Many families have some sort of Christmas tradition. Maybe it's the place the holiday is celebrated, the decorations or the food, but something just has to follow tradition. For me, my son Rob and daughter-in-law Chris, it has become traditional to celebrate the holiday in its entirety on Christmas Eve.
For the past several years, and partially because of my advancing years, Rob and Chris have made the five-hour drive to my home. They arrive each year in a car filled with food and gifts and, yes, that good ole Christmas cheer. And what better place to share that holiday cheer than in the Ozark Christmas City of Noel.
As Rob, Chris, my brother and I sat in the living room of my house on Christmas Eve, Rob walked to and from the place where the packages had been stored depositing wrapped boxes at the feet of anxious recipients. There was supposed to be an order but, after the first present or two was opened, everyone just ripped the brightly colored paper from the boxes and pulled out the items hidden inside.
It appeared, at least judging by the comments, that everyone was getting the gifts they had wished for, but I recall thinking how odd it was that my gift pile was noticeably smaller than the others. Maybe, and very likely, one of my gifts was so costly and extravagant that the number of presents had to be limited. Then my son carried a large wrapped box into the room and placed it near me. "Here, this is for you."
"Well, now we're talking," I said but only to myself. The size and shape of the present eliminated the possibility that a golf club was inside. I suppose a small firearm could be concealed inside the container but I seriously doubted that such an item was there. Maybe there was more than just one thing inside the box. What if there were two or three shirts, a jacket and possibly four or five pairs of warm winter socks. Well, there was only one way to find out.
As everyone looked on, I tore the paper from the large present. Rob and Chris tried to appraise my reaction but my brother just wanted to know what it was.
"Well, what the heck is it?"
It was then that I began to read what was written on the cardboard container, "air fryer," "Cosori Air Fryer."
Now we come to the part of the story which brings a slightly queasy feeling to my stomach. I dislike many things which are new. Oh, I don't have an aversion to a new blue Under Armour shirt. I just place it on a hanger and hang it in the closet alongside other Under Armour blue shirts. A new pair of Adidas size nine and one-half Superstar shoes goes on the shelf with others like it. However, new mechanical devices with knobs, buttons and viewing screens, well that's another matter.
The new air fryer was similar in size, shape and color to my old microwave oven. It had a beautiful stainless steel covering, a glass panel in the front door and a conveniently located handle for opening and closing that door. But, and this is the scary part, it had two knobs, three buttons and an owner's manual the size of a Webster's Dictionary.
I guess Rob saw the look of concern on my face. "C'mon, it can't be that tough to figure out. I'm sure anyone with even less than average intelligence can operate an air fryer."
The ball was then in my court as I had a reputation for getting electrically operated kitchen helpers but never putting them to use. My kitchen pantry was a place where those unused devices went to die.
"Oh sure, I'm sure that, once I get used to it, I'll use it all the time."
Two months passed and the new stainless steel-looking machine sat new and unused in a cupboard below my often used microwave oven. I made up my mind. I was going to get some food with directions for air frying on the box and cook the heck out of whatsoever that food item was. I decided on toasted ravioli and crab Rangoon.
The next issue to be resolved was timing. When should I attempt to prepare those items? Why that decision seemed so obvious. I would make those selections for my dinner as I watched this year's Super Bowl football game on "Super Sunday."
It was around 4:30 p.m. on that day that I removed the two boxes, one of toasted ravioli and the other of crab Rangoon from the freezer. I double-checked my previous observations and, sure enough, each box contained printed instructions for preparing the contents in an air fryer.
I tried to find instructions for turning on the fryer but my first two searches found several pages of printed material in Japanese and another section in Spanish. Finally, I discovered a section of the manual written in English.
The manual instructed me to push the power button and select the "air fryer" option by turning a knob. I would then push another button twice to preheat the machine but only after I had turned another knob to the desired temperature. I turned and pushed for a few seconds and as lights flashed and numbers on a screen appeared, I could only assume I was headed in the right direction.
I, and without instructions from the manual, knew I didn't want to create a mess later to be wrestled from the bottom of the fryer so without instructions I cut and placed a piece of aluminum foil on the bottom of the cooker. "Smart of me, I thought."
Believing that the moment of truth had come, I placed five toasted ravioli pieces and three portions of crab Rangoon on a perforated shelf. The shelf was returned to the inside of the fryer and I, as instructed, pushed an already lit button again. The machine made an almost indiscernible but faint sound, so I surmised that something good was taking place.
The items needed to cook for seven minutes but, for the life of me, I couldn't figure out how to set the timer on the machine. The manual instructed me to push one of the three buttons, but I had just pushed that button to start the cooking process. I pushed the button as instructed and the faint sound I once heard stopped, so I pushed the button again. The sound was once again detected so I figured I'd leave well enough alone.
The items were hard to see through the glass in the machine's door but then I noticed that one of the three buttons had the picture of a light bulb next to it. Pushing that button brought light to the fryer's interior and, upon examination, it looked like the items of food were puffing up. I once again considered that to be a good sign.
As the items cooked, and while browsing through the pages of the manual I saw a warning. The warning stated that if aluminum foil was placed in the machine and touched one of the heating elements there was the possibility that a fire might erupt within the fryer. I glanced through the front glass and saw no fire. Whew, what a relief. I checked. There was a fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink.
I timed the process using the clock on my stove and after seven minutes removed the food. The eight items looked edible, so I once again pushed the power button but the machine's lights remained on. Having enough of the machine I decided it would probably turn itself off after the passage of a few minutes so I left it to its own makings.
The toasted ravioli and crab Rangoon were delicious; there were no fires and, after some time, the lights on the fryer's panel did in fact go out. I truly felt a sense of accomplishment and, if I could have reached my back, I would have patted it.
I don't usually identify the moral of a story I've written if one exists at all, but I guess if I were to assign one to this bit of writing it would be just this. I guess I'm not an unteachable old dog after all. However, I still haven't figured out how to make that darned timer work.
Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.