I did exactly what I said I would. Well, almost exactly. I went to my Happy Place grocery store. I made the French onion soup. I spent hours in my kitchen creating a mess and yummy food at the same time. I did dishes and dishes and dishes. I did laundry. I was disgustingly domestic. Liberated Professional Me hated me.
But I didn’t make the lasagna until the Eleventh Day. It was a new recipe, supplied by Tyler Florence via the internet. I had first made my college professor-cum-friend’s pecan shortbread bars, taking care to heed warnings about bubble-over and the dangers of burning sugar smells. I managed to get the bars done with neither of the offenses happening… not even a drip of sugary goodness anywhere. Then it was time for the lasagna.
That bubbled over. At first it was just a few drips on the bottom of the oven. Then there was some smoking. Huh. Okay. Happens. I turned on the vent and opened a window. Then I shoved a sheet of aluminum foil onto the bottom of the oven– more to save myself the trouble of having to scrub out blackened beef and sausage and cheese juice than anything else.
But seemingly within moments, I looked up and the house was full of the haze of lasagna smoke.
Say, who was it who decided that every room in a house has to have a smoke detector?
Three dwellings ago, I learned a great trick: when your kitchen capers seem to go slightly awry (or your oven revolts), dampen a washcloth and put it over the smoke detector. Use a rubber band if it’s mounted on the ceiling.
I cannot tell you how often that little trick has come in handy.
I scurried around the house, climbing various chairs/stools/ladders, covering the smoke detectors with damp washcloths secured by rubber bands. I turned on ceiling fans. I opened every blasted window despite the January air. I even opened the back door, risking the possibility that an alley rat would smell dinner and come to check it out. Which sounds like a Disney movie, but is definitely not.
Meanwhile, let me be clear: nothing was burning. The lasagna was fine. My cooking was not in question. (I would be insulted if it were. I never burn things. I am very proud of that. For some really, really stupid reason.) It was just the drippings on the bottom of the oven that were smoking up the joint. Seriously smoking up the joint. Like, it was pouring out the oven. Next thing I knew, I was pacing around with a wet towel, flapping it in the air, trying to clear the air. Anybody walking by outside would have seen it.
I heard sirens.
Oh, God. Ohhhh, please don’t be coming to my house because some neighbor thought I might be burning the place down. This will be the third time in as many dwellings that the fire department will have shown up.
In my defense, the first time was because my downstairs neighbor had “fallen asleep with a pizza box in the oven,” and I was the one who had called the fire department. It was the night I moved in. I personally think he was smoking more than a pizza box. Who puts the box in the oven?! Jackass.
The second time was because my carbon monoxide detector went off at 3am. Odorless, colorless. Clueless. I had to call.
Fortunately, the sirens passed me by. I live near two hospitals and several main roads, so sirens aren’t unusual. These guys definitely sounded like they’d been coming for me, but happily, no.
I wound up having to turn the oven off 15 minutes before the lasagna was supposed to be done. I settled for letting it sit in there with the door closed but without the recurring flame of gas fueling the mess. Forty-five minutes later, I was halfway inside the thing, trying to scrub it out, because I had remembered that my brother-in-law’s cousin and her boyfriend were coming for brunch the next morning and I had a frittata to bake, and I didn’t want to smoke them out of the house.
I literally had my head in the oven.
Which accomplished exactly nothing. There was still a thin layer of blackened lasagna juice covering much of the bottom of it.
Everything in the house smelled like smoke. Even the cat smelled like smoke. I googled “how to clean a gas oven without chemicals,” more because I didn’t have any chemicals handy than because I was concerned about my brain and lung function. I found a trick using baking soda, salt and water. I’m supposed to leave that paste covering the insides of the oven overnight and then scrape it all up, along with the blackened lasagna juice, in the morning.
I wonder what smoked frittata is like.