Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Toaster Oven is My Friend and Other Lessons I’ve Learned in Suburbia

I cooked a three tier chocolate cake in a toaster oven last week. It was my daughter Nicole’s eleventh birthday and a few days before her party, my regular oven decided to break. In addition to filling the house with gas fumes when it coughed its final breath, my oven left me with no way to make the food or cake for the birthday party. Panic started creeping in. I had 35 kids from her homeroom class and assorted aunts and uncles and cousins descending on the house and no way to feed them.

Normally, I would never have agreed to host a party this big for a kid’s birthday. Last year she had a few girls sleepover, I made pancakes in the morning and they were done. But this year I was riddled with guilt. I’d dragged Nicole around in the car for the last 6 weeks while her sister, Natalie, performed in a show out in Thousand Oaks. Nicole endured hours of endless car rides and late nights and waiting a Starbucks for rehearsals to end, rarely uttering a complaint. So when she asked for this extravaganza of a birthday, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. But now my oven was broken.

I revamped the party menu so I could cook everything on the stove – pasta, spaghetti sauce – it would work with a little salad on the side. But there was still the cake to bake. I called my friend and neighbor Lyn and asked her if I could use her oven. She kindly agreed, but when it was time to finally bake the cake, it was the night before the party and it was late…very late. I didn’t want to knock on her door, pans in hand. I was about to give up and call the bakery department at Ralph’s to order a cake when the Kitchen Aid toaster oven I’d bought my husband David last Christmas caught my eye. It had been sitting on the counter barely unused for almost a year. I got it for him almost as a joke because he’d always complain about using the microwave and reminisce about how he used a toaster oven all the time in college. Well, I think he has used the toaster oven twice since last year. He must have realized that he doesn’t have much need for it since he’s moved beyond his college diet of broiled cheese sandwiches.

I took the largest of the cake pans and stuck it in the toaster oven to see if it would fit. When it did, I was giddy with the idea of trying to cook the entire cake, one layer at a time, in a toaster oven. Now it wasn’t just a cake that needed to be made, it was a challenge! Nicole wanted a s’mores cake. It needed to be three tiers of chocolate cake with fudge filling and dark chocolate frosting. On top, a glob of marshmallow fluff which would ooze down the sides and be covered with graham cracker crumbs and shavings of dark chocolate. The cake turned out beautifully and I was bursting with pride that I’d actually pulled it off. Who knew you could bake a cake in a toaster oven? That necessity mother of invention thing is powerful stuff. On party day, I couldn’t help but bring people inside and show them the toaster oven cake.

Over the week it took to get a repairman out to fix the regular oven, I cooked everything in that toaster oven, my new best friend. I beamed when I talked about it to the point that my family tired of hearing me announce what was for dinner only to follow it up with the phrase, “And I made it in the toaster oven!” I cooked pot roast and meat loaf and a roast chicken. I cooked 4 frozen pizzas – one at a time, of course. Each time I pulled a dish out of the toaster oven, I felt like some type of new age domestic diva. Who needed Viking or Thermador or some other high end appliance? With just my toaster oven, I felt like I could conquer the culinary world. We had bonded, like new friends who instantly seem like old trusted ones.

Just as I started eyeing the toaster oven to see if I could cook my Thanksgiving turkey in it, the repairman came and replaced the simple but expensive part which had caused the whole problem – the starter. Now my regular oven worked without gassing us and I’m back to my old cooking routine. But now every time I pass the toaster oven, it’s bittersweet. I miss it, but I also happily remember the fine meals we shared together. Who knows, maybe I’ll cook my turkey in it anyway, just for old times sake.

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