Flexibility is not an easy attribute for many people, yet being a cook (and a host) often requires advanced coping skills to adjust to constantly changing and often challenging circumstances. If we don't have a little flexibility in us to begin with, you can be sure the kitchen will teach it to us in no time.
We all have sat down and planned an important dinner party down to the last toothpick, only to be sideswiped by the unexpected, unplanned and unavailable. At first I thought unique in this experience, that I had some intense kitchen karma, but then I checked in with some friends and heard these kinds of tales:
- You build an entire dinner party around an ingredient (say, Dungeness crab) that isn't readily available or not in season and you don't realize this until you stop by the store on your way home from work on the night of your dinner party.
- Way too late in the game, you open up that can of roasted chestnuts and...ew.
- The recipe calls for fresh basil and you only have dried.
- Your guests may be (or suddenly turn out to be) vegetarian, vegan, allergic, sensitive, pregnant, fasting.
- The ceramic dish holding your took-hours-to-assemble lasgne suddenly breaks on its way out of the oven.
- The flu strikes your immediate family just as you put the 24 pound turkey in the oven.
- The power suddenly goes out an hour before your guests arrive, or in the middle of your dinner.
- You ordered a case of pears and the deliveryman brings you a case of pawpaws.
- People unexpectedly dropping by at dinner, guests bringing friends along unannounced, or their children, or their mother-in-law who just flew in from Miami (and who is probably a vegan.)
The ability to pause in the middle of disaster and adjust to the new set of circumstances, and the speed to which we can do this, is key to a happy kitchen and indeed a happy life. If change is inevitable, then resilience is worth cultivating. Easier said than done, but here are a few tips.
First, try not to freak out. If you're like me, you'll only spiral into an even deeper mess, so don't even go there. Second, take a deep breath, and then another. And then another. Third, remind yourself that there is always a solution and fourth, find it.
Oh, and fifth, always keep the following on hand: canned artichoke hearts, canned tomatoes, frozen peas, and fresh lemons or maybe a jar of capers. Plus some good dried pasta. And a good sense of humor.
Mostly, though, remember that people are primarily at social events for to be with other people. Even food geeks would rather have a simple meal with a relaxed host over being abandoned by a stressed cook who cannot leave the kitchen for all the juggling and high-jinks going on.
What's your story of kitchen disasters barely averted? Were you able to be flexible and spin it or did it take you under?
(Image: Dana Velden)