Chapter Three: The Knives are All Right.

As someone who cooks food with depressing regularity, and, therefore, uses knives — sharp, scary, dangerous knives — on a daily basis, I couldn’t go indefinitely without decent, workable knife storage. Storing them in a drawer: not a viable option, according to both my husband and me. There was no point in hoping that my husband would somehow miraculously come around to the idea that a magnet strip on the wall was the best way to store our knives. The knife block was a nuisance and a failure; the (ahem) novel Book-Based solution was interesting, but as implemented by me, a failure. I had to devise a countertop solution that wouldn’t make me or my husband crazy and would still be a safe, reliable, reasonably attractice way to store the knives. A Google search about DIY knife storage — which showed me the Book-Based Solution — also showed me a Vase-Based Solution. This seemed like a good avenue to pursue; and by this point, I was up for anything. So I began keeping my eyes peeled at tag sales, looking for vases that would work to hold knives. What I needed was at least two, and probably three, glass vessels that didn’t curve in at the top (as so many vases do). They needed to be wide-mouthed vases easily washed, that would be big enough to hold even wide blades of chef’s knives.

People are always getting rid of vases when they move, probably ’cause they’re a pain in the ass to pack. I knew if I just roamed the streets of my neighborhood, I’d eventually find exactly what I wanted. And then one day a Facebook post in a group I’m part of brought me what I needed.

It’s a local group called Curb Alert and it lets folks know when someone’s put some cool item out on the street free for the taking. Living in a college town, this is quite common. Someone’s moving and they can’t take all their stuff;  they’ll put out boxes of things — often kitchen equipment, but it could be anything — books, baby gear, stereo equipment  pieces of furniture — tape up a sign saying  “FREE STUFF” and move on. Anyone who’s lived in this town has benefitted from this system: it’s an easy way to get rid of things you don’t want, and it’s an easy way to acquire things you might actually need. Yes, there is furniture in my house that’s come to us via the curb; and if you’ve eaten at my house, you’ve probably eaten from pots or plates that I’ve acquired in this manner. I realize that many people would find this appalling. I truly don’t give a crap. It’s a beautiful little ecosystem and I love it.

So when a hipster couple across the street from me began to post photograph after photograph — Free stuff! Come and get it! — I hustled out to the sidewalk. It was late July. This couple had lived in their apartment for several years, long enough to acquire all sorts of housewares, but they were moving to North Carolina, via U-Haul, and just couldn’t take everything with them. I walked across the street and within about two minutes I had snagged three clear glass vessels. Two of them were vases. One of them was some kind of special mixology carafe marketed by St. Germain — an odd shape, rather narrow but quite tall — and though I didn’t really want an ad for St. Germain in my kitchen, I knew immediately that it would be the perfect thing to hold my bread knife. I took home my three pieces, practically chortling at how easy this was, and I washed them and dried them. I took a piece of very old, soft, flannel (a pillowcase that had gotten holey, which I’d converted into rags) and folded up small squares to line the bottom of each piece — I didn’t want to have the tips of the knives hitting glass — and then I filled them with white rice. (White rice is cheap enough, I reasoned, that even if this experiment failed, it wouldn’t be much of a loss. Furthermore, since I’d cleaned the vessels so well, there wouldn’t be any reason I couldn’t actually cook the rice, should we decide against the Vase-Based Solution.)

The glass vases are very different in shape and so it was easy to determine which knives would go into which piece. The tallest, plainest one was perfect for the three chef’s knives; the St. Germain decanter was for the bread knife; and it turned out the short, squat one was very happy to host my numerous paring knives and the one oddball small serrated knife I like to have around. Installed in these containers, only one handle stuck up so high that I could not nestle the vases on the kitchen counter under the shelf where we keep our spices. Sadly, the handle of my left-handed bread knife is too long to allow the knife to fit comfortably in that space (the handle is about 1/2″ longer than the other bread knife’s handle); but I don’t mind keeping that in a sleeve in the kitchen drawer, as I only use it once a week at Shabbat. But nine knives out of ten fit well: I declared the initial set-up a success.

I’ve now had the knives in the Vase System for four months. There are a number of good things about this admittedly odd knife storage system. One is that it doesn’t take up space in the same way the knife block did. It’s space, to be sure, but the way the space is allocated bothers me less. For example: when I wanted to wash the whole countertop (as I do after working with some really messy dough, for example), moving the knife block with the knives in it was always kind of scary. With these vases, it’s easy. Each vase can be easily lifted and set down somewhere else, and I don’t feel like I’m risking lopping a hand off by accident doing so.

In the case of the short knives, I don’t have to move the vase at all to get out the knife I want to use; and with the taller knives, I find pulling the decanter out to get a knife is no big deal. I also like that this system keeps the blades in a very dry place. I wash and dry my knives by hand but any residual dampness in a wooden handle will be absorbed by the rice, or evaporate (with the knife block, I was always fretting to myself about wood possibly getting wet and staying wet and getting gross as a result).

The more aesthetically-aware types who use the Vase Solution and want to have the rice look like something other than rice will find that there are many ways to fill the vases and have this system work. Some people use dry beans — which come in many attractive colors and look cute. Some people use bamboo skewers instead of foodstuffs, which makes a great deal of sense, and I will probably acquire a couple hundred skewers one of these days to allay my concerns about rice and mealworms (we’ve not had any trouble, but we are always on the lookout). One could dye the rice to make it match one’s kitchen decor, but that’s a little too too for me to bother with.

I can easily see that most people would not find this an acceptable knife storage system. However, given my strong feelings regarding how unacceptable the conventional options are, I really don’t give a hoot. And people who are, like me, endlessly annoyed by the more conventional options might give this one some thought. Because, as I say, it’s been a few months, and so far so good. This is a huge improvement over the daily misery I felt every time I looked at the knife block — which, I admit, I kept, out of a nagging sense of fear that I’d need it again if my other knife solutions failed.

I am confident enough about the vase solution that one of these days I may post my own Curb Alert on Facebook: Knife block out on the sidewalk, yours for the taking. 

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