Saturday, June 25, 2022

Thinking Outside The Dent

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 27, 2022] ©2022

Over the years, I have found that some of my best kitchen tools would be under the heading of “off label,” i.e., not originally designed for kitchen use. Or at least their original kitchen use. 

Several decades ago, in the dark days before Amazon, I found myself unhappy with the selection of wimpy meat pounders at my local kitchen store and ended up purchasing a large rubber mallet at what was then Kragen Auto Parts. I’d been inspired by seeing one in action at the service station and thought, “Yup, that’s exactly what I need.” Chicken or meat or even bags of nuts wouldn’t stand a chance against this sucker.

I still vividly remember the saga of its acquisition. 

The main problem was explaining what I wanted to the Kragen guy since I didn’t look like the kind of person who pounds dents out of automobiles. 

“So, what are you going to use it for again?” the nice sales guy queried, totally puzzled.

“Well, for example, making chicken piccata,” I said. 

The salesman pondered this for a moment. 

 “You know this is an auto parts store, right?”

“It makes the chicken really flat,” I explained.  “But I think it will work equally well for schnitzel or even nut topping for streusel.”

I could sense this guy wanting to back away from me.  But shortly thereafter, he returned with a large rubber mallet.  Alas, the mallet head was black. “Is this what you want?” 

“Exactly!” I said.  “But what other colors does it come in?” A black rubber mallet would look really ugly in my kitchen. Way too, well, automotive-y.

“Lady,” he said, exasperated, “It’s a mallet.  It doesn’t come in colors.” 

But as luck would have it, another sales person, who was likely fired within minutes of my departure, piped up, “Actually I think they come in white too.” 

Amazingly enough, they were able to order me one in white. When I came to pick it up, the guy at the desk said, “The chicken lady, right?” I smiled, “You know, you guys should really be thinking outside the dent.” 

Thirty-some years later, this mallet has been one of the most versatile kitchen gadgets I’ve ever owned. I was tempted to bring the Kragen guys some chicken piccata just so they could see what a phenomenal job it does. But frankly, they looked more like mac n’ cheese people.

Another great “Didn’t-come-from-Williams-Sonoma” gadget is a pair of surgical forceps, acquired from a medical supply store.  I’ve had these for at least 25 years now.  They’re perfect for sautéing really small items.  I figured that anything that could keep a firm grip on internal organs would probably be able to hang on to gnocchi.  As it turned out, these forceps also worked well for tormenting my then-15-year-old son. Kids that age don’t want to know about female anatomy unless it belongs to someone in their own demographic.  Henry watched me cooking with the forceps one evening and commented that it looked a lot like a surgical tool.  “Yes,” I replied, “the surgeon gave it to me as a souvenir after my hysterectomy.  But, don’t worry -  I ran it through the dishwasher first!  Hey, where are you going?” 

OK, I admit it.  It was mean. But maybe you’ve never lived with a 15-year-old boy. Revenge is where you find it. 

Moving right along, Olof decided several years back to re-create his family’s Christmas cookie recipe to send to all the family, including decorating them, his job as a child.  He even included a batch of anatomically-correct ginger people to punk his sisters.  (They were strangely unappreciative.) After trying numerous implements to decorate his cookies and gingerbread persons, he discovered that the ultimate tool was a tiny screw driver that we kept on hand for adjusting the screws on top of sprinkler heads.  It got dishwashered first, of course.

But my most recent kitchen innovation has been to use an adjustable rubber jar lid opener as a grip for a glass with ice in it.  Let me just say that it is perfect for older persons with mildly arthritic hands to keep a good grip on their gin and tonic.  There is nothing worse than sitting out on a nice early summer night with an adult beverage only to have to slide through your fingers and splash all over your orthopedic pillow. Growing older is a constant process of accommodations.   I think I should apply for a patent.

I’ve been writing this column for nearly 14 years now and I honestly can’t think why I never managed to write on this important topic. (OK, the job lid opener is a newer innovation.) 

Of course, now there’s Amazon and the choices are pretty much unlimited so creativity isn’t required. Somebody somewhere is selling just what you want. But it still never hurts to think outside the gadget.

