A little bundle of joy came to my house recently. It weighs about 8 pounds and just fits in my arms.
That's right, I bought a bread machine.
I didn't plan on it. I don't usually buy such things. I managed to avoid the entire decade of the '80s without buying a pasta maker.
But a few days ago, I needed some coffee filters and I was in a shopping mall and so I ducked into one of those upscale kitchen stores, the kind with bare wood floors and hanging copper pots and wire baskets filled with gadgets.
As I walked back to the coffee section, I had to pass a guy giving a demonstration. I am a sucker for demonstrations. That's why I have so many Ginzu knives at home.
"Sir," the guy said, "do you like bread?"
Sure, I said. You can't make sandwiches without it.
"How about raisin bread?" he said. "Date nut bread? Whole wheat bread?"
Yeah, I said. I guess so.
"How would you like to make these breads in the comfort of your own home?" he asked. "Using this bread machine!"
The machine in front of him was the size and shape of a small doghouse.
I already have a bread machine, I said. It's called an oven. And I never use it.
"This is completely different," he said. "You just put the ingredients in this machine and close the lid. And in five hours, you have a completely baked loaf of fresh bread!"
Five hours? I said. I can go down to the 7-Eleven and get a loaf of bread in five minutes. In five hours I could drive across three or four state lines for bread.
"Ah, yes," he said, "but that bread is not the same. That bread has preservatives. And your bread would have no preservatives."
The way he said "preservatives" it sounded like "plutonium."
Let me get this straight, I said. Store bread has preservatives and will stay fresh for weeks, right?
"Right," he said.
But my homemade bread will have no preservatives and will get stale right away, right?
"Right," he said. "So you can see the benefit."
How much are you getting for these things, I said, pointing to his small doghouse.
"This is the basic version and it costs $249," he said. "But it will pay for itself."
"You will never have to buy bread again!" he said. "You will be making your own bread!"
I worked it out in my head. Maybe in about 10 years the machine would pay for itself. If you ate a real lot of bread.
"And you will have the satisfaction of having made something with your own hands!" the salesman said. "Like James Beard! Like Julia Child!"
Like my grandmother, who complained she was a prisoner of her kitchen, I said.
But the guy was correct. Modern cooks want to feel some degree of participation in what they do. Years ago, when a food maker simplified its cake mix so that all you had to do was add water, consumers complained. And the company changed the recipe so that you had to crack an egg into the mix, too. That way you could pretend you were really making a cake.
And this is what bread machines allow you to do: make believe you are really making bread.
The guy demonstrated the machine for me. He took bread flour, dry milk, salt, butter, sugar, water, and dry yeast and dumped them all into the machine. It took less than a minute.
"That's it," he said.
"Right," he said.
But that's not making bread! I said. Making bread is getting your hands gooky and kneading the dough and slapping it around and having flour flying everywhere and then sticking the loaf in an oven so hot that it singes your eyebrows off.
"Nobody wants to do that, today," the guy said. "They just want to put the ingredients in a machine and let the machine do everything else."
No kneading? I said.
"No," he said.
No singed eyebrows?
"No," he said.
OK, I said. When is it bread?
"Come back in five hours," he said.
I went home and watched "The Godfather I & II." Then I came back to the store.
Is it bread yet? I said.
"It is bread," he said. He opened the lid. He took out this loaf. He waited a minute for it to cool. He sliced it. He handed me a piece. "Voila," he said.
I took a bite. It tasted surprisingly like . . . bread.
Does it do anything else? I asked.
"What more do you want?" he said.
I don't know, I said. I figure for $249 it should change my life.
"Oh, it will," he said. "It will make you feel better about yourself. It will make you feel as if you are actually doing something, participating in something, taking control over your life! Remember: In the '90s, you are your appliances!"
So what could I do? After a pitch like that, I had to buy one.
Now, does anybody know where I can get a Salad Shooter?