in which we muse upon the fruits of our labors with syrup

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Clearly, Alexander Pope was not a skilled do-it-yourselfer, where a little learning motivates great — or at least good enough — things.

We at Culinaria Eugenius were full of a little learning this week, or rather the action-adventures of our swashbuckling preservation team.

In the accident haze, and, I’ll admit, in many months before the accident as I labored away and at home on academic pursuits, I lost that intimate and lovely control of my kitchen.  I didn’t have a clear sense of what was in my pantry, or hiding in the back of my refrigerator, or how many jars had been returned or washed and stuck in the cupboards in the outer Hebrides.  I depended on a group of others to provide me with everything and anything, including most of my meals, which had become a source of anxiety and not pleasure or pride.

Alienated from cooking, as it were.  A misguided food-hating feminist’s dream, perhaps, but not mine.

And because of this temporary hiatus from my labor of love, as I start cooking again without assistance or a firm understanding of what remains in my kitchen, hilarity and madcap hijinks ensue.

Canning folk often rhapsodize about the pleasing “ping” sound of jars sealing after you take them out of the hot water bath. I learned there’s a most unpleasing, higher-toned “plink” sound of breaking jars in boiling water.

It happened at one of those moments in which you are thoroughly exhausted — many hours of boiling down tomato pulp into ketchup, fussing with the spice profile mid-boil after not being able to find the right spices, the cheesecloth, the other cheesecloth, learning the housekeeper had used the cheesecloth as a rag, discovering not one but two of the jars had chips on the rim as you were wiping said rims after filling jars, the boiling and spattering ketchup is bitter — how? why?, more sugar?, limping out to the outer Hebrides to find the damn immersion blender, trying to find two more jars which have to be somewhere in here, you’re out of lids and have to limp back to the outer Hebrides, etc., etc. — and finally, you drop in the two remaining half-pints using your fingers because you misplaced the jar lifter in all that commotion, and…

*plink*

…like that stain on your very soul, you see the thin ribbon of red spreading through the boiling water, and you know you have about three seconds to crutch over to the cabinet to get a bowl, find a ladle, and scoop the damn jar out of the water before it turns your canner into an impromptu spaghetti sauce.

And sure, you could have called your neighbor to see if she had two teaspoons of Pomona pectin on hand when you realized you only had half of the pectin you needed after the tayberry jam was already boiling and about two minutes from being finished, and, of course, you can’t drive out to the store anyway, given the leg.  But instead, you do what anyone with a little learning would do: started messing around.

Because it was low-sugar jam, you don’t have the option to just boil it down.  You ponder adding more sugar, but can’t measure the fruit pulp at that point, it being boiling and all, so you surmise that the aluminum water (already added) might react with another kind of pectin.   Luckily, you have a jar of apple pectin stock jelly on hand!  And more quince stock pectin in the freezer.  You add both, hoping for the best…

…and it’s the best tayberry-quince syrup ever, and 14 half-pints of it.

But tasty, no?  And a thick, molasses syrup, so you were at least partially right.

So to Mr. Alexander Pope, I say:

LET THEM DRINK NOT FROM THE PIERIAN SPRING; LET THEM DRINK SYRUP.

We tried it and we liked it, over zucchini pancakes.  And not a single mishap.

On this Labor Day, may all your labors be recognized, your pickles an art form, your jam jellied, your ketchup free of glass shards, and your work a source of healing.  May you be well enough to do the things you love, to pray with your feet, to turn your poetry into action, and to feed a challenge to the status quo.

i’m in the milk and the milk’s in me

I started writing a post about the remarkable In the Night Kitchen a few years ago.  It sat in the draft queue and languished while I finished my dissertation.  I had grand plans to make a milk cake.  But since I’m just not that interested in baking in the day kitchen — and the book was far more complex than I had remembered — it sat.

Until today, when we mourn the death of Maurice Sendak and the long afterlife of his rebellious, courageous, playful and inquisitive little heroes.

I had got stuck on what I found offensive in In the Night Kitchen, the big flaw in the children’s book as I saw it.

