wireless_kitchen (2006-07)


Pine Sol chicken and other kitchen disasters

by Gay Lyons

Anyone who spends much time cooking is bound to have a few disasters. Mine started early. Two lessons I learned the painful way are 1.) never throw a piece of chicken into hot oil and 2.) turn off the electric mixer before pulling it out of the chocolate cake batter.

Those disasters took place before I was 10. As I got older, the disasters didn’t stop. They just became more spectacular.

It’s not like I was wreaking kitchen havoc on a daily or weekly basis. I seem to have settled into a once-a-decade pattern, which is a little scary because according to that schedule, I’m about due.

When I was in graduate school in the late ’70s, spending a lot of nights at the typewriter, hunger invariably struck at 2 a.m. One sleep-deprived evening, I pulled a foil-wrapped container of leftover macaroni and cheese out of the refrigerator and put it in the oven. Minutes later, furiously typing, I got a whiff of burning plastic. You guessed it. The container under the foil was plastic. The bottom of my oven was a mess of puddled macaroni and cheese with strands of plastic hard-cooked onto the oven rack. Too tired and hungry to clean up the mess, I turned off the oven and the typewriter and went to bed. Just for the record, it takes a lot of razor blades and knives to scrape rehardened plastic off an oven rack.

My most colorful disaster occurred when I attempted to use a pressure cooker for the first time to cook—of all things—fresh beets. The explosion in my kitchen was so spectacular that I returned the borrowed pressure cooker and never again allowed one in my home. To the current residents of 1313 Sumac Drive, I apologize. As thoroughly as I cleaned, I feel certain you’re still finding the odd dark pink spot and wondering what dastardly crime occurred on the premises. I’m confessing. It was the great beet caper of 1984.       

My friend Beverly told me about another kitchen explosion. For 50 years, her aunt prepared breakfast for her husband and his buddies at 4:30 a.m. every Saturday during coon-hunting season in Alabama. One Friday evening, he told her that she had prepared enough breakfasts and that she should sleep in while he cooked. Alas, he did not realize that you needed to remove the biscuits from the can before putting them in the oven.       

A friend in college gained notoriety after she tried to cook dinner for her boyfriend for the first time. She made lasagna, using her mother’s recipe. However, apparently neither the recipe nor the directions on the package of cheese actually specified that one should remove the plastic wrapping from the individually wrapped slices of mozzarella cheese—and so she didn’t.

It makes me feel better to know that I’m not alone in these disasters. One thing I loved about Julia Child was the occasional on-screen kitchen mishap, handled with great aplomb. Child’s way with kitchen disasters was parodied on Saturday Night Live in its heyday by an apron-wearing Dan Akroyd, guffawing in that hearty way of Child’s, meanwhile gushing blood from an artery after just a “slight little problem” with a knife.

My friend Judy recently confessed that she asked “What Would Martha Stewart Do?” when confronted with a kitchen disaster. The Thanksgiving turkey, which had been set aside while other dishes were being prepared, was discovered by the family dog, who ate one entire leg of the turkey—just one leg—very thoughtfully leaving the rest of the bird for everyone else. Since this is a family that carves the turkey at the table with some ceremony, the missing leg created a problem. My friend decided that, short of coming up with a prosthetic turkey leg, Martha would slice the turkey in the kitchen and serve it on a lovely platter, which is what she did.

So far, the prize goes to my friend Debbie who fried chicken in Pine Sol. She cleaned the kitchen surfaces with Pine Sol and poured vegetable oil into the frying pan, leaving the Pine Sol and the cooking oil, in similar-sized bottles, next to the stove. As more oil was needed, she added Pine Sol instead. The distinctive odor didn’t tip her off because she had used the Pine Sol to clean the kitchen. She noticed there was a lot of explosive popping in the pan every time she added the “oil,” but she didn’t realize what she had done until she noticed the almost empty bottle of Pine Sol sitting next to the almost full bottle of Wesson oil. It was obviously poisonous stuff, but she said it was the most beautiful fried chicken she ever made. Food stylists who use tricks such as spraying shellac on ice cream should add Pine Sol to their bag of tricks.

For now, Debbie’s the Queen of Kitchen Disasters, but if you have a story that rivals hers, write me at lyons@knoxmag.com . You just may be the new Queen or King.