Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not All Ovens Are Created Equal

It's that magical time of year again when birthday madness reigns supreme in our household. Indy, Erik, and Stylish all have their birthdays within a three week period, and so when the end of August rolls around, I feel like I do nothing but wrap presents and bake cakes.

I took care of the present-acquisition in Canada back in May, and dutifully toted my partially-depackaged goods (the kids haven't seen a board game arrive in its box since 2010) from Toronto through Vancouver, Seattle, Auckland, Noumea, and now Brisbane. Step one: complete.

But baked goods are more of a just-in-time sort of product. So what to do about a cake? A year ago, I heroically baked a birthday cake for Indy en route to New Caledonia, while Papillon was heeled over 20 degrees. Sounds dramatic, I know, but I was in my own home with all of my ingredients and tools at the ready. Practically perfect conditions in the cruising game.

Tilty photo is not the result of shoddy camera work.
Satisfied customers.
This year brought a new challenge: a hotel apartment kitchen. Mind you, I had already baked cakes for both Indy and Stylish when they had their farewell party in Noumea. But birthdays, as everyone knows, are very much a case of: what have you done for me lately? Cake on their actual birthdays was non-negotiable.

When we arrived in Brisbane, I checked out the kitchen. In terms of cooking equipment, the cupboard revealed:
  • one pot with lid
  • one colander
Not a frying pan, not a cookie sheet - not even oven mitts. If I had to guess, I'd say your average bear who rents a temporary apartment makes a pot of pasta on Night 2, spends the evening feeling smug about being so frugal, then goes back to eating restaurant meals for the duration of their stay. Point being, awesome as I am, I'm not up to the task of making a birthday cake under these conditions. So Indy and I visited the freezer section of our local grocery store.

I looked over the chocolate fudge cakes and key lime pies, wondering what everyone would like. Indy stabbed the glass with a finger.
"That one."
I looked. "That one?" Indy was pointing at an ice cream cake that was clearly prepared by clowns taking some sort of illegal hallucinogen.
"Yes. Definitely." Before I could open my mouth, she had opened the freezer door.
I shrugged.  At least it was an ice cream cake.

I'm not going to lie to you - Freddo freaks me out a little bit.
And, surprisingly enough, the whole thing tasted like vanilla.
Wishing up a storm.
But what about the rest of the time? We may be stranded here for weeks, and even the residents of Papillon can't eat ice cream cake all day every day. Fear not. The existence of a single pot isn't enough to stymie a wily cruiser - why, I've baked bread in a modified oil drum! A little ingenuity, a little aluminum foil, and what could be easier?

So you would think.

A couple of nights ago, the girls found pizza shells at the grocery store - the perfect dinner to cook in an understocked kitchen. Dinnertime rolled around, I made the pizzas, and popped the first one in the oven.

On Papillon, I have a propane-fuelled oven. I can only use the middle rack (or things burn), and one temperature setting (or the flame blows out). By trial and error, I have learned how to do all of my oven work with the dial set between 8 and 9 o'clock.  I have no idea what temperature that is supposed to be - the numbers rubbed off long ago.

As it happens, real world ovens have actual temperature dials. And fans. And upper and lower element settings, and all sorts of other fanciness that I have long forgotten. But what is fancy about pizza? Years ago, the owner of a chain of pizza shops told me that pizza is best cooked hot and fast. I cranked the temperature, set the timer and wandered off.

All was well for pizza one. Pizza two went in the oven. On went the timer. I went back to my email.

Time passed, and I had the feeling that the pizza ought to be done by now. I went in to check, and saw that the electric oven had turned itself off, timer and all.

'I grabbed a tea towel, pulled out the just-starting-to-blacken pizza and frowned at the oven. What was this nonsense? Hmm, maybe the oven was a little on the too-hot side. Had I tripped a breaker?

Being a hotel, the breaker panel was nowhere to be found. Heaven forbid your guests mess with that sort of thing. But,magically, the oven turned itself back on an hour later.

It looks like I need to be more particular about choosing my cooking temperature. Those little numbers around the dial seem to actually mean something - who knew? And I will certainly use a separate device as a timer next time.

I guess living on land isn't quite as simple as advertised.

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