Saturday, November 28, 2009

Fire on the Range

In the midst of all our household moving and life transition chaos, a family member stroked out and went comatose. Wait, it's not as dire as it sounds. It's just the range (or stove, as my mama would have called it), not a beloved person or pet. But to me, it's one more loss in a season of losses. Besides, this is as special a range as I could afford six years ago when I was forced to part with a whole lot of money for appliances in order to be a homeowner. It's a dual-fuel, the best of both cooking worlds, with a gas cooktop and an electric oven. It cost me $1,100.00 back then--on clearance! And that was a bargain price for its kind. This is a big deal.

Luckily, it died just after I pulled two homemade pizzas out of the doomed oven. The story of the conflagration is proof that regular old real life can be pretty interesting.

Near the end of the pizza baking, the smoke alarm started going off.
(I promise that smoke alarms have never gone off before when I've cooked. My sweet husband would vouch for me.) I thought the cornmeal that I use on my pizza peel was burning and setting it off. Then I noticed smoke exiting the oven vent, which could have fit with that theory. However, the popping sound and flash of light behind the control panel that followed most decidedly did not. I yelled something intelligent like "It is a fire!" to my husband who, while I was running around looking for a charged fire extinguisher and positioning myself Barney Fife-style to spray that sucker down, said calmly "Unplug it." His quiet response to most all trauma (usually mine) is one of the reasons I love him.

After freezing ourselves by opening all the windows to let out the yummy burnt wire smell, I started planning. You see, dinner is my main hobby. I'm foodie enough to become a culinary student after all. Being deprived of the most obvious and normal way to produce dinner is a blow to my heart and routines. Just ask my son. I'm pretty sure he's the only one of his peer group, if not his generation, whose mom insists that the family sit down to dinner together--at a table--every night. Well, every night that she's home to cook, since she started school. It's one of the cruel occupational ironies everywhere that whatever you do a lot of outside the home, whether for a living or for study, doesn't get done much at your own house. Ask the plumber's wife.

When my bright boy was informed of the vegetative state of our range, he said with mock sorrow "I guess we'll just have to eat out every night." Not so fast. One of the fortunate side effects of going to cookin' school is that eating out becomes way less appealing, especially in a small town. I can produce much better food (although I am no Top Chef contender) than one can buy for any reasonable price. Plus, have you noticed that fast food isn't cheap anymore? I was determined that we would resort to purchasing prepared psuedo-food as little as possible.

I am happy to say that I have succeeded in my aim. In the last few days, I have learned that you can make Alfredo sauce in the microwave to use up the cream in the fridge that's about to expire and the hunk of Parmigiano that's too good to waste. Said sauce makes a pretty good topping for micro-baked potatoes. Dried beans and the crock pot helped, too. With an extra bit of chorizo added and some warm leftover tortillas on the side, they made a filling supper. Eggs and bacon cook up all right in the microwave, as well. I don't know how long I can keep this going, but I won't have to find out. We begin sleeping at the farm on Monday night, where the mother-in-law has a shiny new range that works.

With our life going into storage-building limbo, one would think I could put off the care of specialists for my baby til later. There is just one little hitch. I had promised the nice people who are buying our house that we would leave the appliances for them to use temporarily, since they spent their appliance fund on repairing the garage. So I called the repairman to make good on my word. It seems that a tiny little part called a wiring harness (Now I know what that is. I pray that no one I love ever will.), the box where every single wire that runs the entire appliance comes together, was burnt but good. Just my luck, this is an unusual problem for a range to have. Mr Repairman wasn't even sure that the part was easily available. I guess it wasn't, since it's been days, and I have heard no word. I also got the impression he's none too eager to tackle the job of tracing back every single wire to make sure it's all hooked up right again. We'll see. It has been a holiday week.

This whole experience serves to reinforce my belief in silver linings. The Big Reason I went to culinary school wasn't to be a chef or own my own restaurant, although that's what everyone assumes. What I really wanted was to become so intimate a friend with foodstuffs that I could improvise. I wanted to be one of those people I read about who could assess what's in the kitcen and just make up dinner on the spot. That facility is what I have always admired about chefs, not their shiny whites or their reputation for perfection (and certainly not the long hours on their feet that the masses don't see on the Food Network, but that's another story). It seemed like magic to me, since I had always felt chained to a menu plan and a standardized recipe. Although I didn't want One More Thing to take care of right now, I now know that I can improvise with equanimity. I'm just a little more free, which is a fine state indeed.

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