Don't expect things to turn out exactly.

I've said this before a bunch of times when it comes to life, but it also applies to cooking: don't expect things to be exactly the way you've wanted them to be; life has a way of throwing you a surprise from time to time, and it helps to be open to it.

A couple of months back, I went down to Virginia to visit my brother (and his wife, and their two kids). It just happened to be the same weekend that my 2nd brother was able to get his son for the week, and had flown up from Florida. Also the same week that my dad had flown up from Florida too. At that point, my mother and nephew (sister's son, for the record) had already been in Virginia for a couple of months, and were nearing the end of their stay. Because everyone else was coming down to VA, my sister made the flight out from Arizona (her husband was working, and couldn't get the time off). For that reason, I and my husband made the trip down (since everyone else was there).

My mom mentioned that she got her wish (a large family reunion; we haven't all been together under one roof in over 20 years), but not quite the way she expected it to happen. In her mind, she had just casually put out to the Universe (or G-d, or the Powers That Be, or whatever you choose to call it) that as she hit her sixtieth year on this planet, she'd like all her children to be together under one roof, over there in Arizona, where my sister has an extremely large house (for the record, my eldest brother's house is also enormous). The reason being that my mother would be in her comfort zone, while still having everyone together. My sister's house has a pool, a large back yard, and pretty much all the amenities you could hope for.

But, as life goes, things don't always turn out just so. With the majority of the family living on the East coast (me, my husband, brother, his wife, their two kids, my 2nd brother, his kid), it would have been a logistical nightmare to coordinate everyone's time off and flights to get out to Arizona. A trip down to Virginia, however, is a short bus ride for my husband and me (also, one that doesn't require much planning; the bus I take lets me book up to the night before, and still costs the same).

Somehow, what started off as a visit to her son and daughter-in-law became a massive family reunion, without her realising it. We still had a good time. We still all got to be together. I didn't have to take time off from work.

But it didn't quite end up how my mother thought it "should" be. Rather, it ended up like it was.

This applies to food. I was at the grocery store, shopping for vegetables and the rest. I was going to be cooking for a friend, and wanted to make him some of the South Indian dishes that my mother would cook when I was a kid. Lemon rice is one of those dishes that pretty much everyone loves, and is fairly simple to make. Unfortunately, the store's lemons looked awful. They were hard, and unripe, and didn't smell of citrus. Also, they were 2 for $1. Ouch! The limes, on the other hand, were plump, thin skinned, fragrant, and half the price.

If I had been one of those folks who's careful about following a recipe to the letter, I'd have ignored those beautiful limes, and opted for the bottled lemon juice. Instead, I decided to try the lemon rice recipe (which is one of those dishes that my mother gets asked to make pretty much universally) using limes instead of lemons. The flavour was divine! Who knew that you could change a fundamental component of a recipe that much, and still have it be delicious?

There have been times when I'm at a friend's house, and making hummus, and we don't have any lemon juice. I've managed to substitute the lemon with cider vinegar to excellent results. My friend who is allergic to soy was coming over for lunch. Instead of using the soy sauce that a particular recipe called for, I used a mix of chickpea miso dissolved in the broth from soaking shiitake mushrooms and kombu. It didn't taste like the original recipe, but it tasted better.

Whatever your challenge is, whether it be in life, or in cooking, face it with an open mind, and find a different solution. Or, in some cases, expect the odd turns and twists that life has sent your way, and enjoy them.
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