No, it was not the innocently naked body of Mickey that made censors gnash their teeth when the book was released and still causes the book to be banned in some localities.  It’s just that I couldn’t justify the cry to God smack in the middle of the book.  Just as Mickey tumbles down into the milk bottle, he cries:

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!  God bless milk and God bless me!

And there, suddenly, God makes his entrance.  My question as an atheist and a truth-seeker is, suddenly, this.  How would one explain to a child this unnecessary turn to this new character at the moment of truth, a child unfamiliar with the concept of God?

I realized that Sendak’s writing often pulls a stunt like this that keeps his characters from meaning any one thing or appealing to any one child or parent.  Often naughty and unrepentant, the boys and alligators and monsters and all too occasional girls yell at authority figures and refuse to be cowed by anyone, even if they were clearly in the wrong.  A lion needs to do more than merely eat Pierre, for example, to get him to care.  Only regurgitation, a rebirth from the pit of lion stomach hell, can convert him to returning the love of his (what we’d now call co-dependent) doting parents.

Eating functions as a constant in Sendak’s mythology.  Kids demand certain foods and make it for others.  It’s a crux of power, an essential currency for love and autonomy.

In an interview with Terry Gross, Sendak relates one particular story that illustrates this power nicely:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.

He loved it so much he ate it.  It’s almost like a joke without a punchline or a terrible truth for someone unconvinced by digestion or perhaps a Catholic:  How do you keep a Wild Thing forever?  Eat it.

Likewise, in their chaotic imaginary worlds, Sendak’s boys ascend to power and threaten the forces against them by denying them food or telling them they’ll be eaten up.  One might think, if one were to stop there, that Sendak thought it was a dog-eat-dog world, where boys needed to either consume or be consumed.

The beginning of In the Night Kitchen illumines the dark side of consumption, where boys may lose their selfhood and morph into food.  When Mickey awakes to the thump in the night kitchen, he crossly hollers out to see who is there.  Hearing no response, he tumbles out of his clothes and through the floor, and falls splat into the batter for a “morning cake” being prepared by three chefs.  He declares:

I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me!  I’m Mickey!

To Terry Gross, Sendak commented that the chefs and baking ovens were suggestive of the crematoria of the Holocaust, a nightmare kitchen, and that might explain the creepy, automaton triplet chefs with Hitler mustaches who don’t seem to notice Mickey’s hollering or presence in their cake, as they sing out for milk:

Milk in the batter!  Milk in the batter!  We bake cake and nothing’s a-matter!

If the chefs are Nazi exterminators, the “morning cake” easily transmutes into “mourning cake,” the night kitchen the long night of diaspora and the blind eye of discrimination.

But then there’s the cry to God, at the moment of Mickey’s triumph.  Having fashioned an airplane out of some bread dough, he flies up and over a giant milk bottle (tiresomely likened to a phallus by the idiot critics of Mickey’s nudity) and tumbles into the milk with a pot in his hand, chanting that troublesome mantra:

I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me!  God bless milk and God bless me!

Instead of taking himself and the milk away from the night kitchen, escaping, he becomes something edible, and it’s the very thing he took pains to distance himself from earlier.  Now he is immersed in the milk, both inside and outside, and moreover, it’s all blessed and sharable, even with the creatures that want to destroy him.

That’s something beyond allowing a child to identify with triumphant Mickey, the one immersed in the nightmare of history, the one who refuses to become a cake and challenges any scary, unjust, or immovable institution the chefs represent.

Throughout the book, we can’t help but think of Mickey’s outside and inside, his body and the consumption that he undertakes and delivers.  Yes, the book teems with sensuality — not the weird timid pedophilic touch feared by the censors, but sensuality in the non-sexual realm of tactility and texture.  It’s about bodies and what your senses can experience.  The boy falls out of his clothes and into liquids of various sorts that morph and change and engulf him in tastes and smells and feelings as he ventures off into the unfamiliar.

Sendak’s books often do that.  My favorite of his little verses, “Chicken Soup with Rice,” puts the soup in the mouths of children but also turns the children into birds stirring soup in their nests, and then into vessels containing the soup.  We are made out of the same elements as the water, air, land — everything organic.

