Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Garage - Track

Dec. 22, 2012 - 7:51 a.m.

Blending In

In the 1970's my mom - according to my dad - lost her mind and shelled out a hundred and fifty bucks for a blender.

Of course it wasn't "just" a blender. It was a solid kryptonite VitaMix Super-3600 Reversing Blade Hadron Large Collider Prototype blender. The thing weighed half as much as a Volkswagen Beetle, and was 9 times faster. I made reference to it here a few years ago when I made my famous Emergency Pizza Milkshake.

It was one of the few things I've ever seen that lived up to its hype. And it hyped a lot. The steel canister had a sticker on the front which proclaimed (verbatim, in full Ingrish glory):

SUPER 3600

"The Bread Maker"

SIMPLE AS 1, 2, 3
1. In the wide top
2. Flip head on impact lever
3. Serve from spigot with pressure continuous action.

All Grain Grinder and Bread Maker,
Salad, Ice, Meat Chopper (with or without liquid)
Bland Foods, Ice Cream

TOTAL JUICER With Nothing Thrown Away


All that on the front sticker in blazing red, white and black. Personally I'm not sure why anyone would want "Bland Foods". But if that's you, this is your baby.

I remember distinctly the owner's manual stating "...and if the garbage men in your neighborhood ever go on strike, just put your garbage into the VitaMix canister and liquefy it. Pour your garbage down the kitchen sink!"

We never got to test that particular claim, sadly, but we did just about everything else. My mom bought it when she was fully immersed in her "Health Food Mania" phase. This was that brand of health food mania peculiar to the mid-1970's, with vague "fuck the Man" neo-hippie overtones served up alongside food with both the texture and flavor of burlap. The VitaMix fit that image perfectly. It was loud, it was hairy, it chewed spelt and took jobs away from evil Establishment municipal garbage haulers. My mom wanted one.

So she got one. And she ground wheat berries and made bread that nobody but her ate (or could chew), made wheat grass shakes that nobody but her drank, stuffed a whole chicken - bones and all - into the hopper along with some water and wild ramp from our yard, turned it on and 15 minutes later had boiling soup (later when she went off the deep end and became a vegetarian she substituted tofu and wheat gluten or something). She made ice cream out of anything that fit into the canister along with an ice cube: celery, miso, even crayons, for all I know.

It was awful, awful food.

But the VitaMix itself worked perfectly. You'd flip the one "ON" switch and the thing practically leaped into the air, screaming like mad and threatening to attack anything that came near. Within seconds whatever was placed in the metal canister was pulverized. If it was a particularly tough ingredient - say, an In-Law - you used the "reverse" toggle a few times. It was dust before you knew it.

I'm sad to say that my mom's dedication to healthy living was in vain. She died in 1995, at age 54, of a rare cancer. But I'm glad to say that I got the VitaMix.

And I don't use it to make burlap.

That massive, angry, squat steel machine has stood on my counter since I got home from her funeral, and I don't think a week has gone by where I haven't used it for something ever since. Even if it's just to hammer in nails with the 50 pound base.

But five months ago that VitaMix finally joined my mom. The drive mechanism which connects the bottom of the canister to the motor shaft snapped.

With most blenders this would be a two week setback at most while you waited for a new part to arrive from some authorized dealer. But this is not "most blenders". VitaMix recently decided to stop providing replacement parts for older machines...starting with the drive mechanism that connects the bottom of the canister to the base motor.


So I did what any modern consumer does: eBay.

No dice. There are a few people offering whole canisters, with the mechanism attached, but they all end up selling for almost as much as an entire machine. People REALLY want those suckers.

After weeks of losing bids I finally broke down and got myself a non-VitaMix replacement blender.

May my mom forgive me.

Some while back Cook's Illustrated magazine did another in a series of blender comparisons, and Kitchen Aid took top honors (they wrote a sidebar saying they weren't including the VitaMix because it was "in a class by itself"). Coming in second, performing nearly as well, was the "Kalorik BL Blender". For 40 dollars. FORTY DOLLARS! It got the "Best Value" award.

