Thursday, September 18, 2014

in defense of battered kitchen utensils

Dividing the freshly mixed granola between two baking sheets, I got to thinking about kitchen utensils. See, when I had asked my son to fetch me the two baking sheets from the cupboard, he had pointed to the one and said, “Mom, I don’t think you should use this one anymore.”

“Whyever not?” I asked.

“Because it’s rusty and greasy and has black stuff around the edges. It’s gross.”

“It’s fine," I snapped. "Give it here.”

Much of my kitchen stuff looks like that baking sheet that invoked my son’s disgust. My insulated cookie sheets are warped, their air pocket spaces filled with more water than air. When met with the slightest resistance, the heads of my rubber spatulas separate from their wooden stick bodies. My much-used pie plates are stained. My measuring cups are dented (and inaccurate, I’m sure). Even a lot of the good stuff I own—my few Cutco knives and my stove-top juicer, for example—are, respectively, dinged up and scorched.


Hodgepodge.

My toaster is so ancient—a glorious thrift store find—and cantankerous that the people who rented our house while we lived in Guatemala couldn’t figure out how to use it and ended up putting it in storage and buying a new one. (We forgot to explain that you have to thump the toaster on the counter to make the toast come up.) The gears on our whirly-popper—another glorious thrift store find (because all thrift store finds are glorious!)—kept slipping until my husband finagled some sort of fix. The cord on my hand mixer is held together with duct tape.


The toaster that confounded: toasting some iced raisin bread. 

Which makes me wonder: why is it that people who have really nice kitchen stuff don’t cook and the people who do cook make do with borderline junk? In general: the more money a person has, the more nice stuff they have to work with and the less work they have to do. The people who have less money do more manual labor with inferior tools. Have you noticed this?


Cracked and handle-less workhorses: cooking up a slew of golden sourdough waffles.

It's logical, I suppose. People with money can afford to pay for more services and therefore have less need to use the tools themselves. And if you use your stuff it's going to show (duh).

I’m painting the picture like I’m the deprived person. But it goes both ways. Our Nicaraguan neighbor women spent the majority of their days in their dirt-floor kitchens and peeled potatoes with machetes. From their perspective, my plethora of tools are woefully underutilized and under-bunged up.

The other day a friend was admiring how lived-in our house and property look. (Seriously!) When I snorted, she said, "No really! It's inspiring!"

Inspiring? Hmm. I tend to think of those pristine magazine-worthy kitchens—you know, the ones that have copper kettles hanging above an enormous wooden table that's standing atop a tile floor and directly in front of an enormous six-burner gas stove—as inspiring. As in, If I were in that kitchen I'd be bake cookies from now to eternity and back. 

But maybe I'm confusing envy with inspiration. Maybe "work-worn" and "dinged up" are signs of respect and appreciation, marks showing that we care about enough to actually use and do. In this case, the messes, chipped dishes, and warped pans are inspiring because they show passion.

My kitchen tools—and all tools, really—are only as wondrously useful as we make them. And the fact is, no fancy tool, no necessary fancy tool, is going to be shiny for very long.

To sum up: three cheers for battered kitchenware!

P.S. The granola was delicious.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.16.13), the quotidian (9.17.12), goodbye summer, hello fall, a new day dawning, cornmeal whole wheat waffles, Greek pasta salad, and hard knocks.

22 comments:

  1. Cheers indeed! While much of my kitchen gear is slightly battered (oh please don't actually look at the inside of my pots, all of which I've scarred while making pickles over the years), my dear husband has actually stepped in and ensured my knives are in tip-tip shape (and stay that way!). I'm sure if he saw the heads popping off my spatulas, he'd be putting them on my Christmas list, to tuck into my stocking, because bless his heart, he does his best to make sure I have good kitchen toys. Although he does proceed with caution after asking if my cookie sheets, black around the edges, were 'still good'. Yes, they are just broken in.

    I too snort when people tell me my 'lived-in' looking house is 'inspiring'. I prefer to think that's because we live well in them, not because I hate to clean.

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  2. Speaking of greasy, black around the edges cookie sheets, I was wondering if you have designated pans for making roasted tomato sauce, or maybe as this post implies, you just keep using them for baking anyway. Both of your roasted tomato sauces are my favorites for canning, but my cookie sheets are nasty. Any tips for cleaning them up?
    It does often seem that those with all of the fancy Pampered Chef items rarely use them. Meanwhile I will keep using my mother-in-law's hand-me- down insulated pans for roasting tomatoes, making granola, baking cookies, etc.

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    1. The pans for roasted tomatoes are the same as the pans for granola---thus my son's concern. I just chip away at the burnt and gunky edges with a table knife, scrub it good, and then give up. Within a couple months, all residue will disappear (I hope).

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    2. Brillo pads!!! If ever I have something stubborn, I just use Brillo pads and it's gone. I don't try to restore my baking sheets to shiny newness, just get the crust off.

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  3. I walk that fine line between lived-in/well-used and slightly dangerous. For instance, our beloved and battered toaster oven with it's wonky heating elements, disturbing buzz, and lack of a working thermostat is a kitchen fire waiting to happen but I can't bear to replace it because, despite its eccentricities, it makes great toast! Just don't walk away while you're using it.

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  4. Yes. Sometimes I will splurge for something new, but it looks old in no time. And your kitchen felt real, worn in and cozy. It made me look at my kitchen with new eyes.

