My favourite thingamajigs and doohickeys
Every hobby has its tools. Sports all have equipment of some sort, musicians have instruments, gardeners have trowels, and so on.
There are also all the gizmos and gadgets that you can add to your repertoire. Some are just goofy.
You know, the kinds of things you see on TV, or get for Christmas from a secret Santa?
I have written about some of those wacky items before, but today I want to pay homage to those special friends in my kitchen that I couldn't cook without.
As I used them all this week, it occurred to me that sharing them might help inspire others.
Well, here goes nothing.
One of the first really cool and useful gadgets I had in my kitchen was called a butter ruler.
Maybe you've seen it? A small plastic card that measures tablespoons, cups, and everything in between.
It might sound overly simple, but I use this thing almost as much as measuring spoons. If you are not a baker, I bet you know someone who is.
This is the best stocking stuffer ever.
The other super-cool thing I remember in the kitchen from the time I was a kid was my dad's frying pan.
It was a small thin pan that he used almost exclusively for making fried eggs. They were always perfect, soft in the middle and crispy on the edges.
When I had to go to early morning basketball practice in the winter, Daddy would get up and make me a fried egg sandwich, making sure to scrape every little crispy bit from the pan.
I'm sure I played better on those days. I still make fried eggs in it; that pan was one of the first mementos I claimed when my dad passed away.
My real corruption to a full-fledged foodie happened when I lived in France for a year. They had all kinds of stuff I'd never seen — potato ricers, vegetable mills, grinders and graters of all sizes, and amazing serving utensils.
I was a starving student in those days, but when I returned to France years later, I visited the famous kitchen store E. Dehillerin and brought home some goodies.
My treasured whisk with its decorative enamel handle and my steel pineapple corer are always close at hand. (The corer is so efficient, I've often pondered writing a mystery novel and using it as the killer's weapon of choice!)
One tool I use a lot is something my husband turned me on to — a silicone mat.
If you have never used one of these babies, you are truly missing out. We use it for baking cookies, biscuits and scones; it's great for anything you don't want to stick and it saves you using butter or oil.
For fancy tricks, like melting Parmesan for shaping bowls or making sugar decorations, it's awesome.
Any chef will tell you that the most important tool in the kitchen is a good knife. I have a good chef's knife, but my favourite blade is a paring knife I got from Lee Valley years ago.
It is often like an extension of my hand when I am cooking. The wooden handle moulds to my hand and the carbon blade holds an edge extremely well.
There was a knife just like it in the kitchen when I was little; my dad sharpened it often and it got smaller and smaller. Thankfully, my carbon blade has lasted better.
My dad would be pleased that I'm using a few of his old tools, I think.
It certainly makes me smile to know that I'm carrying on a few family traditions in the kitchen.
My husband isn't a fan of kitchen gadgets or flimsy utensils — being a chef, he wants to know that he can depend on his tools to work properly even the going gets tough.
I can tell you with confidence that he endorses every one of the items mentioned this week.
Do you have a favourite kitchen tool? Is there some nifty gizmo you just couldn't cook without?
I'd love to hear your comments. Leave them here, or post a picture on my Happy Gourmande Facebook page.
Other good things:
- Nutmeg grater
- Pineapple corer
You might not have the same friends, but if you like cooking, I'm sure you have a few favourites, too.
You might think I am espousing the idea of introducing yourself to the vegetables in the supermarket (“How do you do, Mr. Potato Head, my name is Kristin”).
I'm not crazy. I will introduce you to someone who is doing the same thing, mostly for kids. As school gets back up to speed, it seems a good idea to share the concept.
Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article written a few years ago:
- (Alice Water's) pioneering Edible Schoolyard project, in which schoolchildren grow their own lunch and teachers use gardens for science lessons and recipes for social studies, is thriving in Berkeley, has been planted in New Orleans and may expand to Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. But in more than a decade the concept has not permeated the nation’s thinking on education.
- Although many school districts are trying to improve the food they offer, the results have been unsatisfying, she said. It’s useless to coat frozen chicken nuggets with whole-wheat bread crumbs and fill vending machines with diet soda.
Education about food is something we all take for granted, and, unfortunately, this is a topic at which we are all starting to fail, not just in terms of children but for adults, too.
I think Alice Waters’ frustration is valid and deserves attention even here in Canada, as we have much the same situation. I know not everyone can enjoy their own garden, or maybe not even get to the farmer’s market, but does that mean they shouldn’t see local food?
And when I say local food, I don’t mean KFC from the local outlet (tongue planted firmly in cheek here – no offence to KFC).
Our world has changed from when my parents were kids, and certainly from the day of my grandfather’s stories.
Most food is bought in large chain stores now, and most things are available year-round. Many foods that people buy now have a list of ingredients as they are already, in some degree, prepared.
We have lost sight of the importance in knowing our food, or at least what is in it.
Did you know that some form of refined sugar is in most processed foods, even savoury ones like spaghetti sauce and soups?
