The Devil's in the Details

Here's a little kitchen aphorism that can save you loads of pain: If you chop hot peppers, wear latex gloves. And if you don't have latex gloves, go to your plastics drawer and get out a couple of sandwich baggies and put them over your hands. You might even want to double up on those.

I went about learning this the hard way on New Year's Eve, having promised my husband a nice dinner. Since he likes to challenge himself with the stars at Thai restaurants, and was bringing home a friend who, being male, I assumed would like steak and spice, I decided to serve marinated steaks with mushrooms and jalapeños.

To my surprise, after chopping the peppers, one of my fingers stung a lot more than it should have just from standard winter chap. The stinging had begun to spread all over my hands within half an hour or so; I scrubbed my hands again and went to my computer. Lou signed out of IM and I knew he was on his way home, friend in tow, giving me about five minutes to put the computer away and do some last minute straightening up. Thinking about where to start, I rubbed my left eye.

After a good three minutes of holding my wrists over that eye, trying not to get too close with the fingers while wiping away the tears, I expected to greet husband and guest with one nicely made-up eye and one swollen red one painted only with saline water. (As it turns out, my eyeliner is tougher than I thought.) I got the computer away, one-eyed, and went about turning on the porch light and making dinner.

Fortunately, our guest admitted to a fondness for spice. Lou commented that the meal had turned out spicy, but I didn't particularly notice, because I spent every chewing moment either holding onto my water glass or waving my hands about under the table. For those unacquainted with the powers of capsaicin, that little hellfire chemical in chile peppers, it can burn so hard through your skin that you feel it all the way at the bone.

Miss Manners probably doesn't recommend that hostesses leave the room every few minutes, but the burning sensation just kept increasing. Lotion worked for a minute, tops. Vitamin E oil actually seemed to make things worse faster.

After dinner, I snuck into the bedroom, pulled up my computer and Googled "jalapeño burning hands". Google gave me a question-and-answer site with over seventy comments. The first person suggested bleach. Others suggested rubbing alcohol. A couple of people said not to do either, that it was dangerous to fight a chemical burn with chemicals. (That's probably true.) A few said milk (internally or externally?). Still others said there was no remedy. Everyone disagreed, and they all seemed to have reason or experience or dire warning on their side.

All right, I thought, I'll suck it up. I sat on the couch and tried to behave myself until I could bear it no longer. I went into the bathroom and doused my hands in rubbing alcohol, rubbed them till they dried, and went back to the couch ... and the burning began to ease.

Glory, hallelujah! But I could still feel traces of the stinging in my thumbs the next day, though I repeated the alcohol treatment every time I washed my hands for hours. Lesson learned. If you ever plan to spend some time with hot peppers, consider yourself warned.

And if you want a tasty capsaicin challenge for yourself, here's a recipe.

Marinade for four 4-8 oz steaks:
1/2 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp mustard
Garlic salt and pepper

Fork meat well on both sides and turn in marinade. Let sit in refrigerator for at least six hours, turning once. Broil to desired doneness.

8 oz sliced mushrooms
3 large jalapeños, de-seeded (unless you really want the full burn) and julienned
Garlic salt
Cooking sherry

Heat olive oil very hot in a skillet. Throw in mushrooms and peppers and season with garlic salt and sherry to taste. Cook till heated through, but not thoroughly wilted.

Potatoes mashed with garlic powder and ranch dressing make a good side dish. For greens, I made a spring mix salad with slivered almonds, chopped tomatoes, and parmesan.

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