I am old enough to remember a time when getting to see a movie was a really big deal. Yes, I grew up in the days before cable television and VHS (or Beta Max!) My family had a 19 inch black and white TV, and it was a rare treat when the networks played a movie worth watching. Otherwise, seeing a movie meant a trip to the theater or the drive in, which we only got to enjoy once every few months or so.
But CatMan and I are both HUGE movie buffs. For years we had a collective fantasy that "some day" they would come up with a way to stream videos over the internet, and maybe, if we were lucky, we'd get to experience a time when you could watch any movie you wanted, any time you wanted, from the comfort of your own home.
Ahhhh Netflix, you are my dream come true! And with a little device called a Roku player, it's all right there at my remote control clicking fingertips.
So, once Netflix entered our lives, CatMan and I started doing double feature movie night once a week. We go all out, which, for us, means that I cook a nice dinner, we open a bottle of wine, then set up the living room with an old hide-a-bed mattress and a bunch of pillows on the floor, turn off the lights and snuggle together under a blanket while we drift off into cinematic bliss in front of the 50 inch plasma television. Oh, how spoiled we are!
Of course, this sort of movie watching debauchery would not be complete without a hefty dose of popcorn, and that's where this story really begins.
Back in college I had one of those air popper machines, but to tell the truth, I've never really been a fan of air-popped popcorn. Healthy or not, it always seemed a bit like munching on tasteless Styrofoam packing peanuts to me, so after hauling the thing around through 5 or 6 apartments, I'd finally just given it to the Goodwill.
But I remembered as a child, the mother of one of my friends always made popcorn in a big pot on the stove top, so I decided to give it a go. And the results were... well... unpredictable. I tried every pot in the house... thick bottomed ones, thin bottomed ones, cast iron... and every once in a while I'd get a good batch, but generally it came out too chewy, or scorched, or not fully popped, and a few times I actually welded an inch thick layer of burnt popcorn to the bottom of the stock pot... did I mention movie night usually involves a bottle of wine?
Clearly, this was not working. So next I tried making it in the microwave. Oy. I've heard all sorts of people extolling the virtues of home-made microwave popcorn, but I tried everything, and couldn't make it work. I tried the paper bag method, or the Pyrex bowl with a plate on top... I tried with oil, without oil... whatever I did I either ended up with half of the kernels un-popped or a somewhat unpleasant scorched taste.
So I was pretty much at my wits ends, and decided that I was gonna have to pony up and buy some sort of popcorn popper. But pretty much everything I found was totally covered in Teflon or some similar non-stick surface, and after reading "Slow Death by Rubber Duck" which, BTW - is full of great info on the toxins in everyday products - but I'm not actually sure I'd recommend reading it because it sort of sent me into a tailspin and made me want to run off and cower in a yurt somewhere in the wilds of Mongolia. But I digress... let's just say that after reading that book there was no way I was getting anywhere near non-stick coatings.
So this left me back where I started with the old air popper option, and I felt frustrated. I kept telling myself that there MUST be a better way, but I sure as shit hadn't found it, so here I was about to shell out money to buy something that I used to own, didn't like, and didn't really even want, because I just felt like there wasn't another good option out there.
Then, one day, I was watching one of those decluttering shows on television (so much more fun to watch than to actually do) when I happened to see that one of the items these people were getting rid of was a big theater quality popcorn popper like you see at the movies. Really? You could own one of those? So I did some research and discovered, that indeed, one could buy a real theater quality popper for about 500 bucks.
Every fiber of my frugal being was screaming "What are you doing you stupid idiot?!?" but I really, REALLY wanted to be able to make good popcorn!
