Burning the beans

Yesterday morning Matthew and I embarked on the “picking an elementary school” quest  (more on this crazy business in a future post).  Yes, G is not yet four, but we’ll be applying this fall for Fall 2016 kindergarten, so it’s time we stepped up our game.

Anyhow, Matthew arranged to go into work late so we could make this school’s tour time.  It was already a slightly unusual morning, and I added quick soaking beans for dinner (bring to a boil, boil 2-3 minutes, remove from heat and let sit at least 2 hours) to my usual “getting people out of the house” tasks.  Finally, with G in his grandfather’s company, Matthew and I hopped on our bikes and headed to the school.  After the hour-long tour, we debated a bakery stop, but decided to skip it (a great decision, in retrospect!).

Shortly after our routes parted (Matthew to work, me back home), I remembered the beans.  You know how sometimes you wonder if you remembered to do something, e.g., TURNING OFF THE STOVE, but you’re really pretty sure you that you did it?  Yes?

This was not like that.  As soon as I thought of the beans, I was rather certain that I had NOT turned them off.  This meant one of two things — 1) my FIL was still at the house with Gabriel (they often, but not always, do out and about) and had discovered my mistake, or 2) all of our earthly possessions, and the place we call home, were going up in flames right that second (clearly the only two options).

I was about a mile from home, and I decided against calling my FIL.  If he was at the house, everything was fine.  If he was gone, there was nothing he could do, and I might be wasting precious seconds on the phone.

I booked it home on the bike.  As I passed our street on my way to the alley, I noticed that my FIL’s car was not there, and my stomach sank lower.  In the garage, I forced myself to take the time to secure Big Blue as usual, not wanting to add the insult of bike theft to the morning’s fun.

My route from the garage took me alongside the building, where our kitchen is located, and I could definitely smell something burning.  Assuming the worst, and not wanting to waste more time, I grabbed my phone and called 911.

After confirming that a fire crew was on the way, I headed to our building’s side door.  I had no intention of walking into a burning building, but other than the smell, there was no visible smoke or flame.  We keep a fire extinguisher in the hall closet just outside our kitchen (and right by the back/basement door), and I thought if I could grab that, I might be able to minimize the damage.

Before going up the stairs to our second floor apartment, I went to the basement, grabbed a hand towel off the clothesline, and soaked it with water to cover my face.  Then I cautiously headed upstairs, continuing as I saw no smoke.

Once inside our apartment, I discovered that we got lucky.  The beans and pan were scorched, but no flames.  I quickly turned off the burner, threw open some windows, and turned our HVAC system’s fan to “On” (I made one mistake here — any guesses?).  Then I grabbed a bunch of potholders, and, with the lid still in place, carried the offending pan outside.

By that time, I could hear and see the firetrucks, so there was not much point in calling dispatch back to say never mind.  The firefighters came in, looked around the kitchen, and confirmed that everything was okay.

While I think I did a pretty good job keeping my cool and acting logically, it took one of the firefighters to think to turn on our over-the-stove exhaust fan — duh!

It seemed odd to me that our smoke alarm hadn’t triggered in any of this.  The firefighters didn’t seem surprised or concerned by this — since there was no visible smoke, they wouldn’t have necessarily expected it to trigger (we pushed the test button to confirm that it was, in fact, working).

It turned out that my FIL had taken G to the zoo, and they missed all of the excitement here.  (If you have to have a firetruck visit your house, it may as well be when your 3-year-old is there to enjoy it, right?)

Unfortunately, despite there being no visible smoke, there was plenty of nastiness in the air.  I took advantage of the gorgeous weather to air things out at much as possible, but ugh!


I assumed the pan would be a complete loss (and counted us lucky that losing a pan was the only consequence), but once I finally dumped the beans in the compost and looked at the pan, I realized that it can probably be salvaged with some elbow grease.


These DID start out as black beans, they just got a whole lot blacker.  After this, I had ZERO desire to try again — we had tempeh for dinner instead.

My mistake (other than, you know, leaving the stove on in the first place), that I referred to above, was turning on the HVAC system.  I was thinking it would dilute the smell and accelerate getting rid of it.  Instead, it took something that was largely (though certainly not 100%) contained to the kitchen (a hidden advantage of a not-open kitchen), and spread it throughout the rest of our apartment.  I had just replaced our furnace filter last week (we buy a fairly high quality air filter, but it is clearly NOT one that filters out smoke particles), and that’s shot.

I can’t help but think we could have enjoyed candles for an entire year with the amount of junk I put into the air in one hour yesterday!  When I was about Gabriel’s age, my mom had a similar incident with a very burned pot of sloppy joe’s.  I asked her about the smell, and she said it just took time.  In our case, there was enough burny, smelly stuff in the air, for long enough, to seep into the kitchen cabinets, at least those nearest the stove.  Guess the stench will help me remember to make sure the stove’s off before leaving the house!



Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s