Thermomixed Up, Part 6: Enough is Enough (For This Year)
Since the subject of this long (and getting longer!) discursion is possessions, wealth and culture; and since I have (nominally) positioned myself, on the subject of consumerism, as a scold, let’s call this a confession:
I have coveted a deli-style meat slicer for no less than 30 years.
When I was about 18 my high school girlfriend’s family slaughtered a steer.
Laurie’s and I had a love that was so true, that against both her and my parents’ ostensible wishes, we regularly and openly slept in each other’s beds; and I still recall being awakened by the pop of a gun shot, and by the time I was dressed and downstairs, Bella, which I had helped feed, was hoisted by a small derrick on the back of a butcher’s truck.
Within a day or two there was to be a celebratory feast. Steak! But in truth, the prospect of steak didn’t strike me as especially festive. Growing up a doctor’s son in La Jolla, California steak was a staple; by memory two or three times a week.
It didn’t strike me as especially lavish either.
I’ve got a good head for numbers, and when I went shopping with my mother, I could see how much she paid for the porterhouse she’d buy, and could easily calculate the cost per person when the porterhouse was panfried (in a well-blackened cast iron skillet), sliced, and divided up between the four of us (my father, mother, sister, and myself).
Because this was my idea of a steak dinner, the use of Steak as shorthand for opulent abundance puzzled me.
Until I found myself sitting with my girlfriend and family, five of us gathered around the dinner table, each of us with our own porterhouse, big enough to extend beyond the borders of our plates.
“Ah, this is steak”, I thought. “This is Steak!”
My father moved to California to surf, many of the friends he made were men who had grown up around the beach in the 40s and 50s, and many of the tales I heard around the dinner table were of the verdancy of the California coastline “back in the day.”
The lobster, abalone, halibut, and yellowtail they talked about could still be found, though not in the same plenty, white seabass were a rarity, black seabass even more scare (to the point of being illegal to take), and pismo clams non-existant.
I suppose the fact that I couldn’t have them gave the clams a mythical quality.
And I suppose that’s why when I moved to Montauk (also for surf) and found that the bay bottoms were choked with quahogs I became an enthusiastic shellfisherman. This is also when I began to covet a stainless steel turkey fryer.
The merits of the turkey fryer are not complicated or difficult to defend.
It produces vasty more heat (~150,000btu) which means clams can be steamed by the bushel. The cooking, with the attendant odors and mess, is done outdoors. As to the $50 difference between the aluminum model and the stainless steel model, boiling water over a giant jet of flame seems to be perfected technology, so buy best, buy once.
Yet still I hesitated.
Cabela’s catalogs came and went, and I debated.
Turkey frying came into vogue and still I was undecided.
A New York journalist friend was visiting the boat shop recently and confessed his first thought when hearing about an appalling murder in a desirable section of Brooklyn was that people will be making contact with the building’s super about the deceased’s apartment’s availability. This is not the first time this quip has been made about a murder or other gruesome death in New York. The obits section has long been a haunt for apartment seekers, and the difficulty of securing housing in New York City will test even a strong man’s principles.
It’s my belief that absent the institution of marriage, romantically involved couples should not co-mingle their finances. People who are in love are not in their right mind, and I believe they should avoid economic interdependence without the additional social and legal support of the marriage contract.
Paternal as it may be, I believe this is doubly true for women. There are inequities baked into our society that even the most self-aware and progressive person, much like a fish in the sea, swims within without taking notice. I will counsel my daughters not buy rims for their boyfriends’ cars, and certainly not to enter into any mutually dependent real estate purchases.
This will likely mark me as a hypocrite, as my daughters’ mother and I bought our first property together before we were even engaged, let alone married. By way of explanation I’ll tell them that the cost of the apartment was one third what their mother and I were paying for rent separately, and was also walking distance to where their mother worked.
For our first co-habitating Christmas, I asked my wife for “good knives”.
My wife thought this was some sort of aspirational want, born of my upbringing as a doctor’s son (even after 15 years, my wife will routinely tease me as having been raised on the “mean streets of La Jolla”.) There were no such knives in her mother’s kitchen in the abandoned Flatbush victorian, purchased from the city for taxes and rehabbed by her conscripted older brothers and sisters house that she grew up in.
But in fact, there were no such knives in my mother’s kitchen on Monte Vista avenue either. My mother had (and still has) what I guess must have been a wedding gift bread knife, and a motley assortment of other knives. None of them cut especially well, and though my mother was an excellent cook, I don’t recall anything she served requiring high knife skills.
Of course when I first got my turkey fryer I used it all the time. We steamed clams, we steamed oysters, we steamed crabs and lobsters. I learned to make fried chicken and tempura. I even fried a few turkeys.
But over time the novelty wore thin, and now it usually takes stay-over house guests, with the accompanying trip to go clamming to get the fryer fired up.
We’ve also touted it, along with the two Weber Kettles we have as being a part of our “fully-equipped outdoor kitchen” when listing our house for Summer rental.
But mostly it sits on our patio, making me feel ambivalent about how much use it’s (not) getting.
My father is one of those skinny Irish guys who has trouble keeping weight on. He’s a light eater. The remains of the porterhouse steaks my mom pan-fried often appeared the next day as steak sandwiches; the meat sliced in thick strips and served well-salted on a hard roll or toasted Roman meal bread.
My father loved these sandwiches. In my mind’s eye, I can see him tearing into them with relish. But I did not.
I did not like them because I didn’t care for the flavor or texture of the cold steak. My young jaw couldn’t reliably cut through the sandwich and I’d end up dragging out whole strips of meat, destroying the sandwich in the process, and chewing the chunks was laborious and unsavory. Left-over chicken or turkey was also served this way and it was similarly frustrating and unsatisfying.
On rare occasions my mother would indulge in deli cold-cuts, and I liked sandwiches made from the thinly sliced meat and cheese very much. I sometimes lobbied for the acquisition of a deli meat slicer on the grounds that it would be an excellent value proposition, but my mother was unmoved.
As an adult I’ve gazed longingly at meat slicers, in the Cabela’s catalog and elsewhere, imaging turning the cheap and tasty roasts that my wife produces in her convection oven into paper-thin sandwich meat, but I haven’t made the purchase because I’ve learned that if the meat is well chilled, I can cut very thin (though not paper-thin) slices with one of my “good knives.”
Most recently my meat-slicer lust has been reignited after I brought our panini press down to the boat-shop and the ensuing trips to the nearby supermarket deli counter. At $7.99/pound it wouldn’t take long to pay for a slicer, even if we abandoned it after the build.
But just a few days ago on Twitter, Megan McArdle told me that owning deli-style meat slicers isn’t as great as you think it’s going to be, and I believe her; if anyone ought to know, it’s her.
“Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.” — Jaroslav Pelikan
Sometimes when I use my Presto electric knife sharpener on my Henckel chef’s knife, I feel like I’m cheating, or doing something wrong. Sometimes I don’t think about it at all.