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Spike, the Panasonic Wizard, or “My Favorite Kitchen Appliance”

(post, Trista Cornelius)

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I recently heard Isa Chandra Moskowitz of “Veganomicon” fame talk about writing cookbooks.  During the Q&A, someone asked, “What’s your favorite kitchen appliance?”  She said “Tongs.”  At the time, I thought I had no answer for such a question.  Wooden spoon was the best I could come up with until Laura's [/user/mydogischelsea/blog/ifionlyhadasteam-freemilk_frother... post] about the mixed feelings a kitchen supply catalog engendered in her reminded me of my favorite appliance.  So, I thought I’d take a break from the coffee-drama (oh yes, there’s more to post about that…day 7 of no caffeine as I type this) and tell you about my favorite kitchen appliance:  my Panasonic Kitchen Wizard, aka very old food processor.  

I inherited the food processor from my maternal grandmother.  I didn’t use it much until I became veganish (no dairy or meat, but still eggs and honey).  After lonely years of whipping up the rare smoothie, the food processor now finds himself indispensible.  For whatever reason, vegan recipes make impressive use of the food processor, converting all kinds of solid ingredients into creamy, rich, satisfying meals.  With dogged determination, my food processor hunkers down to gnash and chomp, mashing ingredients into crumbly bits or creamy thickness.  When he’s done, I pat him on what I perceive to be his head, the top of the “Motor Housing” with buttons below for his three commands, “Off” (an orange rectangle with rounded corners), “On,” and “Pulse” (both white).  My processor’s loyalty, his always at-the-ready enthusiasm for my experiments, his partnership in my veganish adventure have earned him a name:  SPIKE.  Spike, the food processor, tan and stout, all muscle and utility, an admirable singular focus, bull-doggish.  

Spike even has a working knowledge of the seasons and local foods.  He has an annual  rigorous stint whirring tomatoes into everything from puree to homemade ketchup during late summer.  He mashes yams and squash into zesty spreads in the fall, mixes sweet, creamy pie fillings in the winter, and explodes fresh berries into smoothies in the spring.  

I know what you must be thinking.  It’s just a food processor, right?  Do I name the mixing bowl?  No.  Serving spoons, spatulas, chopsticks?  No.  Not even the formerly beloved coffeepot has a name.  But there’s something special about Spike; my family even refers to him as Spike, not “the food processor.”  He’s a companion, no, he’s a colleague in this veganish adventure.  That’s what Panasonic should have named him, “The Kitchen Colleague.”  Plus, he’s from some other era when function weighed more heavily than form, when things were made solid, when kitchen gadgets had heft and came in beige and could be handed two generations down by grandmothers.    

Nevertheless, sometimes I worry about Spike breaking, especially when he rocks and shakes on the counter.  The worst was when we tried to turn cubes of chewy artisanal bread into sandy bread crumbs.  He really is no wizard, and I should have known that chewy, fresh bread would not break down into dusty crumbs.  Still, he did his best, never questioning my motives, always bearing down with all his might on whatever contents I provide.  If Spike breaks, is there someone who knows how to fix him?  Will I be told it’s more “cost effective” to buy a new one?  Worse, will someone tell me how much bigger, better, more equipped the new ones are, with all their buttons and gadgets and showy complexity?  I like Spike’s three commands and three utensils. 
A few years ago, a local kitchen supply store offered a captivating deal, bring in your old food processor and exchange it for a significant discount on a new model.  Why did they offer this deal?  Maybe because the old models survive, do not break down; their simplicity adapts to whatever their chef pours into them over the decades.  Why else would the store have to offer a deal to get people to give up their old processors?  

Spike could be decades old.  I’m really not sure.  I don’t know when my grandmother got him, and the manual does not include a date.  He shows little sign of wear, although I noticed a crack in the “Feed Tube” when I washed him this week.  My grandmother had a habit of showing her appreciation for new things by preserving them, not using them, so Spike could be older than he looks.     

I wonder what my grandmother would think of my lifestyle today.  She’d be proud of my cooking, baking, and growing food, but I think she’d find my food choices persnickety compared to her life where half-cubes of butter, real whole butter, melted over any and all vegetables and where chicken fed the pocket book, stomach, family, and most importantly, the soul.  

Near the end of my grandmother’s life, she suffered paralysis in her throat and stopped talking, stopped eating.  Nevertheless, one day she surprised everyone and managed to sit up, look lucidly at everyone there, and clearly, longingly request fried chicken the way a less solid woman might waste her strained breath asking for some long-lost love.  Fried chicken.  Something one can count on to feed the soul.  I get it.  It’s my husband’s favorite food too.  One bite into General Tso’s chicken and his shoulders drop from his ears, he breathes deeply, sighs, chews, and moves into a place yogis only dream possible. 
Still, I hope my grandmother would appreciate my veganish adventure, especially the place it gives to homegrown food, the way it brings us to the dinner table to eat, the way it gets most people to accept seconds much of the time and thirds some of the time, even without meat or dairy. 
She would like that he’s saved me effort, and she might laugh to find out it’s taken me this long to discover he can make frosting. 

 I’d been beating vegan margarine into frosting with a wooden spoon these last few years of mocha cake, lemon cupcakes, and vegan gingerbread cookies.  It’s hard work, makes the shoulder burn, and even when I have enough stamina to stir until it’s smooth, the frosting is never frothy like it ought to be.  Then, one day, ingredients all measured into a Pyrex bowl, I sighed at the arm-wrenching challenge ahead, and thought of Spike.  Without a single shudder, almost with glee, like he’d been waiting for this moment to show off, Spike whirred that margarine, powdered sugar, vanilla, and soy milk, into smooth white frosting with a fluffiness I’d never rendered with my wooden spoon.  It spread smooth and thick across the white cake.  The whole house smelled sweet.  I let Spike linger in a warm, sudsy bath in the sink while I licked off the spatula.