I am not one whose current life situation allows for gourmet meals to be a part of everyday living. That being said, however, I do enjoy stints of culinary creativity* every now and again.
One such stint took place on a cold winter's evening not long ago (or perhaps 'several months ago' would be more accurate--my blog has some catching up to do) whilst I sat alone in my apartment, all four roommates having vacated the premises for the evening. After flipping through dozens of TV channels and finding oodles of incredibly interesting programs to watch, I decided instead to put my mind-boggling gastronomic** skills to work and amuse myself by cooking something delicious. I walked to the kitchen cupboard and then the refrigerator and critically studied each location's contents before carefully selecting the finest ingredients with which to create a true masterpiece: vegetable oil, two large eggs, a cup of water, and a box of Betty Crocker's Rainbow Chip Super Moist Cake Mix.
As I had invited Ms. Crocker to supplement my phenomenal cooking skills, I knew I could do no wrong. Before mixing the batter, I turned the oven on to preheat and then commenced to racing the preheat buzzer as I threw (ahem, I mean...carefully mixed) my ingredients together and poured them into the pan which I had, in fact, remembered to grease. Before I knew it, I was placing the colorful batter into the warming oven and triumphantly doing a small fist pump while informing the oven that I'd just won the race (the buzzer had not yet sounded).
I returned my plethora of ingredients to their rightful places and quickly washed the numerous dishes that had been required to create the above-mentioned masterpiece, and then returned to my seat on the couch. Once again, I commenced to flipping through dozens of channels and finding oodles of incredibly interesting programs to watch.
I wondered to myself when the delicious smell of baking cake would begin to fill my apartment. In the back of my mind, I also wondered (in a somewhat embarrassed manner) if I had actually become engrossed enough in the flipping of channels to entirely miss the sound of the preheat buzzer. However, the thought was fleeting, and I quickly dismissed it.
More time passed.
At last, I could faintly smell the beautiful aroma of cooking cake. Noticing that the bake time was nearly up, I stood and returned to the kitchen to check on my creation. I opened the oven, expecting a rush of deliciously warm air to rise out of it. Instead, what I felt as I pulled the creaky oven door partially open was something like the weather on a cool day in Phoenix. I looked at my beloved cake and saw that the edges had begun to cook, but all else was still very battery. "Patience," I told myself. "Just have patience."
And so I returned to the couch and waited.
More time passed.
I checked on the cake again.
Still battery, and the oven was possibly less warm than last time.
Well, I wasn't about to let the oven conquer me, even if it was twice my age. I cranked up the heat--400 degrees, baby.
I returned to the living room yet again, expecting heat to start radiating from the kitchen. Uncomplaining and long-suffering, I waited another five minutes.
Back to the kitchen.
I opened the oven door only to confirm my suspicions that the oven was mocking me. In fact, the temperature was probably now cooler inside than out.
Feeling a tiny seed of frustration beginning to bud, I eyed my beautiful cake and then glanced at the knobs and buttons on the oven.
And then I saw it.
With a malicious grin beginning to spread across my face, I shut the oven door, locked it, and triumphantly pressed the button.
This time, something was different. Aha! Yes, the oven was beginning to heat. Perhaps it would at last become warm enough to bake my precious cake.
I returned to the living room.
Victoriously, I yet again commenced to flipping through dozens of channels and finding oodles of incredibly interesting programs to watch.
The smell of baking cake began to fill the apartment. Heh.
A few minutes later, I returned to the kitchen. As I entered, a very faint burning smell filled my nostrils. I assured myself that this smell was simply due to the fact that the edges of the cake had already been slightly cooked and so were probably now becoming slightly burnt, and that a slightly burnt cake is better than a cake that won't cook at all.
I retrieved some hot pads and reached for the oven door and pulled. It wouldn't budge. But of course! The lock was still on. I proceeded to push the lever back to its original position so as to unlock the oven. However, it, too, did not care to budge. I pushed harder, feeling the waves of heat from the oven attempting to scorch my skin. The burning smell originating from the oven was beginning to grow stronger. Small beads of sweat began to form on my forehead.
I pushed, I pulled, I tugged, I tried random angles of attack. Nothing would make the oven unlock. I looked desperately at the timer on the oven, realizing that the lock would not disengage until the next three hours and thirty-seven minutes had passed. I frantically wondered what would happen if I couldn't figure out a way to pry the oven open before then.
Shortly thereafter, my question was answered.
I watched in horror as a small waft of smoke began exiting the oven. Desperately, I yanked on the locked lever, but to no avail. By this time, the smoke was becoming more than a waft. In fact, it was pouring from the oven. The kitchen was beginning to resemble the edge of an uncontrolled forest fire. What could I DO? My apartment building is awfully old and certainly could use a remodel, but I was painfully aware that a fire would not be the ideal way to start a renovation.
I rushed to the windows and, though it was a mere fifteen degrees outside, threw them all open. The fire detector in the upstairs hallway began to go off, but I paid it little heed.
Taking a deep breath, I reentered the kitchen and dove down into the heart of the billowing smoke and examined the locked lever. I noticed a small latch that was causing the oven to stay locked but that my fingers could not quite reach. I stood up again and decided to change my tactic. I began to pry the stovetop away from the rest of the oven. With much effort and grumbling, it gave way, and I propped it open. I could see the latch more clearly now, but still could not reach it.
The next few minutes became a blur (not unlikely at least partially due to the damage I'm sure I incurred from all the smoke inhalation).
Prying, poking. Tugging, turning, twisting, hammering.
And then at last.
The stubborn latch gave way. I threw the oven open. Dark smoke billowed everywhere. I could see the burning embers of what had once resembled a cake inside. Doubling my hotpads, I reached my precious hands into the oven and pulled it out. I placed my culinary creation on the cupboard and stood back. The serenity of the cold night air began to seep in and the oxygen levels inside the apartment began to rise.
I walked over to my cake and brushed away some ashes.
"Well, at least it finally got baked..." I thought to myself.
I poked the center of it. A crusty outer layer caved in.
To my dismay, the center was still...
*The "creative" part is usually unintentional and, I'll admit, generally makes said creations inedible.
**Although the prefix "gastro" makes me think of unpleasant things like "gastrointestinal infection," "gastronomic" simply means: "the creation of beautiful or significant things" in relation to "the art or science of good eating." (yes, really)
DISCLAIMER: Some hyperbole may or may not have been used during the writing of this post.