x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Many kitchen gadgets are a waste, but some are close to my heart

I don't enjoy navigating through stacks of gadgets, widgets and whatsits I don't need to find the one that I do.

People assume that because I enjoy being in the kitchen, shops such as Lakeland, Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table must feel like big warehouses where love and candy scream from the shelves. But I don't enjoy navigating through stacks of gadgets, widgets and whatsits I don't need to find the one that I do. I revel in uselessness as much as the next person, but I don't need a contraption doing it for me. There are few conveniences out there that a competent, semi-literate cook can't create on the fly.

I'm a short-fuse femme, and by that, I mean, I love being a girl - I just don't have the patience for it. I'm more worried about running out of mayo than make-up, I have a uniform that I wear daily (by choice) and I hate having things around that I don't use.

I've seen too many jazzily outfitted modern kitchens that were doomed by design to be places where nobody wants to hang out, and their granite-topped islands sparkle deservedly. Meanwhile, some of the most humble kitchens I've seen have exuded warmth and practicality where they lacked in appliances, and many of these have been the source of truly great food. A mission and a hotplate will get you far; a sharp knife and a sturdy skillet will bring you home.

As P T Barnum said: "There's a sucker born every minute." I like to think that some are born and some are made. At the top of my list of devices I've never understood are garlic peelers - silicone tubes that use the force of friction to shed the skins from the cloves - and also garlic presses, which Anthony Bourdain correctly referred to as "abominations" and advised, whatever you do with garlic, "don't put it through a press. I don't know what that junk is that squeezes out of the end of those things, but it ain't garlic".

While it's unfathomable to me that certain devices actually get made and sold, it's not the concept I have a problem with, but the efficacy. I would love to meet someone who regularly uses one of those hand-held milk frothers, a tool whose continued existence I'm convinced can be credited to the compulsive habits of duty-free shopping addicts.

Kitchen cabinet space is valuable real estate. Consider the room and the expense you'd be spared if you realised that a spoon rest is really just a glorified saucer, or that an egg comes equipped with its very own egg separator (it's called an eggshell). As for those stainless steel soap bars that ostensibly eliminate the smell of fish, garlic and onion on your hands, their effect can be mimicked by simply wiping your fingers on anything made of stainless steel. It's the binding of the sulphur compounds on your hands to the steel that deodorises, and not how adorable it is. Try rubbing your hands on your tap or the sink you're using to wash your hands with that fake soap. And if you don't have a stainless sink or any steel utensils on hand, rub a little salt or baking soda on your hands instead. If you don't have those around, then the smell on your hands is the least of your problems.

On the other hand, I really do believe that the world would be a better place without dry pasta measurers, flavour injectors, electric twirling spaghetti forks and pizza scissors that double as serving utensils. Whether it's an avocado slicer or a quesadilla maker, most things you can buy for your kitchen are unnecessary - unless you have no imagination, or, less dramatically, no interest in improvising. The beauty of individuality is that it doesn't need anyone's permission or approval, least of all mine.

I'll openly admit to having a soft spot for a couple of pointless devices, such as cornichon pickles and serrated grapefruit spoons; relics of a bygone era. I don't stick to the uses for which they were intended, which is why they get used. Ditto the ubiquitous melon baller - a handy little thing I've never touched to a melon (the waste!). I'm completely in love with my cherry stoner, which saves me from grinding my teeth down to nubbins while pitting cherries and olives.

I've been given a few items that I liked in theory but never bothered to use - special tongs that squeeze the darkest goodness out of your tea bag, a tiny grater the size of my thumb for grating a whit of fresh ginger, those little pods for poaching individual eggs. So I passed those things along, just as I did with a set of escargot dishes that sat unused for years, which I later realised could have been used to coddle quail eggs. If a day ever arrives when I need to coddle four dozen quail eggs, I may borrow them back.

Nouf Al-Qasimi is an Emirati food analyst who cooks and writes in New Mexico

artslife@thenational.ae