THINGS THAT DON’T WORK – EVEN THOUGH THEY SHOULD
Right now my whole house stinks of vinegar.
I am in the process of trying to save our cast iron skillet. You see, it was one of my favorite pans a couple of weeks ago. And I thought, well, maybe I should season it again. For those of you who are not familiar with cast iron skillets, you’re supposed to rub the inside with oil and bake them in the oven every now and then so that they maintain their “non-stick” quality. If you do it correctly, these pans will last forever and will cook like a dream with barely any clean-up at all.
Well, it had been a while since I had seasoned the skillet, and I wasn’t sure how much oil to use or what temperature to bake it in. I also was unsure about how long to bake it in the oven. So, being a twenty-first century kind of a girl, I consulted the Internet. I Googled “care of cast iron pans”, and a whole bunch of information appeared before me. I read several of the offerings, and finally hit upon one that seemed very sensible. They instructed me to first rub the pan with a “generous” amount of vegetable oil. They gave me a temperature and told me to leave the pan in for about two hours. Which I did. At the end of the seasoning, they said to “pour out the remaining oil”, and that’s where I did a double take. I remembered vaguely that the first time I had seasoned that pan I had just rubbed it with enough oil to cover it, and then when I took it out of the oven, most of that oil had seeped into the pan. But – (and this is my own particular downfall) I didn’t trust my memory, and I thought, “If it’s on the Internet, surely it must be right”. So I dutifully lathered vegetable oil on all three of my cast iron skillets and set them in the oven.
Lo and behold – When I removed them from the oven at the end of the prescribed two hours, each pan was covered with a brownish, greasy, sticky coating. I couldn’t pour out the excess oil because it was now solid. It appeared that the only way I was going to get the excess oil out of these pans was to scratch it out with my fingernails.
So this morning I finally got around to looking in my household tip books – I’ve got a little book called “Mary Ellen’s Best of Helpful Kitchen Hints”. My mother-in-law gave it to me early on in my marriage, since it was apparent to her that I was – shall we say – domestically challenged. I have to admit that at the time I felt a little bit miffed by the implication, but this morning I was overwhelmingly grateful.
As best I can determine, the best I can do now is to boil a little vinegar and salt in the pans. This is supposed to lift off the burnt-in food. (Well, in this case, burnt-in oil). That’s why my whole house stinks of vinegar. The jury is still out as to whether this will actually work.
I seem to have a knack for following directions that don’t work. I don’t know why. I mean, I’m very obedient by nature. When I was in grade school I always got As in citizenship and the comment, “follows directions”, was always checked off.
But there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. I am forever undercooking or overcooking our dinner because the directions on the package aren’t calibrated for our oven, which is always a little hotter or a little cooler than what it’s set for. When Art asks me whether I “stuck my finger in it” to see if it’s done, I am appalled. I don’t want anyone sticking their fingers in my food. I protest, “But the directions said. . .” and he cuts me off by pointing out, “You can’t go by the directions!” This flies in the face of all I have ever believed in. I have always believed in my heart of hearts that if it’s written in black and white, it must be so. (Where on earth did I get that)?!
Same thing with recipes. I am scrupulous about following the recipe when I cook. If the recipe says to add an eighth teaspoon of salt, I will use a quarter teaspoon and fill it exactly half way. Of course, none of this guarantees anything. I had a recipe for applesauce cake, for example. I would follow the recipe religiously time after time, believing that it was somehow my fault that it came out spongey and undercooked. It took our son, Tobias – himself a very talented chef – to point out to me that the recipe was flawed. He took one look at the directions, halved the amount of applesauce, added some flour, changed the time in the oven, and finally, I had a real applesauce cake. Toby made me chant with him over and over, “What don’t we follow? The recipe!”.
And while we’re on the subject of things that should work but don’t – I have this problem with the computer. Time after time I will be working on the computer and will try to execute a simple command, like “save” or “print” or “close”, and the computer will suddenly freeze on me. I have no idea why. After a half hour of pressing the little button over and over again in a desperate but futile attempt to save face, I am forced to call on Art. Most of the time (there are exceptions) he will calmly walk over, press the same button that I did, and voila. It works. I am long past the point of getting angry over this. I simply accept it as part of my “magic touch”. But it is embarrassing.
I don’t know what the lesson is in all of this. Some things work. Some things don’t. And some things are inconsistent – They work sometimes. They don’t work other times. And some things work for some people and not others. Sometimes you should follow directions. Sometimes you shouldn’t. But it’s anyone’s guess as to when and to what extent. (Sigh). Just one more mystery to the Universe.
© 2005, Robin Munson