Jan 1, 2009

In Loving Memory...

My electric hand mixer died yesterday.

It was quite possibly the greatest hand-held mixer in history. My mom bought it for me about 12 years ago, shortly before I moved into a campus apartment my sophomore year of college. She found it at a kitchen store at an outlet mall. It was some random off-brand and I think it cost, like, 10 bucks.

As a couple we were always rather unassuming, until a few years ago when I realized how very special it was. Mom and I were talking about cookie dough, I believe, and she lamented that even her newer mixer couldn't keep up with it very well. I felt rather confused because mine had no trouble with cookie dough, even on the lower settings. Well, the next time I was cooking at Mom's I used her mixer. It seemed anemic compared to what I was used to. And then it hit me. It's not that Mom's mixer was bad...it was simply that my mixer was the hidden, kick-a$$ mixer of mixers. It had secret powers that most mixers did not. My eyes grew wide with the realization. I told very few people, since I didn't want the world beating my door down, wanting to borrow my hand mixer. Because that happens all the time with this sort of thing.

The years passed, and before too terribly long the KitchenAid Artisan became the everyman's stand mixer. Hardcore bakers still go for the more industrial-strength ones, but the Artisan works well for most home baking; that is, cakes, cookies, and the occasional loaf of bread. And it comes in, like, 30 colors. The Cat Daddy knows that I do enjoy the baking (when I have time), and he really likes having cool gadgets, so for him it was a no-brainer that we should acquire one at the earliest opportunity. I like cool gadgets, but I also like a non-cluttered kitchen. I loved the idea of a stand mixer, but didn't want to rush into such a long-term commitment, so I was sort of dragging my feet. And then one day I realized: Other than freeing up my mixing hand, there was no reason for me to upgrade to the stand. My mixer could handle whatever I threw at it with ease, almost tauntingly so.

Only a month ago in fact, it actually frightened Mom-in-Law when she was baking a cake during her visit with us. She flipped the on-switch, splattering batter all over the place. She let out a yelp and turned it off with the speed of someone putting out a fire.

"Skerrib, I only turned it on to 1. What did I do?"

"Don't worry, it's just an awesome mixer. I splatter stuff all the time."

She opted to hand-stir the rest of the way.

My mom on the other hand, given the opportunity, would have stolen the mixer from under my nose without a second thought. I tried several times to track down the same mixer for her, but since it was an off-brand I never did find an equivalent. Bummer for her. Bummer for me, too, because in the back of my mind I knew that even the best kitchen electrics cannot last forever. Sure, you've got the decades-old GE's that have become treasured antiques for heirs to fight over, but even they succumb sooner or later (the mixers and the heirs, it turns out). So I made a deal with the Cat Daddy that when my hand mixer finally bit it, we could get a stand. And maybe even some flame decals, because we're both just a little nuts for Alton Brown and his food science.

It's true that the end often comes suddenly, and my super-power mixer went out in particularly insulting fashion. I enjoy the baking, but recently I got up the courage to venture into candymaking, and I was attempting my first-ever batch of divinity. Divinity is tricky because it involves a candy thermometer, and you have to make sure the weather isn't too humid. Plus, it's a continuous process that really can't be stopped in the middle and started again because you're dealing with boiling sugar and whipped-egg whites, both of which are quite time-sensitive. Once you begin you're committed to the end result. And the whole thing could still go wrong at any moment because candymaking is just that finicky.

Cheyenne has approximately zero percent water content in the air most of the time, so all I had to worry about was watching the candy thermometer and recalculating the cooking temperature based on the altitude. I had all my goods and gear lined up, more or less in the order I would need them. I did the cooking, whipping, and combining, and was down to the final three minutes of the beating. The candy goes through a series of goo-phases, and it had achieved what looked to me like a marshmallow cream status. All I had to do was watch for when it started to lose its glossy finish.

