Friday, April 07, 2006

Of Knives and Listening

It’s interesting the things we retain and remember long after. I took an adult class at the high school of a town I lived in 18 years ago, a one-night, three-hour blitz on kitchen knife skills. Before it began, I was afraid to even grasp the neck of the 7-inch chef’s knife, and by the 2-hour mark, I was wielding it like a ballpoint pen; something familiar, something I was sure I could handle with ease. And today, hundreds of dinners and potato salads and thousands of chopped onions later, I can still mince, dice, chop, slice and chiffonade so well that many newer friends are sure I must have grown up in a kitchen where Mom really knew her way around a bouillabaisse instead of one in which most vegetables came from a can and bread was usually the only thing sliced.

I no longer think it’s intriguing that I can sliver basil with precision, though I used to be amazed at my own cutlery prowess, honed not by a job in a restaurant kitchen but just by having learned something once and then with practice, everyday use and trial and error (though only a few that required band-aids and none that called for stitches), the new and untried grew into the routine. Beyond routine -- me with my knife in the kitchen has become a backdrop, and even a trusty companion, when hand and eyes must stay busy while heart and head need attend to something else entirely.

I’ve diced onions while listening to my husband tell me about his father’s stroke and I know he is glad I did not look up and across the small kitchen to where he is leaning against the wall and pinching the top of his nose, willing himself not to cry, although I am--crying; and he will think it's the onions and that is just fine.

My sons pour out the tales of playground indignities and bully taunts while I mince garlic and cleave open, core and slice red and greed peppers and cut chicken into strips. I think they feel safe continuing for as long as it takes me to get the fajitas going. For my part, I hew a bit more intensely to the story in their voice; I know about the emotion in their eyes but at first I want to listen, not look.

Thank God for my knives and the ability to use them without cutting into flesh. Not too deep, anyway.

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