Applied STEM, Not a Meth Lab

The remains of the kitchen after I created “Bronzed” chain

Applied STEM is taking the knowledge you have and making things work in innovative ways. The applied part is as important as the STEM part. And failure is a data point and not a destination.

One STEM thing I learned very quickly that it is a really bad idea to put motor oil and stainless steel chain on a cookie sheet in a 260C (500F) oven. That’s the STEM part of this blog. It is also why I am no longer allowed in the kitchen at Mezzacello.

When we purchased Mezzacello it had good bones. 150+ years old but it had been abandoned for three years from 2009 to 2013. It sat vacant and sad on our street surrounded by single-family houses. So we moved into this old house with falling plaster and wonky foundations — and the oven worked!

in that first year while we were setting about redoing surfaces and creating a home from the shell of what we bought, I decided I was too cheap to buy bronze chain that Rick wanted for the picture rails in the reception rooms. Hence the experiment in metal finishing and you can see results below.

Rick trying to understand what has happened just as guests are about to arrive for dinner…

This is not a movie set. This is my kitchen. So now you now how I disastrously ruined poor Rick’s oven. What you can’t see from this photo or the next one when as poor Rick walked in to see what I had done.

The Unexpected Flames!

When I opened the oven door the flames went to the ceiling. So I closed the door and ran over to the window that faces onto the back porch where the ladies – incidentally which was a a halfway house for emotionally abused women — next door would sit all day and chain smoke cigarettes. It was the middle of winter and I thought the snow would be great to squelch the fire.

I putt on the heavy oven mitts, I took a deep breath (close to the floor where there was still fresh air) opened the mouth of hell, grabbed the pan (on FIRE) and ran screaming to the open window. I threw the pan out with the chain, the oil, and the fire into the snow and jump out after it. That’s when I heard the screams and the scampering.

The Meth House Rumor

That’s how the rumor that we were running a meth house got started. In the spring, I finally went out and collected that pan and the chain (still silvery stainless steel) and properly introduced myself to the women and house managers they were tepid at first. We soon became great neighbors.

What’s the craziest way you ever introduced yourself to a neighborhood? I am hoping for some fun comments.


  • A

    Sue! OMG! That IS a great story. How funny!

  • Sue Price

    Mine isn’t a neighbors story. Mine is an oven story; a microwave oven. I’ve had reoccurring earaches on and off throughout my life. As a kid, my mom would heat up salt, pour it onto Reynolds Wrap and then wrap it into a kitchen towel. The heat was helpful, but salt cools fast. It also burns (stinks) if heated too hot.

    So …when I was about 50 (yes, 15 years ago), I had a bright idea to heat up ground coffee (I didn’t have whole bean) because it would smell nicer than salt (though I had no idea how long coffee would retain heat). I put coffee in a velvet draw-string bag and gave it a couple of minutes to heat up in the microwave. Within a few seconds, flames were shooting out of the bag. I grabbed the bag out of the microwave, opened my back door and threw it out, into the snow that was 3″ deep, on my deck. A couple of hours later, I looked out the window and saw the bag had burnt a hole in my deck. Larry was not happy and, sadly, it was one of many, many dingy things I’ve done in my life. Oops.

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