How not to do it: Pressure cookers

I saw a post on copperbadge’s tumblr about an exploded pressure cooker, which prompted me to write up a memory from my youth.

My grandmother had a big house down on Cape Cod where she lived during the summer, and my family would generally go down a couple of times a summer. This particular time, I’d invited my best friend E along as well.

One evening, my grandmother decided to make pot roast for dinner. (You can see where this is going, right?)

I should say in my own defense that I know essentially nothing about how to cook large hunks of meat. At home such things were roasted, either in the oven or on my dad’s kettle grill (aka the best way). It may in fact be possible to cook large hunks of meat in a pressure cooker and not have it end up inedible. I just don’t know.

My grandmother stuck the pot roast and some water into the pressure cooker, closed it, stuck it on a burner, and turned the heat on.

And walked away.

Most of us were sitting out on the back porch watching the sunset. At some point we noticed that in addition to the salt smell of the water below, there was a rather different smell coming from the house. The pressure cooker had gone completely dry — maybe it hadn’t been sealed correctly — and the object within was burned black.

I have no idea whether it ever occurred to my grandmother that not serving the pot roast was an option. In any event, served it was. I think we must have gotten the smoke out of the house by the time dinner was served, because I have no memory of smelling smoke during dinner. Or maybe there was still smoke in the air, but my sensory memory of that meal was entirely and completely overshadowed by the bite or two of dry, gritty, burned material boldly masquerading as pot roast. My mother told me later that my friend E gave her a look and whispered, “Do I have to eat it?” to which my mother (a reasonable person) whispered “No!” in response. My father, dutiful son that he was, ate his entire portion.

I think my grandmother must have gone to bed early, because once she was out of the picture the rest of us piled into the car and salved our poor taste buds with the sweetness of ice cream.

And according to my mother, when she and my father woke up the next morning, the first words out of his mouth (before he said “Good morning” or “I love you” or anything) were, “That was, without a doubt, the very worst meal I have ever eaten.”


“I found him in a salad…”

I came across this post on Tumblr the other day. The salient bits are below.


Disclaimer: I haven’t the foggiest idea who Gordon Ramsay is. I am naming my character Gordon out of convenience, but aside from the superficial resemblances, my character is in no way meant to be Gordon Ramsay. The kitten is additionally inspired by scifigrl47’s works with Harris and his kitten.

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Gordon looked down at his plate. Here he was, wearing a suit, sitting in an expensive restaurant, and while he had a reasonable amount of time to order and consume lunch with his business partners, he did not in any way have time for this.

He looked up at his two partners. The partners regarded him stonily, silently challenging him to handle the situation.

He looked down once more at his salad plate. It was an elegant presentation, he had to give the chef credit for that. A bed of arugula and endive with cherry tomatoes, drizzled artistically around the edges with raspberry vinaigrette, lay decorously on a creamy-white plate with gold edging. And just off-center, where the piece of delicately grilled salmon ought to have been…  

“Mew,” said the kitten sitting in his salad.

The kitten was so young it was still fuzzy rather than furry. Its eyes were a light blue that matched his own, and its long light coat was Siamese-colored, with dark ears, nose, paws, and tail. A single leaf of arugula was draped artistically over one ear, but it was otherwise .

The kitten looked up at him and blinked. “Mew?”

The little creature was sitting quite still, but it was positively throwing out waves of cuteness.

Gordon leaned down till he was practically nose to nose with the kitten. “No,” he whispered desperately at it. “No. No, no, no! I already have two parakeets, a tank full of goldfish, and six – no, seven – mice. I am not allowed to have animals like you in my apartment, and I’m not supposed to have the ones I do!”

The kitten leaned up to bump noses with Gordon. “Mew.”

Gordon sighed, firmly resisted the urge to run his hands through his hair, and turned. “Waiter?” he called.

As if he had been waiting for the summons, a waiter appeared at his elbow. “Sir?”

“Waiter, there’s, um.” He took a deep breath, trying to sound as if this was a normal – if unfortunate – restaurant occurrence. “There’s a cat in my salad.”

The waiter leaned over to inspect the salad. “Oh dear. I’m terribly sorry, sir. I will dispose of the cat and have the kitchen prepare you a fresh salad.”

Gordon tried to maintain a veneer of calm in his voice. “Um. It won’t be necessary to, um, dispose of the cat. Please put it in a box, and I’ll take it to go.” He smiled hopefully at the waiter. “Though I would appreciate a fresh salad, if you’d be so kind.”
A few minutes later there was a new salad with an oversized piece of grilled salmon at Gordon’s place, and a large to-go box sitting at his feet. His business associates appeared to ignore the occasional bits of fish that somehow found their way from Gordon’s plate, to his fingers, to somewhere below the table. By the end of the course, a contented purring sound was emanating from the box. The kitten was content. And, even given all the difficulties that the kitten would undoubtedly cause, Gordon was happy too.

The accidental Pope


(I meant to put this up Thursday 1/19/17. Sorry.)

I will not be wishing anyone “Happy Inauguration Day!” tomorrow. Like many people, I am less than thrilled with our incoming president and am not feeling very celebratory about his inauguration.

Instead I’ll be wishing people “Happy St. Fabian’s Day!”

According to Wikipedia, Fabian was a young Christian and Roman nobleman who attended the election of a new pope in 236 AD. It’s not known why he came. Maybe he wanted to see what direction the Church was going to take. Maybe he wanted to be part of the pomp and circumstance of a papal election. Or maybe he was just curious about the affair.

The building in which the election was held probably had rafters, and there were probably doves nesting in them. According to legend, at some point during the election proceedings one of the doves came down and landed on Fabian’s head. The electors were reminded of the Biblical story of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. Fabian was elected Pope then and there… all because a bird landed on his head.

Between the unexpected nature of Fabian’s election and the fact that inaugurate comes from the same root as augury (reading the auspices by studying the actions of birds), it feels remarkably apropos that the feast of St. Fabian falls on Inauguration Day this year.