Most carpenters – the smart ones, anyway – follow the adage “measure twice, cut once.” It’s a good one: being cautious, whether when cutting lumber or elsewhere in life, can save heartbreak, wasted time, energy and materials.
Because I tend to move and work fast, II’ve adapted the carpenters’ maxim to remind myself that faster is not always better. Slow down and pay attention, I tell myself (when I remember).
That advice was nowhere in sight last Saturday, as I prepared a meal to share with friends that evening. The morning began well enough: I had slept well (not something I can count on these days), the menu was planned and the groceries purchased. I had set aside most of the day for cooking, not just so I had lots of time for it but because cooking is one of the mainstays of my self-care routine, such as it is.
The menu was a pretty simple one: Vietnamese spring rolls, tom yum soup, mango salad and kheer. I made the chicken stock for the soup the evening before, straining it and leaving it to cool overnight in a large bowl, covered with a tea towel, in our sunroom.
Things went off the rails as soon as I stepped into the sunroom to collect the stock. In my haste the night before, I had not properly secured the tea towel under the bowl. Overnight, a corner of it had fallen into the stock, where it formed a perfect wick for the stock, soaking up more than a cup of it, with more of it flowing onto the table and floor. After a howl of disbelief at my stupidity, I decided that, since the towel had been come fresh and clean from the drawer, I would wring the stock out of it back into the bowl. Once I had wiped up the table and floor, my cheerful mood was mostly restored, and I moved on to my next task: starting the kheer, using the recipe in my favourite Indian foods cookbook.
Not so fast.
Over the winter, my partner and I have been decluttering. This has included ridding ourselves of books we don’t need anymore. My partner tended to look at each book and think about it carefully before putting it in the keep or discard pile. My approach threw caution to the wind in favour of speed. Books hit my discard pile with reckless abandon, which was very satisfying, at least in the moment.
After cleaning up the stock mess, I turned to the bookcase that holds all my food and cooking related books; a bookcase that was considerably emptier than it had been a month or so before. My hand reached out instinctively to the shelf where that favourite Indian cookbook lived. It was not there or on any other shelf. I looked all around the kitchen, in my office, on coffee and end tables; anywhere I might have wandered off with it. I contemplated who I might have loaned it to and came up empty.
I was forced to admit that, in my decluttering fever, I had gotten rid of it. This was a major setback, especially because I had had it for so long that I remembered neither its title nor author, but I forced myself to slow down, sit down, and write out as much of the recipe as I could recall, before turning to the internet to fill in the gaps.
Slowing it down
I carefully measured the rice and set it aside to soak, which gave me time to put the stock in a pot on the stove and chop the ingredients that would go into it next: galangal, garlic, lemongrass and chilis.
Moving quickly – after all, I had to make up the time I had lost because of my earlier mistakes — I returned to the kheer preparations. I pounded cardamom seeds and put them, along with the milk (also carefully measured), in a saucepan to begin warming. I drained the rice, and had just enough time to grab the chopped soup seasonings and toss them into the soup pot.
Everything was getting nicely back on track. . . .
As soon as the seasonings dropped into the pot, I realized I had opened my hands over not the soup pot but the saucepan containing the milk and cardamom seeds.
I carefully removed all the chopped ingredients from the milk, rinsed them off and deposited them safety in the soup pot. I pounded more cardamom to replace what had been lost. I added the drained rice, gave the kheer a stir, and left it to cook until the rice disintegrated.
My calculations for the recipe on Saturday were for ½ cup each of rice and sugar, with the rice to be cooked in 8 cups of milk. As I measured the sugar using the same cup I had used for the rice, I realized that I had grabbed the 1/3 rather than the ½ cup measure from the drawer, which meant there was not enough rice for the amount of milk. I removed about 1 cup of milk from the saucepan, pouring it through a fine sieve to save as much of the cardamom as I could, which I then put back into the pan.
A bevy of errors
The day continued in this vein. If I could drop or spill something, I dropped or spilled it. The water heater pilot light went out, so we were briefly without hot water. The spring rolls, which I painstakingly assembled, rolling them as tightly as I possibly could in softened rice paper, exploded spectacularly and thoroughly in the deep fryer just minutes before our friends arrived, leaving us with no appetizer.
I’d like to say that I pondered the value of carefulness and working slowly, but I didn’t. As my partner greeted our friends at the front door, I poured myself a large tequila, adding ice and lime juice, rustled up some salted cashews and tamari almonds as a replacement appetizer, and put all thought of measuring twice behind me. The rest of the meal was a hit, and a good time was had by all.