And because of that, we can change into whatever we like, eat and be eaten, turn ourselves upside-down or inside-out.  We can become and unbecome our enemies and foodstuffs, in the most elemental and visceral ways recognizing our difference and our commonality.  It’s blessed to transform. I’m in the milk and the milk’s in me.

And up, and up.

on the eugene restaurant scene

It’s been a few days now since the Iron Chef Eugene 2011 competition, and I’ve been thinking of the restaurant scene in Eugene in general. It has really improved since I’ve been here, and for that I’m thankful, but it still has a long way to go.  It seems that the Bite of Eugene was a big hit this  year, both with the crowd and the vendors, and I’m still floaty-happy with what I saw and ate, especially the dishes in the competition.  I’m still planning to write out my thoughts on the competition, but first I have to rant about restaurants I *don’t* like.

Folks who have taken my Changes to Culinaria Eugenius poll so far have overwhelmingly indicated their desire to have me write more restaurant reviews (but I must add that “keep the CE mix it is now” is a close second, thanks!).

I don’t like writing restaurant reviews for several reasons.  I will certainly share when I find a restaurant or dish I like, but I’m not out for comprehensive coverage. First, we don’t have many good restaurants here, so my reviews would be overwhelmingly negative.  Second, to write a good restaurant review takes a great deal of time and effort.  One needs to visit the place on several occasions to do the review justice. I don’t, frankly, have the stomach (or budget) for that if the restaurant cuts corners with commercial produce and meats, and charges as if it doesn’t.  I also understand that we live in a small town, and small business owners can easily be ruined by bad press, and who wants that kind of bad karma?

Plus, many people are perfectly fine with family-owned, family-oriented restaurants — or expense account restaurants, for that matter — that cater to a quintessential “American” palate.  You can read their reviews on Yelp or Urbanspoon.

I’m not willing to apologize for elitist tastes, since you can eat like I do in many cities in very non-elitist places, but I’m very willing to acknowledge that my tastes are unusual.  We’re pushed to like certain kinds of food and many people don’t want to push back.  That’s fine for diabetes them.  And it would seem that many restaurateurs and chefs in Eugene don’t travel much and don’t explore different kinds of cooking, so we don’t even have a chance to broaden out our tastes in town.  Worse yet, the ethnic food in town is mostly sweetened up to American tastes so the places can stay in business.  Every Asian joint in town has to serve teriyaki to survive.  Ugh.  That’s a big downside to living here: the lack of diversity.

Robert Appelbaum posits that a restaurant is a unique place in society — it’s both public and private, individualized and generalized.  And the clash of expectations when something is private and individualized versus public and generalized offers perspective on why folks might react so strongly to dining in Eugene.  I’ve seen and heard of people actually becoming angry when confronted by a dish that isn’t familiar to them (and thus not the private, individualized experience THEY are seeking.  I use the term ‘confronted’ because that’s what people seem to feel is happening.  It’s as if any experience that doesn’t mimic one they have had at another restaurant (or, perhaps, at home) is an actual challenge to their way of life.

There seems to be a spectrum on which customers might be placed.  On one end, there are those who are seeking a familiar experience, and on the other, those who are looking to try new things that take one far out of one’s comfort zone. Every once in a while, someone will write to me and ask for a restaurant recommendation.  If they say, “I’m interested in a healthy lifestyle and we usually eat chicken breast and grilled veggies and salad at home,” I know they’re looking for the familiar.  Someone who says (often rudely) to a server, “I don’t even know that that is!” “Everyone likes hamburgers!” or “Where do they think up these things?” is also probably seeking the familiar.  These types of diners just want nourishment and not a challenge (to their eyes, tastebuds, or social milieu) while eating.  And that’s just fine, I suppose, as long as I don’t have to eat their food.

But I — we — do.  There is a very serious down side to exclusively eating familiarly, and you can see it in our growing problems with Big Ag.  Standardization means less variety.  You want a tomato that looks like a round, perfectly red tomato?  One that fits on your burger?  And all you eat is burgers, and therefore all you want to buy is that perfectly round red tomato?  Then the market will give you that and only that.

My blog is more for the person for whom “make it new” appeals, and I hope that Eugene’s dining scene continues to improve in providing for those customers.

