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Gadgets: Getting too fast?

March 23, 2010

orange kitchen aid mixer When I was a little girl, helping out in the kitchen was one of the most fun “help mama” activities (topped only by sewing, of course). My memories contain remnants of the sensory experience: sticky hands, brown sugar-coated tongue, sunlight streaming through the windows, fresh-baked cookie scents, and, of course, the steady ka-chunk noise of the Kitchen Aid mixer. My mother swears by her Kitchen Aid, and has promised that my kitchen will never be incomplete because my own mixer will be her first gift to me on my wedding day.

The Kitchen Aid is an extremely useful tool. Its heavy base and thick gears manage to spin the densest doughs, and the plethora of attachments available simplifies many daunting cooking and baking endeavors. In my kitchen at home, it stands out no more than the toaster, blender, or microwave. But where do gadgets cross the line from useful helpers to overachievers?

This New York Times Article explores the recent evolution of appliances, citing a toaster that poaches an egg as the bread is toasted. The NYT refers to America as a nation of “index-finger cooks” and says that we enjoy the satisfaction that comes from making something, even and especially when that something requires little to no effort.

Housewares sales have been dropping in recent times, but small kitchen appliances have been selling very well lately. Microwave meals, frozen pizzas, and envelopes of cookie dough are appealing because they are convenient while retaining at least a smidge of that “i made it myself” feeling. But what are we losing when we give up being able to lick the batter off the beater?

One-button cuisine offers ready answers for cooks with not much time to spend in the kitchen and not much of a clue about what to do once they get there.

The orange Kitchen Aid mixer of my future kitchen might save my arms some strain, but it is by no means a one-button machine. I will still be measuring, sampling, and modifying during every bit of the baking process. And I most certainly will have a clue about what I’m doing, because I can hear my mother’s guidance right along with that distinctive Kitchen Aid stirring noise.

There is a boundary between those appliances that make kitchen tasks more enjoyable and those that take all of the work, pleasure, and process out of them. If more people started with Kitchen Aid mixers than toaster ovens complete with the “pizza bump”, I think we’d be witnesses to an entirely different food culture.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. djr32 permalink
    March 23, 2010 10:29 pm

    Growing up I never had an electric mixer, but my friends always raved about how much easier it made everything in the kitchen. It is interesting to hear about how in some families it was a staple of the kitchen. But I like how you point out it doesn’t take the fun out of baking and cooking because you can still modify and taste your recipes in the process. I think this is a good point and puts electric mixers in a different realm than prepackaged cookies.

  2. lbblog05 permalink
    March 24, 2010 4:12 am

    We always mixed dough by hand at my house when we baked. It wasn’t until I turned 14 and made a terrible version of my Grandma’s “Mile High Strawberry Pie” that I even learned that we owned a mixer. The “Mile High” part of the title comes from the fact that egg whites are beaten stiff and folded into the filling mixture so the filling towers many inches above the crust. The first time I made the pie I didn’t beat the eggs well or long enough. The pie turned out flat and the flavor was off. My mom inquired if I had used the mixer. I think the gob-smacked look on my face answered her question. The next time I made the pie I dug the mixer out a pile of boxes stored in the basement. While the effort of finding the mixer negated any physical effort I saved by using it, it was definitely worth it for this specific recipe. The pie turned out wonderfully. The flavor was right, the consistency was light and airy, and it was nice and tall.

    Since then, I only use the mixer when it can accomplish something that I can’t do correctly by hand. For the most part, I find mixers to be inconvenient; the correct part is always hard to find and some parts are next to impossible to clean. Despite my opinion on their inconvenience, I don’t believe that using a mixer takes away from the cooking/baking process.

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