My friend and fellow yogin Tamar Adler just finished writing her first book about cooking. We had dinner together the other night, and when I asked her what her favorite chapter was about, she announced with great certainty, "Mistakes."
"Mistakes," she said, "are where the real cooking gets done. Anyone can follow a recipe and end up with a perfectly fine product, but that's not artful."
She's right. Nothing much is required of you when you follow a recipe, but when you burn the bread or oversalt the broth, when you skip a step and forget to remove the seeds from the pepper or mix in the liquid before the dry flour--well, that's when you get to prove your mettle and demonstrate what you really know. That's when everything you've learned and practiced comes into play.
It's when we veer off course that our true studentship is tested.
Sometimes, the skills we've developed can save the lumpy gravy or the too-spicy salsa. And sometimes, we just have to rely on intuition to help feel our way out of the mess. Occasionally, that even means admitting defeat and chucking the whole thing and starting over. Is that so different than the moment you find your shoulder is incredibly uncomfortable in Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose), and you have to decide between shifting your hand a bit or coming out of the pose? Not really. The real mastery here, I think, is in surrendering to truth of the situation, in not trying to force things, and in being sensitive to what is really required of you in that moment.
Of course, when disaster strikes in the kitchen, Google can be a lifesaver.
Rescuing Overcooked Vegetables
Two minutes can mean the difference between delicious steamed, boiled, or roasted vegetables and just plain mush. If this happens, try dumping it all into the blender or mashing it up with a potato masher. Add salt, maybe some pounded garlic, good olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, or freshly chopped herbs or a pinch of spices and you've got yourself a delicious puree. Thin it out with broth or water to get a hearty soup.
Rescuing Burnt Food
If you got distracted and forgot to stir your soup or sautéed vegetables, resulting in burned food, there might still be hope! Though it's counterintuitive, don't stir now! Leave the black stuff stuck at the bottom of the pot or pan, being careful not to dislodge any, and gently transfer the unburned food into a new pot. Then taste. If the saved meal tastes good, no one will ever know the difference. If it tastes smoky or burnt, that's when you should probably start over.