Ever since March and the commencement of the quarantine that never ends, I’ve been getting a lot more invested in cooking. I mean this both literally and figuratively. My covetous little eyes are stalking a potato ricer on the regular these days.

I decided that if I was going to have a lot of time on my hands then I should start trying all the dishes I had mentally put in the category labeled ‘Wouldn’t that be nice someday?’. Things I assumed were way outside my skill wheelhouse suddenly became realistic expectations. I made a dark roux in under five minutes, I’ve baked a three layer cake for the very first time, and I cooked a deep dish pizza that slid right out of the skillet without issue! (don’t ask what happened to the second pizza. we don’t talk about second pizza). And naturally I’ve been making a lot of bread with the exception of sourdough. I’m not emotionally ready to invest in sourdough. However, I did bone a turkey without making any massive error or cutting myself! No, I had to wait until I was dicing shallots for that. A few days ago I’d just been thinking about how much I’d improved with a knife and wasn’t it nice I was nicking myself anymore? Oh, hubris.

After having recently lost some skin off my left middle finger, it made me reflect on mishaps that I’ve had in the kitchen in the past. I’ve mentioned burning my hand twice on the same pan in a ten minute time-span on this blog but I have yet to talk about the towel incident. It’s these little embarrassments that keep things in perspective. I may not be a master chef these days but the me from the towel incident absolutely couldn’t have made brioche. We grow, we improve, we get seen doing a colossally stupid thing and so the shame lives inside us to prevent a recurrence.

Right, I should probably actually talk about the towel incident now. Can’t get out of it.

On the evening of a Christmas Day oh so many years ago –

(I was in college but let’s not quibble over dates)

– oh so many, many years ago, we had guests over for dinner and Mom had gotten drained the drippings off the turkey so she could start making gravy. The bread rolls were sitting on the counter, raising contentedly under a towel. Now that the oven was empty of its avian occupant, there was plenty of room to pop the rolls in and essentially finish the last step of Christmas dinner. We were all talking and enjoying ourselves, guests happily stationed at the kitchen table, Mom at the stove, and me standing between the oven and the counter where the rolls innocently dwelled. Once the oven had been adjusted to the correct temperature, Mom asked me to put the rolls in the oven. And so, I did.

With perfect confidence I pulled down the oven door and scooted the rolls across the grate to sit in the middle of the heat. Then I shut the door, returning to the conversation as I leaned against the counter with nary a care.

A savvy reader may have already spotted the problem. Well, you were ahead of my brain in that instant. Actually, you were more than just ahead, your wits were functioning correctly. See, when I had looked down at the rolls covered by that towel I had only the slightest niggling thought about it being there which went along the lines, “Yeah, that’s supposed to be on top of the bread. Always is.”

This was incorrect.

It took a distressing amount of time for this realization to occur. I will always remember standing there, basically lounging in the perfect confidence that what I had done was correct. Obviously bread rolls bake with a towel on top of them. Obviously.

Then, like the one intrepid scientist in a disaster movie who saw it all coming but no one would listen, the thought manifested. It raced through the empty corridors of my head, feet slapping desperately against the floor as it sucked in ragged breaths. Finally, it propelled itself through the doors of HQ, startling all the other thoughts that had been mainly occupied with relaxation and the warm anticipation of a good dinner.

It pointed at them all, shrieking at the top of its lungs, “YOU DON’T PUT FABRIC IN AN OVEN!”

Suddenly there’s a panicked crowd in my head, all understanding the same thing at once. There was a towel in the oven and that oven was on and that oven was HOT. I immediately fell on the oven door, pulled it down, and whipped out the towel that had thankfully not started smoking. It did, however, have faint brown marks across the top where the oven had, probably with a great deal of confusion, begun its work.

I was then stared at by my mother and our guests as everyone figured out what I had done. There was a mix of disbelief and laughter. Not any among them were in quite as stark disbelief as I was. After all, none of them had lived the moments where they were completely and wholeheartedly convinced that putting a towel in the oven was the right thing to do.

In the long run no damage was done. The rolls were delicious, dinner was served, and even the brown marks faded away with a few washings. But I’ll never forget. It took me damn near three minutes to realize towels weren’t magically fireproof and some poor fool had actually given me a high school diploma.

So yeah, these are the things I think about when I have a little oops in the kitchen these days. It could always be worse.

It could have been a towel.