I gritted my teeth, swallowed my pride, and ordered one - on sale for THIRTY TWO dollars at Amazon! (I see they're now at 50. Sorry). I figured anything was worth a shot at that price. If it made even one decent margarita I'd be happy.

Well I've had it for about 3 weeks now and here's what I think, if you're interested:

The Good:

The sucker sure can blend. And grind, and rend, and pulverize, and frappe. There are 6 blades set at different angles, two of which are micro-serrated, and they're all sharp as hell. The heavy glass canister's inner fins do a great job of disrupting rising vortexes and throwing ingredients back down into the spinning death for more pulverizing. And the motor is really strong: no struggle at all to make a pile of snow from a full load of ice cubes. No jamming, and no hesitation once you hit "on". It's got two speeds, plus "Pulse". It's also amazingly quiet, considering.

The Bad:

There are some really cheap-ass looking plastic parts. I guess they had to save money somewhere, and they didn't want to save it where it counts, but jeez. The thin flappy plastic lid looks and feels like it was made by PlaySkool, and fits insanely tight. I've actually had to wedge a knife between it and the canister to prize the thing off after a bout of blending. The connector mechanism - the one made of steel on the VitaMix that blew out on me after 3 1/2 decades - looks like it was made of the same plastic as the crummy lid (although to its credit it so far has defied my initial expectation that it would evaporate as soon as the thing was plugged in). And the canister, although surprisingly solid and well designed, is small (48 oz.). I'm not used to doing batches.

But most annoying - alarming, really - is that the instruction manual states in large, insistent font: "DO NOT OPERATE BLENDER FOR MORE THAN ONE MINUTE. FOR EVERY MINUTE THAT YOU BLEND, THE MACHINE MUST REST FOR 10 MINUTES."

What? Really? A minute? One?? And then...a TEN MINUTE REST?

I decided I wasn't going to take their word for it. The first thing I did was dump in a can of garbanzo beans and some tahini for hummus. I wanted it really smooth and figure it would take an el-cheapo 30 dollar machine at least a minute, right? I mean, I wanted it really smooth.

I crammed the cheap plastic lid on, turned it to "high", and stood back.

After 20 seconds the contents looked pretty smooth indeed. But I let it keep going.

At 45 seconds the hummus was a uniform looking paste, but the base started emitting a rather scary burning electric smell. Uh-oh...

I punched the off button, turned the range hood fan on, and left the room. A half hour later the stench cleared and I was able to return.

The manual was right!

To be fair: 1. It hasn't taken anywhere near a minute for that machine to blast apart ANYTHING I've put in it ever since, so it's never been and issue, and 2. The smell stopped after a couple of days. I'm guessing it was new electric motor smell more than anything, burning off surface oils left from the manufacturing process. I feel a tad less worried that the thing will spontaneously combust and take out half my neighborhood now.

Upshot? It's a great machine for the price, if you don't mind some limitations. Some SEVERE limitations if you have to blend, say, a soup in batches and you can't wait ten minutes for the base to cool between those batches. But for sheer destructive power, it'll probably deconstruct anything short of that In-Law.

In other words, it's no VitaMix. But it'll do 'til I can find one that costs less than a half hour session with Suzy Favor Hamilton.



I've thrown out the Kaloric. May it rot in Hell along with every other kitchen appliance that has broken my heart over the years.

I wrote the top part of this entry a while back, before NewWifey(tm)'s dad fell ill and everything got put on hold for a few months.

Since then I've used the faux-VitaMix a few more times, and in those few times the plastic screw-on base at the bottom of the canister has gotten so far out of spec that every time you turn the machine on it unscrews itself and the contents start spraying out at around 150 mph. The first time it happened, repainting my kitchen in the process, I figured I just hadn't tightened it enough when I reassembled the thing after washing. But the second, third, and fourth times? No way. I made sure I cranked that ring tight, but it still didn't seal. The torque from the shaft and the vibration from the motor just overwhelms those cheap plastic threads. I was getting tired of soaked pants (and corgis), so into the landfill it was angrily chucked.

Which means, of course, I'm blender-less once more. Just in time for Christmas.

And I've got In-Laws coming this year, so this is when I need one most!



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