Passion and Regret in the Kitchen

The eternal sadness of small appliances.



I accidentally spent $350 on a small kitchen appliance, and man, all I want to do is turn back time.

Two years ago — yes, TWO years ago — I read an article about Mellow, a counter-top sous-vide machine that could be preprogrammed to slow-cook food. I also watched the video. (Don’t watch the video.)

Here’s how sous-vide works: Food — vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs — is vacuum sealed in plastic bags and then dropped into water. The water is kept at a low, steady temperature for an extended period of time. After an hour or two or three, whatever it is you have floating in there is removed, sometimes pan-seared and served. Why is this a big deal? Because the food that comes out of it is exceptionally tender and dishes are more powerfully packed with flavor. This machine was even better because it also can bring the water to refrigerator-like temperatures so that you can program it ahead of time like a Crock Pot and not die of food poisoning.

Of course, I preordered one immediately.

It’s hard for me to look back and hazard the optimism that inspired this impulse. Maybe it was the knowledge that the machine wouldn’t be produced anytime soon, and I could figure out how to explain this exotic, extravagant piece of miscellany to my family later. Maybe I thought my financial circumstances would have dramatically changed by now — a moment of supreme optimism. And obviously, even two years ago, I must have known that I couldn’t hide something that large and cook secretly in a closet. (There aren’t even any outlets in my closets.) Who knows?

Of course, I forgot all about it immediately.

It’s now winging its way to my doorstep as a reward for my early, early support for the company. I shouldn’t keep it when it arrives, and I don’t want to keep it — but maybe I might keep it. We’ll see.

At any rate, it’s reminded me of all the other things I’ve either purchased or demanded to be given to me for my kitchen. Here’s the short list. Please add yours to the comment section below.

  • A Fry Daddy. I was convinced that if I had my own deep-fryer, my life would completely change. My cholesterol would, too, but I was younger then and that wasn’t my focus. I made beignets in it — they were excellent — left it full of oil in the cupboard and never made another thing in it. Ever.
  • A vintage glass citrus squeezer. I got the original glass squeezer from my mother or maybe my husband’s mother — or perhaps at a yard sale. We used it constantly. Then I dropped it, shattering it forever. When I spotted its exact duplicate at a flea market, I bought it immediately. It’s never been used. I purchased one of those bright-yellow hand squeezers and never looked back.
  • A garlic press. I pressed the heck out of a lot of garlic over the years. Then I bought a decent knife. The rest is history.
  • A vintage ice crusher. This thing is extremely cool. I bought it on eBay for a photo shoot and instead of reselling it, I kept it. It’s supposed to clamp onto your counter and look interesting while it grinds authentic 1960s-style ice into your highball glass. My husband noted that our refrigerator already crushes ice with electricity and it looks exactly the same. We also don’t have the space to attach an anachronism to the counter.
  • A mango pitter. It doesn’t work even though the guy could do it at the store at will. His mango slices came out perfectly. My mangos were consistently mangled.
  • A dough scraper. I saw a chef on television obsessively scrape up all of his scraps — everything, not just dough — while he was cooking and thought, “My life will also change completely if all of my scraps, too, can be squeegeed away and thrown in the trash every couple of minutes.” The drawer in which it lives is constantly getting stuck because of it.
  • A panini maker. This was a gift that I thought was pretty stupid. How often do you eat a flattened sandwich, really? Then we redid our kitchen and I learned how remarkably versatile this thing could be when you don’t have a stove. Then I got a new stove. Shelved indefinitely.
  • An extremely sharp mandoline. I bought Cook’s Illustrated’s best-rated one. I couldn’t even figure out how to put it together.

  • A hobo knife. This is a contraption that neatly packs and folds a knife, fork and spoon all together so that you can carry it around in your purse and a) have the capability, finally, of eating fine cheese in your hotel room instead of trying to gouge it with the end of your tooth brush or b) watch it immediately confiscated at airport security. I desperately wanted one of these after admiring the suavity with which my colleague, Ed Harrington, used his. I still can’t pull the three pieces apart, and I’m embarrassed to ask Ed to do it for me every day.
  • A yogurt maker. C’mon. Seriously? You can buy it by the tub at the store. I tried to sell it at a yard sale but finally had to give it away.
  • An ice cream maker. This appliance makes the list by a mere technicality. True, I rarely use it, but I still buy cookbooks about ice cream. (Three and counting!) I do still drag it out about once a year and actually make said ice cream, but mostly the frozen insert takes up a lot of much-needed space in my freezer. However, when the husband who despises small kitchen appliances gave it to me for my birthday, I knew, finally, that I was truly loved. I will cherish it forever.
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