Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Friday, December 9, 2011

Ghosts Of Christmas Lists Past

You know you want it.

Megan McArdle's Christmas kitchen gift list is out again and is much like the old ones, with a few notable exceptions. Evidently entertaining her dinner guests with a list of her appliances and utensils was not enough and now the entire world must know the contents of her kitchen cabinets. McArdle includes a lengthy list of reasons why she (if not you*) is right to buy a $1500 mixer/saucier, entirely missing the reason her purchase was criticized. When you make a small fortune trying to eliminate Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, insurance reform, corporate taxes, corporate regulations, and public schools while preaching austerity for everyone not being paid by right-wing billionaires, it's rather bad form, as McArdle would say, to flaunt your wealth.

Or, as one commenter says:

Tom Doran 3 hours ago
Oh, Megan. Bless you, but this is why revolutions happen.

McMegan 3 hours ago in reply to Tom Doran
Really? The majority of the things on this list cost less than dinner for three at McDonalds.

Tom Doran 2 hours ago in reply to McMegan
It's more the existence of this entire industry of ludicrously-specialised gadgetry for culinary obsessives. Also, the combined worth of all the kitchen accessories you own or have owned must be in the tens of thousands of dollars by now.

This is more my personal hobby horse, however. It's like your "Megan Tax" aimed at expropriating those with an excessive sense-to-money deficit; obviously you'd be horrified if such a thing actually happened, as I would if you were shot as a bourgeois enemy of the people.

However, you must admit: Marie Antoinette would totally have a Thermomix.

*McArdle:"The verdict: unless you're so rich that it just doesn't matter, I'd think hard about buying one."


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Tom Doran for President!

Susan of Texas said...

No! Let Megan be Megan!

atat said...

Given the length and depth of this post, my guess is that this is the "particularly large and time-consuming research project" that Megan was so proud of completing.

Anonymous said...

Did you know Megan had to order that Thermomix from Canada? You just can't get them in the States, you see.

Five bucks said that had a significant influence on her decision to purchase it in the first place.


Anonymous said...

It's sad and creepy and incomprehensible window to her micro soul. Her cooking sounds atrocious in every way. I imagine the taste is just the beginning. You probably have to praise her butter and warm gravy and admit that the leek puree is perfectly smooth before you have to find out that she tinkered with a recipe or some such nonsense. Jesus...She's like the untalented kid who can't do anything yet shows off with pride what her parent bought her.

Modulo Myself

Anonymous said...

McMegan's kitchen gadget fascination really is a window into her soul. People who really enjoy and understand cooking know how to make excellent meals using basic tools and ingredients. But that takes a lot of work and a smidgen of talent. Megs thinks you can shorcut all that by throwing enough money at the specialized gadgetry. It's sad. All you need to be a big-shot cook is a good set of knives, some decent pans, measuring cups and spoons, some mixing bowls, and a couple of tools (whisk, spatula, etc.). That's it. Once you get really good, it's worth splashing out on some specialized gear (carbonite knives, really nice copper pans). Filling your kitchen with gadgets is basically admitting that you suck at cooking.

There are plenty of other analogues: the hopeless duffer who thinks spending $20,000 on golf clubs and gear thinking it'll make him the next Tiger Woods, or the guy who buys an $8000 guitar and amp despite only being able to play two chords. It's a sad, desperate attempt to substitue money for effort and talent, it occurs in every hobby and field of interest, and these wannabes are a never-ending source of laughs for the people who really are into their hobbies.

I mean, Megs is basically admitting that she's so terrible at making basic sauces (which is pretty much cooking 101) that she had to buy a robot to make them for her. And she can't stop bragging about that! Unreal.


pseudonymous in nc said...

I note that McAddled uses the "livefromthewt" Amazon affiliate ID for her kitchencluttercraplist, which I'm guessing is her own personal code, and not that of her employer, meaning that she takes a cut of anything ordered through said nextyearsgoodwilldonationlist.

Nice work if you can get it.

Kathy said...

Also, the combined worth of all the kitchen accessories you own or have owned must be in the tens of thousands of dollars by now

Except they're NOT. They'll be for sale next year at TJ Maxx for $2.99 (pink salt) to- $23.99 (for the $1,500 item)

She's really squandering all that money.

Kathy said...

I had a friend from Iowa who was a great cook. Always a treat to have dinner at her place. She didn't even use a potato peeler! Her Mom hadn't owned one, and she'd never seen one till in her 20's. Heh. She did have a turkey baster, though. We used to sit in the kitchen drinking wine thinking up alternatives (other than a spoon) for a turkey baster. Good times.

