The Loss of a Few Trusted Old Friends
Two years ago, my toaster oven died and I didn’t have the funds to replace it, so we began using the oven for our toast in the morning. We found it worked just fine as long as you kept an eye on the toast and remembered to flip it. I had loved using my toaster oven in the summer for baking fish and other foods. It kept the heat in the house down and it did a great job at keeping the fish juicy too! I’ve improvised without it for the last two years.
Then, last year, unexpectedly, as I was making a beautiful tomatillo sauce in my Cuisinart Classic Pro, I heard this VERY BAD sound in my processor, like metallic ricocheting off the sides of the bowl, as the blade in my processor whirred. I immediately stopped processing and found that a small chunk of metal had come off the blade and was being whipped around in my sauce. The blade and the sauce both went in the trash. When I contacted Cuisinart about it, they said they’d never heard of someone having a problem like this and that I could PURCHASE a new blade in their online store (the machine was like 10 to 13 years old and I didn’t even remember where I bought it, let alone had a receipt.)
A replacement blade was $40 a pop, but a new Cuisinart in the same model was selling for $89 on Amazon — but, I just couldn’t do it. I’d wait until I could afford a new machine (especially when pleas to Cuisnart’s marketing department for a partnership with my blog fell on deaf ears.)
So I began using my $10 blender for sauces and soups. At first, everything seemed fine, I could still use my old Cuisinart to grate cheese, shred potatoes for hash browns and slice veggies — that is, until, rather suddenly, one day a big chunk of plastic to the locking mechanism on the machine’s lid flew off as it was grating some cheddar. The machine immediately stopped and so did my dreams of fast, easy cooking. I could not afford to replace the machine at the time. I was smack dab in the middle of launching my own writing business, in the most competitive writing market ever and the worst economy since the depression. Convenience was a luxury my family could NOT afford.
The Cooking Lesson
What I learned from this experience is that poverty is something that can keep your cooking lean, mean and unpretentious. I grew up poor. My mom used the same dented, banged up and chipped pans and bowls my entire childhood. She never knew anything about Henkels or Wusthof knives, she didn’t use specialty avocado tools like those made by OXO, she didn’t own a food processor or an ice cream maker. There were no ricers, salad spinners or meat grinders.
My mother rolled and cut her homemade egg noodles by hand and then hung them on string throughout the house to let them air dry. The fanciest tool in her kitchen was an old stainless steel french fry cutter she picked up at an antique store around the corner from our apartment. She had only four cookbooks to her name — 2 classics (one of these a Betty Crocker), 2 obscure (including one that was just a collection of army wives’ recipes from my dad’s troop in Germany).
None of it mattered — what she didn’t have in tools, she made up for in tenacity, skill, love for her family and her love for cooking. Her repertoire included many Mexican favorites (she grew up in Los Alamitos, California) like chile rellanos and enchiladas, as well as dishes like lasagna, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, eggplant parmigiana, chicken and dumplings (with those homemade egg noodles) and dark chocolate satin pie (I swear, I requested this for my birthday every year for like 10 years!)
My mom’s kitchen tools may not have been worthy of the likes of Gordon Ramsay, but they made great meals, just the same.
Without the fancy doohickeys and time-saving devices, you learn how to cut, grate, chop and pulverize with much more efficiency — real chef skills. You learn that even a $10 blender can help take the place of a $150 food processor for soup, sauce, and quinoa cupcake batter and that a cute and willing hubby can grate cheese just as fast.
Tickled Pink: Welcome Home New Besties
Still, when I received my advance for the book I’m working on, among the first purchases I made were those to replace these kitchen convenience items. After much research (looking at competing brands, reading reviews and talking to fellow food bloggers) I PURCHASED the new Cuisinart 12 cup Elite food processor in hot pink, the matching blender, and a Cuisinart toaster/convection oven.
I didn’t set out to buy Cuisinart again but when the feedback you get is this resounding (and the color is so sassy!) you just have to go for it. The great thing about the fact that I purchased these myself is that my readers (you guys) will know with 100% certainty that I have no feelings of obligation towards this brand and that over the course of the time that I use these on my blog — I will give you the straight dope on whether the purchases were worth it or not (so far it’s been bliss.)
Mama Needs a Little Help in the Kitchen
Why’d I go back to the tools? Because, when you’re busy juggling it all — a little help and a little speed are a welcome reprieve. But the lessons I learned by first not having, then having and losing, will remain with me as a cook. They are the same lessons I take with me in life:
- You can do a lot with a little
- With a little ingenuity, a dash of commitment and fueled by love you can make magic happen
- It’s not the tools, it’s the heart
- Money can buy ease and convenience but not true joy
Tell me what your favorite tool in the kitchen is and what you love to make with it in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.