For Mother's Day, I took Banamum out to dinner. I asked her to choose the place, and not surprisingly she picked Happy Valley, a Chinese restaurant in Aggieville that serves very nice huo guo (literally "fire pot" aka "hot pot", shabu shabu in Japan). For those who haven't had this: it consists of sliced meat and veggies that you can cook in a (usually hot and spicy) broth at your own table. They bring you an outdoor fuel burner and plates of uncooked seafood, pork, chicken, beef, noodles, rice vermicelli, tofu, and vegetables such as broccoli, bamboo shoots, and you add these slowly over the course of the meal and let it cook.
About a quarter hour into our meal, Banamum had put in the seafood and we were talking about my summer plans and research projects. She fished out a mussel and put it in my bowl, and was scooping up another and asking whether I wanted it, when I tried to multitask and failed. Three things happened. First, the mussel separated with a slight pop; second, my elbow pushed a paper napkin a few inches forward and it went into the little blue flame under the pot; and third, a small fireball blossomed in front of me on the glass table.
I tried to look nonchalant as I batted at this spectacular little flame. Of course, my inept fanning caused it to burn brighter, at which point Banamum craned her head over. "Whatcha got there, a fire?"
She gestured unhurriedly to my drinking glass and said, "you can douse it... here, take your other napkin and wet it down". I listened, but I didn't wet it down quite enough. The edges of the new napkin caught fire even as the soaked center put out the first flaming napkin. As I was busily getting burnt into a corner of the booth, I thought what an ignominiously funny story it would make if I ended up catching fire myself. I had just decided not to become part of phawkwood's "what not to do" lesson for elementary school kids when Banamum, still offering helpful maternal advice, suggested I pour my whole glass on it. Still unwilling to make a scene, because the burner was blocking the waitresses' view of the fire proper even though it had just about landed in my lap, I took the wet napkin and beat the small flames into submission.
Naturally, at this point the tablecloth had caught fire, so mustered the shred of dignity I had left, took some water, and sprinkled the slightly smoking flame like a priest with an aspergillum.
A few minutes later, Banamum said "wow, I'm full - maybe you ought to turn the burner off so things don't get too hot?" I complied, and without skipping a beat she said merrily, "Oh, good. Now you won't set anything else on fire."
I then finished my meal and left an extra large tip. I can still smell the ash.