Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Failure: Okra

I suppose you could take lessons from your life and apply them to the kitchen and I suppose that you could do the reverse. I'm not sure it does anybody any good to try and take grand views of everything but here is my story.

I had some stuff in the fridge and tried to make something and it failed. There were numerous hints along the way but I either ignored them or thought I could work with that. It didn't work out. The end. That's the way this experiment went but it could've went many others. I write this as a warning to others who would ignore experiments that are going wrong. Our demise is often written in our beginnings.

Let's reboot that. I had some okra that I discovered in my freezer and remembered how good it was. It was fresh from the farmer's market when I froze it. I didn't rightly remember the date it was packed away. Was it from this summer or maybe last? This was like found treasure. It was like a forgotten friend coming from a trip with exotic treasures like a book written in some forgotten language. Being the kind of person who is okay with stale dates and 'aged' food, I thought I would give it a chance. Nothing bad could happen.
Mistake #1: If you are unsure of a frozen good, defrost it and taste it before making it the main ingredient.
What could I do? I always liked tomato and okra, so I would make one of southern dishes that I always feel slightly guilty about making. The food itself is entwined with its racist undertones. Okra was one of the veggies that would provide comfort for slaves. ...and you should always make sure there is at least one downer in blog posts for the redemption arc.

So tomato and okra stew it is. I looked in my pantry to discover I did not have the requisite canned tomatoes but thought I must have something to make do. A can of tomato paste and maybe that can of Manwich that I bought for the boys (and secretly me too). I put that in the pot and got all proud of my improvisation. Shit! Did I put onions and garlic as a base? Argh. There are many false starts. It is easy enough to backtrack at the beginning.
Mistake #2: Even when improvising, make sure you have tools and ingredients at hand. 
Out came a separate frying pan to try and correct this slight misstep. Added some ghee and habanero oil that I made a while back and things were looking good again. Wait. Did I put a whole can of tomato paste in that? Back to tasting the liquid. It was thick and overly sweet tomato like. My gosh and darn, I said. How will I ever serve this to anyone? Okay. I have this. I added some beer to bitter it and some vinegar from hot pickles that I had made. There were some good ingredients going in here. Some prime bits of love from my hands. This could fix it!

The sauce had turned around slightly. It was tasting more balanced and it almost resembled a spicy tomato soup I had made once. This may be okay. The slight off flavour could be balanced with the okra. This was going to work. Maybe.
Mistake #3: Sometimes give your doubts a little room to explain themselves. You have built up a lifetime of experience in some areas. If this is one of those areas, listen and figure out what is going on. Now is the time to plan and fix it. 
Okay, in went the half defrosted okra and it smelled pretty good for the next few minutes. I sat down at my table with my laptop planning how I was going to write a triumphant post on how to work with a recipe and improvise to great results. Then something started to come my way. A wet musty smell of vegetation and despair. Was my kitchen scrap pile going off? No, I had taken that out this morning. Sniff, sniff. Oh.

I tasted the tomato liquid that had once been saved but now was lost. The off flavour was more present. Raw tomato paste and bitterness. It had been joined by the rot of green and then freezer burnt taste of nothingness and the abyss. I spit the first sip out into the sink and shook my head. My taste buds were off. That was it. Went back for a second taste. Nope.

I put the spoon down with wide eyes. I could say I was in disbelief but that would mean that there was something to be let down by. There was nothing redeemable. Like a long time lover saying that they had never loved you, this soup went well past the ability of incredulity and into the waiting arms of incomprehensibility. The Lovecraftian and existential crisis of my abilities of a good homecook had finally come to a head. I should lay down my tools and walk away from the stove and never return. I sat down and took a moment. The enormity of my project and its ruinous end had still not taken hold.

The bubbling horror could be heard laughing at me from the kitchen. Each burble defied me to do something; anything to fix it. I realized that there is no turning away from the cosmic horror. The best way for me to preserve my sanity was to write a cautionary tale and implore others to close the door to this eldritch mess. I poured the liquid down the sink and disposed of the green tentacled blob of okra. Its gelatinous mess was punctuated by protruding stems. White seeds like eyes stared at me from the compost bin bursting out of the red gore of the sauce. There was no way I was ever going to forget this sight burned into my soul. I would be forever changed. I'm not sure of anything in the kitchen now. How did this happen?

So, I made myself a sandwich.
Lesson: Don't let a bad batch of something turn you inside out and to the edge of insanity. Make a sandwich and get on with it.
There were other lessons but really, sometimes you suck. I used a bad ingredient that I knew better about and thought I could make good. Most times it works but sometimes it doesn't. So what. I ended up making a delicious sandwich and a reasonable salad. Spent the rest of the weekend making roast vegetables for the week. A bad dish is just that.

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