For years, ever since I moved into this house, whenever a recipe called for oil to be brushed onto bread, vegetables, or a dish, I’d pour some onto my fingers or onto a paper towel and attempt to spread it around that way. It works in a pinch, but a lot of oil ends up soaked up into the towel or running down my fingers and the result is never an even coat. I’d end up with streaks or barely any oil on the surface it was supposed cover, and plenty high quality oil dripping down my arms or lost to the paper towel.
I don’t know why I didn’t admit to myself for so long that I needed the right tool. We always had a pastry brush in my kitchen growing up, so it’s not as though I didn’t know what I was missing. Some bizarre sense of frugality made me think there was some value in making do. Sure, other people had a special brush for this technique, but I have fingers! After any particular recipe reminded me that my improvised solution was not a good permanent tactic, I’d promptly forget by the time I went food shopping again.
Over the years I accumulated most of the kitchen supplies I needed. The expensive or high quality cookware and gadgets were wedding gifts, but I managed to buy most of the handy small tools and measuring devices myself. All except for the simple pastry brush.
When I made French onion soup, however, I finally snapped. Julia Child said to use a pastry brush to lightly coat the toasted bread with olive oil before covering it with cheese. The paper towel didn’t want to transfer any of the oil to the bread. Using my fingers just left little fingerprints. I tried pouring a light drizzle directly onto the bread, hoping to spread it, but of course it sank right into the toast in wavy stripes. The good olive oil was going to waste, and the finished product was ugly. After all this effort, I was thwarted by a missing utensil which was only a few bucks and surely available in the baking aisle of Hannaford.
“I need a pastry brush!” I yelled from the kitchen, as if my husband Wayne had been withholding the missing implement all this time.
He came out of the study to see why I’d lost my mind this time. “Just use a paper towel,” he said, logically, only making me feel more misunderstood. How could he not know that all my future cooking suddenly depended upon this vital utensil?
“No, it’s no good! I need a pastry brush!” I said, appalled that he could not sense the gravity of the situation.
“Ok,” he said, clearly wondering what the big deal was. He may have been thinking that I apparently made it for about the last nine years without the pastry brush, and didn’t see why this had turned into an emergency.
I tried to get him to buy me the missing doo-dad on his next excursion, but he, sensibly, wanted to know if I needed it right away. Of course not, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I didn’t want to go another day without a pastry brush, even if it were to sit unused in a drawer for a month. He was unimpressed, so I had to find it myself at the grocery store the next time we went shopping.
I picked up the pastry brush and Wayne, a silicone basting brush. He was very excited. “This one should clean off easily!” As he does most of the cleaning, I deferred to his choice. Besides, it had springy rubber bristles and a clear handle. “Heatproof to 450 degrees,” it said. It was, I had to admit, a pretty neat tool. Wayne was right, too; I was able to coat my next set of toasts bound for the remaining serving of the French onion soup with a perfectly even thin coat of oil, and it was easy to clean up. That’s how I ended up with a basting brush as my new favorite kitchen utensil, despite the fact that as a vegetarian, I don’t actually baste foods.