Sunday, April 22, 2012

Pepper Spray

About three years ago, I had this amazing idea of making stuffed poblanos for dinner.  I love poblano peppers – they’re the Swiss Army Knife of peppers: a little heat, a lot of flavor, goes with damn near any savory dish.  Add a little blush wine, you kill the heat and add the flavor; add some rice vinegar, you tone down the flavor and kick up the heat. 

I was big into Food network around this time.  “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives,” to be exact.  The week prior to this, I watched an episode involving a stuffed flank steak, and impressed the hell out of my wife by replicating the look of it.  The taste was far superior to licking the drool off of my television screen.

For the current endeavor, I purchased about two pound’s worth of the peppers – four or five large ones in all - in an effort to make poblano rellenos.  I slathered them in oil, and set about roasting the skins off.  All the while I’m prepping the meat, rice, onions – all that crazy stuff.  In true Galloping Gourmet fashion, I’ve got my cabernet on the counter keeping me company.  It was a glorious orchestration, punctuated with the percussive swipes of my chef’s knife to the rhythm of whatever band I was favoring at the moment.  I love blasting music while I cook.  Singing and drumming along is just the cathartic icing on the cake.

I popped the peppers out of the oven, and wrapped them in little foil pouches.  The steam helps sweat the skins off.  While they settled up, I grabbed a few jalapenos and began feverishly mincing them.  Blending them with the beef I now had in the skillet.  I added a touch of onion, sofrito, and then the rice.  It was a cacophony of sanguine sounds and smells.

I slid the peppers out of the pouches and onto the cutting board, skins still clinging to the foil pouches.  I made small incisions to allow for filling and ventilation.  I crammed the rice and beef mixture in, tamping cheese into the largest open cavity, and a small pinch of cilantro on top of that.  Popping the peppers into the oven, and having no other food to prepare, I headed to the loo.

I conducted my standing business as per the norm, washing thoroughly before heading back into the kitchen.  There are two very, very important things to note here.  One is that until after this night, I’d never worn gloves when handling hot peppers.  Two, is that the common sense dictum of washing one’s hands after handling hot peppers before handling their, uhm, dictum, was not in full effect.  Within three minutes of entering the kitchen, I was well aware of this.

My realization of the mistake peaked early.  My admitting it took another five minutes, and a – literal – screaming run to the bathroom.  I had not closed the door fully, and my wife had heard the running, so her initial shock at seeing me pants down at the sink, cold water running over my groin, was reasonable enough.  Compound this with my penchant to accidentally cut or maim myself with sharp knives, and you could understand her concerns over my tender care with tender regions.  A very reasonable fear, as anyone who’s been around me long enough will tell you: I'm prone to the weirdest injuries.  Ripley’s Believe It Or Not weirdness.

The cold water was not helping.  I was freaking out.  After I explained what happened, she was doing her best to keep from laughing.  She brought me milk, and recommended I stand in the shower while applying it liberally.  The recollection of me pouring milk all over my naked body makes me think of an awkward porn shoot - where you're using the sound guy as the stand in to frame the shot.  Either way, the milk helped for a bit, but wore off.  She brought a beer in.

“If we don’t need a hospital trip for this one, is it okay if I laugh my ass off later,” she asked, cheeks red, and barely holding the barrage of laughter that was no longer stuck in her throat, but bit back by her teeth.

“Fine,” I snorted, “Give me the beer.”  The problem was that I, too, was finding this hilarious.  Painful – oh, hell yeah – but the circumstances were avoidable, and, only I would go headlong through those warning signs. 

As I poured the beer, her self-restraint broke.  I found myself laughing, too, although at the time, it wasn’t the happiest of sounds.  The beer did not work, along with several, repeated washings; nearly an hour later the burning subsided of its own accord.  She’d taken my instruction to turn the oven low, so dinner was still warm and ready to be eaten.

I’d lost my appetite for the peppers by this point.  But, the only alternative was a pack of hot dogs.  Given the choice between eating the wieners, or that which inflicted pain upon mine, I went with the latter.  It was the closest I’d get to revenge.

Today’s lesson:  Always wash your hands of one job before moving to the next.  I’m not just referencing kitchen safety tips – I’m speaking of life here.  There comes a point where you just have to realize the roads you’re travelling are not the ones you want to be on - the ones you need to be on at this point.  There is a moment where you look back and see the way your life has been, finding it’s not the way you want it to be.  It is a point where the negativity and stress of the world is all around,  and the easiest path from it, is simply a step away.   If you make a mistake, have the grace to realize it – laugh about it.  Learn from that moment, and don’t repeat it.  Me? - I bought disposable gloves for the kitchen the next day, and I always clean my hands before I even leave the kitchen. 

“Making a clean break” is the most applicable metaphor to this lesson: if you don’t wash yourself of everything you were doing, it’s just going to come back and burn you in the tallywhacker.

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