It isn't Jan. 1 that begins the new year but Labor Day, as the desire to be clad in plaid and clutching a pencil box grips people who haven't been in a schoolroom in years.
One no longer skips off to begin a brand new grade, but still the need lingers; it is time to make a fresh start.
So here is a way to celebrate Labor Day and the eventual return of fall.
In every kitchen there is a drawer full of -- well, junk, though useful junk. It is where one throws the extra wine corks, foresightfully saved to replace the ones that crumble on their way out of the bottle. Vegetable peelers. The fancy cheese knife that no one can figure out how to work. Dull knives that don't cut, but who ever throws away a knife? A pie crimper. A cookie cutter shaped like Santa Claus. A meat fork. Three different devices for unsticking jar lids. The ring lid from a Mason jar. A lipstick (a lipstick?).
Some of those things are very useful and you probably have forgotten they were there. Some of them should be thrown away so that you will have room for other things. Like extra vegetable peelers. One never can have too many vegetable peelers. When guests come into the kitchen and ask if they can help, you will be able to take them by surprise by giving each a pile of potatoes and a peeler. On the other hand, one pea podder is too many since it mushes the peas as it pods them. Throw it away.
Cherry pitters are worth having; apple corers are not. I have a friend who swears by her strawberry huller, but finally brought herself to toss out the absolutely useless corn silker. The pie crimper is made of olive wood and is very pretty, so it gets to stay, though it never gets used. Fingers do the job better. However, the biscuit cutter is more effective than a glass for cutting through dough, and if you clear out a few Mason jar lids, you'll have room for it.
The ice pick stays. It may be the only way to loosen up those 10-pound bags of ice one buys for parties. Unless you are a very cautious person, push the point into one of the left-over wine corks. That way you won't stab yourself when reaching for the feather that's used to glaze the top of pastries and which has gotten thoroughly disgusting and should be replaced.
Keep the meat thermometer but throw away the candy thermometer unless you really believe that this will be the winter you invite friends over for a taffy pull.
A bundle of bamboo skewers for shish kebab reminds me of a friend's low-labor party. She puts out a platter of meat chunks, and bowls of onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, etc., and lets everyone thread and cook their own.
Parchment paper stays. It's not only useful for lining cookie sheets so that things like meringues won't stick, but you can make little parchment packages of fish or boned chicken breasts, sauced and with a helping of lightly cooked vegetables. Make them up in advance, bake them when the guests arrive and serve them out on a plate. Make each package different and see who gets what. A surprise never hurts a party.
Cheesecloth. Essential for straining soups, particularly if you've been rushed or lazy and tossed in the herb bouquet loose. Two steels for sharpening knives. Is it really necessary to have two? And when was the last time you sharpened your knives? It's amazing how quickly they lose their edge and how long it takes to chop things when the blades has to thud on through. A dough scraper, which makes it possible to loosen the pie dough and get the crust into the pan in one piece.
A butter curler. Out.
A lemon zester. Out.
Ah, but here is the garlic press and though you can use a cleaver instead, the clove always skitters off the cutting board and it takes five minutes to find it. Keep the press or, if you haven't got one, get one.
Below the junk drawer is the junk cupboard, home for battered cookie sheets and pots that have lost their linings. Throw the cookie sheets out. That will force you to buy new ones (the quality of the cookie sheet does affect the quality of the cookies). Throw away the pans with the badly chipped enamel linings. You're making a new start, remember? Take the copper pots whose linings have worn away in for re-tinning. It costs a lot, so brace yourself. Bethesda Art Metal Works, 4955 Bethesda Ave., (301) 656-1445, charges $3 an inch but it's still less than buying a new pot.
Have you ever even used the pasta maker you got for Christmas? Before putting a bow on it and passing it on to someone else, invite friends in to help you make fettuccine. Many a giddy evening has flown by as guests look for places to hang pasta to dry.
A cache of pre-Cuisinart tools. Mouli graters, a slaw slicer, an egg beater . . . Keep them, so you can function during an electric storm when all the lines go down.
Gather up all the things which have outlived their usefulness and offer them up at a garage sale. Then, take the proceeds and run to a kitchen store and stock up on the newest items: taco tongs, pasta forks, a wine cellar thermometer . . .