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Friday, May 13, 2016

My Spotless Oven

My oven is spotless, shiny on both sides and in the bottom. The racks are still soaking in my sink, but they will also be spotless before I sleep.
“Why,” you may rightly ask, should you give a tinker’s damn about the state of my oven? It is cheeky of me to assume my oven could ever be of any possible interest to you, but I’m going to tell you anyway. 
Here’s why:  I believe all special occasions should be celebrated with food, preferably something sweet and gooey. So, this afternoon, I set out to bake two lemon meringue pies, my grandmother’s handwritten recipe, which has nothing to do with sweetened, condensed milk, on the counter before me. One pie in honor of my stepdaughter Kristy’s visit, which begins tomorrow, and one in celebration of my friend Melissa’s successful semester in pursuit of her BS in Nursing.
The prep work went swimmingly. I carefully measured out the flour and sugar, zested and squeezed the lemons, poured out a little salt, and cut off two tablespoons of butter, placing each ingredient in its own bowl or ramekin just like on TV. It took me years to learn it’s the only way to ensure a good outcome. I once made a pecan pie and forgot the sugar, so you’ll understand my ramekin fetish. I separated the eggs, employing the wildly popular Natalie Dupree method which involves bare hands. I’ve entertained my granddaughters through the years by allowing them to mess with raw eggs. It’s one of the reasons they love me.
It was time to go to work, so using my 30-something year old Kitchenaid, I beat the egg yolks until they were light and fluffy and added the sugar, flour and salt. I poured the mixture into my favorite sauce pot (also my grandmother’s) and began cooking the custard, stirring constantly, just like she did. 
Satisfaction is making a custard without a double boiler and having it turn out perfect. By the time it was stiff enough to pull off the heat and add the butter, I was sweating like a whore in church despite the countertop fan blowing in my face. I tucked a dish towel into the pocket of my blue and white striped apron to use as a brow mop.
So far, so good. Next I pricked the pie crusts, the only thing about this recipe that isn’t from scratch, and baked them for a few minutes. When they were cool, I spooned custard into each of them and turned back to the Kitchenaid to beat the egg whites and a little sugar into stiff peaks for the meringue. With a great self-congratulatory sigh, I piled it on the pies and made little designs on the top with a spatula before putting them on a baking sheet and into the oven.
After five minutes, I peeked. The pie on the left was browning at a faster rate than the one on the right, so I donned my oven mitts with seashells printed on them, pulled the rack toward me and turned the baking sheet 180 degrees. I slid the rack back into place, only it didn’t slide. It balked, it hesitated, so I gave it a little shove. Mistake, big  mistake. The rack didn’t move a micron, but the baking sheet tilted up and deposited both pies face first into bottom of the oven. 
A lesser woman would have had a come-apart at that point, but not me. I cussed. I cussed the oven and the racks and the baking sheet. I cussed the heat and the sweat pooling in my bra. I cussed just about everything about the miserable turn of affairs, but I didn’t cry. I pulled up a stool and scraped up the sticky mass and shoveled it back into the pie shells. By the time I pulled my head out of the oven, my naturally curly hair looked exactly like Brillo and sweat was running into my eyes and down my back. I started the cleaning cycle and stuck the racks in a sink of hot, soapy water. Then I did what any self-respecting cook would do. I scooped some of the wretched pie into a bowl and ate it. It was delicious. Anyone who tells you they wouldn’t have done the same thing can’t be trusted.
With all of that out of the way, like the true Southern Belle I am, I washed my hands, pulled off my apron, smoothed my gray linen dress and I went into the bar, where I carefully measured out a jigger of Ketel One and poured it over a few ice cubes in a Lismore roly-poly tumbler. I dropped in an olive, picked up a cocktail napkin and took a ladylike swig. I sat the glass down, lifted up the decanter and topped it off, just because I could. 
Tomorrow morning, I’ll have drive to the Winn-Dixie for more pie crusts so I can start the process all over, but for now, I’m lounging on my leather fainting couch in the sunroom, admiring the brilliant red of the hibiscus blooming on the deck and watching hummingbirds zoom in to feed just outside the window.
Life is sweet.

Copyright 2016 cj Schlottman