11 July 2010

Things that make me happy

I was originally going to post about what should have been a lovely Saturday. I bought seven pounds of fantastically cheap cherries (2 pounds for a dollar!), and took them home with plans for spiced cherry jam to share with you. I couldn't examine the cherries, as they were tightly wrapped - and though I expected to find some dross, I didn't expect to find 2/3 of the fruit rotten and the other third overripe. After picking through the first bag and a half, dispirited, I gave up and threw them all out.

cherries FAIL

(Don't be deceived by their lovely "come-hither" color or their fresh glow. They lied.)

Thus foiled, I decided to share some of the things in my kitchen that make me happy. This is not a comprehensive list - my kitchen in general makes me happy - but a few things that I use regularly and would hate to be without.

As the urge hits me, I may follow up with "things that I hardly use but couldn't live without" and "things that I completely wasted my money on," but later: these are some of the things that make me happy.

Thai granite mortar & pestle

I use this heavy mortar and pestle quite regularly. From grinding spices to pounding dried shrimp to smashing garlic into paste, it never leaves my counter top.

I love the Thai mortar because of the weight, the smoothness, and the relatively odor-proof granite. I can make pesto one evening and grind spices for rice porridge the next morning with no problem. It isn't a huge mortar - about seven inches across, but it is ample enough for most of my uses.

paring knife

This is a J.A. Henckels 4" paring knife. It is permanently dull, has an odd balance, and is the only one of my knives that is not a Wüstof Classic (much preferred). However, this little Henckels was by my side in Morocco for a year, and it was the only knife I had that actually cut things. We used this knife for everything from chopping tomatoes to slicing cabbage, and although it never truly recovered from the beating it got from a year doing the work of a chef's knife, it earned its spot in my knife block.

rösle tongs

Have you ever struggled with a pair of so-called self-locking tongs? If so, run, don't walk, to your nearest kitchen supply store and buy these. I admired the R
ösle silicone locking tongs from afar - Rösle products aren't cheap - until the first time I tried the locking mechanism. For months afterward, each time I went shopping, I would walk up to the display, clicking them open and closed, muttering "it actually works" to myself. I finally gave in and bought them when I received a gift card, and I'm thrilled with the purchase each time I use them. If you want them locked, you hold the tips upward (around 10º past horizontal seems to be enough) and squeeze them together. To unlock them, squeeze when the tips are pointed down. They are one handed, they don't require shaking or strange dances to engage the lock ... and I can't even figure out how they work. After holding them over my head several times, squinting between the arms, I've settled on magic.

popcorn by hand

This old-fashioned popcorn popper is at least 25 years old, and is has freed me from the waste and the unknown ingredients of microwave popcorn. A little drizzle of oil in the bottom of the battered pan is all that's needed to make a quick snack - my only complaint would be that I have to wash the pan afterward. It also makes great kettle corn with the addition of a few tablespoons of sugar when the corn goes in.

I became addicted to kettle corn as a cheap-and-easy snack when I lived in Egypt - we didn't have a popcorn popper or a microwave, but I learned that if I heated oil in a big pot, I could add sugar and popping corn, hold on the lid with a kitchen towel, and shake it over the stove for all I was worth. It made decent kettle corn, and the fear of burning the sugar made it a great arm workout. Suffice it to say, this hand-cranked gadget makes the entire process much easier.

After several years in makeshift kitchens with minimal dishes, utensils, and appliances, I don't have an endless supply of random gadgets in my kitchen - I try to avoid anything that only has one purpose, and I've found simple ways to avoid purchasing things that I wouldn't often use (cherry pitter, I'm looking at you). Things that don't get used in my kitchen tend to languish at the back of a cupboard until they are finally donated to another lucky home.

As for food - I want to tell you about panzanella, and clafoutis, and blueberry pie, and I wish you could come and share with me! Summer has arrived (sort of - we have a sort of sickly sun right now), and I will be celebrating the season.


  1. Very nice new blog! I found you via a comment on The Wednesday Chef and had to click over and see if your "famous roasted chile salsa" was here (hint, hint). I'm also interested in your stories of Egypt and Morocco. Any favorite kushary recipes? Keep up the nice work!

  2. Thanks for the compliments, Tracy! So many things come into play in a good salsa, from tomato quality to spice preferences, that it will probably be a few weeks before I have something that's publishable. Definitely before the end of tomato season, though!

    I'm sure more Egypt & Morocco recipes & stories will be forthcoming, too :)