                                             Assorted off-label kitchen tools
Jar opener makes perfect G&T gripper

                          Olof decorating ginger persons with tiny screwdriver (in dish)

Note: Images of piccata making and hysterectomy not available


Saturday, June 11, 2022

Please Don't Do This To Your Kids

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 13, 2022] ©2022

Have I ever mentioned that on my mother’s side of the family, I am the only one in my generation, including my siblings, who is not a hoarder? 

My cousins and the sibs wouldn’t quite qualify for one of those cable TV shows.  Well, maybe one of them.  OK, two.  They are more selective hoarders, particularly books.  And, of course, National Geographics.

What is it about National Geographics that make people hang on to them forever?   I know people who have moved twelve times and while the dining room set or even the kids didn’t always make the cut, the National Geographics invariably end up on the truck. 

It’s probably just as well that I live in a small built-by-the-lowest-bidder-after-The-War 1947 cottage with teeny closets and no garage, attic or basement.  If we buy something, we have to give something else away.

Lack of space, however, has not deterred my various relatives.  I learned only recently that one of my cousins actually lived in a four-bedroom two-bath home which I always assumed from visits was a two-bedroom one-bath home.  The other two bedrooms and bath were just full of stuff.

Ultimately, they maxed out on space and bought a new house solely on the basis that it has TWO basements. Even so, my cousin admitted that they are footing an $8,000-a-year bill for outside storage. 

My cousin added that the trustee for their estate only accepted that responsibility “with the stipulation that she had no responsibility for the immense quantity of ‘collectibles’ clogging up our home.” Smart move.

In the interests of transparency, I will confess that my sons consider my formerly 67-now-36 albums of family photos to be hoarding. I myself think of photos as “artistic curation.” 

The kids had long been threatening to cremate me after my untimely death with the photo albums that I had amassed over the years. It would be a two-fer; get rid of Mom and the albums all at once. 

But at least my “hoard” was confined to one (very large) bookcase.

My dear friend Eleanor actually maintains that she found a cure for her husband’s hoarding. “I put my husband’s stuff that he wouldn’t get rid of in storage, then stopped paying the bill after three months.” This is brilliant in its simplicity. 

On two occasions in my life, I have been tasked with cleaning out the home of a hoarder relative.  For the record, most of the organizations that pick up donations will only take 25 boxes at a time.  That house took me eight months.

When I ended up cleaning out my aunt’s home in Hard-To-Get-There Ohio, distance and time constraints required a 35-foot dumpster, which we filled up the first day. My aunt (never married, no kids) literally had magazines dating back to the late 1800s. And yes, National Geographics.  The house had been in our family since 1860.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can acquire in 145 years.

Some weeks ago, the New York Times had an article about “death cleaning,” i.e., going through your possessions long before your demise so that your relatives are not burdened with the truly onerous task of separating the wheat from the trash.  One of the subsequent Letters to the Editor really caught my eye.  The writer, after noting that she wasn’t planning to spend a single moment of her precious time culling her abundance of possessions, including 15 years of New Yorker magazines, rationalized it like this:

“Isn’t it enough,” she queries, “that my children will receive whatever is left?  Gosh, there’s some pretty good stuff in that mess.  And isn’t it possible that inching their way through it will prove to be an interesting and rewarding treasure hunt?  And won’t this exercise tell them things about me that could not be learned any other way, adding mortar to their memory, and perhaps even their regard for me?”


Let me assure you, Letter Writer, their regard for you will be in the dumpster (along with most of your stuff) by the time they’re done “inching” through your lifetime’s collection of detritus. 

“Interesting” and “rewarding” are not two adjectives I’d ever use in cleaning out the home of a hoarder.  It’s true that my aunt’s house in Ohio produced some wonderful treasures, like stereopticons, gorgeous oil lamps, and some ornate ewers - intermixed, alas, with multiple cases of 40-year-old Jell-O, cartons of ratty underwear preserved in 1952 newspaper (she was a child of the Depression), and a huge freezer that was a veritable biohazard.

