Problem: there was no quinoa.
Now, quinoa may sound exotic to many people, but really, it's easy. It cooks more or less like rice, except that you need to rinse it a bit first, and it tastes nicer if you toast it a little in the pan after that before adding the water for it to cook in. But other than that, dead easy. And it tastes better than rice and has lots of protein. But... no quinoa.
"That's OK," replies my SO, with whom I had shared this plan. "There's millet. And amaranth."
Now, I may be able to cook quinoa, but this does not mean I am the Queen of All Obscure Grains. And my only knowledge of amaranth in particular was that my dad had a horror of it after trying to cook it only once. "I don't know how to cook those," I ventured, nervously, already starting to abandon my healthy food plans in favour of ducking across the street for a take-out pizza slice.
"Don't be silly," she replied. "They're easy. You can cook amaranth in with millet or quinoa, and if you cook it with millet, you cook it just like you do millet, and if you cook it with quinoa, you cook it just like you do quinoa. But put in some extra water if you're using amaranth -- it sucks up water like crazy."
Er... OK. Regretfully abandoning plan B (the one involving pizza), I returned to the kitchen. She had helpfully stuck cooking instructions for all the exotic grains she got at the health food store onto the fridge with a magnet, so I checked those. ! cup of mixed millet and amaranth to... Hmmm. The millet instuctions said 2 - 2 1/2 cups of water, the amaranth instructions said 2 1/2 - 3. I compromised on 2 3/4, put it on to cook, set the timer for 20 minutes, and sat down to read a book.
A little while before the timer finished, I put the broccoli on to steam and started grating up some cheese. So far so good, I thought, lulled into complacency by the innocent-looking pot steaming away on the stove. Little did I know what horrors lurked within.
Timer went off. I checked the broccoli - it was perfect, so I switched off the heat. And then I lifted the lid on the other pot...
Oh dear. What I saw did not remotely resemble cooked grain. At first I wondered if I'd forgotten to turn on the heat, but no, it was steaming. But there was about a half an inch of murky, unwholesome-looking water bubbling away above a paler mass which i presumed to be the grain. Hmmm. I put the lid down on the counter and turned up the heat a bit, thinking that maybe the excess water would boil off. Before going back to my book, I gave it a brief stir. That may have been a mistake... swirls of something opaque and vaguely gelatinous-looking rose up and mixed with the water, and the bubbling liquid began to look thicker and swampier. I was nervous, but not yet entirely without hope -- I decided to leave it like that for a bit and read more.
A little later, I checked again. Double oh dear. It no longer looked even a little like grain cooking in water... More like the primordial ooze from which life first arose, or perhaps a beige version of the La Brea Tar Pits. And over top of it was a disturbingly fungal-looking brown skin. I attempted to skim it off with a spoon and placed it on the edge of the sink, where it quivered malevolently at me, looking less like something that had been attached to theoretically edible food and more like something you would expect to encounter in a 10' x 10' room that would necessitate a saving throw.
While trying not to turn my back on the Thing on the Sink, I checked the contents of the pot again. It was now a syrupy beige sludge that bubbled and glopped disturbingly. The overall volume of liquid did not seem to have diminished, at all.
Finally I grabbed a fine mesh strainer, held it over the sink, and tipped the whole mass into it. Well, except for the half-inch or so on the bottom that appeared to have formed a solid, possibly igneous crust, which would likely have to be later scraped off the pot with a chisel. This apparently was the result of my misguided attempt to boil off the liquid by turning the heat up.
The Grain Ooze sat quivering and steaming in the strainer. It did not run through. The liquid, or vaguely liquid-ish substance, was apparently too thick to pass through the holes in the strainer. I tried shaking it a bit. It lurched about disturbingly, looking like it might be getting ready to escape and maybe eat my face or something. But it did begin to drain... sort of. Ooze might be a better word. Or maybe "slowly exude thick, ropey, mucous-like strands of something unspeakable that resembles demonic ichor. Beige demonic ichor." I contemplated trying to rinse it, but I wasn't sure water could penetrate that mass. I shook it a little more, and a few globs of whatever it was exuding eventually shook loose and slithered down the drain.
Finally I tipped it back into the pot, on top of the burnt crusted layer. It sat there, still molded into the exact shape of the strainer, right down the indentations where the plastic seams were. it looked some strange hemispheric fungal growth.
I ventured out of the kitchen, somewhat nervously, to let my beloved know that dinner was, in theory, ready. And added: "Er... when you said to add more water than the instructions called for, you didn't by any chance actually mean less did you?"
She stared at me incredulously. "No, why?"
"Um... never mind. I think it might be a bit overcooked, is all."
"Oh. Well, I'm sure it's fine. You can go ahead and start without me, I'll be in in a little while."
I disposed of the Sink Monster in a paper towel, and summoned up my nerve to spoon some of the Grain Thing into a bowl, topping it with the broccoli and cheese and earnestly hoping they would disguise it. No such luck. When I tried to stir them in, I discovered that the mixture now had the consistency of something you would normally use to lay bricks, or maybe patch holes in a plaster wall. I added some butter, hoping that would help. It didn't. Instead, it now had a consistency more like axle grease. Eventually I thinned it with a bit of milk, which succeeded in turning it into a sort of vaguely edible-looking broccoli-cheese porridge.
And the most surprising part?
It actually tasted pretty good.