Ms. Adventure

Ms. Adventure: Can She Cut It?

Learning to wield a knife in the kitchen seems a little choppy at first.

BY January 13, 2017

When it comes to the culinary arts, Ms. Adventure is truly the Nigella Lawson of the microwave. Seriously, I can poke holes in the plastic wrap covering a frozen Lean Cuisine meal like nobody’s business. I can even gently peel the wrap off of the apple cobbler portion after the instructed 2 minutes and 30 seconds, stir it with finesse and replace it in the microwave for another 2 minutes without consulting the directions on the back of the box more than three times. I’ve even learned to let the plastic tray “sit” in the microwave for at least a minute so that I don’t burn my tongue on my Salisbury steak.

If you’re thinking my microwave skills wouldn’t exactly get me a spot on Top Chef, then consider my Kraft macaroni and cheese. Here’s my secret weapon: After you’ve boiled the macaroni, opened the tin foil envelope of “cheese” and mixed it all together—go a little crazy and add a half a can of peas. Yes, it’s unconventional, but that’s how adventurous I am in the kitchen.

Suffice it to say, I am NOT a foodie.

When I was a wee Ms. Adventure, my mother used to tell me that my favorite “dish” was Oscar Mayer bologna on white Wonder Bread with Miracle Whip. When we went to Burger Chef, I’d order a simple hamburger with ketchup only—no mustard, no pickles, no onions. In other words, I was the Princess of Bland.

One of my most vivid memories is from when I was around 8 years old and my mom and I were driving home from picking up a pizza. Her half of the pie had anchovies, mushrooms, peppers, and sausage, whereas my side had cheese only. Mom begged me to try a slice of hers and I refused. She then implored me to, at least, take a bite. Nope—I stood my ground. She then pulled the car over and pulled a single mushroom off her slice, “You have got to expand your horizons and your taste buds, my dear daughter,” she pleaded. “Just TRY a mushroom—they’re delicious. I promise.”

Wanting to get back on the road again so I could get home in time to watch The Partridge Family, I finally gave in and put the dreaded mushroom in my mouth and promptly gagged. It was NOT delicious at all. It was slimy and weird and tasted like dirt despite all the spices.

The Failed Mushroom Experiment of 1973 was my first and last adventure when it came to exotic foods (yes, I consider mushrooms exotic). My sweet well-meaning mother always regretted the incident because it carried over to other foods. She couldn’t get me to try shrimp, oysters, olives or arugula. Instead, I stuck with safe products like Campbell’s tomato soup, Chicken of the Sea tuna and SpaghettiOs—aka, food that came out of a can; food that only need be heated up, at the most.

As a result, I don’t cook—I microwave, I boil and I order out. Cooking is an adventure for me that usually fails. And it’s not like I haven’t tried a time or two. I can follow a basic recipe, but the instinct of adding the right spices or knowing how long to leave something in the oven so it’s not overcooked is a constant struggle. I’m awesome with a can opener, but pathetic with a kitchen knife.

So, I decided to slice a wide swath right through my comfort zone and take a beginners Knife Skills course at Purple Spoon Culinary in Bonita Springs with Chef Kristina San Filippo.

Trust me, I don’t want to eat boxed macaroni and cheese for the rest of my life and neither does my husband. I’m grown up now, and bland is boring. I want excitement and spice and adventure in my kitchen, but it all starts with learning how to properly use a knife to prepare your food for cooking. On the rare occasions that I do slice and dice, it almost always ends up with Neosporin and a Band-Aid, because not only am I inexperienced, I also learned in Chef Kristina’s class that I don’t exactly have the sharpest knives in my drawer. Again, my can opener is top-notch, but I use a 15-year-old paring knife to cut almost everything, which is bad—very bad.

What I loved about Chef Kristina’s class was that she started her students out in her beautiful, immaculate kitchen space and talked about her extensive background and told stories while preparing a yummy lunch for us. “Food,” she says, “is to be enjoyed and to enjoy feeding those around you.”

After lunch, we got on our feet and joined her around a huge kitchen island where all the students were presented with fruits and veggies to cut and different types of knives to experiment with. James Grosser, a Naples craftsman famous for his handmade knives (, was there, so we got to work with those, too. I found them to be pretty powerful in my small hands, but I took more of a shine to some ceramic knives that Kristina had on-hand. At first, I was all choppy and clumsy, lifting the knife on and off the cutting board as I sliced a fresh onion, but Kristina showed me how to keep the blade on the board and use a safer, more effective rocking motion instead. While it might sound like a cliché, cutting food is like tennis, golf and a number of other skills—it’s all in the wrist.

Chef Kristina showed us the best ways to cut lemons, onions, peppers, tomatoes, carrots (harder than I thought) and even star fruit. She kept the class fun as we snacked on the food we cut and nothing went to waste (Chef Kristina uses leftovers for soups and stocks). I loved her tales of culinary school and adventures in restaurants from California to New Orleans and hearing her philosophies on food and nutrition.

At the end of the two-hour course, I ended up buying a beautiful ceramic knife and I’ve been rocking it ever since. Whether it’s peeling, chopping, dicing or slicing, I’m finally feeling adventurous in the kitchen. I’ve created some pretty decent meals that involve neither box nor can—but I can assure you, not one dish has included a single mushroom. Maybe I’ll save those for the next adventure.

Illustration by Gary Hovland.

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