Great cooking favors the prepared hands. --Jacques PepinOne of the first things I learned to do in the kitchen was peeling onions. It was a job my mother gave me regularly, since onions were the base of a lot of dishes I grew up eating. I use a lot of onions even today; it would be strange to make a sauce or the base of a stew without them. You'd think after so many years of working with them that I would have found a way to chop them up without crying, but it seems like it gets worse every year. I can only do it now if I have the fan on over stove, and even then it has to be on high.
I also remember learning to peel and mash garlic with a mortar and pestle, how to debone fish with my fingers, and how to flatten small pieces of dough with my hands for siopao. My culinary skills took a bit of a nosedive when I became a teenager and learned how to make a bunch of edible experiments by varying the number of seconds for which I nuked them at power level 10. If you've ever microwaved a marshmallow, you know what I'm talking about...
When I moved into my first kitchen as an adult, I only had the basics: a few spare pots and pans, some cutlery, and a paring knife. I inherited an egg beater from my mother-in-law, one you turned with a crank. I refused to buy an electric mixer... but I can't remember why. Instead, I cranked out many meals with my one knife and my trusty beater. I made some pretty impressive meringues and pavlovas with that thing...
Come to think of it, it's been years since I made a pavlova. Hmm... weekend project...
I read an article this weekend about someone learning to cook into a tiny kitchen, and it made me think of how I learned to make my way around a kitchen with my sparing tools. Over the years, I've picked up fancier, more expensive, more "professional" gear in the kitchen. I recently saved up my money to buy a Vitamix, and it's been fantastic.
I wondered if I felt a bit guilty for abandoning the simpler way to do things in the kitchen for the flashy appliances that are First World "must haves." I decided that I don't feel guilty at all. I think that, if I hadn't spent all that time cranking that fricking beater to make light and fluffy meringues, then I wouldn't know how to use my Kitchen Aid to its best abilities. If I hadn't spent my life chopping vegetables, then I wouldn't know how to prevent my hand blender from overheating. And if I hadn't spent all this time knitting and crocheting things, then I wouldn't know what a good quality sweater ought to look like.
Owning a Ferrari doesn't make you a good race car driver.
I still use my second-hand egg whisk to make quiches and omelettes, and I still use my dough whisk to make bread. It's like straddling two worlds: one where things are created with daydreams, and one where things are created instantly, like magic. It's an interesting line to think about.
Today, I'm inspired by people who have done the tedious things a hundred-bajillion times in order to create the things that allow us mortals to do them pretty well the first time. I won't be hand-blending my smoothies anytime soon, but I'm grateful to know the value of learning how to make things through good ol' elbow grease, and I feel pretty good about sharing that experience with the Vitamix geniuses. Whether they know it or not, we come from the same stock.