I remember showing my (hoarder) cousin a freezer container labeled “raspberries, 1968”. (It was 2004.)  She said, “Maybe they’re still good?”

So, please. Do not do this to your poor children!  For every “treasure” they might find after your demise, there will be 200 moments of fervent praying, “Please don’t let this be hereditary.” 



Sunday, June 5, 2022

I May Have Outlived My Time

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 6, 2022] ©2022

My worst fear isn’t dying.  It’s having to get new electronics.

Seriously, I don’t know what I’m going to do when the iPhone 30 comes out and my iPhone 7 simply won’t work anymore.  As I’ve said before, I know many people (that would include my own sons) who can’t wait to upgrade to the latest phone.  Me, I’d rather eat my own organs. 

Those nice people at the phone store always insist that they’ll do all the work for me and I won’t even notice the difference. They lie.  Not one single app that I had used before will ever work the same.  Apple will have upgraded it so that whatever features were simple and obvious require an engineering degree, or a user under ten.  My grandchildren intuitively know how to work this stuff.  But then, they study the phone nook that was built into the wall of my 1947 home and ask, “But where did you plug in the charger?”

My grandchildren are growing up with ever-changing technology so it comes easily to them.  But for me (and many in my age group), learning any new technology is just plain stressful.

My friend Ingrid sent me this message some time back about her boyfriend Mike (my age) which I keep taped to my bulletin board because it is such a delicious fantasy:

Hi Inga,

Did I ever tell you that one day I went to Mike’s house and noticed that his computer was gone? He said he was so frustrated with it that he took it out in the garage, took a hammer and beat the hell out of it. It ended up in the garbage can. Mike never bought another one.

I feel you, Mike.

Other than self-driving cars, an innovation I can really get my head around, I’ve clearly outlived my time. I grew up in an era when TV sets and household appliances did not need manuals. (Yes, really.) When paid parking required putting coins in a meter.  Where I understood light bulbs. Where I’m not completely thwarted by a self-service scanner at CVS. Where you didn’t need to use an app on your phone to check out a library book (which, by the way, takes five times longer than using a library card). 

And don’t even get me started on those Japanese toilets.  Personally, I think that people who don’t leave specific instructions taped to the wall behind them deserve what they get.  I hope you’re getting my drift there.  That’s my second favorite fantasy after smashing my computer into little tiny bits.

Some areas of technology that I was really looking forward to have utterly failed, in my view.  Like security cameras.  I’ve written about the spate of crime in our area and the frustrated efforts of my neighbors to rein in what seems to be a nightly onslaught of bike thieves, garage break-ins, porch pirates, creepy trespassers, and brazen burglary attempts even when people are home, all caught up-close-and-personal on their home security cameras and then posted on Next Door. 

Alas, security cameras are purely for entertainment purposes. Crime reduction or criminal apprehension, not so much.  You just get to watch people stealing your packages or your car or breaking into your house in real time. Sometimes the perps even wave

I have definitely found it is a mental health move to rant about technology from time to time.  Otherwise, I truly would be sorely tempted to follow Mike’s lead and inflict violence upon my computer, and maybe even my phone too.

I remember in some long-ago anthropology class where some cultures, not wishing to waste precious food resources on non-productive elders, set them adrift on an ice floe, probably in the direction of some hungry-looking polar bears, and waved bye-bye.   This worked better in cold climates than, say, the Kalahari Desert, where the equivalent was probably tying a tying a slab of raw meat around mom and dad and leaving them on the savannah.  Where was I going with this?  Ah yes, people outliving their time. But maybe those old folks were ready to go. I fantasize them floating off to sea saying, “Don’t tell the kids but we just so sick of trying to get reliable Wi-fi in the igloo. How hard was dog sledding over to the neighbors?”

It is a common lament among people in my demographic to wish that daily life didn’t seem to require tech support in the form of adult kids or alas, actual tech support. We don’t want to have to ask anybody how to do what always used to be simple things.  The irony is that we all agree that at one point in our lives, we were really excited about future innovations. Who knew that the Smith-Corona electric typewriter that revolutionized my college career was going to be such a slippery slope?

But I still wouldn’t mind one of those self-driving cars.