Saturday, June 23, 2007

Walk softly, but carry a big knife

When I was an undergraduate, I lived in an anarchic commune (colloquially called a fraternity) with a collective cooking arrangement. In return for cooking with two or three other people once a week, you could benefit from the bounty of everyone else's culinary adventures throughout the rest of the week. However, being a group of left-leaning college students, punctuality and responsibility were not really our defining characteristics, and it was not unusual for people to show up late for their cooking team. One afternoon, I dragged myself down to the kitchen promptly and began cooking on time, only to find all of my comrades-in-arms detained by what were certainly more pressing engagements. Like checking email. I was thus already feeling a bit antisocial when the siren which served as the doorbell for the rear door started blaring. Generally, this indicated that a resident of the house had either been too absentminded to remember their key, or too lazy to take it out of their pocket. Rather than put down the bloody knife with which I had been cutting meat, I took it with me as I trudged down the hallway to the back door. When I grumpily opened the door, I was greeted not by a blithe housemate, but by one of our well dressed, well-to-do next-door neighbors. He had some extra tickets to a baseball game which he could not attend, and wanted to know if we could make use of them. He obviously wasn't expecting the door to be answered by a knife-wielding maniac. Ever so slightly mortified, I thanked him for the tickets and retreated back to the safety of my socially insulated abode, where one wouldn't think twice of answering a door knife in hand. Until after the fact, of course. I strongly suspect this neighbor never again darkened our doorstep.

Which brings us to the present day. My lab has a small but functional kitchen, in which I have taken to preparing my dinners rather than cut my nocturnal work-day short or shift my schedule towards daylight hours. Despite having an oven, a range, and a reasonable selection of pots and pans, it lacks some obvious necessities. Specifically, although the kitchen has communal non-stick cookware, the only non-metal stirring implement is a spatula. I refuse to prepare pasta sauce with a spatula. Even more incongruous, there is an entire drawer full of knives. Many of which are relatively new. None of which are sharp enough to cut a vegetable except for one bread knife. This state of affairs is untenable. So when I went grocery shopping today, I picked up a two-pack of wooden spoons, at least one of which I will donate to the kitchen's collection, and 25 franc Victorinox Cook's Knife. So far as I am concerned, this is about twice as much as one should pay for a single kitchen knife. Victorinox makes Swiss army knives with five times as many blades for the same price. But this knife should make even the most recalcitrant carrot feel like butter.

I will not be donating this knife to the communal kitchen collection. This knife will live on my desk, where it will remain sharp and shiny for the duration of my PhD. Moreover, should anyone come to me with objections to one of my papers, I will have 19 centimeters of sharpened steel fury with which to drive home my point. So to speak.

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