Wellness

How a Mandoline Accident Taught Me to Slow Down in the Kitchen

And in life.

February  5, 2019

I’m sitting on my couch, cursing to myself, to the world, and to the unearthly beings who allegedly rule over domesticity. My cats are looking at me in that particular brand of silent judgment that every cat owner knows too well. I just nearly sliced off the tip of my pinky on a Benriner Japanese mandoline I acquired a month earlier on a trip to Atlanta’s Koreatown.

I am livid. This not-so-little accident has thrown a wrench into my carefully orchestrated plans for the day. I was supposed to finish preparing meatball mix and Swiss chard pie filling for a dinner party later in the week. I also needed to clean, trim, pack, and vacuum-seal a pile of excess produce before it goes bad. Furthermore, I needed to prepare ingredients for dinner that evening, clean up the kitchen, take out the trash and recycling, and fold laundry. Oh, and I needed to do all of the above within an hour so that I could make it to the gym before it closes for the day. Somehow, I was supposed to make lunch happen during that time, too.

Those were just the things I felt I needed to do. I also wanted to bake cookies, ferment some cream for crème fraîche, make a pot of tea, and organize the pantry.

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Now I’m sitting on my couch applying pressure to my pinky with a wadded-up paper towel, willing the bleeding to stop so that I can get back to the kitchen. But the bleeding won’t subside, and my anger increases. I’m angry that I have to stop and that by stopping, something terrible will happen. My family will starve, the house will rot from lack of cleaning, and I will double in weight overnight, bringing immeasurable shame upon myself.

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Top Comment:
“After slicing the tip off of my index finger twice, I now use my mandoline with utmost respect, complete awareness and mindfulness, and have never cut myself since. I gave one to my friend with a stern warning to never use hers in an absent minded way. You could really question the motives of someone gifting you with something so deadly! I own an OXO which cost about $15, has lasted forever and never gets dull.”
— witloof
Comment

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. I’m running out of fingers I can use to count the times I've seriously cut myself in the kitchen. I have noticed a pattern, though. For starters, I never seem to cut myself doing something heroic. I wish I could say I sliced my thumb or chopped off a fingernail deboning a duck or carving an elaborate centerpiece, or even slicing a beautiful rack of lamb. No. It’s always something very banal that leads to accidents in my kitchen. On this particular day, I was slicing green bell peppers to have on hand for stir-fries and stews.

I remember the first time I cut myself in the kitchen. My husband, John, and I had just returned from the grocery store. I had bought a bunch of pencil-thin asparagus and wanted to cut off the pithy ends before I stored them in the fridge. I didn’t even take a moment to clear the counters. In fact, grocery bags were stacked all around me. I could have waited to make sure there was adequate space by putting things away first. I could have even afforded myself the luxury of sitting down and having something to drink or maybe a little snack before I started working in the kitchen.

But I didn’t do any of that. I impatiently pushed some things out of the way to make just enough room for a cutting board. I gathered the asparagus spears, brought down the large chef’s knife, and felt the sting of sharp stainless steel piercing my flesh.

When I lived in Boston, I introduced a new threat into the kitchen. The mandoline proved to be a far worse adversary than any knife, despite its usefulness. Perhaps it was its usefulness that made it so dangerous. The speedy rhythm with which you can create paper-thin slices of fruits and vegetables is almost hypnotic, transporting your consciousness away from the task at hand. It just takes a second of this hypnosis for my kitchen prep to turn into a crime scene.

My family actually has a bad history with mandolines. My father received an expensive French model one year for Father’s Day. In his childlike excitement, he demanded that we bring him all sorts of vegetables to try his hand at making nearly transparent slices, crosshatched gaufrettes, and julienned matchsticks. His excitement finally got the best of him, and we ended up spending the rest of Father’s Day at an urgent care center.

My father and I are alike in many ways, unfortunately. But it's not just my excited carelessness that has led me to cut myself repeatedly over the years. As I sat on the couch trying to stop the bleeding on my pinky, breathing through my nose like an angry bull and deciding whether I should go to the emergency room, I finally calmed down enough to contemplate why this kept happening to me. I realized that the culprit was much more insidious than mere excitement. It liked to disguise itself in different costumes, like ambition and productivity, which made it seem socially acceptable or even commendable. But these weren't the true culprits behind my injuries.

