Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

When Mommy Almost Burned the House Down

I have been woefully delinquent in posting lately–my apologies–but I have a very good reason, which I will now share with you:

A couple of weeks ago I was cooking a chicken. Now, this is something I do quite often, but in this instance I was cooking a chicken differently than I normally do. That’s because I’m working on a cookbook! Yes, some of you may know this already but I’m writing a real live cookbook with a friend of mine, and former coworker from my Saveur days–Kathleen Brennan. Rodale Books will be publishing it and we have a great title (which I cannot share with you because it’s so awesome I’m afraid someone might steal it!). I can tell you that it will contain not only 100 delicious, interesting, and essential weekday-friendly recipes, but it will also help everyone from the accomplished home cook to the wary wannabe home cook enjoy cooking more, with less stress, guilt, and emotional turmoil and more confidence, fun, and skill. Can we pull that off? I think we can!

So back to the chicken…

I was testing a recipe for our book and had decided to broil a split chicken breast to see if I could get the cooking time down while still producing a delicious roasted bird with crispy skin and juicy meat.

I made a bed of sweet potatoes (aka kindling) and rubbed the bird with spices, lemon juice, and olive oil (aka gasoline).

I moved the oven rack to what I thought was a safe distance from the overhead flame and then put the roasting pan with the chicken beneath it. I closed the oven, set a timer, and went to watch The Electric Company with the kids (I love the new Electric Company).

After a few minutes the fire alarm went off. Now, at this point there was no burning smell (I usually have a very acute sense of smell, which I attribute to my extremely poor eyesight–I’m sort of like a dog) or recognizable hints of imminent danger, so I got up to turn off the alarm which I just assumed was being a little oversensitive.

As I climbed a chair and started banging on the alarm my mom suggested that maybe I should check on the chicken…just in case.

So I did. I walked over to the oven, nonchalantly opened the door, and was met with a flaming inferno. The bird, the pan, the potatoes, they were all ON FIRE.

I know we all like to think that, faced with a crisis or emergency, we will be unflappable. Like a character from NCIS. But in reality, when faced with a flaming chicken, most of us will just run around in circles screaming. This is kind of what I did. I shouted for the kids to run out to the backyard (which they did, sprinting to the jungle gym that’s about 50 yards away and climbing to the very top of it where they spent the next half hour bawling that mommy was burning the house down).

My mom tried to call 911 but couldn’t find her reading glasses so instead just ran around the house holding the phone and hunting for her glasses (I could have dialed it for her, but clearly that would have made too much sense).

I located the fire extinguisher in the coat closet (And if there’s any lesson I can impart from this experiences it’s to always have a fire extinguisher—maybe even two in case one isn’t working—close by. Thank you to our fire prevention friend and extinguisher expert, Canadian Wes Barbour, for telling me this years ago) and positioned myself in front of the stove. I then had to make a decision, should I:

1. Blast the oven with the extinguisher and save the house but possibly end our Viking range (this is a petty thing to be thinking about, I know, but we got the Viking when we bought the house and it’s pretty much one of the nicest things we own…also in the moment I wasn’t really thinking like a rational human being).


2. Remove the flaming pan and bird and dump them quickly in the sink under a blast of cold water.

My mother was trying to convince me not to do option #2 because there was a plastic mixing bowl in the sink at that time and it would melt (yes, we could have removed the bowl first from the sink, but again, we weren’t thinking rationally…neither would you! I assure you.).

I cracked the oven open again and seeing that the flames weren’t abating at all, that the situation appeared actually to be getting worse, I grabbed two oven mitts and decided to take action. Yes, I reached in, grabbed the ignited dinner, ran to the sink, threw it all in, and turned the water on. Somehow this worked without me going up in flames, or the curtains over the sink lighting on fire (why do we have curtains over the sink??), or whatever other bad thing could have happened. And the phrase “adrenaline pumping”? Well I now know that that’s a real thing. I could actually feel the stuff coursing through my veins afterwards. I was like the Hulk. Kind of.

