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The kitchen could use more old-fashioned ingenuity 'I love my ugly old potato masher, old being the operative word.'

Give green gadgets for the holiday. Despite the multitude of electrical kitchen doodads that crowd the shelves, and despite the quantity of battery-operated ones, there are a fair number of manual items that don't adversely affect the environment and do the same job.

Sometimes they even do a better one.

Consider the potato masher. It's a klutzy wire-like thing set on a long handle that smashes cooked spuds with a minimum of effort, getting them as smooth or lumpy as your little cook's heart desires. (Sometimes you might leave a lump or two for authenticity.)

I love my ugly old potato masher, old being the operative word. Would you believe it's the same one someone gave me at a gadget shower before I was married? Not only is it maintenance-free, it also works well on squash, and for some sauces, too.

We might even forget about the electric immersion blender.

Talking about pureeing, let me briefly mention a tool once owned by my late mother-in-law. It's a weird looking thing called a food mill. You work it by turning a handle, and nothing makes better applesauce or tomato soup -- out fly the seeds, out flies the skin. I get exactly the texture I'm looking for.

You can still buy food mills, though they probably cost much more than my mother-in-law paid. Still, they cost less both in cash and in energy than an electric food processor.

I could go on and on: I like an old-fashioned box grater that you clutch in your hand as you grate vegetables like potatoes for latkes. (Watch your fingernails, though.) The food processor always turns the veggies to mush. Today I received a sample of something called a touch screen probe thermometer (again, with batteries). It's distributed by an Oregon company frighteningly called Component Design Northwest.

I use my instant-read thermometer instead -- it's not even a digital one. My manually operated timer -- just turn the dial -- clips to my belt and it will buzz when it needs to.

I don't mean to sound like a fogey, because some new gadget ideas are good. The manually operated mandoline used to create ultra-thin slices works better than a food processor, and the prices are coming down fast. They once cost $150 or more; now you see them for $50. And though the energy expended is no different -- unless you count your own personal energy -- I love the new angled measuring cups. You don't have to raise the cup up to see what you've got when dealing with liquids -- you can look right down. Such genius.

But then I get depressed all over again when I see things like battery operated salt and pepper mills. They look sleek and cost $59.95 apiece or $99.95 for the pair, a bargain. Just press the button and season.

But how much work is that? Let us consider another genius manual product. You can buy McCormick grinders for several spices in the grocery store. You turn the mechanism that's built right into the top of the spice jar itself. My only quibble here is that the jar is disposable and can not be refilled, although the supply does last for quite a while and you don't need to replace the grinders often.

Not only that -- the grinders sell for about $3 or so apiece. And not only that -- they fit better in a Christmas stocking.


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