The two old leeks that I found in the very back of the very bottom drawer of my refrigerator didn't look like much. Their thick stalks were slightly soft and yellowed, shriveled in some places and slimy in others. It was tempting to pop them into the compost bin and just deal with the guilt for the lost opportunity. But leeks are hearty vegetables, made to survive in cold dark places. A few quick trims from a sharp knife and suddenly they looked much better.
I decided to make them into leek confit, which is a lovely condiment to have stashed in the refrigerator. Soon I was merrily chopping away in my minuscule kitchen, listening to a podcast on my headphones. The podcast was about Voyager and its path to the edge of the solar system. It was quite interesting and very distracting and so I stopped to listen more closely. A few minutes later a delicious but obviously 'brown' smell rose up to meet my nose and I quickly checked the pot. Not burnt but not the pale, unctuous mass that leek confit is supposed to be. Drat!
After about 10 seconds of disappointment I told myself that the leeks are caramelized and that caramelized leeks are just as good as leek confit. Not only just as good, but really delicious. I imagined them spread on the bottom of an unbaked pie crust as a beginning for a quiche or tucked into an omelet with a little Comte cheese and a sprinkle of caraway seeds. Yum!
But first the pan needed deglazing so I reached into the refrigerator for an almost empty bottle of wine that'd been hanging out there for a while. As I poured out the contents into the leeks I caught a whiff of ... vinegar. Drat again! Tentatively I took a taste and found that actually wasn't that bad. The vinegary wine added a nice tang but it needed balance. I added a touch of butter and a little salt. Perfect!
After all this fuss and disaster, I decided it was time to eat. At this point, it was best to take the easy route, so I spread the leeks on toast and along with a quick simple salad, a glass of hard cider and a bit of cheese, I soon found myself enjoying a nice light supper. Delicious!
It's quite wonderful when disaster turns into something delicious but it was not as effortless as it may seem from my story. The utterance drat! represents a lot of upset and disappointment but with each drat! I faced the classic question: mistake or opportunity? As I have learned over the years, looking for opportunity is a much more interesting and rewarding path to follow. This is not an unusual response for those of us who frequently find ourselves in the kitchen. Time spent at the stove teaches us many things but flexibility and optimism are foremost.
Of course part of my situation was that I was paying closer attention to the edges of the universe than to the pot of leeks right in front of me, but that's a discussion for another time. Meanwhile, I say enjoy your disasters! See them as opportunities, a sudden turn in the road that will lead to something unexpected and beyond the limits of your thinking. Develop the yogic skills of flexibility and optimism and you may find yourself actually enjoying the rewards and surprises that come with a mistake. Who knows what's waiting for you on the other side of drat! ?
• The leek confit recipe I started with is from Molly Wizenberg.
• The podcast that distracted me was by Radiolab.
• The cheese was Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk and the cider was Crispin's Landsdowne.
Related: Weekend Meditation: Whoops! In Praise of Making Mistakes
(Image: Dana Velden)