My One and Only Spatula

Tools

When I was a kid, it took me a long time to unravel the mystery of the yo-yo. For years I’d fling the damned thing just like everybody else, and then watch as it’d zip down to the end of the string and…just hang there, leaving me with a yo-yo on the end of a string. The other kids didn’t seem to have this problem. Their yo-yos came back up. This went on and on until I was about 10 years old, when finally one afternoon, in the hallway outside of Mrs. Runyan’s art room, on a borrowed Duncan Imperial, it happened. I twitched at just the right instant, and the yo-yo crawled back up the string and into my waiting hand. Like magic. I offered to buy the yo-yo on the spot. The owner, who was a year younger than me, thought I was nuts, though that didn’t stop him from taking the crumpled dollar I offered.

Years later, I still believe in the magic of certain inanimate objects. This is not A Zen Thing or any other sort of weird spiritual notion. It’s just that certain things are, you know, better. Like the good sauté pan. Or your best knife. I have two 10-inch chef’s knives that are absolutely identical in every respect–except that one of them is just better than the other. I don’t think I’m alone here in observing these kinds of things and how they just sort of flit through our lives.

A few years ago my wife, Lynn, brought home a spatula that she’d found on the sale table at one of the local Fashionista Outlets. I admit, I don’t usually associate kitchen gear with discounted fashion, so I was more than a little dubious, but that’s where she found it. It had a sleek, slightly modernist look to it, with a stainless steel tubular handle and a blade that was as thin and sleek and agile as a whippet. In my hand it felt light and balanced and more like a surgeon’s instrument than a kitchen tool. It also made a lovely wrang! when I whacked it on the stovetop, which I particularly liked because it made me feel like a real chef. It was perfect.

At the time, I had four or five other spatulas stashed in various drawers, but they didn’t even come close. Some were stiff and heavy, others were just plain ugly, still others were made of odd plastics that didn’t make a very satisfying noise when thwacked on the counter. I used my little beauty for everything requiring a light touch, the perfect flip, or, truth be told, when I wanted to look like I knew what the hell I was doing, seeing as it would slip unnoticed beneath a fragile egg, separate a fillet of fish from its skin with ease, and cause omelets to roll over flawlessly, just like in the illustrations from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I also liked that little wrang! noise quite a lot.

Those occasions when it was misplaced, I’d tear the kitchen apart in a frantic search, slamming drawers and accusing loved ones of treachery until I found it. There was shouting. There were accusations. It was complicated.

Then one day, with a slight tink, it was all over. It happened while I was making a grilled cheese sandwich. Right at the point where that beautiful supple blade met that lovely handle, my little beauty broke. Maybe the blade was a little too supple. Maybe I’d pressed down a little too zealously on that damned sandwich. Whatever it was, one thing was certain. The magic was gone.

After that I went into a funk. I was searching, hoping, like a spurned lover, for just one more chance. My first stop, naturally, was the Fashionista Outlet. The store manager, who was all of 14 years old, asked if this “spatula thing” was part of the new Jimmy Choo collection, at which point I walked out massaging my temples. From then on I decided to concentrate my search along more traditional lines. If there’s a kitchen shop within 200 miles of where I live, you can bet I’ve sidled up to their wall of implements and hefted, flexed, and surreptitiously whacked each spatula, hoping for that happy little wrang! Nothing. I’ve pulled store clerks aside and asked if maybe they had any others, perhaps tucked away somewhere in the back? “No,” they always said with emotionless finality. Then there’d inevitably be an uncomfortable pause while I stood there, forlorn, looking at them before I shuffled off.

I endured two years of this. Actually, I should say we endured this. The entire while Lynn pretended all of this was perfectly normal behavior, bless her.

I finally found what I thought I was seeking last fall, wandering around down in Portland with some friends. It could’ve been at a kitchen place, it may have been a bookstore, I don’t really remember the details, I was just so deliriously happy. The spatula looked exactly the same–the same tubular handle, same supple blade, same sleek look–except this model has the manufacturer’s name helpfully printed on the handle. I bought it and brought it home and, for the last few months, we’ve been getting to know one other. To be honest, it’s a little like trying to fall in love with the twin of the girl who jilted you. It may look identical, but the handle and balance feel only vaguely familiar and there’s something off with the blade. The suppleness isn’t there, the flexibility is different, and when I slap it against the stove it calls out with more of a brank! The magic just isn’t there. My heart weeps.

I still have the broken pieces of my original stashed in a kitchen drawer. Perhaps, if they’re really as magical as I think they are, they’ll heal themselves.

Editor’s note: We suspect that Casner isn’t the only one to have a deeper-than-rational attachment to an inanimate kitchen object. Tell us yours.

Comments

  1. Have you tried to solder the broken spatula back together? I do feel empathy for you, when you find something uniquely special, even an ordinary object like a spatula, you appreciate their perfection. I guess it’s true what they say, “No two spatulas are built the same.”

    Cheers!

    And do try to solder it back together.

    1. Thank you for your comment Robert and for your suggestion of repairing my spatula. Unfortunately I belong to that great sweaty mass know as the Tool Challanged and just the idea of me holding a soldering iron reduces my wife to fits of giggles and scares the hell out of the dog. I will try some duct tape, though, so thanks!

