Essentials Week spotlights unexpected items that make our daily lives just a little bit better.
For years, I didn’t like cooking, and I wasn’t any good at it.
I’ve always loved the Food Network and I’m naturally creative, but I found my kitchen radically uninviting — a punishing chamber where recipes as simple as scrambled eggs went to die.
Cooking sucked, and I wasn’t sure why anyone in their right mind would endure it daily. When I wasn’t ordering expensive take-out, I munched on fistfuls of stale almonds and glared at the stove, willing it to catch fire as I overflowed with dread, disdain, and despair. Then, I met Mr. Narwhal.
Filling his little blue belly with jasmine pearls made me smile.
Named after the iconic character from Elf, my first was a small self-care purchase made on a whim. I’d never ventured outside of Trader Joe’s tea bags before, but the idea of loose-leaf tendrils emanating from an underwater unicorn was spectacular. If I couldn’t cook, at least I’d drink boiled water in style.
After Mr. Narwhal and I got acquainted, I realized just how much I looked forward to my nightly cup of tea. Filling his little blue belly with jasmine pearls made me smile. Slipping him into his cozy bath helped me relax. Cleaning him after each use warmed my heart. And the fact that tea brewing is about as basic as cooking gets? That didn’t hurt, either.
I felt like I was succeeding at just one thing in the room I hated.
I was sipping a toasty cup of English Breakfast when it occurred to me that I might extend Mr. Narwhal’s legacy to other parts of the kitchen. I imagined cow measuring cups for making oatmeal, monkey spatulas for box-mix brownies, turtle tongs for a salad, then a sloth towel to clean it all up.
Slowly but steadily, my kitchen filled with tiny, useful faces.
At first, it was a daydream — the kind of passing thought that can make a refrigerator-sized aquarium seem like an acceptable substitute for a coffee table. Still, I decided to poke around online and see if there were other animal-themed kitchen items I liked. Slowly but steadily, my cart filled, and my home welcomed dozens of tiny, useful faces.
Retailers like Daiso, Animi Causa, Monkey Business, and Amazon devote entire sections of their online marketplace to selling cutesy versions of household goods, from otter-shaped tape dispensers to kitty-cat key holders — and kitchen supplies are a big part of that. Love bears? Have yourself a . Fancy dinosaurs? Treat yourself to a . Want a sumo-wrestling egg holder complete with mawashi? Go for it, ya weirdo!
No matter what I wanted or needed, I could always find some utensils, appliances, or containers that tickled my whimsical taste. Despite disliking cooking, I found myself eagerly ordering basket after basket of kitschy cookery supplies and then patiently tracking their journeys online. Once my new friends arrived, I’d begin the arduous process of identifying their place in my PeeWee’s Playhouse of culinary misadventures — and sussing out how to actually use them.
Of course, all these purchases didn’t make cooking that much easier, but it did incentivize me to try being in my kitchen for a change. By stocking a space I loathed with items I loved (and not the cheap wares of my local IKEA), I found myself wanting to practice cooking more and more.
I learned new techniques and short cuts with every experiment, from how to properly crack an egg to testing if a frying pan is too hot. (Turns out, the question you should be asking isn’t, “Does touching it hurt?”) I began to appreciate my failures as much as my successes, eating over-seasoned and under-seasoned foods with equal appreciation for the work it had taken to get them wrong, or closer to right.
Despite being a notoriously messy human, I became meticulous about cleaning up my kitchen. I cared for each and every one of my cooking supplies like precious, dishwasher-safe children. (After all, leaving your innocent Spaghetti Monster colander full of gross, cold noodles overnight just isn’t right.)
Of course, some items were more useful than others — turns out I’ll probably never “need” a polka-rotted melon baller — but I gave everything I purchased at least one try, and if I didn’t need it, re-gifting was always an option.
I’m still an awful cook and I’ve got a whole lot to learn about financial responsibility (cute stuff ain’t cheap!!), but at least I’m having fun in the kitchen. I splurged to my heart’s content to make a source of routine anguish into something I actually looked forward to — and it was worth it.
If you’re struggling to find enthusiasm for cooking, try buying a Mr. Narwhal, Mrs. Hedgehog, or some other adorable culinary tool of your own. It won’t fix every problem (the dinner plate-sized googly eyes on my refrigerator have not made me clean it), but it can make the task feel a little less daunting. And maybe your cooking will improve, too. Mr. Narwhal never complains.