Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Part Two: In which the Iron Chef does battle with a standard government-issue kitchen knife

RECIPE: Carrot sticks
PREP TIME: 2 hours

We're here!

We arrived in Moscow, bleary-eyed and cranky, to discover that one of our lovely new neighbors had not only unpacked the welcome kit and made all 5 beds, but she had purchased all of the items we requested from a nearby grocery store and even made a pan of vegetarian lasagna.

All that was left for me to do was to cut up a few carrot sticks and dinner would be served.

I searched the drawers for my welcome kit vegetable peeler and knife.

“Ha!” I exclaimed as I pulled the knife from the drawer, thinking of a recent Trailing Houses rant about the worthlessness of welcome kit knives, a rant that had garnered hundreds of sympathetic responses. “Ha! You people were wrong. For behold! I have before me an entirely brand new welcome kit knife, still encased in plastic, plastic so strong that I will need the knife itself in order to extract the knife.”

I pondered the irony of that thought for the next 30 minutes or so, as I attempted to open the plastic casing with my teeth. Finally, though, I managed to extract the knife and held it in my palm, already anticipating the crunch of perfectly rectangular carrot sticks.

First, though, I needed to peel the carrot. I turned my attention to the peeler and discovered I was already quite familiar with this specimen. In fact, close inspection revealed it to be the exact same peeler that my mother had cast aside in disgust back in 1977, when its blade stopped being bladey and its swivel head lost its swivel.

The peeler of my youth had returned and I looked at it fondly. It reminded me of what I’m going to look like myself, a few years hence, in the nursing home - not a speck of rust to be found, though admittedly a bit dull and not quite as flexible as in days of yore.

But okay. Just 7 minutes of work and one carrot was peeled. I placed it on the cutting board, admiring the way bits of peel, already drying out and turning brown, clung to its surface. Then I picked up my brand new, never-before-used knife, and set to work.

I placed the knife blade at the tip of the carrot and prepared to make the first celebratory cut. I pressed the knife down and… nothing happened. The knife refused to cut. Confused, I tried again. Nothing. Once more I brought the blade down onto the carrot and sawed mightily. The knife worked that time. It - and here I’m not exaggerating – it cut a curvy diagonal swoop of the sort that I imagine famous chefs spend years learning how to make. No straight lines for my fancy knife.

Perplexed, I paused in my exertions and raised the knife for a closer look.

This is how I discovered that my brand new knife had only one serrated edge.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t knives supposed to have just one serrated edge? But I’m not referring to the serrated chopping side versus the flat top edge. No. I mean that the left side of the business end of the blade had been carefully serrated back at the factory, while the right side of the supposed-to-be-pointy end had been left untouched.

This was something I’d never seem before, not in all of my years of using welcome kit utensils. A brand new knife that was only 50% finished?

I would not give up, however. I would not. I held the knife aloft and shook it at the ceiling. “As God is my witness,” I vowed, “we will have carrot sticks for dinner.” And I set to work. No mere knife could defeat me. Me, who had once survived 36 hours on 3 separate airplanes, with just a newborn, a toddler, and 75 hacking strangers for company. I had just moved to the other side of the planet, to one of the hottest diplomatic spots on earth, and I would not be defeated upon arrival by a Russian carrot and a Chinese knife. Let others make peace in the Middle East. Let others promote the famous Golden Tree Frog of Panama. I would take on this lowly battle myself. I was no stranger to despair, and I would win this fight.

Twenty minutes later, the carrot lost its valiant battle. I counted my fingers: all ten were still intact. All ten fingers still attached to hands at the dinner hour counts as victory in my book, so I carried the plate of carrot sticks to the table and summoned the kids.

None of them actually appeared, however. They’d long ago succumbed to jetlag. Three were sprawled around the house, mouths drooling on various carpets, carry-ons still clutched in tiny grasping fingers. The lone survivor was outside, vomiting airplane candy into the grass.

I sat alone at the table, admiring my handwork. A plate of perfectly formed carrot sticks:

Beautiful, no? And, like snowflakes, no two alike.

Enjoy the photo, as it is the last photo you will get from Russia, probably. A mere twenty four hours after I shot this photo, my camera met with a premature death, not by stabbing (obviously), but by drowning. Apparently, and they don’t teach this stuff at FSI, so listen up, newbies: apparently, you should always check to make sure your kids have screwed the cap back onto the bottled water before you put it, together with your camera and your husband’s travel voucher receipts, in the bottom of your purse. Who knew? Maybe that’s something they should warn us about over on Trailing Houses. Because they’ve already got the crappy knives pretty well covered by now.


Elaine said... [Reply]

I'm SO sorry, but I am Laughing My um Ears Off! The No Knives rule is the very, very cruelest rule or airport ban EVER!

And you have my undying admiration.

Linley Jones said... [Reply]

Your blog is hilarious! I love reading it!

The Expatresse said... [Reply]

"Like snowflakes …" Hahaha!

Still -- you inhabit a world where there are welcome kits. When I landed in Moscow in 2007, we lived in our unfurnished apartment with an air mattress, bunk beds for the kids, and table settings for 4. Not even a coffee pot. I sat on the kitchen counters and read The Book Thief. (Gack! I sound like a crotchety old person!)

Donna said... [Reply]

AH yes, Expatresse - I do appreciate the welcome kits! Much easier than bringing everything you need in your one allotted suitcase. I also appreciate having a work sponsor to pave the way ahead. But the knives - would it kill them to give me one decent knife??? (But no coffee pot - that's a disaster!)

Please. Write your own stuff.