For many people, the fall and winter holidays are a time to look forward to. In particular, a part of many holiday traditions revolves around gathering with friends and family and partaking in a great meal or feast. Even if you don’t usually spend a lot of time in the kitchen, you may find yourself having to break out the gravy boats and roasting pans if a family dinner is in the cards. If the oven and stove are not your natural areas of expertise, consider some of the following tips to make sure you stay safe while whipping up your tasty feast.
Some would argue that the essential tool in preparing food is the kitchen knife. Considering how many duties a knife performs, it would be hard to disagree, but without proper care a knife can easily cause an injury. The first thing you will want to make sure of is that your knives are properly sharp. While that may sound like it would create more grievous injuries, the fact remains that dull blades mean less control over what you’re cutting. Without a sharp edge, you run the risk of glancing off the surface of that onion you’re slicing or having to saw and tear through a side of beef, traumatizing your cut and possibly making ragged, uneven cuts. And a dull knife will almost certainly have enough of an edge to injure you. It will be your ingredients that are worse for wear. For an average home cook, a knife-edge may only work optimally for three or four sessions. But here an important distinction must be made. It is generally accepted that there are two main ways to make your knives sharp: sharpening and honing. Basically, after regular use, your blade becomes worn and uneven, literally “losing its edge.” Sharpening is a process where the metal in the blade is ground away, creating a whole new edge. Some cookware companies offer a professional sharpening service, and you can also purchase electric home sharpeners that can do the grinding for you. It sounds like a good deal, but you have to understand each time you sharpen your knife, you are actually stripping away pieces of the blade and its overall life in general. To balance this, many advise honing your knives regularly and only sharpening every couple of years or so. If you imagine your knife’s edge as a set of teeth, honing aligns teeth that may have gone out of place, while sharpening replaces the set altogether. Honing is typically accomplished with a piece of honing steel. If you’ve ever seen a comprehensive knife set, it’s the metal rod. Honing your knives every 1-2 sessions will not only make them safer but will give you a much more satisfying performance in the kitchen.
One other common cause of injury in the kitchen is accidents caused by hot pots or ingredients. When you are working at the stove, make sure all handles are never hanging over the edge so no one can accidentally pull the pot off by colliding with the handle. Make sure you have oven mitts or thick dish rags ready if you need to transport sheets or pans with super hot surfaces. You never want to be caught looking for the oven mitts, then try and improvise with a light dishcloth that may or may not be up to the task of protecting your hands from burn wounds. If you are frying in deep oil, it is highly recommended you get a splash guard you can place over the pot while cooking. Not only will this prevent searing oil drops from leaping onto your hands, arms, or face, but it will also greatly help with cleaning up after the cooking is finished. Cooking as a family is a time-honored tradition, but if you have children as assistants, make sure you are present at all times and pay special attention to any hot ingredients, especially sugar. If you are caramelizing sugar, it takes a high amount of heat to achieve that syrupy texture. It’s not only scalding but very sticky. Treat these pots with extra special care.
Mind your Back
While it may be one of the most benign activities you could imagine, cooking can take quite a toll on your back. Even if you’re not a career chef, if you are trying to put together an ambitious family feast, you may find yourself on your feet for several hours, which can do a number on your spine. One remedy you might want to consider is a floor mat for your kitchen. These are often explicitly designed to help with your feet and back by providing moderate cushioning while being water-resistant so it doesn’t become unpleasantly saturated over time. If you want to add some additional support, consider wearing some cushy slippers or shoes with thick socks or insoles to help take the edge off the prolonged standing you might be doing. Another straightforward fix is to plan to take plenty of breaks to make sure you’re not putting so much pressure on your feet in one go. Simmering, baking, and roasting all tend to have windows of downtime where you can put your feet up for a bit and plan your next move.
If you are experiencing chronic back pain while cooking, you may consider consulting a chiropractor. A chiropractic therapist is trained to diagnose and treat maladies and irregularities pertaining to and stemming from the neck and spine. They can offer advice on posture and exercises you can perform to strengthen your core and ease the discomfort you may be experiencing from prolonged standing. If need be, they may also perform adjustments to any existing misalignments in your spine.
A hearty holiday dinner with good company can be one of the fondest memories of any year. Anyone who takes it upon themselves to spend time in the kitchen and make it happen deserve special commendation for doing so. If that happens to be you, plan ahead, make sure your knives are sharp, and you’ll be set to make a feast to remember.