I don’t feel like the world owes me a cushy spot to lounge in. I try not to get too attached to material possessions, but to focus instead on less tangible things, like relationships and ideas. Having said that, I do admit that when some mundane physical thing that I’m used to being able to rely on suddenly can’t be relied on anymore, it can cramp my style.
Take something simple, like an oven. I don’t need an oven that’s impossibly posh or high tech; my wants are fairly modest. But as the Rolling Stones say, you can’t always get what you want.
That has been particularly true about baking in Spain. In our first apartment, the controls on the oven had no markings, so I guessed a lot, and set the oven temperature as if it were a clock face. Notes from that time include lines like, “Bake at about 7:30ish for 20 minutes or so.”
Our second year we had no oven, a trial for a baker like me, though we tried a few things to console ourselves.
During year three the oven was okay, though I still managed to create a few things that could have featured in a new blog post series that I considered calling either Food Fiascos or Kitchen Calamities. Plus, at some point we realized that the fridge wasn’t reliable anymore. It would stop cooling every few weeks. All our kitchen concern was taken up with the pain of having to monitor the fridge temperature and perform repeated emergency defrosts.
Last year we had troubles with an oven that wouldn’t quite close, and whose front glass panel wouldn’t quite stay on. We thought a new oven would solve our problems, but no. The temperature knob on the new oven was spring loaded, and wouldn’t stay below about 220° C (425° F). El Guapo, man of great inventiveness, devised a hack so that tension could be maintained on the temperature knob, using a little strip of bicycle inner tube, a length of string with a clever adjustable knot, a bent paperclip, and the handle of the cupboard next to the oven. It was surprisingly effective, and allowed us to bake during the three months it took various official entities to finally fix the problem.
This year we were glad to find that the oven turned on just fine, and had both a temperature knob that stayed where it was set, and markings that seem to indicate what temperature it’s going for. I tried the oven out by baking some chicken with vegetables in a clay pot. It was tasty and done in good time.
This is where we might insert, “What could go wrong?”
The first time I baked cookies I was using a new recipe, but I set a timer for the lowest recommended time, noting that one of the recipe’s commenters had said she had had to bake the cookies for substantially longer. Our cookies? The most burnt specimens I have ever had the misfortune to pull out of an oven. These were thick shortbread cookies, and my timer was set for 12 minutes, but by that point they were cinders. We vowed to be more careful.
Next, El Guapo made a batch of granola, and set the timer for 8 minutes. If you’ve ever made granola you know that it usually bakes for 15 to 30 minutes or more, depending. We set the temperature lower than for the cookies, but by 8 minutes, the granola was, if not quite ashes, at least all gone to the dark side, too far to be recalled.
I’m not sure what we’ll try next. The bakery on the corner? Probably, but we’ll also come back to the oven. We will not be defeated! We will bake things that can be eaten! We hope!
[Images: demilked.com, El Guapo]