Long-time readers (both of you — Hi, Mom and Stepdad!) may recall that for Valentine’s Day a few years ago, I gave you a recipe for a fennel pork roast at the end of a story about ancient Roman toilet demons, because what else could be more romantic?
Well, as it happens, I woke up a couple of weeks ago and went into the bathroom, as you do first thing of a morning, only to find that MY TOILET WAS SMOKING. I don’t mean I found it wearing a beret and sucking on an unfiltered Gauloise; I mean the lid was up and SMOKE WAS COMING OUT OF IT.
Weirdly enough, the smoke was almost inorganic; it didn’t seem to have any carbon-y smell or feel, like you’d expect if the house was on fire. It was white and kind of rubbery-smelling, like something had overheated. But what was overheating in an actual toilet? Can literal WATER catch fire now? I knew we should have listened to Al Gore 20 years ago, and now look what happened.
The house I live in is not my own, so I was extra scared because what if this caused my roomie/landlady to decide this was a sign that it was time for me to go? A sign from who? From ANCIENT ROMAN TOILET DEMONS, obviously. I mean, it certainly took them long enough to exact revenge, although I thought I wrote about them rather politely.
So I alerted my roomie/landlady, and also my other roomie, who is good at fixing things. I figured maybe this was something I’d never heard of because I’ve never been a homeowner. Every time I hear two homeowners talk to each other as such, they discuss things that sound bizarre and arcane to me, about the financial responsibilities of owning a home, about yard maintenance and paint samples and wainscoting and backsplashes.
As a lifetime renter, I was hoping they’d tell me, “Oh, yes, toilets do that, it’s part of the life cycle of plumbing, usually the pflargenator just needs to recombobulate with the dweedlethwapp and then it’s fine, ours downstairs does that every third spring,” but they were as mystified as I was.
The smoke was accompanied by a wheezy sound like that of a motor chugging away, which was even more alarming, because what on earth was HAPPENING in there? Do ancient Roman toilet demons have access to machinery? It’s a low-volume toilet; do they come with some kind of esoteric clockwork? It didn’t seem likely, but how would I know? It stopped eventually and the smoke dissipated; then the roomie who fixes things replaced some worn-out parts and that was that.
It turns out the local government was conducting a smoke test, wherein white smoke is blown throughout the area sewage system to see if there are any leaks.
This is perfectly normal and OK and a public service, though I did not know that at the time.
There was a small issue (on our end) with getting the letter that explained this on time, and therefore we were caught off guard when THE TOILET STARTED SMOKING, although let me assure you, if you’re trying to give up caffeine, there’s no better way to guarantee you’ll be wide awake without coffee.
Speaking of surprises, it’s Easter, which thankfully at this time does not involve a single ancient Roman toilet demon of any sort, unless some of you are playing way off the field. It’s also Passover, which is when God sent 10 plagues to the people of Egypt to make Pharoah release the Israelites from slavery. Wait, what were the plagues again? WAS ONE OF THEM A SMOKING TOILET?
So this week, we’re going to try a lovely Passover recipe that could also sit with perfect decorum on any Easter table (or probably most any faith’s table, whether any spring rites are being observed or not).
Coconut macaroons are a dense, sweet treat, a bit like a coconut pie and a coconut cake made tiny little chewy coconut babies. They started out in Sicily as macarons, the kind made from almonds that we think of as French; were adopted by the Sicilian Jewish community, came to America, had their almond paste replaced with more shelf-stable coconut, and now coconut macaroons (spelled with two “o”s) are the norm.
They’re also just great, period, and a nice way to welcome spring in. This particular recipe comes from The Spruce Eats, an online food blog.
Perhaps best of all, you will have to be in the kitchen, which is usually pretty far away from the upstairs bathroom, which apparently is where plagues come from. I suggest you wait for a sign, if not from the Almighty then at least from your local government. And keep a few of these handy as snacks while you do.
(from The Spruce Eats)
3 large egg whites
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract, which is my preference, or a mix)
3 cups shredded coconut
Preheat the oven to 325˚F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they are light and fluffy (err on the side of foamy; they’re getting beaten quite a bit more). Gradually beat in the sugar and vanilla. Keep beating until the egg whites form very stiff peaks, then gently fold in the coconut using a spatula, so as not to deflate the egg whites.
Drop by rounded teaspoons (or go wild and make them Tablespoon-sized; there’s a lot to be said for a nice big cookie) onto the lined baking sheets, placing them at least 2” apart. Bake about 20 minutes, until they are slightly golden and some of the coconut is crispy (keep the oven light on and watch them like a hawk once they hit the 10-minute mark; ovens can vary wildly on baking time).
Allow them to cool completely and then carefully remove them from the parchment paper. Store for up to 1 week in an air-tight container at room temperature, or for longer storage, wrap individually in plastic wrap and freeze. They’re good dipped in or drizzled with chocolate; melt ½-1 cup of chocolate chips and dip the bottom of each cookie in it, placing upside down on a rack to harden up, and/or drizzle over macaroons with a fork for a nice streaky effect. (If frozen, you can do this while they’re still a little bit chilly.) Serve.