Wednesday, March 31, 2010

For Good Measure


Recipes used to be simpler:

      1. Hit pigeon with rock
      2. Pull off feathers
      3. Hold over fire until inside temperature reaches ow.

The feather touch? That was added after some trial and error.

Next came the invention of tools. Cave-man cooks, sensitive because up until then they had done nothing but burn things over a fire, decided they would get more respect if they re-named every tool specifically for cooking. Pokey sticks became utensils.

After they invented the arrow, the knife and the alphabet, things changed fast. Food could be cut into smaller and smaller bits until it became too little to eat. This fostered the invention of bowls, mixers and measuring spoons to assemble the bits back together again. Instructions were called a recipe. Cooks became chefs.

How can you screw up something as simple as a spoon? When a recipe calls for a tablespoon of ground pigeon flakes, you can’t use a spoon off the table, because a table spoon holds only a teaspoon. How much does a tea spoon hold? Who knows? Even the British don’t use tea spoons. They stir tea with a demi-spoon, which, despite its name is not half a spoon. There's a soup spoon but nobody measures with it, even though it holds about a tablespoon.

Heaping teaspoon: two words nobody thought would be paired together. How to you heap with a teaspoon?

Does a drinking cup hold a cup of liquid? Of course not. It holds 1.5 cups. If I cup my hands I can carry 1/8 of a cup. A cup holds 8 ounces of flour, which weighs 4 ounces. See how recipes work? This is why we give up and go to Burger King.

Heaven forbid we use the metric system like the rest of the post-Cro-Magnon world. You know you are on shaky ground when your only compatriots using cups, pints and quarts are the British, who can’t be trusted with food nor with naming things.

The British call a spatula a scoop. The Scots call it a tosser, but that’s forgivable: if your homeland was famous for haggis you’d toss your food too.

I prefer indistinct measurements, like a pinch and a dash. While not precise, they use our fingers, which we always have handy.

More such measurements, please! A hand of thyme? A finger of cake frosting? A nose of Coke? Remember the Super Bowl when Justin Timberlake introduced a cup of Janet Jackson?

How about a glom of yoghurt? A swipe of peanut butter? (I know you can get a schmear of cream cheese, but I always feel a little cheated. No wonder: I looked it up and the word translates as “corrupt.”)

I love coffee because I grind the coffee beans in a coffee grinder, put them in a coffee maker and make coffee in a coffee cup. I appreciate such clarity first thing in the morning.

But not too much clarity. Do we really need to call it a frying pan?

In my kitchen I have a whisk, which is a mixer. My mixer uses beaters. I beat with a tenderizer, which mashes, but to mash potatoes I use a ricer, and I cook rice in the steamer while I steam vegetables in the colander before I toss them into a salad with dressing I whip up with my whisk.

My blender has buttons for chop, grate, crumb, purée, liquefy and whip. Guess what it doesn’t have a button for.

1 comment:

  1. In England we mash potatoes with a potato masher - so we got one thing right at least. (So-called Imperial pints are 20floz, which I like much more than US pints. I'd feel very cheated in pubs if they served me American sized pints of beer!)

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