Bob Vivant

in pursuit of delicious beauty

Bob Vivant

Bob Vivant
Chicago, Illinois, USA
August 21
Coffee, black, French press, Intelligentsia. Two poached eggs, runny yolks, coarse ground black pepper, Maldon salt. Wheat toast, extra thick slice, dense with millet and seeds, European-style butter. Summer melon, fresh mint.


SEPTEMBER 8, 2009 12:44PM

Does Size Really Matter...In the Kitchen?

Rate: 2 Flag

I recently bought a mortar and pestle the size of my head.

Okay, that's a bit of an understatement. Upon further inspection, I can see that my head is actually smaller than my beautiful, smoky grey, solid granite prep tool. And while I have no efficient and painless way of confirming it, I suspect my head also weighs less. My new pestle (the stubby stick that does the pounding) weighs two pounds. The mortar, or bowl, weighed in at 13.5 pounds for a combined weight of more than fifteen pounds. According to countless as yet unverified internet sources, the average human head without hair weighs between 10-12 pounds. To put this into better perspective, a gallon of water weighs 8.33 pounds. In short, my new mortar and pestle is heavy, and a bit unwieldy, traits I failed to consider or even notice when I fell for her at Marshall’s last week.

I didn’t walk the 1.5 miles to Marshall’s with the intention of buying a giant M&P. It often happens that I go to Marshall’s with a plan to buy ‘X’, yet return home with ‘A’,’ B’, and ‘C’. Walking there rather than driving minimizes my urges for impulse buying and provides adequate exercise, especially when I carry home heavy pieces of granite. Last week, I went in search of a mediocre hostess gift - the kind you pay ten bucks for but desperately hope looks like it’s really worth fifty. I never found the gift. I forgot about it entirely when I spotted a monstrous mortar and pestle with a whopping one quart capacity sandwiched between salad servers with pink flamingo handles and a wooden sign that read, “There is never enough thyme.”

I carried my M&P home in my arms like a baby. My breathing was labored from the weight of it though I barely noticed. I was in utter rapture – that state of mind when you fall in love with something or someone, and you are so taken by it you lose all ability to reason. You over look their flaws no matter how obvious, because all you can hear is the beating of your heart.

This was certainly not an impulse buy. I’d longed for a giant M&P since the first time I was served table side guacamole in Mexico. I fondly remember the pungent smell of the garlic as it was being ground just two feet from my nose. The native avocadoes were added next, so rich and green and creamy. The chips - salty and crisp, and the tequila, oh my.

I own a perfectly suitable, though much lighter and smaller marble M&P – a thoughtful gift from my mother-in-law many years ago. It has served me well – homemade curry powders, course ground black pepper, the freshest ground cloves. Every once in a while an errant peppercorn escapes from the mortar, but this is likely due to my spastic technique rather than an undersized bowl. Still, my desire for a giant M&P, like the one I delighted over in Mexico, grew.

My M&Ps: The Mama Bear and the Papa Bear
My two year quest finally over, I stared at my new found love and thought of all that she symbolized for me. Vacation nostalgia? Fulfillment of a goal? Yes, but this ran deeper still. This represented my intense love for cooking. My M&P was like a badge of honor; only serious cooks would have such a thing in their home kitchens. And there mine sat on the kitchen counter empty yet brimming with potential.

"What now?" I thought.

What could I prepare for dinner that would truly showcase the talent of my new M&P? No recipe I considered was worthy. Finally, I decided on a classic chili. As my lover’s haze lifted it suddenly seemed a bit silly to plan a meal around a new piece of kitchen equipment. Of course I’d planned outfits around a pair of shoes. Was that any different?

So chili it was. As the tomatoes, chilies and onions simmered away I reached for my 15 plus pound treasure, which awkwardly required two hands to lift. This would limit my dexterity, but trading off agility for the as yet undiscovered power of this beauty seemed inconsequential. Feeling like a TV chef in Kitchen Stadium, I ground my toasted cumin seeds, white pepper, dried chilies and whole dried leaves of oregano in a matter of seconds with no spillage. I triumphantly lifted the mortar over the bubbling pot and with a sudden whoosh and a thud that shook the whole stove the spices and mortar fell into the pot. Afraid to look, I slowly peered over the edge of my big soup pot. My mortar had disappeared into the darkness of the chili. Given the look of the kitchen, I was surprised to see any chili still in the pot. It was everywhere including the ceiling, which I only noticed when a chunk of tomato landed on my head as I lifted my lover from the pot.

I could feel the sobs tightening my throat. I wanted to collapse in the kitchen floor and wail long and hard – damn this love - unfulfilled, unreciprocated. But the floor was covered in chili, and I knew that every moment I spent on a pity party was time the amber splotches would dry and possibly stain; I couldn’t bear the thought of any lingering reminders of this tragedy. I wiped and wiped and quietly cried.

An hour later, when the kitchen was restored to its sparkling glory, I found my faith had somehow been restored as well. My chili-drenched lover sat in the sink. She was otherwise unharmed in the incident – we were both stronger than I thought. I carefully washed her and realized we would, in fact, dance again. Giant mortars and pestles belong to serious cooks. Serious cooks learn from their mistakes and keep right on cooking. I placed my love back on the counter where she could continue to gather potential and patiently wait for my next stroke of inspiration. Guacamole anyone?

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Giant Mortars are so helpful! Not to mention a lot of Mexican salsas are made with the use of one!
Thanks CSG - Our tomatoes and peppers are finally ready for harvest - I'll reserve a few for salsa.