Knowing that Andy and I are unemployed and living at home with my parents, some friends asked if we’d like to housesit for a week. It was win-win. They would have their house and cats looked after by friends and we would have a house to ourselves. They also have some pretty sweet stuff. Wii, Sonos Radio, Netflix, a jacuzzi tub, one hell of a comfy king sized bed and (most importantly) a well-stocked kitchen to (temporarily) call my own.
Once we’d dropped them at the airport, my mind set to work. When we got home, I immediately took to the kitchen. With my ingredients perfectly prepped and my recipe printed and set on the counter, I was ready to go. But what ensued was a train wreck of epic proportions. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I’m still recovering.
It started out like any other normal cooking experience. I browned the meat, we added onions, garlic, spices. Good, good…the house is smelling delicious. We added all 4 cups of liquid and 28 ounces of crushed tomatoes and let it simmer. Then came time for salt and cracked black pepper. I picked up the pepper grinder, giving it generous twists and shakes, perhaps too aggressively. The whole bottom of the grinder fell out, scattering a cup of peppercorns all over the stove, the floor and into my stew. Great.
All cooking came to a halt as the rescue and recovery mission got underway. Andy swept and vacuumed while I got (what I thought was) the majority of the peppercorns out of the pot. But unlike powdery or flaky spices which could have been skimmed off the top, a whole squad of peppercorns dive bombed into the stew and disappeared. Crisis semi-dealt with, dinner preparations continued.
As I was about to put the pot in the oven, I thought, “Is this pot even oven proof?” The lid handle was spongy. I thought maybe not. I checked online. No, this particular brand was not oven proof past 350 degrees and I was cooking at 450. I found a Pyrex dish (lasagna size) and poured in all the ingredients—which filled the pan to the brim. So much liquid! Without another option, I shrugged, tightly covered it with foil and put it in the oven to cook for an hour. “Let’s go downstairs and play their Wii!” Andy said.
We were having fun when I thought I smelled a little smoke. I dashed upstairs. Nothing serious. A little stew had dripped out of the dish and onto the oven floor creating some smoke. I left it. When I came back fifteen minutes later, there was a smokey haze in the kitchen and living room. The smoke alarm hadn’t yet triggered, so I opened some windows and doors. No big deal. In the Anderson’s kitchen a smoke alarm is pretty much a daily occurrence. We deal with this petty nuisance with drill-like, military precision. Sharon runs to open doors and windows, I get the pillows off the couch and start fanning the smoke detectors, while Mom deals with the food in the kitchen.
But when the smoke alarm went off here, it was war. Their alarm was not a simple, “beep beep beep.” It was beeps and an automated voice (loud enough to raise the dead) shouting “Fire! Fire! Fire! Please leave immediately!” over and over and over again. We did a preliminary search of the house and couldn’t see where to turn it off. We had no choice but to call our friends on vacation to find out how to turn their smoke alarm off. I was relieved when she answered, but relief turned to despair when she said, “I don’t know how to turn it off. It’s never happened to me.” NEVER HAD A SMOKE ALARM GO OFF? I couldn’t believe it.
After 20 minutes, we finally managed to squelch the alarm. Weary of it all, I transferred everything over to the slow cooker she had sitting on a shelf and said “To hell with this meal!” In the end, we did enjoy a delicious meal (even if we were picking out peppercorns like fish bones) but the lingering taste all night was of trauma.
I can’t wait to have my own kitchen again.