In a family as big as mine, it’s important to delegate – and few of us are coordinated enough to toss a salad at the table. With about 30 of us squeezed around the table for a riotous celebration dinner, my uncle James was appointed to pile salad onto plates.
After he had served everyone but himself, my uncle paused at his place setting to balance his bifocals. As if in slow motion, I watched the salad fork topple from the rim of the bowl, bounce off the upholstered seat, deposit a generous pile of dressed tomatoes onto shantung silk and clang to the ground.
Glad it wasn’t me who’d done it this time, I wiped the mess off his chair and into my napkin, then lamely tried to blot out the spreading oil stain. My aunt Kathy noticed the fuss and marched over to survey the damage. She hovered over James while he swatted at the fabric with a damp paper towel. “Jimmy,” she said, shaking her head morosely, “you shouldn’t have done that.”
Nobody laughed at the time; as children we figured out it’s impolite to laugh at the expense of elders unless you leave the room beforehand. But by the end of the night, the phrase was immortalised into a meme that bound us like DNA, for embodying the grating redundancy of gaffes so obvious that they hardly need pointing out. As my mother put it when I shaved off my eyebrows in the 10th grade: “You shaved off your eyebrows. Did you shave off your eyebrows?”
Two weekends ago, I went on a 1980s steakhouse binge, producing a flurry of Wedge salads, Russian dressing, baked potatoes and, finally, a spinach artichoke dip which bubbled gloriously away in a cast iron pot while the windows frosted up. I pulled out a 16cm German boning knife with a slender, tapered blade and began slicing a loaf of bread on the bias for the lacy, thin toasts: our spinach-artichoke dip delivery system. The slicing went without incident, but then I made the ultimate rookie mistake and put the knife in the sink.
There are a million good reasons to keep sharp objects such as food processor blades, slicing discs, mandolins and knives out of a slippery sink, provided you enjoy having fingers. What happened next was a gruesome montage involving a volume of blood loss that embarrassed me, like when you drop all the change in your wallet and it scatters everywhere.
Blessedly, my pleas for duct tape were ignored; I keep company with people who are smarter than I am stubborn and I ended up in the emergency room. It wasn’t until the intake nurse asked me to move my thumb that I realised I was in real trouble.
When common sense has failed me, sense of humour has helped. Anaesthetised, I laughed my way through emergency tendon repair surgery, making bad jokes throughout. Afterward, they put me in a hard cast up to my elbow to immobilise the forearm and told me not to expect to use my hand for a good long while. The cast keeps my thumb in a permanent thumbs-up position – a pathetic betrayal if ever there was one.
On the bright side, I get to keep my thumb. So, to keep things in perspective, I use my one good hand to text-blast my cousins a photo of my fibreglass--encased arm.
“Shouldn’t have done that, Jimmy.”
Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who lives and cooks in New Mexico
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