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September 3, 2008 Braving the Popcorn

I haven’t been out of my host family’s house for long, and I’ve so far managed to avoid lighting my stove, mostly by eating with other families, being out of town, or sticking to cold food. (Yogurt with granola makes a delicious meal any time of day.) But tonight I was in the mood for popcorn, and decided it was time to brave the butagaz (butane gas).

I opened the kitchen windows wide, to minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, got out the couscous pot (the only one of Zahra’s pots I’ve found that has a lid, though admittedly I haven’t dug deeply into the kitchenware), washed it off, and took a deep breath.

I turned the knob on the butagaz tank. Rightsy tightsy, lefty loosy. It turned more easily than I’d thought, given that it hasn’t been touched in six months. Then I clutched the brika (lighter) in my right hand and turned the knob on the stove with my left. I flicked the brika next to the right front burner…and nothing happened. I tried waving it next to the other three burners, in case the stove was wired funny, and still nothing lit. I brought it back to the right front burner, sparked it again, and flinched back from the fireball.

(Mom, don’t worry. It wasn’t *really* a fireball, just a quick burst of blue flame that startled me.)

I put the freshly-washed couscous pot (brma) on the flame. The remaining water hissed off it. I reached hastily for the vegetable oil and poured it in. I covered the bottom of the brma a quarter inch deep. How much oil do you need to pop popcorn in, anyway? I poured in the popcorn – more than I meant to – and tossed it around till all the kernels were covered with oil. Is just coating the kernels enough? Maybe they need to deep-fry, like donuts. I added some more oil. I lowered the flame. Too far – flame went out. I hastily turned off the gas, grabbed the brika, and relit it. High flames would be fine. Everything was hissing and boiling, but nothing was popping. Maybe this was too much oil? I poured some off. Wait, when are you supposed to salt popcorn? While cooking or afterwards? I tossed in some salt. I lowered the flame – very slowly, to avoid making it go out entirely. I alternated between stirring the kernels with a wooden spoon, holding the handles of the brma and shaking it, and flipping through the Peace Corps Cookbook, looking for a recipe for popcorn.

(Yes, I know, this whole episode makes me look like a ninny. I’ve never made popcorn without a microwave. Wait, scratch that – I had an air popper my freshman year in college. But that still didn’t teach me anything about stovetop popcorn poppery.)

One kernel popped. I got excited. But there wasn’t a second. I tossed the pan some more, stirred the kernels some more, flipped through the cookbook some more (why doesn’t it have an index??), and frowned into the pan. Then came another pop. Lhumdullah! I tossed in another handful of salt. Then came a third. Then about seventy-two, all at once. I hastily put the top onto the brma. The inside of the pot sounded like the climax to a 4th of July celebration. I began to wonder if it would fill entirely. I lifted off the top, and sure ‘nuff, the brma was nearly full. I shook out most of the fluffy kernels into another bowl, then put it back on the flame and replaced the lid. The crazy popping fiesta continued. Dude, how much popcorn had I made?? I tossed another handful of salt into the pot of popped kernels and another one into the popping inferno.

When the rate slowed, I figured it was time to take the brma off the heat. (It works for microwave popcorn, and I had nothing else to go on.) I turned the knob of the butagaz (rightsy tightsy), then, after the flame had died completely, turned the knob on the stove. (I’m not positive that’s the way to do it, but it seems to me that guarantees that you’re not leaving gas trapped in the hose from the butagaz tank to the stove.)

The bowl that had taken the first half of the popped kernels held plenty for me to eat, though, so I replaced the lid on the brma, left it on a cold burner, and took my snack into the living room to munch on.

Not having a fridge, I went ahead and left the remaining popcorn there overnight (where it taunted me throughout my next day of fasting) and then ate it the following night. When I got down to the bottom of the brma, I discovered that I’d scorched the pan pretty badly, and there was a whole layer of popped kernels burned to the bottom. Maybe I shouldn’t have poured off the extra oil…? I left it to soak overnight.

In the morning, I dumped the watery popcorn kernels and carbon traces into the alley. (I figure I’m feeding the feral cats, plus my kitchen drain isn’t capable of taking anything the size of a popped kernel of popcorn, no matter how soggy.) I scrubbed at the remaining carbon for a while, then let it soak again.

I really hope my first attempt with my stove didn’t permanently destroy a pan… But it did make for a nummy snack that fed me for two Ramadan nights, plus I used butane without exploding my kitchen, so I think I’ll count it a success regardless of the fate of the brma. :)
[update: brma has been salvaged!]

1 comment:

  1. My housemate has some gourmet popcorn that has to be popped on the stove, and every time I find a sad-looking popcorn pot soaking in the sink, I think of you and this entry. =)


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