Sunday, December 11, 2011

Four-Pie Day: What FB Pics Can't Say

I became Gran the Cooker before Nicholas, my oldest grandson, was in first grade. Almost as soon as he could talk, he could instruct any babysitter on how to cook his favorite food, “noodles and chumchum cheese.”  In first grade when I gave a lesson to his class at St. Francis Xavier on writing poetry, and assisted them in writing a poem as a group, I knew that he had me forever characterized. The class, with assistance from their astute teacher, Miss Evans, married now but still teaching first grade there, sent me a poster-sized thank-you note in the form of a poem.

GRAN

Gran is nice
She likes brown rice.
Gran is silly
She likes chili.
Gran is great.
She likes to bake.
Gran is smart.
She has love in her
HEART.

The poster decorated by the class is covered with so many colorful hearts, bowls, butterflies and other crayon markings that you can sometimes hardly see the words. Joy. Joy. I said, “How did they know all this, Nicholas?”  “They asked me,” he replied. No wonder it has become a tradition for me to ask Nicholas what he’d like me to bake on his birthday. This Wednesday he turned eighteen, and his choice was the same as last year: a key lime cheesecake.

I have five cheesecake pans in my kitchen, but I chose a nearly new nine-inch one last Wednesday. As the cheesecake cooked, butter leaked from its generous graham cracker crust onto the bottom of the oven. A cheesecake pan is a springform pan, and truly it defies logic that any one of them wouldn’t leak. I learned early on from my eager-beaver algebra grad student who couldn’t teach you to tie your shoes that the circle is the only shape that will not fall through itself; thus, the circular man hole cover. (The singular thing I learned from him.) And I might add, thus, the cheesecake pan, for the bottom must fit securely into the sides.  A spring clip fastener tightens and holds the sides firmly in place.

High temperatures and butter don’t mix. Duh. This is not an algebraic equation or geometric theorem that I know of, but it is a Kathleen proverb. When I took the cheesecake out to top it with the final layer of sweetened and vanilla-flavored sour cream, I had to change the temperature to 500 degrees for just a few minutes. I knew there might be a problem because there was already smoke. Where there is smoke there is fire, right? When I removed the cheesecake after a few minutes, almost seconds, just to get the sour cream bubbling at the edges, the smoking was terrible. I threw open doors and turned on fans. The self-cleaning process, it seemed to me, was the logical next step. After all, it is the baking season, and I would need that oven immediately. I pushed the appropriate buttons, but within, I’d say, ten minutes, flames were leaping up inside my oven. My gut reaction was to grab the red fire extinguisher from underneath the stovetop. There it sat, unused, with the clip ready to be pulled. I tried the oven door but it didn’t open. Thank God. The microwave above also gave me a digital sign when I tried that door handle: The oven is locked. Meantime, my heart is into Olympic track-running speed, as I dial my husband at work, keeping an eye on the flames. (Once I dialed him long distance at 11:00 p.m. in Greenville, SC, from Prattville, AL, to ask him about a teenage issue, an emergency I judged, that was occurring at the moment.) “Don’t open the door!” he almost shouted.

Turns out, he says, that the temperature inside the oven is probably up to 600 degrees while cleaning but the flames could be as hot as 1500 degrees. (His engineering specialty is thermodynamics, and he helped save Skylab, the first space station, by working to design the now-famous heat shield.) Oh, boy. My oven was going to go up in flames and my house, too. Just as I was about to hang up and call 911, another digital message popped up. Oven disabled. The flames began to subside.  When I reported that to Papa the Professor, he assured me that the oven had a safety mechanism that kept the door locked and probably had an appropriate cut-off device. With his close supervision the next morning, we “burned the BTU’s left in the butter” by using normal baking temperatures. Horrid smell. Ghastly smoke for a bit. Ah, but then his troubleshooting expertise was satisfied; I could again try the self-cleaning process.

I’m happy to report all is well with my temporarily ailing oven. It has that nice blue interior again and, more importantly, it has baked with fair success four pies although the baking was not even, and I did have to shift the pies once. This is excellent news. Victoria, my only granddaughter, turns nine tomorrow.  I wonder what chocolate thing she’ll want me to bake?
Pecan
3--from Glenwood's Pecans sold locally
Pear Mincemeat
 Remember when I canned it earlier this fall?