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My Damn Oven Died Just In Time For Thanksgiving

The inside of my accursed oven
I took this photo

My fucking oven died last week.

It's an old oven in an old propane stove, a visibly outdated model from an olde-tymey appliance brand that I did not even know makes stoves. For that matter maybe it doesn't! Maybe this is the only one it ever made.

The stove has been geriatric longer than my family and I have lived in this house, and was sort of generally run down long before last week. The back left stovetop burner hasn't ignited itself without help in a long time. The oven itself took ages to preheat, and couldn't be relied upon to beep when it had done so—or, alternately, to wait until it had done so before beeping. Or to preheat to the right temperature. You get the idea.

So maybe in some strict sense it is wrong to say that before last week the oven "worked." But it worked good enough! Leaving aside the bleak autumn of 2020 at or near the deepest pre-vaccine depth of the COVID pandemic, I've hosted the big family Thanksgiving each year since we moved here in January of 2017; the oven worked well enough—with an assist from a reliable probe thermometer—to turn out a perfectly fine turkey each time, and to cook the stuffing and yams, and to preheat the other stuff my siblings and mom brought with them. That's good enough. I cannot exactly stroll down to the Major Appliance Tree and pluck another stove off of it.

It was around 4 p.m. and I was preheating the oven for meatballs. I'd already mixed and formed the meatballs and lined them up on a big foil-lined baking sheet; the plan was to stick them in a 450-degree oven for just long enough to crisp up their outsides, then pop them into the cast-iron Dutch oven of tomato sauce I'd spent much of the early part of the day making and simmering and fussing over. Then I'd lower the oven's temperature down to 350, stick the Dutch oven in there, and braise the meatballs for a couple hours. Then the sauce would be sweet and rich and meaty and the meatballs would melt in your mouth and the whole thing would be heaven.

Then I noticed the oven was making a weird noise. It was hissing. It was like a louder, deeper version of the hiss of a normal stovetop gas burner, only it was coming from inside the oven, where it normally does not. I opened the door of the oven to hear it better and smelled melting rubber. Modern gas ovens are built with a lot of failsafes; an oven repairman told me, credibly, that you do not need to worry about them, like, exploding. Still. I have only so much faith in the failsafes of modern ovens in the face of hissing and the smell of melting rubber. I turned the oven off, and my wife called our home-warranty company.

As for the meatballs, I had to skip the roasting-them-in-the-oven step. If I'd started the whole thing earlier in the day, maybe I'd have pivoted to sautéing them in a hot pan on the stovetop, in batches, rotating them with tongs to get them nice and Maillard-y all over. But we are talking about, like, 32 meatballs here. Enough, the idea went, for days and days of leftovers: Meatball sandwiches, and meatballs on pasta, and just, like, a cold meatball eaten off of a fork when nobody is looking. It would have taken a couple of hours, probably, to give them all a proper sautéing, four at a time. Even so I might have just gone ahead and done that, except that we are early-dinner types around here; two hours of sautéing followed by 90 minutes of (stovetop) braising wouldn't work. So I just plunked the meatballs into the sauce and hoped for the best. And they frickin' fell apart in there.

None of this is quite the point! The point is that my oven crapped out a fucking week before Thanksgiving. After I'd bought the turkey. After I'd bought sage sausage and huge bags of cubed bread for stuffing. The home-warranty people sent out a repairman, who told us that our oven has a bad igniter: It will not ignite itself, but also, due to the way self-igniting ovens are built, it cannot be lit manually, with a long fireplace match, the way gas ovens used to be lit. It cannot be lit at all!

The other thing the repairman said is that he would have to special-order replacement parts for the oven. Then we got an email from the home-warranty company telling us to select a new oven from a provided list—apparently, replacement parts for our old-ass weird-brand-ass oven are not even available. The next thing they told us was that they could not install the new oven until December.

Fuck! What am I going to do! As I write this, just shy of 3 p.m. on Wednesday, my plan is to spatchcock the turkey tomorrow morning and cook it over fucking charcoal, in the fucking charcoal grill, because that is literally the only option shy of boiling the fucker. To whatever extent that resolves the turkey problem (I suppose we'll find out!), it does not resolve the stuffing problem. You can't grill stuffing. You can't sauté stuffing. Do not even speak to me of boiling or steaming or smoking it. Again I say to you: Fuck!

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