I have been combing through kitchen stores seeking gifts for foodie friends and am confused and exhausted by the plenitude of gadgets and contraptions. These stores are so packed with people and crammed with objects that I come out of them feeling as if I have eaten too much. I did find out that this year’s most necessary implement is, apparently, the spiral vegetable slicer which comes in four or five (probably more) different permutations depending upon cost. (You heard it here first!)
For those not “in the know”, the spiral slicer cuts vegetables — zucchini, carrots, etc. — into long, thin, curling, spaghetti-like strands; the more expensive machines offer more choices as to the length and circumference of the veggie “noodles.” The idea, I suppose, is to jazz up your salads. But I also think that the popularity of this peculiar device may be a consequence of the growing interest in the “raw food” movement. Heaven knows, if all you get to eat is raw fruit and vegetables any novelty must be eagerly anticipated.
Anyway, my gift shopping habits have changed significantly as I have matured. For a long time, it was the “buy one for a friend, and you might as well get one for yourself” philosophy that predominated. A couple of years ago, however, I moved from a four bedroom house into a two bedroom condo. The move required a year of extensive and continuous purging and I became such a good customer that I am still getting chatty emails from 1-800-GOT-JUNK. My current mantra is closer to “Whenever anything comes in, something else must go out.” What is most discouraging is the realization that I actually needed to throw out even more stuff than I did when I moved. The evidence confronts me every time I open that large bottom drawer.
Do you have that large bottom drawer in your kitchen? My space is very tiny, but there it is — a sort of repository of abandoned gizmos that, somehow, I seem unable to part from. For instance: have you ever owned a meat grinder? One of those old metal things with a basket feeder and a handle that you turn. There is a sort of suction cup thingie on the bottom which supposedly kept it from slipping and sliding on the counter and never really worked very well. You see, at one time, I ground my own hamburger out of chuck steak on the premise that it would be much fresher that way. A bloody and messy process that I quit sometime after seeing the film “Fargo.” Besides, you can do it more easily in the Cuisinart.
Still, I seem to cling to this relic, a reminder of my early, bride-like days in the kitchen. Or, perhaps, I’m secretly hoping that the grinder will become a significant memento and be sold on eBay for many dollars someday? Anyway, the meat grinder is one of the larger objects in the drawer and the other two sizable appliances are the pasta maker and the espresso machine. The so-called espresso machine was a gift that never worked. It took about half an hour to put the sixteen or seventeen pieces together and then twenty minutes to make two tiny, grainy, insipid cups of “espresso.” The machine came with instructions for making cappucino, but I never actually got around to it. And the pasta machine? Well, fresh pasta is available everywhere now, but even Marcella Hazan claims that it’s really no better than the good quality dried version.
These objects stand out in a tangle of assorted plastic lids, several sets of wooden chop sticks (Chinese restaurants used to give them out), six metal barbecue skewers that I bought in Greece forty years ago and various plastic salad forks. Littered at the back and the bottom of the drawer lurk assorted rubber bands, cup hooks, toothpicks which have fallen out of their package, a strawberry huller (!), a couple of cookie cutters which have never seen a slab of cookie dough. Well, you never know when this stuff will come in handy, right? One day, in a spirit of intense resolution, I did throw out the cherry pitter and the apple corer, although one of our Go Cooking chefs brought a really handy-dandy looking apple peeler and corer to a cooking session recently and now I am beginning to feel the pangs of separation anxiety.
Anyway, think of this post as a cautionary tale for your last minute shopping trips. And remember, nobody ever throws out a really spectacular bottle of wine or a box of good quality chocolates.
And here’s a recipe for a refreshing salad. You really don’t need a spiral slicer to make this, but if you have one — go nuts!
Sweet and Sour Carrot Salad
recipe from Epicurious
2 lbs carrots, sliced thin (about 5 cups)
2 medium onions, sliced thin (about 2 cups)
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin
1 and 1/4 cups tomato juice
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 and 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1) In a large bowl, toss together carrots, onions and peppers.
2) In a medium saucepan combine remaining ingredients. Bring mixture to a boil and simmer stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cool 5 minutes.
3) Pour warm marinade over vegetables and combine well. Cool salad to room temperature and chill, covered, at least 4 hours and up to 4 days.
Makes about 7 cups.