THERE COMES a time in the life of any kitchen dweller when all the practical, workaday stuff palls. Pots and pans, blech! Serviceable knives, I've got a million! Cookie sheets, who cares!
So here, for the unreconstructed but jaded cooking equipment collector, are a few ideas for things that definitely fall outside the necessary category, and probably lie somewhere between that-looks-like-fun and if-only-I'd-thought-of-that.
First, for the cook who uses kitchen twine and then sticks it back in the drawer (where it grows overnight into a small jungle, gathering small untensils into its clutches along the way): a twine dispenser that is beautifully engineered and not even bad to look at. Made mainly of clear plexiglass so you can monitor your supply of twine, it directs the end of the string out the top, where it's held in place by a little groove. With a single yank, the sharp blade will cut off what you need. The dispenser with a good-sized ball of twine costs about $7.
For short people with tall shelves, there's a foreshortened version of the old-fashioned grocery store gripper. Called Reach-It, it will reach and grip cans and boxes on the highest shelf, though its handle isn't as long or unruly as the grocery store kind. About $13. Available at Kitchen Bazaar and Williams-Sonoma.
A little item called the Metric Wonder Cup will not only measure liquids or solids in metric or American measurements, but also will push sticky stuff like shortening or molasses right out of the cup. A push-up cylinder inside the cup does the trick. It comes in two sizes, up to 2 cups or up to 1 cup and costs around $2.50 for the small version, $5 for the larger.
The by-now ubiquitous gravy separator is a gadget that really works. Cooking juices are poured into the clear plastic cup. The fat rises to the top after a few minutes and the good juices are then poured out through a spout that drains from the bottom of the cup. You stop pouring when you begin seeing fat in the spout. There are various versions on the market, and in different sizes.
Not a lot has happened on the fork front since the Middle Ages, when it occurred to some fastidious soul that you didn't necessarily have to lift the roast beef to the plate with your hands. And now, an interesting variation on the serving fork, called a Universal Food Fork. It's engineered with four lower middle tines, for more leverage on heavy items. It comes in sizes that will hold up to 12 pounds (made of plastic) or up to 25 pounds (made of stainless steel). Available by mail order from the Chef's Catalogue, 3915 Commercial Avenue, Chicago, Ill. 60062, telephone (312) 480-9400. The plastic version is $6.95, stainless is $14.95, and you can get both for $19.95.
Kitchen towels tend to lie around looking soggy unless there is a place to keep them. Two versions of the old-fashioned towel rack could help. One involves a series of four rubber circles with pie-shaped divisions cut into them. You simply poke one corner of the towel into the rubber circle, which grips it. Another version includes a series of hard plastic grooves into which the towels can be slid.
The apple parer makes sense if you make a lot of apple butter or pies. It's a practical mechanism with a Rube Goldberg look, costing about $25. You secure it to the kitchen table, attach an apple to the end by spearing it through the center, then turn a crank. A small blade on a moveable arm follows the contours of the apple, peeling it as you turn. Available at What's Cooking in Rockville, and at Kitchen Bazaar. Older versions can be found in antique stores.
Pop-up sponges have been around for a while, available in kitchen and department stores, done up in packages or just lying around loose in bins. They are amazingly flat and hard in their dry state, then expand into strong sponges when you moisten them. Popping them up has provided an interesting late-afternoon's entertainment to at least one group of terminally bored teen-agers. ("What did you do today?" "We popped up your sponges for you.") Not bad for about 70 cents apiece.
The Bell Cream Maker takes butter and milk and makes cream out of it. Why would you want to do that? So you can control the butterfat content (more butterfat makes more easily whippable cream) and the additives. After melting unsalted butter into milk, you pump the mixture through the cream maker. After cooling and refrigeration you have fresh cream of any butterfat content you want. Available for $18 to $22 at Kitchen Bazaar and at Williams-Sonoma.
Items that don't list a specific source are widely available.