A couple years ago, we planned a family summer getaway to Aspen. My husband took on the task of scouting for a reasonably priced Airbnb in a town notable for sky-high vacation rentals. After an hour of surfing, he scored what he claimed was “The deal of the century.”
Offering a “taste of the modern alpine lifestyle,” the house was only $175 a night, boasting two bedrooms, two baths and a wrap-around deck. The photos depicted a modernist design, reminiscent of a Surrealistic Miró painting, with a kindergarten palette of primary colors. A one-mile walk to downtown Aspen followed a paved path adjacent to the Roaring Fork River.
On arrival, after the five-hour drive, I relished the thought of inspecting our home-away-from-home. The first room to inspect — for me, at least — is always the kitchen.
My first thoughts are the most important: What does the stove look like? And will I have to drink wine out of a coffee mug? I always hope a kitchen will have a gas stove. I think a gas stove is the heart of a kitchen.
I’ve cooked with gas for decades. Regardless of the brand, all you do is turn the knob and determine the flame height based on what you’re cooking.
There is something reassuring about that blue fire steadily pulsing beneath a pan. If you’re paying attention, it’s nearly impossible to burn food on a gas stove. I’ve burned more meals than I can count when cooking on electric, including dozens of overcooked fried eggs. I can’t “read” the heat level, and before you know it, that vibrant golden yolk has toughened into a flattened anemic hockey puck.
It’s hard enough to live in someone else’s house. Trying to figure out someone else’s electric stove can be a bear.
Sure enough, I should have realized from the outset why there were no photos of the kitchen in the Airbnb rental profile. The refrigerator door that refused to stay shut and flying ants the size of bullets in the bathrooms were the least of my worries.
The 1970s electric range, clad in harvest gold, had push buttons that stuck and heat coils that would only lie flush if a cutting board laden with full grocery bags tamed them. Several kitchen drawers were missing entirely; the remaining ones looked as if they’d been yanked off their tracks by an angry cook in search of a wooden spoon. The searcher turned out to be a bear. It had broken through the French doors off the deck and conducted a thorough investigation of the kitchen before shuffling off in hopes of finding a better stocked rental.
The note hanging from the doorknob had been placed there the day before we arrived by a Pitkin County animal safety officer, warning of the bear’s recent incursion, along with a reminder that once a home has been entered by a bear, the animal considers it fair play to return.
I wasn’t sure which was worse: The electric range or the possible return of the bear. Both were equally unwelcome in what would be my kitchen for a couple days.
Read our story on the environmental and health hazards of gas stoves
We’d rented a house so we didn’t have to go out to eat three meals a day. For the five days of our stay, I scraped overcooked eggs and shredded pancakes off dented aluminum skillets each morning, thanks to the bear stove. Driving into town to grab a bagel and coffee looked better by the day, but what’s the point of renting a house if you can’t use the stove?
I’ll admit it right here: I’m a gas stove snob. My most recent stove acquisition was so horrifically expensive, I sold a car to buy the damned thing. The range was stainless steel and equipped with eight burners, several so hot that at 23,000 BTUs (British thermal units), they’re the heat equivalent of the sun frying an egg on the sidewalk on a hot summer’s day. It’s a behemoth that speaks to my inner chef.
I’ve recently learned after doing research on the perils of gas stoves that cooking with natural gas releases methane, nitrogen dioxide, carbon dioxide and other toxic pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Cooking on a gas stove emits these pollutants at levels two times higher than when cooking on electric units, all potential causes of reduced lung function and asthma, something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve always attributed shortness of breath to Colorado’s elevation, but realistically, it could be because of my stove. The more I learn about potential health hazards when cooking with gas, I’m not sure I want to cook with gas anymore.
Although I heard about induction stoves a few years ago, I resisted. Gas is so elemental, somehow. Induction is cold and glassy. It’s magnets under glass — does that warm your heart? But I’ve become intrigued by the induction method, one that’s so efficient, it’ll bring 48 ounces of water to a boil in less than three minutes. Utilizing a magnetic field, induction heats pans directly instead of passing radiant heat around and through a pan into the food you’re cooking. Because the energy creates a reaction in the metal pot, the heat remains centered there and not on the cooktop, which stays cool. That also makes cleanup a breeze.
Looking back on our near bear experience, I’m glad that the ill-equipped, dated rental kitchen is a thing of the past. Thanks to a bear “unwelcome mat” by the deck’s doors — a plywood board studded with nails pointing upwards, the bear didn’t return during our stay.
But if a bear is unwelcome in my kitchen, why would I opt for a gas stove with equally detrimental health hazards?
Emily Kemme is an award-winning novelist, freelance writer, and blogs about life’s quirks and recipes in “Feeding The Famished.” Her third book,It Starts with a Fish, isan anthology of blog columns. The book will be out this fall.