Issue 28

The Dumpster: For Good Measure

The Dumpster: For Good Measure

Recipes used to be simpler:
1. Hit pigeon with rock;
2. Pull off feathers;
3. Hold over fire until inside temperature reaches . . . ow!

Our ancestors learned the feather trick after some trial and error. Then came the invention of tools. Cooks, sensitive that they had previously done nothing but burn things, decided they would get more respect if they renamed every tool that applied to cooking. They stopped using sticks and started using “utensils.”

Once they invented the arrow, the knife and the alphabet, things changed fast. Food parts were cut into littler and littler bits until they became too little to eat, fostering the invention of bowls, mixers and measuring spoons to put it all back together again, according to a “recipe.” Cooks became “chefs.” And that’s when trouble began.

How could they screw up something as simple as a spoon? If a recipe calls for a tablespoon of ground pigeon flakes, you can’t use a spoon off the table and measure with it, because a regular spoon holds only a teaspoon. How much does an actual tea spoon hold? We don’t know, because even the British don’t use tea spoons. You stir tea with a demi-spoon, which, in spite of its name, is not half a spoon. We have a soup spoon but nobody measures with it, even though it holds nearly a tablespoon.

They also invented the “heaping” teaspoon, two words nobody thought would ever go together.

Does a drinking cup hold a cup? Of course not. It holds 1.5 cups. If I cup my hands I can carry one eighth of a cup. A cup holds eight ounces of flour, which weighs four ounces. See how easy it is? Maybe this is why we give up and just go to Burger King.

Heaven forbid we use the metric system like the rest of the educated world. You know you are on shaky ground when your only compatriots using cups, pints and quarts are the British who can’t be trusted with food or naming things.

The British call a spatula a “scoop.” The Scots call it a “tosser,” but that’s forgivable: if your homeland was famous for haggis you’d toss your food too.

I like indistinct measurements like a “pinch” and a “dash.” While not clear, at least they’re not confusing. Besides, they use our fingers, which we happen to have handy. We need more such measurements. For example, a “fistful” of cumin. Okay, maybe not cumin, because then you go around with your hand smelling like . . . cumin. Or how about a “finger” of cake frosting.

Maybe you’d argue that we shouldn’t measure using our body parts, because bodies aren’t consistent in size. I see that as a strength. A guy with big hands eats more, and his recipe would turn out accordingly. How about a “glom” of yogurt? A “swipe” of peanut butter? I know there is a “schmear” of cream cheese, but I always feel a little shorted.

I love coffee because I grind the coffee beans in a coffee grinder, put them in a coffee maker, and make coffee in a coffee cup. I appreciate that clarity first thing in the morning. Did we really need to call it a frying pan?
In my kitchen I have a whisk which is a mixer. My mixer uses beaters. I beat with a tenderizer which mashes. To mash potatoes I use a ricer, and I cook rice in the steamer while I steam vegetables in the colander before I toss them into a salad with dressing I whip up with my whisk.

My blender has buttons to chop, grate, crumb, puree, liquefy and whip. Guess what it doesn’t have a button for.

Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell

Michael Campbell is a songwriter and humor essayist. His “Dumpster” column closes every issue of Food & Spirits magazine. He has authored two books, including Are You Going To Eat That? (2009), and Of Mice and Me (2017). He also has four albums of original songs. The latest, My Turn Now, was released in 2015. Learn more at michaelcampbellsongwriter.com.


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