Thursday, December 18, 2008

Kitchen Gadgets

The article came about as a result of receiving two totally awesome kitchen gadgets in the mail over the past two days. But first, I'm going to get totally off the subject, and delve into a little bit of background info ...

Loyal readers and friends know the Weasels history. Basically, 15-20 friends who have known each other since grade school, and still get together a couple times per year. One of the annual events is a yearly gathering in Truckee, CA, which we do every September over a four day weekend. Fifteen middle-aged guys who have all been friends for over 40 years, and have managed to remain the best of buddies for all that time. We spend four days talking about old times, current things going on in our lives and around us, argue politics and religion, drink good Scotch, and we eat like kings.

Saturday night's dinner is always "mine." I cook for them, because I can ... and I believe they enjoy it. Most years have some sort of a theme, which has included Italian, Mexican, Cajun, several kinds of BBQ, and most recently a whole filet tenerloin stuffed with a mushroom duxelle, and finished with a Port wine reduction (recipe from Fine Cooking Magazine). It got such rave reviews that I was asked to cook it for one of the guys and his wife, family and friends on Christmas. Happy to. Glad it was such a hit. We aim to please!

I usually do the Saturday night dinners alone. My kitchen is usually my sanctuary, and finding someone who normally doesn't cook who can "help" and stay out of the chef's way, isn't always easy. Two notable exceptions (this IS going somewhere, trust me) were three years that I had the help of our wonderful friend Siobhan from Truckee, who along with her husband (the chef) owns and waits tables at the best breakfast restaurant in town, The Wagon Train Cafe. If you're in Truckee, you owe it to yourself.

And for the past few years, my friend Wes has provided very competent help in the kitchen. Wes is the guy I mentioned in an earlier article, who rides a BMW GS cross-country every year for our little soiree' in Truckee. He also cooks, and as you'll see soon, he's very perceptive.

Two years ago, I was talking to Wes about my favorite drummer, who's also one of my favorite authors - Neil Peart, of the band Rush. When the band tours around the country and the world, Neil and a friend ride from venue to venue, while the rest of the touring company takes the tour buses. And he writes about it in an extremely entertaining and perceptive way. Neil and Wes ride the same model of BMW, and both seem to be perfectly happy riding incredible distances on them, through rain, sleet .... you get the picture.

Anyway, Wes seemed like a good candidate for Neil's latest book, so I sent him a copy. He, in turn sent me a copy of an absolutely wonderful book called "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry," by Kathleen Flinn. Kathleen's book describes her experience as a student at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, and her insightfully entertaining style has been very inspirational, and I have in fact "paid it forward" by getting the book to several other people, and recommending it to even more. Good stuff ... highly recommended. I also had to send her a copy of one of Neil's books. Just because.

To bring this full circle, I sent Kathleen an email telling her how I ran across her book, and she wrote back saying it was quite coincidental, that she and her husband had been talking about Neil Peart a couple days earlier. He also rides motorcycles, she said. So it added a personal finale to a most entertaining reading experience.

So, this is supposed to be about Kitchen Gadgets ...

I received two packages over the last two days, from the afore-mentioned Wes. He told me that I'd be receiving two items that he considered to be of a "Holy Grail" level for anyone who took cooking and kitchen gadgets seriously. And he was right.

The first gadget arrived in a small box, with an even smaller box inside. Holy Grail it was, only the special few get to have it, item number one was a totally unique bottle opener. My particular opener is actually the rare (and virtually impossible to get) "Jet Lag" model, with a specific logo on it. Wes is a pilot for a major international airline company, and frequently does trips to the Far East. My research showed that the Sentol Safety Cap Opener is actually a 1983 U.S. patent, but it's apparently quite the cult item in Japan and China. The container in fact gives (minimal) instructions on the box in English and Japanese. The little pictogram says "Push" with a down arrow, "Click" with an exclamation point, and "Pong" with an upward pull motion.

Hmmm ... I need to try it. Grabbed a Corona from the fridge (which I keep on hand for a friend who drinks them exclusively ... I personally have approximately 2 beers per year), and tried the combination of Push, Click, and Pong, and lo and behold, it worked! Clicks the top off, holds it with its magnetic end, and magically puts a big smile on your face. Awesome device. Kinda like the first time you substituted a cheap corkscrew with a real Screwpull. It's THAT much better. This is a bottle opener that will never see a drawer. It lives above the sink, right in plain view, ready for my Corona-drinking buddy (who in fact is one of our best friends from our massage school days), and for the whole world to see.


The second Wes gadget is a salt container, which I found after looking it up is also marketed as a cheese server. I may have to get a second one, because it would be a perfect place for grated Parmesan cheese, on the dinner table (grate it fresh, of course!). But it's already found a home just to the left of my stove's burners, and provides an ergonomically perfect way to add pinches of salt to whatever you're cooking. I've used a variety of small containers for this task over the years, but this one's perfect. And there's a top, so nothing gets splattered into your salt container. Great device, and it will get lots of use in my kitchen.

For these two to actually make the grade and become part of the limited number of "gadgets" that I actually use, is really something special. As mentioned in an earlier article, I spent six glorious weekends at San Francisco's California Culinary Academy in 1994. Cooking schools teach and require excellent knife skills. There's a very good explanation for chefs being able to chop fast, accurately, and delicately ... it's called "practice, practice, practice. There are no garlic presses at the CCA, no potato peelers, no devices to "French" your Blue Lake Green Beans, no slicers that create those nice even slices of hard-boiled eggs. This is why God gave us knives.

Most of us chef-types have lots of 'em. We treat them with dignity, keep them sharp, steel them with each use, keep them in a block or on a magnetic strip for quick access, and never ever put them in a drawer with things that could bang against them. We use them, wash and dry them, and put them away. You'll never catch a chef putting a $200 knife in a dishwasher. I think I see a future blog entry that will attempt to explain why I have several sizes and shapes that say Henkel's, Wustof, Dexter-Russell, LamsonSharp, Global, and of course my pride and joy, the Shun Ken Onion 8" Chef's Knife.

For now, I'll let my rambling come to a halt, and once again extend a thank you to Mr. Wes for turning me on to these cool new additions to the kitchen. Fun new toys that will amuse my guests, provide conversations about their origin (which you kind reader, are now privy to), and of course serve their worldly purpose, which is to pop bottle tops, and provide a home for the always nearby "pinch" of salt.

Thanks also to Siobhan, who became a major friend upon first sight, and is always welcome in my kitchen. Everyone needs to experience a breakfast (or several) at The Wagon Train in Truckee, California. Downtown, on the main street of town, across from the railroad.

And of course thank you to Kathleen Flinn for providing me with a wonderful reading experience, and also the inspiration to get some of this into print. Can't wait for the successor to "The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry," which she says will be in the 2010 timeframe.

As Jackie Gleason said to Steve McQueen in the great movie "Soldier In The Rain," "Until that time, Eustis, until that time."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The push down bottle opener pictured is sold at bottlepal.com
They are a big hit at our neighborhood happy hours. The website I mentioned has free shipping too.
Jay Wilmington

Larry said...

Thanks Jay - I actually ordered a couple of these from Bottlepal for friends for Christmas. Great product!
What makes the one my friend gave me unique, is that it comes from the "Jet Lag Club" in Tokyo, via a long haul commercial jet pilot I've known since grammar school, and am proud to call one of my best friends.
Very cool product though, any way you look at it! And I in fact received mine in a couple of days from Bottlepal.