I eat with my hands.
Most of the time I don't need a utensil. I'm good. I eat asparagus with my hands. Also, steak, rice. Also, lettuce, macaroni. I have eaten mashed potatoes with my hands. I will eat Thai occasionally with my hands (but only at home).
I thought about this recently as I stood before a wall that I visit once a year, usually right before the holidays, usually when I'm at the stocking-stuffer stage of my gift buying, and always when I'm buying stuff that, by now, the receiver of my gift has almost certainly stopped using. I am talking about, of course, the gadget wall at Williams-Sonoma, the area of the store that holds kitchen tools with dominatrix-black silicone grips and can openers from Oxo that appear to be sturdy enough to fix the flats on small cars.
Here is where design comes to die.
Of course, I could go to Crate & Barrel, too. There I would find a "recipe rock" (a kind of kickstand for recipe cards) and an ergonomically designed cutting board with a curved raised back to prevent "juice runoff." Or I could go big and head to Alessi, the fun, colorful Italian design store where everything looks as though it were created for either the home of a cartoon badger or home magazine photos in which living room tables are metal and never have phone bills stacked on them. Here you can buy a "communicator plant," a metal cup with a wooden tree growing out of it (also known as That Cup Where You Put Your Pens and Loose Change), and a magazine rack that resembles a bunch of old sticks thrown on the floor and hastily arranged to hold back copies of Us Weekly firmly in place. The company's official description of the magazine rack explains: "Newness, freshness and poetry dominate the aesthetic/constructive approach developed by the Campana brothers, Fernando and Humberto."
Newness, freshness and poetry.
I would like my kitchen utensils and magazine racks to have newness, freshness and poetry, and other days I wonder if I would rather save the money and keep my old crap. For instance, that paper-towel roll we own, the one in the shape of a dachshund, looks nice, but it constantly breaks apart and it's annoying.
Besides, I'd rather have a vertical towel rack now -- and I'm not even sure that dog-shaped towel rack looks that nice anymore. I think it looks very 2003, and I can see the 2015 yard sale reflected in what I regard now as a sudden failure of design. Indeed, I would like to believe, five years after the economic collapse, as we enter the economic inch-back, we have learned our lesson about design creep and recognized how overdesigned and unnecessary many things are. And yet all these years later, Williams-Sonoma still has that giant stupid wall.
Here you can buy dough gloves and potato scrubbing gloves. There is a corn stripper and a corn remover and an herb snipper, which are small green scissors that cut very thin stems. There is also a fruit muddler, a strawberry slicer, a banana slicer, an herb wand, an herb keeper and a lobster mallet, which, as a native New Englander, I feel qualified to say is only slightly more needed than an herb snipper. Also, I detect a hint of violence in the names: strawberry huller, citrus reamer, mango pitter, avocado cuber, olive stuffer, peach slicer, melon knife. Also, shrimp deveiner.
There is no Williams-Sonoma "murderer."
Which is too bad. It's a cute name for a beet slicer.
My grandfather used to open clams with the flat end of a broken steak knife. He used it so often that he wrapped the handle in several rings of beige masking tape. The knife lasted for many, many years. Then one day I saw in Yankee magazine a neat clam shucker thingee, a device that looked relatively simple and well-designed and partially solved the problem constantly bedeviling a clam-eating family: You have to open clams to eat clams.
This clam opener was a wooden board. At one end, a blunt silver knife rested on a hinge. At the other end, a small wedge allowed you to secure your clam. The idea was, you lowered the blunt edge on to the waiting clam and split the shell in half, like some medieval killing device.
He loved it.
He used it twice, then went back to his broken knife.
Which is still in the family utensil drawer, and unlike the clam-shucking thingee from Yankee, it smells like clams.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun