My Year Without an Oven

            In the year where, perhaps, more people than ever actually used their ovens to bake and cook delicious new things while stuck at home, I did the complete opposite. From approximately February 2020 to April 2021, I didn’t use my oven at all. No obsessively baking sourdough for me. Instead, I stuck to the stove and microwave exclusively while the oven haunted me.

            But did it need to?

            It started small, as all things do. Some food overflowed, stuck, burned, and charred the oven. Then smoked. It got to the point where I couldn’t preheat without smoke. So, I stopped using the oven while I figured out what to do. The easy answer was clean it, right? Except, in my older apartment, the oven doesn’t come with a self-clean function and I’d never manually cleaned one before and honestly had no idea how to. So I procrastinated.

            Right before lockdown, I decided to give a try. With gloves and Easy-Off in hand, I spent a few hours removing most of the gunk. It was greasy, disgusting work. My back ached and the contortions to get all the spots were interesting to say the least. Even then, it still smoked when I was “finished.” So I put it aside and didn’t touch it for over a year.

            We can blame a few factors for why that is. Part of it is laziness and the desire for someone else to do it for me, part of it was a busy schedule sometimes or the weather, and part of it was the wham-bang of how my depression affected my environment. However, when I said “enough is enough” in March 2021 and began cleaning my way through The Bramford I knew the oven would be on that list.

            I found helpful videos with tips and tricks to make every step easier. I got new supplies and took the time to really prepare instead of cleaning it casually. Me and this oven were at battle and I would be victorious. So I sprayed it with cleaner the night before to ensure almost all of the yuck would come off. Then, I opened the windows, put on some tunes and a mask, and spent a few more hours cleaning the oven.

            At one point, I had to put my leg in a chair for balance so I could stick my head inside to get the best angle to peel off some residue on the top. And because I’d turned off the power to the oven I had to use a camp light to be able to see inside while I was working. And my mask would push up while my glasses slipped down. So, overall, it was a bit of mess on its own but I made it happen.

            I cleaned the oven and the racks, and my stove too because—after a year—it also needed some TLC. Despite the difficulty and the procrastination, in the end, it was worth it. I can now say I’ve manually cleaned an oven and I’m prepared for the next time.

            But something happened in that year without my oven…I forgot how to use one.

            Not necessarily how an oven works, although it did take me a while to remember just how my oven functions, but rather what I’m supposed to do with it. I’ve spent the last year making a variety of dishes just using my stove and microwave. Before 2020, I used the oven a couple times a week, sometimes daily, and now I struggle to imagine why I would need to. What do I cook?

            So far, the only thing I’ve made with my clean oven has been cookies with Soleil. On my own I haven’t made anything. I’m still making pasta, scrambles, stir fry, and other random goodness without the oven. With the summer heat returning, I don’t imagine I’ll be using it that often since it increases the temperature of my apartment every time I do. Maybe it’s just a matter of finding the right recipes, learning the old ones again, and figuring out what works best for me now. After all, an oven should be used for more than storage space.

            Now that my year without an oven is over, I expect this is a new start to a delicious adventure.