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.