It's practically a fact of life that if you want something to stick it won't and if you don't want it to stick it will. This does not usually spell truly cosmic disaster, but it can make you really, really mad.

For instance: The potatoes that you have so lovingly browned leave the best part of themselves in the bottom of the pan, the frosting peels off the cake when you attempt to slice it, the fish fillets refuse to leave their skillet without destructing entirely. Some of these sticky problems just cannot be helped, but lots of them can.

Those nice labels that come stuck to practically everything that moves through commerce present a special problem, both to the purchaser who has to soak and scrape to get them off and to the manufacturer who had them designed, made and stuck on at great expense. "The problem," one manufacturer's representative summed up, "is finding a sticker that stays on and then comes off."

It should stay on while the object in question languishes in the warehouse or the retail store before finding a home, and then it should peel right off, leaving no traces. This hardly ever happens, and it appears that manufacturers have frequently acted in favor of their own interests in this matter.

The paper part of the label is not usually the major part of the problem. It's that gummy residue, which only solidifies and makes a permanent home for itself after the paper is gone.

The solutions to the gummy residue problem are several. The staff at Kitchen Bazaar, which often has to face the sticker problem, uses lighter fluid (not charcoal lighter), nail polish remover or a product called WD-40, which is a spray-on lubricant and penetrating oil usually used on bicycle chains and the like. Rubbing alcohol also works.

Be careful about using nail polish remover on synthetic surfaces, as it could damage them.

The problem of food sticking to pots -- especially to frying pans -- is a more pervasive kind of problem. Manufacturers have tried to solve it by developing nonstick surfaces such as Teflon and T-Fal, but these surfaces have had their own problems. They wear off too soon, for instance, and they have often been used in thin-gauge aluminum pans, which have problems with heat conduction that no applied surface could solve. Some cooks think foods don't brown as well on them, and that they give food saute'ed in them a strange, watery texture.

Le Creuset, the French manufacturer of enameled cast iron pots and pans, has come up with a method of manufacturing nonstick cookware that solves many of these problems. They label these pieces Castoflon, which is the name of a very hard, very porous porcelain enamel subcoat that is applied to the surface of the cast iron. It was developed because SilverStone wouldn't stick directly to the cast iron.

So the SilverStone, a DuPont product related to Teflon, is applied onto the Castoflon, which has a porous nature that allows the SilverStone to sink in and adhere better. That explains the surface's toughness, which Le Creuset demonstrates by rubbing the edge of a dime against it until the dime is smooth, leaving the SilverStone-Castoflon undamaged. It's safe to use metal utensils with the surface, too, as long as you don't hack at it with your Swiss army knife.

The product's manufacturer is slightly harder pressed to explain why the surface is also so much better for browning than conventional nonstick surfaces, but better it is. It could simply be the fact that its base is cast iron, cast iron being a wonderful material for the slow browning of things like potatoes and onions. The thin aluminum pans that most nonstick surfaces are applied to are no competition for cast iron.

Castoflon pieces are more expensive than regular Le Creuset, but the company seems to have made great strides in the nonstick market.

Finally, some other sticky problems and their solutions:

To more easily cut through cake icings, especially cold chocolate glazes, warm the knife first under hot water, then dry it. You'll cut through the icing without mashing the surface. This also works with softer, mousse-like pa te's.

To avoid the Three Stooges-like pantomime that often occurs after working sticky dough with the hands, try dipping your sticky fingers into some flour, then rubbing them together. This works much better than trying to wash them first.

Veal and most fish will invariably stick to the saute' pan no matter how much fat you use, unless you flour them first. Just the slightest dusting will do the trick. You won't notice the flour, and you'll have alleviated your sticking problems.