Like an undefined friends-with-benefits situation, I’ve had a bit of an ambiguous relationship with my microwave.
It’s a huge hulking machine that takes up nearly as much space as microwaves from the early 20th century, and to date I don’t know what it actually does.
While I’ve been using it as a microwave for the past ten months, I’ve had suspicions that it’s so much more than that. When my co-teacher JH came to my apartment ages back to help me decode how to use my washing machine and rice cooker (y u have so many buttons?!), I also asked about that megalithic box.
“Oh it’s an oven,” she told me.
My heart leapt: ovens are rare commodities in South Korea where baking is done primarily by bakeries and magicians (since making cookies not using a pre-mix box is magical work). “How does it work?” was my natural question.
“Uhhhh…I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Maybe it’s not an oven.”
This waffling (mmm waffles…) between extreme opposite responses in Korea seems to be quite common. As such, I took both answers and did what I normally did in such situations: accept both as truth until one presented itself to be more true than the other.
In this way, because I’ve never used it as an oven, it has over time become only my microwave.
Until recently. I was cleaning out the recycling stored underneath it when I lost my balance suddenly and grabbed onto sonething to catch myself. My hand fixed onto something unfortunately insecure and I fell. When I picked myself up off the floor, I looked to see what I was holding onto that had detached itself – and found that in a narrow hidden compartment right under the microwave was a storage rack of baking trays covered in greasy dust. And – on further inspection – a muffin pan!
At this point I couldn’t help but think back to JH’s suggestion of the nature of this beast possibly being an oven. Was the other truth coming back into the light as a candidate, like some exiled king returning to claim his throne? (Been watching too much Game of Thrones lately).
I’ve perhaps been obsessing about my microven (as I’ve dubbed it) a little too much this week. But I can’t even say how much I’ve been wanting to bake my own bread, make cookies, or even try making a chicken pot pie like Andrea’s been doing lately. Hell, I could cook a casserole! Or shepherd’s pie! The possibilities made the hobbit inside me fat with joy. I had to know for sure.
But before I went out and bought a bunch of expensive ingredients only to discover I had in fact been deluded by dreams of pie and artisanal bread, I thought it wise to do a trial. I bought a box of pre-mix oatmeal cookies.
This in and of itself was tricky enough, since I had to painstakingly translate word by word the instructions on the back, but luckily for me, Korea has made DIY baking packages easy enough for the common non-baker citizen. Some butter, an egg, and I had cookie dough. (I’d also strategized that cookies were the best idea for a trial because even if they didn’t bake, I’d still have dough – because fuck yeah delicious).
I laid them out on the baking sheet, my little raison-studded soldiers, and prepared them for the inferno.
Setting the baking temperature was part of the reason I never knew whether or not my microwave was an oven or not. Never could I seem to be able to fix the temperature to any particular heat. When Andrea came over last weekend though, she helped me read the hangul instructions we discovered on the inside of the oven. It seems that instead of setting it to 360F, or 180C, you set it to “Pizza” or “Roll Cake” or “Chocolate Chip Cookies”.
I figured Chocolate Chip Cookie setting was apropos, so I popped them in and stared at them baking like I used to when I was five.
AND BEHOLD! They actually started to bake!!
Chocolate Chip Cookie setting meant they stayed in longer than the recommended 8-12 minutes, but they actually transformed from dough to cookie. Look look!
So I can officially say: I HAVE AN OVEN. I’m going to make so much bread. Except I have to wait until next month to buy ingredients since I have $20 to get me to payday…ten days away from delight!
In the meantime, I’m basking in my current success.