by Pam Vukelic
The genesis of this article was a vacation to Norway in August. Jim and I were guests of family members Feli and Gunnar Vik. What a privilege to travel to such a glorious place and to be hosted by interesting, gracious, and fun people!
We enjoyed many delicious home-cooked meals including some aboard their sailboat while cruising the Oslo Fjord. I commented on how involved Gunnar was in the food preparation process, and Feli, who is German, said, “Those Norwegian men – they are the best!” Her comment certainly evoked memories of seeing my father working side-by-side in the kitchen with my mother preparing meals and cleaning up afterwards.
But, back to this story . . . I was intrigued to see Gunnar wearing bright green gloves while handling carrots under running water at the sink. New to me were the Veggie Gloves he was wearing. They are sort of like exfoliating gloves you might use in the shower and buy for a couple dollars at a bath shop but a bit more heavy-duty and scratchy. Rubbing the carrots (or potatoes, radishes, parsnips, etc.) removes all soil but leaves nearly all the peel (and, consequently, the nutrients) intact. I note that the real Veggie Gloves can be purchased on-line (I found them on Amazon) for about $9 a pair. What a great idea for the foodie, or any good cook, in your life.
Let me share a few other gift suggestions for people of all ages who like to cook.
Available through Mental Floss magazine is the Obsessive Chef cutting board. Made of beech wood it features detailed measurement markings so you can cut your vegetables into the perfect julienne, batonnet, or brunoise. It sells for about $25. Also available through Mental Floss is a package of 25 disposable iPad sleeves that will protect your device from messy touches when you are following a recipe you found on-line. A pack of 20 sells for $25.
The Museum of Modern Art is selling a mezzaluna that seems very practical to me. A mezzaluna is a great tool to use for chopping herbs, nuts, and chocolate, but knife holders don’t have slots for mezzalunas. Consequently, sticking one in your drawer is a potential safety hazard. This one is designed by Goodwin Hartshorn and features a handle that folds around the blade when it is not in use. It sells for $15.
Our daughter, Meredith, gave me a pair of herb shears that have become a favorite tool. They’re made by several companies and feature five parallel blades that work very well for cutting chives and other fresh herbs. The shears cost about $20.
Mandolines are handy for evenly slicing carrots, cucumbers, and even potatoes. Chef catalogs feature them in a variety of prices – many in the $150 range – but the one that is my go-to model is a hand-held one that allows me to dial thickness of the slice by sliding the adjusting button with my thumb. It sells for about $30 and comes with a finger protector – a good thing when it comes to mandolines.
There are two other types of gloves I recommend for cooks. Oven gloves are heat resistant with silicone grips. They allow for a much easier and surer grasp of a hot pot in the oven than potholders provide. These gloves would also come in handy when changing a hot lightbulb, using your fireplace tools, or turning and removing things from your grill. Cost is about $20. Speaking of grilling, I like to prepare foods in foil packets. I have an inexpensive pair of all-cotton garden gloves that I use for turning these packets and opening them once I bring them in the house. They provide just enough protection so my fingers don’t get burned, but also allow adequate dexterity to get the job done. The all-cotton part is important because cotton fibers will not melt like many synthetic materials will. You can often pick these up in sets of three pair for less than $10.
Two electrical appliances that will please the serious cook on your gift list are rice cookers and vacuum sealers. The rice cooker is an under-appreciated appliance in our culture. Whole cookbooks have been written on suggestions for using them for everything from soups to sauces, including an especially enjoyable read written in 2010 by the late Roger Ebert (yes, the movie critic Roger Ebert), titled “The Pot and How to Use It.” Roger says the model to buy is the Zojirushi, available in various sizes, but the 3-cup version seems most versatile to me. It is on my list this year; it sells for about $130. My low-end vacuum sealer has served me well for many years. Storing food in the vacuum-sealed packages extends the shelf life of the food. The packages, once frozen flat, are the most space-efficient way to store food. I paid about $60 for my model, a FoodSaver, and have used it to seal hundreds of individual servings of soup to share with my mother-in-law Irene as meal preparation has become more of a burden for her. Hunters will appreciate them, too, for sealing sausage and jerky efficiently.
For the young, and the young at heart, I want to recommend a new series of books written by Giada De Laurentiis. Giada is a food TV star who is well-educated and a very good teacher. The books are chapter books for young readers published in 2013. Siblings Alphie and Emilia have food-related adventures in the books titled “Recipe for Adventure Naples” and “Recipe for Adventure Paris.” Coming soon is the Hong Kong story. They are available at our local Barnes and Noble and are entertaining reading. Each book contains a few good recipes, but they are not cook books. Give these to a grandchild, read them together, and then have some fun in the kitchen. Each book is $7.
Speaking of grandchildren, we are so excited to be traveling soon to Anchorage to see our grandson, Connor. Mollie and Reed will be entertaining a houseful of soldiers who are far away from family for Thanksgiving dinner. There is much to be thankful for as we get the chance to finally embrace Reed following his return from his recent deployment to Afghanistan. May all the upcoming holidays be joyful for you and the people who are important to you.