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Kitchen Stigmata

by Julia Sneden

There are many ways to identify a good cook, even without sitting down to his or her table.

  • Look for the person who spends the longest part of a shopping tour in the produce department.
  • Look for the person who rings the bell to ask a question in the meat department, and is greeted by name by the butcher.
  • Look for someone who sniffs fresh ingredients, reads the labels of packaged items, and hesitates, weighing possibilities, while deciding which of two fresh herbs to buy.
  • Look for what I call kitchen stigmata, the physical marks of someone familiar with a kitchen:

      The Thin Slice:  A small scar left by a paring knife, usually located between the second knuckle and the nail of the left index finger (if youre right handed). Sometimes noticeable across the thumbnail, if a chopping knife is involved.

     The Oven Rack Brand:  A nasty little burn line, just above where the oven mitt ends, caused by reaching in to move a pan on a lower rack when the upper rack floats somewhere in that Neverneverland area of your bifocals.

     The Close Shave:  Red, roughened skin on the outer edge of a thumb, caused by grating a piece of cheese or lemon rind, while watching the dog or the children or the television and NOT watching the cheese or lemon rind.

     The Dishwasher Ding:  This one is by far the family favorite. It happens when the cook is moving too fast around the kitchen, and the dishwasher door is open. Look for the scar on the shinbone of either leg, about a third of the way up between ankle and knee. It can be a simple bruise, but more often it is an ugly black scab which clings for at least two months, followed by an angry red mark lasting for up to two years. It has done more to promote the wearing of slacks (or black tights or leg warmers) than any cold weather ever did. It is a fairly effective reminder that one should keep the dishwasher door shut, but from experience, I can promise you that within a week after the unsightly mark fades out, there will be another ding.

     Actually, this stigmata is not the sole property of a cook. Anyone who is  willing to help in the kitchen can acquire one. It is a non-sexist, non-ageist badge of honor. A few weeks ago I observed my adult son, dressed in shorts and about to do his daily run. There it was, about a quarter of the way up his bony shin: a jim-dandy dishwasher ding. It was one of the proudest moments of my life as a mother.



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