Where I went…a tale of two dinners.

After my “Telling the Truth” post, I bet you were wondering if things had gone pear-shaped in my home.  Well, they did, but not in the way you might have expected.  It began with a steak…an ordinary steak.

My iron was low – I could tell because my hands kept turning white on mild days, and I’d be the only one at my son’s football match wearing a down jacket.  So we bought some steaks, because that tends to fix the problem pretty quickly for me.  I’m of Irish roots, so I cannot physically have steak without some form of potato.  Which is where it all came undone.

The first time I had my Mom to dinner when we were newlyweds, she arrived with a lovely house-warming gift.  It was a book called “Cooking for Absolute Beginners (or How to Cook a Six-Minute Egg)”.  Thanks for the vote of confidence, Mom.  She was right though.  I’d never learned to cook.  To be fair, my Mom could only make spaghetti with sauce from a jar, and, oddly, Thanksgiving Turkey.  That’s it.  There was no cooking role-model to follow, and no one cared about teaching or learning this cooking stuff.  I was from New York; not cooking was a badge of honor, and an unnecessary skill in one’s late twenties.  My first apartment had no kitchen, and this was fine.

Now, flash-forward twenty years or so, and spot me here in our suburban Australian kitchen.  I’ve got two kids, and I’ve taught myself to cook (we were all very hungry) through YouTube, trial-and-error and the help of kind-hearted domestic friends (“What does cream the butter mean?”.  But – and here’s the part where you have to not laugh at me – I’d never learned to clean an oven.

Here’s my excuse:  we’ve moved a lot.  Three countries; twelve or so homes.  And not a lot of cooking happened in most of those homes.  We never had to clean the oven; it had never got dirty.

Until now.  Six years we’ve lived here.  I’ve contemplated moving, renovating the kitchen, going out to eat more; I’ve not contemplated cleaning the oven.  I’ve hated our oven since year 1, when it filled the house with smoke on Christmas (yes, all by itself).  And then it burned four cakes I was making for my son’s tenth birthday.  I had it in for this stove; I wanted it gone, and if I waited long enough, surely I’d replace it before I’d have to clean it.

One day, a domestically-oriented friend gloated (oops, I mean told me) that she’d cleaned her oven.  It looked really nice, she said.  I felt inspired.  After Googling how,  I tried it.  Baking soda and vinegar, they said, but that oven sneered at me, and wouldn’t let go of its burned-on bits.

I bought a can of Oven Cleaner.  I carted it home, and read the large, wordy warning label on the back.  It scared the life out of me.  May eat the skin off your hands if sprayed.  Will kill all your pets and fill your home with toxic fumes.  Will blind you if you even touch this can. Back away slowly and lock the cupboard.

I left the oven as it was.  It didn’t matter because this cool oven had a nifty half-oven thing, so the burned bit on the whole oven didn’t see the heat anyway.  That is, until the steak night a month ago.

I put the potatoes in to bake (using the idiot’s cookbook my Mom bought me to make sure I did it right, and using the WHOLE oven).  My husband was at the gym; the kids were in bed; the cats and dog were sleeping.  I had an hour to blog while those potatoes baked.

Except I didn’t.  Because the house rapidly filled up with toxic white smoke (I’d removed the handy half-oven thing like a fool, and the burny bit was, well, burning).  Of course I Googled toxic smoke from the oven right away, flung open all the doors and windows, and checked on the kids and cats eighty-two times.  Then my husband came home, found me in panicked tears, and suggested tuna sandwiches.  He’s a paragon of patience.

I threw out the toxic-smoked potatoes, and the out-of-date steaks a few days later (terrible wastage, I know).

But I wasn’t giving up.  I am not a giving up sort of person.  Hence, the ultra-marathon running.  I tried again the next week, with the half-oven thingy in.  Potatoes back in the oven, vegetables cut up and ready to be steamed.  Surely it would be okay.

Nope.  It was like the movie Groundhog Day!  The same exact thing happened, only it was colder out, so I shivered throwing out the toxic potatoes and eating my tuna sandwich.

Now, I am not a quitter.  But I have to confess that if there had been an iron bar of any sort in the house, that oven would be history.  I pictured its mangled remains on the nature strip as I searched for the price of a new oven online.  But I was too tired (and iron-poor) so I just swore a lot.

The next day, I studied the Oven Cleaner can again.  Yes, it might kill me.  But so would the toxic smoke from the oven.  And iron-deficiency could too, one day.  I got on the biggest, thickest rubber gloves I had, put on my reading glasses (sigh) to both read the stupid can, and then to protect my eyes, put all the animals out, held my breath and sprayed.  Then I ran from the room.

I waited thirty toxic minutes, then held my breath, and dove in with a damp cloth.  Some of the burny bit came off.  A lot didn’t. I repeated the performance several times over the next week, as the Thursday steak night approached.  Eventually I attacked the burny bit with a plastic tool that came with a bunch of kiwis (“I don’t care if I scratch the enamel – I hope I scratch it and can throw this oven out!”).  But a miracle occured:  the burny bit, like a dead monster, came away.  Scrape, scrape, scrape.  The animals wanted to come in; my kids would be home soon.  I was sweating and swearing and scraping but I would have my steak.  I would have it!

Thursday came.  I wrapped the potatoes in foil and put them on a baking sheet.  I’d be damned if they were going to drip on that clean oven floor ever again (and yes, I poked holes in them so they didn’t explode).  I waited; I checked.  No smoke.  No toxic smell.  I danced in glee around the living room and the dog watched me with loving eyes.  My husband returned, gingerly, from the gym.  I was smiling; he still looked scared.  When the potatoes were done, I set them aside in their little tin-foil wrappers, and put the steaks on to grill.  I did them perfectly.  Perfectly.

I have never tasted a better meal.  It took three weeks, and a lot of time I could have spent blogging, but I can now say, at age 48, that I have finally cleaned my first oven.  Who knew the racks were silver?  I would have sworn they were gold.

I promise I’ll write about running next week, as the Salomon Trail Series is about to kick off.  I’ve been working on my speed training, which is absolutely glorious, and I’ve hired my first-ever running coach to see if I can improve a bit.



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