Suddenly, the mixer gave a funky whine, and I looked down to see one beater turning as it should and the other one sitting there like a bump on a log. I thought maybe the goo had become too thick, so I turned the power up a notch...with no response from the gimpy beater. After a series of checks and a couple of false-hope bangs on the counter, I resigned myself to attempting to finish up with one beater. But oh no. Shortly thereafter the other one went out too. The motor was running but the beaters were still. With only three minutes remaining it was dead. Three minutes. Dead.

I say it was insulting because if I had been making cookies or cake I could have confidently finished up with my other hand mixer; that is, my wooden spoon. But no, it was candy, and it was my first attempt, and with my lack of experience I was at a loss. It did occur to me that people have been whipping up divinity long before the advent of electric mixers, but in the end I decided to let the batch go, quietly, into that dark night, right along with the mixer.

During this time the Cat Daddy was looking over my shoulder, watching the resuscitation attempts, growing ever-hopeful at my lack of success. Finally he said, with the slightest glee-filled giggle, "Is it dead?" and I said, "Yes, I believe it is dead," and he said, with more obvious excitement, "Can we get a stand mixer now?" and I said, "Yeah. That was the agreement. I guess we get a stand mixer now."

No time to mourn in this house. Within minutes he was off to do the market research, and by evening we were visiting retailers, observing planetary motion mechanisms and weighing the merits of tilt-versus-lift. I was still in a mild state of shock, thinking "I can't believe it's gone." Somehow I think my recovery will be quick, though. I really am more disappointed with the botched candy than I am at the prospect of a shiny new appliance.

So here's to my generic, off-brand, super-powered electric hand mixer. You went with me through college, ten years of marriage, and five states of residence. In the end you went down boldly, thumbing your nose at the world in a bowl of shiny white goo (three minutes!). You will be spoken of with great fondness, much like my 1990 Honda Accord and reversible green canvas coat. Not my mini-slinky though, because I found it (but that's another post).

And here's to 2009, the year of the stand mixer and planetary motion in the Skerrib household...

PS--I'm leaning toward the lift option, but still debating it versus the tilt (and if you know your stand mixers, you will know what I mean). If anyone has thoughts on this, please let me know.


Candace Jean July 16 said...

This was a sad post for me to read. I will lament the day when my avocado green blender, circa 1973, will bite the dust. It's the last of my original wedding registry appliances and it's the bomb for grinding flax seed, which is about all I use it for. My margarita days are behind me.

I have a tilt Kitchen Aid and love it. I have boxes of attachments that have never been opened. Sadly, I cook, not bake, so I don't use it much. But I feel quite Alton Brownish (or like W? She's awesome!) when I do. I imagine a baker would have a better opinion on mixers than a "cooker."

RIP to your hand mixer. I hope you took pictures. But you'll love the new one.

linda t said...

Man, you're a stinkin good writer girl!
SO, you touched on a memory that I hold dear... the day my hand mixer died. You see, it was THE first wedding gift Randy & I received back in 1979. His Aunt Ruth mailed it to us a month before the wedding. I clearly remember how I felt, realizing that along with getting a husband, I would be getting gifts!! I was pleasantly surprised.
I dearly loved that harvest gold hand mixer for over 20 years... till it died.
Let me put it this way, they don't make em like they used to. I still miss the darn thing.

prochaskas said...

This post made me laugh. But my sympathies on the loss of your precious.

My old hand mixer was awful -- had that almost burning smell, no power... got a new one that is much better. I don't have room for a stand mixer, and my hand mixer actually has dough hook attachments that work.

RichardB said...

Where's the pics?

Suzanne said...

My hand mixer bit the dust in 2008. I haven't completely replaced it with my stand mixer, though. I still find there are just some things that need to be mixed with the spry little hand mixer ... just because the stand can be a little on the clunky side. I have a Wolfgang Puck stand mixer. It's pretty good, but if you have anything in the exact center of the bowl ... it won't get mixed in unless you turn off the mixer periodically and get the spatula out. And really ... what's the point if you have to do all that?