I am not saying sugar is the source of all evil, but since we are eating more if we are eating what is in those cans, we need to remember that when we eat the rest of our food.
I like my sugar in dessert and I like herbs in my spaghetti sauce. (I know that a spoonful of sugar with tomatoes is a good cook’s secret, but that is one spoonful per recipe, not per serving.)
The technology we have today does offer us advantages. We can preserve things in tetra boxes or packaging with preservatives.
Machines in factories make prepared meals cheaper so busy families can eat on the fly.
Maybe in the not-too-distant future, they will think of ways to make spaghetti sauce grown on the vine, and they will feed tuna mayonnaise in the ocean so lunches could be even easier to make.
Maybe they could even slice it and freeze it with bread on either side so that your tuna fish sandwich was ready to go!
Do I sound ridiculous? Well, I am sure if I asked my grandfather how he felt about the packaged products we eat continuously, he would think the current state of affairs was ridiculous too.
A large portion of our population is overweight and unhealthy because of the food they eat or because of the food they don’t eat.
We can fix the situation, but it does take all of us to do it.
- Kids should know that putting fresh fruit on their yogurt is healthier than eating flavoured yogurt.
- They should understand that a 12-ounce can of soda usually has the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of sugar in it (the recommended daily limit).
- They should know that food comes from farms and gardens, not supermarkets and factories.
- We should all get to know our food, and that does mean re-introducing ourselves to the ingredients (the ones we can actually pronounce in the packages).
Every little bit helps. If you have kids, spend some time talking with them about food. Get them tasting, and cooking, at an early age. Curiosity can be good for their appetite.
If you don't have kids, then the same applies to you. You know the saying, "Do something every day that scares you"?
Maybe that is tasting a new food, or cooking a recipe. Google 15 minute meals if you need to - cooking real food doesn't have to be fancy or complicated.
If you have time, visit a farmer's market or linger in the produce aisle.
You might just be inspired.
Isn't it funny how the taste of something can transport you back in time to a particular place, a definite memory?
Just like a song can make you remember a time In your life, a taste can pinpoint an experience, too. Once in a while, it's not a good memory (that's tequila for me), but usually it means you are engulfed by that warm, fuzzy feeling of nostalgia.
Retro diners and old-fashioned food labels work because they evoke those warm, fuzzy memories. After all, who doesn't want another taste of the good old days?
Root beer is one of the most powerful nostalgic tastes. When I was little, we lived in Winnipeg and my Gramps was my babysitter.
We used to go to A&W for lunch, and I would get a baby mug of frosty cold root beer with my onion rings.
I still have my mug sitting on my dresser, and every first sip of a root beer brings back a vision of the orange and brown and my grandfather's happy face. It makes me smile and warms my heart.
The sweet bubbles offer a perfect foil for the salty coating on the onion rings, and then the sweet ,juicy onion rounds it all off. Nirvana for the taste buds, truly.
Another favourite taste of my childhood is peanuts in the shell. They smell kind of dusty, and the first sensation in my mouth is of dryness, and a slightly bitter taste from the skins.
Then, the creaminess of the nuts coats my mouth and I get the satisfaction of not only making my own peanut butter, but also having worked for my food.
My dad and I used to shell peanuts on Sunday afternoons while watching The Wide World of Sports.
Do you remember that clip of the ski jumper crashing that opened the show? We used to celebrate the thrill of victory over the nuts while we watched the agony of defeat of some of those athletes.
I was surprised to remember a taste of summers as a kid when I bit into a tomato sandwich last week.
Fresh garden tomatoes on fresh sourdough bread with Hellman's mayonnaise — that combination brought back memories of family picnics.
My mom would package everything separately, so sandwiches didn't get soggy and the tanginess of the mayo with the sweet tomatoes was perfection between two slices of bread.
The only part I didn't like was how slippery it all was; the tomato slices were notorious for sliding out the side of the sandwich.
The best you could hope for was to just have the juice drip down your arm.
I'm sure you must be thinking of your own memories by now. I have one more to leave you with.
My husband just walked in the door with groceries and he is all excited about the deal he got: free cereal for spending so much money.
He picked Fruit Loops. The last time I had those was camping as a kid. We never had sugared cereal at home, but on camping trips my parents bought those packages of mini boxes you could open and use as a bowl.
Interestingly enough, it was mostly the sugary cereals that were included in the package. We are camping this weekend, so I guess I'll have to give them a try. The kid in me can't resist. (
I just wish he had bought Corn Pops, they were my favourite.)
As this summer turns into another page in the scrapbook of life, what tastes will you remember?
If you don't have something new to add to the memory banks, maybe that should be your mission for autumn.
My best friend has an insatiable appetite; she loves to eat.
She is never afraid of not looking good or not fitting into her clothes. She exercises regularly and most of what she eats is healthy, organic food.
I am inspired by her every day. Her gusto for life reminds me to seize the moment more often.
