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Inverallochy, Week 15: 9 April

There’s a perfectly good reason why, whenever there’s cooking to be done, I am politely shunted over to the cooker with a spatula while someone better qualified than I brandishes the sharp steel knife and gets on with the complicated business of disassembling vegetables. It’s all a question of hand-eye coordination, something that’s as much a mystery to me as quadratic equations or parallel parking. I simply don’t have any.

I can’t judge distance. The only way I know when my car has reached the edge of a parking space is the slight bump it gives as it connects with the pavement, like a boat bumping up against the dock. And shaving in the mirror was always a voyage into the unknown—not just a question of distance but also the reverse-ness of the image—so that before I adopted the safety-first approach of designer stubble I had the best-shaved ears of any archivist I know. So it is with reason that the chopping block and I have lived separate lives: together, but apart.

Springtime by the river

However, even Homer nods and on Saturday my handlers dropped their guard long enough to enable me to prepare a vegetable and lentil chilli. Onions, celery, carrots, all were sliced and diced to perfection until, like the sorcerer’s apprentice, I grew cocky; and it was while chopping a red pepper the exact point where my thumb ended and the pepper began became confused. That’s strange, I thought, looking at the spreading pool of red; I don’t recall peppers being this juicy. (Note to self, I added, already light-headed from loss of blood: cut down on the salt the recipe calls for.)

It’s noticeable, when you stop to think about it, just how jolly useful thumbs are. Of course, cat owners have realised for years that the species are only one genetic mutation away from being able to use a tin opener by themselves, at which point the status of humanity moves from enslaved to redundant. But everything—from doing up a button to operating a mobile phone, from tying shoelaces to holding a pen—is so much harder when your thumb is encased in bandages. I remember a friend once fell on gravel and cut her palms open, so that both hands had to be thickly swaddled until they healed; she said the sheer indignity of utter helplessness (try manipulating toilet paper with your teeth) prompted her to resolve that if she ever found herself falling again, she’d try to land head first.

Local denizen

Another thing that’s tricky to do while beswaddled of course is knitting. The cuts lie just where I grip the needle between thumb and forefinger of my left hand; I find I’m gripping the needle tighter by way of compensation, which has the unfortunate effect of squeezing blood out of the cuts like toothpaste out the tube. (Hmm. If worst comes to worst I’ll pretend the gansey was knitted using herring girl pink yarn.) Even so, I am almost at the end of the pattern band at the top of the sleeve, the gusset is finished and at some point this week it’ll be plain knitting all the way.

The chilli, by the way, came out excellently. What’s that? No, I think I’ll pass on the tomato ketchup this time, thanks all the same…

10 comments to Inverallochy, Week 15: 9 April

  • Gail Donkin

    A STUNNING gansey!

    All is well here; puppy continues to grow, now a lean 22 pounds as befits a Gordon Setter and 3 months old. She is learning most commands well, except for “no bite” and I have the scars to prove it.

    • Gordon

      Hi Gail, so long as her bark is worse than… ah forget it. But will you be able to leave her behind and come across the pond this autumn…?

  • meg

    well now..that seems a very plausible excuse for not cooking..why didn’t I think of that years ago..just think what I might have achieved relieved of the burden of inventing all those dinners, lunches. tea-breaks, friends round for tea, brunches, high teas,birthday cakes[only out of sheer necessity].I used to enjoy cooking when first I started out on the benign road of married life.the memory of my first cabbage soup and bread that literally tried to escape from the oven [ and did] lingers on in memory….I got the hang of the bread eventually and not too bad at soup..never achieved gourmet…the repetitive cry of `what`s for dinner` diminished my enthusiasm…I watch the cookery programmes sometimes ….more art than food I think as I tuck into scrambled eggs again….

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, one of the secrets of a happy marriage is that I should never be allowed near a sharp knife but I really love cooking, and in order to fit me in the coffin when I’m ready for the Great Change will have to have my wooden spoon prised from my cold, chilli-spattered hand, whereas Margaret, who is disturbingly proficient with a knife, can take cooking or leave it. So she dismantles and I re-mantle, and sometimes, if I’m feeling daring, I add a twist of pepper.Maybe even a bay leaf, be still my beating heart.

  • Lois

    Oh my! That is a stunner, pattern looks so rich!

    Since my grandfather was a surgeon, we all have slice and dice in our genes. When my grandsons, aged 6 and 8 at the time, used to “help” prepare vegetables, I was devoutly glad that that their parents didn’t know. The thought of their precious dears using paring knives (specially the accident prone 6 year old) would have sent shock waves through them. But the boys never had an accident and enjoyed learning to cook.

    Sometimes it’s just as well that grandparents can keep secrets.

    • Gordon

      I’m sure you’re right, Lois, but I fear that tying the neighbours’ infant daughter to the back of the kitchen door so they could practice their knife-throwing technique may have been a step too far!

  • Jane

    It is all a matter of the knife and the practise. There will be a knife somewhere out there, or in the drawer or on the rack, new, old, short, longish, straight or serrated blade, and often not an expensive one. It will feel right, it will cut right, it will be your hand! My current one for about the last ten years is a “devil”, about 7 inches long, plastic handled and serrated blade, inexpensive, and I use it for everything, and it works really well for me! On the kitchen side, I just keep churning it all out, we get there in the end! The chilli sounds good, the gansey looks fantastic, take care!

    • Gordon

      There is a real pleasure in a properly sharp knife, you’re right, Jane. It takes me back to my time after I left school as an apprentice to a samurai warrior (you know, now I think about it I can’t help wondering about the careers advice at Northampton Grammar School for Boys). Each day we’d rise at dawn and meditate for 4 hours, then sharpen the sensei’s katana, honing it to such a pitch of perfection that it could slice an eyelash into quarters. Then the master would take it from us, pause to compose a haiku on the beauty and impermanence of a single drop of rain, and then use it to chop onions for his salad. Happy days, happy days…

  • =Tamar

    The gansey is truly a stunner. Someday, maybe…
    I have a few scars on fingers from childhood learning experiences. I have read that in some parts of the world, they believe that a tool that is not used for three years will demand blood once it is used again. I think some of the knives in my kitchen drawer may be plotting together [joke!*]. I have two that I actually use, and of those, the larger one is only rarely used. The paring knife is used daily, of course.
    *with all the data collection nowadays, one must be so careful.

    • Gordon

      Hi Tamar, I wonder what sort of vengeance an unused egg whisk would wreak? Or one of those gadgets with soft prongs for slicing hard boiled eggs? (And what your kitchen utensils are really plotting while your back is turned is which ones of them will wedge itself sideways so you can’t get the drawer open next time you want to…)

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