If you’ve stopped here very often, you’re aware that I don’t cook. That is to say I do cook, but I do it badly and inelegantly and only out of necessity and rarely with joy. Someone said to me once that she dusted her cooktop and I crossed my fingers behind my back that I would get there eventually.
But I love to bake. While I make the same ten recipes for dinner in a pretty regular rotation, I’m fearless when I bake. Cakes, cookies, pies, tarts. When I cook, I often realize I’ve skipped steps or left out ingredients. When I bake, I’ll sift, grate, blanch, peel or candy with care.
I had not used a Kitchenaid mixer until about ten years ago. I grew up with a hand mixer (my mother was a terrible cook and baker, so we’ve evolved a little.) With it, I made cookies and brownies and cream puffs that looked like swans. As an adult I did the same and could not see the appeal of this behemoth of the kitchen counter. I thought it was another affectation of cooking like an egg separator or a mat with concentric circles that tells you how far you need to roll the dough for your piecrust.
I was wrong. Once I lived with a Kitchenaid, I understood that it was one of the few devices that make the process better. Whether whipping or mixing, it was well worth the exercise of lugging it from under the island onto the counter.
When I moved, the Kitchenaid did not come with me and I was without one for about nine months. I told myself it was a needless expense. I told myself I could live without it. I told myself that I had been happy with a hand mixer before and I could be happy with one again.
What I found was that I stopped baking. I tried a couple of times, but my rhythm was off. I can see now that it was a combination of a few things. Baking and cooking are physical acts. The way we move about the kitchen is a dance. If you watch a practiced cook or baker, you can see that it is like ballet. As with anything, routine helps us find our grace there. It takes a while in a new space for our fingers to find the spatula without looking. It takes a while to open only one drawer in search of the knife. It takes a while to know that the oven heats at a ridiculously slow pace and runs just a couple of degrees hot.
I realized, too, that once we know better, it is difficult to go back. So I decided to invest in a mixer. The previous Kitchenaid, which I did not choose, was white. If I had chosen it, it would have been white. Or maybe black. I read and hear funny things in my life that snap into my brain like Legos. Advice on style or living can come from any random place and become part of my canon. I was a child when I saw the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie. In it Mary Tyler Moore’s character, while discussing cars, says that machines should only be black or white. For whatever reason, as I lay on my stomach on orange shag carpet with my chin in my hand, I thought that sounded right. Not just sensible, but chic, though I didn’t know that word at the time.
When I went to buy my mixer, I planned on black or white. I do not get a thrill from cooking stores, as some people do, and my main objective is to get what I need and get out as quickly as I can. But the day I went to buy my mixer, I could not leave the spot at the back of the store where they were displayed. I had gone to determine which size I needed, but was enchanted by their shiny, candy colors. I knew already that he would live on the counter; I did not want to bother with the charade of hiding him. Suddenly, the question was not if there would be color, but what color it would be. I considered red, which is a color that I love, but there was simply too much jump. It was, unsurprisingly, the turquoisey-not-quite-robin’s-egg blue that I could not shake. Even after learning that it was on back-order – I would have to wait a little longer – nothing else would do.
In this particular case, my instincts were good. The turquoisey-not-quite-robin’s-egg blue makes me smile every morning as he greets me. And I am baking again. My middle son is a baker, too, and we made cinnamon rolls for the first time Thanksgiving morning. He told me yesterday that he wants to try lemon poppyseed muffins, though he’s never had lemon poppyseed muffins, he likes the idea of them. It seems silly to say that a mixer changed my life for the better, but in a very small way, it did.