Satire Friday: Kitchen Nirvana


I’ve reached my kitchen nirvana. It’s been awhile since I’ve been at this place, so I’ve stopped just inside the doorway to take it all in. In front of me is a display of everything you need to make Easter cupcakes. Silicone cupcake bakers in spring colors – yellow,  green, pink, aqua. Jars of colored sugar in every color imaginable. And there’s two kinds of sugar – regular colored sugar and a thicker, sparkly version. There’s a tree to hold the finished cupcakes. There’s a whole set of bunny china complete with rabbit-shaped napkin rings. “I could make Easter cupcakes with two different kinds of colored sugar,” I say to myself. I picture the table set with bunny china, with the sparkling tree of spring-colored cupcakes rising up as the centerpiece. The relatives are sitting around the table, oohing and ahhing at the splendor of it. Suddenly I’m yanked back to reality by the calm voice of reason running almost silently in the back of my mind. Wait a minute – I’m not the kind of person who buys special holiday china. I don’t even have china – our “good” dishes are 35-year-old stoneware, which for the most part except for a few chips, still look pretty good. I don’t make fancy, fussy Easter cupcakes. I make cake in a 9 by 13 pan and spread one color of frosting over it, and never add sparkly colored sugar. So what has come over me? I’m in Williams-Sonoma. And not just any Williams-Sonoma. I’m at 900 North Michigan Avenue, on the second floor of the Bloomingdale building in Chicago. This is where it all began. This is where I first found kitchen nirvana.

It all started with a spatula. My husband and I were shopping in Chicago and had been going up and down Michigan Avenue discovering stores that we’d never seen before and didn’t even know we needed. Then on a whim we stepped inside the Bloomingdale Building. We were drawn in by F. A. O. Schwarz on the ground floor. But wait, there’s more. The Sharper Image. Hammacher-Schlemmer. Here’s a store that only sells expensive cigars, and one that only sells skyline pictures of Chicago. We were captivated by capitalism. And then we stepped inside Williams-Sonoma.

We saw sets of cookware that cost more than our first car; clay roasting pans in an array of sizes; a whole display of pepper grinders, perched upon a bed of peppercorns, begging to be tested. There was solid copper cookware, hand painted china, olive pitters, garlic presses, lemon zesters, lettuce knives, coffee grinders, espresso machines, and kitchen soap with matching colored dish towels. We knew then and there we could no longer settle for just being cooks – this was the store that would make us into chefs.

We knew we had to buy something here – something to begin our transformation. But we had tuition to pay and kids to raise and really couldn’t afford cookware that equaled the cost of a house payment. So we settled for a spatula.

Since then we’ve returned periodically to get back that chef-like feeling. Every time we came we were swept up into a kitchen alternate universe, where gravy separators, olive-wood tasting spoons and flambe ladles suddenly seemed like gadgets we could not live without. We once bought a cookie press, convinced that we  would start making different shaped cookies for every holiday. Turns out that all it ever got us was a chance to practice swearing before every holiday, while we produced a collection of unrecognizable cookie blobs. We actually discussed how we could possibly ever roast a chicken again without special linen trussing string that came in an acorn-shaped wooden holder, when just the week before I had announced that I was never going to put myself through the ordeal of roasting a chicken again, and if for some reason we needed a roasted chicken we would buy the rotisserie version. What came over us when we entered the store that changed us from rational, normal humans to kitchen fanatics?

We’ve never found the answer. It must be something piped in through the air ducts, or some spell that the cheery greeters cast on us as we approach the store. We don’t know the cause of our kitchen craziness, but we’ve finally found a solution. Next time we come, we’ll have a code ready to bring us back to reality. Something to jolt us back when one of us starts to get caught up in alternate-universe kitchen obsession. Something to bring us to our senses. Something to remind us that we are practical, every-day people who cook ordinary food, and will never, ever be chefs who can’t get by without a clam knife. “Remember honey, we just came in to buy a spatula.”

