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Funny what we take for granted. I never really thought about our cooling rack until I decided to put a number of cookie sheets through their paces. The (gotta love it) Nifty brand “EZ Expanding Cooling Rack” more or less lived on the dining table for several days, and, even when cookie-less, it became an object of desire for everyone who walked through our door.

It has a spare, utilitarian beauty, but I think people really love it for its inherent playfulness: It stretches out when pulled and retracts when pushed, like an accordion or the telescope in Alice in Wonderland.

Elongated, the rack holds two baking sheets–worth of cookies or cheese straws. It’s also ideal for multiple cake layers, pies, or loaves of bread. We dry nests of fresh fettuccine, candied orange peel, or rain-soaked gloves on it. We straddle two burners with it and roast chiles. Tucked into a sheet pan, it keeps latkes or fried okra crisp in a warm oven.

When not in use, the rack has a neat, ship’s-galley quality that I admire: About 14 inches square and only 1½ inches thick, it stows away in a cabinet without fuss. It can also be retrieved just as easily. When we realized this, we deaccessioned the motley assortment of cooling racks we had assembled over the years; they always seemed to tangle like wire hangers, leaving the retriever hot and extremely cross.

We found our rack a few years ago at Lee Valley Tools, in Ottawa, Ontario, and, happily, the company still carries it, along with all sorts of wondrous woodworking and gardening tools.

The folks at Lee Valley, by the way, were the geniuses who discovered that an orange grated on the razor-sharp photo-etched surface of a Microplane rasp yielded piles of fluffy zest in no time flat. They changed the description of the tool in their catalog, and voilà, a new must-have kitchen gadget was born.

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