Adventures in the Kitchen
One of my contributions to a household of three is to cook dinner for an elderly mother and hard-to-please brother. It was difficult for my mother (then, age 84) to turn over dinner preparation to her visually-impaired daughter but she couldn’t handle it anymore.
I really wanted to succeed at this task.
This particular meal began all right. Dinner would consist of roast beef and potatoes, gravy and a lightly tossed salad.
I had seared the outside of the roast on the stove top. It was now cooking in the oven. A rich, savory aroma filled the kitchen. I was whittling away at a sizable stack of dishes from dinner the night before that I should have already washed. My mother sat in my living room “grinding” old bills in the shredder.
“Can I put this one in?” Mom called.
“What is it?”
“You know, it’s one of those junk mail things with my name on it.”
I craned my neck to see what exactly she was holding. Of course, with my low vision and at that distance, even her hand was a blur. I sighed, letting my tea towel fall onto the counter and set the Tupperware container down. I walked into the living room to where she was seated. “Oh yeah, that’s okay.”
She looked uncertain.
“Just leave it. I’ll grind it later.”
She set the plastic credit card to the side and continued to shred her papers.
I went back to washing my dishes. After rinsing a pan, I turned and set it down in the strainer. That’s when something bright orange caught my eye. I stared at it for a couple of seconds, trying to figure out what it was.
“Oh-oh-ohhhh-ohhhhh!” I gasped, covering my mouth for a second.
What on earth was burning? The only thing cooking was the roast and that was inside the oven!
Wild-eyed, I scanned the kitchen for something to put it out with. I had no idea what. “Oh, oh, oh, oh!”
As I approached the burner, a strong smell hit me. Plastic!
I ran to the sink, felt around (this usually helps me ‘see’ better) and found a large lid to a pot and filled the inside with water. Then I dumped the water on the flame.
Instead of dousing it, the fire gained momentum. It spread!
I threw a panicked look over the half wall that separated the kitchen and living room. Of all the days for Mom to come up, why did she have to be here for this? What if she had a heart attack right then and there? This was not her usual response to tension. Then I realized…
She has no idea!
I turned my frantic gaze back to the burner, flames still leaping out. The lid! The lid! My hands located the lid faster than my eyes did and I covered the burner with it, hoping to extinguish the fire that way. I waited for, perhaps, thirty seconds and removed it, burning my fingers as I touched t. The steel lid clattered onto the counter.
Underneath, the fire was still going strong!
I reached over and pulled the offending plastic off the burner and tossed it into the sink. A hissing sound
followed as it hit the water and curls of smoke emerged.
One down. One to go.
Best way to get rid of it? What? What? WHAT! How?
“Is everything okay in there?” Mom called.
“Noooooo, um it’s not,” I couldn’t think of anything else to say but confess. “I have a little … fire.”
“Get your brother,” she screamed.
He must have heard her–I mean, probably even the neighbors across the street heard her– because he came running into the kitchen.
I was panting.
“Don’t throw water on it,” he shouted, seeing the wet burner underneath the flames.
I guessed fires from plastic didn’t respond to water.
“Did you turn it off?” he asked.
I quickly turned the knob, and the fire decreased slightly.
My brother leaned in and a moment later, the fire went out. I found out later that he blew it out.
With my heart thumping rapidly, I stood next to the stove and tried to calm down as I assessed the damage.
My stove top, speckled with melted plastic looked like a candle had both melted and exploded everywhere. I wondered why the plastic was purple when my container was light green. It slowly dawned on me that the plastic I was cleaning up wasn’t purple; it was burnt.
I could hear my mother clucking as she held a fistful of unshredded envelopes in her hand.
She’s never going to let me cook again.
“We’re lucky the house didn’t burn down,” Mom muttered. I knew what she was thinking. Her house. She hadn’t moved since I told her what was going on. The envelopes hung limply in her hand.
“I don’t know how that happened…”
“Well you’d better figure it out so it never happens again!”
I finally remembered setting the Tupperware down on the burner when I went to see what Mom wanted. The heat must have been on the lowest setting because I didn’t see any flame. Then I went back to washing the dishes and completely forgot about the Tupperware I was drying. Oh my gosh! That’s when it started burning a hole in it.
I decided the best thing to do was to finish cooking dinner.
Mom went downstairs, not only to escape the strong smell of burned plastic but also to calm her nerves, I imagine.
The smell of burnt plastic permeated the kitchen so it wasn’t immediately apparent until after I had made the gravy…
Somehow, in a double dose of bad luck, the handle of the gravy ladle had, of its own accord, crept too close to fire. It, too, had begun to melt!
I pulled it away from the fire and raised a shaking hand to my forehead. At least there were no witnesses.
Wouldn’t you know, that night the roast beef was the best I’d ever made. The meat was so tender that it fell apart when I cut it. The potatoes looked beautiful and the carrots tasted nice and sweet.
At my mother’s compliment I realized–at least that night–I had succeeded at my cooking task in spite of the disasters along the way and that felt pretty good!