Afterwards I went outside and after much cajoling, convinced Belle and Conor (who were literally clutching each other like Hansel and Gretel) to come off of the roof of the jungle gym and return home. Apparently they could see me from their perch through the kitchen’s bay window running with, what looked to them, like a ball of flames in my hands and they were completely traumatized.

So much so that for the last two weeks Conor has not let me turn on the oven in his presence. Which makes meal preparation (and blogging about meal preparation) pretty tricky. Every time he walks by the stove he checks all of the knobs to make sure they’re in the off position. And if he hears me in the kitchen, no matter where he is in the house, he’ll shout out: “Is the stove on?” “No, Conor. “Is the oven on?” No, Conor.”

Until I can convince him that I will never ever again broil a chicken or almost burn the house down we have become raw-foodists. I am cooking–but it tends to be surreptitiously or when he’s asleep (not the ideal time for blog related food photography). I think he’s beginning to loosen up on the cooking fatwa but I don’t think I will be broiling chicken ever again. So don’t look for that recipe in the cookbook.

14 Responses to When Mommy Almost Burned the House Down

  1. It’s horrible, but I’m laughing hysterically right now. Poor Conor.

    First, mazel tov on the cookbook! CANNOT WAIT. And second, oy on the fire! I think I read somewhere that the oven is built to contain fire so the best thing to do is just turn it off & leave it alone. Closed. Without oxygen the fire will go out. In theory.

  2. Juan says:

    My, if that isn’t an exciting story I don’t know what is :)

  3. Jenn says:

    I’m with debbie….sorry that happened, but I’m laughing hysterically :) Your poor boy….isn’t it horrible of us to laugh at our children when they are obviously so traumatized?? *wipes away the tears of laughter*

    I must make a post of my own sometime about my ONE attempt at deep frying. Did you know that when you throw baking soda into a pot of burning oil, the resulting rapidly expanding mass of foam looks something like a mushroom cloud? but the fire went out!

    And congrats on the cook book! I’ll buy it :)

    • admin says:

      you are not the first person to mention baking soda to me! I hadn’t thought of that… but I’m wondering what it would have looked like if I had thrown some in the oven. Although the mushroom-effect does sound pretty cool.

  4. karen says:

    I feel guilty for laughing while reading that, and for feeling reassured that even experienced cooks like you have mishaps in the kitchen. This novice cook cannot wait for the cookbook! xoxo

  5. Nicole says:

    Oh my gosh! That sounds scary, but the image of your children holding each other at the top of the jungle gym is just too much for me to resist! I’m glad you didn’t burn the house down!

  6. Cindy says:

    Congrats on the book and saving the Viking!

  7. katie says:

    As a fellow Viking owner I think you did the right thing. I also know how HOT that oven can get! I have nearly ignited many a meal in ours, but never to that point [I'm happy to read this because I'm feeling like I might have a better idea of what to do if it does ever happen].
    I’m happy to hear everything ended up OK in the end! [minus the children's new oven fear]
    AND…Congrats on the cookbook!! I’m so happy for you! I love your blog and look forward to buying it :)

  8. Julie says:

    First let me say, I didnt know that there was a new Electric Company. Caroline, you are so damn funny. It sounds very scary, but too funny that you guys didnt want to melt the bowl in the sink. I’m glad you are all okay. Poor baby doll Connor. He is ruined, for sure. You can use the tons of money you are going to make on your best seller cook book to pay for his therapy. I can not wait for your book! That is so exciting.

  9. Sarah says:

    Congratulations on the cookbook! It’s my dream to own a Viking one day, so I completely understand your dilemma inputting out the fire! Did you take any pictures of the aftermath?

  10. Jennnyfair says:

    I’m sorry for your son, I know mine would have acted exactly the same, but man oh man did this story have me laughing out loud and recalling my own kitchen fire. You were spot on about running around in circles and brain going blank!
    Thank you for sharing,
    Reading and laughing from New Zealand.

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