Sunday, February 27, 2011

The wisdom of the inedible hen, Part II

A few days ago I promised to report back on my impatience and a food rule. Life got away from me for a while and I finally found some time to come back to this promise. I apologize.

Chapter 1. The fate of that wise inedible hen.

A few days ago, I had cooked a three year-old hen only five hours, on low heat, in a crock-pot. I was in a hurry to cook the hen for Lauren because I feared she might have been getting sick and I had remembered my grandma’s old saying “old hen and old ginger keeps the sickness away.” The only thing I manage to do was cook a delicious rice based soup, with a few pieces of the hen that was barely edible, with carrots and turnips cooked to the point where they melted into the soup. Luckily Lauren did not get sick; and I had learned my lesson and put the rest of the hen on low heat overnight in preparation for a French recipe I wanted to try.

The next morning, Lauren and I woke up to a house full of the deep and rich aromas from the crock-pot. It had reminded me of waking up in the Gobi Desert at my grandma’s house.

I took the hen out of the crock-pot, its meat came off the bones quite easily. I put the meats in a container and poured half-glass of red wine and marinated it for another day.
The big night came three days after I had initially botched the hen. After a night in the crock-pot and a night in the wine bath, the meats, both red and white, took on a deep purple color and an interesting tangy but rich taste. I melted half-a-stick of butter, caramelized some onions and garlics and added some all-purpose flour to the pan. I added some water and when the sauce became thick from the flour I added some carrots and turnips. A few minutes later, I put the marinated chicken to the pan and simmered it on low for a few more minutes. I had bought some ready-bake bread earlier that day (Lauren loves bread), and dinner was fantastic.

My patience has paid off. This takes me to chapter two.

Chapter 2. Respect your food, every part of it; respect it because it is real and you've done the hard work of transforming it into a conversation we have with our families.

Lauren and I enjoy having our dinners together. We enjoy making dinner together. We also enjoy learning to cook together. I’ve always loved to cook, but Lauren is just beginning to learn. Our skills vary, but our desire to learn parallels. Before my lesson by the infamous inedible hen, I had thought I was a good cook. Granted I occasionally botched a dish here or there, but mostly it was due to my experimentation. The “old hen and old ginger” dish was from my childhood, and the failure in my first attempt seriously made me doubt my skills. But Lauren pointed out that it was because I am an inherently impatient person. I want every good thing to happen immediately, yesterday!

That impatience is a lack of respect, not just for food, but for life in general. Up to this point, I had not respected the process it takes to make something truly amazing. I recall stories my father would tell about how some Chinese dishes requires days or even weeks in preparation. Although I had cooked quite a bit of Chinese food in my life, I never took the time to make anything that required more than an hour to make. My love for cooking is only limited, immature.

But that’s not the point of my food rule, it’s a lesson of my food rule. The point of my food rule is to remind myself, and everyone, that food is more about conversation and learning. It is from the conversations and our communal learning that we build a food culture, a growing and sustainable food culture.

Lauren was afraid of cooking because she was afraid of disappointing me. I learn that recently talking with her during dinner. I am afraid of patience and I learned it during dinner. So eating healthy is not just about buying something that is organic or local. It is also about a family and learning together – about the lessons of life in general. Healthy eating is only part of healthy living, and healthy living occurs when it is about families and communal learning of the deeper sense of things: things like patience.

1 comment:

  1. Great message Jin. I agree, we all need to learn to be more patient in this day and age. Cooking is a great thing, when you take the time to enjoy the entire process!