For now, however, if you’re interested in change and culinary diversity, go forth, young people!  Stop settling for sugary meals.  Explore small, excellent, family-owned restaurants in Portland.  Better yet, go to Woodburn and try some of the Mexican places there.  There’s great, non-teriyakified Chinese food in Seattle.  At the very least, go up to lunch at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath, where they serve Frank Morton’s healthy farm-bred lettuce hybrids selected for flavor, not storage capacity.  You’ll never eat commercial mesclun again.

But, if you want to know what I’d say if I were willing to write more restaurant reviews, I’d come down hard on my least favorite kinds of menus:

  1. big chain restaurants: salty, low quality meats, vaguely Asian sweet sauces, steamed vegetables, overpriced frozen seafood, achingly sweet cocktails and desserts featuring ice cream and chocolate, and mesclun salads;
  2. sandwich shops: sandwiches made of subpar cold cuts and big, dusty, sweetened wheat bread (or the alternative, tortilla “wraps,” ugh), sweet mayonnaise, and mesclun salads;
  3. hippie joints: bowls of goop, including some kind of soy product and vegetables, then drowned in a too-sweet sauce, and mesclun salads;
  4. “comfort food” places: see #1, plus an obsession with bland, white foods.  For me, comfort isn’t bland, and it certainly is not macaroni ‘n’ cheese or mesclun salads; and
  5. mesclun salads.

That encompasses about 75% of Eugene dining.  Another 20 percent is BBQ places (all with sweet sauces) and fast food (burgers and pizza).  Honestly, I’d rather eat at a fast food place where I can get dill pickles on my burger and fries without ketchup than at a place that non-consensually coats me in sugar.  Even the vegetables at these places are at best, uninteresting, and at worse, befouled with sugar.

And I just hate mesclun.  It’s the new fast food — standardized, bred for longevity, not taste, and dull.  Look at your salad.  There are several greens in there.  Why do they all taste the same?

When I go to a restaurant, I look for the dishes that have the best balance in flavors.  If anything, I tilt toward vinegar.  Strong flavors are better than bland ones.  Pickles, sour sauces, garlic, tomato, chili, sesame, lemon, mustard. I’m not a huge fan of organ meats, but I’ll take something with the slight bitterness of liver, say, than a dish that presents as five kinds of sweetness.

That’s me.  What about you?

Photos from top to bottom: dessert wines at King Estates Food Justice Conference dinner; lunch at Montana food conference; Iron Chef Eugene 2011 Heidi Tunnell’s chicken-under-a-brick and Chef Mike Meyer’s almond cake with chicken liver mousse; Tunnell’s grilled radishes.

iron chef eugene 2011: chef heidi tunnell!

After a day-long battle, Iron Chef Eugene 2011 has been crowned.  We congratulate Chef Heidi Tunnell of Creswell’s Heidi Tunnell Catering Company on reigning supreme!  Her win was all the more impressive, given she’s 38 weeks pregnant.  Chef Tunnell will go on to battle at Iron Chef Oregon at The Bite of Oregon festival, which will take place at Waterfront Park in Portland on August 12-14.  Just about the time she plans to give birth.  Will that slow her down?  We think not!

Check out my behind-the-scenes (or rather, front-of-the-scenes) photo set of the three rounds of competition.  Even as the emcee, I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

You’ll see all four chef contestants and their sous chefs at work: Chef Tunnell, Chef Mike Meyer of Red Agave, Chef Shane Tracey of Nib Modern Eatery, and Chef Max Schwartz of Agate Alley Laboratory.  The theme ingredients were: Battle 1 (Tunnell/Meyer) – Our Family Farms’ pasture raised chicken; Battle 2 (Tracey-Schwartz) – raspberries and Huerto de la Familia’s blackcap raspberries; and Championship Battle (Tunnell-Schwartz) – Oregon dungeness crab.

I was so impressed by the competitive spirit this year — the dishes that came out of the outdoor kitchen were impressive.  And even though the chefs were intense and focused, they were also kind and generous toward one another when we had technical difficulties.  The camaraderie on stage was very much felt and appreciated.

