Disaster Preparedness: Chocolate Burns, Ashley Learns

Arnulfo jumped in to document the disaster. I am still finding chocolate splatters.

I like to think of myself as a sensible person. In practice, though, I seem to be guilty of thoughtlessness far more often than I’d like to admit. And sometimes it burns.


A couple of weeks ago, after teaching a long day, I came home and decided the time was right for baking. Nevermind that it was after nine, pretty late for starting a new project. Nor that my brain was a bit fuzzy. I wanted to make a cake.

Fast-forward to me stirring a pot of chocolate and butter over an improvised double boiler: two pans nested together, the bottom one filled with simmering water.

In the back of my mind, I knew something was wrong. Vaguely, though. I was using a burner that gets very hot very fast, and I was thinking, “maybe I ought to turn down the fire.” About that moment, there was an extremely loud POP! as one of the pans exploded off of the stove. Chocolate and boiling water splattered all over the kitchen. And all over me.

And it scared the shit out of me.

I managed to burn about half of my left arm and hand (all first-degree burns–ugly and painful, but not too serious). Most of all, I was terrified at the thought that Liam could have been playing there while I was cooking.

How do we learn from disasters? A book I read some time ago–The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable–suggests that when things go seriously wrong, we often make the mistake of only changing our behavior with regard to the specific causes of the initial (improbable) event. To quote the book description: “We concentrate on things we already know and time and time again fail to take into consideration what we don’t know.” 9/11 is a prime example; we’ve adjusted airport security as a consequence, but instead we should (also) anticipate other, different sorts of threats.

For me, then, the moral of my mess ought not merely to be “DON’T USE TWO POTS THAT ARE TOO SIMILAR IN SIZE FOR YOUR CHEAP-O DOUBLE BOILER.” Instead, I need to think: what is it about this situation (whatever it may be) that might be unsafe? Is there anything that could become unsafe? I hope my scar will remind me of this. For more thoughts on scars, cruise back to this post from my archives.

(Needless to say, we have purchased a fire extinguisher for our Paris apartment, and Liam is banned from the kitchen when I’m cooking.)


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