the jakobik rule
March 5, 2006

I don't own a fondue pot. My mother has three, which I assume she collected throughout the '70s when such things made more sense, and then kept through the '90s when she had an attic to store them in. Periodically she'll offer them to me, but I decline. Over the years I've taken a lot from my mother's kitchen, but any additions at this point need to be either supremely useful or, well, tiny (like my terra cotta garlic roaster—I used it only for the second time tonight, but I love it for its petiteness). Fondue pots have too many pieces and are inherently unnecessary (you can melt cheese in a pot on the stove and it's just as good).

But tonight I'm supposed to make snacks so we can watch the Oscars. (Beyond my office pool and hopefully seeing Rachel Weisz accept a statue, I am not particularly interested. I am, however, always interested in snacks.) Three-Cheese Fondue with Champagne seems perfectly festive, but suddenly a microwave-safe bowl on the coffee table does not. I didn't think I cared about making this a glamor night, but that little flicker of fire under our food seems necessary.

My grandmother, born Etta Jakobik, always used to say, "We are never without resources"—the Jakobik Rule—then walk around the house until she found some way to build whatever it was I wanted for my game out of something else. For me, it may have been her most enduring lesson.

I think all day about how I can build a fondue pot—just a bowl, a rack to hold it up, and a candle, really. I'm running errands at Target, and I check out the candle aisle, but nothing presents itself. I wonder about a candle under a plate on my two-tiered plate rack, but I doubt a tealight can warm a bowl of cheese through another plate. I contemplate building a circular bowl rack out of a wire coat hanger, but I abandon the scheme. I try to envision something with my crème brûlée torch, but can't think of any way to make it work.

Then, as I'm scrubbing potatoes with my (mini) potato brush, I glance down at what the potatoes are sitting in: my half-size blue colander that I just had to have (on sale from Pottery Barn) because it was so little and so blue (I hang it on the wall when I'm not using it). Flipped over, it exactly holds one of my Fishs Eddy sturdyware bowls, and a tealight propped on a coaster isn't too far from the bowl and the flame can breath through the holes in the colander. The whole thing looks like a fondue pot (and if they made adorable blue fondue pots I might lift my embargo against them).

My one fondue trick (beyond conjuring pots out of kitchen remnants) is to put all the grated cheese (in this case I leave the Brie for later) in a ziploc bag and shake through with the cornstarch before adding to the wine. The cheese won't seperate from the wine as quickly over a tiny flame. Our fondue gets a little grainy, but it holds together through the entire length of the Academy Awards—no mean feat.