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I met a lovely young lady at the Thrift Shop  on base today. She’s volunteered to sort donations to keep busy while her new husband is in Qatar. She and her newly minted airman got married quickly and didn’t have time to register for the ridiculously overpriced items people register for (because really, are you going to waste your own money on a waffle iron you probably won’t ever use? To make waffles, anyhow). But they received some gift cards to get their house up and running. The young lady asked everyone for their top five kitchen must haves. Only five? Lord. I have a draw full of ‘must haves’ but I narrowed it down to the following items. Note: she isn’t much of a cook yet, so I left off specialized equipment and appliances.

1. A good knife. I have a block full of nice, pricey knives and a drawer full of sundry knives Kirk and I collected before we were married, but this knife is my favorite. Why? Because the second I picked it up it felt perfect in my hand. I knew I could use it to chop and slice (it would take care of all the basic cutting I needed to do. Come the day I gut a fish, I’ll look for a paring knife).  It felt like I could go through a lot of onions without a blister.Those little indents along the side keep the potatoes from sticking.  Spend some dough on your knife. Not a fortune, but maybe a little more than you’d like.  You don’t need one that has to be shipped back to Japan to be sharpened. Get if from a reputable store that will take it back if you hate it, and make sure it has its own warranty.

2. Functional, multipurpose tools. I love a pretty, colored spatula as much as the next girl. Like most pretty utensils, they are meant to be looked at, not used. They melt in pots, retain the odor of garlic and onion, they turn an orange hue if you say, can’t find your ladle and use it in spaghetti sauce, the handle and the head are two separate pieces so they come apart while you are stirring cookie dough and are tough to clean. After awhile I wised up and got some pretty ugly yet highly functional utensils from Pyrex. I also recommend kitchen shears (because you should not use your office or sewing scissors to cut up a chicken) and a pair of tongs. Tongs are good for: grilling, squeezing citrus, serving salad and pasta, turning over chicken while baking in the oven, grabbing things that fall on the bottom of the hot oven before they start on fire. . . just get some ok?

3. A set of glass bowls. You can find these anywhere and you can use them for anything. Mixing, premeasured ingredients, microwaving, storage, serving pieces (why hide a gorgeous salad in a bowl no one can see through?), snack bowls, cereal bowls when you forget to run the dishwasher, candle holders, double boiler, to take to pot lucks (because they are inexpensive if someone doesn’t give it back you won’t lie awake thinking of ways to break into her kitchen and get it), turn upside down over a cheesecake to keep it from cratering, and if you take pictures of food for a blog, it makes a good steady place to put your camera.

4. Cookbooks. I know, I know. In the age of Kindle, iPads, netbooks and internet in the kitchen, aren’t books with paper pages obsolete? Probably. But I’m a firm believer there isn’t anything like holding an actual book in your hands. Flipping through the pages to look for recipes. Dogearring the recipes you want to use again and again. So I suggest at least a basic cookbook like Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It has all the casserole recipes your mom used to make. It has the basics on everything from pancakes to mashed potatoes. It has substitutions, meat temperature guides, freezer tips . . . you get the idea. Nothing wrong with printing off recipes from the internet, especially since the comments can be so useful. But having a cookbook around is a good idea.

5. A splurge. Half of the battle of cooking is wanting to get into the kitchen. So splurge on one thing that gets you really excited to use. A food processor. A crock pot, a blender, a mixer, a panini press, a pizza stone, a juicer, whatever. For me it was my dutch oven. I love it. It makes me happy every time I see it and I’m always looking for new ways to use it. Plus, you have to slow down a little to use it. That’s the whole point of a dutch oven, it spreads the heat evenly and cooks things slowly. And it makes me want to get in the kitchen.

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