A stitch in time

Stay sharp and slow down ... or suffer kitchen knife collateral damage
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› paulr@sfbg.com

Today's lesson — do as I say, not as I do — pertains to knives. What I say is what all sensible people say: keep your knives sharp; keep the tips of your fingers bent under the knuckles when chopping, mincing, dicing, and so forth; and, most important, do not rush. I rushed, and I paid, by slashing my ring finger with the 10-inch chef's knife I had perhaps neglected ever so slightly. The result was a scene of carnage and gore the likes of which I hadn't seen since the long-ago TV footage of Rockingham and Bundy, plus four stitches. All this, as Sir Thomas More might sadly have said to me — if A Man for All Seasons had concerned cutlery and Indian food — for vindaloo. And the vindaloo was too vinegary, I was advised from across the table. Must tweak the recipe.

It is one of life's glum facts that collateral damage occurs in kitchens. Virtually every everyday cook I know has a scarred finger or two or (in one case) is even missing a fingertip. Then there are the lesser insults: the spattered shoes and shirts, the spattered cookbooks. I have a large wardrobe of aprons, and I always try to keep open cookbooks away from spatter zones — not to mention open flame — but cooking, like war, is organized chaos, and one's best intentions can easily go awry when the pot comes to a boil or the minced garlic gently sizzling in the pan starts to smell acrid and you must act in haste.

The injured finger was the bird-flipping one, and while this procedure wasn't compromised by either wound or stitches (not that I had any public occasion to try, and not, of course, that I would have if I'd had), I did feel curiously diminished. I had trouble signing my name and putting in my contact lenses — even sleeping, that first night, since the installation of the stitches was followed by an extravagant wrapping with gauze and a metal pinch cap that made me feel as if I had been given the finger equivalent of a club foot, an unwieldy mass I could find no comfortable place for and that only stopped throbbing once I'd popped a Tylenol or two. Tylenol doesn't cure vinegar breath, alas.

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