The Death of an Appliance

While I am accustomed to charring things accidentally in the kitchen, I’ve never actually killed an appliance. I did accidentally destroy a china monkey hanging from the ceiling in the Cottage during the Great Smoke Detector Debacle of 2010. And when I moved out of the Cottage, my landlady inquired as to whether there had ever been a fire in the oven — I had to hesitate because there had been a fire or two ON the stove, just not exactly IN the oven. Yesterday, though, the microwave died.

In my defense, the microwave was old. At least 11 years old. So I’d prefer to think that I was its Death Doula (part of my future career plan), and not a murderer responsible for its demise. I thought it was having a glitch three days ago, when I put a cup of coffee in it and after a minute and a half, it came out cold. Later in the day, I tried heating soup, and it came out warm, but not hot. In the Bungalow, there are a myriad of eccentric electrical systems. For example, when I plug in the television in the living room, the ceiling fan comes on, but the television doesn’t. So I just assumed it was another transient house quirk. Those happen all the time.

Yesterday, when I put some soup in the microwave for lunch, there was a startling POP as it started running, but it ran for its required three minutes. And then it died. The soup was lukewarm. I checked that the breaker it was still on (that’s been an issue before). Walking into the bathroom, which shares a wall with the location of the microwave outlet, it smelled like an electrical short. I made sure the wall wasn’t hot, hoping there was no fire smoldering in said wall, and the scent of burning wires dissipated. The microwave was finally gone. It was a good appliance and served me, and Niece 1 before me, well.

I was raised in an era when microwaves did not exist. When you wanted to reheat something, you put it in a pot on the stove, or a dish in the oven. I didn’t have one through college either. But now (decades later), we are a society that can’t wait for things to heat on stoves. It has to be hot in minutes, when we want it, without delay. Shifting back from that mentality is a challenge, and one I’m fully prepared to admit that I didn’t want to face, partly because I don’t have a dishwasher and hate doing dishes. Who wants more dirty dishes?

Fortunately, I had been banging around in the garage just before lunch, in search of M’s and my Blue Willow china to take up to the Retreat, and had come across the microwave that I had when I lived in the Cottage over a decade ago. What perfect timing! Digging it out from behind the bicycles, over the ottoman, and off the shelf from underneath empty moving boxes, between the heavy bag and the BMW, I had hope. It was tucked up in newspapers, with its little round tray intact (the whole unit is a tiny thing, especially compared to its predecessor) and when I plugged it in, it was perfect. Not as strong as my old workhorse but completely serviceable.

The nicest thing about this experience, aside from the fact that my need for immediate food gratification can continue to be fulfilled, is the newspapers Li’l Wave was wrapped in. At first, I crumpled them up to put in the recycle bin, but then a headline caught my eye. A near drowning at a public pool that no longer exists in a nearby town. No victim named, and the three-year old girl was already well on the road to recovery when the paramedics arrived, but this was still the small town newspaper headline. Next to it, was a large, lovely color picture of a mare and her new foal, with, essentially, a birth announcement from a local farm. All ten years ago. I wonder what those horses look like today? That little girl is in middle school now. Does she remember?

I am unfolding the packing newspapers to look through them to see how things have changed, for a glimpse back to what was a simpler time, even though it was only a decade ago — not that long. It was a time when I was trying to rebuild my life and I had a lot of hope. And Spring was coming. The world doesn’t look at all the same now. My life looks very different, and it’s a happy different. The snow is blowing outside the picture window tonight, and I’m cuddled up and warm. It’s all good.

