Kitchen Inessentials: Summer edition

The summer is a strange time of year, particularly for those of us in the northern climes.  There are plenty of productive tasks to perform, numerous projects to complete and efforts to undertake… and yet so many hours are passed simply lying down in the sun, wondering whether life could possibly get better.

Indeed, debate about just HOW life could improve — if it’s possible when you’ve been prone on a dock or splayed out in a deck chair, with several beers carefully moderating your body temperature — can pass the better part of the afternoon.  Conversations can begin with forays such as:

  • Some people say it’s too hot, but I’d be okay if it was like this all year ’round.
  • Is there ANYTHING fluffier than a cloud?
  • I think it would be great if I had one machine that could do all my lawn chores, but hiring someone makes me feel guilty.

In other words, an excess of wonderful warm weather actually drives us insane.  But not in that desperate, pleading, wounded way that the deep winter makes us crazy; no, instead it is a dreamy, stoned-out kind of unreal madness that leads us to make decisions that are not entirely grounded in reality.

It’s this kind of thinking that leads us to all the various useless widgets and doo-dads of the summer:  sprinklers that have seven different modes, none of which actually get water where we want it; gardening tools with unique claw shapes that, when you really think about, make EVERY SINGLE THING you use them for more difficult; specialty super-secure bird feeders that are immediately compromised by local large, ferocious vermin.

Oh, and kitchen thingers.  Summertime kitchen gadgets are the greatest, aren’t they?  They promise to keep our produce fresh, give us new ways to slice things, grant us access to previously unheard of desserts, and show us amazing methods for impressing our guests.  And all of them are completely inessential.

Today, we dive into the 5 of the least essential food tools we’ve seen this summer, with the full disclosure that we MAY have considered purchasing one or all of them… and yet might.

1. Novelty Cookie Cutters

What I am going to do now is show you cookie cutters in the shape of sexual positions from the Kama Sutra.

You know how you’ll get invited to a BBQ but forget about it, and then at the last minute try to jump in and ask what it is you can bring?  And then find out that all the easy stuff — the appetizers, the chips, the burgers — are all taken, and all that’s left is dessert?

Yeah, that’s when you’re tempted to pull out something like this:  The hilarious sexually-explicit cookie cutters.  The party is all grown-ups, right?  Everyone would get a kick out of this, wouldn’t they?  The novelty of it wouldn’t fade almost immediately, would it?  And you wouldn’t be left staring at a plate full of erotic cookies by the end of the night because nobody’s comfortable putting one into their mouths, would you?

Despite how it may feel if you’re in a certain age bracket, there actually WILL be an end to the eternity of Jack & Jills, wedding showers, bachelor parties, girl’s nights, and couples’ potlucks you’re going through right now.  And while your dickerdoodle (NSFW!) cutters are hilarious now, in a few years you’re going to have to explain why your kids can’t use them for Christmas cookies.

2. The meatball grilling basket

Sometimes, there are solutions that go looking for problems.  Here is a small one-act play I have written to illustrate this concept:

Friend:  Gee Mike, I sure am having a tough time with this BBQ of mine.

Me:  Really?  How can I help you!

Friend:  Well, it’s just that I want to cook all these meatballs, to serve as appetizers to my guests!  And for some reason my stove or a simple frying pan are not adequate for the job!

Me:  Oh man, what an inconvenience!  I have no way of helping you… unless!  Do you happen to have fifty American dollars?

Friend:  Do I!

Me:  Then I’ve got just the thing for you!  Here’s a dedicated rack for BBQing meatballs, just in time for the summer cooking season or whatever.

Friend:  Thank goodness!  Now I can cook meatballs on my grill, in only twice the time it would normally take, and with a device I can only use for one thing on an occasional basis!  And it looks so difficult to clean, too — finally, a new way to punish my children for insubordination!

Me:  Don’t thank me!  Thank Williams-Sonoma.  I wouldn’t have ever, ever thought of this.  I swear to you.


3. Soft-serve ice cream machines

You know, I’m sure that many among us have asked ourselves:  I enjoy making ice cream at home, but how could I make it even more expensive and difficult?

Finally, home appliance manufacturers have the answer.  Home-made ice cream has always had the serious drawback of tasting authentic, as though someone had labored over it painstakingly and gotten all kinds of love and care into it.  And is that what you really want?  Ice cream that tastes the way it was made 100 years ago?  As though it WAS made 100 years ago?

No way.  You want the kind of stuff you got when you were a kid, generated in some foul Dairy Queen contraption that pumped out ice cream like gasoline.  You want it to taste vaguely of chemicals you don’t ever want to know about, humming out of a machine as though it was some kind of inexhaustible magic.

At least, until you have to clean it.  Hey, you know what’s a great time?  Enjoying a great big cone of delicious soft ice cream.  Hey, you know what sucks?  It takes three times longer to clean up the gigantic machine you bought to make it than it would to just go to McDonald’s.

