The Art of Electric Skillet Cooking

Six months of the year I hole up in my tiny cottage because it's insulated with halvah and lint. And has heat. The summer house, a giant plywood cabin with lots of rooms added on over the past century, is a frozen tomb. Several years ago, I solicited estimates to winterize the summer house.

"Are you kidding?" I shrieked to several contractors. "For that amount of money, I can burn this down and build a new house!"

"That's essentially what you may have to do," they advised. "It was built for summer usage only. Half the house has warped 100 year old single pane glass windows floor to ceiling. Just to replace those will cost you $40,000. The other half has problems with the walls, floors, water pipes and the fact you've no heater."

That's why I live in the little cottage which was winterized for use twenty years ago. It's so tiny that I can pretty much do anything seated at the kitchen table - cook, go to the bathroom, make the bed, watch tv in the living room.

Which isn't an ideal situation when I have romantic weekends with the boyfriend of the month club during winter. Nothing like two people sealed inside with no privacy whatsoever. Because, winters up here are BRUTAL. There's no place to hide. And very few places to go. After last year's one week experience with the ex-boyfriend, a week where it snowed heavily, I learned that it's a good thing to hide knives beforehand as a precautionary measure.

One thing I no longer have in the winter cottage is a stove. The stove, all 15" long by 32" deep took up half the kitchen. It was destroyed around fifteen years ago when I decided to bake an eggplant. I ate baked eggplant in a restaurant and was so taken by the taste, decided to replicate what I thought was the recipe.

As it was summertime, I wanted to use the kitchen in the summer house.

"What're you doing with that eggplant?" asked my mother, wary of my intentions. She never trusted me in the kitchen after I almost poisoned the family years earlier with my lasagna.

It was a gorgeous, massive eggplant, deep-purple with a beautiful green stem. Clutching it to my heart, I said, "I want to bake it."

"NOT IN MY KITCHEN!" she shrieked. "I bought it to make eggplant parmigiana. What the hell do you intend to do with it?"

"Make baked eggplant, something I ate in a restaurant."

My mother harrumphed. "Go do that in the winter cottage. I'll replace it tomorrow when I go food shopping."

The winter cottage was no longer occupied by my sister and her husband; they recently moved to Vermont. Before she abandoned the cottage, I asked her how her marriage survived such cramped quarters.

"John works day shifts and I work nights. Sometimes we don't even see each other for weeks."

That sounded to me like a perfect recipe for a successful marriage. Incidentally, they're still married. To each other.

At any rate, I walked over to the cottage, eggplant in hand. There, I washed it thoroughly, cut off the stem and used an array of spices in the cupboard that my sister forgot to pack in her haste to leave Western New York State. I recalled the chef said that first they cook it in the oven and then scrape out the insides. I placed it in a deep pan she also left and turned the oven on high. Delicately, I put that in the center of the oven.

I figured it should take an hour to cook, given its size. I left the cottage, closing the screen door behind me. Seated at the summer house deck, talking to my mother for a while, our conversation ceased when we heard a giant BOOM! It sounded like a cannon.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?" shrieked my mother.

"Sounds like it came from the winter cottage," I responded.

My mother shot me one of her more incriminating looks. The two of us hightailed it towards the cottage, mom leading the way. At once, she came to a halt and pointed.

In the middle of the lawn was my eggplant. It looked deflated like a tire where someone let out all the air. Then, we stared at the screen door to the cottage which had a giant hole in the center of the metal mesh.

I ran inside. In the middle of the kitchen sat the deep pan. The oven was still on, but its door hung crookedly open. Right then, it fell to the floor. I reached over and turned the stove off. Right behind me, Mom entered with my eggplant in her hand. It shrunk before our very eyes.

With disgust, she said, "Did you even think of puncturing it before you placed it in the oven?"

"The thought never crossed my mind."

After burying the disintegrated mass of what was formerly an eggplant, Mom had the stove removed and replaced the screen door with a metal one with windows. The following evening, in silence, we ate her eggplant parmigiana.

Which kind of explains why I don't have a stove. When I moved in here full-time three winters ago, I got an electric skillet to cook, or my pale facsimile of cooking.

Still, it takes agility to cook with an electric skillet. The good thing about an electric skillet is that it's difficult to set food on fire, something I manage to do with a stove. The electric skillet doesn't improve the quality of my cooking, but at least I won't burn down the house in the process.

After one of my electric skillet fiascos in wintertime, my boyfriend of the moment ends up cooking. Overall, they become very adept with electric skillets and make marvelous meals. I wonder, though, if they think that's the price they have to pay to stay alive.

# # #

No comments: