Friday, June 09, 2006

Darn! You! Garlic!!!

Another thing Tom and I did last weekend was go see Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. It was very good. I recommend it highly. It turns out I know someone who sees Al Gore now and then, so I am now pestering that person to strike up an acquaintance with him as phase one of an operation whose second phase will be getting me a five-second audience with Al G. so I can just shake his hand and tell him I think he’s fabulous.

It turns out that Thelonious’s blood work was absolutely perfect, which is good, but that doesn’t explain why she has lost weight, so I have to have her weight rechecked this week. Dr. Press says she may be having intestinal problems, and I think that is probably true because her stomach is gurgling an awful lot, poor kitty, and she’s gulping a lot lately, which Dr. Press thinks indicates nausea, though he’s never seen her do it. She does it more when she’s relaxed and she is never relaxed when she’s at the vet’s.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, Dave Grossman’s book, is proving to be very interesting and very readable. It’s in many short sections and I’m finding myself saying, “Huh, I didn’t know that!” a lot, as when I read Fast Food Nation.

Tuesday, 6/6/06, was my actual birthday; I had celebrated over the Memorial Day weekend. I remember on 6/6/66 being slightly disappointed that I was turning four and not six. I got a few emails and phone calls on the actual day, which was very nice as it kind of felt like my birthday was already over a week ago. My parents called and sang “Happy Birthday” in unison, which is very sweet, and I also got a card from them with a $100 check in it, which my father sends every year. Even though I don’t strictly need the money, I love getting a birthday card with money in it.

Yesterday evening I went to a knife skills class at Sur La Table on Maiden Lane, which is something I’ve meant to do for a long time. I’m terrified of cutting the end of a finger off, so it takes me forever to chop vegetables. Improved technique should help.

The class was really great. The instructor was Mike C. of Kitchen on Fire in Berkeley, who bore a passing resemblance to Jerry Cantrell and also had the arms of a rock star—covered with tattoos and very muscular but not bulky like a bodybuilder’s—and who was super-duper enthusiastic. He made me think, in a good way, of a nerdy little kid getting to do his favorite thing in the world. We received Kitchen on Fire cards with a picture of Mike C. and his co-chef, with the caption, “If these two clowns can cook, so can you.”

He talked about how to choose a knife, how to hone and sharpen one, and how to hold it. He explained how the traditional shape of a knife handle came about and why it’s no good —if it gets narrower as it approaches the blade, it will tend to make your hand slide toward the blade, which is not what you want. These days they’re making some knives whose handles are better in that regard.

He said electric knife sharpeners are no good—they are very likely to worsen the condition of your knife edge—but that some of the non-electric ones are pretty good. He explained how not to cut yourself —making your non-cutting hand into “the claw”—and went over various cutting techniques. We practiced on various vegetables and some of the results were turned into tasty pizzas.

He showed us how to make a fanned strawberry and how to section a citrus fruit. He explained that if you buy an orange whose navel isn’t an “outie,” it won’t have that orange-within-an-orange that makes segmenting difficult. And he said that, unlike other herbs, cilantro has the most intense flavor in its root, and then in its stem, with the leaves actually having the least flavor. He said cilantro stems, unlike parsley stems, are not fibrous, so go ahead and chop up and use the stem, too. What he had to say about cutting up a pepper alone is going to save me about a year, as that normally takes me forever.

When it comes to garlic, he said not to use a garlic press but to use the palm of our hand to lean on the garlic clove until we hear the first crack. Then the skin can easily be removed. Then he suggests positioning the knife blade flat over the garlic clove in such a way that the knife handle isn’t interfering, at the edge of the cutting board, and giving the garlic clove a good whack to reduce it to smithereens. After that, a few chops with the knife are all that are needed.

He said the only time to mince a garlic clove is if Jacques Pepin is looking over your shoulder.

When he demonstrated garlic-mashing, he yelled a loud karate shriek when he delivered the fatal blow. Of course, our attempts at both whacking and yelling were feeble. He said, “You might have to hit it more than once. You can yell with each stroke: ‘Darn! You! Garlic!!!’” I’ll probably never see garlic again without thinking, “Darn! You! Garlic!!!”

Mike C. said his birthday is next week and he’s going to have a party at his cooking school. I told him mine was Tuesday and he pumped my hand heartily and congratulated me for having the good sense to be a Gemini. That was good thinking!

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