I don’t know how science works.
To the best of my knowledge, electricity can be explained thus: Step 1, flowing water or wind turns a turbine which looks like a giant screw, and Step 2, I walk through my front door, pick up a black rectangle, punch a red button, and “Dah dahdah, dah dahdah,” Sportscenter is on. (I wrote technical documents—white papers—for electrical engineers for five years and instruction manuals that were used in home construction around the nation. You’re welcome. Expertise takes different forms, and mine is in forming sentences. The engineers supplied all the science-y numbers that make buildings happen.)
Cooking is among my top several favorite activities to pursue for when cooking is something to be done. I reminded my girlfriend of this recently:
“I like cooking.”
“I know.” She had an odd half-smile on her face.
“I cooked for myself for many years.”
“That’s what you tell me.” (This is about as close as Jen gets to using my preferred method of not agreeing with the content of a sentence but agreeing that a sentence has been uttered and some sounds are expected in reply. I have been known to say these two words out loud as a reply to a statement that I do not like but feel socially prevented from arguing over: “I reply.” With a half-smile, not a smirk. Smirks contribute to the bad in the world.)
“I enjoy it. I hope to cook for us someday”
“You cooked for me once, baby.”
“Did I?” I guess I’ve blocked the memory for some reason.
She moved on to another topic. My cooking is memorable in its unmemorability.
In my present residence, my personal cooking is microwave-based. Jen cooks a meal on Sunday for seven versions of me through the week, and I heat these in the magic box, which minimizes my time in shared spaces. (I rent and share a kitchen. Someday she and I will live together and I think all of you know better than I do that the conversation quoted above means nothing about this arrangement will change into me cooking for the us that is Jen and me.)
In the 1970s, when I was a kid, the microwave oven started to become a common household fixture. The technology had become affordable and for a brief moment, everyone was cooking everything in microwave ovens. One can indeed cook anything in a microwave oven, of course, which I say with the confidence of someone who can find the ON button in the front of most microwaves.
I remember my parents cooking the family roast in one, though.
In a conventional oven, a convection oven, it takes longer to cook a roast than in a microwave. If you’d asked me when I was 10, I would have estimated that cooking a standard sized roast beef took one Sunday. So that’s the measurement in my mind; the equation, if you will: one three-pound roast beef = one Sunday. (Remember: “Dah dahdah! Dah dahdah!”)
The microwave heats things faster, from the center out. Less than a Sunday. The problem with this is, of course, the whole thing. The outer part of the meat does not crisp, as the entire mass of meat is cooked in an undifferentiated way, which is sort of the slogan for anyone cooking with a microwave: “Makes no difference to me.” The whole thing comes out cooked, in less than a Sunday, but not looking like anything at all. The roast will be gray in appearance, texture, and taste. Beef turns out gray, but so does poultry, and it is the same gray. From well-done to “Well, done.”
And there were microwave cookbooks! To this day, I do not know precisely what a browning element is, was, does, or if mine has one, but I remember that my friends’ families whose microwaves had them offered meals that looked like they had been painted to look like meals.
This era has passed. The Food Network’s microwave page, entitled, “Surprising Recipes for the Microwave,” only offers about a dozen recipes, leading with mac & cheese. Surprising? Probably 98% of what anyone heats in a microwave is mac & cheese.
I think that’s what we called the box in college: the mac & cheese maker.
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