Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recent Kitchen Adventures and the Mechanization of the World as I Know It.

Late last week, my KitchenAid died. Mid-dough, it ceased up and I quickly shut it off. I panicked. I know I have some serious issues when the sudden demise of an electrical appliance causes me to panic. I quickly called the helpline, a number I was able to find in about 30 seconds on the iPhone, and quickly made my way through a cue of automation to a live person.

The funny thing about the mechanization of the world is that it also mechanizes human beings. I'm pretty sure that the woman who initially helped me didn't hear a word I was saying. She, no doubt, was a mid-range, hourly employee who was doing everything by the textbook she was trained by. She was pleasant, but not personal.

Now, I am really not a bad person to deal with. I am as quick to call and complement as I am to call and complain, (and I like to think that I can complain with tact and class!) but when I challenged her on the way that KitchenAid stands behind their products, the one sentence straight out of the manual was not enough for me. I pleasantly got off the phone, but I was Upset. Upset that my Professional grade mixer that I use (actually more often than I at first realized) was going to have to go somewhere out of state for repair, and upset that people don't actually hear you when you talk.

After noting my unpleasantness on my Facebook page, I got a swift response from another KitchenAid employee. Not only was my experience totally different, I came out thinking much higher of the product. Within a few emails, I had a phone number to an actual person with an extension, and the person actually listened to me. Curiously, she gave me the exact same information as the first person I talked to, but she did it in such a human way that I realized that my initial displeasure was totally unwarranted.

Further, we discussed that the use of my beater blade may have contributed to the problem. I did not know that the beater blade is really not recommended for use with stand mixers, I mean, Dorie Greenspan of all people was recommending this product! I would say in the past 2 months, I was relying on the beater blade more and more for the amazing job it does incorporating batters without having to stop and scrape down the sides. This is what happens when humans listen to humans and really Hear them, real results can happen - and this is true with so much more than KitchenAid stand mixers. When my machine is repaired, I will be retiring my beater blade... and I would have to say I'd recommend you do the same if you have one.

One machine I don't know if I can give up is my digital scale...

The dough that brought down the mixer was the Multigrain Sandwich bread. I was able to finish it by hand, and gave one loaf to Peef and Lo, and just finished the last of our loaf on Monday. On the first batch, I had a third of a leftover loaf which I dried and pulsed into fine breadcrumbs. I am waiting for the perfect opportunity to pan fry some breadcrumb-dredged fresh mozzarella for one of my favorite ways to use up breadcrumbs...the crumbs smelled earthy and nutty and would be perfect fried onto some cheese and tossed into a spring salad. I think my waiting may be due to my recent obsessions with culturing (which will naturally lead to at home cheese making, I think...).

Another revelation, is that when I first started playing around with doughs, I usually did so by hand since I did have a circa 1940's mixer (my first stand mixer that now resides at Sasa's house), but I rarely used it except for cookies or cakes. After the floor-denting incident of my second KitchenAid (which really was not strong enough to keep up with what I was asking it to do: it vibrated off the counter when I was attending the Boy-O and that mixer even still works and is in my Parent's apartment as a spare), I kind of migrated to the whole "no knead" world of doughs, which is fine and convenient and does yield excellent results. But I think I have lost touch with the dough a little, and forget that it is really a living thing, full of organisms that respond to my hands.

I recall Marcella Hazan writing that to make pasta dough, it should be mixed by hand on a wooden board for a full 8 minutes. I used to do this, set to a timer, and it is fully physical work. Now, I usually get it into a mass, but rely on the power of the Pasta Queen to complete the kneading for me, rolling it through the metal rollers repeatedly with a bit of flour dusting on each pass. Faster, yes, but is it more satisfying to let machines take over? I'm not really sure. In the following days that I am KitchenAidless, I believe I will return to some good, old-fashioned hand kneading experiments. After all, these hands are the greatest multipurpose tools ever designed, and maybe I need to appreciate them a little bit more.

