I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we’ve come full circle with the microwave. That kitchen appliance that was so Jane Jetson in 1983, the thing in your kitchen that made you the coolest mom in town with your ability to make perfect popcorn in seconds, is now being dissed with a big meh.
I hadn’t noticed until a couple weeks ago when my husband and I went to pick out appliances for our new kitchen. We walked around the showroom with Pat, the appliance guy, and I told him my must-haves, which included a built-in microwave.
“Let me ask you something. What do you use your microwave for?” Pat asked.
Pffft! What do I – What do I use my microwave for? What don’t I use my microwave for? That thing is a miracle machine. I use it to – I use it to cook . . . to heat up . . . um –
Yeah. I haven’t used my microwave in at least a couple of weeks. And the last time I used it, to defrost chicken, it did a miserable job. The edges of the chicken were boiled, the middle was still frozen, and the plastic wrapping turned black and melted into a cancerous radiant mass.
“Come on, man,” I said to the appliance guy. “I can’t just not have a microwave. I’m not a barbarian.”
This was ironic, seeing as I was the last person of the 1980s to get a microwave. I resisted getting one, claimed I didn’t need one – my mother raised five healthy honors students without one, who was I to second guess that kind of accomplishment – and you can’t make me get a microwave.
This frosted the heck out of my then-new mother-in-law, who thought I should have one. Always on the look-out for good gift ideas, she saw the microwave as an obvious void in my life. It wasn’t easy buying me a microwave for Christmas, when I kept insisting I didn’t want one, but she did it. She found one that had the word Microcooker on the box and claimed that she didn’t buy me a microwave. She bought me a microcooker.
When I opened it, she pointed out the name thing, and then blurted out that I would need it for the baby, which was arriving in 6 1/2 months. Playing upon my maternal guilt was not beyond her comfort zone.
Remember your first microwave? Mine was as big as a 1965 television set and came with a Microwave Cook Book. I used it to cook meals. Entire meals. Those were heady days when we believed the microwave would free us from generations of enslavement over a hot stove. Mine would easily fit a 9-by-13 glass baking pan, which I would fill with a casserole. When it was done it tasted like the sum of the ingredients, but still molecularly separated. I cooked bacon in the microwave and agreed with every other American that it was a culinary miracle.
“Bacon never tasted better!” we bleated, thinking if we said it enough times it might come true. “And pizza! Pizza is not rubbery at all.”
I made a whole chicken in the microwave. I made a pot roast complete with potatoes and carrots in the microwave.
And then one day we woke up and realized we had been eating steamed dog shit. Quick-steamed dog shit.
It was a long, gradual but steady descent for the microwave. Defrosting and heating up leftovers were its only redeeming qualities. Basically it was in charge of both ends of the cooking process but none of the important middle jobs. The poor thing tried to rally by slapping on a Pizza Crisper button and boldly allowing metal – gasp! – on the inside. It tried to do our thinking for us and had individual buttons for Popcorn, Melt-&-Soften and Potato. There were fancy settings added that said Convection and Night Light but no one knew what those were about, so we just ignored them.
I always had a microwave but I used it less and less. From mid-2003 to late-2005, my microwave was only used to heat Hot Pockets. By the time I found myself in the appliance store a few weeks ago, trying to defend my need for a microwave, I realized the most use my microwave gets now is when my mother-in-law is with us. She prefers her coffee as hot as the sun, so she is constantly “nuking” it.
“I’m going to suggest that instead of a microwave you get a steamer,” Appliance Guy Pat said. “It’s the latest thing. You can bake, cook, roast, steam, defrost, reheat, microwave and convect all in one.”
“Wow, what can’t it do?” I joked.
“You can’t use it to heat up liquids,” he said. My mother-in-law and her cooler-than-molten-lava coffee are out of luck in my new kitchen. But I think I just found the latest kitchen craze to succeed the microwave. I hope it has a Popcorn button.