I have had other friends like her, and they have all been a special part of my life.
With friends like that, you share special memories of ordinary things that make your day sparkle.
You find yourself smiling at simple beauty, stopping to smell the flowers, savouring every sip of your latte.
Being a foodie, having a friend who loves to eat is encouraging. Her simple taste can dazzle me with the complexity of flavours she achieves in a meal. I know of no one else in the world who gets excited about having the exact same dinner every night, jumping up and down when it's served.
My best friend is my brown girl, Ella. Chocolate Labs are known for their good spirit and healthy appetite and she is a true ambassador of the breed. For the last nine years, she has been my pal through thick and thin, sharing our morning walk, cheering me on during my workouts, leaning in for a snuggle when I'm tired, making me smile with her antics when I'm stressed.
Her demands for my attention are almost always centred around her stomach – she never forgets when it’s breakfast or dinner time.
Other than that, she’s just happy to be in my company.
Having unconditional love is a wonderful thing, and I highly recommend it for anyone willing to spend the quality time with a four-legged pal. I have to admit, though, having a pal who understands a passion for food is another bonus altogether.
Ella’s enthusiasm for her Kibble is a great reminder that simple meals can be enjoyed with gusto. One doesn’t always have to eat fancy food or look for some way to dress up a dish.
Sometimes straightforward flavours are wonderful on their own. Her combination of foods is inspiring too though; she has given me ideas for some of my favourite salads.
Have you ever tried peaches and cucumbers with your lettuce? How about pears and zucchinis? Ella is the quintessential seasonal foodie, so she comes up with the best flavours for the moment.
Our strolls through the orchard and the garden motivate her to sniff out delectable goodies.
I have shared my kitchen with other brown girls over the years and they have all been foodies.
Tigger was an adventurous eater, once consuming a whole bar of rosemary lavender soap that sat on the edge of the tub, but she was also known to love asparagus and crab apples.
Roo, her roommate, loved carrots, as did Roo’s successor, Satchmo. Both dogs were famous for poaching them right out of the garden.
Satchmo could still find the carrot row in the garden even after she went blind (so much for them being good for your vision.)
My love for all of my girls has known no bounds, but the food bowl has to have a limit of course.
No table scraps is a house rule (just like no fridge surfing is a rule for me). Food is for mealtimes, and treats are just that, for once in a while. After all, a girl has to watch her figure even if she is furry. And water consumption is important, so both of us have water stations around – I have a bottle in the car and in my office, she has a bowl in the yard and the mud room.
Friends help each other stay healthy, don’t they?
I’m sure most of you reading have a two-legged friend who fits these criteria just fine, and that’s great.
My two-legged girlfriends are mostly in other parts of the world, so Ella is my barometer. She keeps me on an even keel, and reminds me to enjoy every bite I take of life.
In honour of best friends everywhere, I am including a recipe this week that is great for sharing. (If your bestie is four-legged, then perhaps it would be better if you made them some Homemade Dog Biscuits. It's a human-friendly recipe, but more up their alley.)
Best Friend Banana Bread
One of my best girlfriends gave me this recipe years ago. We met when we were young adults, travelling Europe and finding ourselves. We became pen pals and exchanged all kinds of stories and secrets – including our favourite recipes.
This one is indicative of my friend: straight-forward and yet full of surprises. She also appreciates decadence, and I think of that when I eat this for breakfast!
- 1/2 cup / 125 mL butter
- 3/4 cup / 375 mL sugar
- 1/2 cup / 125 mL honey or agave syrup
- 2-3 ripe bananas
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups / 500 g flour
- 1/2 tsp / 3 mL baking powder
- 1/2 tsp / 3 g ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp / 3 mL baking soda
- 1/2 tsp / 3 mL vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup / 185 mL milk
- Optional: 1 cup chopped nuts and/or 1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 F/ 190 C. Grease a loaf pan or bunt pan.
Sift flour and mix with baking powder and cinnamon. Mix in nuts and/or chocolate chips if you are using them.
Cream sugar, honey and butter in a mixer or large bowl. Beat in mashed bananas and eggs until well blended. Add in dry ingredients at low speed and mix just until smooth. Add vanilla and baking soda to milk in measuring cup, then mix gradually with batter.
Pour batter into pan and bake on middle rack for one hour, turning halfway through. Loaf is done when a knife inserted in centre comes out clean.
Loosen loaf from pan with a spatula and turn out on wire rack to cool. Or, eat warm with a friend, if you like.
More Happy Gourmand articles
- A rainbow of vegetables Aug 20
- I scream, you scream.... Aug 13
- From dirt to dinner Aug 6
- A taste of America Jul 31
- Sock-hop memories Jul 16
- Forbidden pleasure Jul 9
- National Jam Buster Day? Jun 25
- Make List. Do. Repeat Jun 18
- Cooking for dad Jun 11
- A recipe for friendship Jun 4
- Gizmos, gadgets for foodies May 29
- Rainy day eats and treats May 21