I’ll write a post about my favorite moments of the Bite of Eugene festival later, but right now I need to get ready to talk about the competition on KLCC’s Food for Thought radio show.  Listen to me, the new Iron Chef Eugene, and judges Ray Walsh of Capitello Wines, Jeff Kandarian of King Estate, Boris Wiedenfeld, and Ryan Stotz dish on the experience — noon – 1 p.m. today on 89.7. [Edited to add: listen to the archived version of the program here. Heidi and I tune in around about a third of the way through the hour.]

some like it hot: a canning tradition

Seems I always/only have time + excess produce during the one week of summer that the Oregonian deities deem Let’s Scald the Lily White Flesh of Those Fragile Mud Creatures with Scorching Temperatures after a Year of Rain Week.  So let’s just make it a tradition: I can when the temps hit the 90s.   If I lay these plans bestly, maybe they will go awry?

So this time, I managed to snap up some achingly fresh, machete-cut fat asparagus spears and a lug of apricots on special at a glorified farm stand, pickle and chocolate factory, tamale and salsa industrial complex, and tourist mecca in Eastern Washington — Country Mercantile, off I-395. (Their line of preserved foods is impressive — I almost succumbed to the Old World Cabbage pickles and a big jar of preserved mixed fruit, given their rarity, and I tasted about 2 dozen fresh and canned salsas, each excellent.)

That meant I had 5 pounds of perfect asparagus and 20 pounds of perfect apricots to dispatch with…and quickly.

I’m down to 0 pounds of asparagus, thanks to my lightening speed pickling skillz, and 7 pounds of apricots, thanks to the powers of jam and tarte.  Will post more later.  Produce, like all ripe bodies, on the rot.  With miles to go before I sleep.

But before I get back in the saddle, check out this awesome vintage can lifter I bought in an antique store in Helena, Montana.  One-handed lifting, bitches.  I’ll never use one of those clunky two-handed Kerr things again.  If you find one, pick it up.  Highly recommended.

holiday gifts 2009, the purchasing version

I’ve done the whole homemade gifts in a jar thing — now it’s time for some brutal, aggressive commercialism!  With Hanukkah beginning this weekend, and Christmas not far behind, you’d better get crackin’.  Here are some ideas for unusual, inexpensive gifts for the food lover in your life.

Sideswipe blade for KitchenAid stand mixers, made with silicone fins that can scrape the bowl and eliminate the need to stop the mixer to scrape down the sides.  Cook’s Illustrated recommends and I am filled with desire, Santa.

2-quart Pyrex measuring cup.  Put your stocking in it just to show how much it can hold.  Seriously, this is one of the best gifts you can give a foodie — something they would never buy for themselves because they don’t realize how useful they are in making soups, canning, and even candymaking.

Pommery mustard, moutarde de meaux.  Best mustard ever, perfectly balanced with vinegar and heat, with gorgeous brown and yellow intact grains.  It’s imported from France in lovely crocks, and it’s a bit too expensive for the average Joe, so why not treat someone?

Excellent olive oil.  I recommend Napa Valley Olive Oil Manufacturing Co. available in Eugene at Newman’s, for cooking and regular use.

Datu puti spiced vinegar.  Smooth, slightly sweet cane sugar vinegar from the Philippines is punched up with garlic, onion, and hot peppers.  “This will change your life,” said the gentleman who gave it to me as a gift.  Bold to say to someone who makes dozens of vinegars a year, thought I, arrogantly.  But it has.  And he wasn’t kidding when he said they drink it neat at his house.  Try it to deglaze a roast, or just to pep up some stirfried brussels sprouts.  OMG.

Unusual heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, or, if you’re local, Eugene Local Foods, which offers an interesting red one and a white one.  Looking at heirloom bean varieties is like having a Lush or BPAL addiction.  So pretty, each a little different.  You.  Can’t.  Stop.  Ordering.

A giant hunk of manchego cheese.  Spanish or PNW cheese (Quillisascut offers one out of Rice, WA, under the name Curado).  I’m not sure why, but I’ve grown addicted to this mild, buttery cheese, which I snack on with dried Fellenberg prunes and homemade quince paste.

