I’m typing this with my left hand; my right is out of commission. The story is a long one, a lengthy tale full of adventure, sorrow, and children’s movies.
I bought a mandoline at Target the other day, with the express purpose of making ratatouille from Ratatouille. I’ve always loved cooking, but living here, on my own, depending on myself, it’s given me more opportunities to expand my cooking abilities and lengthen my personal recipe book. With a crappy job that barely pays enough to cover rent and bills, eating out is usually out of the question, prompting my slew of black-bottomed pots and pans, and fingers that smell like onions and garlic pretty much all the time now.
Anyway, I bought the mandoline. $18.95. Not the $13 one, although I had a five minute conversation with my sister about whether or not to shell out the extra six dollars for the more expensive one. I bought it, along with eggs, tomatoes, cookie dough, new headphones, and surely some other items I probably don’t need. But, finally, I had the missing piece to the puzzle. I’d tried to cut my vegetables thin enough to make an impressive ratatouille, but I only have one knife, which I use for everything, and is as such too dull to be useful here. I’d bought the vegetables from Trader Joe’s a few days before, preparing myself for what I knew was going to be yet another bomb meal. And I finally had the last thing I needed.
I set my phone atop the microwave, blasting Chance the Rapper and Cardi B and Kendrick Lamar; my cooking playlist, the one I know my suitemates can hear in their room that I passively aggressively play loudly because I’ve had to ask them to clean the bathroom no less than three times since they moved in last month. I set out all my ingredients, bowls, utensils, and tools I’d need: mise en place, I’d learned. My purple eggplant and yellow squash and green zucchini and red tomatoes were washed out in the cheap, harsh fluorescent light of my tiny, tiny kitchen, but it was ok. This dish would be more than the faded colors it was destined to produce.
The tomatoes were salted, blanched, peeled. The garlic crushed, the shallots chopped, the rosemary and thyme cut to tiny, tiny pieces. The bell peppers did not roast on an electric stove as well as I’d hoped, creating very scary popping noises that prompted me to accept their streaky, circular burns as good enough. “All the Stars” was drowned out by the whirring of the blender combining the tomatoes, peppers, garlic, herbs, and shallots, resulting in a silky, red-orange colored sauce spread in a baking dish that would be the tasty bed for my sliced vegetables.
At long last, it was time to use my mandoline, my eighteen ninety-five dollar baby. I started with the squash first, as I had three of them and figured it would be best to start there in case I messed up. But, what began as a slow back-and-forth motion quickly sped up and I was left with thin slices of squash that you could nearly see through. It was time to move on to the tomatoes, then the eggplant. And finally the zucchini, of which was the sparsest, as I had only one. It was ok though; I’d managed to successfully use the mandoline and produce some of the fanciest looking veggie rounds I’d ever seen. Onward, I continued. This zucchini had nothing on me.
How wrong I was. In my fervor, my Gordon Ramsey-inspired quest to produce an exquisite dish, my Chopped-themed haste to finish in a timely fashion, my Cutthroat Kitchen-influenced zeal to overcome such a bizarre obstacle in the race to a delicious dinner, I faltered.
My zucchini was about halfway done, perfect slices dropping into the bowl beneath. I glanced down at my mandoline, impressed with the simple machine. “Definitely worth $18.95,” I remember thinking before a tiny, bright red dot caught my attention. I brought my hand, my beloved right hand that works so hard and does everything for me, and saw what not even fourteen seasons of Grey’s Anatomy could’ve prepared me for. Instead of a nail on my right thumb, there was just skin. Just skin and a teeny tiny dot of blood. And, as luck would have it, the injury didn’t start to hurt until I saw it.
How long had my nail been gone, I wondered. Why is the brain so bad at understanding pain, I thought. If my nail’s not on my finger, is it in the zucchini, I asked myself. My first instinct was to dig through the bowl, before remembering that episode of Chopped where sweet ol’ cowboy Kent cut himself in the last round and got blood on everything, disqualifying him from victory. All those perfect zucchini shavings were ruined due to the accidental nail shaving that now hid amongst them, and I was further contaminating everything by using my nail-less thumb to search.
I quickly went into mom-mode, disinfected my finger and used 6 Band-Aids (not exaggerating here) to cover it up. That sucker was three times as large after I got through with it cus I’ve had a nail infection before and I’ll be damned if I have to go through that again. I wasn’t taking any chances. Besides, my dish wasn’t finished yet, and I couldn’t let Aarón Sanchez and Alex Guarnaschelli down.
I returned to the kitchen, a wounded warrior. I was too grossed out to look for the thumb-less nail anymore, so I tossed the sliced zucchini. Would I have enough to complete the dish? It would have to work. I continued on, carefully slicing the rest of the vegetable.
When I was done, I tossed the mandoline in the sink and it clanked up against my suitemates’ dishes that have been in there for the past few days because they’re animals who don’t know how to clean up after themselves. That wretched weapon of war was of no use to me anymore. I organized my vegetable shavings in a colorful pattern that my unforgiving kitchen lighting would not let achieve its full potential. Nevertheless, I continued. Tomato, yellow squash, eggplant, and the hard-fought zucchini. I layered the vegetables in that order around the baking sheet for what seemed like ages, making sure the edges of the vegetables were perfectly aligned. I didn’t count, did no preparation to ensure I would have enough zucchini to complete the dish; I’d had enough of ratatouille. This dish had broken me. How foolish of me to believe a dish prepared by a cartoon rat was worthy of this much work.
After 90 minutes of baking, I cautiously pulled the baking pan from the oven, filling my apartment with a sweet symphony of scents. I plated my ratatouille similarly to how it’s shown in the movie; I’d gone through all this work, and needed proof for all of my snapchat followers. The ratatouille was delicious, and I’m happy to report 100% free of human tissue.
But my thumb. Oh, my poor thumb. My link to ancestors from millions of years ago that spawned the most terrifying henchmen in modern cinema.
I cannot do anything* without my thumb. And my right hand thumb! In the past few days, I’ve had to text with my index finger like some kind of baby boomer. Touch screens are useless to me. Holding a pencil is nearly impossible. And writing? Forget about it. I can’t hold my phone up to my ear, or change the channel using a remote, or hold video game controllers, or manually unlock my car door, or flip a coin, or properly wash my hands, or comb my hair, or open more Band-Aids, do so many other things! I mean, I’m 25 years old, I’m fully aware that thumbs are important parts of human anatomy. But, being down one and forced to use the pathetic left one for 90% of my daily activities is making me realize that I’m practically useless without it. How did Remy make ratatouille without thumbs, huh? HOW!?
As I type this recounting of the day I lost my thumb (autobiography soon to follow), I am both saddened and grateful. Sad that for the next few days or weeks, I am relegated to this tumultuous left-handed life. I’ve never been here before, and I don’t know how to navigate it. I tried detangling my hair with my left hand earlier today and gave up after 10 minutes. My job requires me to use a lot of touchscreens, and I winged it yesterday, but I fear they may catch on soon, at which point my professional life may hang in the balance. But, despite these stressors, I am pressing on, thankful for mankind’s adaptability and Homo habilises millions of years ago for developing such an impressive and opposable force.
Until next time, friends. Watch out for mandolines. Use the silicone grip it comes with to prevent injuries such as these so that you’re not forced to write 1500 word blog posts with your index finger and your left hand.