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The holidays, in all their horror and glory, are fast approaching. And in this house, that means one thing in particular: the assembly of confections. When I started out cooking, I didn’t even have a good set of measuring spoons let alone a stand mixer (I did have my mother’s avocado green hand mixer, but that was finicky at best, and often smelled of singed wires after a few strokes — though I do give it some credit for sticking around so long, since I’m fairly certain it was part of her wedding haul in 1971). So I remember fully creaming butter by hand and doing my best to manage large cakes and batches of cookies with nothing but the trembling strength of my own arms.
When Michael and I registered for our wedding in 2004, there was only one thing I really, really wanted. Having worked a summer in a now-defunct Jewish deli in Northampton, MA, I was introduced to the wonder and magic of the single most important gadget in any cook’s kitchen. Any cook who really wants to learn how to use time and ingredients wisely, that is. A KitchenAid Mixer.
At the time, we were just about as poor as we’d ever get. I was working at Starbucks, just transitioning into graduate school, and Michael was delivering pizza. My lovely aunt asked me if there was one thing I really wanted on our registry, and I shyly told her that it was the mixer. I think she was a little surprised that it ranked above the espresso machine (coffee junkie that I am and was). But she understood. Since I was a tween, I’d been cooking enthusiastically for the family (and eventually, the recipients of food became as enthusiastic as my approach).
And in a turn of fate that I can’t discredit, right about the time that I got that gleaming white stand mixer, I discovered the joy of a show called Good Eats and a mysterious man, the high geek of culinary alchemy, Alton Brown. Alton loved his mixer so much that he painted flames on it (if you want to do the same, apparently there are kits for that). And I understand this affection. Since getting that mixer in 2004, I have used it in a myriad of ways. It’s undoubtedly made me a better cook by saving me time, helped me to explore new culinary avenues (like grinding and stuffing homemade sausages), and saved my carpal tunnel ridden hands to boot!
See, this is the thing: the kitchen is constantly bogged down by gadgetry, and in recent years marketing departments have really pandered to the geeky set, no doubt inspired by the success of Good Eats. Just consider the GE Cafe oven ads making the rounds now (and by “making the rounds” I mean playing constantly on Cooking TV and Food Network which gets a lot of airplay round here). And not to say that marketing doesn’t work, as I fully admit to having dream sequences about that double oven. But the thing is, cooking comes from a very rudimentary place. You know: man, meat, fire. As Alton insists time and time again, sometimes simpler is better. The best multitaskers are often the sorts of tools and implements we’ve been using for decades, if not centuries (see the Dutch Oven).
What I love about the stand mixer is that, in spite of its hefty price point, it’s a masterful machine that multitasks and does every bit flawlessly. It’s a motor, really, a basic motor that can — among many other things — whip eggs, cream butter, knead dough, and stuff sausages. With every attachment known to man available at most kitchen stores, you can turn that one basic motor into a multitude of kitchen appliances.
What’s even more remarkable that the KitchenAid mixer hasn’t changed much since its introduction in 1919. The mixer itself has become the cornerstone of a company who now boasts that they only “do” kitchens. And it’s not surprising. Under the hood, the KitchenAid mixer isn’t exactly high tech. There’s no thermometers, no digital readouts, not even a single flashing light (at least on mine, which is the base model — well-used and still very loved). And in spite of how many appliances in other brands have changed over the years since I’ve been married, the KitchenAid stays surprisingly familiar (save for some gorgeous colors, and one jaw-dropping copper edition).
And before I go too far with my unabashed love of this device, let me just close by saying that I think there is a lesson to be learned here. In this fast-paced world of encroaching gadgets, of constantly evolving technology, it’s important to remember that sometimes simplicity yields the best results. Sometimes, it isn’t about the bells and whistles, it just about the damned thing working (with as many times as my Droid X crashes, I can’t tell you how much I sometimes just miss my little Nokia, ca. 1999). It’s not always about a mixer. It might be a car; it might be a tool; it might be a TV. But in this season of wanting more, bigger, brighter, and shinier, maybe it’s time we just sat back and appreciated the art of that which simply does its job best and be satisfied — nay, triumphant! — that we have stumbled upon perfection.