Robin Goldstein’s Fearless Critic Portland Restaurant guide, sparklin’ new.  His team is brutally honest and opinionated.  If you’re reading this, you probably are, too, so this would appeal.  There’s something slightly unlikable and shiny-corporate about the guy (at least on paper), but he did gather a team of locals for research.  And I *love* the honest reviews.  Down with sentimentality in food writing!

Best of the “Best of 2009 Cookbooks” Condensed into One List (plus my PNW cookbook list will be out in the EW next week; will link).  Will it be Ad Hoc, which promises an easily digestible Keller, or the entire cookbook dedicated to macaroons (why?), or the first comprehensive English-language Chinese cookbook in years?

Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  The one bread-baking book I hear consistently recommended.  I haven’t baked from it myself, but I’d sure like to.

To replace a beloved Gourmet subscription, might I suggest browsing this list of food magazines (look at the comments, too, for more ideas).  I picked up a subscription to Art of Eating, myself.  Gastronomica is having their annual sale — buy up!  (copy and paste code GAEM091 on the UC Press website when you buy a new subscription.)  Also, check out the blog in which the link appears, Eat Me Daily.  It’s my new daily amusement, food for thought.

Take that special someone out to a dinner at a small local restaurant.  Stimulate the economy by stimulating your palate.  In Eugene, I suggest Café Arirang for a bowl of spicy, warming kimchi tofu soup.

And for those who are having a hard time with Christmas cheer without the edge off:

Fascinating bitters from The Bitter TruthCelery and Xocolatl Molé flavors.  Expensive as hell, but so unique they will catapult your holiday cocktails into realms undreamed.   Celery is an old flavoring for bitters; molé is new.  Both are wonderful for holiday drinks:  celery for something savory, grassy, limey, or peppery; molé for anything that could take a hit of chocolate and spice.

Clear Creek cranberry liqueur for everything else. Oregon Coast cranberries from the people who bring you pear-in-a-bottle brandy, raspberry eau-de-vie, and cassis that could break your heart with its sweet, sharp tang.

A make-your-own vanilla extract kit.  Premium vanilla beans and a bottle of vodka.  If that doesn’t scream Christmas morning, what does?

Images are from commercial websites selling products, plus one shot of my tuna and Rancho Gordo yellow-eye bean salad, and an outtake of cherries looking abstractly festive.

ode on a fresh turkey

I always brine.  I know just by admitting this, I’m an anachronism in the food world, so yesterday.  Even Cook’s Illustrated doesn’t brine anymore.  But I like the slightly slick juiciness that brining gives to white meat, and it’s never hurt my dark meat.

Plus, it’s one slightly gross, slightly perverse aspect of Thanksgiving that Retrogrouch and I share.  He’s not interested in too many aspects of cooking Thanksgiving.  I tried to make a planning list.  I said, what do we need to do for Thanksgiving?  He looked at me as if I had lost my mind.  “Stuffing.  Mashed potatoes.”  I said yes, of course, but what else?

“All ye know on earth,” he said with solemn finality, “and all ye need to know.”

I frowned and returned to my list.  My happy love piped up:

“Oh, and don’t forget to brine the turkey.”

Each year we try to figure out a slightly less inconvenient way to haul the greasy, bloody carcass into a vessel that will hold it and not smell like revolting raw dead things afterward.  It’s always a chore and an obsession to find, scrub, sterilize, KERPLUNK, brine, scrub, sterilize.  Plus the feeling we’re doing something really wrong.  Not to mention that smell on my hands.

For the record, I do a simple brine: 1.75 cups kosher salt (or 1 cup regular salt, if I have it) to 2 gallons of water.  Keep in cold place like the refrigerator overnight, or for 8-12 hours. No sugar, no herbs, nothing fancy.

A few years ago, I discovered my canning kettle was just the right size and relatively easy to clean.  Plus, I boil it each time I use it.  Handy, no?

