Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kitchen Gadgets: From Mundane to Inventive

Last week, Boyfriend and I hung out with two friends who are from the U.K. and Argentina, an adorable couple who are engaged to be married this fall. They recently moved into a great, big, new apartment in Manhattan, but they have yet to furnish it.

We took them out to Chelsea Piers to the batting caging. Seeing as they are not American, they've hit very few baseball or softballs in their lives, and I got a kick out of hearing our British friend say things like, "Jolly good! The one surely would have been a home slam!"

After hitting balls, we walked around the Chelsea Markets and talked about how they planned to decorate their apartment, what kinds of things they needed to buy, and so on. It turns out, they need, essentially, everything, and they've been shopping and looking for furniture, kitchen goods, and other housewares for days on end.

Jar and Spigot
They described to us something they had seen in a store, a contraption that believed to be one of those highly unnecessary American kitchen tools that takes up a ton of space and does little else. They said it a was a big glass jar with a spigot, and god only knew why anyone would need one.

"That's a sun tea jar," I told them. "You fill it with cold water, add a few tea bags, and the tea brews with sunlight."

This was as foreign to them as baseball.

"Or," they improvised, "you could fill it with alcohol."

Cheese, Please
About a week before this outing, we had friends in town from Norway. They brought us a barrage of extremely generous gifts, one of which they said, "any six-year old Norwegian could identify as the national invention." It was a cheese slicer, the kind that looks like a pie server but has a rectangular slit in the widest part with a razor-sharp edge. You drag the razor edge along the wedge of cheese, and a lovely slice is produced on the server.

Boyfriend loves using it, though I feel like it slows me down. I'd rather just cut all my slices before sitting down to eat, or before arranging a cheese plate.

Cryogenic Trash?
The cheese slicer and the sun tea jar are both very low-tech kitchen gadgets, which I truly appreciate. I'm the kind of cook who will use (and in fact was taught to use) a mayonnaise jar filled with ice water to roll out pie crust rather than a wood rolling pin. I'll improvise a cookie cutter out of nearly anything within reach. Almost everything in my kitchen is a multi-purpose tool. But there's a new uni-purpose, high-tech gadget in development that I have my eye on: the Minus Frozen Garbage Container.

It's a small trash can that freezes the contents. Unfortunately, it's only in concept phase, not on the market. One of the advertised purposes is to keep critters out of your trash, though why not just buy a canister with a very tight-fitting lid if rodents and insects are the problem? But the major reason to have one of these puppies is to freeze compost material.

Over the winter, I tried to keep a compost bucket in the fridge -- in addition to a bag of vegetable-only scraps that I use to make broth. I intended to take the compost to one of the green markets in New York because I had read that many farmers will accept compost right at their stands. This seemed like a brilliant idea.

It started with egg shells and some odds and ends that I didn't want in my vegetable broth, like red cabbage leaves, fennel fronds, eggplant tops. Then I started chucking in the coffee grounds and filter paper. Then banana peels. Then leaves from my houseplants. Then chicken bones.

One small plastic bag grew to two. "I'll take them this weekend," I said to myself.

But "this weekend" turned into "never," and the bags started to ferment and leak. But rather than throw it all away (surely I was going to take it to the farmers next weekend), I moved the two plastic bags to a giant bowl, covered it, and left it in the bottom of the fridge for a few more weeks. It took up more than half of the bottom shelf of my fridge.

When I gave in and admitted to myself that this composting plan was never going to fully mature, I waited until trash day and threw out the bags, which had to be triple-bagged to contain the leakage and more importantly, the smell.

Certainly, I could just freeze my compost scraps in the freezer, but the idea of keeping trash near food really isn't appealing to most people. And freezer space can be scarce, as I already have buckets upon buckets of stock, tomato sauce, ends of loaves of bread, and three bags of chicken skins and fat (for my friend who makes gribenes). A dedicated freezer bucket would be a perfect solution, though I'm concerned about how much energy it would eat up. Maybe one might save their compost in the fridge until the bag swells to a considerable size and then move it to the Minus can, leaving it unplugged until the time it's needed.

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