A curry gone terribly wrong….Note to self: Do not prepare complicated, unfamiliar dishes late at night when this exhausted and distracted!  

Listen while you read to “What Happened?”, another unpublished Panache Orchestra piece that we hope to someday record “for real”.

ca. Mid-April, 2012

Most likely due to Pink’s illness and the heightened stress and fatigue we experienced because of it, I have been making mistakes in the kitchen that I haven’t made in many years.  This was one of them.

I’d come across a recipe for Panang Curry that looked good and fairly straightforward, although given all my years of experience making curry powders and pastes from scratch, I ought to have known better than to take on a thing like that in the condition I was in that late in the evening; however my judgment was apparently critically impaired and I forged ahead with it. Chi was in the living room adjacent to the kitchen practicing percussion to a snappy Cuban CD, so I had a nice, fun musical accompaniment as I made dinner.

Anyway, I assembled the ingredients for the paste relatively quickly and put the dry chillies in water to reconstitute as the recipe indicated. I had never done that before. (Yes, “uh-oh”.) I decided to try grinding everything up in the little electric coffee grinder that I have consecrated for the exclusive purpose of grinding spices, and although the seeds and small, dry things ground relatively ok (a task that tool is designed to handle), the big moist things (which the formerly dry chillies were now) did not, i.e., reconstituted chillies, ginger and lemon grass. It also was too much stuff for that little grinder, which compounded the problem.

After spending nearly a quarter of an hour on that exercise in futility I dug up the big stone Thai mortar & pestle (the thing the Thais traditionally use to grind curry pastes with). I don’t use it very often because it’s big and heavy and quite a pain in the ass to get it out of the place where I store it. For whatever reason, I was not able to reduce the mixture any finer even with that (How do the Thai’s do it?? I should ask our next-door neighbor), so now there were two bulky tools dirtied up that would be a hassle to clean and dry, and that damned spice mix was still an objectionably fibrous, piece-y conglomeration instead of a nice, smooth paste. Shit….

Meanwhile, the jasmine rice I had put on to boil ended up boiling dry without me even detecting it until it was emitting a distinctly burnt stench and the now carbonized mass was stuck fast to the pan. Re-merde! (That means something like “double-shit” in French.) Another god-awful mess to have to clean up. I took it off the stove, filled that pan with water which gave off a mighty hiss, and put it aside, and started up another pot of rice. Now my timeline was pushed back by another 10 minutes or so.

Burnt rice (rt.)

Well, there was nothing to do now but fire up the sauté pan and start cooking the curry and hope there wouldn’t be a huge discrepancy between when it was done and when the rice was. When the coconut oil was nice and hot, I plopped in a dollop of the deconstructed curry components I’d never succeeded in getting to hold together, and Oh. My. God. The HORROR! The volatile oils that arose from that stuff incinerated my eyes and respiratory system as if I’d poured bleach into the hot pan instead of curry paste! For some odd reason Chi didn’t react, when he normally would have come charging into the kitchen to open all the doors and windows (which he keeps closed while he’s practicing). He must have been higher than the Goodyear Blimp.

I added some thin-sliced beef and a splash of nam pla, and then the next step was to pour in a can of coconut milk, which I had sitting out on the countertop ready to open at the appropriate time. For some reason that still eludes me to this very day, the can opener somehow got caught on the rim of the can once I’d completed the revolution cutting around the can, and when I tried to put the can opener down so I could take the detached lid off, it pulled the can out of my other hand and spilled all over the kitchen counter! FUCK!! The cans of coconut milk I had most recently bought at the Thai market have weird, recessed lids, but I had successfully opened them in the past. I don’t know what the hell happened this time.

I went to get another one, which is a big ordeal because I keep canned stuff in a base cabinet that is a bit of a pain in the ass to get to. I have to practically crawl under the dinner table to get into a position from which I can extricate a can of anything (coconut milk, chopped tomatoes, soup, etc.) after undoing the rubber bands we hold the cabinet doors shut with to keep the ever-curious Panache Cats out of them. (Yes, I know! Yet another organization/ logistical problem I have to take the time to think through and figure out how to solve….)

Well, the same, exact, damned thing happened again!! WTF???!!! By that point I just started screaming my head off, and it was a little odd that Chi didn’t stop practicing and come running into the kitchen to investigate and see which limb I had accidentally severed, or what I had just blown up or burned down, so either he was so stoned he didn’t even notice, or maybe he just figured I was having some sort of really annoying but minimally damaging disaster in the “business as usual” category. To top it all off, I ran out of paper towels by the time the second can of coconut milk had gone over and didn’t have anything handy to mop it up with!

The meat, curry paste, etc., was burning to a crisp as I went back under the table to dig up my last can of coconut milk, and this time opened it successfully and poured it in (this one had a normal type of lid). It boiled furiously since I hadn’t thought to reduce the heat, but at least now the dish was done, albeit at a ridiculously late hour, and the kitchen still smelled eye-wateringly pungent. I made the salad while the rice was finishing cooking and called Chi to wash his hands and get the wine ready. After all that, it turned out…well…not stellar, or even as good as I was hoping, but at least it was edible without being totally gross. Now there was that epic-scale mess to have to clean up….

Finished dish

Epic kitchen mess

Close-up.  Thai mortar & pestle at upper right