    Our thrift-store toaster was downright dangerous. We ended up springing for a new one, but that brought on its own set of problems. I should have left well enough alone.

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  5. My favorite thing in the kitchen is a commercial baking sheet that has baked in mystery stuff around its edges. It looked like that when it was given to me a few years ago (it came from a restaurant that had closed), and the giver told me to never get rid of it based on that way it looks. It's thick and heavy and cooks everything beautifully. My kitchen tools are all battered and well-used, as they should be.

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  6. I've often marveled at those people with huge kitchens that don't actually use them. And then I think, perhaps they don't like to cook because it takes them two minutes to walk from the sink to the stove?

    Our toaster issues started a couple of years ago when we inherited Brad's grandparents' toaster. The timer that makes it pop up fizzles out after a few seconds of toasting so I'm left hopping and skipping between the egg pan and toaster to make sure neither burn.

    Our popcorn popper came from Grandpa and Grandma Baer. Just a few weeks ago the top lost one of it's handles and it's all cracking out around the edges. Only a matter of time before I'll have to search the yardsales for one of those.

    My very favorite whisk has popped wires twice now. I just keep super-gluing it.

    We were given a new waffle maker when we married but I hated it. Then I found one just like my mom's at a yardsale. I danced a happy dance that day. In fact, a lot of my favorite kitchen pieces have come from other (older) people. They just don't make stuff like they used to!

    My half-sheet pans don't look horrendous. Am I not using them enough?!

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    1. My Kitchen Aid stand mixer comes from my husband's grandfather's kitchen. It's clunky and beat-up, but it still runs!

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  7. I don't mind battered and stained if it still WORKS, but as soon as a tool is hampering me, out it goes and I buy a new one (thrift store or wherever!). I think a good cook has earned and can appreciate good tools. I don't have anything in my kitchen that I don't use, and I'm pretty resistant to new gadgets. . . but it is an interesting point that the fancier a kitchen gets, the less food it turns out. . .

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  8. and all the food I've eaten at your table was delicious. I still think longingly of that kale gravy on the waffles. Maybe you can tell me exactly how you did that? I have kale and eggs in the fridge.

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    1. It's pretty much the same as the old-fashioned dandelion green recipe (bacon, bacon grease, greens, eggs, etc,), thickened with flour and made creamy with milk. I didn't have an actual recipe.

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  9. Oh my goodness, yes. Maybe part of it is that I know if I spend good money on a new this-or-that it will very soon look like EXACTLY WHAT I ALREADY HAVE. You and me both, sister.

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  10. I recently made the decision to get rid of a Pyrex small mixing bowl (from the 70s) that was so well-worn that the flower decal baked into the gold coloring of the outside of the bowl was just about invisible. My daughter saw it in the pile to go to recycling and clutched it to her chest wailing, "You can't get rid of this! It's my CHILDHOOD!"

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    1. The measurement lines on my four-cup Pyrex measuring cup are nearly illegible, thanks to using the cup as a scoop for applesauce canning day. I didn't know that hot applesauce could wear away the markings!

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  11. I put things like measuring spoons and potholders on my birthday and Christmas lists and the girls go, "mom, why don't you just go out and buy those things." If I bought kitchen ware like my husband buys tools and gadgets and various bolts and nails for his shop, my kitchen would like his shop, heaven forbid. Loved this piece celebrating the dinged and the danged. After your list of pantry/freezer staples for the year ahead reflecting your family summer's work, it is easy to see why equipment is a little used.

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  12. This post is just what I needed this morning. I spent yesterday fighting the kitchen back from "lived in" and here, one batch of pancakes for the working-man later, things are right back where they started.

    We recently remodeled one side of our house for my parents. They have a gorgeous kitchen: everything just right. The plan has been that we'll do our side after we accumulate more money. But, you know what? I hope the money never appears. My ratty, brown linoleum goes MONTHS without mopping and who's to know. It's mud brown no matter what. I smack hot pans down on the tacky countertops without a thought. I've got no time for babying a kitchen! ( I do threaten fierce reprisal on anyone who THINKS about putting my knives, printed Pyrex, or wooden anything in the dishwasher.)

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  13. My friends often say they love coming to my "lived in" home and always feel welcome and at ease. I am often embarrassed for them to be in my little "lived in" house, wishing it were bigger or newer. I guess a cook's "lived in" and well used kitchen equipment just means we feed those we love frequently. I don't have wedding china or expensive cookware, but I have pots, pans, casserole dishes, and platters that serve up a healthy dose of love to all who break bread at my table.

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  14. This is one of your best posts.

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  15. I love this post. My kitchen is sometimes a war zone where we often celebrate great victories and once in a while a sad defeat. After visiting friends whose homes have magazine perfect kitchens I came to the conclusion I'll keep my kitchen and "stuff" its a conglomeration of new, used, and even rustic. But mine is a working kitchen not just for show and cranks out volumes compared to most I know. Robin

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  16. Perhaps I shouldn't comment, as we are (hopefully) nearing the end of a kitchen remodel.... (hello, dishwasher & disposal that actually work). But my favorite pancake turner is a cheapo plastic thing that I got as part of a big set for a wedding gift 21 years ago. The handle broke off, but I can not throw it away. No other one is thin enough to slip perfectly under a pancake. However, I did take a certain baking sheet fitting the description of yours to Mercy House. Go on up there and you can get yourself another one. :-)

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