Friday, September 01, 2006

A Cast-Iron-Sand-Down

An apology--it's been too long to go without a post--I'm sorry. (Also, I have pictures to accompany this posting, but I got in a fight with the server trying to upload them. They'll have to come later.)

I just finished Undaunted Courage. I knew Meriwether Lewis would kill himself in the end, but it still made me cry. There was no one better suited for his job exploring the American West, but the very things that made him so ideal for such a job limited his ability to survive in any other setting. He didn't know how to help himself change. He hadn't learned the tools he needed.

I'm trying to learn the tools I need to help myself change right now. Recently, I've run into short corriders of my personality that close off the opportunity to build or strengthen certain relationships. I've got to start ripping out some personal drywall, and I'm trying to figure out just how to do it. As I'm mulling over my personal reconstruction, I've been wholeheartedly consumed with actual projects that require sandpaper and screwdrivers.

ECG has moved in, which necessitated a new entertainment center to accomodate the huge TV, Tivo, and cable that follow him. A couple months ago, we found an Ikea "media shelving unit" that fit our budget and our needs, so we tried to buy it. Unfortunately, our local Ikea only had the bottom part of the piece. We purchased that and asked the friendly salesman how long it would be before the top part--the essential bookcase section--would be in stock. Just a few weeks, he assured us. A few weeks came and went, and by that time, no one in Southern California stocked the top portion of the piece. In fact, only one store in all of California had it in stock: Emeryville. ECG and I decided that we had to complete this project before school started, so we thought we'd drive up one day and buy the piece, crash at CD's that night, and drive back down the following day. When I called CD up to ask if he could accomodate us for the night, he firmly told me no. "We love you and would love to see you, but you may not drive up here to simply buy some furniture." He told me that he'd purchase it for us then send it down on Greyhound. Greyhound? Who knew Greyhound was a shipping solution?

CD promptly fulfilled his promise and sent down our new piece of furniture in heavy boxes. It arrived with minor dings, not enough to discourage us, and we spent most of a day putting it together. School starts tomorrow and it will be harder for both of us to commit time to house projects, but at least we finished the "media shelving unit." Now we can listen to music, watch cooking shows on TV, and play video games with no difficulties. As you can see, we've got our priorities straight.

ECG's move into my house has also meant a complete reorganization of every closet, a reassessment of all my material goods (determining what should stay and what should go), and a major construction job in my garage. ECG and our friend SM built hefty shelves that now line the garage. Suddenly, much of what we own is hanging two feet below ceiling level, and the garage has a new purpose. As ECG's personal workshop and darkroom, every shelf and hook now holds the weight of future projects. I've never seen ECG so completely consumed with a project as he is by the garage. For the past few days, he's spent hours working down there, my cat Reggie keeping him company, and I can hear little bits of conversation float upstairs from the two of them. ECG asks where he should put a certain box, and Reggie replies with his startlingly human sounding, "Mwowowow." Whenever I go down the stairs to see what's happening, I find ECG ripping open a box to determine its contents, painting the shelves, or finding a new way to hang the bike. He has a the radio on down there, and more than once, I've found him dancing as he's organizing. Yes, dancing.

My kitchen has not been free from this wave of reorganization. Along with giving every drawer and shelf a specific purpose, I also went through the tools I own and figured out which were still useful. One very important tool stood out as needing some special care: my ancient cast iron pan. I've used it for everything from caramelly-rich tarte tatin to pungent Moroccan chicken, and it's the perfect pan for Saturday morning Dutch babies; however, even though I knew that a good cast iron pan should be relatively stick-free, everything stuck to mine. When I bought it at a swap meet a couple years ago, I followed the generally accepted principle of using steel wool to scrub it down, then lightly oiling it and placing it in the oven on a low temperature for a few hours to season it. Although the steel wool took off years of wear and made it clean enough to consider sanitary, it didn't eliminate the issue of stickiness. When my brother was here over Thanksgiving last year, the pan infuriated him, and he tried the same technique I had used when I first purchased it, with no better results. Last week, after eggs stuck to the pan like a mess of crunchy dried super-glue, I was unable to even use what I had cooked, and I had reached the end of my rope with the pan. So I did my research. I found this site that gave me more ideas than I had even known existed about how to re-season an old cast iron pan. I tried the sanding technique.

I placed newspaper in a large square on the living room floor, put my pan on top of it, and prepared myself with several sheets of medium grit sand paper. And, I began. I sanded. I sanded some more. And more. I spent two hours sanding the inside and most of the outside of the pan. (I didn't worry too much about the handle--as far as I know, no one cooks on the handle.) A huge pile of rusty colored dust collected on my newspaper, and my hands became stained a charcoal-ly black. When I finally rinsed the pan down, all the layers of burnt-on food were gone, and the pan dully gleamed with clean iron. I rinsed it a couple more times, wiped it dry, then spread a thin layer of canola oil all over it. I placed in the oven upside down over tinfoil to catch any drips, and turned the oven on to 350. After an hour, I turned the oven off, but left the pan in to cool slowly.

When I took the pan out, it had a couple spots where the oil had not coated the pan very well, so I repeated the light oiling and heating steps. The pan now resembles its former self in its capacity for even heating and sturdy functionality, but it is better. Now, it is stick-free. My research recommends that I break time-honored rules and maintain the pan by washing it with soap and water after each use, letting it dry over low heat on the burner, lightly oiling it with canola, and then heating it again on the burner. The heat should help the oil bond to the surface. I haven't tried this process yet, but since the sanding was so much work, I'm going to do my darnedest to keep this pan working well.

So, to shape up the pan, I had to give it a sanding to take off years of cooked-on crap and a series of hot ovens to smooth out the newly rough surface, and now I have to perform daily maintenance to keep it healthy.

You know, I think this process might be applicable somewhere else.

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