Hmm Weekly for May 5, 2020

Lately it’s been like a month of Tuesdays

Hmm Weekly for May 5, 2020

Another Week, Another Hmm Weekly

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Melamine-Ware JP-637 Spoon

WHEN I HAD nothing, I bought this big spoon. Now our household owns two pairs of tongs and two pairs of poultry shears, because some things are so handy to have you realize two would be even more handy, and a whole stack of stockpots or pasta pots from big enough to gigantic, and thermometers and springform pans and a plum pitter. And an array of beautiful hand-carved wooden spoons in various sizes on down to a little one you could almost scoop caviar with. But then I had only the smallest pasta pot and one boxed set of nonstick Farberware pots and pans, with which to begin operating a kitchen of my own. My roommate and I were in a studio apartment, and would sometimes toast slices of white bread, and butter them, and unwrap a slice of American cheese and put it in between and call it “toast toast cheese”; nevertheless, I knew the rudiments of real cooking, and I would use them to make real meals.

So I needed a big spoon. I can’t say I put zero thought into it, but it was pretty simple: I went to the aisle in the Star Market (it must have been the Star Market) where they had the kitchen stuff, and I picked out, from their limited selection, the spoon that looked as if it would be most useful. Only much later, after years of picking up other cheap supermarket spoons, would I realize it was essentially irreplaceable—it was, in fact, perfect.

The spoon was deep enough to work as a ladle, yet angled and rounded so that I could stir things with it, and it scooped out the correct portion size to be a serving spoon. The handle was light and sturdy, the material stiff and resonant enough that I could feel lumps and thickening scorched patches through my fingertips as I stirred. Logically, as a multipurpose spoon, it should have averaged out to be slightly less good than a single-purpose implement at each individual task, but that was not true. It did everything better. It could fish out a single piece of pasta to taste for doneness far more easily than a prongy pasta-stirrer ever could. It could reach down into the bottom rim of a pot to get the last soup or sauce down there, in a way that made a proper ladle, when I finally got a proper ladle, seem clunky and anti-ergonomic. I have no idea whether or not I even still have that ladle, stuffed in some cupboard with other tools I don't need.

I stirred chicken soup with it, and broccoli sauce for pasta, and black beans with pig feet. I pressed it down just below the surface to skim the fat off of simmering oxtails. I stirred boiling macaroni with it to start making macaroni and cheese, and used the edge of it to neatly break the cheddar crust and serve up the finished product at the end. The white melamine turned yellow every time I used it to lift away the surface scum and stir in the turmeric while making chana dal, and then the yellow would gradually wear away until the next time. Eleven of its spoonfuls of runny, sedimenting batter, dredged up from the bottom of the mixer's bowl, went into each of two loaf pans to make a pair of our favorite chocolate cakes.

Sometime, probably after the turn of the century, the end of the handle got too close to a burner, turned brown and brittle, and eventually snapped off. I used it less as a serving spoon after that; we had acquired some decent-looking serving spoons. The jagged end made me think about buying a replacement or understudy, but I couldn’t get another one like it. Every time I’d tried a similar-seeming spoon from the grocery or the Target or wherever, it was somehow inferior: the bowl was too deep or too pointy, or the handle was angled wrong, and the plastic was always soft and dead in my grasp. Where I had once believed I was the owner of a thoroughly ordinary everyspoon, I now understood I had accidentally come into possession of an elusive Platonic ideal.

And then, on Sunday evening, I broke it. I was drawing on the pantry and the bottom of the fridge to come up with the last meal of another lockdown week, before the next round of groceries would arrive Monday morning. Salted lemon, some ramp leaves, two cans of sardines, chopped toasted walnuts, green peas. I believed it would add up to a sauce, and I was right. It just needed a splash of the boiling salted water from the oldest and smallest pasta pot—a light spoonful from the big spoon—and another splash or two a little while later, and another while the angel hair was cooking, just to loosen it all up. I scooped that last splash, getting the sauce exactly right, and I set the spoon aside without thinking about it, any more than you think about where your toes are when you’re typing an email. I turned to do something else and I bumped into something on the crowded counter in our tiny kitchen, and things rattled and shifted in my peripheral vision, and I heard a clean, ringing crack: the sound of melamine fracturing on the marble floor. The bowl of the spoon was split jaggedly but neatly into two pieces. I don’t know when I’ll feel at home in the kitchen again.


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Spring, Part 9

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WE DRAW CLOSER to the time when we will exhaust our selection of recipes for ancient but reproducible sandwiches, taken from The Up-To-Date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, by Eva Greene Fuller; 1909; McClurg and Co., Chicago, found in the public domain for the delectation of all. What will we do for provocative Public Domain Content when we have exhausted our supply of sandwich recipes?

Grind two small cans of pimentos with two cakes of Neufchatel cheese, and season with a little salt. If the mixture is too dry add a little oil of pimentos. Spread on thin slices of lightly buttered white bread. Place two together and cut in fancy shapes.

On thin slices of toasted bread that have been lightly buttered, place a thick slice of tomato, over top of tomato spread salad dressing, then just a touch of caviare, cover with another slice of toast, and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Cut slices of white bread rather thick and toast; trim off crusts and lightly butter. Remove skin and bone from the sardines and lay them on the toast. Sprinkle chopped olives over the sardines and the juice of a quarter of a lemon. Cover with another slice of buttered toast. Serve on a lettuce leaf.

If you make one of these sandwiches, before you eat it, please send a picture to

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