Let me preface this by saying that the following can obviously be filed under “first world problems;” the fact that I have more than a battered tin pot in which to boil gruel means that none of this actually matters, but that’s not going to stop me from rambling on about it, anyway. You’ve been warned.
I am probably better at recalling the various cooking implements from my past than I am at conjuring memories of past boyfriends. This may be because cooking is more meaningful to me, or it may be because I have a weird memory. Hard to tell. I’m guessing it’s okay with Otto, though, as being regaled with tales of “that old frying pan I should’ve kept” may be kind of boring, but at least he never has to wonder if I’m mentally comparing our life together to amazing pie I once baked, or whatever. (Please note my restraint! I first had something here about comparing handles and then I thought better of it! Except… oh. Whoops.)
The thing is, we recently bought some new pots and it made me realized that I think I might be having a midlife cooking crisis. Does that even exist? I think it might.
It all started when I worked a crappy department store job between my freshman and sophomore years of college. I’d hoped to be planted in the designer clothing, but found myself stuck in housewares with a bunch of women three times my age. No matter; I would work hard for that $3.35/hour, because this was before I’d realized that I’m basically a lazy person.
I set about learning about everything we sold, and at the tender age of 18 I was able in very short order to explain why a burr coffee grinder was supposedly preferable to one with blades, which ice cream maker was most highly rated by consumer reports, and which cookware was best for what needs. We didn’t work on commission, but the manager looked over our sales reports and I understood that if cuts were needed, I was not only last hired but also the only person who couldn’t plead mouths to feed at home. (The only mouth I fed with my earnings was my own. Once I got back to college that TCBY wasn’t going to buy itself, y’know.)
Circulon cookware was relatively new, back then, and we touted it as the latest innovation in stovetop wonderment, roughly on par with the moon landing in terms of societal advancement. Because it had GROOVES, you see, and that meant the non-stick coating would never, ever come off!
[Aside: Know what else was new, back then? Vornado fans. We used to set one up facing the ceiling and then leave a beach ball twisting in its stream, right in the middle of the department. People used to come stand there and watch it for, okay, not hours, but certainly tens of minutes on end. Sure, it cost $50—approximately five times the cost of a “regular” fan—but you could suspend a beach ball above it! It was like a fan and a disco ball all in one!]
I loved the Circulon. I loved everything about it. I don’t know why; at that time, my culinary prowess was limited to Kraft macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs. But it just seemed to me like the sort of thing Real Cooks™ would use. We received some sample pieces that the manager was allowed to dole out to the staff. I got my very own 1-quart pot to take home.
As a family of four, a 1-quart pot is pretty much useless. Heck, even for two people it’s kind of ridiculous, because it only holds one quart when filled to the very brim. For actual usage, it holds about a pint worth. For a single college kid, it was just the right size to heat up a can of soup. Woo! I treasured that pot and hand-washed it and dreamed of the day I could own an entire set of Circulon. (Yes, I know, it brings a little tear to the eye. I had BIG DREAMS, even then.)
Before I left the department store job to head back to school, I used my employee discount to spring for a 3-quart Circulon pot. It was of suitable girth to prepare a box of mac-n-cheese.
When I moved into an apartment my junior year, I brought my two pots and hit the thrift store. There I found a funny-looking little frying pan, extremely heavy, and enamel-coated inside and out. I bought it because the outer enamel was flame orange and I thought it was pretty. I paid $2.99 for the pan, and often joked that I was afraid I might drop it on my foot and break a toe. I also picked up some baking sheets and a casserole pan, plus some additional stuff along the way, and now my rag-tag kitchen was fully stocked to where I could cook pretty much anything my limited repertoire could want.
When it came time to pack up and move across the country to grad school, I donated the little orange frying pan back to the thrift store, opting instead to buy a couple of non-stick skillets once I settled in. It would be years later that I would realize that stupid little pan that used to hurt my wrists was a Le Creuset and I probably would be delighted to have it now (particularly at that price), had I kept it.
