Confessions of a Luddite

Our neighbor’s son tells me a joke: What kind of wave does Plankton surf on?

I get the necessary background info. Plankton is a character on Sponge Bob, a teeny guy who owns a bad fast-food restaurant called The Chum Bucket. I confess my ignorance, “I don’t know. What kind of wave does Plankton surf on?”

“A Micro Wave!” Laughter ensues. Except with me. I don’t get it.

“What’s a Micro Wave?”

My neighbors try to save me from my ignorance. “A microwave. You know, you cook food in it.”

Ahh, yes. The appliance I don’t have and the one that SF Mom keeps prodding me about. “Why don’t you have a microwave, Deb?" I have put her off, knowing that it would probably take even more years of therapy to figure it out, but not getting the joke jars me. It’s time to give this some thought.

1. It’s not that I’m against appliances.
I do rely upon some electrical gadgets. As noted, I recently invested in a crock-pot. I also have a blender that we bought during a cold snap in 1987 so we could make margaritas, play salsa, eat homemade tortilla chips, and pretend that we weren’t living in New York in the winter. I have a hand-held electric mixer that dates back to the ‘70’s and was bought for $10.00 at Gemco. I have a Cuisinart that is even older than that. The shredding disk broke a decade or so ago. The rest of it still works, and I use it for mixing doughs, puréeing, and chopping. We have an electric waffle iron, but I think of that as Evan's since he uses it the most.

I guess I’m not real big on appliances though since I lack not only a microwave but also some other things that people rely upon and possibly couldn’t imagine being without (a toaster, a toaster oven, a sandwich press, a coffee maker, a juicer, and so on.) There is one appliance that I do use every day: my Russell Hobbs electric tea kettle. I could do a commercial for that one.

2. I’ve been unduly influenced by the French

That is, I’ve been unduly influenced by what I perceive to be French, which means it probably came from Jacques Pepin or someone else who writes in English about French cooking. I did have the great fortune of taking cooking lessons in a French woman’s French kitchen about 20 years ago, and that experience conjured up all kinds of fantasies of what it means to cook and serve meals. Fresh ingredients, wrapped in paper not plastic; the necessity of a big table in the kitchen to cook and serve on [I don’t have one]; and that all you need is a good, sharp knife and you’re all set. Madame Jacqueline did not have a microwave. She did, however, have a cute string bag that she took to market to carry home her provisions.

I’m not sure if my French friend, C., has a microwave or not. I know that she is a more imaginative and confident cook than I am. It wouldn’t be a matter of principal with her, probably more an issue of counter space. Which leads me to…

3. Counter Space

I like to have clear counter space. You may not believe that if you walked into my kitchen, but it's true. It’s a fairly constant crusade to keep space clear in my kitchen. There is always a stack of paper, recycling containers, a storage jar that has become empty or that thing for which you just can’t find a place hanging out and hogging my precious counter.

The teakettle has a prominent spot, but I have to figure out a convenient and out of the way place for the bulky crock-pot.

4. A sign of weakness
The microwave, in my sick mind, is interpreted as a sign of my weakness, a signal that I’m not really cooking. I’m heating up. I know, I know. I can hear you saying what’s the difference of a conventional oven and a microwave? Spend an hour waiting for the squash to cook in the oven or a fraction of that time with it in the microwave. Are you against convection ovens too? Nobody’s pretending this is a rational argument; surely you’ve figured that out.

When we lived in the apartment where we bought the blender we actually had a little microwave on top of the refrigerator. It came with the apartment. I used it for heating up coffee. Maybe once I melted some chocolate, but mostly my coffee cup got zapped over and over again, and that was about it. So I defend my irrationality with the logic that I’ll never use it.

Am I afraid of the microwaves themselves? Well, it does kind of get to me that people talk about cooking with their microwaves saying their going to “nuke” some zucchini. It just sounds creepy.

For now, I’m remaining a bit of a Luddite, happy to heat up my whole house for two baked potatoes.


SF Mom of One said...

OK at last, I get to hear the reasons. Um, OK.

