Monday, August 20, 2012

I've Got Mercury Poisoning...

(Graham Parker song – LINK)

It all started like this:

Boy: Mom, can you make deep-fried mashed potatoes?  With cheese inside?
Me:  Um, what?  Where did you see something like that?
Boy: I didn’t.  It just sounds good.
Me: (After some conversation about what exactly he meant) Okay, I’ll try it.

I started  the day by making homemade mashed potatoes. I peeled them. I cooked them. I mashed them. I put them in the fridge to cool.

When it was time for dinner I assembled all the other things I thought I would need (flour, egg dip, bread crumbs) and started assembling these cheese filled balls of goodness. 

It was messy.  That’s okay, I love my boy. Small price to pay for a happy teenager.  It took me a while to get the process right.  (tip: shredded cheese doesn’t work well)  I made 23.  I discovered that they ‘melt’ at room temperature.  Okay, then, into the freezer you will go, you globs of potential deliciousness.  You can just cool down while the oil heats up.

I discover that my meat thermometer only records temperatures up to 200 degrees. This will not do. I know! I will use my candy thermometer – most likely inherited from my Grandmother – probably from the 1930s. It goes up to 300.  When the mercury gets to the top then the oil will be just about right.  I’m SO smart to think of this! 
I begin the deep frying process. I’ve never deep-fried anything, so I am very happy that it’s going so well. I call over the closest boy to taste the creation.  He says they’re good, but cool inside.  Okay, lower the oil temperature and cook a little slower.  I go about the business of cooking the rest of them. I am not really paying attention to the thermometer, but things are cooking a little slower.  I call over the boy who requested the potato balls.  He says they’re good, but still a little cool on the inside.  Okay, I will finish them in the oven, and remember to cook them even slower next time. 

Just what is the oil temp, anyway? I can’t tell, because the mercury is all the way at the top, with just some random ‘stripes’ of silvery stuff in the thermometer.  I turn down the heat on the oil and I finish cooking the last of the balls.  Funny, though, there is no change in the silvery stuff. Oh, cr%≈, did I break the thermometer?  (Pro-Tip: Do NOT use an old candy thermometer)

I take it out of the oil. Um, yes, that’s exactly what I did. There are little balls of mercury on the utensil plate. There are balls of mercury in the pot of oil. In all likelihood I have contaminated my Fried Mashed Potato Wonderfulness. Not to mention, the cookie sheet, the cooling racks, the spoon…

The boys each ate one. OMG! Breathe.  Check the Internet. 

OMFG! I have potentially contaminated the WHOLE KITCHEN!  What should I do?  What Should I do? Post a question to AskReddit.  There are experts lurking who will guide me in the right direction.  Husband and I discuss if we need to call the doctor, or take them to the ER.  He thinks of calling Poison Control.  (Pro-Tip #2:  The folks at Poison Control are your friends. Call them!)

Sarah (a poison control expert at CHOP) tells me to calm down, it’s actually not that big a deal.  IF they ingested  any mercury, it will just, um, come out. Her words, “in one end, out the other.”

Really? Because the internet…  “No,” she says, “elemental mercury – the kind in thermometers, is not harmful. It’s organic mercury – the kind in fish, you need to worry about. And don’t get your information from the Internet, call us first. There's scary stuff on the Internet.” You don't say...

Oh, Yay!
Woot Woot! Hooray! 
I didn't kill anyone today! 

At least I made it 15 years without having to call Poison Control.  Anybody have a recommendation for a good, modern, candy thermometer?