Friday, January 27, 2012

Cooking Lesson #1: One Potholder is Too Few. 20 Potholders are Just Right.

Even just grocery shopping to restore what I always eat during the week, Santa Clarita is still Santa Clarita. Yet, on a Friday evening, it becomes pleasant, like it's stopped pushing and shoving and is just there, the universe completely aligned right behind it. We stopped at the bank to deposit some checks (Mine from my work with the freelance writing newsletter whose listings I compile every Sunday-Thursday evening for the next day), and I got out of the car and looked out at the scenery around me, the empty lots, the apartment complexes nearby, and it felt so peaceful. Not that there's any new promise to this valley come Monday or any other Monday, but it gives a glimpse of perhaps what it once was with less people or what it once hoped to be, maybe an oasis from L.A. living: Calm to be found from a distance.

Sprouts and Pavilions had everything I needed, from yogurt to bagged spinach to shredded carrots to frozen TV dinners for during the week. I'm so grateful to have spinach and shredded carrots again because I was tired of the heavy gas I had from dinner the past few nights without it. Bananas only help so much. And blueberries and blackberries were $5 each in one-pound containers, so it's a relief to have those back. They're otherwise priced out of reach. And yes, sadly, $5 for that size is cheap.

We got home, put everything away, and Mom showed Meridith photos of the new apartment complex she found for us in Henderson. The other one that we thought would be The One has turned out not to be so desirable, not least because it looks smaller than in photos, like in order to reach the living room from the dining room, you have to press yourself against the wall and slowly edge your way toward the couch, but not making any movements beyond that. Accidentally lashing one leg out to the left can possibly cause dishes to fall off the table, or the walls to vibrate. It's not as constricted as some New York City apartments, but Mom wants something more comfortable, more welcoming. So do the rest of us, for that matter.

This new apartment complex has great possibilities. For one, the apartment space is much roomier. The outdoor surroundings are most welcoming, and since it's a pet-friendly complex, there's a lot of grass, which is exactly what we're looking for because we don't want Tigger and Kitty to have to navigate rocks and pebbles in order to squat. Tigger did that when we first went to Las Vegas and stayed at America's Best Value Inn on Tropicana Avenue, off the Strip, next to Hooters Casino Hotel. He did his business on rocks and pebbles, but hated it. He won't have to go through that ever again.

The complex is called The Summit at Sunridge Apartments. I've always wondered who comes up with the names for these complexes, whether it's just one person reporting to one boss, or whether it's a creative committee. I like that name. The Summit says to me that this is where life meets good living. And Sunridge sounds nice, like standing on that ridge puts you squarely in a bath of sunlight.

While Mom described the property to Meridith and showed her what The Summit was surrounded by on Bing Maps, I grew impatient. It was already a few minutes past nine and I wanted to eat. I barely cook anything in our household, leaving that to Dad and Meridith for meals that require more than just pushing buttons on the microwave. The last time I made anything substantial was a few years ago when Meridith had a home cooking project to do for one of her classes at College of the Canyons, and the only thing I remember from that is a Hawaiian macaroni salad I mixed.

So, with Meridith an excellent cook/chef/master of all things food, and me reading food writing occasionally from being influenced by her, what's the best way to eat faster? Make it myself. Or at least attempt to because I don't know much about how to check that something's done, at least in the oven. That's easy to do with the microwave. Oh to be a rank amateur again. And here's my chance!

I took out nonstick foil from the cabinet, put a sheet into a baking pan and initially placed 30 mini corn dogs side by side, before dumping the other 10 on top of those after asking Meridith if I should put them all into the pan (I was wondering if I should use another pan because there were so many). Meridith pushed the other 10 into the crowd and the rest of the mini corn dogs seemed to just easily spread out to make room for the new arrivals.

Before this, I pressed the "bake" button on the oven, which beeped with "350 degrees" appearing on the readout and 10 minutes to pre-heat. After the mini corn dog placement on the nonstick sheet, there were 5 minutes left before the oven beeped again to show how proud it was to reach full heating capacity.

Putting pans in the oven even with full heat as you open the oven door is easy because the pan's cool and therefore the potholder is easier to put to one of the sides. Now, I realize this isn't actual cooking with kneading dough or whisking eggs or boiling or anything like that, but it's big enough that I decided to do this on my own because I'm usually content just to read about food and cooking, not to actually participate in it. If I'm hungry enough and it's beginning to get late in the evening, I become someone I never imagined.

