I bought a hot-air popcorn popper last weekend. I bought it partly because it fits in with my ongoing effort to save calories and partly because my catsitter seemed so disappointed when I told him I ditched the crappy old one that didn't so much pop popcorn as fling unpopped, sizzling-hot 'granny' missiles around the kitchen. This one's for you, Buck.
This morning, I made a bowl of popcorn. Hey, I had a day off, and popcorn is technically in the 'cereal' family. I completely obviated the machine's calorie-saving function by melting a tablespoon of butter in the little tray on top and dousing the popcorn with it, but to complete my whole "it's a breakfast food" thing, I ate it with a glass of milk. It was delicious--quick, tasty, nutritionally neutral rather than actively bad for me, and simple.
Simple. I've been making popcorn on the stovetop at least once a week for nearly my entire adult life and several of the years before it. I love popcorn. I am a purist, however; strictly oil or butter and liberal cloudings of salt. None of your yeast flakes, bacon salt or garlic salt for me, thanks all the same. And Kettle Korn? Well, if it were real popcorn, they'd spell it right. Popping a bowl of popcorn presents no real challenge for me, even when I do the DIY version. It's not like assembling a German-chocolate cake, for example. And yet...
My new popper, a machine which ostensibly makes this relatively simple task even simpler, came with instructions. There are nine steps to making popcorn in this hot-air popper. The President could launch missles to take out half of Eastern Europe in fewer steps. Ok, before we consult the surprisingly long and detailed how-to manual, let's see if we can even come up with nine steps:
1. Fill little tray on top of popper with unpopped popcorn kernels.
2. Pour the unpopped kernels into the popper proper.
3. Plug the machine in.
5. Unplug the machine.
Personally, I'm thinking even six is stretching it. But since Orville Redenbacher clearly has no desire for his popcorn fans to end up gracing the Darwin Awards list, I'll see what I can do to make these directions even simpler and more idiot-proof. Additions in red:
1. Set the popping machine upright on a flat surface. Not a road, more like a kitchen counter.
2. Fill little tray on top of popper with unpopped popcorn kernels.
3. Pour the unpopped popcorn into the popper proper. You should probably take the lid off first.
4. Plug the machine in to an outlet in the wall.
5. Point the popcorn descent ramp at a bowl sufficient in size for all the popped kernels. They will be bigger when they come out than they were on the way in. Prepare for that.
6. Step back. Do not immerse the machine in water at this point. Or any point, really.
7. Wait until all the kernels (or at least all that are going to) pop.
8. Unplug the machine. With your hands. Not your teeth.
9. Eat the popcorn. Breathe normally between bites.
You'd be astonished how closely this resembles the actual instructions. Here are the parts they felt worthy to be bolded:
Do not place salt, butter, margarine, shortening, or microwave popcorn in the popping chamber. ("Shortening"?! Did they forget "lard"? And don't get me started on the extra comma. Positive note: I love that my $2o popper has "chambers.")
Caution: Do not leave unit unattended while popping. Presumably it's OK to back away slowly when it's just sitting there. But never smile at it, or it'll lunge for your throat.
At step seven, which details how to unplug the machine after use (and which comes with a disclaimer footnote blaming unpopped kernels on the quality of the popcorn), there's this gem: "Carefully remove the cover--use hot pads--and pour the remaining popcorn into the bowl, then place the cover back on the unit." Why the bolding here? Are they afraid that hot-air popper neophytes might place the cover in the toilet, for example, or throw it out, figuring they had to use a new one each time like a coffee filter?
And the one that makes me laugh out loud is this wonder at step nine: "Wash the butter melter if it was used to melt butter." Dear god. This is possibly the most cynical statement regarding human intelligence I've ever seen. First, we must tell people to clean dirty things, and second, it's called a "butter melter." It doesn't actually do anything! It's a plastic tray that gets hot, and if you happen to have put butter in it, then the butter will probably melt. You could equally call it a spare change tray, if that's what you planned to use it for, or a hamster thermal spa.
The tragedy of all this is, of course, the poor shmuck with half of the Great American Novel at home in his or her drawer, currently condemned to thinking out all the infinite ways the Great American Idiot could possibly screw up a simple batch of popcorn and how to talk him out of it. As my boyfriend's darling daughter says, "If there weren't a need, there wouldn't be instructions."
In giant letters on the first page of my "manual," it says "SAVE THESE INSTRUCTIONS." Oh, I plan to.