Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Months before Christmas, my wife had been talking about buying a bread maker. I was totally against the idea. Our shelves and cupboards are already littered with unused novelty appliances.

There's the pasta maker that has never seen a ball of dough. We have Pampered Chef gadgets tucked away in all corners of the kitchen. On most days our counter top is cluttered with a Foreman Grill, a toaster, a coffee machine, a bowl or two of tangerines and bananas, and a few glass jars full of pasta, flour, and sugar. Oh, and a bowl of bottle caps. So adding a gigantic bread maker seemed like a bad idea to me. I prefer a minimalist kitchen. Give me a sharp blade, a cutting board, a pot and a pan, and I'll cook you a meal you'll remember.

We received the bread maker as a hand-me-down. It had been used once. Just once. To me, that meant the thing would be a waste of time and space. But it was free, so whatever, I decided to give it a chance. If it had to be left on the curb, no hard feelings.

One Friday night Ang decided to bake a loaf. The accompanying booklet is full of recipes for all types of bread. But anyone who has worked in a kitchen before is skeptical of these types of recipes. True recipes don't need a fancy novelty oven to turn out right. Mix the ingredients, toss them in a pan, load the oven, and wait. So, obviously, I wasn't overly optimistic about the whole process. With more than a dash of indignance I even proposed to challenge her loaf with one baked the old-fashioned way. I just didn't think the thing would work.

She mixed up her ingredients and dumped then in the Hitachi. Immediately the machine started banging and bumping as it kneaded the dough. We were trying to watch a film, so I was both amused and irritated. I thought the annoying sound was the sound of future failure and some sort of affirmation of my distrust of the bread maker.

About halfway through the film, I noticed the machine had long gone silent, and my nose picked up an amazing aroma emanating from the kitchen. Our house smelled like a freaking bakery. OK, sure, it smelled like bread, but surely the loaf would be malformed and inedible, right?

Ang pulled the vertical bread pan out of the Hitachi by its handle and gave it a little tap. Out of the non-stick pan popped a perfectly formed, steaming loaf of white bread. The fresh aroma, the white steam, the even layer of crispy crust, the spongy goodness inside - simply delectable. I mean the bread was so damned good, I could've given the Hitachi a hug. Instead, I praised my wife. Although, I have to admit, my slice had a distinct flavor of crow.

Since that breakthrough evening Ang has baked a wheat loaf that toasted beautifully and she made New York style bagels. Granted, the Hitachi only mixed and kneaded the bagel dough, but still, the bagels were excellent. The Hitachi has earned its counter top real estate.

On a somewhat related note... Most Americans I know eat pre-sliced loaves of bread purchased from the local super grocery. But when I visited my friends in the village of Kippen in Sterlingshire, Scotland, I learned how to eat freshly baked bread. Leave the heel alone. On a loaf from which you cut your own slices, the heel acts like a lid to keep the freshness in. This wasn't obvious to me when I humbly offered to eat the heel in my cucumber and cheese sandwich. That was one life lesson I'll never forget. These days our homemade loaves stay fresher because of that experience. (Cheers, Jamesy!)

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Because it takes commitment to ride your scoot-around to the bar in single digit temps and leave your oxygen tank in the basket.