Cooking and Gadgets

canningWhen I was growing up my mom grew her own vegetables and fruit, raised chickens, canned tomatoes and made everything from bread to soap. I have not quite followed in her footsteps, but now and again I take on a project or two. I've made orange marmalade and lately I've been making batches of tamales. I've dabbled in window box herb gardening and last year I bought a kit to make cheese.

I'm not alone. Activities like preserving, canning, DIY, gardening and even raising chickens are all surging in popularity. Whether it's a desire to get back to nature, or to just feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with making something to your own taste, these experiences can be deeply satisfying. If you're not sure where to start, or if you are looking to take the next step, there are plenty of good resources out there to get you going. Here are some of my current favorites:

Williams Sonoma recently launched Agrarian, which is designed to get you up to speed in various foodie DIY activities, preserving, gardening and more. The carefully curated line of products includes everything from guides and kits to make cheese, kombucha and sprouts to garden tools, planters and even deluxe chicken coops and beekeeping supplies. As you'd expect, Williams Sonoma has sought out the best quality and often most stylish products.

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jetsons.jpgThere are so many conveniences the Jetsons had that I could really use today. Jane Jetson had this thing that came down from the ceiling, encased her head and presto! New hairdo! I hate doing my hair. My bathroom has all kinds of gizmos with one purpose; to make my hair look cute. You can’t imagine the work that goes into that.

Flat irons, blow driers, round brushes, the Denman Brush, which is a plastic brush that grips the hair, pulling it taut, while I beam my Elcim blow drier at it. I blast it with the highest heat you can find on the market. God forbid there’s a hint of moisture in the air. My hair goes back to Israel before you can say Jiminy Cricket.

The conundrum of my hair is only surpassed by the puzzle of what to serve at the end of the day. The Jetsons had what really amounted to a microwave oven and TV dinners. I wouldn’t serve that even if I could.  This free-floating dilemma had me open my eyes one morning with what I thought would be the solution: A Slow Cooker! Yes! 

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yellowteapot2My large yellow teapot never moves from my kitchen counter. The inside has never been washed as long as I have had it and the brown build-up inside it is beautifully, perfect from years of steeping Darjeeling. If only Miss Sexton could see it. She would appreciate the years of brown stain from calcification build-up on the inside and be so proud that she is the reason it’s there. The inside of my teapot looks just like Miss Sexton’s teapot and it makes me happy and proud to have known her and I appreciate how she taught me to love tea as much as her.

I didn’t always drink Darjeeling. Miss Sexton and I drank loose Red Rose tea steeped in her English bone china teapot decorated with pale blue flowers and sparkling highlights of gold. It was beautiful and she used it everyday like it reminded her of someone.

Before I met our neighbor, Miss Sexton, I drank tea alone not wanting anyone knowing how much tea I drank when I was three years old. I told my mother so often how much I loved tea she began to worry. She lecture me constantly, “you’ll stunt your growth and be short all your life,” like being short was a bad thing caused by excessive tea drinking and not genetics. I was more willing to be short then to give up drinking tea. I continued to brew my Lipton tea, buying my own boxes with my allowance, drinking it behind my closed bedroom door. I loved the bright orange color. The taste was delicate with a rainbow of flavor like nothing else and all my dolls liked it as much as me. They always asked for seconds.

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ImageIt was in the early to mid-80s and I was about 10-11 years old. When we went to the supermarket, I would always have my parents buy me the little Pillsbury cookbooks that were in the check-out line. I remember one specific of the cookbook series because I made every single recipe in it, including a chocolate pudding pie. I crushed up chocolate Nabisco wafers, made a crust, poured in instant pudding and topped it with some sort of doctored-up Cool-Whip.

Last year at Artisan, I was planning for a dessert menu change for the summer and I pictured that chocolate pudding pie. We serve modern American food – so we put a modern twist on old classics – and I knew I could make a modern version of that pie that would take people back to their childhood. The challenge was taking that pie, which at the time you were 10 was the best you’d ever had, and updating that memory for your adult palate. I kept the crushed wafers as the familiar taste, put them at the bottom of a half pint Mason jar, put the chocolate custard on top, added a croquant for texture, and finished it with a marshmallow fluff in lieu of the Cool-Whip. After toasting the fluff with a blowtorch I ended up with a dessert that was reminiscent of chocolate pudding pie and s’mores, flavors that bring back fond memories to all!

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Sometimes the best gifts are ones that are home-made. I was especially charmed by this cookbook Paul Mones made for his son. Now, if he'd only teach my kids to cook! -- Amy Ephron

ALL THE BASICS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO BE ON THE ROAD TO BE A GREAT COOK

spicesrackBASIC SPICES AND COOKING ITEMS YOU SHOULD HAVE

KOSHER SALT OR SEA SALT
BLACK PEPPER

GARLIC POWDER (NOT GARLIC SALT)
ONION POWDER
RED CHILI FLAKES
CHILI POWDER
CUMIN POWDER
CORIANDER POWDER
CINAMMON
SOY SAUCE
BALSAMIC VINEGAR
CANOLA OIL
BOX OF CORNSTARCH
MAPLE SYRUP (THE REAL STUFF NOT CORN SYRUP SHIT) OR HONEY
KETCHUP
TOMATO PASTE
HOT SAUCE OF YOUR CHOICE
POLENTA (INSTANT KIND)
BROWN OR WHITE RICE OR QUINOA
1 BAG OF FLOUR

*BOX OF ARM & HAMMER BAKING SODA THAT YOU OPEN UP AND PUT IN BACK CORNER OF REFRIGERATOR ON FIRST SHELF – GREAT FOR ABSORBING ODORS - CHANGE EVERY MONTH IF POSSIBLE – ONLY COSTS LESS THAN A BUCK AND WHEN FIINSHED PUT DOWN GARBAGE DISPOSAL – CLEANS IT WELL – ALSO PUT USED LEMONS DOWN DISPOSAL AS WELL.

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