On brownie cutters and cupcake couriers

I just received an email from a reader who noted the distinct absence of an update on this site. Sorry ’bout that. I have been: out of town at a frisbee tournament, up ’til all hours working on the neighborhood newsletter (which is now online-ish! Read it here), and dealing with a landlady who snoops around my house and asks me to do things like “clean the bathroom ceiling” and “oil the kitchen cabinets.” Plus, now that I am famous and all, you know, it’s hard to go anywhere without getting stopped by the paparazzi.

So, because it’s late, and because I’m lazy, and because I think I just undid the last four months of physical therapy by sloppily diving for a disc (and not catching it) and I need to go ice my shoulder, I am going to repost something I wrote over on my Culinate blog last night:

If I only had a steam-free milk frother…

My mother always says that a kitchen isn’t complete without a lettuce spinner and a food processor. When she visited me a few years ago, she was dumbfounded by my lack of both.

“I couldn’t function without mine!” she said. (And I don’t doubt it—it was a crisis of epic proportions when her microwave gave out.)

I don’t think I need to tell you what she gave me the following Christmas.

Now, I do love my lettuce spinner—almost as much as I love my Cuisinart—but I’m not sure I’d make the case that a kitchen isn’t complete without one. In fact, I think I got along quite fine before either item entered my world. Even now, without all of the appliances and accoutrements I wish I had—a crock pot, a stand mixer, a Le Creuset pan—I’d say my tiny little kitchen is pretty well stocked.

But, just like your self-esteem, your confidence in your kitchen is fragile. One little nudge and mine shattered.

Enter the cooking.com catalog that arrived, unsolicited, in my mailbox. After drooling through the All-Clad section, I discovered a trove of kitchen gadgets. It turns out that not only am I missing some basic gear, I also lack in “essentials” I didn’t even know existed.

Such as:

  • Non-stick paring knives
  • A cookie dough scoop (spoons are so passé)
  • A cupcake courier (this is a “must-have for the baker”—it safely transports up to 36 cupcakes without disturbing the frosting)
  • A salad-dressing mixer (I guess shaking your dressing in a jar is inefficient)
  • The “Garlic Zoom” (a little plastic ball on wheels that chops your garlic—like a garlic press, except straight out of the Jetsons’ kitchen)
  • “Poach Pods” (silicon egg poachers)
  • A lemon and lime squeezer AND a device to store sliced citrus (anyone who is anybody knows not to squeeze by hand, didn’t you know?)
  • A potato ricer
  • An apple peeler (apparently regular peelers aren’t good enough—this one even cores and slices your fruit)
  • A clip that holds stirring spoons to your pots (never lose a drip again!)
  • A vegetable sanitizer
  • A brownie cutter-upper (The blurb says: “Take the guesswork out of evenly slicing brownies.” Thank goodness someone has finally solved the inequitable distribution of brownies in this world.)

I read the catalog cover to cover, partly out of jealousy for the things I couldn’t afford or wouldn’t have room to store even if I wanted them, but mostly out of outrage over the fact that there’s actually a market for things like “ice orbs” (vertical ice cube trays that store ice while making it) and “muffin top pans” (inspired, I’m sure, by that episode of Seinfeld).

And yet, despite the ridiculous nature of about half of the products in the catalog, part of me couldn’t help but feel like my kitchen has a long way to go. Just like those clothing ads designed to make us feel inadequate about how we look (ergo forcing us to spend money on more outfits), this little kitchen-supply catalog was twisting a non-stick paring knife in my side. And then sprinkling salt from a battery-operated grinding mill on my wound.

LAURA, I KNOW THE TRUTH, it said. YOU DON’T EVEN OWN A REGULAR PARING KNIFE. IN FACT, YOU’RE NOT QUITE SURE WHY A PARING KNIFE IS NECESSARY.

AND I KNOW YOU DON’T HAVE A COOLING RACK.

I put the catalog down. You know what? My kitchen might be smaller than most people’s cars, but it gets the job done. True, I don’t own a fat separator or fancy stainless steel cookware. But then again, I don’t need a cinnamon mill to make good food.

As far as I’m concerned, all anyone really needs is a chef’s knife, a cutting board, a couple of pots and pans, a baking dish, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper.

Sure, lettuce spinners and food processors are nice, but you’ll be complete without them.