Sunday, October 2, 2011

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

I attempted to use the second combination appliance in our studio last week. We were out all day and decided to have a light dinner of bread and cheese at home. There are no preservatives in French baguettes so they go stale very quickly but are delicious when toasted. After our experience with our washer/dryer hybrid, we were hesitant to use the microwave/toaster combo. (Any piece of clothing whose light color we have any hope of preserving, we now wash by hand in the kitchen sink.) But being the brave couple we are, and with one of us the bearer of a master’s degree in engineering, we figured that our dual-purpose oven was at least worth a try.

The oven has three settings: microwave, broil and grill. I experimented with broil and it worked just fine. My trial baguette toasted to a perfect golden brown but the process took almost 10 minutes. It seems that the grill setting, which provides heat only from above, is somewhat anemic. So, I added two more slices of baguette, switched the setting to grill -- which heats from above AND below -- decreased the timer to three minutes and hit start. With heat now coming from both directions, surely it would take less time to turn our bread to toast. I turned my attention to unwrapping the cheese and putting the butter on a plate. After about a minute and a half, something was going terribly wrong. Clouds of smoke started billowing from the oven, and I don’t mean just delicate wisps. Joe jumped up to open our solitary window as I yanked open the oven door. I should have left it closed. Our baguettes had turned into charcoal briquettes in the space of 90 seconds and were spewing more smoke than our eyes and our studio could handle. What is it with these combo appliances? The clothes washer boils water and the toaster oven goes from zero to 750 degrees instantly! When I was a student in the Loire Valley, I owned nothing electrical of substance. I lived in a bedroom with a small bathroom and the only thing I owned with a plug was an electric coil to boil water for coffee: I had no hairdryer, no combo washer/dryer and certainly no microwave/toaster.

About 10 minutes after the conflagration subsided and we’d fanned most of the smoke out the window and into the hallway, the older woman who lives above us knocked loudly on our door. “Tout va bien?” she inquired with some urgency, and continued to ask in French if we’d had a fire; “Il y a de la fumée!” she exclaimed. “Non, Madame, tout va bien ici.” “Everything’s fine here,” I responded calmly, too embarrassed to admit our guilt.

A few days later I suggested to Joe that we try cooking dinner at home. He gave me a look that clearly communicated, “Are you nuts?” And he was right. If I’d tried to make soup that evening, the stovetop we have yet to turn on would have overheated, the lentils, leeks and peas I was sautéing would have exploded and our upstairs neighbor would again be knocking on our door. This time, however, hiding my guilt would not be an option as légumes dripped from the ceiling.

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