Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Still Mixing After All These Years

Thirty-six years ago this month, my parents were married on a rainy-sunshiny day in central Illinois. They were barely old enough to drink at their own wedding and didn't have two pennies to rub together; my mom always said that in those early years, they were living on love.

One of the wedding gifts that they received was an avocado green hand mixer, a historically popular color for kitchen utensils and appliances in the years before Reagan. Life was good if you had a fridge and stove in matching avocado green; a hand mixer was another accessory for a well-coordinated kitchen.

My mom loves to bake, so that hand mixer occupies a solid place in my memory. My childhood recollections waver between crystal clear and fuzzy around the edges and completely opaque, but always, the avocado hand mixer is there, sitting on the kitchen counter in the four houses that I remember well.

It was the kitchen utensil that I learned to use because hand mixers, as far as cooking tools go, are relatively harmless. I remember learning important lessons about putting the mixer in the batter first before turning it on, and not the other way around. I learned how to mix while scraping the sides of the bowl to catch all the flour. I learned that being offered a beater after the cookie dough was mixed is one of life's greatest treats (salmonella risk aside).

When I moved into my first apartment, my mom gave me the mixer. At first, I didn't use it much. In college and then directly after, I didn't cook so much as assemble sandwiches and put waffles in the toaster. But I began to experiment with baking and learned that it calms me. There is something so lovely about the precise art of baking, and something so satisfying about modifying that precise recipe into something even better.

I have had that mixer for almost 15 years. In my apartments and houses, it has made cookies, brownies, pie fillings, whipped cream, and a hundred other things. In the last year or so, my kids have started to prop a stool against the counter and watch semi-patiently for the avocado mixer to stop so they could commandeer a beater.

After 36 years of use, that mixer still works and shows no signs of dying on me. I bought another one years ago, one that was new and white and had sleek-looking beaters. I think I have used it twice. I much prefer to use the one that was gifted to a young couple, starting life with not much else than each other and some things for their house. I don't have the avocado green appliances to match, but that great old mixer is nothing but at home in its second-generation family of bakers.