Someone asked Shaun and I what challenges we faced when we first got married.
We looked at each other, smirked, and then burst out laughing.
“Well,” said Shaun, “Ashley didn’t really know how to housekeep or cook when we first got married, so that was kind of rough.”
While this was totally throwing me under the bus (I love you, too, dear), it is also true. We ate more hot dogs and canned baked beans in that first year than I would care to remember. Also, more than once we had toast for dinner–which I don’t recall, but Shaun apparently does. Vividly.
My most vivid memory of my early culinary expeditions is the time I lit water on fire.
This incident occurred when we were living in a one-bedroom apartment in El Paso, TX. The kitchen was a tiny galley kitchen which seemed better suited to microwaving a TV dinner than to actually cooking. It had all the necessary appliances, but they were arranged in such a way that counter-space was extremely lacking. I think the maximum length of continuous counter-space was about two feet. Also, our kitchen was outfitted, by someone who shall remain nameless, with a variety thrift store pots and pans, which were “cheap” in both price and quality.
In my defense, this wasn’t the greatest kitchen in which to learn how to cook.
One evening before Shaun came home from work, I was in the kitchen dutifully preparing dinner. I was making a dish which required pasta, so I got out my thin-walled, slightly-bowed-on-the-bottom thrift store sauce pot and some bow-tie pasta. I have an unfortunate, scatter-brained habit where I put the pasta in the water before the water is set to boil on the stove. It doesn’t seem to make that much difference, cooking-wise, except that you have to watch the pasta a little more closely in order not to overcook it. It does mean that the pasta is soaking in the water while it’s heating to a boil.
The pasta came to boiling, and my little thrift store pot started rocking gently on the burner while it cooked. The stove was electric, the type with coil burners that have metal pans underneath to catch drips. Sometimes, the rocking of the sauce pot–combined, perhaps, with the fact that I had overfilled the pot a little, or had forgotten to turn down the heat–caused the pot to over-boil.
In this case, the rocking pot was overfilled on a very hot burner. Hearing the water boiling and the pot swaying to and fro, I turned from my other dinner preparations in time to see some water slosh over the side of the pot and into the burner.
A stream of flame erupted from beneath the pot.
I had an immediate vision of being unable to work the fire extinguisher, of alarms going off throughout the apartment building, and of being surrounded by furious neighbors while explaining to the fire department that the conflagration had started when water went up in flame on my stove. All while the apartment building burned to charcoal in the background.
Coming back the present, and realizing that I still had time to head off a catastrophe, I desperately wondered, “HOW DO I PUT OUT THIS WATER FIRE???”
Thankfully, I had read somewhere about what to do in the event of a cooking fire. It had been very emphatic that if you have a cooking fire, do not pour water on it. Of course, if you are in a situation where water itself is already on fire, it follows that it would at best be useless to add more.
I flipped off the power to the burner and (either bravely or foolishly) reached around the flame and whisked the pot off the burner. There was a pot lid nearby, so I slammed that down on top of the burner. Then I prayed that the fire would go out, and I would not have to figure out how to use the fire extinguisher.*
The flame did go out, as quickly as it had first appeared. I thought for sure that some pasta had sloshed out of the pot along with the water, and that this would be what had actually caught fire. But all that was in the drip pan was a pool of cloudy pasta water and a light scorch mark.
When I told the story to Shaun that night, he refused to believe me at first. “You can’t light water on fire!”
I conceded that it was, probably, the high concentration of dissolved starch that had actually caught fire when it came into contact with the heat of the burner. Or perhaps it was a combination of an electric appliance and water which caused the flame. But I still prefer to think that I flummoxed chemistry in some way.
And did we have toast for dinner that night? After ascertaining that the fire was truly out, I continued cooking the pasta (on a different burner) and went about making dinner as usual–while keeping a wary eye on the stove. You get back on the horse, and all that.
This probably should have been a clue that I cannot be trusted home alone. Ever.
*I have no idea if I actually did the right thing in this situation, so don’t use this as a blueprint for putting out kitchen fires. In fact, just try to avoid kitchen fires in the first place, okay? Okay.