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Liane Kupferberg Carter Headshot

Gadget Graveyard

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There's a graveyard in my basement.

The lower level of my house is the final resting place for dead and discarded kitchen appliances: those innovative, time-saving, cunning devices you buy in a flurry of anticipation and eagerness, convinced they'll transform you into a domestic goddess.

My basement shelves are stacked with gimmicky gadgets that no longer work, never worked, or never even made it out of their boxes. In my defense, many of these items were gifts. But if you want to chart three decades of culinary trends, well hey, come on down!

I present you the forensic evidence: the Zojirushi bread machine. The fondue set. The panini press. The pasta maker. The Crock-Pot, s'more set, smoothie shaker, Salton hot tray, Big City Slider Station, yogurt kit, electric carving knife, George Foreman grill, ice cream maker, food vacuum sealer, wine aerator, Bialetti espresso pot, coffee bean burr grinder, Excalibur food dehydrator (to make - what? beef jerky?) and three - count 'em, three -- cappuccino machines.

Best of all?

The blow torch for caramelizing crème brûlée.

"Who's going to use that?" my husband demanded.

"I will," I lied.

But wait! There's more! as Ron Popeil used to say. You remember Ron, king of the infomercial. He gave us the Veg-o-matic, the Inside-The-Shell Egg Scrambler, the Showtime Rotisserie and the immortal phrase, "Set it and forget it!" You know his gadgets. The ones that Slice! And Dice! And have a million and one uses! The cuter the name, the less functional.

Yet even my sensible husband has fallen prey to a manic sales pitch. "I bought Ginsu knifes," he confesses.

I console him. "No worries. I ordered a Salad Chopper."

Bought with such zeal and high hopes, only to be consigned months later to the abyss of our windowless basement. Why did I succumb? What inner kitchenista was I channeling? Betty White in her role as Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens? Top Chef? Did I see myself as a braless earth mother in Birkenstocks, baking sheets of cookies to serve with milk from the cow in the backyard? Or as Nigella Lawson, stirring up sensual, simmering reduction sauces?

Kitchen gadgets have sex appeal. They're all shiny and new. You think they'll change your life, and of course they rarely do (though I still swear by my Cuisinart Smart Stick Immersion Hand Blender.) They're just countertop candy. More affordable that a midlife Ferrari, but in the end? Kitchen porn that teases but doesn't deliver.

Because, really: what's the sense in having a gadget that chops everything in half a minute, when you then have to spend the next 20 disassembling, hand washing and reassembling it?

Last night we finally hauled out the never-used Panini Press still in its original packaging and checked the directions. "Practical hints: it is recommended to adapt cooking according to your own taste." Duh. It also advised, "Apply a thin coat of oil to the heating plates." To a nonstick grill? But oil it I did. That sucker really heated up. It was smoking. Made pretty nifty grill marks too. It took five minutes to eat our fancy sandwiches, and four hours before the thing cooled down enough to clean.

"It would be a heck of a lot easier to clean if they'd designed it to remove the grill plates," my husband grumbled. "How are you supposed to get rid of the soap when it says you can't submerge the unit? I've been over this thing with a wet rag three times!"

"How do restaurants clean their grills?"

"They don't."

"Maybe it's like a wok?"

"It doesn't get that hot."

"Au contraire." I offered my blistered finger as evidence.

"Wouldn't it be easier to toast the sandwiches next time?" he asked.

Back to the basement it goes. Rest in Peace, Panini Press. We hardly knew ye.