R. Porrofatto said...

We used to sit in the kitchen drinking wine thinking up alternatives (other than a spoon) for a turkey baster.

Thus, like a baby turtle struggling to get to the water's edge before the walrus pounces, a newly hatched straight line hopes to make it through the thread unscathed. I haven't the heart.

The best cook I ever knew used oil-encrusted cast iron pans, half-burned wooden spoons, and old wire whisks to create edible delights of all kinds. For her, a Thermixer would be the equivalent of ordering bad take-out.

Brad said...

Watching McArdle flail around trying to justify her kitchen is a bit like watching Herman Cain campaign. In one of her Thermomix defenses she says, "And while I occasionally feel the pull of those loving evocations of laborious kitchen prep, it never lasts much beyond chopping that first onion." Seems kinda odd given last year's loving evocation of her thousand-dollar knife collection. A bit later she says, "If you really think that laborious food prep is that elevating ... [t]hrow out the powdered gelatin and use calf's foot jelly. Make your own confectioner's sugar with a food grinder...." Of course, the previous year she said she needs her copper stockpot because she is "the kind [of person] who sets aside an entire weekend day or so for making stock, starting with slow-roasting a big pile of bones." The next day she praises the Thermomix thusly, "It makes confectioner's sugar out of regular sugar." McArdle sees both the good and bad sides of grinding sugar, chopping vegetables by hand, and cooking gelatin out of bones; she also sees how each side of the coin can justify buying a shiny object. Hooray for intellectual flexibility!

I also enjoy the contrast between the highbrow status symbols and the As Seen on TV trinkets like the chicken spoons, the POURfect, and the Swivel Store. Sadly the Slap Chop and the Rotato didn't make the cut this year. If anyone ever invents a $2000 Slider Station you just know Megan will blog about standing in line to get the very first one.

pseudonymous in nc said...

But that takes a lot of work and a smidgen of talent.

What it takes, prep-wise, is technique and repetition. You learn the first, you develop the second. What it takes, recipe-wise, is a sense of taste.

Draw your own conclusions.

Larkspur said...

Ooh! From the comments, McM responds to someone asking if she's thought of compiling a list of kitchen items for folks just starting out ("good value basic essentials") and she says "I started to do that a long time ago and never finished. I'll be on book leave this spring, but will try to do it the following spring."

So I guess that in 2012, the Thermomix will be conjuring a book of some sort or another, and we will have to wait until spring of 2013 - 2013! - for our basic essentials instructions.

Anonymous said...

Sarah Proud and Tall over at BJ caught the best detail:

"I’ll frequently make a pot of rice at night and melt some cheese on top, eat some for dinner, and the rest for breakfast."

Yes, after all her food snobbery and her $1500 robomixer and her $1000 professional knife set and her $20 shaker of pink Himalayan salt, it turns out that uses her kitchen mostly for making hobo bachelor chow.

Mmmmm....nothing like reheated leftover rice'n'cheese for breakfast!

She has no palate, no taste, no talent for cooking, and no interest in acquiring any skill at it, and yet she feels qualified to honk off about which country makes the best copper kettles. I suppose it's of a piece with her having no skill at economics or business or mathematics and yet opining from on high about all of those things.

What a strange, broken person.


Anonymous said...

This thread is pure gold. I basically find all of Megan's posts to be nearly incomprehensible, on an emotional and/or intellectual level. Why she thinks what she (pretends) to think and why she does what she says she does doesn't make any sense for a normal, well adjusted, educated and moral person. So I love these threads where people try to puzzle out the underlying Megan persona--the connections between the things Megan says and the things she thinks she's saying or representing.

I particularly want to give a shout out to Brad's comment because, of course, Megan's attempt to make her gadgets serve some high class status function when they are simply more expensive versions of the "Bass-O-Matic" or the Ginzu Knife is really key to what she thinks she is expressing when she vomits forth her columns.

Her columns are meant to reassure an imaginary audience that they can have and enjoy things without guilt. That the things that they like (novelty, greed, food, luxury) are not only frivolous they are also necessary, not only glamorous but also utilitarian, not only exotic but also affordable. Megan herself is a gal of simple tastes--viz: the rice and cheese--and even simpler mind (her recipes, her inability to do basic math). She thinks her function is to write fluffy "think pieces" about social and economic trends and to be admired for her perspicacity. In reality her function is to reassure the Atlantic Owners that they have a readership base that can still afford the finer things in life and that still enjoys having smoke blown up their assess about the economy generally.

