The petit blocks of Merchant’s Square and Prince George Street captured a corner of my heart in my earlier years, when my family annually traveled to Williamsburg just before Christmastime in order for my father to attend a conference. Butter-yellow incandescence smoldered fuzzy halos around each glass windowpane, whose magical contents captivated the chilled child and warmed her down to her patent-leather shoes. Today, those two blocks of well-groomed shops provide a classically romantic respite from college life, as energizing comings and goings of patrons fill the streets. The corner store closest to the College, on the cusp of nominal independence and true self-sufficiency, now holds my special attention, and its contents hold the top spots on my Christmas wish list.
Crisp white paint envelops the windowsills and doorjamb of the corner shop, and painted golden letters — the type lining entrances of London shops on the sets of Jane Austen films — read Williams-Sonoma. Opening the door, radiated heat meets rosy cheeks bundled against gusts of cool fall wind. The adventurer steps into a fairy land of pots and pans, mixing bowls, canning jars and kitchen gadgets: the adult equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. One’s attention span can’t help but shorten to that of a squirrel as eyes dart from spectacle to spectacle — from espresso makers to maple-leaf-shaped cookie cutters — trying to drink in everything at once. After a few minutes of exultation and running amok like a child let loose in F.A.O. Schwartz, rationality returns to the adventurer, who begins to cull through the volumes of gizmos and create a wish list of the essentials.
Brightly burnished sides of Le Creuset cookware catch the light and glimmer from the shelves at each passerby. The enameled cast iron cocottes, Dutch ovens, pie pans and roasting dishes resemble an array of vegetables laid out on display at a farmers market, wearing their brilliant, glossy coats of orange, vermillion, emerald and amethyst. Resist the temptation to pluck each adorable palm-sized cocotte from the shelf and cradle it. Oh, to have a set of Le Creuset! The couture of the cooking world, as timeless as a Burberry coat and as durable as a pair of Fryes. Use them every day from here until forever, move them from apartment to house, and wrap them up in boxes to crate along during every life transition.
Next comes the knife cabinet with its glinting blades of steel. After hastily scribbling down five different types of knives, make sure that a serrated tomato knife and a bread knife have top billing. Although the wind now swirls in the chilled cycles of November, once the sweet, mild breaths of summer warm the fields, fresh tomatoes will fill salads, sauces and soups. Without that bread knife, a thick, juicy slab of ruby goodness won’t sit atop toast of downy white yeast bread, and the summer will pass without a tomato sandwich. Choose the knives with the utmost care and foresight.
As tempting as the beautiful cream colored dish sets, cut glass goblets and intricate flatware are, do not succumb to their pull. Poor college students should place precedence on the materials needed to prepare meals. Sigh at the calico napkins while walking by, but don’t stop. Perusing china patterns and deciding on decorative sauce dishes can consume a better part of an hour (and a checking account). We can all dream of the day when we are real adults and set our cherry dining room table and matching sideboards with our own china pattern and the family silver.
A wooden spoon collection, although not as delicate or flashy as a beautifully laid table, can be just as pretty when arranged in a hearty terra cotta jar and set on a counter. The rich warm tones and rippling grain of the wood complements the hues of their container and look so pretty that you don’t need to hide them away in a cabinet. Wooden spoons’ utility knows no bounds. Large round ones stir the gooiest chocolate chip cookie dough to the silkiest pasta sauces. Rectangular flat ones sauté vivid peppers and savory onions for quick morning eggs. Thick slotted ones toss salads with ease. Wooden spoons are like shoes: you can never have too many.
While you wander near other utensils of necessity, please, write down “rubber spatulas in all sizes” on your list. With their help, scrape the last folds of brownie batter from the mixing bowl, mound meringue in delicate wisps onto pie and distribute glazes evenly over meat. Every dinner guest who kindly assists with food preparation will thank you for not making them spend ten minutes scraping the dredges out of a bowl with a teaspoon.
To finish the list, choose one frivolous gadget, something entirely whimsical and fun that might find its way out of the cupboard once a month — a cow-shaped cookie cutter, an elaborate bundt pan, a French press. Don’t suppress the inner child during the most imaginative and magical season of the year. We all still cling to that identity as we cross Confusion Corner between campus and Merchant’s Square. Although we are denied a prolonged childhood filled with optimistic dreams, that inner child has given us an inkling of control. That inkling involves what we eat and how we eat it, whether we enjoy food or not. We might as well make the best of it as we sort through the cloudy mists of what lies ahead.