Daily gratitudes:
The older gentleman’s shock and joy at the price of asparagus
Beating the snow home
Talks with K
A good night’s sleep
Wind chimes

Quote of the Day: “A trip ends. A journey doesn’t.” — Mr. Boehmer

Someone’s in the Kitchen: Sharing Yumminess

It’s been a long day, and as I needed a change of scenery, I drove down to the Retreat and worked there today. Leaving ridiculously early means I had almost no traffic and caught a lovely sunrise, but — one thing you didn’t know about me — I’m not a morning person unless I have a plane to catch. All this means that I’m tired and feeling singularly uninspired (apparently, my muses don’t like getting up early either). Not wanting to break the posting streak quite yet and wanting to be a good friend, I’m giving you my Pumpkin Spice Bread recipe. It’s so wonderful that you’ll want to eat the entire thing in one sitting. (Go ahead. No Judgey McJudgeboat here.) And if I can successfully bake it, anyone can. I can’t take actual credit for the recipe itself; it came from the Junior League of Wheeling, West Virginia. Yes, I do read Junior League and church cookbooks to de-stress. As the daughter of a proud West Virginian (see all the things you’re learning about me today?), I feel certain that whatever lovely Mountaineer woman created this recipe wouldn’t mind my sharing. I encourage you to bake this on a cold, dismal day, as it will make your house smell amazing and your mouth extremely happy.

Pumpkin Spice Bread
1 stick of butter
1 1/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 3/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. water
1 c. canned pumpkin puree

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.
Cream the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat in the eggs one at a time. In a smaller mixing bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the 1/2 cup of water, mixing well after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin. Spoon into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (that was 1 hour + 10 minutes for me). Cool in the pan for 10 minutes , then turn out onto a wire rack or cutting board to cool completely. Makes one loaf of deliciousness.

Oh, I also caught the sunset driving back from the Retreat.

Someone’s in the Kitchen: Part 1

And it’s me. Which, historically, does not always work out well. I am hopefully now beyond the days when I felt the need to alert the fire department if I decided to cook, but I can’t say for certain.

What is the saying? The kitchen is the heart of the home? I suppose this is true, because a lot of love emerges from cooking and most of the best parties somehow wind up in the kitchen. Growing up, my mother did most of the cooking and my father did more of the baking. He was known for his fruitcakes and pies, with my mother making the pie crust, a skill I have yet to acquire, even using her recipe. She told me she needed to show me how to do it, but she died before we got a chance to try it together. My mother was best described as an obligatory cook. It never seemed to be something she enjoyed, just something that she had to do. That said, our kitchen, with it’s green tile floor and red cracked ice table, chairs, and formica countertop, and knotty pine cabinets, was warm and sweet. We had breakfast there every weekday, though my mother never ate with us. I think she was up earlier than the rest of us and must have eaten then. It’s a shame I never thought to ask her about that.

While I was very proud of being able to make my father cinnamon toast and pimento-stuffed celery at about age eight, I never was much help in the kitchen. My brother never lets me forget a time when I was about 14 and had no idea how to boil water. But I progressed from there to being able to make bacon and eggs. And that was it.

With an irony that is not lost on me, my first job at 17 was as a cook in a restaurant. My parents didn’t want me to get a job. They thought it would negatively impact my education. But I’m really quite mulish, so I looked for a job, and happened into a downtown restaurant, asking if they had any openings. The owner looked me over, had me fill out an application, and hired me on the spot. Later, I discovered it was because she thought I would look good working in the front window, and she was desperate. So I learned on the job as a lunch and dinner line cook, and I managed pretty well. I burned myself a lot, cut my thumb open on the meat slicer on my 18th birthday, threw fruit salad at the head waiter, and cried while picking a case of chickens at midnight on a school night. But that job changed my perception of who I was and how the world saw me. And I still remember how to make a good coleslaw, chicken salad, grilled cheese sandwich, and Rueben.

Since this is only Part 1 of Someone’s in the Kitchen, I’ll be back with more kitchen chronicles. But today, since it is cold, and my husband M and I aren’t in the same house yet, and my daughter K has gone back to her own house in New Mexico, I felt the need to make my house warm and sweet as best I know how. Today’s little kitchen has produced boiled broccoli, chicken salad, veggie stir fry, brown sugar chicken, and, just out of the oven, wonderfully fragrant pumpkin bread.

If I could send you the scent of pumpkin bread warm from the oven, please know that I would.