Of the seven drawers in our kitchen, no fewer than four are junk drawers. Two of the remaining three are arguably junk drawers. Only one is vestal.
Junk Drawer #1 was designated as such twenty-four years ago when we moved into the Third Street manse and is appropriately chockablock with batteries, place-mats, pens, some odd tools, rubber bands, electrical cords and adapters. Junk Drawer #2 is pretty much the same as the aforementioned, sans place-mats, but with several decks of playing cards, a box of crayons, envelopes, a lint roller, Scotch tape, Band-Aids and more rubber bands.
A third drawer is the largest and plays host to many food-type things: tiny plastic packets of condiments we’ve collected over the decades, several varieties of cough drops, breath mints, dog treats and several rolls of small plastic bags for cleaning up public places after the dog has had his treats; it’s also where we keep twist-ties, even more rubber bands, packaged mixes for dips, boxes of lemon Jell-O from the turn of the century, toothpicks, cupcake liners, birthday candles, herbal teas, straws, champagne bottle stoppers and operating manuals for appliances, weed-whackers and automobiles we no longer have.
The fourth drawer is my favorite because it is home to cooking-type things that provide unique opportunities for serious hand injuries. It is less a junk drawer than a purgatory for utensils—they are not currently useful but we haven’t decided where they should go. Actually, we’ve never talked about where they should go—they’re just there, in limbo awaiting judgment day.
We had a fondue party in 1979. It was fun in an “aren’t-you-glad-we’re-not-Swiss” kind of way. In Drawer #4, there are two sets of six fondue forks. There are no fewer than two nutcrackers, which might come in handy should Tchaikovsky drop by for an aperitif this holiday season. There are several things that would seem to be more at home on a dentist’s tray than in a kitchen. We have egg molds! And broken corkscrews! There are measuring cups made of both aluminum and plastic, with and without handles that do not nest comfortably.
There are bench scrapers, pastry bags, cheese graters, turkey basters and injectors, any number of thermometers, bamboo skewers, chopsticks, fruit ballers, rubber bands and two different sizes of squeeze-y things that were designed to form and eject meatballs. There is also a pair of stainless steel, petite pitchforks to help hoist a 32-pound turkey from a roasting pan should that need ever arise.
We have what is technically not a junk drawer because its primary use is to house our flatware. However, there are several Sharpies, pens, parts of a socket-wrench set, a screwdriver, pliers, scissors and rubber bands, all of which go to sully the drawer’s reputation and standing. A second drawer that is technically not a junk drawer is where we keep plastic bags and Saran wrap, aluminum foil, parchment paper, wax paper, three different kinds of tape, twist-ties, pens, Sharpies, a tiny pair of channel locks, two butcher’s knives, throat lozenges, breath mints, a spool of 12-lb. monofilament fishing line, to-go menus and rubber bands. It too, is on the verge of becoming a designated junk drawer.
I am disturbed by the number of rubber bands we have accumulated and I can’t help but wonder why they are kept in six different places, not counting the doorknob closest to our kitchen.
Our seventh drawer is pure. Only towels live there. No rubber bands. I just checked.
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t have at least one drawer devoted to the containment of miscellaneous- items-of-limited-value-that-we-think-we-might-someday-need-and-therefore-will-not-throw-out.
Actually, my mother never had a junk drawer, which means I didn’t have one growing up. Having my own junk drawer as an adult isn’t as emotionally liberating as it might sound.
Anyway, as my mother wandered through her rigidly disciplined life, she would discover something she hadn’t used or noticed in six months and throw it away—even if it wasn’t hers—without ceremony or sentiment. That included family photographs and heirloom furniture. I was all of fifteen when I left home and six months later she celebrated the occasion by throwing away my collection of baseball cards (which could have provided for my retirement as early as 1989—I had the complete A.L. & N.L. cards from 1959 through 1966), four pairs of shoes, and all of the clothes that I had left in my dresser. When I came home for a visit, my old bedroom felt like a motel room missing only a Gideon bible and brochures from nearby attractions and restaurants that offered free delivery.
My mother was averse to clutter and neurotic about pretty much everything else. Before anybody had even heard of OCD, she had taken the practice of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder to new heights. Taped on the inside of the door to each of her kitchen cabinets was a list of what was in the cabinet. I asked her once if she couldn’t just look in the cabinet and see what was there. She told me I was missing the point. I had to agree.
Kitchen junk drawers exist because we have too much stuff for which we have no need. And now that the holiday season is upon us, there are ample opportunities for our gift-giving friends and family to give us even more stuff for which we have no need—stuff that will find its way into a junk drawer within mere weeks.
Geri and I used to celebrate Valentine’s Day by gifting each other with things that might be useful to our interests. Geri liked gardening and I gave her gardening things. I used to like to working in my shop and after getting five chalk lines in five years I suggested that perhaps we find a new gift-giving approach.
Those of us who like to cook are apt to receive thoughtful, yet absurdly useless gifts that are intended to make our kitchen lives easier. Actually, most of us who like to cook don’t care that much about making things easier, unless it’s a covered wastebasket with a foot pedal or an immersion blender.
In a brief search of the internet I found, for instance, three different banana-slicing devices. These devices must appeal to those who either don’t like knives or are afraid of them because they were forced to watch “slasher” movies as very young children. For that same crowd there are a couple of different gadgets to “split, pit and slice” an avocado. There’s also the Amco Adjustable Apple Corer & Slicer. It appears to be a plastic ring with metal parts that, when placed over an apple and then pushed down, produces eight slices and a throw-away core. For $27, it can join the Magic Mushroom Slicer and the plastic Lettuce-Only Knife in the junk drawer.
Still thinking about gadgets designed for people afraid of knives, there are the ten-blade Herb Scissors (imagine trying to clean that sucker) for a mere $12, and the OXO Good Grips Chopper, a one-cup, $16 chopping device that might bring back fond memories of playing Whac-A-Mole at Chucky Cheese’s.
For $46 you can buy the Berry Buddy, a hand-crafted stoneware strainer that is guaranteed to inflict carpal tunnel syndrome should you have an exceptionally good berry season. And on the flip side of the Stone Age colander are two high-tech devices that deserve mention. First, there is the Anova Sous Vide Precision Cooker that, for only $109, allows you to heat your food via Bluetooth connectivity with your Smartphone. I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like it might be a cross between boil-in-a-bag and take-out.
Not to be outdone, Williams Sonoma, where everything costs a mere 38% more than anywhere else in the free world, is offering the Smart Thermometer 2, a $100 device that features a “Wi-Fi smart” app that allows you to monitor your meal from anywhere in the known universe. I think Elton John should write a song about this.
Tomorrow’s Kitchen Instant Marinator is a steal at $40. There’s no description to accompany the picture, but it appears to be a squarish Tupperware-like container big enough to hold two, five-ounce salmon filets. It comes with a lid.
This season’s hands-down winner for completely, over-the-top useless kitchen gadgets is the Gourmet Pepper Grinder for a suggested retail price of $39. It is, truth be told, a pepper mill but, to quote the catalog, “rather than a novelty pepper mill, this allows the bottom dial to select an exact grain size, [thereby] avoiding any over-seasoned surprises.”
With all that is going on in the world in these tumultuous, stressful, uncertain, wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-screaming times, I’m deeply grateful that somebody out there understands that any “over-seasoned surprises” just might be my emotional undoing.
Photography of her own junk drawer by Courtney A. Liska