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Suburban Island

Popcorn Anyone?
Sunday, Feb. 01, 2004, 12:41 a.m.

QUESTION: Do you know what your microwave is doing tonight?

WHAT I LEARNED: A watched pot never burns.

Popcorn is a delightful, delicious, and delicate thing. You can buy it ready to pop and all you have to do is stand there in the kitchen while those little yellow kernels bang against the microwave bag and they transform themselves from ordinary yellow tooth-breaking kernels into fluffy cloudlike bits of corny butter-flavored snack food.

There is a trick though – it’s the stand around while it pops rule. The other rule is this – never take it for granted that teenagers in your house are following the sacred guidelines of the kitchen or that your kids know what culinary high jinx their pals are up to in the kitchen while they are watching a movie or on an instant messaging roll.

This is especially important to consider because if there’s one thing that I have noted in my role as the mom of teenagers, it is that teenagers love the kitchen. They love to cook things. They love to cook them at night. The later the better. I worry about the burners after midnight Ramen Noodle soup preparation or the oven being turned off after 1 AM cookie baking.

Earlier this week, while the snow fell, while the ice iced, and while the kids stayed home from school – jubilant, giddy, and hungry for late night snacks - the inevitable happened. It was a concurrence of hunger, teenage kid, new microwave, and one bag of Orville Redenbacher’s Butter Light Popcorn. Said teenager – a regular guest in our house - ignored the popcorn button on the brand spanking new microwave minding its own business on our countertop and popped that popcorn for a bit longer than the Orville Redenbacher folks intended. We know this because: the house filled with smoke, the bag of popcorn was nothing but a batch of charred black stuff, and the microwave – only a baby of 2 months old – was spattered with a smoky oil that yellowed the insides and made the whole thing smell like a smoke machine. It was bad. Very bad. And it didn’t get better in a hurry.

We had to open the front door at 1 AM on one of the coldest nights of the year for about 20 minutes while the kids all ran around flinging, flailing, and waving towels over their heads like demented dancers in a lyrical dance program. All the fans in the house were pressed into service. The result was this – it was cold, very cold. It was a breezy kind of cold too. I could see the dollars of electricity floating out the door with our heat and the popcorn smoke never to be seen again.

However, even the arctic air blowing in from our front yard and the wind from every fan in the house could not remove the stench of smoke from our home. It took about 2 days before the smell was overcome by a strict routine of burning multiple scented candles and the generous use of room sprays of all sorts. And now a week later, after having been scrubbed down, sprayed with Fantastik Orange Action, and spending some quality time with Clorox – our young microwave is still a smoky shadow of its former self.

We don’t hold out much hope for its recovery.

This episode has reminded all of us at this address of three important things to consider regarding kitchen time:

  • Read the directions
  • Cook with care
  • Consider your snacks carefully

Do you know where your kids are tonight? How about their guests? And are you sure they’re not making popcorn?

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