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Coffee with Mimi: Using ingredients you have can work out

By MIMI BECKER

In the last few months we have all made many adjustments in our regular activities and daily regimens. Some of these changes are quite simple and inconsequential and others could be considered significant. 

As the days wore on we evaluated and reworked many of the makeshift practices which we adopted so quickly when the guidelines caught us in an unprepared state.

We had some warning of what was to come and how to prepare in the short term. The citizenry behaved oddly, so I thought. For some still baffling reason, many consumers thought there would be an immediate world-wide shortage of toilet paper. 

I didn’t buy into the panic initially. It became obvious that I was wrong, in the short term. So many had hit the shelves early, so that when I actually needed the rolls, I had to chase all over town for just one package. I began to consider what must have been wartime measures in past centuries.

It became obvious early on that quick trips to the grocery for one obscure recipe ingredient were not encouraged, or comfortable, or maybe even possible. A cook needed to be either clever or daring in preparing meals. Can you really substitute this for that? Google searches were the norm in the run up to, “What’s for dinner?”

I felt challenged to put a dent in the accumulation of packages which had built up over the course of time in my freezer. Unfortunately, my husband had ample opportunities to remind me that I really should have labeled and dated the freezer bags of leftovers at the time I actually put them in the freezer. 

What I think I will surely remember is sliced pork roast looks remarkably like any number of other packages of something in the frozen state. When thawed, the true nature of the product could derail a planned menu.

There is a cooking show competition in which the contestants are presented with a basket of extremely random and exotic ingredients and are challenged to prepare a specific menu course in a ridiculously short period of time. The completed dish is placed in front of a panel of real, sometimes famous and probably successful, chefs for their dissection and approval. The offered plate must be distinctly creative, use every item in the basket in an identifiable manner, so to be judged over the top fantastic as to presentation and taste.

Often, I would breathe a sigh of relief that the contestants’ results were less than pleasing to the palate. I mean, I could imagine similar disasters in my own kitchen. 

Thankfully, I am not creating massive failures in public view and on tape. To be fair, the contestants were all professional chefs, just on the “B” level, apparently waiting to break into the big time with the help of the hefty prize money and a bit of culinary notoriety. 

They also had the benefit of commercial grade equipment and a pantry stocked with foreign and domestic products which, one would think, would make up for whatever the basket did not include. With all that at their disposal, what could possibly go wrong?

I actually take pride in figuring out what to do when what I have is not what I expected and likely missing what I really want.

I fancy myself the problem solving team on Apollo XIII.

There was Tom Hanks out in the middle of nowhere in space with very little hope he and his buddies would get back for dinner, or to mail their tax returns on time. The situation was more than dire for the guys and NASA. 

The can do spirit of all those slide rule wielding folks on the ground kicked into high gear. There was no chance they would let the crew, and by now, the whole world, down.

An extra scrubber was needed for the Lunar Module carbon dioxide filter. All that was available was one which fitted the Command Module. 

If the problem couldn’t be solved, it was all over.

Never underestimate the significance of socks, suit parts, flight manual covers, and some duct tape in any emergency when a bunch of free thinkers are at it. 

With the whole world watching and listening, the ground crew tasked with devising a solution set to work with a pile of stuff on a table in front of them at Mission Control. The team in space couldn’t run to the corner hardware store for any ingredient missing up there. 

Furthermore, the instructions (the recipe) detailed on the ground had to be precise and precisely followed by the astronauts way up there in increasingly dangerous conditions. I was so compelled by the epic story after watching the film; I bought the book to savor all the details.

My kitchen is the space ship, I am the ground crew and it tickles me to put something decent together for a meal with what I have on hand. However, I am truly glad my life is not hanging in the balance. If all else fails down here, there is peanut butter and crackers.

(Note: the book is Lost Moon: The Perilous Journey of Apollo XIII by Jeffrey Kluger and Jim Lovell)