If the spoon fits, use it

If you've ever eaten a single-serve cup of yogurt or applesauce with a standard teaspoon, you know the problem: The spoon often dwarfs the container, looming in its disproportion. It fits inside and can serve the contents adequately, but it's not a pretty sight. It's the wrong tool for the task, a shovel where a scoop would do. After eating, you confront another side of the issue, especially if the spoon is metal: Lacking ballast, an empty aluminum or plastic cup simply falls on its side, caving to the weight of the spoon left inside it, as if to declare an end to your snack.

The spoon is a mighty implement with a long and venerable history. It has withstood the advent of soups, stews, and every other food that required stirring. Surely the portable snack poses little challenge to such a sturdy tradition. The issue, then, is not the spoon exactly, but its configuration. Coaxing food from a snack-sized container requires a snack-sized spoon - one whose bowl and handle are scaled down to the task, one whose materials are equally modest. Picture a standard teaspoon, reduced by one-third.

Such a spoon arrived in my kitchen a couple of years ago when a friend thought to share her discovery. She had stumbled upon some sleek plastic spoons - small flatware that was several notches above disposable. My friend and I share a lifelong fondness for small, well-designed flatware, and she correctly assumed that I would enjoy this little spoon. The spoon appeared to be just the right size and weight for mustard or other condiments. That is, until I ventured into the world of portable snacks and realized it had higher aspirations.

Over time, that lone minispoon served hundreds of snacks, repeatedly landed in the disposal and rubbish, and still managed to survive. It was time to raise the inevitable question: Where had my friend found this spoon?

"Berlin," she replied.

She offered to pick up more spoons on her next trip to Germany, noting that their design seemed to change slightly each time she visited the store.

Berlin? Surely there were similar spoons closer to home. And so my mission began.

I Googled "spoons" and checked various sources for flatware. Among the possibilities: spoons for fishing, spoons sold in large volume to restaurants, and replacements for lost or damaged pieces in one's silver setting. There was a museum of spoons, a blog by the same name, and souvenir spoons.

I waded through more spoons - spoons with cartoon logos, with rubber grips, with angled bowls or handles. And finally, there it was: Something that looked remarkably like the small designer plastic spoon that came from Germany. It went by the utilitarian name of Disposable Baby Feeding Utensil. A pack of 30 cost $4.95. I ordered two packages - one for me, one for my friend.

Granted, the new spoons lack the cachet that comes with an exotic origin or European flight. They're not as firm or substantial as the original. But all things considered, they're a plausible stand-in. For less than 20 cents each, they solve a problem in a way that conventional teaspoons have yet to match.

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