The gadget diarist

Pub date May 9, 2006

As a confirmed gadgeteer, I naturally feel a pang of genuine sorrow and sometimes real inconvenience when a kitchen gadget expires. Most such instruments die lingering rather than sudden deaths, of course; they become inefficient or unwieldy or caked with gunk. Or, as in the case of the fancy, French-made digital scale I acquired midway through the Clinton years, a naughty deus enters the machina, causing it to give jittery and therefore useless data. This is the mechanical equivalent of dementia, uncorrectable by a fresh battery, and so the device now sits on a remote stretch of counter, daring me to throw it away.

My little spice mill, on the other hand, died unexpectedly earlier in this winter of cold rain and mortality. It was born as a Braun coffee mill, one of those upright cylinders whose top you press down to make the blade whir, and it served without complaint through two decades of grinding fennel seeds, whole dried Anaheim chiles, and countless teaspoons of cumin and coriander. Later it was joined by a Bosch cylinder I reserved for the grinding of nuts. And then, one day, around Valentine’s Day, I cleaned the Braun, pushed the top and nothing happened. I couldn’t even turn the blade manually. So now it too sits there like a dead tooth, daring me to take action.

There is no ready substitute I am aware of for a kitchen scale gone haywire, but when an electric spice grinder fails, there are "work-arounds," if I may briefly borrow a Rummyism. There is the mortar and pestle, of which I was astounded to discover we had two examples: a small one, acquired a few years ago to pulverize the dog’s pills, and a larger edition, brought back last year from Vietnam by the neighbors as a gift. I’d set the latter on the counter as a display item, only to discover, in a pinch, that it is not just handsome but does a good job, is good exercise, uses no electricity, and short of some unimaginable catastrophe cannot break. This is basically the catalog of virtues of the ideal cook’s tool. Also, the mortar and pestle, while not silent, makes no noise to compare with the nerve-<\h>shattering whine of the Braun an important consideration for the gadgeteer who prefers that gadgets be seen, and used, but not heard.