What's the sitch with kitchen-based temperature control devices?
It was Saturday afternoon and I was buffing the tile in my kitchen to a fine sheen as I have done every Saturday afternoon for as long as I can remember. As usual, I was suspended above the floor in a makeshift harness, so as not to smudge the glassy surface during my circuit from wall to wall.
Though I’m usually able to maintain unwavering focus while tackling such important tasks, on this Saturday, I did divert my attention for just a moment, to look through the window and scowl at the dust-filled world outside, thankfully separated from my nearly sterile room by a thick layer of glass.
As I was ready to resume my polishing, I saw a reflection of the toaster framed within a particularly shiny tile. A few tiles over I saw the shimmering representation of a crockpot. A separate grouping was awash with the faded image of the looming oven. And there, a likeness of the electric tea kettle, the panini press, the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the rice-cooker, the microwave, all scattered across the fresh gloss.
We had many devices in the room, many machines, of different shapes and materials. But they all served the same purpose: to change the temperature of whatever was put inside. Yes, these tools spanned a range of sizes, and some were specialized to change the temperature of specific states of matter (be they solids, liquids, gas, etc). But, NO ONE can argue with the FACT that these instruments all did the exact same thing. They were the same.
Why do we have so many items for controlling the temperature of food? What’s the sitch?
Our ancestors had but one humble device, they called it fire, and they made do. I don’t want to get into so called, “statistics,” or, “metrics,” like, “average life expectancy,” or, “rates of gastrointestinal infection,” because they are flimsy and have largely been proven to be made-up by special interest groups. Our ancestors made do with fire. Eventually a box with ice was added to the armamentarium. That sweet, sweet ice. This gave humans complete authority over the entire range of food temperatures. But still, we wanted more; it’s never enough. After those two, fire to increase temperature and ice to decrease it, people lost control… and the devices took over.
Breaking it down, appliance by appliance, would be the easiest way to express my disdain.
Microwaves: An answer to the question, “What’s the quickest way to give people both hot food and brain cancer?,” microwaves are undeniably convenient and ostensibly safe, like everything else made popular by America in the 1960’s (see cigarettes, DDT, cars without seatbelts, napalm, etc.)
I’m not here to argue that microwaves don’t occasionally serve their purpose, during the lunch rush in the office break room, or when warming refrigerated tortillas before hosting Taco Tuesday. But, again, are the devices not in control? Workers used to bring a metal pail with lunch items that could be enjoyed at room temperature. Furthermore, salads, a classic lunch-associated meal, are healthy and so in right now, and conspicuously don’t require microwave technology. As for heating the tortillas, doing so on the stovetop adds a streak of charred authenticity a microwave never could. I could go on and I will; while it may take up to minutes longer, soup can obviously be warmed over a gas burner, and your kitchen will be imbued with a pleasant savory steam in the process. Popcorn, a “classic,” microwave item, is quite easily popped on the stove, with far less waste and hydrogenated vegetable oil than its spoiled microwavable step-sibling.
When did we stop enjoying food, hoping only for the most expedient way to get macerated calories into our small intestine? When did we forget about the process, about the gentle nudgings and courageous flips of a pan-fried quesadilla, natural bubbles of cheese exploring the circumference, both surfaces crisped in a way the nearby microwave’s cold digital monotony has never been able to understand?
Just as we adapted our eating habits to the reality of having ubiquitous microwave technology, so too can we return to the days of enjoying cold leftovers, or if really pressed, putting cold leftovers between pieces of bread and calling it a sandwich, in fewer than the 90 seconds it would take to reheat that pad thai anyway.
Waffle Maker: This is a novelty item, bought as a present on some second-tier holiday and briefly enjoyed as an idea, but never as a functional member of the cooking team; the electric tie rack of the kitchen.
Even as a person who likes waffles, I haven’t had one in at least a year. Maybe I made one in 2016 during a queasy morning of participation in the complimentary breakfast at a Super 8 in rural Wisconsin? As I recall, that was an OK experience, but not one that inspired me to then run home and drop $50 on a heavy cardboard box to take up space in the far cabinet.
No one needs to be able to make waffles in the home; like donuts or Creme Brûlée, you should stumble across them while exploring the outside world, and seize the opportunity when it presents itself.
Panini Press: I learned what a panini is via the press used to make one, which is a negative prognostic sign when it comes to utility. In some boardroom in some skyscraper in some financial district some manager said to some executive, “These plebeians, they don’t know what they want… they don’t know what they need! Yesterday they hadn’t heard of the panini, but today, today! After our announcement they won’t be content until they can make hot, European-style sandwiches in the comfort of their own kitchens, for the very reasonable price of $39.99.”
