Empty refrigerator, empty stomach . . .
Friday, October 12, 2012 10:00 PM
Yesterday, in a haze of jetlag exhaustion, I stared into the refrigerator and realized I had not yet been grocery shopping since arriving home from Berlin. I shoved aside the outdated yogurt and molded strawberries, and carefully uncovered a pan of leftover what the heck. I vaguely remembered feeding something to the children before packing them off to school that morning. What was it? Oh yeah! Popcorn washed down with bottled water. I'm such a good mom.
I tracked down one more package and stuck it in the microwave. While listening for the indicator that my popcorn was finished (a few seconds between pops), I began looking for a bowl. For years, I have struggled with the popcorn bowl decision. I don't want one that's too big so that the popcorn gets lost in the bottom, and I don't want a small bowl that needs refilled. And even though I have several in the right size, I don't want a Tupperware bowl that is normally used for food storage. Mainly, because I microwave food in mine and they are getting ugly. To me, eating popcorn should be a pleasant sensory experience all the way around.
Growing up, we had a huge, family, popcorn bowl made from yellow glass with a white interior. It was also the potato salad bowl, and my mom's "I tried to make a fancy dessert but it failed so I'm pouring it in this bowl and scooping it out with a spoon" bowl.
Every Sunday night after church, friends would gather in our home for sweet iced tea and popcorn. Dad would get the heavy-duty pan, with blackened spots in the bottom that my sister and I could never scrub out, and start heating the oil. He would pour the kernels into the bottom, hold the lid tightly, and vigorously shake back and forth. I remember the sounds of the pan scraping repeatedly against the burner, and the kernels pinging against the lid. He repeated the process until the yellow bowl was filled to the brim, and he'd lost two pants sizes from throwing his hips into the shaking process.
Thirty-five years later, there is a microwave in every home, and popping popcorn is no longer an endurance exercise. One the one hand, this is a blessing because dad's hips don't swivel like they did in his younger days. On the other hand, it is difficult to find a bowl that is filled perfectly by a single bag of microwave popcorn.
I searched through the cabinets, and pulled out my grandma's melamine flying saucer bowl. It has a huge crack in the bottom that prevents me from using it, but I can't bear to give it up. It was probably jetlag that made me start crying as I remembered how she would layer it with paper towels, and then fill it with breaded mushrooms and onion rings straight from her Fry Daddy deep fryer.
I dug deeper into the cabinet, and pulled out another bowl that had belonged to my grandmother. I held it in my hands, noting that the olive green plastic would typically detract from the pleasant sensory experience I was seeking. But it made me happy. So happy I laughed out loud. Anyone peering through my kitchen windows would think I had gone mad, digging through old dishes while alternating between hysterical sobs and hysterical laughter.
After my grandmother died, and the ugly green bowl came into my possession, I fiercely protected it. I rarely used it, and when I did, I cautioned my children not to put it in the dishwasher for fear it would melt.
One afternoon, I asked my eight-year-old daughter to preheat the oven for me. A few minutes later, a horrible smell reached my nostrils. I opened the oven door, and through a haze of smoke, I could see my grandma's bowl melting into the top rack. It seems one of the children, whose identity is still unknown to me, decided to stick the bowl in the oven rather than taking the time to wash it by hand.
Eventually, the plastic hardened back up. The bottom is terribly warped and one side droops, but I still can't bear to throw it out. I derive joy not so much from the fact that it belonged to my grandmother, but from the memory of the stunned looks on the faces of my children.
I was pleased that my bag of microwave popcorn perfectly filled the bowl. Now, I need to get some rest so I can remember what's in that pan of leftovers in the fridge.
Ginger is an author, speaker, and mother of five. Her award winning column appears weekly across the Midwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.