Zucchini bread and the smoky oven

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Back to a time when I wondered if I would get enough zucchini from my garden

It’s September. Summer will be ending in a few weeks and I’ve realized that even after sharing, every week, the bounty of green squash that’s grown out of two spindly stalks I can only eat so much roasted and sautéed zucchini. Yes, I could have stuffed it but I didn’t. Instead I made two loaves of zucchini bread a few weeks ago and two more loaves last night.

When I turned the oven on to preheat last night (a night where the humidity’s been higher than it’s been all summer) I immediately smelled burning plastic. “That’s right,” I thought to myself. “I haven’t used the oven since then.”

“Then” was a couple of weeks ago, the Tuesday after our vacation, when I invited a few of my friends over for dinner. I made a simple salad with cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes and roasted white eggplant, yellow and green squash with parsley, basil and oregano (all from the garden) on the grill. I knew I would be able to finish the vegetables before Lynelle, Andrea and Jana came over; I bought prepared chicken breasts for the three of them from a local shop so I wouldn’t be cooking while they were there and we’d be able to visit.

When I picked up the chicken breasts that I had ordered earlier in the day they were tucked into three black plastic take out containers with clear plastic lids. The woman helping me stacked them in a brown paper bag with a handle.

“You can heat those up right in the containers. Go about 3 minutes,” she said to me.

My thought as I left with my purchase was that it would take longer to preheat the oven than it would to heat the chicken. I’m sure you know where this is going but I, unfortunately, did not. Some things take me longer to process, some dots just never connect.

When my guests arrived we sat on my deck, under the umbrella, nibbling on cheese and crackers, olives, chips. We had all been on vacations and took turns telling each other about our trips. As we chatted and ate our appetizers I turned the oven on to preheat, set the salad and vegetables out on the counter, pulled out serving spoons, plates, silverware. I was busy going from kitchen to deck with the side dishes but stopped long enough to remove the lids and put the three containers of chicken in the oven before heading back outside. I sat with my friends while we waited for the chicken to heat up.

Less than three minutes later I went back into the kitchen to check the chicken and, walking into the room, was assailed by smoke…and a stench. My immediate reaction was embarrassment, thought oven cleaning was long overdue, before realizing the plastic containers were burning. I’m sure I yelled out, put the fan on high and opened the over door. The plastic was melting, long black threads dripping between the metal slats of the rack. Lynelle and Andrea stayed calm, helped me get the molten containers out of the oven; I dropped a few F bombs along with some other curse words. We managed to salvage the chicken, sliding it from the middle of each black square onto a plate and into the microwave. Andrea scraped melted blobs of plastic off the bottom of the oven with a spatula used for grilling, its wooden handle about twice the length of the one I use for everyday.

“Oh my god, I’m going to kill you guys,” I said about half a dozen times. I don’t eat meat, my meal wasn’t going to be affected. “I’m so sorry. The lady said it was okay to heat in the containers.” And then the light bulb went off, rather on, that three minutes in a microwave would heat chicken through.

As I was repeating my refrain about killing them and what the lady had said Andrea cut in, told me that there are plastic containers that can be heated in the oven, that she’s seen them and used them. Lynelle criticized the woman for not being clear about which chamber she was referring to when doling out the directions. This is one of the reasons I love my friends, they were trying to cheer me up, hoping to make me feel less of the knucklehead I was. Lynelle even tasted the chicken, said it was fine, said she would tell me if it tasted like plastic and proceeded to plate them for her and Andrea.

Jana, meanwhile, had called me from the road asking me where I live. She mistakenly turned north off the connector instead of south, ended up miles away before calling me and arrived in time for dinner but missed the smoky, smelly commotion.

The rest of our night was fine; I only mentioned it another six or seven times. At dusk, when the mosquitoes came out to bite, we drank coffee and ate cookies in the living room. After the three of them left I used the spatula to scrape the plastic from the racks. It had cooled and hardened and popped right off.

So last night, when I turned the oven on, I saw wisps of smoke waft up from the burners, smelled the reminder of what I had done. I put the fan on, waited for all the smoke to disperse and the smell to dissipate then popped the two loaves of zucchini bread in the oven and set the timer for 50 minutes.


4 replies

  1. Oddly, I love zucchini bread yet very much dislike sauteed zucchini.

    Sorry about your oven mishap. I think we’ve all experienced that, at least once. Good idea to let it cool so that it would simply chip off. And while coffee and cookies may have placated your guests, that would have been me sitting next to a rapidly disappearing bottle of wine. 🙂

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