Well, the increasing size of our guest list, and corresponding increasing size of our turkey finally hit a crisis point this year, and I can’t find anything for the brining vessel.  The canner was an utter failure, as you can see above.  In fact, I’m so stymied, I’m just sitting here with a mess on the counter and bloodlust in my heart.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…

replacement cookware saves the day

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A long time ago, my chemical engineer boyfriend scienced me into buying anodized aluminum cookware, and I’ve always used it since.  In fact, I’ve used the same set since.  Starting with a few pieces before my wedding and the full set soon thereafter, I gathered a moderate amount of the stuff.  My ex-boyfriend’s ended up in the San Francisco Bay; well, one piece did.  That’s another story altogether.  But mine went forth and multiplied.calphpot2

Soon after I bought one of the saucepans, it “silvered” or de-anodized, which means the dark coating on the inside wore off because of something I had cooked in it.  Supposedly safe, we used it for years to make popcorn, since I thought I had ruined the pot doing so, and didn’t want to ruin another.

One day a few months ago, I thought I’d check the claim that it actually was OK to eat de-anodized pot popcorn or whether we might go blind with science.  I discovered something that rendered the question moot: the silvered pot was covered under the lifetime warranty Calphalon has for its anodized cookware, and not only that, but the other pieces in the set, which were not silvered but had tiny pits in the coating, would also be covered under warranty.

As equally quick to seek out new cookware as I was suspicious, I sent in a couple of the worst pieces for evaluation and replacement.  A few weeks later, eureka!  I received brand, spankin’ new saucepans from the latest line, Calphalon One.

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Little by little, I swapped out the old set for the new.  There were a few glitches when a piece was no longer being manufactured, such as my 2.5-quart Windsor saucepan or my 12-inch paella pan, but I worked it out with a kind, patient, and generous customer service rep, who put the ‘service’ back into customer service.  She went through the entire line, describing possible replacements and even offering whatever upgrade I wanted so I’d be satisfied.  And all this for cookware that was about a dozen years old.

Finally, I mentioned that I had one major piece left, my big stockpot and pasta strainer.  I told her that really wasn’t in bad shape, so I felt greedy about even mentioning it.  There are a few pits, I told her, but it’s still very useable.  She told me to send it in and they’d recycle and replace it, just so I would have a complete set of the new stuff.

Yay!

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Calphalon has come a long way since the days in which I bought my set — the handles are stay-cool now, and ergonomic, and the pots are handsome.  Still work as well as the old ones, probably better (I hope, at least, in terms of de-anodizing).  I just wanted to let everyone know that their customer service is commendable.  I’m thankful I decided to go with Calphalon, and I love my new cookware.   It’s not often I recommend a product or service on this blog, but I’m so happy with what happened, I have to share it.

fork me

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I bought our set of flatware in the days preceding our wedding in 1998.  Those were the days in which *I* was gainfully employed and Retrogrouch was a graduate student, so I flung my money around, partying like it was 1999.  All right, I didn’t: I was a garage sale aficionado.  I found a practically new 12-place set of perfectly respectable but lower-end stainless Oneida flatware, plus all the relevant serving pieces, at a garage sale down the street from our house.  They were getting married, too, but had scored a better set in the gift frenzy.  It was $25, one of the best bargains of my garage sailing days.

So it was with a small twinge of regret that I realized, in the twilight of the next decade, that I had somehow lost half of my dinner forks and half of my salad forks, and quite a few spoons.  How does this happen?  My servants have background checks, or surely they’d nick such a valuable commodity.

But regardless of the cause, the six forks were a problem.  Could I combine the salad forks and dinner forks and have a dozen that way, assigning the small ones to my shorter friends?  Or women?  Would it be better to discriminate on appearance or retrench the patriarchy?  And let’s face it, thought I, we rarely have dinner parties for twelve.  If necessary, Retrogrouch and I could use the salad forks, martyrs for the cause of matching guests, and we could sneak one to one of the math people, since they don’t notice stuff like that.

(Concerns like these are precisely why I haven’t finished my dissertation.)

When I saw the sets of Dansk flatware, a much nicer grade than my old set, silvery and new, at our local reject home goods store, I knew I had to make my move.  Sure, I would have to pay $63 for 12 sets of five pieces (without the dessert spoons or serving pieces), and thereby acknowledge my bargain-hunting skills have softened in my old age, but it was time.  We all have to move on.

So now I have the shiny for Thanksgiving.  And I’m almost senselessly pleased.