Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another ode, this time to the oven, with an ounce of fear

Oh the oven. The source of so much heat in these winter months, the ability to burn cookies with its two (count 'em, two) settings, which are turbo and nuclear. The oven is so much fun. And the oven is dangerous.

I was once at a mountain hut in Landmannalaguar, Iceland, a million years ago, and after I volunteered to vacuum the place with the diesel vacuum, I was invited to a breakfast of rice pudding, pickled trout on brown bread and a bunch of other things I only vaguely knew what they were. It was the staff breakfast. A horsewoman was there, from Norway, talking sadly about how she'd bring some Icelandic horses back to Norway, and they'd never be able to see their homeland again, since Icelandic law would prohibit it. It seemed poignant, but maybe not tearworthy, since I wasn't sure the horses would notice the difference. The Norweigian was almost crying.

And there was this moment, before breakfast started, that I was instructed to heat up water for tea (I think). I had the kettle, the stove and all the ganas (desire) in the world, but I just couldn't make it happen. I'd never seen the clickety-do-da sparkerthingame that you use to generate the spark to light the flame. Call me new-fangled, but my stoves have always had either a pilot light or an electric start. A Gulliver of a man, making me feel ever Lilliputian (no easy feat) came over and knocked me out of the way, wondering what kind of a housewife I'd make. What kind indeed. And he demonstrated the clickety-do-da sparkerthingame and the water was heated.

When I moved to Chile and met my first stove, I realized that I would have to channel my own grandmother, or perhaps her mother, or maybe the giant Icelandic guy to light the thing. Turn on gas, quick like a bunny strike a match (or use the clicker), thrust hand close to swirling gas and quickly retract hand. I've gotten it to a science, it no longer feels strange, and I hardly even fear the stove, though when the hose that connects the stove to the municpal gas caught on fire once, I did have a bit of a fright. Don't worry, I went straight to the flea market (Bio Bio) and bought a new one.

And then we have M. M was a gringa who lived here in Chile for a couple of years, working on a government project and on deflecting a lot of male attention for all the pretty she exuded. One day, after a rousing gringa dinner at "Como Agua Para Chocolate" the night before in Bellavista, she decided to heat up her leftovers in the oven. Something happened. We don't know if the oven had a slow leak, or had been on for a long time before the match hit, but poor M had the fright of her life when the oven blew up in her face.

Fast forward a couple of hours and another friend and I were at the Clínica Santa María assessing the damage. The burn bloomed like a flower over the hours we were there, and many a salve and unguent was applied to hopefully make her healing faster. She'd been burned on both arms, the side of her neck, her lips, eyebrows, eyelashes, and a star near her eye where she must have squinched it shut as the fireball came close to her face. Think about how much an inadvertent kitchen burn hurts. Now multiply it. Poor M.

When the giant horrible fear of OMG she is well and truly screwed had passed, the hospital-visiting friend and I went outside for a breather, and to panic a little over the could-have-beens if the situation had been worse. As it was, it was mostly "only" second-degree burns, and did not look like they would be disfiguring.

And these are the stories I think of every single time I light a match, turn on the oven and thrust my hand into its depths, hoping for the wghoo of the flame catching, and not a giant cartoon-like blam as the thing explodes in my face. And I also think about poor M, who is just as beautiful as before, but will probably never eat another seafood fajita as long as she lives. And if you're asking why she didn't just heat the food in the microwave, well, don't.

And if you'd rather read something haha/funny instead of how horrible/funny today go visit Cachando Chile for the comedienne Eileen Shea's (hey! she's my tocaya!) first impressions of Chile.


pat1755 said...

Great link! I cannot even begin to think how one would peel celery...:)

xox from yr cronopio

Sara said...

I remember you telling me that your oven in your apartment has two temps turbo and nuclear. I'm terrified of the ones your have to stick your hand in to light. The KABOOM that means it's lit is just too frightening for me. I'll stick to stove top, I guess.

Katie said...

I completely identified with this post, minus the part about your friend M. Fortunately I haven't had any oven disasters, but I hate that there are no automatic starters on the stoves here. I too have the turbo and nuclear settings on my oven, which is really frustrating as someone who likes to bake and craves more precision than a needle bobbing between the yellow zone and the red zone.

Margaret said...

oh! Poor M!! And it's SOOO good to know that I'm not alone in the wary of Chilean stoves department!
My stovetop and I are on pretty chummy terms, but that oven is a pretty quirky sister... I've discovered that extra-long matches are great for extending your arm juuuust a bit farther so you can jump back quicker when the mini-kaboom hits- usually right about the time I toss the match into the little hole at the bottom of the stove- I don't know if they burn as they go or if I have a whole woodpile at the bottom of the thing (right where the broiler ISN'T!

Eileen said...

there are so many things to say about the dangers we run with our stoves, and how much more we tend to use them here, since we love to make what we can't find on the street.

@margaret, I really do think you have a little pile of kindling under your stove and when you do the kitchen remodel it will make an impressive picture!

@katie, you have an indicator? I just stick my hand in and see how hot it feels!