  2. When my beloved white mug with a red heart bearing the inscription “Je t’aime mon petit chou” was murdered by my dishwasher, I promised I’d never love an object like that again. The mug was given to me by my Aunt Joann about 15 years earlier. I spent countless days with her in my early teens. My mother has always been an excellent cook, but her style was always impromptu and effortless. My aunt, however, cooked deliberate and planned meals. I would sit in the kitchen with her as she followed Escoffier to the letter (and yes, even in my teens I had heard of him…). She served sweet butter and put Dijon mustard in her homemade vinaigrettes among other such exotic offerings. But I especially loved her oatmeal. Perhaps it was just the butter that she finished it with but I think it was the white melamine spoon she used to stir it. Years later when I was in my first apartment I bought my own Copco Tasting Spoon as it was called. I’m not sure how much one could taste with this spoon because the business end of it was almost flat. Nonetheless I loved it and cooked with it every day for many years. Eventually the spoon started to discolor and it scorched from poor placement near a flame. I hastily threw it away with the intent of immediately replacing it- only I never found it again. I have since settled for a bamboo spoon, but we are not exclusive. 

    1. What a great note! Thanks, Adriana. And thanks for pointing out how mere things can carry along with them such rich stories. I should have thought of that. Should have but didn’t. Finally, that last sentence of yours just rocks.

  3. Nicely crafted essay! I love the yo-yo lead, and how you linked back to the magic theme at the end.

    1. Wow, Darlene, thanks for your comment and for noting the yo-yo element. Until you’ve tried it, you can have no idea just how satisfying it is to use the word yo-yo in a written sentence. I wanted to use it a lot more. Really, though, thanks a lot.

  4. My “one and only” is an odd one, perhaps. It’s a pot holder. I got it about 25 years ago, and I have no idea where it came from. If it ever had a tag, it’s long gone. It’s a simple black square, with a dense terrycloth on both sides. Dense is the key word here. I have never found another potholder that works so well without being bulky. It’s also smaller than potholders seem to be these days, about 6″ X 6″. Faded and stained, it is the most unassuming thing in what is otherwise a well-equipped kitchen. There is no quilted padding, no unnecessary pocket. Just a terrycloth square. I have tried other terrycloth potholders since, and the terry is never as dense on them, and they are larger, which really doesn’t help, and have these useless features, such as the pocket on one side. I hate them all. I’ve also tried all the fancy arm-length welder’s gloves some people like to use for grilling. Overkill. I’ve tried the silicone coated mitts, the solid silcone pads, all awkward. Nothing, absolutely nothing, works as well as this little square. If I could find one like it today, I would by 20 or so. A lifetime supply. Maybe several lifetimes, as this one has held up for 25 years and is still going strong. I just wish I could clone it!

    1. Great note Melissa! Thanks & boy do we agree on potholders. I persist in using just a folded kitchen towel, mostly because I can’t stand the cutesy sayings or illustrations on some potholders and I don’t want to wear a set of gloves that make me look like a welder. But if I had your little gizmo…

  5. That has to be my 15 lb granite mortar and pestle. I walk by it, look at it and smile, as though it were an animate object and half expect a response. Sort of like how when I walk by a plant and accidentally break off a flower or bud and apologize to it. Anyway, my M&P is hefty and perfect and commands its own prominent area on the counter beside my treasured VitaMix and KA stand mixer. Whether I am merely grinding black peppercorns or if I am grinding a blend of roasted exotic spices, the act of using my mortar and pestle gives me such satisfaction and joy. It is primal. Earthy. Relaxing. Stress relieving. Our guests luckily get to view it like a museum piece and I am hopeful, almost holding my breath, in eliciting the same feeling in them but most of the time I am met with blank stares or something like, “So, how about this weather we’re having?” But my foodie friends get it. They understand the perfect craftmanship, how the mortar grinds in the intelligently-placed rough grooves in the pestle. How everything that is ground in it tastes far better than in those…snicker…puny marble mortar and pestles (of which I have 2). It can easily handle large batches of pesto. Heck – it would do serious damage if an intruder made his/her way inside the house! (Did I mention it is multi purpose?)

    If someone were to steal my beloved tool (and who could blame them?) I believe it would almost throw me into a panic. The search for this particular mortar and pestle took me over two YEARS. I was relentless and did not stop until I shockingly saw it in a specialty store in a little town while I was just poking around. There it was – just sitting there. How could this be? This town was in the middle of nowhere! I quickly snatched it (well, heaved it) onto the counter. I was in love already. The cost did not matter. It would be mine regardless. It was expensive but I did not even flinch at the price. The cashier could have told me it was $500 and I would have happily handed it over in a blind stupor.

    My mortar and pestle has had a lot of use. Cooking class students, after trying it out, have attempted to find one but so far no one has been successful. I do not know the brand. It looks the same today as it did years ago. All I know is that it works hard and deserves every bit of affection I give to it (which is a lot).

    1. Thanks Brenda. There is an old lesson having to do with the idea that simple things reflect the concern and care with which they are made. This is obviously true of your morter and pestle but more to the point, true of the meals that you prepare using it. Thanks again for your story.

      1. I cook with passion and love and treat my tools the same. I am truly grateful for these special tools that bring so much joy. They can be something that we also take for granted. Your article is such a great reminder that we really have a lot to be thankful for! 🙂

    2. Brenda, this sounds like such a special tool in SO many ways! Let’s hope it stays with you for many many years. It sounds like one-of-a-kind.

      1. I love your story and I get it – there are cooking items I would pay anything for. I have pans (broken mesh strainers – see above), spatulas, spoons, cups and flour sifters from 1930 – cooking life would not be the same without them. Embrace your mortar & pestle – we will turn our heads or simply applaud. . .

        1. Great sentiment Cherie–although it sounds like most of these folks wouldn’t accept any amount of money for their treasured items!

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