Tuesday, August 14, 2007

An Old Wives' Tale

Tea told me that she'd heard that burning a candle nearby when you're chopping onions is supposed to make you not cry. I've become very sensitive to onion fumes over the last ten years and have found that the only things that work for me are 1) wearing swim goggles, or 2) chopping an onion that has been previously refrigerated for a week. Shobi-wan worked in a diner and she had personally tested and rejected all other methods: Freezing the onions first; chopping them under cold running water; holding a match in her mouth; and breathing through her mouth only.

I don't refrigerate onions on a regular basis, and I no longer have swim goggles, so I wind up chopping as quickly as I can. I then must immediately wash my hands, the chopping board, and the knife, and get rid of the onion skin. Sometimes I have to also wash my face, if the onions are juicy, or I had to chop a lot of them. Zirpu has been known to finish the onion chopping from time to time.

Oddly, I do not have this reaction to onion fumes when they're cooking in a wok or a pan, unless I'm making something I call "'70's Dinner" that requires frying three onions' worth of onion strings in an inch of oil.

Tonight I had to chop two small onions and I remembered Tea's suggesting the candle would work. When she told me about it, she hadn't tried it and was frankly doubtful. "Maybe the flame burns up the onion fumes," I had remarked, but had never remembered to actually try it until I was already in tears.

I'm happy to say that it worked! I got through both onions (admittedly, they were very small) without becoming blind with tears. I don't know if it would work long enough for a lot more onion, but this was a good start.

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