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Pantry Pleasantries 

Mabel’s on 4th probably has that kitchen item you never knew you needed

click to enlarge mabels4.jpg

Mark Whittaker

It's all about food here in the Chow section, but this week I would like to chat up a little place on Fourth Avenue that sells some of the coolest kitchen gizmos that I have ever come across. Don't worry—lots and lots of dining deliciousness is coming your way, but for now, let me help you with your last minute holiday shopping.

I'm talking about Mabel's.

Nicole and Johnny Carrillo came to us via Savannah, Georgia, where they owned and operated a smaller version of Mabel's, and thanks to an excruciatingly hot day, they now call Tucson home.

"Well, originally we were on our way to San Antonio," says Nicole, running around her spacious shop as new items were being delivered. "But it was so hot here that the plane couldn't take off. So they asked if there were any volunteers to stay behind and take a later flight. We did, and we just fell in love with Tucson. And when this space became available, we knew that we wanted to stay here for good."

Nicole has been in retail her whole life, getting her start in a Mervyn's decades ago. Her husband, Johnny, was in the Marines, which brought them to Savannah in the first place. When Johnny was deployed to Iraq, he helped serve by being a combat artist, as he always had a knack for all things design and drawing. When he returned home and retired, he put his skills to work for his wife's shop by screen printing hand towels and such, which he continues to do today.

"Most everything you see in Mabel's is made by local artists, and if they are not Tucson local, they are artists working out of their home, so in a sense, you are still supporting a small business when you shop here," Nicole says.

Named after Nicole's grandmother, Mabel's is celebrating a full year of being a business in the old How Sweet It Was vintage clothing store on Fourth Avenue. Now that the holidays are here, they have everything—and then some—for all of your eating and cooking requirements.

Yes, eating.

Not too sure if you knew this, but you need some taco holder-uppers in your life. Sometimes, here in Tucson, your phone rings. What are you going to do with that taco? Just set it down and let the goodness fall out of the top? No. You are a taco eating pro and the Taco Propers ($1.50) will come to your aid every time to ensure your taco remains upright and intact. And I know you are straight tired of getting your fingers seared a bit when your toaster pastry gets stuck down in the spring-loaded red coils of humiliation. The Toast Tongs ($2.98) have your back. Let them save you from turning the toaster upside down and shaking it, trying to get that sweet but pesky frosted treat out as your family stares at you in mild horror.

"All the bags in here are made by a local lady, but I don't know who she is!" Nicole says. "So we just call her the 'mystery bag lady.' Crazy, but here they are."

The aprons—retro-hued, sewn-sturdy splatter shields—are supplied by the Tucson business Susie's Aprons. There are also various handmade koozies for sale, such as the thick wrapped Tortilla Koozie ($19.98), perfect for keeping freshly made tortillas nice and warm, or a Microwave Koozie ($14.98), perfect for avoiding burning the crap out of your hand when taking an overheated bowl of ramen out of the microwave.

And I doubt you have cookie cutters (most between $2-$3) in the shape of beer bottles, angel fishes, bikini bottoms, hair dryers, drills, helicopters or—their best-selling item—marijuana leaves. They have an antique claw-foot tub filled with this stuff. Old crock pots are brimming with handcrafted wooden spoons, pickle pinchers (for getting hard to reach pickles out of a jar), last drop spatulas (which leave no scrap behind) or an import from Sweden: The scraper spoon with a flat front to ensure you get that last splash of mom's pozole.

Best of all: With each purchase you get a free recipe, so when you get home with your Corn Zipper ($7.98) or Carrot Curler ($5.98), you—or the lucky person you give it to—will know how to use it. How cool is that?

"I just love my life," says Nicole as customers flood in when she opens the front door. "I just love selling fun stuff to fun people. Best of all, I love being in business here in Tucson."

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