Thursday, July 23, 2009


Stuff we don’t need

Every so often, I look through one of the “high-end” catalogues, seeing what places like Williams Sonoma or The Sharper Image have to offer those with far too much disposable income and far too little sense. Really, I mean: who needs a $3000 espresso machine at home? Who really wants to spend more than $25 a pound for Italian sausage?

But beyond the price, we get to the things that don’t have to exist at all. Whether or not one would spend $3000 on one, there is utility in an espresso machine, and, for a fifth the price, a nice piece of Italian sausage is a beautiful thing. But... well, here:

Many years ago, I was over at a friend’s house and he showed me something he’d just bought that day, a real find, as he saw it. It was a “fruit ripener”, he told me. You put fresh — but unripe — fruit in it, and in a day or two, it ripens nicely. Cool!

Hm. OK, so... it consisted of two plastic bowls. You put the fruit in the one with the flattened bottom. You up-turned the other and used it as a cover. And they didn’t seal, so they allowed some air to flow. The literature that came with the overpriced contraption said that it concentrates the natural gases that the fruits themselves produce, accelerating the ripening process.

Indeed, and so does a paper bag, loosely closed. Which is what we all used before someone figured out how to make big money selling cheap plastic bowls for far more than they’re worth.

I’ve recently run across two other things of that nature, things that made me scratch my head and say, “We need this why?

The Avocado Pitter/Slicer

When it comes to pitting and slicing avocados, this is the perfect tool for the task. One end of the handy device deftly pits an avocado, while the opposite end creates perfect uniform slices of the fruit’s tender flesh.
Yes, just halve an avocado, and put this baby to work on it. It’ll have the pit removed and the avocado neatly sliced in a jif — assuming, of course, that the avocado’s still decently firm. And that it happens to be exactly the uniform size that the gadget is made for. The slices will also be “perfect” and “uniform” only until the blades get bent in the dishwasher or the drawer.

See, once I’ve got a nice, firmly ripe avocado halved, I can pit it and slice it in seconds without this. I use a magical device called (are you ready for this) a knife. I can even be flexible about it: a paring knife works, a slicing knife works, a chef’s knife works. Even a cleaver can do the job, if it must. Press the knife into the pit and twist it out. Peel the skin away. Slice up the flesh. Couldn’t be easier.

Of course, it’s not so easy to peel the skin away neatly if the fruit is over-ripe and softening. But, then, I don’t imagine this device works very well on such an avocado either.

The Corn Zipper

This tool quickly, safely strips an ear of corn: A pair of extra-sharp teeth slides between the kernals[sic] and cob to remove several rows of at a time.[sic] Simply grip the barrel handle, rake the corn from end to end and watch the kernels drop into a bowl.
This device at least appears to be a one-size-fits-all sort of thing, able to work equally well on different sized ears.

But this is basically a special-use knife, and, as with slicing avocados, I use a regular kitchen knife for this job as well. A paring knife works fine, but I prefer the heavier chef’s knife here. What I do is this: I simply grip the knife’s handle, rake the corn from end to end, and watch the kernels drop into a bowl. Sound familiar?

The main problem with these special devices is that they take the place of more general tools, yet they each only have one, specific purpose: you might be able to find something else to do with the avocado slicer, I suppose, but it won’t peel an apple, chop basil, slice an onion, or remove the corn from a cob. These guys soon wind up at the back of your kitchen drawer, unused.

Also, they don’t age well if you do use them. The avocado slicer’s blades will likely become bent, over time; the corn zipper’s blade will dull. When my knives get dull, I sharpen them. You usually can’t sharpen these kinds of things.

Learn how to use a knife well, and you can skip all these extra gadgets. And that’ll let you save up for that overpriced espresso machine you’ve been coveting.


Thomas J. Brown said...

True, Barry, but don't knock the one-size fits all banana slicer. I honestly can't figure out any other way to slice a banana.

Seriously, who hears the pitches for these ideas and says to the inventors, "stop drilling, you've hit oil!" Like you said, learn to use a knife.

Barry Leiba said...

D'oh! How did I miss that one? And when I went to your link, Amazon helpfully told me that "Customers Who Viewed This Item Also Viewed" a strawberry huller.


ClumberKim said...

You're gonna love Unclutterer's "Unitasker Wednesday".

Michelle said...

Wow.. gotta get me one of them "knife" things. Sure sounds handy. Is it expensive?

The Ridger, FCD said...

Nothing says success like a drawer full of one-use items. Those catalogs are for flaunters.

Barry Leiba said...

I'm closing comments on this post, in order to cut off a flow of Asian-language spam comments.