Sunday, June 03, 2012

Bellè et Bête. On Wednesday afternoon Penny called with some excellent news – that while I had been panicking about meeting my review deadline for the Thousands, publication was being delayed so I still had the entire afternoon and evening to write it. I decided to celebrate by making some raisin toast: The Toast I Like Most™.

My Raisin Toast jingle has solidified since its early version of 2010. Now it goes:

Raisin toast
The toast I like most
Raisin toast
The toast I like most
'Cos I've got a cravin'
For thick, juicy raisins
Raisin toast
The toast I like most

At one stage a few weeks ago I was procrastinating so hard that I spent a few hours trying to figure out how the instruments worked on GarageBand so I could actually record it. Here's what I came up with:

Raisin Toast by incrediblemelk

I initially envisaged a power-rock feel but the samples in GarageBand didn't seem to support this, so I went for more of a '70s MOR sound, like Chicago or something. The word 'toast' is actually really unfortunate in a song, with all the whistling noises at the end, but this is the song and I am not gonna rewrite it just for such a minor technical consideration.

But on Wednesday came DISASTER! The lever on my toaster refused to stay down and hence the heat would not be applied to my toast! I tried everything – turning it off and on again (via The IT Crowd), shaking it upside down over the sink to remove crumbs, and even repeatedly banging the lever like the apes in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

In the end I had to use my sandwich press to toast my raisin toast. This was actually quite a delicious method, because the plate on the sandwich press irons the surface of the toast smooth, much as a straightening iron does to hair, for a lovely mouthfeel and crisp texture.

My toaster was called Bellè, which is ungrammatical in any language. I don't think I have to tell you how crucial a toaster is to Freelance Food. Its loss is disastrous. It is a super-cheap discount department store brand. I think I inherited it from Wetburgh Street rather than actually buying it. Here is some wisecracker selling the same model on Gumtree, advertising that it makes "even Raisen Toast for younger people". But here is mine:

It seems ridiculous to mourn a cheap, easily replaceable household electrical appliance, but I feel as sad about the demise of Bellè as I did about my hairdryer Pistol Airo. It's the same weird affection for outmoded e-waste that Mel Gregg invokes when she wonders whether to throw away her ancient baby-blue clamshell iBook.

Serendipitously, just now I also came across (via Martyn Pedler) the Museum of Endangered Sounds, an online sound archive of the little noises that form the background of quotidian life but are lost altogether once the technology that produced them moves on. It's a rare acknowledgment that technology isn't just instrumental but affective too.

Because Bellè meant so much to me, I didn't just want to throw it in the garbage bin; I thought about putting it in the middle of the street for someone to take, which is how e-waste is disposed of in my neighbourhood. But then would the finder become angry when they realised the lever didn't work? So right now Bellè is sitting on my porch next to the garbage bin. I'll probably just put it in on bin day.

Anyway, I had to get a new one, so yesterday I embarked on a mission to Kmart, which I had determined via internet research had the cheapest toasters. When I got there I realised with a pang how beautifully designed Bellè had been. Modern toasters are either shoeboxes with slots in the flat tops, or semicircles.

I was also amazed to learn of the leaps in toaster technology since Bellè was manufactured. Toasters now come with special defrost and reheat buttons, which is super handy for me as I always toast from frozen and often forget about my toast and have to reheat it in the microwave. They also have little guard wires on springs that are sprung back when the lever is pulled, then set free to clasp the toast, aligning it on the vertical for even toasting.

Even though I would have preferred a silver toaster to go with my kettle, I thought this red retro affair ($19) was pretty jaunty, and I liked the way the controls were on the front rather than on the side where I would have to squint and reach to adjust them.

Today I made my first toast in the new toaster. As recommended in the instruction booklet, I set the toaster to 3 – medium brown – and used the defrost button. I was delighted to see the buttons become backlit with a demonic red light when the toaster is in use.

I don't know if this always happens the first time an electric heat element is used, but an acrid smell pervaded my kitchen as the toaster heated up. I hope this doesn't happen every time I make toast. The toast came out slightly more brown on the bottom left corners, so perhaps the element needs some time to… get into its element.

"I set the toaster to 4 - medium brown"


I like stories.
I have since discovered that 2 is the best setting for raisin toast. It was too brown and dry on 3.
Your jingle is excellent. Can you record some of your cat songs in a similar fashion?
You could have framed Belle the toaster and mounted it on the wall, a la the red phone from Press Gang.
I could still do that.
There's nothing like the smell of raisin toast in the morning
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