I Flaunt, Therefore I Am (updated)
Megan McArdle is back in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant with pride, because she works so damn hard for the money that paid for her $1500 nutchopper/heater/blender/death ray/calculator-that-doesn’t-omit-decimal-points thingamajig:
I wanted to out myself before I put out the kitchen gift guide (going up later today!), but I was pretty sure I was going to take a lot of flak for owning this thing, This was a sound guess. “Why on earth would you need such a thing?” was the most common response, followed by “How can you justify spending so much money?” and a dozen or so sniffy variations on “real cooks don’t use machines to do their cooking for them”, often with the not-so-subtle implication that before I acquired the Thermomix, my culinary repertoire was probably limited to box cake mixes and casseroles involving tuna and cream cheese.
The short answer to the first two questions is that I don’t need it, and indeed, it’s hard to justify spending so much money on it. It would have been much easier to justify, in fact, had I been the sort of person who uses box cake mixes and velveeta. I already made very good bechamel and hollandaise (no brag: hollandaise has an entirely undeserved reputation as being super-hard, which is probably all for the best, since its real drawback is that it will make you super-fat if you discover how easy it is and start making it all the time.) I am quite capable of whipping up creme anglaise, lemon curd, or tomato soup. Why pay a machine to do it for me?
And the short answer to that is that I was slogging my way through a big freelance project on spec that turned out to take approximately 9 times longer than I’d anticipated, and involved much gnashing of teeth in getting it right. By revision 83, I said to my husband, “If I ever finish this damn thing and get a check, I’m buying a freaking Thermomix.” I finished the damn thing. They arranged for payment. I bought the Thermomix. In some sense it was found money–I’m not sure I would have made it to the finish line without the prospect of a ridiculous gadget.
Which might explain why she never completed the second movement of her unfinished symphony: Elizabeth Warren Is A Big Poopyhead. No pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow, no poorly-argued, easily-refuted waste of bandwidth, Sparky…
But getting back to McMegan’s admission that she just had to tell everybody about her new expensive toy lest she be accused of of some ethical malfeasance (such as when her childgroom worked on a fake grassroots website for Dick Armey’s Freedomworks), she goes on to explain that the real reason she need/wanted her gadget is because human evolutionary progress would grind to a halt if she were unable to whip up a passable creme anglaise:
There is, of course, the joy of acquisition. And why give that short shrift? The high may be temporary, but the same is true of climbing a mountain. Why valorize one over the other?
After all, the new gadget represents hours, maybe years, of human ingenuity applied to the problem of making repetitive tasks easier, faster, safer, or more convenient. Which basically sums up 90% of human progress since the industrial revolution, so don’t give it short shrift. We should enjoy these things–their sleek design, their nifty features. I love machines of all types, from welding robots to 50-foot cranes, and when they are specially designed for my favorite room of the house, I love them even more.
Shorter McMegan: We need neat things because they fill up the empty space where our soul is supposed to be located and without them we’re no better than damn dirty apes.
It goes without saying that McMegan missed the point (which is a feature, not a bug with her, by the way) by making this post – In Defense of Kitchen Gadgets – about the game and not about the player. You see, anyone who criticized her Wall Street Journal piece for its ostentatious display of self-indulgent acquisition, like it was a shiny new engagement ring to be shoved in the faces of the rest of the unmarried gals in the office, is actually a closet kitchen Luddite who probably uses sticks and rocks and only occasionally fire to prepare meals where mud is substituted in lieu of a decent bechamel.
A good kitchen gadget lowers the marginal cost, in time or money, of producing good food. More than occasionally, they also produce better food than you can do unassisted. Toasters make better toast than your oven does. Food processors make better pie crust than tediously fooling with two forks or a pastry blender while your fat gets warm. Genoise can fail on even the most expert cook, but the Thermomix method is basically foolproof–and produces a product just as good as the old hand method.
And while I occasionally feel the pull of those loving evocations of laborious kitchen prep, it never lasts much beyond chopping that first onion. I don’t find it uplifting to spend half an hour prepping vegetables; I find it tedious. What I like about cooking is the planning, the tweaking, and the eating, not the labor of stirring at a hot stove, or the beautiful geometry of reducing carrots to an even dice. And no, it’s not that I don’t know how to do those things–it would be ore interesting if I did.
If you really think that laborious food prep is that elevating, you should go back to the methods of your grandmother. Buy whole nuts and crack them by hand, picking out the meats and hoping you don’t accidentally get a bit of shell. Throw out the powdered gelatin and use calf’s foot jelly. Make your own confectioner’s sugar with a food grinder or a rolling pin. Pluck your own chickens. Render your own lard.
Because there is no middle ground.
Feast or famine. Famine being what happens when the Genoise fails.
Oh, the humanity…
(Added) I “short shrifted” both myself and you by not referring back to this wonderful video of McMegan not using box cake mixes. Duncan Hines wept.