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"We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie." David Mamet

Saturday, December 25, 2010

mame's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets

"These cookie cutters were given to me by my Aunt Bobo...over 70 years ago." Photos by Pete Brill.
There is nothing cookie cutter about my mother-in-law Nadine, known by everyone in the family as Mame. Her good deeds, as well as her cookies, are legend in her family and in her community of Newark, New York, in the FIngerlakes. Each year she bakes up dozens upon dozens of cookies, using cookie cutters from her childhood and the boxes full of others she's collected over the years. While snow from lake effect dusted the house, we'd be frosting dozens of cookies and decorating them with all types of confections - sprinkles, candy stars, chocolate kisses, etc. You cannot help but love them, and love her for all of the energy she puts in to ensuring that everyone has a delicious little taste of the holiday spirit. 
Mame's been using these cookie cutters over 70 years These cookie cutters were given to my by my Aunt Bobo, Bertha. I used to go to her house and we’d bake cookies and other things  – my mother didn’t do those things with me because of her illness. I started baking with Bertha, oh, it must be 70 years ago. These cookie cutters are metal with wooden handles, and my favorite is a Christmas tree. They are a little bent but work for my many sessions of baking.

Every Christmas for as long as I’ve been married, which is 60 years, I bake dozens and dozens of cookies for my family and friends. Everyone gets involved. My kids spent every Christmas decorating cookies. One year Peter brought home a friend, and we went out leaving her to decorate some cookies. When we got home she had frosting all over her clothes, in her hair, and she looked a little green. She ate ate more frosting than she put on the cookies - I’ll never forget that!  I also bake cookies on other special occasions, like Valentine’s Day and Halloween and send them to my grandchildren.

I bake cookies weekly for the children at Grandma’s Room, a special room at our local elementary school where kids go to get hugs and a little extra help. Over the years I’ve collected cookie cutters, and I now have a box about 3’ X 6” filled with them.
Mame's Christmas Cookies

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 tablespoons vanilla
4-5 cups of flower
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 TB salt
Whisk softened butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs one at a time with vanilla.
Sift 41/2 cups flour together baking powder and salt.
Mix together to form a dough, roll into ball and let it refrigerate several hours.
Sprinkle flour on board and roll out the dough. Cut cookies and bake for 7-10 minutes – dark pans take less time.
Frost with your favorite sprinkles, confectioner’s sugar frosting, etc.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

karren's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"Any association with Johnny Depp brings joy to my heart."
Karren gets a grip on her favorite gadget My sister, brother, and I used to love this old Peanuts cartoon of Snoopy dancing down a long hallway. A succession of 30 short scenes of just darling Snoopy prancing along, accompanied by one simple word—"Click".  Down the whole long hallway….Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click, Click,Click,Click,Click…and then finally at the end of the page…Toenails!  We would read it aloud to each other and just howl with laughter when we got to the… Toenails!
I reminisce because I was thinking of why, beyond its infinite versatility and convenience, the age-old kitchen tongs brings me so much joy? Then it occurred to me that it makes the same Click, Click, Click, Click, Click sound as Snoopy’s err…toenails.
Another strange connection I have with the beloved tongs is with Edward Scissorhands/Johnny Depp. Any association with Johnny Depp brings joy to my heart. And I guess the thought of us cutting and clicking away with our sterling silver appendages sends me in a whirl.
All of the fantasies aside, the hard cold fact is that my love for the kitchen tongs began during a past life as a part-owner/slave of a restaurant and lodge in the Adirondack Mountains. “Friends and frolic in the heart of the Adirondacks” was our motto. We had over 200 bunk beds—the most beds in the North East, Dimitri was fond of exclaiming in his thick Greek accent.  Anyone who ever cooked breakfast for 200 hungry mountain- and ice-climbing lodgers is familiar with the spitfire pace and intensity of a simple country breakfast.
5AM the sun is rising, the air is crackling, a coyote is howling—yes folks, a coyote will be howling as you frolic in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains at 5 AM. The eggs are cracking, the bread is baking, and soon the doors are opening to 200 strapping beasts.
That’s when the tongs get clicking. Of course I’d wash them at each new turn, but the pace was fast and furious. Click—turn the bacon, Click—grab the home fries, Click—flip the eggs, Click—flick the French toast, Click—unravel the waffle, Click—retrieve the toast…When things were really hopping, I’d be known to break out in a Spanish dance…swirling in the kitchen joyously clicking my castanedas. Click, Click, Click, Click, Click…Kitchen Tongs!

