Friday, November 12, 2010


At the end of an afternoon of cooking, I made one of those piecrust rolls that uses leftover dough: roll the dough out flat, sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon, add whatever else comes to mind, roll it into an irregular cylinder, transfer it to a pie plate, and put it into the oven at 450o. While it baked, I washed, wiped, and put away the accumulated utensils, ingredients, and whatever else I and my family had spread across the kitchen.

As the table and counters came into sight I began to notice that I hadn't seen the medium-sized cutting board lately -- a sheet of white plastic, five-eighths of an inch or so thick, maybe a foot long, and eight or nine inches wide. It wasn't hanging in its place on the wall, or in the dishwasher, or in any other obvious place. It could hardly have gotten out of the kitchen. I had rolled out the piecrust on it before transferring it to the pie plate; the board was last seen under the plate.

By the time my husband and son presented themselves for dinner, I had come to a horrible suspicion of where the cutting board must be. I had already noticed a mild odor of roasting hydrocarbon -- but that wasn't unusual. Somebody was always melting plastic cups or containers or milk-bottle tabs. But maybe, I thought, I ought to check the oven.

The first thing I saw was, not the sheet of white plastic, but cascades of thick clear liquid, rather like Duco Cement, pouring through the racks and onto the oven floor. As soon as a good supply of oxygen drifted in from the opened door, the mass of black-ish goo on the bottom of the oven caught fire. I slammed the oven door shut and headed for the salt or baking soda. We had a fire extinguisher, but I have never used it or anything else of that kind. By the time I figured it out we would all have been engulfed in flames.

Baking soda in hand, I approached the oven door. My husband said, "Don't open the door." I didn't; but he sat in his chair at the table with nary a sign of an alternative idea. He was thinking about it. As I used to have to remind him from time to time, I didn't know what he was going to do. I probably said something impatient. Laurie snapped out of his reverie and instructed Justin, who might have been eight or nine, to grab a towel from the bathroom, soak it, and deliver it to the kitchen. He did so -- one of the best towels, predictably.

The high-quality towel absorbed a lot of water. Laurie opened the oven door and deposited the soaked towel onto the reviving flames. The racks must have been positioned relatively high -- or could it be that we took them out? I hope somebody thought to turn off the oven. In any case, Laurie's strategy worked. We no longer had an emergency on our hands. The pie crust roll hadn't suffered from its adventure. We had it for dessert that night as if nothing had happened. We take emergencies in stride.

The blackened plastic on the floor of the oven came up readily, probably before it was completely cold. I expected to have to replace the oven racks; but before I did anything that troublesome and expensive, I made a stab at cleaning the ones we had (have I mentioned that the stove was a relatively new one?). The melted and solidified cutting board that clung to the racks -- more like its original opaque white than the Creature from the Black Lagoon on the floor of the oven -- wouldn't budge at room temperature. Little as I liked the idea, I had to heat the oven just enough to soften the plastic, and work on it before it hardened again. I did so several times, and eventually it all flaked and chipped off. The racks today look like any other much-baked oven racks.

The towel was a total loss, of course: large burned holes, and solidified plastic bonded with the fabric. But losing a towel, even a good one, beat burning down the house.