Everyone loves the smell of piping-hot pizza. But no one loves the smell of a burning pizza box.
Turns out, this is a difficult scent to eradicate from the home, and I've tried — even frying tilapia for dinner one evening. But the scent of flaming cardboard somehow persists.
Almost all of my friends use the oven, set very low, to keep their pizzas warm in the box while they wait for their guests to arrive, for the evening news to be over or for the salad to be made. No one I know has encountered a problem with this. Of course, my friends and I will probably grow an extra eyebrow or a perpendicular front tooth one day as a result of the chemicals in the cardboard leaching into our warmed slices. But that is a random thought that has a 51 percent chance of being cut by my editor, Adnil Trebuhcs, whose name has been spelled backward for privacy.
Let this be a warning, soon to appear on pizza boxes nationwide: "Do not place box in oven with pizza inside to keep pizza warm. You lazy American! Ever hear of a baking sheet? Try a piece of foil! What were you thinking? Imagine yourself with an extra eyebrow!"
Just a week ago, my husband and I hosted the cast party for our local high school theater production, and there were five or six pizzas left over. I mentioned to my husband on my way out to my yoga class the next morning that he might want to warm them up and bring them backstage for the actors before the final matinee performance.
I also suggested he finish making the mashed potatoes I had started on the stovetop for Thanksgiving dinner, as well as the turnips. I went over the recipes in excruciating detail and exited the kitchen blissfully on my way to my class, leaving my spouse to finish a number of things in the kitchen, ignoring the fact that he had to shower and get to the school at a certain time because he was working on the backstage crew for the play.
Fifteen minutes later, I was relaxing cross-legged in my yoga class, chanting "ooohm," while unbeknownst to me, pizza boxes were bursting into flames in my oven.
My high school son was downstairs doing homework on the computer in the adjoining family room. My husband had made the turnips and mashed potatoes, then dashed upstairs to shower while the pizzas reheated. He thought he smelled something burning while brushing his teeth. He threw on some clothes and ran downstairs, where our son sat at the computer, shrouded in thick black smoke. I wasn't there, of course, but I imagine the conversation went something like this:
"Beloved son, do you happen to notice that there is a pervasive, acrid, burning smell, and that we can barely see two feet in front of our faces?"
"Father dearest, you make a good point! I was just so involved in this stimulating reading for world history class, I neglected to notice that I can hardly breathe."
Suffice to say that the flaming pizza boxes were extinguished and that at least one of the extra-crispy, smoke-flavored pizzas was ground up in the garbage disposal, the vibrations of which caused several baking dishes in the adjacent cabinet to crash spontaneously to the tile floor and break. Because there's nothing like a fire complicated by the challenge of broken glass to make one want to rush out the door just in time for curtain.
My husband sent me a text message with the news, so that I would not be alarmed upon returning home on a chilly November morning to find all of the windows wide open in my new Martha Stewart war-zone-motif kitchen.
I surveyed the situation. And then I started cleaning — strangely, not with annoyance — but with gratitude.