I still get the occasional injury

I still get the occasional injury

It is reported George Washington, who we normally think of as pretty reserved and dignified, had an arsenal of foul language at the ready when the occasion and his temper warranted a good display. Many who knew him said he could “curse the wallpaper off the wall” once he hit his angry stride.

There was just such an occasion for swearing at my house the other night, and I apologize if my colorful words traveled far enough to reach your ear. You see I grated almost the entirety of my thumb’s knuckle into a pile of Parmesan cheese, and it hurt quite a lot. It doesn’t matter how many times I cut or burn myself in the kitchen or how careful I am to be aware of the danger of the sharp objects I’m using. I still get the occasional injury.

Inside my left elbow, I have parallel red scars from the corner of a hot sheet pan just out of the oven. Wearing short sleeves, it touched my skin just long enough to cause further epithets and a couple of good blisters.

A week ago I helped cook for a crowd and didn’t realize until the drive home that I had taken off the merest slice of my left index finger with the junk knife I was using, not even enough to cause bleeding. Such cuts are annoying but actually nothing to fret about.

A friend whose young son is working in a restaurant lopped off a sizable piece of a fingertip, causing his mother to fret. “Don’t worry about that,” I reassured her. “Fingertips grow back pretty quickly.”

This is the truth, and I think most of the ends of my fingers have seen numerous spontaneous regenerations.

Also last week we found a knife we’d been coveting at a great price and ordered it. It’s a Japanese nakiri knife. Think of an 8-inch chef’s knife with the whole pointed end cut off so the blade is just a fat rectangle, and that’s a nakiri.

It came in a fancy presentation box with paperwork and cautions about being careful, which are well warranted. This is probably the sharpest out-of-the-box knife I’ve ever seen, and it could easily plow through a case of onions in a quick minute. It’s so sharp I took care to store it in the thick, plastic sheath included in the box.

You see all of our knives are stored in exactly the way you should not store knives. We have a drawer, fitted with a toddler-proof safety lock, that holds all of the kitchen knives in a jumble. If one of them happens to be resting in the drawer blade upward, you could easily get cut. So you have to open the drawer, eyeball the current situation and very carefully choose the knife you want.

In our last house, there was a wide magnetic strip on the backsplash where we just casually stuck them all when not in use. There is no room for such a thing now and no room for a knife block on the counter.

I’ve spoken before about my aversion to using a mandolin. They’re marvelous tools and enable slices much more even and thin than using a simple knife. They’re also great at zipping off half a finger if you aren’t careful and most of a fingernail if you are careful.

The safest way to do all this slicing is to use the slicing blade in a food processor, removing your hands from the equation altogether. It really does work very well if you have a quality machine, neatly slicing everything from carrots to mushrooms. You can’t get paper-thin slices that way, but at least your kitchen won’t look like a bloody crime scene.

All of the serious cooks I know have scars from burns, cuts and abrasions. Professionals are literally covered in the marks of battle. Cooks who work the deep fat fryers in restaurants usually have the bubbled arms to show for it.

If you are in that wonderful category of home cooks who just love to feed family and friends, you may escape with fewer scars, but you are probably more sensible and respectful of sharp and hot objects than me, a mere, clumsy dunce who carelessly gores himself constantly, adding a new slice as soon as the last one is healed.

The main thing is to always be aware of what your hands are doing and be careful out there.

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