This past Sunday was a doozy of a day in our kitchen. It wasn’t for lack of planning—no, my husband, Les, and I had laid out a terrific plan for completing a list of specific preparations for Thanksgiving. But things went amiss, and through a comedy of errors, I was rattled back into the reality that I rarely have things under control.
The day began innocently enough with a leisurely breakfast, including my favorite coffee and a fresh batch of the hash brown waffles that we adore, and then I attended a virtual church service while Les had a pleasant phone conversation with his daughter.
We finalized our plans for a scaled-back holiday meal and settled into some of the early prep work, including the overdue task of cleaning the oven. We’ve made a ton of pizzas in there, not to mention several other dishes that had spilled over and burned to a blistered black mess on the bottom. We agreed two nights earlier that we could afford a few hours without the oven on Sunday, and we would set the self-clean cycle to run after breakfast. Friends, I don’t know if I’m alone, but this whole idea of self-cleaning oven scares the bejeezus out of me.
First of all, I’m straight-up terrified that we will set the house on fire. I’m equally afraid that I will accidentally bump into the thing while it’s “cleaning” at 900° F and give myself third-degree burns. I have nightmare visions of our cat getting curious and jumping on top of it while it’s working. And above all, my sensitive nose (and eyes and throat) cannot stand the smoky smell produced while the oven incinerates every last crumb of every single thing I’ve cooked this year. For me, this simple maintenance task amounts to four hours of sheer anxiety. But Les had read the instruction manual (twice as requested) and was very calm about it, so I deferred to him.
Out of an abundance of caution (mine), we removed from the adjacent base cabinets all my bottles of olive oil (lest they explode) and cleared away the countertop items—the salt and pepper mills, the butter dish and the onion basket to a safe distance. I took time to remove the cast iron grates and give the cooktop a thorough cleaning before we started, to prevent the intense heat from baking on any spills. Then, Les touched a few buttons to begin the countdown to clean.
Within an hour, the house was so rank with the haze and stench of burnt leavings, I urged Les to open a few windows. The cross-breeze helped, and I was relieved for a couple of hours—that is, until I entered the kitchen to assess the progress. I could see through the black oven door that the electric element in the bottom of our dual-fuel oven was glowing bright red and, like the furnace in the basement of the Home Alone movie, it looked like a possessed demon monster. I suddenly realized our glaring omission in preparing for this task.
We had ignored the upper cabinets.
We were so careful to remove heat-sensitive items from the base cabinets, but we hadn’t considered that basic science might apply and the heat might manage to waft up to the wall cabinets, and so we had neglected to remove things that could be damaged in there. Like the expensive, specialty chocolate bars (they melted) and the jar of coconut oil (also melted all over the shelf) and the dozens of spice bottles we keep on a spinny turntable thing inside the cabinet on the other side (probably ruined). Thank God we saved the stupid onions. 🙄 Fourteen minutes of “self-clean” remaining and I was full-on farmisht.
Thankfully, just as I felt my head was about to explode, the thing turned off. It’s crazy that our new range has a beep signal to alert you that preheating is complete or that you’ve activated a new setting, but there was no fanfare whatsoever when the clean cycle ended. It just stopped. Excuse me, where are the trumpets? After it cooled enough for the door lock to release, Les wiped down the inside of ash residue and replaced all the racks so we could get on with the rest of our plans for the day, which included food preparation for this blog and me shakily pouring a glass of wine.
And that’s when we were reminded—again—that even the best-laid plans had room for trouble.
Les is such a team player, and very supportive of my work on Comfort du Jour, and he had agreed in advance to whip up a batch of his garlic mashed potatoes for sharing (if you missed his post yesterday, you will want to go check it out), and I had planned to make the succotash that I’m sharing with you today. The breeze from the window had calmed things down in the kitchen, and we set off to work, right on schedule. It was at this point that Les discovered all our Yukon gold potatoes (an essential ingredient in his garlic mashed) were soft and wrinkly, and they smelled funny. Wouldn’t it have been nice to know this during the four hours we were waiting for the oven? Off he went to the supermarket to buy some more Yukon golds.
On the other side of the kitchen, I was busy prepping my butter beans and was just beginning to twist the can opener on a can of golden hominy that was to be a key ingredient in my succotash when Les returned with his fresh potatoes. The lid came off the can, and I poured the contents into a colander to drain and found the hominy was nothing but mush. Disgusting, bland, no-way-that’s-going-in-my-recipe mush. It was all too much for me.
I didn’t have the heart to send him back to the store, and I wanted to sit on the kitchen floor and cry. Not because the hominy was mush (so what) and not because it was too late for plan B (it wasn’t). I wanted to cry because I felt like a failure for having missed so many details in all my planning. I am just so hard on myself.
I felt the fresh, cool breeze again and I thought of Alex Trebek, and all my intention last week to be grateful rather than complain-y, and I glanced over at Les working on his potatoes, cool as could be under pressure, and I realized (again) how lucky I am. I threw out the hominy mush, wrapped up the other succotash ingredients and put them in the fridge for another day, and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the evening with my husband—complete with a satisfying meal that included his thoughtful batch of my favorite mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving will be here in a week. I love our life and I am blessed, indeed.
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