Why should my huge laundry lists of things to do make me feel as though my world would come crashing down if I didn't accomplish everything?

This was something else entirely. This was anxiety, which I had started to become more intimately acquainted with earlier in the year. I knew about the condition, but I never thought about it affecting me until I started paying closer attention to my life: my nearly lifelong shortness of breath unrelated to asthma, unexplainable and invisible burning sensations on my skin, childhood meltdowns that would continue into adulthood, bursting into tears over the smallest occurrences. I have sought out professional help, and a lot of the symptoms I described above are rare now. However, dealing with anxiety is a process, and even though medications have helped me greatly, I am still working on overcoming it, especially in the kitchen.

I realized that every time I injured myself in the kitchen, I had worked myself up to a frenzy trying to accomplish an overwhelming amount of tasks within a certain period of time. I would feel as though there were someone or something looking over my shoulder, demanding that I cook and cook and cook and make it perfect. If everything weren’t perfect, there would be dire consequences. I'd become so flustered by this imagined pressure that I would lose the ability to concentrate on what I was doing, making failure inevitable. In the worst instances, I would slice a finger.

That afternoon, I realized something needed to change. Cutting myself on that mandoline ended up being one of the best things to happen to me, as it forced me to stop and reexamine my attitude towards everything. When my finger finally stopped bleeding, I was able to look at the present situation and discern what was real and what was imagined, as well as what I really needed to accomplish that day versus what my anxiety told me I needed to accomplish. I also asked my husband for help. I took a deep breath, bandaged my finger, slipped on a finger cot, and got back into the kitchen to finish the preparations for the dinner party. John was prepping and bagging the excess produce. I decided I’d skip the gym that evening, and that we'd order pizza for dinner that night.

I was amazed at how great I felt after I cut back all the excess. The kitchen felt enjoyable and relaxing again now that I didn’t feel as though I had a dozen different things to do within a tiny window of time. And having my husband help me not only took some of the pressure off, but it also allowed us to spend time together doing something we both enjoyed.

Slicing my pinky wasn’t like waving a magic wand on my kitchen anxiety, though. Changing a habit takes daily practice. I understand that there are times when I will get flustered and overwhelmed in the kitchen, and the big, bad boss man in my head will return, wanting me to spiral into a bloody meltdown. I also understand that there are times when I will be so excited to cook that my head will be in the clouds, and I can easily harm myself. However, there are things I can do to center myself.

Now I try to be aware of how I'm feeling in the kitchen at all times. If I feel stressed or overexcited, I try to pause, take a breath, and examine what I'm doing to make me feel that way. I try to rush less and take my time. As clichéd as it may sound, I try to be present in the moment and not worry so much about what may or may not happen. This approach not only helps me avoid painful accidents, but it also improves the quality of the foods I prepare. You can say that patience is the secret ingredient in a lot of my best cooking.

I recently received a gift from John, which he was very excited for me to unwrap. As I tore off the wrapping paper, I saw a pair of safety gloves staring back at me. An older version of myself might have been offended at the message such a gift could send. However, I realized just two days after I thought I might be losing the tip of my pinky that these gloves were specifically engineered for people like me. I store the gloves with my mandoline and wear them every time I use this kitchen tool. As a result, what was once a dangerous culinary adversary is now a very helpful ally in the kitchen.

Have you ever cut yourself on a mandoline? Share your tales in the comments below.

65 Comments

Patricia S. February 17, 2019
I bought those cut proof mesh gloves. They work great.
 
kantcould February 10, 2019
Judging from the number of comments, this is a common kitchen accident. I'm an old hand at using a mandoline and I, even I, got distracted and sliced off the tip of my little finger. My pride was hurt more than my finger. Anyhow, I headed to the local walk-in clinic to get it properly tended to and the doc looked at me, shook his head, said "do you know how many of these I see in a month?", put a compression bandage on my finger, gave me a tetanus booster and sent me on my way. To all those young Edisons tinkering with improved kitchen utensils I urge you to put the mandoline top of your list.
 
