I stood over the Instant Pot Sunday biting my nails and then, for kicks, biting my nails some more. I leaned carefully forward and heard gurgling. Pigeon-like, I bobbed and weaved around the thing, looking from the float valve to the steam release to the On indicator. The timer was supposed to be counting down. The float valve was supposed to have risen. Nothing had happened but the gurgling.

Two things could happen in the next few minutes. I could discover that I had planted a steam bomb in our kitchen. Or I could discover that I was too dumb to use an Instant Pot.

Either prospect was terrifying.

Of course, part of my worry was on account of the fact that I had, at best, scanned the Instant Pot manual.

It’s not, to be clear, that I am naturally talented at figuring things out. I’ve assembled garbage cans incorrectly. I’ve gotten lost in restaurants.

But the minute I open any reading material that starts with words like “important safeguards,” my mind objects like a toddler in Walmart who’s about an hour past nap time: I don’t wanna. And I don’t even like you at all.

So I’d flipped about a third of the way through the manual when I decided I was informed enough to use a modern-day pressure cooker, which, if you don’t know, looks like it would be pretty at home on the International Space Station. So I pressed ON. Or START. Or GO. Or whatever button that seemed to suggest commencement.

And then, in an effort to be both thorough and lazy at the same time, I texted a picture of the state of the Instant Pot dial to my friend Amanda, who is a pressure cooker pro.

“Does this look right? Why isn’t the timer counting down?”

Luckily, Amanda is one of those super-texters able to send paragraphs of information in under 15 seconds. She told me she thought it looked right, though she used a different setting on hers. The timer would start when enough pressure had built up.

I was on finger seven of my nail-biting extravaganza when my husband William surfaced from the basement. In case you’re wondering, William reads manuals cover to cover. As an after-dinner treat.

“How’s it going?” he said. I could see him scanning the kitchen, which was now splattered with every ingredient needed to make pork puttanesca.


“It’s going cool?”

“I mean, good. I’m cool.”

“Are you?”

“Incredibly cool and fine.”

“You don’t look fine. Whatcha got in that pot?”

He already knew as I’d been talking about using the Instant Pot for days now. I don’t, to explain, own one, but have been considering a purchase. So I asked my friend Julie if I could use hers for a few weeks to see how I liked it.

Now it was gurgling faster. And getting very, very hot.

“Did you read the manual?” William asked casually.

“I … to a degree, I did, yes.”

“Would you like me to read it?”

“That won’t be necessary. I just don’t understand …”

“You don’t understand what?”

“Why this valve isn’t floating up. It’s supposed to float.”

Just then, at that moment, steam start to puff out of the top.

“What the …” I said, before releasing a pretty impressive collection of f-bombs.

“Should you text Julie?”

“Julie doesn’t really use her Instant Pot.”

I grabbed my phone and took a video of the steam to show to Amanda. Then I frantically started flipping through the manual. The steam kept rising. I fought the impulse to unplug the whole thing and order Mellow Mushroom.

And then, all at once, the floater floated. The steam stopped. The time started counting down. And I realized just how bloody nervous I was.

For the next 80 minutes, William and I worked on our thousandth jigsaw puzzle of the pandemic while the Instant Pot clicked and gurgled beside us.

“Is it supposed to click?” he asked.

“Let’s assume yes.”

Eighty minutes later, it was go-time: time to release the steam and open that capsule up to see what I’d created for dinner. I tiptoed toward the pressure cooker, feeling like I’d have more luck if I took it by surprise. I quickly turned the steam release handle, ducked, and steam shot out toward the ceiling. For a brief second, I felt closer to understanding rocket propulsion.

I looked at William. He looked at me. Our eyebrows now lived on our hairlines.

In the end, I’m not sure if I have what it takes to be the owner of an Instant Pot. After my first experiment, I felt, frankly, like I’d been through a war. I concede that it cooked pork shoulder a whole lot faster than I thought possible. And I have more recipes to try. But I may consider reading more of the manual before I do anything else.


2 thoughts on “Thar she blows

  1. I could follow everything you described as Grand Maman had a “pressure cooker” and used it to cook great meals.great. Grand-papa would stand closely by to check for the floating valve. You brought back fond memories, Tara. I can still smell and taste Grand-Maman’s famous porcupines and also her sweet and sour ribs.

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