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Satire Friday: Heart-shaped Dessert


Photo courtesy of Google

It’s two days before Valentine’s Day and it’s time to make my annual elegant Valentine’s Day dessert. Every year I have high hopes of making some elaborate, romantic dessert, despite the fact that everyone, including myself, knows that I’m more of a “drop-cookie” kind of girl. My pumpkin-shaped Thanksgiving cakes looked like over-grown melons, and I couldn’t get the cinnamon stick stems to stand up right, giving them the look of skewered heads. My Easter lamb cake was top-heavy and ended up looking like decapitated livestock on a tray. My Christmas cookies are not Christmas cookies at all, just the same cookies I make all year long, except with red and green sprinkles. So what comes over me every Valentine’s Day that makes me think I not only should, but can make an elegant dessert? Romance? Cupid? Forgetfulness? Hope springing eternal?

This year I ‘m going for the double whammy – I’ve planned “a delightful heart-shaped flourless chocolate torte, surrounded by a bed of heart-shaped cookies.” I decided to make the cookies first. I get out the Williams Sonoma cookie press, the same cookie press that I’ve put in and taken out of the give-away box at least three times before. I know it doesn’t work and it’s never worked, but gosh darn it, I too want to make festive cookies for every holiday except Hanukkah (sorry, no menorah shape included).

I made the dough according to the directions. It says to shape the dough into a tube and lightly drop it into the cookie press. The dough is all sticky – I can’t get it to shape, it’s sticking to my hands. Maybe if I add more flour. Now I’ve got flour in my hair and on the floor. The dough is no longer sticky – now it’s kind of thick. I try lightly dropping the shaped dough into the press. That’s not working so I start whacking it in with a spoon. Then I place the press on the cookie sheet, push the trigger, and voila – the end of the cookie press falls off on the floor. Now there’s flour and cookie dough on the floor. Okay, starting over. I’ve finally got the end of the cookie press back on. I press out the first heart-shaped cookie, and it’s – a blob. Well, I guess I could eat that one. But the next one’s a blob too, and if I eat all the bad ones…

While the blobs are baking, I start on the torte. The dough whipped up easy enough. I’m pouring it into the heart-shaped pan – this should be a cinch. But wait – it says the pan should have two-inch sides, and I’m

Photo courtesy of gadget.co.uk

 pretty sure my pan is only one-inch tall. I guess I could have one heart-shaped torte and one smaller torte – a torte with a satellite. I get out a little round pan and pour the excess dough in. But now both pans still look too full. I get out another little pan, and now I’m madly spooning the dough from the two pans to even out to the third. Meanwhile the timer is going off because the blobs are done. I’m supposed to clean off the cookie sheet before pressing out another batch of blobs, but that sounds like too much work while I’m up to my elbows in torte batter, so I just get out another cookie sheet.

There, another batch of blobs are in the oven, the three tortes are baking. Looks like they’re rising pretty high – will they make it? I watch the oven anxiously. Even though I have a semi self-cleaning oven, I don’t really want chocolate batter dripping all over it. The tortes rise – they’re poofing up above the pan – I open the oven to whisk them out before the dough pours over the sides. Well, no need to worry about the cakes rising too high any more.

It’s now day two. There is still flour on the floor. Every cookie sheet I own is waiting to be washed. The flourless pancakes, er tortes and the cookie blobs are waiting to be frosted. The heart-shaped torte broke when I took it out of the pan, so now it’s a broken heart. I’m hoping to glue it back together with the frosting.

For some reason the frosting turns out fine. My recipe is in my head and I just add things until it looks right. Why can’t all recipes be like that? But will frosting save this Valentines’ Day dessert debacle? It might if I color it a festive pink.

It’s Valentine’s Day. My kitchen is still a mess. There’s still flour on the floor. But the glued together heart-shaped torte is on the cake plate and doesn’t look too bad. The extra tortes are hidden away in the freezer. The cookie blobs look better now that they’re covered with festive pink frosting. But I’ve learned my lesson: no more fancy Valentine’s Day desserts. No flourless tortes, no heart-shaped anything, nada. And, I’m putting the cookie press in the give-away box.  Again.