Nancy M. February 10, 2019
My index finger is still numb from my last mandolin accident. There was some sort of nerve damage but I just couldn’t bring myself to go to the ER. I just bandaged up the sliced finger and wore culinary gloves for cooking and in the shower for weeks. I have 5 (count’em) aloe plants with which to treat my many kitchen burns. <br /><br />I always feel so silly. Yes, knew the skillet had been in the oven for 45 minutes and that I’d taken it out with gloves. But I still grabbed it by the handle — get this— in spite of the fact that I was holding the silicone handle cover in the other hand. <br /><br />I am not sure these things can be avoided entirely. I now have gloves, but gloves cannot protect me the wilderness of my own psyche in the kitchen.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 10, 2019
Oh I can write another essay on burns. I once tried to fry a basil leaf to make it crispy. I put it directly on my hand from the fryer to test for doneness. You're right that things can't be entirely avoided, but I try....I really try. And I will have to borrow "the wilderness of my own psyche." That's a good one! ;)<br />
 
Jayne P. February 11, 2019
I am so glad it is not just me. In my advancing years, I have learned to place a folded teatowel or (English-style) oven gloves across the top of the pan (then you have the added frisson of making sure they don't go in the gas flame - yep, done that one several times) to remind myself that the handles are hot. At catering college, we used to throw flour onto hot handles to remind ourselves (and anyone else in the vicinity), but I didn't find it particularly foolproof. I think it is just like cuts - you do it when you are in a hurry. Perhaps we all need to slow down a little. My hands and arms look as though I have self-harmed - between all the scars from minor kitchen burns and cuts, and marks where our little tiger cat scratches me with his back legs when I tickle his belly (his favourite game), I am in a bit of a sorry state!
 
Nancy M. February 17, 2019
If there is a god of cooking, it wears a crown of aloe. Were It not for aloe... well, I don’t even want to think about it.
 
Morgan February 10, 2019
I, too, have a mandoline-related injury. There’s forever a scar on my middle finger that reminds me using the mandoline unnecessarily (to slice carrots for chili?!) is silly and there’s a definite time & place for every kitchen appliance.
 
Jayne P. February 10, 2019
If your mandoline didn't come with a guard, you could buy one separately. These little gadgets grip onto the veg when you are getting down close to the blade. I, too, have cut myself on one of those beasts and it is not fun. My kitchen cuts have also included (but are not necessarily limited to!) sharp knives of all shapes and sizes, blunt knives (much worse as you get a bruise too), lids of cans, the inside of the top of a can when using a spatula to get the last bit of stuff out of the bottom (watch out for that one), the axe, when attempting to emulate my husband's stick-cutting technique (oops, A&E department on Christmas Eve - not good). Worst one ever was on the edge of my stainless steel sink when wiping around the bit behind the tap where it is set into the worktop. There are evil sharp things all over the kitchen, just waiting for that exact moment you describe when you are in a great hurry (which, let's face it, is usually the real cause, not the naughty god of sharp things that we like to shout at when it happens, though the shouting helps).<br /><br />Why not give yourself fewer jobs to do? Don't trim veg unless they really do have brown bits on them, then obviously just trip those bits off - invest in some vacuum containers (tupperware type things with a vacuumm pump) and hurl your veg into those. Much quicker than individually vacuum-wrapping things and less single-use plastic going into the ocean every week too. As for slicing green bell peppers 'for use later in the week', well, that one got me foxed. The minute you slice into veg, it starts to lose its nutrients. The longer between the slicing and the eating, the more nutrients they lose (and the more the veg deteriorates, vacuum packed or not). It takes seconds to cut up a bell pepper with a knife - by the time you've got out the mandoline, put the right blade in, dissembled it again and washed it up, you could have cut up the bell pepper with a knife, thrown it straight into the pan, AND done something else. <br /><br />Asparagus - never needs cutting with a knife (unless you particularly want your spears to be cut into smaller pieces for pasta or soup). Simply hold the asparagus with both hands an inch or so away from the stalk end (the colour will often give you a clue) and gently snap the stalk with your fingers. It will snap exactly where the stalk stops having a woody texture - no knife needed and no good bits of the asparagus wasted (trust me, when you work as a chef and you have sackfuls of asparagus to deal with, this is a very quick - and safe - way to do it). You should certainly never be removing the ends of the asparagus until the point where you are about to cook and eat it, much less the moment you come in from shopping!<br /><br />What you should do when you come in from shopping is to put the refrigerator stuff away, then brew yourself a coffee, put your feet up for ten minutes and congratulate yourself on a job well done.<br /><br />And you could attempt to do a little less and care a little less - as I've got into my 50s, I've learned to be a master at de-complicating my life. For instance, when we have folk coming over, the nearer it gets to the event and the more other things I have to do, the more I simplify the menu - and, guess what? Everyone is more relaxed on the day, not just me - our friends don't want to see us running about like lunatics just so that the food can be extra fancy, they actually want to talk to us and spend time with us. Yes, of course the food should be good, but really that is just a side dish. Spending time with your loved ones should be the star of the show. And sometimes it's fun to just put a tablecloth and a vase of flowers on the table, together with a selection of glasses, then just stack the knives and forks and napkins in the middle, and let everyone take what they need. Much more relaxed for a family event that laying an elaborate table. Give it a try - you'll probably expect the ceiling to fall in the first time you do something a little differently, but honestly my ceiling is still in the same place and my friends and family are just as keen as ever to come over.<br />
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 10, 2019
great, great advice! Thank you!
 
