Friday, May 26, 2006

Mineralogy

I'm never quite so stupid as when I'm being smart. ~ Linus Van Pelt, quoted by Charles Schulz

A couple of years or so ago, we had our kitchen redone. It wasn't a major overhaul; we moved one wall, had new cabinets done, and had new flooring installed. This ending up taking four months. In undertaking this, I learned a couple of valuable lessons. First, pay attention to the time frames on the projects on all those fixit shows. Everything takes months, whether it's a bedroom remodel or putting on a new addition (actually I saw one show where adding a bedroom took over a year). Second, never hire a contractor whose first name is “Cash.”

However, I will leave the discussion of that particular piece of agony for another day. When the job was finished, we had some additional counter space. Because Bob Vila wasn't doing the job and providing endless discounts as long I made sure to mention the sponsor frequently, I had to be somewhat economical. In particular, the counters were just ordinary counter covering (whatever it is). What I wanted was butcher block, but that stuff is rather pricey. So the only wooden work surface I had was an ancient large cutting board that I had inherited from my mother.

It struck me that I could get a similar sized butcher block cutting board and set it in my working space. That way, I'd a have a little slice of butcher block heaven while retaining some of my paycheck. I could even set the new board next to the old one and have a decent sized work surface. So, I thought, all I had to do was go to the home fixup superstore, have them cut me off a hunk of butcher block.

Yeah, right.

The only kind of butcher block the megastores had was pre-fabbed counter tops. So the wood already had a rolled edge. To have them cut off a piece, I would have had to buy a large section, and it would have three unfinished edges. And it would cost a bundle.

So I went to the local restaurant supply store, a place I had frequented before. They sold all manner of cutting boards – all plastic. Surely, they would have access to some butcher block, because I knew restaurants often had a block table for meat cutting.

Evidently, times have changed, and health departments had gotten more strict. Restaurants were using plastic boards on steel tables. In fact, the nice folks at the store didn't even know what butcher block was.

So I turned to the Internet and, miracle of miracles, found a place that sold all sorts of sizes of butcher block, standard and cut-to-order. With joy, I placed an order, which arrived promptly (and shipped economicallly, considering it weighed about 30 pounds). I unwrapped it and found the care instructions. Number one on the “extend the life of your butcher block” was to rub it down with mineral oil.

Great. What's mineral oil?

Now, those of you who know what mineral oil is will no doubt be chuckling at my naivety. Those of you who don't have a lot of company. Mineral oil is not a commonly used commodity these days. 


My first thought was that they meant mineral spirits. I had some of those. But somehow, a liquid that smelled very strong and had numerous warnings about how evil and poisonous it is didn't seem like the kind of thing to be smearing all over a food preparation surface.

Okay, I thought, I'm a pretty smart cookie, so if I'm logical I can figure out where to get some mineral oil. Butcher block is wood; it's also kind of like furniture. So it's like wood furniture. Therefore, mineral oil ought to be found in the furniture polish section of the store.

Nope.

After fruitless searches in megastores, I went to a wonderful local hardware store, the kind of place where they don't mind selling you one wingnut. A kindly clerk asked me what I was looking for. I explained that I needed mineral oil to treat my butcher block (which, given the nature of mineral oil, is actually a pretty funny pun). He looked at me with a funny sort of smile and suggested that I go to a grocery store or a drug store. Well, I guess they sell everything in food marts and drug stores any more, so what the heck.

I had already tried the grocery store, so I went to the drug store. I searched the furniture care section and still couldn't find any of the stuff, so I went to the counter and asked the clerk where the mineral oil was. She smiled and said, “Aisle 8.”

So I went to aisle 8 and thought she must surely be mistaken, because this aisle had nothing but various stomach remedies, anti-acids,--and laxatives.

Guess what mineral oil is? I guess before there was Ex-Lax and friends, there was mineral oil. Now you know why I said “treat my butcher block” was a good pun. Well, I thought it was, anyway.

I laughed all the way to the checkout counter. Of course, I told the clerk the whole silly story of what I thought mineral oil was. She gave me a “it must be terrible to get senile” look and rang up the stuff.

So my butcher block gets it regular treatment of laxative every couple of months or so, with no ill effects to any of us. We make bread, cut meat, and do all sorts of food preparation on that lovely board.

Of course, we do seem to be marvelously regular.

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