I got two cultures, a yogurt and a buttermilk, from Cultures for Health that was a resource Lo recommended to me. I was so impressed with the site, and their wealth of free information, that I could have also invested in some kefir and kombucha starters as well. I figured it would be best to start off slowly, one culture at a time, so I started the buttermilk on Monday. Simply mix part of the powdered culture with fresh milk and leave at warm room temperature (70 degrees) for 24-48 hours. I went the full 48, since I suspect my room temp was a bit on the cool side to begin with. I then took the tip of placing the jar in the oven with the oven light on. A strange amount of heat is generated this way... and it was a perfect way to not turn my home into a sauna for 2 days.

Now that I think I have a viable 1/2 cup of cultured buttermilk, I can begin to build it into a larger portion - according to the site, I can keep portioning off the culture and use it indefinitely! I am using this ambient oven-heat trick now to keep my culture comfortable since especially in these early spring days, when I don't have the heat on much, it can be a bit on the chilly side. Another thing for The List of Things I'll Never Buy Again, all thanks to this post by Julia which made me realize that I could do this, and easily!

I sometimes get behind in reading as much as I like, but do often peruse the photos of my flickr contacts. Marisa at Food in Jars posted photos that I knew would be explained on her site and I clicked to find exactly what I wanted: Cold Brewed Coffee. I am pretty bland in my coffee-brewing techniques at home, and rely on my favorite, local Alterra, to get me a fix of anything special I may be up for. Since I am rather home-bound most of the week, a good cup of drip joe is usually just fine for me, and I drink it (16 oz. from my little 4 cup Cuisinart) in a range of temperatures throughout the morning. I turn off the maker as soon as it is brewed, and seriously drink it from it's hot goodness around 8 until it is stone cold around 11:30. I did the method Marisa outlined last night, and enjoyed some iced coffee this morning. It's worth playing around with, and is pretty much labor and machine free!

Meanwhile, Boy-O is on the pancake diet. It is all he will eat. I have committed to making them as healthy as I can and use only oat flour, whole wheat flour and a tad of olive oil. (I can make them in my sleep: 1/2 c. rolled oats, ground in a spice mill to flour, 1/2 c. whole wheat flour, 1 1/4 t. baking powder, 1/4 t. baking soda, 1 c. buttermilk (soon to be homemade!), 1 egg, 1 glug - a Tablespoon or so - of olive oil. Mix and let stand about 5 minutes to let the batter thicken before commencing with your flap-jacking.) I can get him to eat an apple, if there is peanut butter for him to dip it into, and really nothing else. I have no idea why he is getting pickier instead of less picky, and am trying not to worry about the holes that must be evident in his nutrition... I hope this phase passes soon, and that I don't turn into a caterer which I fear has already happened.

So when this morning, as I actually swept the kitchen floor instead of plugging in the vacuum, I was reminded how much I have come to depend on machines. I used to sweep all of the time, then I bought this vacuum (the best one ever, by the way) a couple of years ago and have lost the art of the broom. I've come to the point that I use the stand mixer to even mix my no-knead bread, since I like letting it raise in the 6 quart bowl, and I figure "why not just let the dough hook do it?" since I will have to wash a spoon anyway. I let my iPhone signal me when I have email, I brush my teeth with a Sonicare, I let my dryer do most of my clothes drying. Well, today I'm getting some more clothesline and going to start to knead some dough ladies and gentleman: because I fear I am getting citified! Stay tuned, because it's going to be the Rcakewalk's Rise Against the Machines around here for awhile! Not sure where that is going to lead me, but it may even lead me more outdoors and less into the world of postings... but I'll be sure to check in, I'm sure.


  1. Oh, that's so scary that your KA broke. I don't know what I'd do. Ok, you're right -- it's probably scarier to rely so heavily on all these machines. Sigh.

  2. I'm sorry it broke your machine, but That Bread, well, it was sorta magical. So, I'm convinced that it's superpowers were just too much for your machine.

  3. Wow. I've coveted a beater bladesfor some time now... so glad to hear that I can finally stop wishing after one :)

  4. Years ago the Kitchen Aid customer service department was so horrible to me (we had purchased a KA washer and dryer) that I swore I would never buy Kitchen Aid products again. When my old Sunbeam mixer wore out soon after that I bought a Bosch. It is ten years old, used at least 3 times weekly and never a problem. Plus, it is so light weight that I can store it under the counter and get it out very easily.


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