I guess I had to wonder when you were steaming your tamales from Trader Joe's. Now those are meant to be...heated up...conveniently in a microwave.

But of course, I like heating up as opposed to cooking...there's my stance!

I don't have a cuisinart, btw. I chop and mix by hand, HAH. :)

Deb St-Claire said...

eeks! Did I just hear the thwack of a gauntlet?

N said...

This is very neurotic. You really should get a MW. They can be had for a song. I've had mine for 13 years! and it is still going strong. It has a glass tray inside that rotates automatically. That's key. Otherwise you don't need bells and whistles. I would get a digitally controlled one, though.

Ken was a luddite too, about cuisinarts in particular. For some reason he went out and bought one recently. He likes it a lot. Pizza dough, onions, etc. But where do you store all of those sharp blades?

Deb St-Claire said...

N: I'm not convinced that I need one, sorry.
About the cuisinart blades: I don't even know where my slicer is. I keep the sharp propeller one inside and toss the little dough propeller to clank around in there with it in storage. Maybe I'm softer on the cuisinart because it was originally a French company.


Ken Sternberg said...

You don't REALLY need a microwave overn. We got one a few years ago, but I don't do much in it except heat tortillas and heat the milk for my coffee. I know my stove boils water faster (ok, the stove is a super hot Garland pro model, but still). And I'd never consider cooking eggs or meat in the MW.

Need a sandwich press? Use a skillet and press the sandwich with a heavy sauce pan.

Coffee maker? Nothing beats a French press for simplicity and flavor.

ken Sternberg said...

One more important thing against microwave ovens is when they break they usually end up in a landfill where the the metals and other toxic components leach into the soil and any nearby aquifer.

Deb St-Claire said...

It's fascinating. Most of the comments (in this section and through e-mails) on this post can be divided into two camps: those with microwaves who see them as indispensible and those without who don't see the need. Both sides, for the most part, seem to have strong opinions and take their positions seriously. Who knew that the microwave was such a controversial subject?

Thank you to those who want to make my life "better." I remain unconvinced.

kim said...

It's funny...I didn't have a microwave for two months, after I moved into my apartment. I finally broke down and bought one. I have used it for exactly two things...reheating my coffee, and timing things. And I rarely drink the coffee once it's been re-warmed.

Oh wow...I have an $80 kitchen timer....

deejay said...

Interesting that there's little in these pro/con conversations about the health issues....My hippie brother-in-law, living in rural Mass., insists that 'nuking' is to be taken seriously. X-rays here, microwaves there, nuclear power plants everywhere...I don't really follow the science, or the politics, but according to him it all adds up to bad stuff. (Though it doesn't stop him from heating up his tea in our microwave when he visits.)

For some reason I hate the 'taste' of microwaved hot water, so only use ours to half-bake potatoes, which I then finish in the real oven for about 15 min, or to re-heat leftovers, which I'm quite adept at. Of course, we off-set the health risks of the microwaves by only buying organic :)

ken Sternberg said...

Since having my microwave I do notice that my fillings get better reception of the CIA's master command frequency, as well as broadcasts from the Venusians who are even now rocketing this way to invade Earth. If you start preparing now, you may be one of the lucky ones who survive.

SF Mom of One said...

Barbara Kafka's book on microwave cooking changed use of the tool. The best steamed fish I've cooked came from the microwave. (Yeah, i am not the greatest cook, but still.)

I use mine for:
--heating up plates of leftovers
--heating up frozen food from Trader Joe's (bags of rice, frozen peas, soy balls)
--steaming fish and veggies ala Kafka
--my 9 year old cooking her own mac and cheese (safer than the gas flame).
--making a breakfast "cobbler" from frozen berries with multigrain hot cereal dumped on top

One advantage over doing any of these things on the stovetop: I can set the microwave for 3 minutes, go comb my hair or check an mail, and come back. I wouldn't leave something sitting on the stove to do that. That makes a difference in my morning or evening routine.

I would NEVER heat up coffee in a microwave. EWWWW :)