A year into grad school I was engaged, and I was like a kid in a candy shop as we spent a day at Macy’s registering for all of the Circulon we could ever possibly want. Our wedding guests were generous, and by the time we wed, I finally had an entire kitchen’s worth of the stuff, plus the items I’d accumulated beforehand. Over the years we then added a few more specialty pieces, like a giant stock pot and an oversized sauteuse, which sounds much fancier than it actually is.
When I got divorced, it became an awful ongoing joke with my friends that my ex kept asking for items to “make things more fair,” even if they were things that were clearly mine or, even if joint property, things that he’d clearly never use. My ex doesn’t cook, but we argued over the Circulon more than once. “I cook. You don’t cook,” I would say to him. “Besides, I have to have cookware here to COOK FOR THE KIDS. Take my grad school stuff to get you started.” No, he wanted the Circulon. I refused to budge, and kept it.
When Otto and I got married, we began the mingling and purging of items, and ended up with… mostly my Circulon. By this time, the 3-quart pot had been dropped and dented and the lid no longer fit. The first generation of frying pans had long since bit the dust and been replaced with new ones. And the 1-quart pot was still pristine, as it hardly ever gets used. The two greatest accomplishments of the marriage of our kitchens: 1) What we now refer to as the crock pot farm (no, you can never have too many crock pots) and 2) the discovery that southerners were absolutely correct that a cast-iron fry pan smooths over a multitude of kitchen shortcomings (mmmmm, cornbread).
Today my original two pots are over twenty years old, because I am a fossil. Even the first-wedding acquisitions are nearly old enough to vote, and while some cookware is designed to last forever, anything with a non-stick coating is… not. My original attachment to the wonder of having fried eggs with an embedded circular pattern on the underside has given way to fears that I’m giving us all brain cancer via tasty bits of flaking Teflon.
So Otto and I started talking about replacing our cookware, and we talked about it the way we do most things, which is to say we talk about it and conclude that Yes! We should absolutely Do Something! And then there’s something in television I feel it’s imperative that we watch—preferably with popcorn—and I forget all about it. Or, I decide to absolutely Do Something and I start looking at prices online and I pass out.
I’m not looking to outfit the entire kitchen in All-Clad or anything, either. But good cookware is pricy.
Finally, in a stroke of decisiveness coupled with a gift card and a sale, we are the proud owners of new 2-quart and 3-quart pots. (These ones, if you’re curious.) With glass lids! And no coating! And a weird notched thingie which allows you to hang the lids on the pot edge, upright, so that you can… ummm… I’m not sure. Celebrate having weird notched lids that can be hung on the sides of your pots? Maybe.
I ceremoniously dropped my old 3-quart and 2-quart pots into the garbage, after a brief discussion of the merits of donation vs. possibly poisoning someone too poor to afford new cookware.
It’s a start. Of course, not until purchasing those pots did we discover that the coordinating 6-quart pot is only available as part of the entire set, which we don’t need. My existing Circulon 5-quart is, of course, the next-most-battered piece. At some point I have to decide if I’m
crazy dedicated enough to buy the set for the stock pot, then sell the rest of the pieces on eBay or whatever. I doubt I’ll do that. Maybe eventually they’ll sell it separately?
Now our cookware cabinet has old, scuffed Circulon mingling with the shiny new stainless pieces. Part of me would like an entire set of perfectly matched cookware, from tiny saucepans all the way up to a massive dutch oven, and part of me knows that the cost involved would give me hives. That’s aside from the fact that we are really just not picture-perfect kitchen kind of people. Both Otto and I love to cook, and we are both decent at it, but messy. Whether or not all the pots coordinate is generally the least of our problems. I realize this.
(My father asked me this weekend what I’m going to “do for aggravation” now that Monkey is doing so much better. I didn’t have an answer for him then, but now I’m thinking—shop for cookware! Thank goodness!)