05 July 2011


I've decided to write about two things making my life great this week, in order to combat the frustrations induced by wading through dissertation revisions; a toddler who now thinks that the appropriate response to any of life's indignities, large and small, is to throw himself on the floor in a sobbing heap; and the discovery that this city has many more children than it does daycare spaces, but no one who can clearly explain how one goes about getting one of those spaces.


If you had asked me how I liked our lightweight Combi Cosmo Ex stroller, until the day we moved to Belgium I would have said it was great! Particularly good for hauling up stairs and easy to maneuver due to its narrow width and small footprint, Gabriel had been comfortable in it since around three months old and had taken countless naps, eaten countless snacks there, happy as a clam.

But then we got to our new home town, and the cobblestones and work zones and uneven pavement and curbs chewed up our Combi and spat it right out. The wheels got stuck in every crevasse, it balked at every curb, and half the time we ended up hauling it around with sheer force.

Fortunately, we had another stroller waiting in the wings. The bumblebee yellow, super deluxe Quinny Buzz that I randomly won on the internet. We had brought it with us to Barcelona in March, aware of our future move Europeward, and left it there. Honestly, I'd thought it would stay there until another baby comes along, because it's heavy and wide and takes up the entire trunk of my father-in-law's midsize (=compact in American terms) car.

But oh my lands. We did the switcheroo this trip, so the lightweight stroller good for carrying up many flights of stairs to our elevator-less apartment stays there, and the heavy-duty, air-filled tires of the Buzz can help us push Gabriel around here (not to mention giving him a more comfortable ride). There are no stairs here, just one step up to our front door, so the weight isn't as much of an issue. I was worried about the width, and in some places we'll have to take detours or abandon ship briefly, but so far it's not too much of a problem.

The difference is, no exaggeration, life-changing! I schlep so much stuff around with the stroller (no car=frequent heavy loads of groceries), and I can now steer the thing with one hand, even while it's fully loaded. In fact I did steer it with one hand, pulling a suitcase with the other, when we came back from the airport this weekend, and never felt so much as a twinge of stress on the steering arm. It easily rides over curbs with no extra lifting on my part, and it even fits through the narrow alley on our street that skirts the large, deep pit we have dubbed "the Hatch," due to its imposing metal substructure and our Lost geekery. The thing practically drives itself.


The second miraculous item is a knife. I should backtrack a minute and explain that when we got married we registered for a perfectly lovely set of Henckels knives, but I made the mistake of selecting them without trying them, and I've never been completely satisfied with how they sit in my hands, the length (too long), the weight (too heavy), the blades (too thin), etc. Then we moved to the US, and my mom loaned us a knife. This particular knife was a gift to her from my brother, brought home from a trip to Taiwan, I believe, and (am I remembering correctly?) made from recycled bomb metal. It has a santoku blade, is shorter than the chef's knives I was used to but still plenty long, and I fell in love with how it felt in my hands, how sharp it remained despite daily use (and even some unauthorized trips through the dishwasher). I was loathe to give it up, but mom wanted it back, naturally, when we moved out of Bloomington.

So I was on the hunt for a new knife to furnish my empty Belgian kitchen. While we were in Barcelona, we made a quick trip to the store where we registered when we married, and where we still have store credit, even though we've been steadily chipping away at it. Come to think of it, I guess it was kind of appropriate that we used up some of our registry money the week of our five-year anniversary! Anyway, I was determined to buy a knife that would equal or surpass that beloved old Taiwanese friend. I tried out a bunch as best I could, and settled on a 16-cm chef's knife by Global, hoping that the feel would translate well once I actually started chopping.

I opened it eagerly once we unpacked our suitcases and got to making Gabriel his latest favorite food, lentils in the Catalan-grandmother style (seriously, I've never seen him open his mouth so wide). I pulled out a few onions and carrots and garlic and tomatoes, and sliced away. Since I already gave away the punch line, let me just say "wow." Even carrots feel like butter under this blade. It handles so well, and I love the size, the weight, the feel of the handle in my palm. My only wish is that it had those santoku-like divots so food would fall away from the blade (the store didn't have any santokus), but it's a small quibble for something that will be practically the only knife (I've got a small paring knife and a slightly bigger prep knife) I'll need now and forever amen.

Like I said, it practically drives itself!

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