Illustration By Mark Stivers

The other night, I reached—as usual—for the ugliest spoon in my kitchen, an Army-green plastic object dating back decades. Sometimes, the humblest kitchen tools are the most useful. It was blunt-tipped, with a little warping and melting from resting the handle on a hot pan, but curved and a little flexible—the ideal tool for breaking up browning meat, stirring white sauce or the like. I liberated that spoon, which I think was my grandfather’s, from a bin of camping equipment when I was a cooking-obsessed college student, hard up for kitchen implements; I got my cast-iron skillet the same way. I’ve since acquired All-Clad pans and silicone spatulas, but that smooth cast-iron pan and my ugly plastic spoon got more use than everything else combined. Until, that is, I was tossing chicken and vegetables in brown bean sauce, and the spoon snapped clean in two. I’ll have to fall back on wooden spoons from now on, but at least I don’t think anything will break my skillet.