Poem by Jeanne Marie Beaumont

When I Am in the Kitchen
by Jeanne Marie Beaumont
I think about the past. I empty the ice-cube trays
crack crack cracking like bones, and I think
of decades of ice cubes and of John Cheever,
of Anne Sexton making cocktails, of decades
of cocktail parties, and it feels suddenly far
too lonely at my counter. Although I have on hooks
nearby the embroidered apron of my friend's
grandmother and one my mother made for me
for Christmas 30 years ago with gingham I had
coveted through my childhood. In my kitchen
I wield my great aunt's sturdy black-handled
soup ladle and spatula, and when I pull out
the drawer, like one in a morgue, I visit 
the silverware of my husband's grandparents.
We never met, but I place this in my mouth
every day and keep it polished out of duty.
In the cabinets I find my godmother's 
teapot, my mother's Cambridge glass goblets,
my mother-in-law's Franciscan plates, and here
is the cutting board my first husband parqueted
and two potholders I wove in grade school.
Oh the past is too much with me in the kitchen,
where I open the vintage metal recipe box,
robin's egg blue in its interior, to uncover
the card for Waffles, writ in my father's hand
reaching out from the grave to guide me
from the beginning, "sift and mix dry ingredients"
with his note that this makes "3 waffles in our
large pan" and around that our an unbearable
round stain—of egg yolk or melted butter?—
that once defined a world.

wendy's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"Maybe it’s because I got it from a Welcome Wagon Lady many years ago..." 
Wendy's essential Sockarooni Sauce jar openerOut of a deep drawer full of assorted gadgets (including some with still-unknown identities), there’s one that I’ve never been able to part with, through multiple kitchen purgings…my yellow rubber Am Pro Jar-Opener.
Maybe it’s because I got it from a Welcome Wagon Lady when I moved into my house many years ago (do Welcome Wagons exist anymore, even in Ohio?) Mostly, though, it’s just darn handy…reliably helps me get a grip when I need it the most.
Some culinary purists might argue that a floppy rubber disk doesn’t qualify as a true kitchen gadget. But as one who shamelessly uses Newman’s Own Sockarooni Sauce as an essential ingredient for home-made chili, it’s been a meal prep lifesaver.
I’ve attempted to upgrade my jar opening image: acquired a more impressive tool from my mother in law’s old kitchen.
I even bought a still-unopened package of shiny new Progressive Grips (can jars really be politically liberal?)
But despite being torn up and slightly grimy, my Am Pro original has prevailed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

bill's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"...the Panasonic SR-NA 18...Sure, it looks like a fugitive alien from a Pixar movie...but I LOVE it!"
Bill makes an airtight case for the rice cookerBeing partially of Middle Eastern descent, rice has always been my staple staple, favored over potatoes and pasta. I have cooked it for over thirty years according to the directions of my grandmother and mother - 2:1 water to white long grain rice, a can of tomato sauce. Oh, I have changed the tablespoon of chicken fat to a sprinkle of olive oil, but I'm sure that I can be forgiven. Let's just say that we Americans don't need as much fat in our diets as our ancestors did.
Of course, in recent years, many variations of ingredients have joined the repertoire, which include saffron, mushroom broth, coconut milk, Sazon, brown rice, black rice, red rice...yummmm!
Yet, for reasons I have yet to comprehend, my rice cooking skills did not improve with age. Most times, my rice would come out fine, but other times... well, to my taste, a failure.  And predictably, I would be having a big dinner party, maybe with a Thai curry chicken as the main dish, only to discover upon removing the lid on a big traditional pot, that all that beautiful Basmati rice had gone as gluggy as the Elmer's glue that my kid keeps finding spilled in his book bag.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

kate's favorite gadget

The Down-Home Holiday Guide to Kitchen Gadgets
"I still don't have an electric mixer, so all of my baked good are mixed by hand with a wooden spoon."
Kate pays tribute to the simple, indispensable wooden spoon - I have been trying to think of my favorite kitchen gadget, and even though I do have some fancy things in my kitchen these days (we just got a cast iron grill pan, which is quite amazing, especially on rainy nights), I think my favorite kitchen tool is the good ol' wooden spoon. I think it is the most useful and most used piece of equipment in my kitchen. I still don't have an electric mixer, so all of my baked good are mixed by hand with a wooden spoon. There is something comforting about a smoothed out wooden spoon to me too, it reminds me of learning to bake with my mom when I was little.