As to her actual readership--for them her function is to damp down any sense that their own reality is as painful as it actually is. Her faithful fans are mostly delusional about their own lives and futures and prefer to believe any libertarian song and dance over grim facts. At least those are the ones who comment on the marginally economic discussions.

Meanwhile those who read the thermomix posts seem to be the kind of people who like to skim expensive catalogs and dream of dreamy dream kitchens as proof that they've made it. In this country, however, if you can't afford someone to make your dinner party a set of twelve perfect souffles at the moment the dinner is ending you are no one. Trader Joe's makes a killer chocolate souffle for the masses without cooks. But it not chic to mention it.


bulbul said...

It is official: together with "Woodland Critter Christmas", Megan's Gift Guide is now a part of my Christmas tradition. So, let me just get my snark into full gear...

Figural chicken measuring spoon set

Wow, I got nothing.

Kitchen Twine Dispenser
This only underscores what FMguru said about big-shot cooks vs. Megan. You know what Gordon Fucking Ramsay uses as a twine dispenser? A fucking pot.

Bamboo Lid Rack Space is somewhat limited in our kitchen
Emphasis mine. So you have a small kitchen and you buy a twine dispenser to clog up even more space?

Kuhn Rikon is rapidly creeping up on Oxo in the American market for well-thought-out kitchen utensils.
This is so typical: it's not just about getting the right useless shit, it's about getting the right useless shit from the right maker. I'd get it if these were knives where there is a difference between, say, Wüsthof and the 2-dollar knife you buy at Walmart (if only in the steel they use). But this is a piece of plastic from China which, by virtue of having been stamped with a specific manufacturer's seal, is much much better than all those other pieces of plastic from China.

Like most people who like to cook, I am obsessed with finding a solution to The Spice Problem.
Hands up everyone who even knows what 'The Spice Problem' is.

/Coffee grinders/ also make excellent spice grinders.
Use such a grinder once to grind, say cumin, and you'll never get rid of the taste. Plus, it will never be fine enough.
And who in their right mind grinds cloves?

I used to own the perfect apron ... and even a bottle opener attached right to it.
I got nothing.

Anonymous said...

I believe Ms. McArdle receives a commission for anything ordered through Amazon via her links. Ethically, this isn't a problem, unless, of course, Ms. McArdle failed to mention that particular fact. She failed to mention that particular fact. As I recall, she's done this in years past and some called her out so she updated her post. For some reason, she didn't this time. Who could have predicted?

R. Porrofatto said...

Okay, so I'm reading this comment from Anonymous above and thinking, "this is so well said" especially the paragraph beginning Her columns are meant to reassure... which just nails it and Megan, IMO. Of course, my forehead has been dutifully smacked since reaching the author's name at the end -- I shoulda known.

McArdle is what we old folks used to call a yuppie, only with the advent of the Internets she's now a Yuppie With An Audience, who regurgitates the latest news from the crap race (who's creeping up on Oxo) that she's read at whichever is the latest In the glibertarian ethos -- I've got mine, fuck you -- her bona fides on the "fuck you" part are long established. It's her insecurity on the "I've got mine" part that drives her to constantly reassure us that she does indeed.

Emily said...

I used to own the perfect apron ... and even a bottle opener attached right to it.

My college-aged niece had a pair of sandals with a beer bottle opener on the bottom. Megan's suggestion can't be any better than this.

Anonymous said...

You know what Gordon Fucking Ramsay uses as a twine dispenser? A fucking pot.

Even in the short few seconds of that clip, I noticed that Ramsay made his (delicious-looking) pork roll without $200 worth of precision measuring equipment to dispense the salt and pepper or a special device to apply the olive oil - he just sprinkles it on and mops it up. How could this be?!? I thought you weren't a real cook unless you had dozens of very special gadget clogging up your kitchen and a robot doing half you work.


zuzu said...

Once again, I feel compelled to post a few excerpts from Mark Bittman's column in response to readers who were shocked to see a picture of his tiny kitchen:

No calls came from chefs, either, or from fellow food writers. They, too, know that when it comes to kitchens, size and equipment don’t count nearly as much as devotion, passion, common sense and, of course, experience. To pretend otherwise — to spend tens of thousands of dollars or more on a kitchen before learning how to cook, as is sadly common — is to fall into the same kind of silly consumerism that leads people to believe that an expensive gym membership will get them into shape or the right bed will improve their sex life. As runners run and writers write, cooks cook, under pretty much any circumstance.

I asked my friend the chef Mario Batali what he thought about all this. “Only bad cooks blame the equipment,” he said. “I can make almost every dish in my restaurants on four crummy electric burners with a regular oven — as can just about anyone else who cares to.”