Part of the reason Blizzards are so good is watching some miserable kid making it for you — don’t lose that magic.

4. Banana savers

Look, I understand.  This is a trend that started with vegetables that you might, depending on what you were making, not consume fully on the first cut:  onions, garlic, peppers, and so on.  A nice, solid plastic container could keep them fresh slightly longer and keep them from tainting everything else in the fridge.

The banana saver, though, seems to have built into its design a fundamental confrontation with reality.  It’s made to start arguments, like:

  1. Since when do bananas conform to the exact dimensions of the banana saver?  Or even roughly conform to them?  Or even slightly?  Half the frustration of buying a bunch of bananas is that there’ll be one curled like a toenail and three more that look like table legs — which of those fits into this thing?
  2. Veggie savers are intended to extend the life of foods that have been cut, but not consumed fully.  Are there actually people out there for whom consuming a full banana is a challenge?  And if there are, should they not be re-evaluating bananas to begin with, rather than purchasing accessories to clear the hurdles they present?
  3. The hard plastic shell is intended to shield bananas as you transport them from your home to your place of work, or perhaps some other locale where you may enjoy your fruit… your banana, whose 1/8 inch-thick rind managed to protect it through the multi-thousand mile journey to your grocery store, and which you are apparently unable to keep intact on the 40-minute commute to the office.

It may be summer, and fruit may be delicious, but you can do better than this.  Don’t be someone who needs help carrying a banana.  That’s not who you are.

5. Novelty Weenie Roasters

The Roast Your Weenie hot-dog cooker would be totally awesome to have on your BBQ for roughly the length of time it would take to cook exactly one hot dog at a party.

Everyone would come over and look, a lot of people would laugh, someone’s disapproving girlfriend would shake her head in disgust.  You might even high-five and describe how you found it to a few people.  It would earn you a few moments as the center of attention before everyone went off for more beer, or conversation took another course.

And then you would have to keep it, for the rest of your life.

We know that the high heat of summer is a heady time of entertaining, fun and sunstroke.  We all want to make the most of this short season in the north, and will seek out with near-desperation anything that will save us time, bring more joy, or add more fun to a gathering.

All of which is fine!  But stay on guard!  Those impulse items of today are the irritating clutter of tomorrow, and you deserve better than these kitchen inessentials.

  • Kristie

    Look, I don’t want to throw around accusations all willy-nilly, but is it possible that Tina has cut you off in anticipation of the wedding? Because your list includes penis cookies, grilled balls, something about soft, sweet cream, a hard-shelled banana hammock, and a dude with a hot dog for a dangle. You seem to have some pent up…aggression.

    Also, couldn’t you kind of BOGO yourself and use the banana hammock to cut weiner cookies? I’m all about saving money.

  • Tanya

    Great post! Whatever you do, however, do not…I repeat, DO NOT get sucked into buying that ice cream maker. It is a piece of first class crapola. I have no idea if it will even make ice cream, because in my 4 (4!) attempts to get it to work, it spewed ice cream mix all over my counter FOUR times! Needless to say it went back. Completely useless hunk of plastic, IMO.

  • Sally Jackson

    I went to the website mentioned for the cookie cutters, but . . . it’s all in Danish! Or some other language I don’t speak. Not fair, you guys. How do I order these delightful bits of fun?

    • zetti

      English flag – top right 😉

  • sylvia

    heh heh. I especially like your banana commentary. FYI though, there is a similar product that is expandable and shapeable so it can accomodate different sizes and shapes of bananas. Don’t remember what it’s called though, just that the commercial had some very Freudian undertones.

    • Mike

      That so much engineering has gone into a device to help people with banana-carrying management challenges is deeply troubling.

  • Nicole

    I kind of adore soft serve 🙁

    • Mike

      Nobody is saying you shouldn’t! But for God’s sake don’t invest a couple of hundred bucks in some horrifying contraption to make it at home. Just walk somewhere and buy it for a dollar, is all I’m saying!

  • emc

    I need help carrying my bananas. I know, I’m ashamed, but it’s true. I don’t own one of those plastic cases, though, because the idea of having to get home with an empty banana-shaped piece of plastic banging around in my handbag just seems even more absurd. So I put up with bruised and slightly mushy bananas. It’s my cross, and I bear it.

  • Jason

    Just you wait Mike. After your blissful honeymoon, you’ll get back to open all the wonderful presents your friends and family gave to you and Tina out of the depths of their affection, which drew upon their knowledge that your wife (to be) is an excellent cook and you’re a mixologist. I would suggest renting a 15′ x 15′ space now for all the meatball grilling baskets and soft-serve ice cream machines you’re about to receive, but can’t fit into your apartment. On the other hand, you could start getting used to the idea you’ll have thousands of dollars in store credit from all the incredibly considerate gifts you’ll have to return.