Gene-Marie S. February 11, 2019
Touché! You’ve got it!<br />I couldn’t agree with you any more! As I have just entered my 60’s, the easier the better for me. And please note: my ceiling and ceiling fan have not fallen onto my table either!
 
Atiya H. February 9, 2019
My father did most of the cooking when I was growing up, but Mom always made Thanksgiving dinner, which involved slicing vegetables for the dressing on my grandmother's evil mandoline. Inevitably, at some point she'd slice into her thumb, and then there would be blood and bandages and stress. As a result, I now go out to brunch for Thanksgiving, and while I do own a mandoline, it sits unused in a drawer and I do my prep very slowly with a good knife.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 10, 2019
I also don't like cooking for Thanksgiving. I go out to eat or travel
 
Gene-Marie S. February 11, 2019
I go out or travel also. There was always some type of burn or cut because of being in a hurry and stressing over food. Not worth it. Enjoying family and friends now is so much better!
 
Desiree D. February 7, 2019
I once sliced the end of my thumb off making a blue cheese and red potato tart for my mother. Up until that point I had faithfully used the finger guard.... But my chef housemate scoffed at my safety and I was embarrassed. Couldn't find the thumb tip either, still ate the tart :/
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 7, 2019
That tart sounds delicious. (I would have still eaten, too). And I had the same issue - I thought that safety guards looked unprofessional...until I got tired of cutting myself.
 
Gene-Marie S. February 11, 2019
I sliced the skin on the knuckle of my thumb because I tried to get the last of the last slice of that veg by removing the safety guard! “Oh, I’ll be careful”, I said to myself!<br />Hahahaha. Who was I kidding!<br />Now I never use the mandoline without the guard and I never get distracted while using it. This new behavior comes after using many boxes of bandaids! I think I’ve finally learned!
 
Rosemary February 6, 2019
Carlos, what's up with the fat shaming here? You used the words "terrible" and "shame" associated with getting bigger. If you had used another descriptor instead of 'fat', like 'gay' or 'brown' or the like, your editor never would have allowed that (let's hope.) So why this?
 
LT February 10, 2019
What fat shaming? Who was he picking on? He used "terrible" and "shame" to describe his own exaggerated fear of having his family "starve," his home "rot," and his "doubling in weight OVERNIGHT." It was an extreme neurotic fantasy. If you or an editor would rather he did not accurately describe his thoughts and feelings, then how could he write these wonderful stories about himself? How about if you let him be, and deal with your own super-sensitivities? No one was hurt here — except the author, and he grew as a result.
 
