Friday, May 29, 2009

By Popular Demand

This is an essay I recently wrote for a composition class. It was a self-assigned paper; the task to which I set myself was to write a catalog review in the style of S.J. Perelman's legendary skewerings from The New Yorker. Tens of people have been clamoring for its publication, so here is the fruit of my labors:

It's hard to believe, nowadays, that I was once a mere boy of nine years - harder still to believe that I was once a mere girl of nine years, but that is neither here nor there. Amongst the fast-fading memories of my halcyon days, there is still one that remains as vivid as only a small child's stark terror can make it. People in my family tended to speak in hushed tones of Great-Aunt Vi's kitchen; those who'd been inside refused to speak of it at all, or indeed to speak at all. Aunt Vi was like some dark priestess of cookery, whose culinary feats came at a price too great and terrible for a mere mortal to bear. From the day Aunt Vi oh-so-casually asked me to step into the kitchen and fetch a basket of yeast rolls, the idea of cooking has been inextricably associated with a surpassing dread. Within that realm of darkness and flame lurked more obscure devices for the manipulation of more obscure foods in more obscure ways than anyone ought to know about. I think it was the truly mind-boggling “eggplant defibrillator” that finally set me to shrieking and running for dear life. Aunt Vi found me, of course, about an hour later, cowering before a shelf of implements that must have come from the kitchen of Hieronymus Bosch. Still, cooking is all the rage these days, so, squelching my trepidation, I set out, at long last, to master the art with the help of the good folks at The Pampered Chef.

The antiseptic quaintness of the universe as envisioned by the P.C. makes one's kitchen look positively inviting - at first. The mind is set at ease by the alchemical mysteries of the "Suds Pump," a novel device which achieves new levels of cleanliness through a radical combination of "soap" and "water." I was a little fuzzy on the nature of the "Greek Rub," though that too sounds quite soothing. (Apparently some customers prefer to be rubbed by a Jamaican jerk - no accounting for taste, I suppose.) The P.C. bookshelf is packed with effervescent offerings such as Spin on Salads, spiritual fare like Stoneware Inspirations, and the heart-pounding action of 29 Minutes to Dinner. The promise of a "Small Oval Baker" made the P.C. kitchen seem friendly and innocuous, though I couldn't help but feel they were being a little insensitive toward the man. (There was also mention of a "Deep-Covered Baker," presumably involved in culinary espionage of some sort; I would guess he is either the author or the protagonist of 29 Minutes.)

However, just when I felt I was beginning to feel comfortable amongst all the culinaria, the bewildering profusion of gadgetry on display sapped my newfound confidence. The "Bamboo Cheese Board" left me concerned about the inexorable progress of genetic science - what couldn't they get cheese out of these days? I worried also about what Olympian quantities of carnĂ© would necessitate the use of an industrial-grade "Meat Lifter." (A roast piled high with bamboo cheese, perhaps?) Ice cream must be tougher than I remember, since P.C.'s "Ice Cream Dipper" relies on some mysterious liquid that draws heat from the very flesh of your hands. (In my day, ice-cream scoops were all-metal affairs that relied on the tried-and-true "drawing heat from hot things" method.) The "Pie Crust Shield" sounds like some particularly laughable artifact from Dungeons and Dragons, and I take strong exception to anyone passing off a thirty-nine-dollar piece of tableware as a "Trifle Bowl." And while I applaud Pampered Chef's exhortation to help "Whip Cancer®," I can't help but be more concerned by the implication that Cancer® apparently now has its own brand nameTM, legal team®, and image consultantsECCH. The final straw was the expectation that I should fork over $59.50 to buy my food an "Ultimate Mandoline." If my “penultimate guitare” isn't good enough for the rutabagas, they'll just have to make do.

I wish now that morbid curiosity hadn't compelled me to take a peek at the cutlery section, for there I found a parade of horrors that would have warmed old Auntie's heart. The "7-inch Santoku" looks like it would do as well for a shiv as my old "6-inch Stiletto." The Pampered Chef "Salad Chopper" is fooling no one: it's clearly just a repurposed taser gun. For those with an inveterate hatred of fresh fruit, there's the "Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer," a vise-like monstrosity that could probably not only process your Granny Smiths, but also isolate, sleep-deprive, and water-board them as well. Amidst all this black-and-chrome armament, the bright red plastic of "My Safe Cutter" draws the eye like a bloodstain. This purports to be for children; however, I've noticed that my neighborhood "Safe Cracker" carries a similar implement. The endless parade of sharp edges includes the "Serrated Peeler" and the "Rotary Grater" and I'm sure the "Spring-Loaded Eviscerator" would have come along in due course if I hadn't lost my nerve at that point and pitched the catalogue into the potato cupboard.

So I admit it, folks: I'm no Aunt Vi. I haven't the intestinal fortitude to dabble in the diabolical art of cooking, no matter how deceptively domestic it may seem. I’m sure Auntie is watching me from the afterworld, smirking at me in that endearing way she always had, and dragging one finger suggestively across her throat in that maddening way she always had. Well, old girl, I concede: you were more of a man in the kitchen than I could ever be. I have quit the battlefield in shame and disarray, and I’m sure it would be a balm to your soul to know it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I going to hop back into bed, put a damp towel on my forehead, and order out for dinner.