When we merged kitchens, there were abundances of pantry staples, and far too many duplicate containers. Half a box of salt from one kitchen and three quarters of one from the other found a home together in a labeled glass jar. Baking soda, rice, flour–all into airtight containers, leaving us far less clutter, and a very pretty pantry. Not everything was identical, though, so some things stayed in their original containers; some went into small glass jars. Occasionally, a label didn’t stick, but every system has a couple of kinks to work out.
One night I emptied a cup of hearty looking oats into a dry saucepan to toast them, added three cups of boiling water, lidded the pan, and walked away. Morning came. Coffee and tea were brewed. Lunches were packed. She came into the kitchen as I was turning to breakfast. “You made oatmeal!” she said with delight.
I lifted the lid and was puzzled. “I thought I made oatmeal.”
She looked over my shoulder.
“You made barley.”
What I toasted had looked different than I was used to seeing, but the jar wasn’t labeled, and it was in the oats-jar’s place. I thought they were the last of a container of ritzy, organic, free-range oats that she’d kept separate from the everyday suburban oats.
I made barley. Dummy!
“It’s okay. I’ll pick up a bagel, and we’ll make soup.”
Saturday night, I chopped and she sweated onion, celery, and carrots in a little oil; beef stock, diced tomatoes, and some water were added, along with leftover pot roast, salt, pepper, bay leaf, oregano, and, yes, barley. In the half hour while everything simmered and the kitchen became warm and fragrant, we did a few chores: mopping up plaster dust that settled after the painter left, preparing cabinet doors to be re-hung. Just before dinner time, I steamed some chopped kale. She ladled the soup we hadn’t expected to cook and sprinkled on some parmesan cheese. We dug in.
A friend once told me the story of her young sister, who, while mixing batter, confused vinegar for vanilla. My friend turned it into a reading lesson and helped her start over. Another young woman I know mistook one canister for another and baked cookies with salt instead of sugar. Her boyfriend gobbled them up. They didn’t stay together, but it wasn’t because of the cookies.
Mistakes are made. What matters is how you correct them. How you recover. What you learn. We had accidental soup, and it was wonderful.
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