We’ve been making grilled cheese for centuries, and we certainly haven’t need some proprietary device or some fancy Italian word for it.
Crock Pot: Hmmm, this one is sort of hard to rail against. It is convenient and functional. But there isn’t anything it can do that you can’t do in an oven with the appropriate, deep, cast iron pot. Yeah go ahead, leave the oven on while you’re at work, we here at whatsthesitch.com won’t tell your landlord.
Rice Cooker: Another item that is convenient and functional, but to justify its place in the kitchen, you really should be making rice for a family of six at least three times per week. And if you are doing that, then I doubt you’re reading or enjoying our content here at whatsthesitch.com.
Pizza Oven: I never wanted this sitch to turn into a fat-shaming exercise. That’s not what we’re about here. But we are willing to go after rich people who can’t decide what to spend their fistfuls of cash on. If you are thinking about buying a pizza oven, take a moment to reflect on any other debts you have yet to pay off, any other large items or trips or retirement or college funds you are saving up for… and, after this, if you still think buying a pizza oven is a good idea, if you haven’t reconsidered, then you have too much money. It’s not a good idea to buy a pizza oven. You have an oven oven in your kitchen, and a pizza place a few minutes away. That’s good enough. It’s pizza.
Bread Box: While not a traditional heating or cooling device, it does regulate temperature… and does it also regulate humidity? Or keep light out? What is a bread box for? Is it just a box that’s a little bit larger than a generic loaf of bread? I’m not sure it belongs on this list, but similar to the other items, it takes up more space than it’s worth. And, again, if you have a bread box, I doubt you are reading this sitch, as it exists online, and your grandson isn’t coming over until next week to help you, “make a log-on.”
Coffee Maker: The argument against electric coffee makers is not an easy one to conjure. The number of situations that have been analyzed on this website without the influence of coffee: 1. I won’t tell you which one, but it is far and away the most poorly written, least inspired sitch on the website. The incoherent musings of a 6th-grader talking in their sleep, that caffeine-free sitch should really be taken down, but management leaves it posted as a chilling reminder to staff of what can happen if they fail to prepare for work.
That said, I’m told pour-over coffee “tastes better.” Experts told me that. Heat water on the stove and pour it over some ground up beans. You’ll save space on your counter and you’ll avoid the slow leak of electricity from another perennial outlet-filler, while also allowing yourself the fiction that others with, “less developed palates,” can’t quite appreciate the, “complexities,” of the well-balanced, “Colombian,” roast you have in your cup, and that’s why those plebeians don’t mind sticking to traditional drip machines. That sweet self-deception is the most complex taste of all.
Electric Tea Kettle: A traditional tea kettle can live atop one of the four burners, without taking up a square cm of counter space. Get with the program. Gla is the queen of tea, and will not tolerate this American drivel heated by electric coil in a plastic pitcher; it doesn’t taste like the chai from the Old Country, that’s for sure.
Toaster: We have a toaster at the offices of whatsthesitch.com. This allows us to freeze our bread, exponentially prolonging its shelf-life, so that we can eat PB&J’s at our own pace without fear of mold or the all too predictable styrofoaminess of a stale slice. We here at whatsthesitch.com are generally, “Do what we say, not what we do,” kind of people, but in this case… we submit. You can have a toaster. But make it a small one and unplug it in-between use for God’s sake.
I’m exhausted, and some devices were even left off the list; there are just too many roast! Is there no limit to our thirst for convenience?
I imagine a future where a steel box stands in the center of an empty kitchen, bathed in a soft glow from the lone ceiling light recessed above. All is quiet throughout the house. Nothing stirs. What was that? No, no… it wasn’t anything. A mechanical eye dilates on the top surface of the appliance, and a dark basin extends out with a soft pneumatic hiss.
“Your popcorn is ready,” says a pleasant, vaguely British voice.
Of course, the settings could be changed to any accent you please. And the word, “popcorn,” could be replaced with any food item in need of a temperature change. The basin could extend out bearing hot tea, or a roast, or a quesadilla grilled to perfection. It could also come out with any of your refrigerated or frozen items. But, importantly, in this vision of a utopian future for our kitchens, free from clutter, there would be no door, no option to look inside and grab out items manually; it would all be pneumatic-basin-mediated, and a programmed voice would have to indicate that the food item was indeed, “ready.”
I’ll be the first to admit, we still have work to do on some of the minor logistical components and technical gridware algorithms and user-focused interfacing and such… But YOU have to admit there would be fewer annoying appliances littering your countertops.