As I’ve mentioned before (and will probably mention a good few times more), while I’m at graduate school I’m living at a residential college for graduate and Ph.D students and post-docs. The best way I have to describe it is “dorm life for grown-ups.” It’s rather bucolic looking (I think that’s the right word, “bucolic”) and situated near the woods overlooking the coast, and the dining room is a large, long space with rows of long tables and a vaulted wood-beamed roof, so I also describe the place as Hogwarts, only with fewer floating candles.
No floating candles, actually. I wish somebody would work on that.
Where was I? Oh, right. Anyway, part of the complex is a communal kitchen, where residents can fix lunches during the week and meals on the weekends, when the dining room’s closed. It’s often… interesting watching people cook. Some folks are practiced hands and make elaborate meals, while others reheat leftovers and go. (I am often in the latter camp.) There are also the folks in the middle, who sometimes give the impression that maybe they’ve never cooked before in their lives.
Sometimes it gets a little scary.
A couple weeks ago, my friend S. was getting ready to fry a steak and put a skillet on the stove. I was standing at the sink washing a pan, my back to the stove. I heard a whoosh, felt a sudden flare-up of heat, and saw flames reflecting in the door to the microwave oven. No, S. wasn’t making the steak flambé-style. He put cold oil in a hot, hot, hot frying pan (word to the wise, kids: heat the oil and the pan at the same time, and use something with a high smoke point—peanut oil is one) with the obvious reaction: fireball.
So there we are, four or five Ph.D.’s—and me—standing in a kitchen with a flaming pan and all of them making a lot of noise. What do we do? Where’s the fire extinguisher? It’s gonna set off the sprinklers! Get some water!
Thankfully, no one threw water on the grease fire (sigh) before I finished drying the pan I had in my hand. So I flipped it over the flaming skillet, which put out the fire. Sadly, it also meant I had to wash it again.
Recounting this story later, my friend A. said something creative writers don’t often hear: “You were so calm. It’s like you’re the most logical person here!”
“And that’s a sad thing,” I replied.