Based on the variety of ice cream scoops on the market—1,529 are available from Amazon alone—one might conclude the world faces a crisis of improperly or inconveniently excavated ice cream.
I think it’s more a symptom of our love affair with cooking gadgetry. Today’s kitchens are bigger than ever, and can easily accommodate toys like turkey fryers, pizza stones, bread-making machines and drawers of little hand tools.
Every day we’re inundated with images of picture-perfect food, and some people actually believe an adjustable tip on their bulb baster, or a chef jacket with their name embroidered on it, will help them reach the next level. But at some point, even in the most super-sized of kitchens, the returns from accumulating this stuff will eventually diminish. Keep that in mind as we prepare for another seasonal round of buying each other more crap to deal with.
Every piece of cooking gear you give someone effectively takes away space from their kitchen. If he or she doesn’t have a lot of space to work with, that can mess with their cooking flow. Just because, in the moment of present-opening, someone is pleased at the sight of a new set of egg-poaching baskets, doesn’t mean it’s in their best interest to keep it.
What I want for Christmas is an uncluttered kitchen, with just the tools I need to do what I do. And when I’m at home, in private, what I do is pretty simple. Food usually goes in a bowl ungarnished, spiced with some form of capsicum and greased with cheese or mayo if desired.
I’ll take good ingredients over kitchen gear any day. I can improvise from there. What I can’t do is move a dough mixer out of the way every time I want to chop an onion. I can’t waste my shelf space with gravy separators and pancake portion pourers.
I’m not saying folks should go ill prepared into meal prep. If you frequently enjoy soft-boiled eggs at home, you should probably own one of those medieval-torture-device-looking things that constricts a ring of blades around the tip of the egg with an easy squeeze of the handle, scalping off the shell and allowing your spoon easy access to the slimy innards. I do not need one of these devices, hence I do not have one.
But given how often I write about food, I am admittedly shocked at times by how primitive my kitchen is. Until recently I was opening cans with a jackknife. I still don’t own measuring spoons. My whisk gets more action as a mallet for a certain little drummer boy than I ever give it. Not one piece of my silverware matches another. But nobody leaves my table unfulfilled. No one can taste that the meal was cooked on an electric stove, or that my knives are dull.
Knives, in fact, can serve as a barometer for someone’s obsession with kitchen tools. You can spend a lot of money on them, or almost none. Any knife can be kept sharp, or get the job done dull. If you are really into fancy knives, you probably have at least one ice cream scoop. If you’re a pro, you pretty much need to spend money on knives. Otherwise, you really don’t.
My favorite knife ever is one I got in Thailand. It’s rectangular and very thin, with a wide, flat tip I can use as a spatula. I picked it up while on a motorcycle-taxi tour around some of Bangkok’s widely dispersed open-air kitchen-supply markets. My driver was helping me find a cro hiin, Thai for “big-ass stone mortar and pestle.”
We finally found my cro hiin at a stall in a market underneath an elevated highway. I bought both sets the guy had, because they were absolutely perfect: well-crafted from smooth, heavy stone. They were the size of teakettles and about 20 pounds each.
When I finally got my mortars and pestles home, I put one set straight on my counter, where it proved well worth the trouble. It pulverizes everything, large and small, hard and soft. The heavy pestle does all the work, and the mortar doesn’t budge. The bowl is deep enough that stuff doesn’t fly out and all over the kitchen. It consumes a bit of space, but it’s worth it. That cro hiin remains one of the most important tools in my primitive kitchen.
I gave the other cro hiin to friends as a wedding present. As for presents to celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, solstice, Kwanzaa, the retail economy or whatever they’re calling it these days, remember: Your friends probably already have an ice cream scoop. It’s called a spoon.
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