A few years ago, when I was about to turn 30, I realized that if I didn’t learn to bake now, I never would. But I wasn’t sure how to go about this. Certainly no one in my family could teach me. When I was growing up in New York City in the 1980s, we rarely used our oven, an ancient gas-powered model from the late 1950s with no internal lights, no window, no timer, no beeping alarms to let you know something was ready or going wrong. The oven was so old, it had to be lit with a match (which once resulted in a kaboom! and singed bangs when my babysitter only remembered that step several minutes after she turned on the gas).
Chinese people do not, in general, use ovens. We do not bake. And though my parents came to this country more than three decades ago and I was born here, we have not budged from this practice. So our dark, creaky oven served as an extra dish rack and a convenient dumping ground for unsightly, awkward appliances, as my mother could not let valuable storage space go to waste in our cramped kitchen. We could go for months without opening the oven door. If something wanted to set up a nest in our oven, I’m sure it could have bred many generations before my family would have noticed.
Others clearly pay more heed to ovens. My cosmopolitan American friends, sent to Beijing or Shanghai by their employers, arrive in the luxury apartments provided by their expatriate packages and are shocked to discover that their kitchens have no ovens. “What will I do for Thanksgiving?” they lament.