Gift Guide: Get Going

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One of the greatest pleasures of having Megan McArdle as a colleague is not only her irrepressibly opinionated company but her irrepressibly opinionated annual kitchen gift list, which she posted today. This is Megan at her sharpest, sardonic but enthusiastic best. Of course, she's very strong-minded. Of course, I disagree with a number of her recommendations. But not that many--it's really good. So in the spirit of the spirited debate we thrive on here at TheAtlantic.com, here are a couple of cavils with this year's installment.

I agree with the recommendation against an expensive steel mandoline, that dangerous but beautiful kitchen trophy no one actually uses, and the Kyocera is probably one of the best of the low-priced fixed-blade slicers available. But pretty much any one will work for what you need it for (carrots, potatoes), and I part with her enthusiasm for Kyocera ceramic knives, which break not just when you drop them but when you slice into something with too much force. I write this from my brother's apartment, in New York, where among the most expensive knives in his drawer is a ceramic model with a very snub, very truncated nose and jagged front edge. I, who am clumsy, didn't manage this particular break, and I don't know who did--but he's an MD who knows how to do surgery! And both of his grown children are able cooks trained by their superlative French-Tunisian cook grandmother and mother. Buy metal knives.

After years of prof-chef indoctrination that tongs are the one essential kitchen tool, I've decided I hate them. They're clumsier than I am, and tear into chicken skin and pretty much anything I grab with them in the oven or a saute pan. I use many Oxo products, whose fat rubber handles are particularly good for klutzes like me--I go through at least a vegetable parer a year, some years two--but won't bother with this one.

The rotating potato/apple peeler, Rotato: I spent much of a late Yom Kippur afternoon hearing its virtues extolled by a longtime family friend who was preparing something with apples for the break fast--why is it that discussions of the break fast pick up special steam as the afternoon wears on and double digits of hours fasted climb? In any case he started with the standard apology that they sound like something hawked on late-night public-access cable TV but really liked them, so I made a new year's resolution to try one.

The Bodum tea press Megan links to is fine, and the wide, inset filter is one of my two favorite ways to make a big pot of leaf tea, something I do every morning. But I prefer old-fashioned, cuppa-style ceramic teapots with metal-filter insets; you can lift out the filter easily after four or (no more than) five minutes, and metal or nylon mesh is finer and I think better than the largish holes of the Bodum plastic inset. Also nylon/metal mesh and ceramic pots are easier to clean thoroughly. But my morning method is in a big glass press pot of the kind Jerry Baldwin and many others favor for coffee. Press down the metal filter after four minutes.

Rabbit corkscrews, as Megan generically calls what came into wide foodie use as the Screwpull, their first widely known manufacturer, are indeed the easiest and best. But in the past year I've broken my third one, progressing to ever-cheaper models: I pull the top lever back too far and it sticks in open-jaw position, and the wine shops I schlep the disabled, silly-looking spread-out openers to for a quick fix have no fix at all to offer. I guess I really am a klutz. Any ideas? In the meantime, my advice is to follow Megan to Costco, or the very cheapest one you can find.

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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