My oldest son has a long-time favorite dinner, steak and broccoli stir-fry using a recipe given to me by a woman I used to work with who was from Taiwan. When he was a freshman in college, coming home for the first time at Thanksgiving I made this meal for him on his first night home. How lovely, right? Wrong. It turned out to be a disaster.
The sauce is thickened with cornstarch but instead of taking the gold cornstarch box off the shelf, I took down the other gold box that was next to the gold cornstarch box. Needless to say, cornstarch was not in the box I took down. It was baking soda. Also needless to say, the baking soda didn’t thicken the sauce. Where my brain was I don’t know but I kept adding more and more baking soda wondering why the sauce wasn’t responding as it usually did.
Eventually I figured out the problem (I think the fumes of the baking soda started stinging my eyes). I launched into a rescue effort to salvage this special meal but it was to no avail. We sat down at the table and I was the first to take a bite. It was completely inedible. The baking soda had started to literally dissolve the broccoli and even the steak. I hated to do it, but I gathered up the plates and threw out the meal. My husband and sons kindly left to bring home Chinese take-out.
It’s been a joke around here ever since. The debacle of the favorite meal. When I think about it, I can still smell the caustic smell of the baking soda working on the broccoli.
That was three years ago and I never made that meal again until last Sunday. With my son now a senior in college, it was time for me to get back in the saddle and put his favorite meal on the table once more.
All went well in the preparation. I took my time. I looked carefully at which gold box I was taking down from the cupboard. The sauce thickened nicely. Sigh of relief.
Table set. Candles lit. We sat down to eat.
My son took a few bites and nodded affirmatively. The curse is broken, he joked. I took a few bites and thought, hmmm...something’s not right. A few more bites and then I remembered the green onions still chopped in a bowl and sitting on the counter. I jumped up and sauteed them quickly while I asked them to slow down their eating. It just took a minute. I returned to the table and added green onions to each person’s plate. Then it tasted just right.
Flannery O’Connor wrote that in every good story there is a moment of grace, whether or not the reader even recognizes that it’s there. The chance to add the forgotten ingredient was a moment of grace in the three-year story of the steak stir-fry. I may never look at green onions the same again.