Lightning in a bottle

April 20, 2004

As a public service, here’s our Important Safety Tip of the Day.

Do NOT microwave peanut butter.

At least not in the jar…

One of my offspring labors under the misapprehension that peanut butter needs to be refrigerated.  This of course results in peanut butter that cannot be spread on ordinary mortal bread without ripping, shredding and tearing it.  It also makes it damn difficult to get the last of it out of the bottom of the jar.

Being struck by a stray thought (and nearly knocked comatose, apparently) a bit ago while attempting to do just that, I figured “Hey!  Let’s just pop it in the microwave and nuke it for a few seconds!” It works for over-frozen ice cream, why not peanut butter?

Well, I’ll tell you why not…

That bit of paper stuck to the rim of the jar is the remains of the seal.  The seal that was aluminum foil, way back when it was first opened.  Further, despite its paper-like appearance, it’s still foil underneath where it contacts the jar.

Now naturally, when you place said foil-laden jar in the microwave, the foil is the bit closest to the top of the microwave. 

I don’t know if you’ve ever paid much attention to the upper surface of the inside of a microwave (I hadn’t, until recently), but apparently making the other surfaces (the ones you actually notice) buttery smooth means that all of the bumps, vents and protruding bits that give away it’s true nature as a high-tech device and not just a very fast indoor charcoal grill are mounted on the “ceiling” (if you will) of the cooking area (the “cooking hole”, if you’re a man, aka the “cat safe” if you’re a cat owner (since it’s the only non-refrigerated thing the cat can’t figure out a way into))

Just for review, that’d be that area closest to the foil on the jar.

Insert jar, close door, poke buttons, magic occurs.

For about 1 second, it’s good magic.  Kitchen food magic.  The kind of thing that enables males to not starve when living without someone who took a home economics class.

Then the little magic rotary plate on the bottom of the “cooking hole” rotates the foil under one of the bumpier bits of the ceiling, closing an air-gap and allowing current to flow between the two surfaces.

Then the bad magic starts.  Actinic flashes and noises usually only heard around Tesla weaponry and bad fifties sci-fi movies… Then it stops, and I begin to re-approach the microwave (having apparently instantly learned how to teleport about 8 feet), until I learn just how many times in a few seconds that plate rotates the jar back through the danger zone.

Just about the time I’m looking for a non-conductive ten foot pole to poke the “STOP!!!!” button, it gets done.

One perfectly microwaved jar with about a spoonful of peanut butter in the bottom.  Which is on fire, along with the plastic around the rim.

Whew.  Being a man, fire and cooking go hand in hand, so I’m a bit better prepared for this, as I calmly extinguish the jar, wipe down the soot-stained cooking hole and wander off to enjoy my peanut butter and jelly sandwich, perhaps not sadder, but hopefully a tad bit wiser.

And no, I can’t report as to the spreadability of the extinguished peanut butter.

Kids, don’t try this at home.

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One Response to “Lightning in a bottle”

  1. Brian Farrell on October 19th, 2004 9:57 am

    You might want to try the trick with a grape – a little less spectacular but nonetheless pleasing…

    Take a grape and cut it in half lengthways from the stem end, without severing the skin at the head (if I may be so bold) of the fruit. You have two hemispheres hinged by a sliver of skin.

    Put grape on microwave plate with the cut sides down, so you end up with a humpy thing in your microwave – I’m new to these word pictures, so please bear with me.

    Close door, turn on microwave and enjoy. Works best with turntable microwaves.

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