appliances: a greek tragedy in 3 meals
June 18, 2007

I'm pretty enamored of my stick blender, so I'm always on the lookout for ways to use it. Chiefly, this makes me hyperaware of blended soups. So when twice in one week I am faced with white gazpacho at restaurants (first as the chef's special at Artisanal, then at DC's hot tapas spot Jaleo), my curiosity is piqued.

"What's in this?" I quiz both waiters, expecting, each time, the answer to be "heavy cream" or, at the very least, "buttermilk." But no: Twice I'm told, "almonds, garlic, vinegar and bread." Bread? In a cold, creamy soup? But, sure enough, a quasi-exhaustive recipe search concurs.

Mom and I have to try this, so on her first day in Brooklyn, we whip out the stick blender and go in search of day-old bread (harder than you'd think; all the do-gooder Park Slope bakeries have donated yesterday's stock to food shelters). The bread is soaked in water, then squeezed out, then blended with pureed almonds and garlic; the result, via stick blender, is sort of like the plastic playdough machine I had as a kid that squeezed strands of playdough through holes like a rudimentary pasta maker. The stick blender overheats a bit, and starts to smell slightly of buring machinery, but the result—thinned with water—is scrumptious. We pour it over shrimp and grapes and pair it with cold summer food and rosé. We like it so much, we make it again the next night.

That weekend in Massachusetts, I'm still craving what I am now correctly calling ajo blanco—so much so that within an hour of my arrival I've talked Poppy into driving to Linens and Things in New Hampshire to purchase both a mini-prep food processor and a stick blender. Afterwards, I'm a little jealous of her brand-new appliances and lament the cracks I've put in mine from dropping them on the floor. Fate is duly tempted: The moment Poppy takes her new mini-prep out of its box, she drops it and a piece of plastic goes flying. We study the splintered piece and decide it's expendable—but when we attempt to chop almonds we discover this bit of plastic is crucial in its engineering. We're able to improvise by sticking a knife directly into the mini-prep's motor, but I'm feeling somewhat less envious.

Next I start on the bread, all the while chattering about how the dependable stick blender will get you through any cooking trial: It may overheat; it may groan peculiar noises, but it's a workhorse appliance, a necessity in every kitchen. By now I've reached the playdough stage of bread-blending. Suddenly, there's a flash of light, a pop and a puff of smoke, and the blender goes dead. It's so ironic that at first I can't believe it's really happening. But, yes, Poppy and I have now broken two blending devices within hours of purchase.

Fortunately, the mini-prep is not entirely broken, and I transfer the lumpy mess of soup in batches until I have it blended to adequate smoothness. This works well enough that Poppy claims she doesn't really mind the knife trick, and may even keep the mini-prep. But I'm so frustrated I've lost my ajo blanco appetite and go straight for the wine.

Meanwhile, something else has changed. I've fallen out of love: The mini-prep is dead to me; do not dare to utter the stick blender's name. But I do have my eye on a mortar and pestle.