If My Cuisinart Could Talk

Leslie Berliant

Leslie Berliant › Leslie Berliant is the owner of Le Marais Chocolat, a chocolate company using locally sourced, organic ...

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As I start to pack up my kitchen to reverse the cross-country trek I made 13 years ago and head back to the lush eastern seaboard from sunny and dry California, I realize how much memory lives in meals created and shared. And, also, how much kitchen crap I have accumulated.

There’s the juicer I bought on e-bay during my blessedly brief juicing phase. It has a broken plastic clasp and remnants of carrots and beets stuck to the blade. I do recall a particular tasty brew that had apples and ginger in it, but MAN did it take a lot of produce to make one little glass of juice!

I have a vegetable steamer that I have never used, because, honestly, what more than a pot and a basket do you need? I have no idea how I ended up with it, but I hope I didn’t pay money for it! I have three different tools I bought in my search for an easy way to prick fresh olives so that I could cure them myself without using lye. The olives came out great one year (though I ended up using a hammer and a knife to break them open) and terrible the next. In the end, I simply gave up and decided to leave olives to the experts!

There’s my much used and abused Cuisinart that Robin surprised me with one day as a thank you for the care and many meals I provided during her treatment for pancreatic cancer. It replaced the one that had come in the mail during the last days of my marriage with a note from my mother reminding me to make latkes for my family, as if that could somehow save us. One morning its motor started to go and that afternoon, Robin miraculously showed up with a new one (bought on sale at Bloomingdale’s, of course) although I had never said a word. It’s been 2 years since she died and sometimes I forget how connected we were. In the end, our roles had changed from her being like an older sister to me, to me being like a mother to her. But there they are – the Cuisinart, her Italian dishes, the big silver bowl and tongs that she used to make my favorite Greek salad, the Laguiole cutlery and knives she introduced to me in France – daily reminders of our friendship and I will not part with them.

One cabinet was filled with cooking magazines; stacks of Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, and Saveur that I poured over, dog-earring pages and pages of recipes. Those recipes gave me ideas but were never returned to once I discovered the Epicurious iPhone app. The magazines, along with some under-appreciated cookbooks, have been donated to my neighbor for his cooking classes. Moosewood, Alice Waters, The Greens, Craig Claiborne and Julia are all coming with me, though. So is the Tassajara Breadbook which I have owned since the 1980’s. The Norwegian Coffee Cake recipe introduced me to cardamom which, at 15, was the most exotic spice I had ever encountered. It also has the best cheesecake cookie recipe ever!

I have several beautiful pie pans in my cabinets. My favorites are blue pottery with a leaf motif. During the ’06 and ’08 campaign seasons, I hosted calling parties complete with hot apple cider and some of my favorite homemade pies like caramelized apple and pumpkin with candied ginger. We were convinced that it was our pie eating group that swung the Virginia Senate race in 2006. Those plates are coming with me!

The butcher block I put together myself while pregnant with my daughter is going. I have my heart set on some 1800’s hunk of wood to sit in the middle of my kitchen in Central New York… once I know where that kitchen will be! My grandmother’s pots I’m keeping – a large frying pan and a pot with a broken lid that I use for steaming vegetables (instead of the plastic contraption), making popcorn and whenever I need a pot bigger than a sauté pan and smaller than a soup pot.

I recently bought a used dehydrator so that I could dehydrate berries and other fruit for use in truffle making. It’s coming with me, but only because it’s recently bought. I have a pasta roller in need of a part, it was Robin’s so it’s been like that for over 2 years without my ever ordering the missing piece. That might have to go.  The jars of fruit jams I made last spring and fall in my canning craze – strawberry chipotle, blueberry nutmeg and citrus with vanilla beans – will go to friends, but the canning pot is coming with me.

I have a real McCoy cookie jar in the shape of a barn with horses, cows and a rooster on it. It also has a chip on the lid. I got it last spring to remind me of where I was headed and it will certainly be making the journey. The four different sets of dishes I have? Some of those might have to be left behind. The marble rolling pin is coming. Vases and wooden boxes from beautiful flower arrangements sent by an ex-boyfriend in apology one too many times, those will be left behind.

There are pans in various shapes and sizes that remind me of the beach scene, the airplane, the stop light and the many different theme cakes made each year for my daughter’s birthday. I look at the big rectangular pan and the perfectly round one and remember that on her first birthday, I made an Elmo cake covered in orange icing. For her 18th, it was her latest favorite; cupcakes made with a hot chili chocolate cake recipe and a white cream frosting. On her 5th birthday, I held a party in an empty apartment in Chicago filled with beach blankets and blow up beach balls. I served peanut butter ice cream pies and all the kids thought I had moved the furniture out just for the party but in reality, the moving truck had come the previous day. She was just about to start Kindergarten and we were just about to start a new life in California. I wondered that day what the next big milestone would be and here we are – she’s about to start college and I’m about to start my own new chapter back near where the last one began. Those pans hold 18 incredible years of being a mom. They are coming.

THE WRITER: Leslie Berliant is the owner of Le Marais Chocolat, a chocolate company using locally sourced, organic and Fair Trade ingredients. She a writer covering environment, sustainability and food, has a marketing and PR firm specializing in cause marketing and is co-founder of BLU MOON Foundation’s Haiti Orphanage Adoption Program.

Have you had to take stock of your kitchen lately? What's the most important cooking tool or keepsake you have?