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A little story on what cooks’ hands know how to do, aired this morning on Morning Edition Extra, at 88.5 FM (New England Public Radio). As cooks, we learn many things with our hands even more than our brains–but I haven’t forgot what it was like when my hands were young and unschooled in the kitchen.
I also learned a lot about studio recording on this one–for example, if I stand up, my voice is much clearer and freer than if I’m sitting down, I have better lung capacity, and it’s easier to see the paper I’m holding behind the mike. If I stand to the side of the mike instead of in front of it, my very poppy p‘s don’t pop so loudly.
Hear the commentary here.
I’ve been wanting to do a story on seaweed for ages. It’s such an odd bird, seaweed: ubiquitous by the seaside but never eaten fresh there (at least by beachgoing visitors); infinitely dehydratable and transportable; nutritious and–under the right circumstances–delicious. Yet for some reason we don’t seem to have a culture of eating seaweed in the United States. All our best recipes come from somewhere else (mostly Japan).
Included in this story is a recipe that many have clamored for, including myself: sesame nori crisps (pictured above). They are addictive beyond belief, so be prepared to make big batches.
Read the Kitchen Window story here.
A little while ago, I wrote a post venerating the 5 kitchen things I can’t do without. On later reflection, I felt that post smacked faintly of having-it-all-figured-out. I thought, in the interests of candor, it would be wholesome to do a counter-post showcasing just a few of the many flaws in my frustrating kitchen.
For a person who writes about food professionally, I have an incredibly bad kitchen. It’s really hard to convey just how bad it is. It has a stained, cracked linoleum floor. There are huge holes in the plaster ceiling and almost no counter space. It’s hard to work in and harder to clean. I don’t even have a dishwasher, the plan being that we will get one when we do the kitchen renovation.
But one price of getting to write about food professionally is not earning enough to afford a kitchen renovation, which I believe is called “situational irony”.
Anyway, it was really hard to choose just 5 kitchen things I could do without–not including “Item 1: the entire kitchen”. So I decided to limit the list to things that ought to be easily fixed or replaced, but which for some reason haven’t been.
The Tongs from Hell. I got these Oxo Good Grips tongs in 2009, after burying the tongs which had served me for 8 years previously and died of a sprung pin. The first time I used these, the rubber began to melt, leaving a black streak on my thumb. I figured I shouldn’t have left them so close to the burner and resolved to be more cautious. Because of my caution–and refusal to believe the tongs were simply defective–it took 3 years for the rubber to melt all the way through, which it at last did, dramatically, while I was grilling a steak. In seconds, the rubber sloughed off the steel skeleton, leaving nothing between steel and flesh. I threw them down just as my thumb began to sizzle.
I’ve ordered new Oxo tongs (they haven’t yet arrived) in the hopes that the Tongs from Hell were simply a flawed instance of a basically sound product. I believe this is called “optimism”.
The Corn Starch Box. I use corn starch a lot, because it’s a critical ingredient in the crispy “egg crêpe” I make for my son almost every morning (he’s never been able to tolerate softness or wetness in eggs). Although the current hard-walled plastic box is an improvement over the iconically bad cardboard box it was before, the Argo corn starch container remains a messy, badly-designed failure. Yet all it really needs is a double flip-top (perforation one side, scooping hole the other), as one finds on spice bottles, or a foil half-cover for leveling a spoon, as one finds on a baking powder can. As it is, every time I use the box there’s a trail of powder on it and around it and everywhere it goes.
The Erratic Timer. But for one issue, this timer would have been on the other list, the one with my favorite kitchen things. It’s a timer that has 3 separate lines so you can time 3 different things, and a count-up chronometer and clock on the alternate screen. It’s magnetic, so it can go on the side of the oven, which is the only logical place for it in my kitchen. But when the oven reaches about 400 degrees, the timer freaks out and re-sets to zero, inevitably at a point when I have no clue how much longer there is to go. It also freakishly re-sets to zero on other random occasions.
But I have to stick with it because there are so very few good kitchen timers that count both up and down, never mind being able to time 3 different dishes.
Satan’s Kitchen Mitt. When my husband first got me these high-heat silicone mitts, I thought they were great. But because silicone only seems indefinitely flexible (it isn’t, really), over time they have developed a rip in that most critical of places, the thenar space. The thenar space is that bit of skin between your thumb and forefinger. If you would like to know pain, try extracting a cast-iron skillet that has been in a 450-degree oven for an hour with a mitt you believe to be intact, only to sustain a screaming burn right in the thenar space. Also, these mitts are slippery when wet or oily.
I still have them because I haven’t yet figured out the best replacement–an all-cloth quilted traditional mitt, or some other differently-shaped silicone product, or both.
The Temperamental Igniter. I love my Blue Star range, which is my kitchen’s only indication that a serious chowhound is in residence. It’s stainless steel, propane-fueled, with six radial burners, two of which can put out 22K BTU. But the igniters–tiny, easily broken, ceramic tubes–don’t work when it’s humid, when a wire has shifted, on alternate Tuesdays, or when the moon is in Aquarius. They’re moody, is my point. We’ve replaced at least 3, and I’ve taken to just keeping used wooden skewers next to the stove to transfer an igniting flame from one of the few burners that do ignite.
I suppose I could just keep a stockpile of extra igniters around, but I resent having to shell out $20 apiece for a part that is smaller than a birthday candle.
Taken in perspective, I guess it’s bearable, and a lot of great food gets cranked out of here in spite of the various annoyances. After all, it’s just little stuff. So long as you don’t count Item 1: the entire kitchen.
I’ve already said much about Susie Middleton’s The Fresh and Green Table on NPR–it was a favorite in my summer roundup–but today’s paper has a more in-depth review which explains a bit better what I like so much about this book.
I noticed both in this book and the last one that Middleton never compromises on texture and flavor, even if it means taking one more little step or adding one last brightening ingredient. As a result, a relatively high proportion of the testing recipes have turned out to be keepers.
They are also a good argument for the long-form recipe–I’ve always believed that it’s better to over-explain in recipes than leave room for doubt. Even Middleton’s simpler recipes can be on the longer side, because she cares enough to explain exactly what you need to look for/smell for/taste for etc. But that doesn’t mean they’re hard to pull off.
Click here to read today’s review of The Fresh and Green Table in the Boston Globe.