The fire department called it “extreme, extensive smoke damage as the result of a protein-based fire”.
And it‘s the main reason I’ve never owned a crockpot.
It doesn’t matter that it happened more than 20 years ago—in late March or very early April 1996, as I recall. I remember, because I was set to visit my friend Judith near San Francisco for the first time since she had moved there. I had a five year old, and I think it might have been the first trip I was taking for fun since he had been born. And it was just a few days away.
It was a weeknight and I had hustled home from work in time to pick Andy up at his grandparents, because my ex wasn’t home; he was out working a big sports awards show (that happened a lot—not the awards shows, but his being out at night at work—that’s what happens when you cover sports), so I was on duty as office worker, chauffeur, mom, caretaker, cook, cleaner and recreational distraction that particular night. I had made a promise we’d go to the leisure center—to the wave pool, and I wasn’t one to disappoint. ‘Cuz I’m a mom. It’s what we do.
So I drove us home from G & G’s through the cold evening (as it recall it was one of those really chilly nights, when the snow is crusty and there’s a layer of ice underneath. We got home and I made dinner, and decided to set up dinner for the next night—barbeque ribs.
My plan was, I think, a good one: put the ribs in a pot filled with water, set it on high to boil, then turn it off and let them sit while we were out at the pool.
Except I forgot the turn-off-the-stove part. I think it was because I had started the dishwasher and for some reason the sound distracted me. And I didn’t remember until two hours later.
We had a great evening at the pool—not too crowded, water temps just right, lots to do with a five year old.
We splashed, played, took long hot rinse off showers and got ourselves wrapped to head out into the subzero night.
And then, for some reason, it hit me like a punch in the gut on the way home. The stove was still on.
I don’t think I’ve ever driven so fast in my life towards home. I have no idea if Andy sensed my panic—I tried not to let it show, but I was driving like a crazy lady, ripping down the three lane highway like it was the Nordschleife—the Green Hell at the Nurburgring. (Been there, stayed there, seen it, haven’t driven it. Yet. Anyone want to try it with me? Not kidding—I would do it–they just won’t let you in a rental. Sigh)
And when I got to our street and pulled up in front of our house, everything looked fine. The lights were on as I had left them and nothing seemed amiss.
Until I got out of the car and heard the smoke detectors. And saw the cloud of thick, grey smoke, halfway up the ground floor walls.
Now I should mention that there was a cat in the house. Moe, our ancient and grumpy Siamese, was in there somewhere, and not a fan of loud noises.
I told Andy to wait outside and I ran into the house. The smoke was heavy and acrid and I could barely see my way into the kitchen, but there, on the stove, was the pot with smoke pouring from it, the burner that bright shade of red-orange thrown off by an electric burner. Without thinking I grabbed the pot, which looked like it had a blackened possum carcass in it, and tossed it out onto the back deck, into a big snow pile, where it hissed and steamed and sunk and smoked some more.
I was choking by now, so I ran back through the house and out the front door where Andy was waiting. He seemed strangely calm, so I guess I must have hidden my panic (he could tell you how he was feeling I guess, but he seemed ok to me).
I knew I had to get back in and find Moe.
Because we’d been at the pool, we had wet towels—the first thing to go right that night. I wrapped one around my head (I must have looked hilarious) and went back in, telling Andy to stay put, which he did. I managed to disconnect the smoke detector and open all the windows on this second pass through the house. On the third entry, I found Moe, pissed off and hiding under the guest bed, smelly but no worse for wear.
By then enough of the smoke had cleared that I let Andy come inside. I checked to make sure the stove was indeed off, that the pot hadn’t burned a hole into the deck, and that we were ok.
And then we heard the sirens. The smell of the smoke—acrid, greasy, and a little plasticky–caused someone in the neighborhood to call the fire department. And I’m glad they did, because they brought in those giant fans and cleared the rest of the smoke out, did a carbon monoxide test, and checked the temperature of the wall behind the stove to be sure there was nothing burning back there.
It was horrible. Everything—I mean everything—the walls, the furniture, the dishes and glasses, the cat, our clothes–was covered in a thin film of grease. So I somehow managed to get Andy to bed, although I don’t recall doing that at all (because by now it was probably close to 11 pm), and I started to clean.
I guess I thought I would be able to clean it up.
Nope. About an hour in, I gave up when I remembered that this is why we have insurance.
So in the morning, I called. And they were wonderful (I know, right?!). They knew exactly what needed to be done and in what order and people came and went every day for the next couple of weeks until everything was back to normal.
But it wasn’t.
Needless to say I didn’t make it to San Francisco. I couldn’t even go near the stove, couldn’t leave the house without checking to make sure the door was locked once, twice, three times—hell, on occasion even today, I go back to make sure I locked the door or closed the garage…I don’t run the washer, dryer or dishwasher when I’m not home, and I never use the stove in the morning if I’m heading out. I even have trouble leaving the Keurig on. Even after all these years.
So now you may understand why I have never owned a crockpot.
I had the chance to try one out in late 2016 when we rented a place while our house was having a major reno done. Tried it out—but only when I was there—couldn’t bring myself to leave it on and go wandering off–especially in a place I was renting.
So, I guess I just figured it this way: if I’m not going to set up a meal, turn the pot on, go to work, come home and enjoy my meal, why don’t I just use my Dutch oven and stick it in the real one? And that’s what I’ve done.
Until the end of last year, just before Christmas. I caught all the buzz about these new multipots/instantpots—pressure cooker, slowcooker, rice maker, personal masseuse and hairdresser all in one—I saw them at Walmart at Christmas….and then I saw the lowly crockpot—actually dozens of them, relegated to a pallet, on sale for 15 bucks. My choice: all red, all black, or red and black plaid, like a lumberjack’s coat.
I had to buy one. I went for red, the color of…not fire. A big step for me, but such a bargain, I figured even if I only use it once, it’s most likely been worth it.
And yes, I’ve already made a dish—my own version of Thai Chicken Curry Soup (depends on if I add too much rice, then it’s stew). But I did it on the weekend when I was home all day, and it was pretty good, if I say so myself.
Two questions to ponder: did you ever set fire to your house?
No? Then you probably can answer question 2: do you have a favorite crock pot recipe you can share? Looking to try some new ones out. Feel free to send links or to post the whole thing.