Do you ever have those kitchen frenzies, when all you want to do is find a purpose for every small appliance and tool you own? Make it worth the ongoing expenditure for a “well-equipped” kitchen? I just emerged from the rubble of one of those two-day frenzies. My kitchen is once again sparkling from all the granite polish I applied.
As I ran my hand over the surface of one of my counters, I was reminded of a conversation I had decades ago with a fellow teacher. Donna and I were assigned the same study hall in the cafeteria. After having taken attendance, which daily required nothing less than a seasoned teacher’s lusty bellowing to get everyone’s attention in an enormous space with the worst kind of acoustics, we would settle comfortably into casual conversation. One day, I described to Donna the kitchen plans for our new home. I was excited to be able to dream about all the counter space, something we lacked abysmally in our tiny first home. Donna pointed out how satisfying she found it whenever her counters had just been polished, “Oooh, there’s nothing compares. Smooth as a baby’s bottom.” Ever since, that’s exactly what I say, too, whenever I’ve polished my counters and run my hand over them.
There’s great usefulness for gadgets such as — and these are all items I currently own — the Instant Pot, the air fryer, the bread maker, the waffle maker, two sizes of choppers, the food processor, the ice cream maker, crockpot, and the Kitchen Aid mixer. I could part with just about all of them with the exception of the KA mixer, whose value I’ve only come to know and appreciate in recent years. Reflecting on this vast array of helpful kitchen tools, I’m struck with a sense of embarrassment — what would Mom think of all of it?
Mom was the most amazing cook. (Who doesn’t think their mother was “the most amazing cook”? Probably no one. Wait, that’s not true. My late husband George withheld praise where it concerned his own mother’s cooking, which, come to think of it, was probably the key reason why he married me. He was completely blown away by the meals Mom made for her brood.) She learned her trade in the dietary sciences program at Framingham State College when she attended from 1939 to 1943. She was one of those people who can skillfully crack an egg with one hand or swish ingredients around a skillet and then toss them expertly in the air to flip them all over at once. At the time, it escaped us entirely that she had a genuine understanding of the science behind cooking. (Alton Brown gets that, and who doesn’t love Alton Brown?)
In those years of living on Titicut Hill, I only ever learned how to make tapioca pudding and hot milk sponge cake. . . because I loved to eat those two confections more than just about anything. . . except Chocolate Town Special Cake (which I left to Nana Morrissey to present me with each year on my birthday).
My sister Margaret became the better cook. . . much better cook. Mom loved that she had a real protege to whom she could bequeath her store of knowledge, but that doesn’t mean that she, oh, let’s say, “enjoyed” when Margaret was in charge of the stove. My daughter Megan has a similar approach. “How is it possible,” I often wonder, “that there is whipped cream speckling the refrigerator door?” Or, “Egg yolk inside the gadget drawer?” It must be a culinary phenomenon, this combination of “good cook/creator of kitchen messes”.
One year, as a teacher at Triton Regional High School, I mentored a new “foods program” teacher. You can imagine the perks of that assignment. Oh, Nadine, don’t trouble yourself to come to my room — I’ll come to YOU! As often as I was on the tummy tantalizing receiving end of class exercises, I never tired of watching Nadine conduct her demos for the students. All the movements were well-practiced, and I saw Mom in every one. How she would tilt a bowl slightly — a cold, metal one, of course — and grab the whisk in the middle of the handle — not the end — before whipping, and not round and round, but rather across and back, how she broke up ground beef in the skillet with a fork, lickety split and with all the ferocity of a professional hurler, how she folded in a dob of egg whites before delicately folding in the rest. I’m quite sure that other structured food science programs all teach in the same way and have done so for generations, but I learned that Nadine, too, had completed the same program at Framingham State College. The familiarity of the scene always warmed my heart.
Now having recovered from my two-day frenzy, and having run my hand across the glassy surface of my counters — once again “smooth as a baby’s bottom” — I can’t help but ponder my need for all the kitchen gadgets. Mom likely would have challenged, “Other than a stove, you only need a skillet, a dutch oven, a mixer, a casserole dish, and maybe a good set of mixing bowls, one metal spatula, one rubber spatula, a wooden spoon, . . . and a wire whisk, of course.