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Jan Joris van Vliet: Baker (1635)

" … the answer approaches the infinite."

I never was anybody's baker. Oh, I have proven capable of roasting the odd chicken at three hundred fifty degrees for an hour and slowly braising a pan of pork cheeks on a bed of seasonal veg for longer, but the more intricate recipes I leave to The Muse. Bread has always been beyond me, for instance. I've convinced myself that my shortcoming stems from my dyscalculia, my inherent inability to perform specific calculations, for an Oven operates on a complicated table of equivalents, variables requiring understanding to balance. To complicate this calculus further, The Muse bought a Combi Oven Christmas before last. This Oven is an Oven on steroids. It adds an additional heat source (top, bottom,
and back), steam, and a fan to create conditions utterly unanticipatable by this man. If I fly blind operating a standard Oven, I fly comatose with this one.

I ironically call this Oven my EZBake Oven in homage to the light bulb-operated one my sisters had when we were kids.
It is easy, too, to the extent that I follow the pre-programmed directions. Suppose I want to EZBake a spatchcocked chicken to absolute tenderness with crispy skin. In that case, I have to be all-in with their recipe, which involves air drying the prepped chicken in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours before baking. I bake on whims, so I adapt around each recipe's complicating particulars. This practice wreaks havoc with the EZBake's delicate calculus. If I attempt to bake that chicken without first spatchcocking and drying, it can bake for two hours as directed and come out half-baked, bloody, and too late for supper.

The EZBake has helped me get used to disappointment. Not every experience has fallen short of my expectations, but as anyone might suspect, many have. The Oven didn't come with preset recipes for regular items. It has no process for just baking a chicken, for instance. I understand how its designers and engineers might have wanted it to appear upscale and so preprogrammed it to bake crap few real people ever attempt. Still, their hubris left their customers faking it in their multi-variant environment, leaving them getting ever more used to disappointment. The EZBake reminds me that no product designer ever had the slightest clue what their clever invention could do or what it was for until well after naive users found their initial combination an absolute disaster. The EZBake is so damned complicated that it struggles to roast a chicken. That's hardly an advancement in cooking.

Still, what the EZBake does well, it does well. Steam baking beans at two hundred thirteen degrees produces perfectly firm results. The Muse swears by it for baking bread and cooking yogurt. It's the only appliance I've ever found that roasts chestnuts so their shells and inner skins fall right off. It's terrific for slow roasting all day and night in sou vide mode. When I need to wander off the pre-programmed trail, I tend to go off the rails. I never figured out how to use a microwave, either, and for probably the same reasons. One needs to be able to think in complex abstract space to imagine which settings might produce a desired result, and both the EZBake and microwaves work in altogether mysterious ways. Their settings don't add up because they're based on maths far beyond simple addition. They demand complex vector analysis. They're story problems:

If a chicken left the station set on one hundred seventy-seven degrees sou vide without steam, when will it reach its destination and be ready to be taken out of the Oven to rest before broiling finished? For me, the answer approaches the infinite.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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