Then it happened. I was reading the reviews of the ridiculously expensive theater quality popcorn makers on Amazon.com for the umpteenth time, when I happened to glance at a little section of other products that "might interest you." I generally avoid looking at this sort of thing because I figure it's just a nifty way of getting you to buy something that you never really set out to shop for in the first place, but for some reason, that day I let my eyes wander, and there, among the assortment of movie projectors and ridiculous kitchen gadgets was something called a stove top popper! Aaaahhhh, the clouds were parting, the rays of sunshine were appearing, and I saw my solution descending from heaven... cue the angelic music....
Seriously, I had never heard of such a device, but there it was. It functioned pretty much like the fancy theater poppers - a drum with a rotating paddle to keep the kernels evenly heated and prevent the popcorn from sticking. But instead of being a self contained unit with it's own heating element, this little guy just sat on the stove top and had a hand crank. Oh what a revelation.
Turned out it was the brand with the ill-fitting lid issue. I couldn't believe all those reviews were right. I mean, why would they make something with a lid that would never go back on. But sure enough, I struggled and struggled and for the life of me I just couldn't see how it could possibly work.
But, having come so far in my popcorn Odyssey, there was no way I was turning back now. So I just sat and stared at the thing for about 2 hours... and finally it came to me! The little clip that held the lid on was not supposed to be "snapped into place" it was actually a clamp, and you had to pull it upwards to release it so it would go on and off. Elated with my discovery, I promptly wrote responses to all of the Amazon reviewers touting my lid revelations, and telling them the secret to avoid getting their lids (and sensibilities) all bent out of shape. I fear none of them responded to thank me for my helpful advice - ingrates!
But no worries... I finally had a popcorn popper that worked. And to make things even better, as I was reading the reviews I had picked up a bunch of tips for the best ways to make popcorn. Now, I'm generally not one who is very good at following instructions, but lo and behold, I discovered that if you can subdue your rebel instincts for a few minutes of direction following conformity, you actually get perfect popcorn! EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!!!!
Soooo... where was I going with this? Oh yes... lessons learned. So here they are.
Lesson 1: Holding onto stuff you don't like and don't use just because you're afraid you might "need it" some day, really doesn't serve us well. I mean, if I had kept that stupid air popper from college I would have been stuck eating yucky air-popped popcorn, and I never would have discovered my super-duper, nifty & wonderful stove top popper. Letting go of things that don't serve you makes room for things that do.
Lesson 2: Throwing money at problems seldom works. Someday I'm gonna learn this lesson. I may have to live to be 100 years old, but someday I will get it through my thick skull that you can't just buy your way out of trouble. I mean seriously folks, I came perilously close to shelling out $500 bucks for a popcorn popper, when it turned out that the real solution just involved $3, a bit of perseverance and some research.
Lesson 3: Following directions is not always a bad thing. I am a rebel, I just am. And my rebellious nature follows me everywhere I go including the kitchen. In general this serves me well as I enjoy experimenting with different recipes and adding a pinch of this or that. But there are some things like... um... making popcorn that really are much easier if you simply follow instructions, creativity be damned.
OK, I realize the possibility that anybody out there is still with me is extremely remote, (sorry, brevity is not my strong suit) but on the off chance that you are, here is the recipe for perfect popcorn.
1/2 cup popcorn
1 Tablespoon grape seed oil (I tried them all, this works the best... high smoke point and no funny taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
melted butter to taste (we use about 2 Tablespoons)
Pour the oil and half of the salt into your nifty gallifty stove top popcorn maker. I know this sounds crazy, but adding half of the salt now really helps to distribute it nicely and gives your popcorn lots of flavor. Add 3-4 kernels of popcorn and heat on medium high heat (this means about 6 on your stove dial - seriously, don't even think of turning that sucker any higher) until those kernels pop.
Once your test kernels have popped, add the rest of the popcorn, give it a whirl or two to coat everything with oil and remove from the heat for one minute.
Return to heat and turn crank at a slow and steady pace. When popping slows to one pop every second or less, remove from heat and pour into large bowl. Sprinkle the rest of the salt and pour the melted butter on while stirring to distribute it.
Enjoy your perfectly popped popcorn!!!