the little workhorse that could

Heath Ceramics salt shaker, porcelain Kosher saltcellar, Perfex pepper mill

I've been doing a lot of reading and thinking lately—more than usual, I mean—nothing earth-shaking but personal. If only life were a little more black and white sometimes, like salt and pepper—discrete, rather than the usual muddled, frustrating, though at times beautiful, in its way, gray. So while I'm sorting some of that out, I will celebrate one of the low-tech workhorses in my kitchen: my small, heavy-aluminum Perfex pepper mill (not to be confused with the clear Perspex acrylic material some pepper mills are made of, which is how my brain initially remembered the brand, but Perfex, like "perfect").

My friend Dan, an excellent cook, long said it was the best pepper mill, and since he has made it a lifelong habit to know and own the best of everything (one of the many things I love about him), I trust him about such things. One day two years ago, in one of his surprise boxes mailed up from California, there sat my very own Perfex mill, with the capital P embossed on its pull-out drawer. It's the smaller four-inch version—rather than the $200 seven-and-a-half-inch version—but most people would still consider it a spendy little tool at $90 or so new, even though it is made in France by a family-owned company (or so says Sur la Table). But who needs more than one pepper mill in a home kitchen, unless you're one of those people who uses colored peppercorns (which, admittedly, are pretty)? And this tool, with proper care, will last more than a lifetime.

I keep mine set to a fairly coarse grind, which seems to make everything taste better and look more upscale, whether salad, soup, or eggs. And beyond posh looks and sparked taste, black pepper promotes digestion and contains beneficial antioxidants, antimicrobials, and more. In other words, the historical, ubiquitous, unthinking cultural use of black pepper is actually good for you. Surprise!

My Perfex pepper mill sits on a vintage stainless-steel tray right next to the stove, along with my secondhand black Heath Ceramics salt shaker found on eBay a few years ago (I also have the Heath pepper shaker but prefer fresh-ground pepper), as well as a small, white, textured porcelain cup found a few months ago at Goodwill, costing all of fifty cents, which I use as a Kosher saltcellar, something my friend Jeff insisted I needed for my kitchen. And he was right. I find I've been using the Kosher salt far more than the fine, shaken sea salt. But it's good to have options when cooking and in life: black, white, and gray.

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