Three years ago, I had more counter space. The counter wasn’t that big to begin with, and now roughly a fifth of it is taken up by a state of the art stand mixer in stainless steel, which is supposed to make me a better mother.
Most people would call it a “Kitchen Aid,” in the way that a copier is called a Xerox machine even when it’s not; the way a soda was a Coke, where I grew up, even when it was Sprite. But my mixer is not a Kitchen Aid, because my husband got gift subscriptions to both Consumer Reports and Cook’s Illustrated years ago and now he’s hooked on both. And so, in an effort to please me and validate my role as a mother and nurturer, and because of his deep belief that one cannot truly embrace an art without the right tools, he got me the mixer that is ranked the best overall by both publications; best for making breads and cakes of all kinds as well as mixed meat dishes.
I am not bothered by the nature of the gift. I like practical things. And this was something I had been wanting for roughly five years, while he wanted a food processor. Nearly every recipe in modern cook books—and by that I mean anything published after about 1990—begins with in the bowl of your stand mixer… or in the bowl of a food processor… because it is a given that anyone who really cares about cooking has these things. The budget and counter-top precluded getting both. So when he surprised me with this Cuisinart mixer for our tenth anniversary, it was a good thing; romantic, even. A gesture of surrender. It said “your cooking and baking needs are more important than my hobby.” I felt touched and victorious.
Roughly the size of a Toyota 4Runner, this mixer can do it all. The bowl has a 5.5-quart capacity, it comes with four attachments, and the top flips open so you can add a meat grinding attachment. There are ten speeds on the dial and a separate button for “fold,” and a digital clock and timer that supposedly can be pre-set to mix while I’m away.
The day I got the gift, I used it to make a cake, meatloaf, and blueberry muffins. Here is the thing: it bugged me. The paddle didn’t–still doesn’t–reach down to the bottom of the bowl, so you have to detach the bowl and use a spatula periodically anyway. If the batter is thick, it all gets stuck in the paddle. It’s loud, so I can’t use it when our toddler is asleep, which is often when I want to use it. And I got to thinking: it may be ranked best in function, but it looks like an aircraft carrier. Plus, I’m not going to grind my own meat. And why on earth would I mix batter while I’m away?
I started thinking of metaphors. My prayer life is like this mixer. I keep looking for something that will make my prayer life better; some tool, albeit a spiritual one. I grew up Protestant, so I’m still more comfortable with free-form prayer. My evangelical friends’ prayers are of the casual, me-and-God-are-pals variety, which start off something like Hey, God? I just wanna thank you for this awesome day, man, and for giving us Jesus for our friend and brother… I like the familiarity, but I think the language of prayer ought to reflect the depth and richness of the faith; I’m not comfortable using the same banter with God as I do with Dave at the filling station.
On the other hand, many Catholics seem to think that prayer, or at least public prayer, is a quick Hail Mary, rattled off so fast that fruit of thy womb sounds like fruit of the loom, and without much sincerity. A friend of my daughter’s said “HailMaryfullagrace, the Lord is witty…” until she was twelve and no one corrected her. And there are Catholics who think that a “real” prayer has to include “thy” and “unto” and sound like St. Augustine himself thought of it. Which is intimidating. So I tried getting into contemplative prayer, because the name appealed to me. Maybe this was a solution, a sort of modern style, but sanctioned by the Church. It is similar to meditation, in that you empty out your mind of everything and repeat a word or phrase over and over in order to come closer to God. Very Eat, Pray, Love. Turns out it is frowned on in some circles, and only recommended if you do it right, otherwise it can lead to a sort of new-age-ish emptiness.
Finally, I gave up. I recently sat down to pray a little in the morning, because my day was not going so well, and I ended my little prayer with “oh, and God? Teach me to pray better.” The answer came loud and clear and instantly. God does not usually send me memos so quickly; usually he gives me a little time to search for the truth, wait for His will, come closer to Him, and figure things out in good time. But this time the answer was instant: I opened my eyes and the first thing I saw was a soccer cleat, muddy and left in the living room. A Nike soccer cleat. That little swish instantly triggered God’s truth in my head: Just Do It. I really believe it was God talking to me. He was saying Stop thinking about it so much and just DO it. Pray more. Pray now. Pray again in a little while. Just do it. Do it the way you’ve always done it; you don’t need anything fancy or new to help. Just do it. And soon you will do it better.
I thought I would return the mixer. The store had a happiness guaranteed or your money back policy. I thought I’d use it a few times just to be able to say I gave it the old college try, and then take it back. So I made pumpkin bread; four loaves of pumpkin bread at the same time, and my arm didn’t get sore from all the mixing. In fact, I left the room at one point to help somebody with pre-algebra, and it kept mixing, and turned itself off so as not to over-mix. I kept it a while, and in that time, everyone living in this house outgrew napping anyway. And it’s really not that loud; not really. And aircraft carriers do have a certain powerful beauty.
It has been a few years now, and I can’t imagine not having a stand mixer. So no, you don’t need fancy machines to do what you can do yourself; you certainly don’t need anything fancy to pray. But if there was some way to get the spiritual pay-off of hours of prayer but only pray for a few minutes, it would be tempting. Really tempting.
Four loaves of pumpkin bread at the same time. I’m just saying.