Oven beeps, mini corn dogs go in, and I have 10 minutes to wait, according to the instructions on the back of the box which indicate that much cooking time for thawed, and 15 minutes for frozen.

10 minutes pass, open the oven door, take the pan out with the potholder and see if the mini corn dogs are hot enough. Meridith just places her hand on the corn dogs because she's used to heat, to burns, having spent so much time in kitchens already. She's developed a kind of immunity to what mere mortals like me would be burned by. Oh yes, more on that in just a second.

They're not quite hot enough, so back in the oven they go for five minutes. I thought they were already thawed enough to merit the 10-minute cooking time, what with having left the box out after we got home and put groceries away, since those were what Meridith and I were having for dinner, and then 10 minutes for the oven to pre-heat, and then baking pan placement, but apparently not.

Here's where it went horribly, horribly wrong. Five minutes were up, oven door open, Meridith checked the mini corn dogs again and they were hot enough. This oven was at 350 degrees and the pan was at that temperature too. I still had one potholder with me and I tried to take out the pan with just that potholder, forgetting that a pan cannot be held on just one side, especially not a long pan. The pan should be sideways, or, at best, held on one side with two hands.

It would have been smart to take out another potholder before the five minutes are up, but being a rank amateur, there I was, holding onto the pan with one potholder, the pan tipping, me trying to right it, and burning myself brightly on it at least three times while trying to get it up to the stovetop. My right hand was directly on burning metal. Struggling mightily with this pan, I finally shoved it onto the stovetop, the mini corn dogs sliding to the back end of the pan, and got a frozen flower-shaped ice pack from the freezer to put on my fingers.

There was only a natural wild panic in my body while it happened, my brain obviously screaming that it was too hot and the nerves in my fingers reacting in kind. I wanted to get the pan off at supersonic speed, but I wasn't panicked. It was just the wrong way to do it. And then Meridith showed me that with a pan like this, she holds the end with two potholders, one for each hand. Or I could have turned the pan sideways in the oven and taken it out with one potholder on each side.

This doesn't put me off of cooking, despite two jutting white skin bubbles on my ring finger and my pinkie on my right hand, my ring finger sporting the biggest one. Looking it up on Google just now, I've found that these are blisters. They don't put me off of cooking, but I know for sure that I could never do what Meridith does. She's used to such things. She's cooked for many years. Whatever she touches turns into something you crave right after you eat it. So she knows about these blisters, she's had them, and she's not afraid of them because she knows that sometimes they'll happen.

I'm not afraid of them either. They're not pleasant to look at, but they teach me to be more careful the next time I take something out of the oven. I'm sure there will be a next time, and before there is, I'm stitching 20 potholders together because that sounds like the right number for safety. I know that I actually want to make something next time, and though I'm not yet sure what it will be (I'm thinking of maybe a peach cobbler or one of my other favorite foods), but this blog isn't going to turn into a chronicle of an attempt at an insane number of recipes like Julie Powell did with what turned into Julie & Julia. I'm influenced by my sister and the food writing I've read in the past and the recipes I've pored over within that food writing, but I'm inspired by no one. I've just never cooked extensively, and I think it's time to learn a few things about it, just so that if I'm hungry and it's getting late, but no one else is ready yet but I know I want to eat before it gets too late in the evening, I know what to do. And even though the microwave is good for convenience, it becomes too convenient. I want to mix and scrape and measure and pour and cut and mash and crack and toss and everything else that cooks do. I was in a cooking class in 11th or 12th grade, but it was one or two dishes a week, hardly enough to really get the feel of a kitchen atmosphere and where you stand in it. I want to learn just enough to become proficient. Being burned by the pan is not an ideal start, but it's a good start to show that there will be accidents, but to be vigilant enough to minimize them.

I'm ready for this. It could be a lot of fun.


  1. I'm so happy you have a proud oven. Keep your blisters clean and take good care of them. They should heal without any problem. I prefer oven mitts to pot holders because I'm afraid of burning my wrists. When I arrive, I'll teach you how to bake. And if anyone gets hurt or has a heart attack, I'm certified in First Aid and CPR. I am especially good with wound care.


  2. Have you explained to Meridith that she's going to have a baby sister who is 40 or so years older than she is?