Jam, Idleness & Tangerines

...living reflection from a dream...

A friend and former co-worker in the corporate salt mines, Colleen Shea, writes a charming blog about reading and food called Jam and Idleness. She recently revived an interview feature from a previous blog under the new name of Brain/Food and yours truly was interviewed for the inaugural edition.

The bright and witty Colleen sent me a very engaging set of questions via email, to which I responded at some length. Too much length really. But the questions were so good, I had trouble containing my enthusiasm. I often find myself daydreaming about how I’d answer the ten Pivot questions* on Inside the Actor’s Studio, so Colleen’s interview played right into that same intellectual vanity and tendency to soapbox.

I enjoy the Jam and Idleness blend of book and food topics—such naturally related pleasures. It always makes me think of the slow Sunday mornings when I manage to leisurely read over coffee and maybe a croissant at my dining-room table. Although  to be fair, Colleen’s blog is more lively than that prosaic image might imply.

So, go and take a look at my interview, and then please spend some time perusing the marvelous Jam and Idleness.

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*For the record: the sound I love is the chunky guitar noise you hear on tracks like Led Zepplin’s In the Evening—it happens around minutes 3:44 and 4:02 of Jimmy’s solo. Although, if I were ever on the show, I would go on to explain that I’m not really a classic rock person per se and that The Clash is my all-time favourite band.

Equipment Review: KitchenAid Professional 600*

Andrew and I have a rule for our gifts to one another: No practical items! Gifts should be a treat that you would not buy for yourself, not something that is simply saving you a trip to the store.

Because of that rule, I normally wouldn’t consider a stand mixer an appropriate gift item but since I have wanted one for 10 years and have been researching and “deciding” for the past two years, it’s safe to say that it had fallen into the category of something I would not buy for myself. Now that I have used it, I can also confirm that it is a true treat. I am delighted that Andrew gave me this stand mixer for xmas this year, finally putting this project to bed and giving me a fun new toy for baking. Thanks, Honey!

One of the main reasons why I kept putting off this purchase was because it is something I hope to only buy once and I was not sure which one to choose. KitchenAid offers a range of mixers that look similar and mostly differ in terms of power. They have a handy feature on their website that allows you to compare the capacity of each model and they have a more general summary available with their “Flour Power Rating” system. To be honest, those items did not factor too much in my decision since I typically only make things for 2-6 people at a time (unlike those who regularly bake for social events, fundraisers or bazaars). It was not important to me that it be able to accomodate dough for 13 dozen cookies rather than only 6 dozen. Why, then, did I end up with a mixer that can mix up 8 lbs of mashed potatoes at a time? While I did want a device that would last for a long time, the main answer to that question came from the other reason why I put off the purchase, which was to decide what function it would serve in my kitchen.

Truth be told, if you have a good hand mixer, a nice bowl and a wooden spoon you can bake most things just fine. However, as someone mostly driven by my moods, my main hurdle in the kitchen is that I will make things I feel like making but will not consistently make things for general sustenance. I have a natural aversion to routine of any kind, which is an unfortunate pairing with the other side of me that values having home-made pantry staples on hand (yogurt, granola, muffins, etc). In my case, having the right tools is critical to ensuring that process is not the hurdle.

I desperately want to add sandwich bread to my list of home-made staples and that is what cemented my desire to own a stand mixer. In order for me to make the bread I want to make (yeasted, kneaded, whole grain), I would need to eliminate the hurdle of spending extra time and effort kneading the dough. A hand mixer is not powerful enough for this task so I would need the more powerful stand mixer. After much research, I trusted the good nerds at America’s Test Kitchen who confirmed what I read on many bread-making blogs and baking sites: The pigtail design of the dough hook on the Professional 600 model made all the difference. The c-shaped hook of the lesser models seemed to work fine for most tasks but somewhere in the mix (pun intended of course) the dough would get caught and simply ride around the bowl on the hook and would have to be finished by hand. Um… spend a few hundred dollars on a mixer to then do by hand what I paid for it to do? Not likely.

That dough hook is only available on the Professional model and it will not fit smaller models as an add-on. Admittedly, if I were not going to knead bread dough regularly, I would have gone with a less powerful appliance. Actually, if I were only making cakes and small batches of cookies, I wouldn’t need the power and unique features of a stand mixer at all and would have been content to continue on with only a hand mixer.

Regular bread-making was the main decision point for me but I will say that there are other clever features of this appliance that make it a real treat to own. One of those features is that it slowly comes up to speed, reducing the chance of blowing ingredients all over the place when first turned on. I had heard from a friend that its inability to tilt the head back on the machine would make it hard for checking egg whites but our recent soufflé project taught me that while not what I am used to, it was easy enough to do and should become familiar quickly.

This model also has all-metal parts. One detailed historical review of the mixer indicated that one key plastic part would be better to have been left in there but in general, I am confident that this mixer is going to last.

While the Pro 600 passed its first test perfectly with the egg whites, it was somewhat like testing out a tugboat by having it pull a dinghy. I will review my mixer again once I have tested it out on more challenging items like bread, pizza dough and maybe even multiple pounds of mashed potatoes but early use indicates a fantastic addition to my kitchen.

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*No one currently pays us for product reviews, these are simply opinions that we want to share.