A few months ago I made popcorn all by myself, and I’m still proud of what I accomplished.

Yes, I’m nearly 36 years old. And yes, I have made popcorn before. But I think that up until this year I really have, indeed, always had “help” of some kind or other.

Through my entire adult life I’m pretty certain that I’ve never made popcorn that didn’t come from a prepackaged envelope heated in a microwave. I think microwave popcorn probably goes back pretty far into my childhood, too. I vaguely remember the microwave oven first arriving in our home, and I know that we employed a couple of other gadgets before just giving into the convenience of Act II et al. We had an air-popper for a while, I’m sure. We also had a low-tech popcorn popper for a number of years; it was something like this except the crank was on top. This simple device got quite a bit of use, though I can’t recall how many times I put it to work by myself. As noted, despite its elegance it eventually went into a cabinet and stayed there as microwave popcorn took over.

Still, I think the memory was nonetheless useful, all these years later. While certainly a gadget, and a “unitasker” at that, making popcorn with ye old popcorn popper didn’t really involve anything that couldn’t be approximated using ordinary household objects. You put popcorn kernels into a covered pan and place over heat, keeping the kernels moving around a bit; a crank-and-blade system can accomplish the latter but you could just move the pan around. I knew that this basic formula worked, not only theoretically but in practice. I had seen it happen once upon a time.

That, I think, helped give me the courage to try it myself without any kind of specialty tools whatsoever.

Which I did a few months ago. I’m not sure precisely what inspired me. I haven’t gone through any kind of DIY revolution. I suppose that maybe in recent years one could see a bit of a gradual and very modest trend… In any event, I was out of popcorn and for whatever reason thought “why don’t I just buy some popcorn? How hard can this be? Dammit, I am going to find out!”

So I did. Perhaps amusingly I ended up buying Jiffy Time, but it’s just popcorn kernels in a plastic bag with their logo. When I finally got around to trying this wacky experiment, it couldn’t have been much more basic.

  1. Put a pan on the stove
  2. Pour a little oil in the pan
  3. Pour some kernels into the pan (I learned through trial and error how much popcorn to make; as plain popcorn is cheap and harmless, using too much isn’t really a disaster)
  4. Place a lid over the pan
  5. Apply medium heat to the pan
  6. Shuffle the kernels around in the pan semi-frequently
  7. Turn off the heat once popping is underway in earnest; wait a little bit until you’re sure no more “pop”s are forthcoming.

Voila. Popcorn. I add some salt and melted margarine; I do use the microwave for the latter, because why not this isn’t a crusade. What is it, then? What’s the point? What exactly am I proud of here—the kitchen skills of a middle schooler?

No. What I’m proud of is having seen the alternative. I’m in danger of climbing up on a soapbox here, and I really don’t want to; I eat Pop-Tarts. I shop at Marc’s. I don’t think I’ve ever been inside a Whole Foods in my life.

Yet it does feel just a tiny bit empowering to do something by myself in this way and find that it works perfectly well. At any rate, after having more or less taken it for granted for most of my life that I needed some kind of specialty consumer product or service to help me. And here I guess I can see a bit of a trend, personally. I bake fairly often in the past year or so (summer excepted), and while I’m no expert one can get good results without that much fussing, really. I discovered years ago that rather than buying packaged noodle soup, I could just buy egg noodles and chicken bullion and add in relatively fresh poultry that hadn’t been mummified. And now, I can make popcorn all by myself.

Again, this isn’t a crusade. I’m not suggesting that this is The Right Way and that everyone should discard gadgets and prepackaged food (I’m not). For me, someone who makes popcorn once in a while, for one person, at home, this works perfectly well and I see no reason to turn to anything more complicated again. That’s nice, but not really enough for an 800-word blog post, even for me. What I’m truly proud of, in a small way, is that I’ve seen through one more little example of marketing mesmerism and rediscovered the ability to achieve exactly the same end without outsourcing what are in fact very simple tasks. Again, in some circumstances it probably makes sense to do so anyway, but I’m glad to know what’s really going on rather than just taking advertising’s word for it.

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