My Dad used this expression when I was a kid. I would help him in his workshop, holding tools in place or handing them over from the bench as he tinkered. Before I could do much in the kitchen with its hot stove and high counters, I could make myself useful with Daddy. My post today is about good thingamajigs for a foodie, but if you’ll let me digress, I’ll give you the background for my silly title…
Learning the myriad of tools in my Dad’s workshop was an exciting challenge. For example, did you know there are three different kinds of screws and screwdrivers? The square one, called a Robertson, is named after the Canadian fellow who invented it? (It is generally regarded as the best for its ability to tighten well.) Screws are different than bolts; bolts get tightened with nuts, using a wrench (which the British call a spanner; hence the expression of having a spanner in the works – as in, things are stuck, not working right.) I loved understanding how it all fit together.
I remember asking him where the expression came from (“who’s Dolly? and what does she need a thingamajig for?”). He chuckled, and said it was something my Ovi used to say in his workshop (his dad – Ovi is Icelandic for Grampa) I would learn years later that the original expression didn’t use the word “thingamajig”. I’m sure you can imagine what guys in their workshops might say, and when I tell you the urban dictionary’s definition for the expression is “a good fit, a perfect match”… well, you can figure the rest out.
Fast forward to my later years, spending more time in the kitchen, and my love for a good gadget is still alive and well. I don’t like silly things, but a tool that is designed for a specific task and does it well deserves appreciation. My sense of curiosity is piqued when I see nifty new things. A recent stop at our local kitchen and houseware store, Lakehouse Home Store, did not disappoint.
⇐ It’s always good to have proper cleaning utensils, and now that we have travel mugs, metal straws and all kinds of re-useable containers, these brushes could come in handy.
⇒Silicone is the 21st century all-purpose material for many kitchen gadgets. This wreath shape could be used for many purposes, adding air circulation and reducing bottom heat. It sure beats jury-rigging a similar set-up with ramekins or racks.
⇐I was intrigued by the concept of a self-heating butter knife, possibly because that morning my hubbie had used up all the softened butter and put out a hard piece – not good for spreading on fresh bread.
⇒If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, you need to get one. This model is compact and easy-to-use, and comes at a competitive price. I can’t believe I made bread and cakes without one for years.
⇐ While not so much a kitchen item, this bottle holder solves my never-ending dilemma of always having too many things in my hands. I wondered if perhaps I could use it while retrieving things from the fridge…
I love to visit kitchen stores not just at home but also whenever we travel, and often there is one near a farmer’s market or central foodie neighbourhood. In Seattle, a perfect example of this exists in Sur La Table. This foodie mecca is adjacent to the famous Pike’s Place Market. Vancouver has a small store on Granville Island, where its popular market exists, but my favourite pick in the city by the sea is Gourmet Warehouse, a place that lives up to its name. A word to the wise: make sure you check the rules where you park, as you are sure to be in there a while, and tickets in Vancouver are expensive.
In Calgary, where I grew up, the foodie hangout is a bit on its own. Over the years there have been lovely pastry shops nearby, but I am sad to report they have not survived. (If anyone knows of a Danish bakery anywhere in North America that makes kringles with a custard filling, I’ll add it to my foodie bucket list!) But parking is easy when you visit The Cookbook Co. Cooks and it’s a treasure trove of goodies. When you’re done shopping, wander to the back of the store and you’ll find Metrovino, a delightful wine shop that can help you decide what to drink with dinner.
On my foodie bucket list of places to visit is an amazing shop in Paris, E. Dehillerin. I was in there once years ago, and picked up a few lovely mementos, but I hope to return and buy a copper pot. (Their English website is charmingly awkward in its text, but the pictures will fuel your dreams.)
A good tool is like a friend. Cooking is often a solitary task, but with my collection of nifty things gathered over the years I feel as though I’m surrounded by soulmates, even if no one is coming for dinner.
Have you got a favourite tool or gadget? Do you have a place you like to go to find things? Please share!
When I was a kid, I spent time in the kitchen with my Gramps. He was my first babysitter, and the first one to help develop my tastebuds, so needless to say we were good pals. I learned quickly to decipher many of Gramps’ expressions… thingamajigs, and whatchamacallits mostly. In context, and especially with a child’s brain, it was easy to know that he meant he wanted the particular tool for the job – a wooden spoon to stir a pot of something, or a can opener… We managed just fine with our shared language.
As I got older, I learned expressions, too. These ones I use to this day:
Six of one, half dozen of another.
One horse, one rabbit. (that one is still my favourite; much more unique than the first even though they mean the same thing. I mean, literally “the same thing”.)
I think all this expressive talk throughout my upbringing was meant to prepare me for cooking old-fashioned recipes. Have you ever come across some of the terms cooks of old use? For example, my marmalade recipe calls for “a nob of butter”. Just how much is a nob, you are probably saying?
Well, thanks to Google almost anything has some information listed but as I learned to cook I had to do more sleuthing. It seems that whether you spell it with a k or not (knob), the amount is similar to a knob on a cupboard (a bit bigger than a tablespoon). If you want to get technical, the most exact description I could find shows that a “nob” is more likely to be slang for a wealthy British fellow (also called a “toff”) or in more of a vulgar sense, the name for a part of a man’s anatomy (I’m sure you can guess which part). A “knob” is where the butter comes in, which is what leads one to think it was in comparison to a cupboard knob.
When I spent a year of university in France, I took on the task of translating old recipes from the 18th and 19th centuries to edit into a cookbook. There were terms such as “dessert spoon” (not small like I thought, but more like a tablespoon), and glassful (based on a juice glass, so again smaller, about 5 ounces). Of course some of the terms did become standard, like tablespoons and teaspoons and even cups (based on an 8 ounce cup).
Here’s a few more for you, just for fun:
- dash – 1/8 teaspoon
- pinch – smaller than a dash, about 1/16 teaspoon *(what fits between your thumb & forefinger when you pinch them)
- spoonful – a heaping tablespoon (in our house, we call this a Chef’s tablespoon)
- jigger – 1-1/2 oz (Gramps used this one too – he put a jigger full of rye in his cocktail)
- peck – 8 quarts, or 32 cups (you know, as in “I love you, a bushel and a peck” – now you know just how much that is!)
So, as always, my message here is to keep your sense of humour in the kitchen, and if all else fails, use your imagination. After all, if someone handed you one of these vintage kitchen tools, what would you do with it?