More than her smooth and knowing knife skills, her quick-wristed skillet flip, and her laid-back kitchen manner, Mom’s hands and forearms reveal her long and varied culinary experience. Her fingers and arms are striped with scars—from misbehaving chef’s knives, stubborn oven racks, wayward peelers, skidding box graters, and enthusiastic frying oil. But point to a scar and ask what it’s from and she’ll have no idea: to her they’re about as unremarkable as freckles.
I’ve had my fair share of kitchen mishaps. The first I can remember is when I was five. Mom gave me a vegetable peeler and told me to make short work of a pile of Idahos. (You’ve gotta love it, when most people are trying desperately to keep their children away from sharp objects, Mom’s handing them to us.) I made it through the whole stack, but on my last potato, I peeled the skin right off my thumb knuckle. It bled, I cried, but I lived (obviously). I remember mom telling me later that the mark of a good cook is her cuts and burns. From then on I was proud of my little half-moon scar.
These days, I’m famous for grabbing the lids and handles of pots that have been in the oven—they look so unassuming but they’re 400 degrees! Once when trying to transfer bread from a peel to a baking stone, I seared my hand on the glowing red-hot element. It didn’t even blister, my skin just blackened on contact. I thought that was bad…until this Saturday.
We were in the middle of cooking for a cocktail party, when the power went out. Not out for a little while, but like transformer-explosion-live-wires-in-the-street out. No worries, we just busted out the candles and kept working. (If this isn’t a plug for gas ranges, I don’t know what is. No power? No problem! The coconut shrimp were still going to get fried.)
My contribution to the night was margaritas and miniature tostadas. As I went to plate my masterpiece, I grabbed the big metal spoon that was in my Dutch oven full of pulled pork—not realizing the handle of the spoon had been hanging out over a candle flame for about 45 minutes. Oh my &%!#$*@%!!!!!
I know a candle over a spoon doesn’t sound nearly as badass as hot oil, boiling water, open flames, or oven coils, but it was SO bad. I’m no wimp, but I was brought to my knees in pain. And unless it was in direct contact with ice, it just kept burning and burning for hours.
Once the pain had subsided a bit (thanks to a few ibuprofen and a drink), my Mom assured me that with a burn like this, I’d literally earned my stripes in the kitchen. We’ll see how this sucker scars. Right now it’s all blisters and cracks—but I bet I’ll be proud of it. I don’t think I’ll forget where it came from though, which probably means I’m not quite the kitchen warrior my Mom is.