Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Known To Be Useful

I recently came upon plastic tongs for $9.99. The packaging explained they were a tea bag squeezer. Really? $9.99? Kitchen gadgets that claim to work wonders when all they are is a superfluous substitute for a knife, or, as in this case a teaspoon pressed against the side of the pot, well they make me think of William Morris.

He said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Good sharp knives are a given. Here are five other kitchen essentials in no particular order:

• Two sets of measures – one for wet ingredients, one for dry, saves time.

• Peeler – Bonnie Stern says when you find a peeler you like, buy three because you’ll never find them again. (This is true of so many things.) My friend Naomi gave me a ceramic blade peeler years ago. I’ve gone through two more since and have another on standby.

• Wand blender, such as the Braun Multi-Quick. If you are pressed for kitchen space, this is the multi-purpose appliance to have.

• Melon baller, not just for melons anymore, nudge, nudge, wink, wink; it's useful for butter servings, when making pastry, serving ice cream, and I hate to think what else.

• Flat whisk for blending without incorporating a lot of air.

I Surrender
I’ll bet we all have books on our shelves that we know we’ll never read, but think we should own in the event that fish really is brain food or we ingest enough anti-oxidants to allow us to happily consume St. Augustine’s Confessions or NAME YOUR POISON. I have no quarrel with these books. They speak to our better aspirations even if we prefer to listen to a murder mystery.

The books I have decided to break up with are those that 1) annoy me, and 2) are too clever for me. They sit around the house with their bookmarks hanging out 30, 40, sometimes even 100 plus pages in. It’s the bibliographic equivalent of sticking out a tongue.

Of course I feel guilty. Do I in fact deserve these wagging extremities for not following them through to the final page? Doris Lessing said in her preface to my copy of The Golden Notebook that you shouldn’t force yourself to finish a book that doesn’t engage you, but you should return to it later. I have followed this advice. Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho was unreadable. Unreadable on the subway and (stop the insanity) on a stationary bike, but in the silence of a cottage without television or phone it was un-put-down-able.

With Udolpho the problem was environmental. The reason I will never come to the end of Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came To The End is I never came to care about his horrifically self-centred characters. They put the “so what” in solipsistic. Out you go and give me back my Tunbridge Wells bookmark. Incidentally Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections left me, unfinished, feeling the same way.

David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which made several Best Books of the Decade lists I give up with regret at page 414. I am not smart enough to make the connections between the nine stories that make up this tour de force and I confess I skipped the two science fiction bits.

So what am I reading? An atrocious historical novel (for the clothes), a Venetian mystery (for the food), and I’m making my third attempt at Middlemarch in the hopes that George will dance with me this time. I recently heard an interview with Zadie Smith (White Teeth, On Beauty, etc. ) in which she explained how different she found it now from when she first read it at 17. I had the same experience with The Great Gatsby. (Can you see Doris nodding?) Eleanor Wachtel responded with a quote from Middlemarch that turned out to be the epigram in the next book I read, The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life, hard to ignore the Gods of Literature when they manifest themselves so spookily, no?


  1. Thanks for the tips on "five other kitchen essentials." As a new cook in the kitchen, I will be purchasing (or re-purchasing) these items. Thanks Sandra, I look forward to this every month.
    PS- The jam was wonderful, it did not last long in our house.

  2. Sandra you obviously know me well. I have many books that I want to read. Sometimes I buy them or take them out from the library. But then a fun mystery interrupts. I do want to read the "good" books; there just isn't enough time.