hot water. (By doing that), it rinses off the salt and brine they’re canned in. Or use a half bag of frozen vegetables,” she suggests.

Since losing most of her eyesight, Ake, the mother of two and grandmother of three, prefers using a gas stove over an electric; she can turn off a gas stove, but an electric one takes longer to cool down. She says slowing down, setting out ingredients in advance and rearranging her kitchen have also helped in cooking.

“I know where everything is,” she says. “I tell my daughter, ‘if you take anything out of the cabinets or refrigerator, put it back exactly where you got it.’ ”

But she acknowledges that there is still the occasional mix-up.

“One time I made chili, and I thought I was getting chili powder, but it was cinnamon,” she says. “It didn’t taste spicy enough. I got my big magnifier out and looked (at what I used). I just laughed.”

Q. What’s your favorite cookbook?

A. The one I made for myself. Before I lost my sight totally, I made copies from and ones from the food channel. I put them in a photo album. Now I don’t have cable, I watch (cooking shows on PBS).

Q. What’s your favorite vegetable?

A. Green beans. As you go out on my front porch, I have pots on each end with pole beans. I have a pot of corn (planted) out back. I have my herbs. I guess you can say I’ve got my crops in.

Q. Who’s your cooking idol?

A. My daughter, Kristy Terrell. She makes the most fantastic dishes. One year she made this pumpkin cheesecake that was fantastic. She makes the best potato soup.

Q. What do you do to keep meals healthy?

A. Call my daughter (laughs). No, when I went to the hospital, a heart doctor came in to talk to me. He told me that he could go in and clean out my left artery. After the surgery, I was lying in the intensive care unit and thought, “Well, Lord, you’ve given me a second chance.”

I thought, I’m going to eat healthier. I called my daughter and asked her for healthy ideas. I eat more vegetables now, less pan frying, more baking, broiling and grilling. I try to get leaner meat.

Q. If you were stuck on an island, what’s one food you would have to have?

A. Green beans. I love green beans. I would eat them any way you fix them.

Hamburger Pie

1 to 2 pounds ground chuck or ground beef

1 medium onion, diced

1 (14-ounce) can green beans

1 (14-ounce) can tomato sauce

4 potatoes, mashed

1 (15-ounce) can cheddar cheese soup or 6 to 7 slices of sliced American cheese

Brown meat and onion; drain. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place browned meat and onion in baking dish.

Drain green beans. Mix green beans and tomato sauce with meat. Layer top with mashed potatoes. Pour cheese soup over potatoes or layer with cheese slices. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 to 2 pounds ground chuck or ground beef, uncooked

1 medium onion, diced

1 (15-ounce) can cheddar cheese soup

1 (32-ounce) package of frozen Tater Tots

Mix meat, onion and soup together. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking oil. Pour meat, onion and soup mixture into dish. Cover mixture with tater tots. Bake in a 350-degree oven about 30 minutes or until Tater Tots are crispy and meat is brown. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

California Blend Pasta Salad

1 (16-ounce) package frozen California blend vegetables

1 (1-pound) package ziti noodles

1 medium onion, diced

1 cup mayonnaise or Italian dressing

Pinch of garlic powder

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

Cook and drain California blend vegetables; chill 10 minutes. Cook and drain noodles; chill 10 minutes. Mix vegetables and pasta together and add chopped onion, mayonnaise or Italian dressing, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Cook’s Corner is a weekly feature. If you know of someone to be profiled, write to Cook’s Corner, The Journal Gazette, P.O. Box 88, Fort Wayne, IN 46801-88; fax 461-8648 or email

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