Since it's September, the kids are busy arranging all their new school equipment in preparation for a year of getting even smarter and adults are shaking the summer sand out of their clothes and their heads. It might therefore be time to consider some smart kitchen equipment.
These are the things that deserve genius awards, that should have ceremonial bunting draped around them. They are mostly medium- to small-sized items that make you shout "That makes a lot of sense!" Yet, they are almost always uncomplicated in themselves.
To help define these intelligent items, it might help to define their opposite first. Their opposites are often called "novel" and operate on the notion that the cook is unskilled and/or stupid. They proclaim simple techniques difficult or impossible, then offer to provide the gadget that will make that technique manageable by even the most ham-handed.
Everybody has their favorite example of smart kitchen equipment. The Swing-A-Way can opener is one that's on a lot of lists. It's available just about everywhere and works practically forever. It is smooth to operate and cheap to buy. Another, even simpler example is the rubber spatula. Somebody back in the dark ages thought of attaching a piece of rubber to the end of a stick and voil a, something that serves a real purpose.
A third example, the little Donvier ice cream maker that uses no ice, no salt, no electricity and very little human energy, is new on the market and selling well because it represents one of those achingly simple, why-didn't-I-think-of-that ideas. In the case of the Donvier, the idea was to use a refrigerant for freezing the cream mixture.
Others are less well known. One of the smartest things I've seen in a long time is the flat-bottomed stainless steel mixing bowl. The bottoms of these bowls are extra heavy, so that even if you try to knock the bowl over, you can't. Tip it and it rights itself automatically.
Because they are so heavy, these bowls are less likely than some others to slide around on the counter as you mix in them, but if you lay them on a wet dish towel they become even more stationary. Then you have both hands free, to whisk with one hand and pour oil with the other, as you make mayonnaise, for instance.
These flat-bottomed bowls are made in France, and come in a range of sizes.
The tiny metal juice extractor is a little-known gadget that is also eminently sensible. It's a small metal tube that pierces the lemon or lime and allows a few drops of juice to escape as you squeeze lightly. You then simply leave it in the citrus for the next time you need a few drops of juice.
Another gadget-type implement would be in the "novel" category if it didn't work, but it does. It's a corn de-silking brush. One friend who lives out in the country says she has heard discussions for years about how exactly to go about getting all those elusive silks out of the valleys between rows. This de-silker is the only thing she's found that really works.
It looks a little like a nail brush, with tiny, flexible plastic teeth in place of bristles. You simply draw the brush up the rows and the silks get caught by the brush's teeth. It costs a couple of dollars.
The corn de-silker comes to us from California, as did the true self-cleaning garlic press, another invention of genius. This press was the only one on the market big and sturdy enough to press even the largest clove of garlic with its skin on, then clean itself decisively. It was well-conceived and well-executed, and although it looked like some of those already on the market, it was truly better. Alas, the past tense is applicable because the press's maker has declared a temporary hiatus in his garlic press work, as geniuses are sometimes wont to do.
Solving sticky little problems is one of the main missions of this smart equipment, and the pie plate with a gutter is one of the most successful in the genre. The gutter catches the dripping blueberries that would otherwise caramelize irretrievably on the bottom of your oven, and it leaves them where they can be enjoyed by you instead. Exquisitely simple.
Also exquisitely simple is the true pot fork, a businesslike utensil made of strong steel. You can easily reach into your steaming kettle of pot-au-feu to spear and lift the whole chicken or piece of beef with this implement. It's angled correctly, and long enough to provide leverage, as a true "machine" -- in the classic sense -- should. Its companion, the dipper, is equally useful, and both items will hang on the side of your biggest stockpot, if that's where you need them to be.
Finally, two more simple things that exemplify the intelligent school: One is a synthetic knife protector for those with no organized knife storage, or for those, like chefs and caterers, who have to cart their knives around with them. Rattling around with other knives is the worst thing that can happen to a blade, and this little shield prevents all that nicking and dulling.
The second, and last, item is a potholder. It's made of extra-thick terry, two pieces of which are sewn together in such a way that the potholder can be used as a mitt or as a double-thickness regular potholder for extremely hot pots.