Saturday, June 11, 2011


Perusing the internet today I found Dana Rohrabacher suggesting to Iraqis they should pay us back for the money we spent (illegally and unconstitutionally) attacking them. Tim Pawlenty suggesting two trillion dollars in more tax cuts for the wealthy, Rick Santorum announcing that it was “patently absurd” to think humans had anything to do with global warming, Jamie Damon (CEO of JPMorgan Chase) suggesting the recovery was stalled because of too much bank regulation, Rick Perry calling for a prayer event to ask Jesus to help us out of our problems, and Herman Cain suggesting as President he would not sign any bill more than three pages in length. Not wishing to enter into the madness of Republicans I decided to pass on all this nonsense.

On top of this awkward news day it was raining and I could not work outside. Out of boredom I turned to the latest Chef’s catalog that arrived yesterday, as it does every two or three months, that I usually just throw away (along with the Great Courses catalog that seems to arrive daily, those people obviously have far too much money). Anyway, I don’t know whether to feel humbled and impoverished relative to others who cook, or superior and more down to earth. I am a so-so cook, good enough to avoid starvation and, more importantly, good enough to avoid eating any form of fast food, including the now thousands of already prepared frozen meals, frozen vegetables, fruits, and fish that now occupy somewhere around 4/5ths of our local supermarket, along with the already cut meat wrapped in plastic and the endless packages of cereal, cookies, hamburger helpers and what-have-you. Aside from a small (not very fresh) fish counter, and an area that still features fresh fruits and vegetables (not much larger than the florist shop), there is nothing that resembles what I would consider “real” food. Thus I was surprised to learn of the many specialized (more likely overspecialized) items that are advertised for an audience I suspect doesn’t really cook.

For example, there is a “Stem Gem” that with “the push of a button” grabs the berry, and then with a squeeze of the handles slices strawberries. There is also a special Pineapple Slicer/Corer that “operates like a corkscrew,” with a large serrated slicing blade, allowing you to peel, core and slice perfect rings. For a mere twenty bucks you can also get a Barbecue mitt to “safely remove hot items from a grill (withstands 475 degrees). For the same price you can buy a Cupcake tower that allows you to elevate your “enticing desserts” and collapses for handy storage. I was taken by the “Chefs Essential Asparagus Pot,” a stainless steel pot with a lift out basket that can also be used to steaming lobsters. I was also smitten by the special scissors with five blades for snipping herbs, as it has large handles with a “soft silicone lining” for added comfort. No kitchen should be without a “shapely pan that keeps peppers upright” when making stuffed peppers, or a special pan for making “deliciously healthy meatballs” without having to turn them. Then there is a finger guard, “the secret tool used by professional chefs” that protects your fingers when slicing and chopping (I have been watching cooking shows for many years and have never seen a chef use such a thing). There are at least three different pans for poaching eggs, each guaranteed to be nonstick and poach eggs in minutes. If you don’t fancy poached eggs there is also a “Gourmet Egg Cooker” that will prepare up to seven eggs cooked to different stages of soft, medium and hard. You also need the special Egg Topper with a spring handle that cuts the tops off cleanly. I would be negligent if I did not mention the Cut-Resistant Glove that while light, flexible, and comfortable also protect your hands when cutting. You also need “Hot gloves” that can take the heat (up to 660 degrees) when transporting hot casserole dishes, grilling, or even changing light bulbs.

I could go on and on, there are so many gadjets the modern cook should have they are almost endless. I haven’t even mentioned the more important ones, like the automatic pasta maker, the automatic bread maker, the special rice cooker, specialized knives, cheese cutters, omelet pans, battery operated salt and pepper shakers, and so on. After reviewing this catalog I am amazed that my wife (a gourmet class cook) and I, with more than a hundred years of cooking experience between us, have managed for all this time without any of these gadjets. We just make-do, year after year, with a few old friends, cast iron skillets old enough to be considered antiques, an aluminum steamer bent and discolored after forty years of wear, odds and ends of pots and pans that used to match, knives with worn blades from so much sharpening, a roasting pan so old we can’t remember where it came from, and, as I recall, a special pan for risotto we purchased at least twenty years ago, our last purchase. I confess the idea of having three different cooking gloves, for 475 degrees, 660 degrees, and to protect your hands from cuts would never have occurred to me had I not learned about them in this catalog. It is also hard for me to imagine what kind of kitchen one would have to have in order to accommodate all the various gadgets one might have. Of course I don’t believe anyone actually has all these different specialized objects. Indeed, I strongly suspect that those who do have any of them most probably are not serious cooks in the first place (see my early essay, “Valley Girls in the Kitchen). I guess we’ll just plod along in the relative dark ages while the food in our markets slowly becomes more and more artificial with more and more additives, packaged, pre-cooked, tasteless, but fast, fast, fast. There is a paradox here, at a time when cooking seems to be less and less important, there seem to be more and more devices available for the purpose. Do you suppose there really is someone who uses one glove to keep from cutting themselves, another for the barbecue, and still another for transporting casseroles and stockpots? Say it ain’t so.

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