Posted by: Kate | November 1, 2008

Battle Scars

I’m wearing three Band-Aids on my hands right now, and I would have been justified in grabbing at least one more over the course of the evening, had I not decided that four was just excessive.

It’s not because I’ve suddenly lost all fine-motor control, or experienced an earthquake, or simply become so tired I could no longer function in a world full of sharp and dangerous objects. I wasn’t a victim of a violent crime or the recipient of road rash.

In fact, it all started as a positive effort. When Willem was exhausted and vociferous last week, after the process of cubing the pork to make sausage more closely resembled a smash-and-grab job than anything done with a sharp object, we decided that we needed new kitchen knives.

Our set was the result of a Christmas gift fiasco involving – who else? – my mother-in-law. In the winter of 2002, she presented us with a full-length heating/vibrating (wait for it) back massager (What else were you thinking? Perverts.). It was a strange gift for a number of reasons: we were 25 and 27, respectively, neither of us (yet) had back pain, we didn’t own a full-length recliner that we could use the thing in, and there’s just something creepy about your mother-in-law buying you anything that vibrates.

We wouldn’t have said a thing to her about it, other than “thank you,” but she has always made a big point of including the receipts along with gifts and falling all over herself to assure us that if we didn’t like it, we could return it, that was fine with her, no really, blahbitty blah blah blah. The store was a national chain but there were none near our house, so any returns or exchanges had to happen while we were still traveling the family circuit for the holidays.

Thus it was that we did a Terrible Thing: we took her at her word. We believed that if she said it was OK to exchange a gift, then that meant it was OK to exchange a gift. Inanely, I imagined that her philosophy toward gift-giving might be similar to mine: that what I want most is for the person to enjoy and use their gift, and so if I chose badly I would rather they re-choose than to have a wasted or unused box o’ stuff tucked away somewhere. My mother-in-law pretends to feel this way, but we have discovered, over time, that what she actually wants is for the giftee to immediately adjust all personal preferences, inclinations and needs to fit the gift, regardless of the occasion or appropriateness of said gift.

Just one more instance of communication gone awry between the two of us.

Anyway – Man, she just derails the topic every time, doesn’t she? It’s chronic. – we returned the back massager and, after much debating, bought ourselves a very nice knife set and a block to keep it in. “Very nice” being a relative term, of course, because six years later they’ve all gone dull and all had fine serrations, making sharpening nigh-on impossible. But at the time, it felt like a huge leap toward having a real, grown-up kitchen, and we were quite pleased with ourselves.

We returned to mother-in-law’s condo, having enjoyed an afternoon of shopping because this was back in the day when we still trusted her alone with Emily, and feeling a little flushed and proud of our retail successes. And we were met with a mellow-harshing glare of bitterness and resentment, a flat, “Oh. I guess my gift wasn’t good enough,” and a refusal to continue with the topic.

The only really appropriate internal response is, “Whatever,” and to move on. So we did, and we returned home with our knives. And they served us well, until all of a sudden they just were not sharp enough anymore. We tried sharpening them a few different times and ways, with no luck, and decided, last weekend, enough.

So Jacob and I went knife-shopping on Monday – listen, you bond with your kids however you want, I take mine to haunted woods and to buy knives – and we have a lovely new block filled with Wüsthof knives. At the time, they seemed like a good deal – a 7-piece set plus block for $130 – but after coming home and doing some research I’m realizing that it was very little short of highway robbery. Not quite as blatant a steal as my Kitchenaid mixer, bought secondhand but barely used for $35, but still pretty good, since the best price I can find online is $260 plus shipping.

And the unintended consequence of this bit of culinary frugality? Little cuts and puncture wounds all over my hands, as I learn all of the lazy and unsafe ways I had adopted in order to make the duller knives work. Here’s to a short learning curve, while I still have all of my fingers…



  1. Oh my goodness, I can so sympathize. I had spent my entire life with crap knives, not even really knowing how truly sharp a knife could be. Then, when Frank and I were dating, I went to use one of his mom’s Henckels to debone some chicken. (Let me also note that Frank’s father is certified in seven countries to be able to sharpen a knife like nobody’s business.) I very nearly deboned my hand instead of the chicken. Yee-ouch.

  2. Haha I feel your pain, literally. I am hopeless. I have a wonderful block of Mundial German Chef’s knives which I get sharpened about every six months and forget how sharp, sharp really is! I mean it’s great to slice through a chicken breast as if it was butter and I’ve learned the ‘nails towards the blade’ technique but because I don’t have a dishwasher I grab the bastards among the suds and ‘slash’.

    Good price by the way because you can keep sharpening them without the blade being denuded.

  3. Yikes! We got new knives last year as a gift from my MIL (this years gift wasn’t as convenient). They are still wicked sharp. Just remember not to throw them in with the dishes, least you forget about them. Wait until you are actually washing dishes and do them one at a time (this is of course, assuming you don’t use a dishwasher).

  4. When we bought new knives I cut myself every single time I washed them. Was soooo careful when using them but they were so sharp and slippery when they were sudsy!!!

  5. Learning “curve” aaaaahh…

  6. Hooray for real and sharp knives. I love doing the paper test and watching the blade slide through.

    Here’s my fingers crossed for yours.

  7. That was a steal. You got a great deal. Tuck your fingers in when chopping.

  8. I’m so thrilled for you that you bought yourself a set of great knives! (And so envious that you got them for a PITTANCE.) And now I just want you to let me know if you start taking any of them on vacation with you.

  9. Aren’t in-laws fun?
    As for the knives, just wait until you get a bit older and your skin starts thinning. Then, you cut and bleed if you just look at something sharp. My husband loves to buy knives, so we have a whole drawer full of them. He keeps them sharp, too. You get the drift. So, conquer that learning curve while you have a chance because it only gets better. 🙂

  10. New kniffs rule. Great snag. My Santuku was the same price as your set.

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