To live or die by the knife
Superstitions and beliefs
Sailors, for all their bluster and machismo, are a superstitious bunch. Some persist in wearing one pair of lucky socks for an entire offshore race, even if it's been three very wet days at sea, and they smell worse than rotting blue cheese. Then there are the "abide above all or risk being kicked off the crew" rules like bringing bananas on the boat. This superstition may be archaic and ludicrous, but stories of horrifying events happening at sea as the direct consequence of some hapless twit's decision to bring bananas as his snack abound, and so the myth is reinforced, reinvigorated, and diligently enforced by all who step onboard a yacht.
And, really, it's not that different in the kitchen either. Everything from death and dismemberment to eternal spinsterdom await the careless cook who chooses—at her own peril—to ignore said superstitions. While I'm not one for tossing salt over my left shoulder with my right hand (just in case you're interested in the logistics) when I happen to spill some of the stuff to forestall the devil from stealing my soul, I've found that I've accumulated some eccentric practices over the years that make sense to nobody but me. I'd like to think however that they are guided more by common sense than by an unspeakable fear of vampires (garlic, an easy one), spinsterdom (putting milk before sugar in your tea, but quite apart from the fear—I'd call it promise!—of eternal singledom, it's a nasty practice anyway, so just don't do it), or pregnancy (planting parsley seeds, who knew?).
To wit: ever since I read somewhere aeons ago that rubbing the cut tip of a cucumber on the end of its erstwhile—and as yet unsliced—'torso' alleviates bitterness, it's stuck with me, and now my body refuses to cooperate unless tip has dutifully come into vigorous contact with ends before slicing can even proceed. Then there's the obsession with sequential mise-en-place that was partially borne from necessity (mince garlic before onions, always, because it reduces crying time) and partially borne from what I suspect to be undiagnosed kitchen OCD (all cutting surfaces and implements from round one have to be cleaned before round two-cooking-can commence). But it's the recent love-hate relationship that I've developed with a knife that really has me wondering whether it's time to call the culinary shrink.
The blade in question—a friodur ice-hardened Henckels chef's knife with a pleasingly weighty handle—was a gift, and it sat for some time in its box before I ventured to use it. Was it the weight, or the fact that the unrelenting sharpness of the blade was ice-hardened, for goodness sake, that intimidated me? Whatever the reason, much more than a year passed before I tasked it into service. Maybe the knife, like an apartment that's been vacant for too long which the superstitious believe causes spirits to move in like ghostly squatters (which, by the way, I've also encountered, but that's a story for another day), had somehow resented being cast aside by me. But the day I chose to put aside my apprehension (because let's face it, I was mesmerised by the potential of that blade), I managed to slice off the tip of my finger after having an almost injury-free run in the kitchen for as long as I can remember. Well, that effectively cast a pall over proceedings, so back into the box, I stuffed the offending tool. Since then, almost every time I've used it, there have been 'incidents', from a half-sliced finger nail, to the blade "accidentally" poking me when my hand has been in proximity. As stubborn as I am, I am now determined, come hell or high water, to use it regularly to break this nasty streak. And just to prove I'm serious, I've finally thrown away the box. Game on, Mr. Henckels.
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- Image: iStock
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