Winniecooks February 6, 2019
Oh, yes! I once served a salad that may have had a helping of skin (no blood). But the worst was when I learned to rock a chefs knife back and forth to mince herbs. I called my roommate to see the cool skill I had just mastered and curled my pinky AROUND the knife. With the first rocking motion I efficiently minced the finger. She wasn’t too impressed with my new skill. And I ended up in urgent care.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 6, 2019
Oh that's the worst! Trying to show off your skills and then having an accident. That has definitely happened to me.
 
J February 6, 2019
Great article! But the best part is hidden at the very end: buy a Kevlar glove, people (one of the best Alton Brown recommendations EVER)! They're only about $7 (you really only need one glove and they're sold in singles0 on Amazon and they will change your mandoline game forever: you can slice radishes and even garlic! I never chop onions anymore: I mandoline them. Finally, Carlos, you're so right about the stress. It was several decades ago that I fried my hand while making gravy. I can't even remember exactly how I did it. I remember the trip to ER and then having to have my bandages changed every day for a week. I do remember that it happened because I was stressed.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 6, 2019
It is a wonderful investment. i can't seem to chop onions on it, though. It seems to catch and not slide smoothly. <br /><br />And yes. Stress can be deadly. We have to pay attention to that.
 
Danuta G. February 6, 2019
My kitchen space is miniscule, so I keep my all kitchen gadgets in two large tubs in one of the lower shelves. To avoid accidental slicing from the mandoline when digging in the storage tubs, I keep my mandoline tucked into an athletic sock. I also use the cotton socks to cover my various rolling pins so they don't get damaged, and I know they're safe from various creepy crawlies that inhabit the backs of cupboards! The socks are thick enough to protect my precious tools, get washed regularly, but occasionally I have to explain why a lot of my utensils wear socks!
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 6, 2019
I like that idea
 
Cheryl K. February 6, 2019
I didn’t even have to use it to have blood drawn!! Inexpensive mandolin stored in drawer. Reached in for something else and sliced my finger big time. It’s like a razor blade. Use caution when storing!!
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 6, 2019
That seems to be an issue with a lot of people. BerryBaby below has a good solution: masking tape! Someone else also slips the mandoline into an athletic sock
 
LT February 10, 2019
I have a tiny, tiny kitchen and I still keep mine in its original box. That way I see the instruction/safety sheet every time I use it, so I still have a healthy fear of the thing. And I always use the protector. It may not be cool but no one is watching.
 
Smaug February 6, 2019
The things should be banned. Only time I ever cut myself in the kitchen while making a cut (I've gotten occasional nicks while rummaging in drawers etc.) was on a mandoline. I was dead drunk at the time- a habit I've since abandoned (cooking was the only thing I could ever actually do well drunk), but I've also abandoned hurrying, something there's no real reason for a home cook to do. I think that, among other things, today's home chef is far more inclined to try to imitate professionals who for one thing are actually doing something completely different from a home chef and for another thing are presumably hurrying under control. TV chefs, who I guess count as professionals, are much to blame- they seem determined to show us how easy everything is- chop chop chop whoosh in the pan DONE!!!! This is largely illusion- their produce is carefully selected to avoid difficult shapes, awkward steps are generally glossed over, etc. What service this is supposed to provide the viewers is mysterious to me, but the result is a lot of people having unrealistic expectations of what should happen in the kitchen. Just breath and keep control of what you're doing- if dinner's half an hour late, let them eat saltines.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 6, 2019
That's a very interesting point you bring up.
 
Eric K. February 7, 2019
"Let them eat saltines."<br />—Mario Antoinette
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 7, 2019
I now have an image of Smaug, the dragon, wearing an elaborate 18th century wig and chucking a box of saltines at his guests<br />.
 
Smaug February 8, 2019
Never happen- dragons never wear wigs because of the fire danger.
 
