Photograph by Michael Amsler
Cruise by the kitchen supply store for your holiday gifts
By Marina Wolf
GETTING A GIFT list for gourmets is almost as difficult as picking the 50 most influential people of the millennium. Stalin or Gandhi? Cuisinart or Calphalon? Who makes the cut? Price and context are also a question. You're gonna get different lists, depending on whether you've got a Visa platinum card and the Williams-Sonoma catalog, or a $10 bill and the local five-and-dime.
Here, we strive for the middle course, just keeping our eyes open to the stream of the universe for things new or refreshingly perennial. Think of us as Santa's little helpers, checking the shelves and making a list. No, not that list. That one's out of our hands.
From Santa, Mitt Love. Maybe it's been a long time since these elves were on the lookout for new potholder technology, but there have been a couple of developments that, frankly, put the old Holly Hobby quilted sets to shame. First up, felted-wool mitts and potholders by Woolwerk. Sturdily stitched, doubled up where it counts, these boldly colored creations are as fun as a Baby Gap store, and at $16 to $19, they're a lot more practical, too.
If we call Woolwerk's approach neo-Scandinavian, the leather gauntlets by American are practically Shakespearean. Leather, as a shop person was quick to inform me, is non-flammable--blacksmiths use leather aprons, and anyway, have you ever seen a cow on fire? There are plain squares to use as potholders ($11), but for $21 the long ones look much more elegant. You could almost land a falcon on them at the Ren Faire.
High-Tech Tastes. Up until recently, cooking was often considered an art, perhaps because science hadn't caught up with the subject matter. Now we have fission-powered convection ovens, and food processors with enough blades to fill a jukebox. These can be a little spendy, but there are other ways to bring high tech to the cook.
Take silicon. The same property that makes it so key to the computer and sex-toy industries--total non-porousness--makes it the ultimate non-stick surface for the kitchen. Look for the remarkable sheet that fits inside your scratched-up "non-stick" model, lifts out to slide the cookies off, and rolls up again until the next baking session ($18.95). Makes those gingerbread people so much less clingy.
Speaking of cookies, scraping the bowl with your finger may be a time-honored part of the process, but that dough is precious, so bakers need good spatulas. The old-style white ones just don't cut it; they seem to be part of a conspiracy, deteriorating upon exposure to air and any heat above room temperature. Enter a new line of sturdy spatulas and spoonulas, heat resistant up to 600 degrees, in yummy, gummy, iMac-like colors ($2.75 to $5.95). Stylin'!
Plugged. The vertical handmixer is the new appliance this season, combining the whip-to-itiveness of a stationary blender with the mobility and control of your standard metal whisk. Most major lines, from Cuisinart to Krups, have their own version. But the smaller ones are perfectly functional, such as Bonjour's Coffee Froth Turbo ($19.95). It's a tiny cordless beater, with enough power to emulsify dressing, whip up sauce, or froth that foam. And at $19.95, it'll help you save enough to get that expensive espresso maker.
Something to help the health-conscious is a rice cooker. A good rice cooker removes blind faith from the rice-cooking process and gets it right every time. Zojirushi makes a good model, in 6- or 10-cup sizes, for $59.95 and $66.95, respectively, or check out other Asian-made brands in Asian grocery stores. The instructions may be less comprehensible, but the price'll probably be even lower.
Unplugged. The above-mentioned items notwithstanding, some of the best things in the kitchen don't require outlets, things like wooden spoons and beautiful flat French rolling pins and simple drip filters for coffee.
Add to that list a mandoline. No, this is not something you pluck with your fingers, unless you want very bloody fingertips. A mandoline is simply a cutting blade on a track that makes short shrift of cutting things evenly and fast. Braun makes a gleaming, Bauhaus-model of a mandoline for $180 (sometimes on sale for as low as $150). But there is a sneaky plastic upstart contender for $35 from Benriner that does everything that the German model does, except crinkle cuts. And who needs crinkle cuts?
Boy Toys. Maybe someday when our society has become fully self-actualized, the X Show is defunct, and women and men are finally cooking on a level stovetop, we'll stop thinking about kitchen equipment in gendered terms. Until then, we must confess that there are always a few things in kitchen stores that we look at and think immediately: great for a guy.
One is a meat fork that has a timer and thermometer built into it. If Sharper Image doesn't have this gizmo yet, it soon will. You can set your meat type and preferred doneness on the little screen, and the readout will spit back the necessary temperature and compare it with the actual meat's temperature. Not that guys need any excuse to poke the meat on a barbecue, but this cements the ritual by adding a digital screen.
Can we expect a scoring system next?
These items are available at one or more of the following stores: Hardisty's Homewares, 710 Farmers Lane, Santa Rosa (545-0534); McCoy's Cookware, 2759 Fourth St., Santa Rosa (526-3856); Pots and Pans, 107 Fourth St., Santa Rosa (566-7155); Food for Thought Housewares, 6906 McKinley St., Sebastopol (829-9801).
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From the December 9-15, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.