It's the end of January, and I've already broken or never picked up most of my New Year's resolutions. There is one, though, that I'm actually kind of enjoying. I was giving the kitchen a bit more than the usual once-over at the beginning of the year, giving the painted cupboards a rubdown with beeswax and making a halfhearted effort to organize the contents when it just came to me: I promised myself I'd either use the neglected kitchen tools and equipment I've collected over the years by this time next year — or give them away.
When I first got into cooking in my 20s, I'd haunt the kitchen stores wherever I traveled and carry home some treasure or other — a yellow ceramic mortar and pestle splashed with green, a cataplana (the hinged copper vessel the Portuguese use to steam shellfish), a hand-carved wooden corzetti stamp for pasta. At home, I picked up some fantastic finds at garage sales and flea markets. I patrolled the shelves of Williams-Sonoma in the days when it was great. I must have melon ballers in every shape and size ever made. Whenever I got an extra freelance check, I'd spend it on pots and pans and specialized tools.
I have a lot of cookware stuffed into a very small kitchen (at least by today's standards) — all useful, but not all used.
And so this year I resolved to get rid of redundant pots and pans, keeping only what's most useful and/or beautiful. I plan on retiring, at least, the giant, restaurant-sized All-Clad aluminum pots I bought at an irresistibly deep discount at least 20 years ago and break out only when I'm cooking for a huge crowd. Which isn't often.
Some things I don't use are just too beautiful to discard. I'm not giving up the gorgeous hand-hammered copper couscousière that, sadly, gets put to use only about once a year, or the cheerful blue his-and-hers Le Creuset moules pots for steamed mussels I once received as a gift. Or the giant white-glazed clay donabe steamer that sits proudly on a shelf, made by the Nagatani family of Japan, who have been making donabe from the special clay of their region for more than six generations.
So maybe I won't be giving away all that much stuff. But I will make the resolution to use the treasures I've stuffed into my very small kitchen.
It's funny how coming across the zigzagged pastry cutter that the late Lidia Alciati of Guido restaurant in Italy's Piedmont gave me inspires me to make tajarin or agnolotti again. And look, here's that metal blade with a wooden handle that I used to use to scrape away the flour and dough from the countertop when I made bread all the time. Here's the crooked wooden spoon a friend brought me from Pátzcuaro, Mexico, perfect for stirring a pot of beans. These tools bring back memories of friends and rollicking late-night dinners.
I admit I have too many coffee makers (not one of them electric). There's all my stove-top espresso pots with names like Principessa or Conehead. There's the Japanese glass siphon brewer that makes fabulous coffee but that I hardly ever use. It's a piece of theater for a dinner party — except, by the time my dinner parties end close to midnight, nobody wants coffee and I just don't stock decaf beans on principle. But here's a solution: I'll break that particular coffee performance out at brunch or lunch.
And that hand-cranked tomato press? I see a brilliant tomato season coming on: I'll keep it.
I haven't even been through all the drawers and cupboards yet. But just writing this list has shaken me out of habits, and my daydreams are filled with couscous, blinis, rustic terrines and even coddled eggs.
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