Gene-Marie S. February 11, 2019
That eliminates a mandoline cut! 😉
 
Whiteantlers February 6, 2019
Thanks for this excellent, thoughtful article, Carlos. You and Eric Kim are giving me reason to come back to Food52 for enjoyable, revealing and interesting reading.<br /><br />Being present is a wonderful thing and (at least) for me, one of the hardest states to get to and remain in for more than a handful of minutes. Second to that is asking for help. Third is just relaxing and letting the Superwoman list in my head take a long hike far away from my consciousness for several hours. You reminded me that spending many intense hours creating a beautifully curated and stunningly decorated house and stocking the kitchen with culinary marvels is not all that fabulous if I don't allow myself time to just sit and appreciate my own efforts. Or even just sit. : )<br /><br />Bravo for sharing this!
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 6, 2019
Thank you so much! And you just brought up a very good point. I find myself with blinders on a lot - looking forward and not noticing anything I have done presently or in my past. I only see the things I haven't done ahead of me. It is important to stop and notice all the fabulousness you have brought to the world.
 
Eric K. February 7, 2019
Aw shucks.
 
Frank February 6, 2019
Got cut a few times, all minor. Went to a Dollar Tr** store bought a pair of incredible gloves and never got cut again. I actually wore out my mandoline. I'm looking for a replacement now.
 
witloof February 5, 2019
After slicing the tip off of my index finger twice, I now use my mandoline with utmost respect, complete awareness and mindfulness, and have never cut myself since. I gave one to my friend with a stern warning to never use hers in an absent minded way. You could really question the motives of someone gifting you with something so deadly! I own an OXO which cost about $15, has lasted forever and never gets dull.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 5, 2019
I definitely agree with you. The more dangerous the kitchen gadget, the more mindful you have to be
 
Anna February 5, 2019
Almost half of my/ <br />right thumb and I now also/ <br />own the selfsame gloves
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 5, 2019
uffff. that sounds painful. I'm glad you have the safety gloves now, though
 
BakerBren February 5, 2019
Carlos, thank you for sharing this. It is well written and apt. I too keep a running checklist in my head going for the same reason (anxiety) and the ambition and success part is great, but when it gets the better of you such as when you sliced your finger, it's a reality check. Mandolines are useful but wicked--while working in a professional kitchen with many knives and a deli slicer of course the only thing I ever cut myself on was the mandolines! Even at home I only cut myself on my mandoline or a box grater. It always happens when I play chicken with the blade and feel like I can get a few more slices in before repositioning my hand farther from the blade (duh! my fault).
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 5, 2019
I did the same thing with my mandolines. Playing chicken with it and also an underlying aversion to food waste. I want to get those last little slices in. The safety gloves have helped a lot. Just having them on reminds me to be careful, but if I forget, I won't cut myself.
 
Patricia S. February 5, 2019
Haste was the culprit for me. I am so thankful I had it set at the thinnest possible setting, otherwise bone would have been involved. No stopping the bleeding on my own after removing a postage-stamp sized area, so had to go to the ER. They couldn’t stitch it, but they finally got it stopped. I’ll buy a metal glove before I use it again!<br /><br />
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 5, 2019
That's what makes them so dangerous - they slice across. I'm glad you are okay.
 
Patricia S. February 5, 2019
What amazed me was that it was so sharp and fast, it never really hurt! 😳😳😳
 
Eric K. February 5, 2019
I refuse to buy a mandoline for this reason. Scratch that: I have an itsy-bitsy one in the back of my drawer that I used for a taro root once. To this day, terrified of it.
 
Ttrockwood February 5, 2019
Eric, i bought a cut proof glove for under $8 on amazon, have also seen them at target. I use my mandolin constantly and the glove makes it really easy to grip what you’re slicing
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 5, 2019
The gloves really help.
 
mmurray February 6, 2019
I second the sentiment of a writer above. Eric and Carlos are the most wonderfully moving writers on Food52 today. I look forward to anything you two write as I know the food talk, although always great, is the bonus to the just simply beautiful writing. Always so beautifully honest, moving and always lovely.
 
Eric K. February 7, 2019
What a lovely thing to read today. Thank you so much, mmurray.
 
Author Comment
Carlos C. February 7, 2019
This really made my day! thank you mmurray