I then called the best grandmotherly cook I’ve ever met, Marcella Hazan, ...

She told me about all the bad kitchens she’d worked in. “During the war,” she said, “when I was a teenager, I helped my mother to cook on a wood stove that was so old it had holes in it. When I moved to Forest Hills, we had a stove, a refrigerator, a sink and a table — that’s all, nothing else, a few pots and pans.”

How did it work out? “I tried to remember the food and smells from my home in Italy,” she said. “I did the most simple things — steaming a piece of fish or sautéing some vegetables. At some point I learned how the stove reacted, how to treat the food. If you have a feeling for taste, if you can imagine what you want, maybe the first time it doesn’t work, but the next time you do it better, and that’s how you learn.

“All you have to do to cook is want to do it. The kitchen is never the problem.”

Susan of Texas said...

Aimai--that's what kills me. She tries to buy elite status (while tellilng us that the elite don't practice conspicuous consumption) but she will never be able to achieve her goal. She'll never be a trendsetter because she follows the herd, telling herself that she's in front of it because she can afford to buy things the middle class (what's left of it) cannot. And she'll never be elite for the reasons you give. She'll always be unsatisfied and always chasing the next big thing.

Which might be anything from a return of the cook/maid as wages fall, to the foodies who buy machines that make foam out of cucumbers, to the middle class family cooks who buy and fix up vintage stoves and kitchen tables.

Sometimes life is fair.

Susan of Texas said...

Zuzu, that's right. People who like to cook, cook. It's soothing to reduce a pile of vegetables to cubes and then watch them sweat in the oil or butter. Time slows down and you use your senses, you touch and smell and taste. You don't throw it in a bowl and walk away.

Of course we all use appliances, especially at the holidays when we cook more than usual, and we don't always want to do everything by hand. I'll gladly use box mixes when it's Sunday night and I need cupcakes for school lunches or toss meat and vegetables into a crockpot on a busy day. But half the fun of cooking is making something by hand, creating something out of nothing.

Anonymous said...

One of the gadgets she pimps is the Kuhn Rikon Egg Separating Set. That's right, your Mom showed you how to separate eggs using the fucking shells they came in, but that's not good enough for Megs who declares "separating eggs by hand is not hard, but it’s tedious". Separating an egg takes about five seconds to do, but that's too much work for our Meg, so she needs a $15 gadget that needs to be found, assembled, disassembled, washed, dried, and put away.

She's so hopelessly inept as a cook that she can't even separate an egg without requiring a specialized gadget. Incredible.


Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for most of the appliances. Imagine being a fucking machine and knowing more about someone than that person knows! It must be excruciating to be in her presence. From egg separater to twine dispenser to Thermomix, there's only hope in being discarded for the next and best model...

Modulo Myself

Downpuppy said...

Everybody has had a swipe at Megan this year. For some reason John Cole's seemed funniest -

Kia said...

When I want a measuring spoon, I frequently want it RIGHT NOW, before the hollandaise congeals to an eggy disaster.

This bit of back-handed self-deprecation--"when I am in the kitchen I am a typhoon, I am the Tasmanian Devil, I am a big ol' Force of Nature in my zeal to get things like hollandaise sauce just right--" is like her imaginary bus rider friend. why doesn't she just look for the measuring spoons and put them out before she starts cooking, like a five-year-old would know to do? And does she not sweep the floor? And if you got the sauce to this stage without measuring spoons, why do you need them now?

Surely there must be some means within the reach of human ingenuity of attaching a bottle opener to a different apron.

What i enjoy about Megan's status fetish is its simplicity. She would go for the all-in-one Jesus nail clipper and bottle opener if she found one on the kitchen counter of one of her social superiors or if its marketing materials, (tailored to her aspirational tastes of course though she does not seem to know this, some insider gourmet newsletter, say) were to tell her she needed one in her kitchen.

Kathy said...

ArgleBargle is a bad writer, and unimaginative.

Why think up excuses for buying this or that? "I like the chicken measuring spoons" is perfectly adequate. "I'm a sucker for expensive kitchen gadgets." is also acceptable.

What's so irritating is her professing to have really good reasons for doing silly things, and the hmmm, superior attitude she adopts towards her cooking habits. Just like her idiotic opinions about economics. Everything is grist for her snobby pretentions.

I'd feel sorry for her if she weren't such an awful person.

Anonymous said...

So she's going on hiatus to start 2012 and bringing us an entire book of Meganisms?

Oh sweet Christ.

Field day.

This is a woman who can't figure out what a silicon spatula can do because she has no experience in chemistry, but she'd be an expert if you give her a week of research time!