You never forget your first fire. I set my first one in a microwave when I was ten by exploding a loaf of bread, which was innocently pre-sliced and still wrapped in plastic. In my defense, I was only trying to set the microwave timer.
I was attempting to time thirty minutes of reading — an assignment from my fourth grade teacher. How was I supposed to know my mother used the microwave as her own personal bread box/storage compartment? And certainly it wasn’t my fault when I hit “time/cook” instead of “hold/timer!”
Blowing up a loaf of bread at such a tender age has a way of making a long-lasting impression. For instance, I’ll always remember the smokey odor that comes from plastic disintegrating in waves of violent flame. I’ll always recall the way my family left the windows open for a week to vent the charming campfire smell I had infused. To this day, I haven’t seen my father move so fast on his feet as the day he lunged for the fire extinguisher and eliminated what could have been a very unpleasant situation.
I’ve spent the better part of the last twenty years trying not to set any more fires. Of course, two weeks ago, I did it again. Thank goodness, this time it was in culinary school and all in the name of flambé.
In a vivid class demonstration, my instructor unexpectedly deglazed his sizzling-hot sauté pan with white wine. A glorious hissy-fit of fire followed — an eruption that took all seven of us students by surprise. Oh I wish you could have been there! It was ever-so impressive! As soon as the flames died out, a lovely sauce was swimming in the bottom of the pan. And not one person had to emergently lunge for a fire extinguisher.
So there I was, ten minutes later, standing in front of my six-burner range with a glug of wine in my hand and what must have looked like a petrified expression. I looked at the hot pan, I paid respect to the loaf-of-bread-incident, I closed my eyes and then I did the unthinkable. I threw the wine in the pan and took a great step back. A fistful of fire blew up suddenly in front of me.
For a good five seconds I stood there, paralyzed by the image of the rolling flames. Visions of sprinklers and emergency vehicles and caution tape flashed through my head. And then, just as quickly as it came, the fire was gone. Nothing but a shimmering sauce remained.
After adding some stock and some butter, the sauce turned out thick and creamy and still had the lingering scent of burned alcohol. Friends, it’s been said about a lot of things but this time it’s really true:
It was way, way better than sliced bread. Especially the burned variety.