on my computer i keep blog files neatly organized in folders, labeled by month and year. this morning i created a new folder for january 2014 and realized it was folder #49, the beginning of year five. five years! in some circles i’m a blog veteran. in other circles i’m relatively young (grechen and jennine have been blogging longer than anyone else i know). in big circles i’m a triangle (little tin who?) and that’s alright with me.
i don’t always make new year’s resolutions because i usually choose the exact same ones: eating better, exercising once or twice a week, buying with purpose, relaxing, or vacuuming pug hair. they are bits of my daily conscience and sometimes one yells louder than the other. our house is mostly (loosely) tidy and our health is good. my closet is getting full again— i have a specific number of hangers to limit the amount of clothes— but it’s full of things i wear more than once.
so at the end of every dozen months, i arrive at realizations instead of resolutions. they’re neighboring cities: one of them is modern, always changing, and the other is classic and still like a whispered truth. for realizations i speak of the latter.
as i grow older i realize more and more that i don’t want to be an it girl. when i was twenty-two, yes, that’s who i wanted to be. when i was twenty-six, yes. even when i was thirty, yes. but i feel like it weighs you down. as much as i want the cutest new shoes or the brightest new lipstick or the quirkiest new print, it’s too much. and then after you get all those amazing things, they’re not cool anymore, and you start over. again and again.
i want to be a plucky, creative woman: plucky meaning brave and full of heart, and creative meaning never forgetting the beat of my own drum. i will wear clothes from last season and the past seasons before that last season. i will not squeeze myself into unflattering pants. i will write about experiences that changed my day or my life. i will refine my artwork. i will get rid of shoes that make me smile and say through gritted teeth, oh these don’t hurt at all! i will ignore any “things you should blog about to get more traffic” articles. i will make a wooden dollhouse. i will analyze fashion on hit 1980’s television shows (i already have some drawings of vanessa huxtable). i will wear clothes; clothes will not wear me.
besides, plucky is perfectly fun to say. if i can’t start 2014 with a good word, then i can’t start anything.
our fir tree no longer drinks water. i suspected he would dry out a few days after christmas; we bought the tree after thanksgiving. the vibrant green needles now resemble a dull shade of pear though the little lights keep twinkling.
as a child i hated taking down the tree. we didn’t always set up a tree— it depended on my mother’s mood— but i relished the years when we assembled our funny, lopsided, faux evergreen. we were a buddhist family trying to include american customs. like many lao and thai immigrants of the 1980’s, my parents dutifully brought their children to temple and expected us to be still and listen to chanting monks. like typical kids, we fidgeted madly and eventually adults sent us outdoors. being outside meant buying treats from an ice cream truck (the temple attracted many ice cream trucks for some reason) and sitting on a grassy hill where the chants faintly drifted upwards and away.
i remember going to school and feeling embarrassed because we didn’t go to “church” in the traditional sense. i went to church occasionally with friends but at nine, eleven, thirteen, or fifteen i lacked the confidence and eloquence to explain that temple was church, too. sure, we consumed snow cones, played unsupervised at times, and scowled at the good kids who sat with their moms and dads without getting bored. but we also helped our parents carry baskets and bundles of food or rice to share with others. we listened to families give thanks and pray for more good blessings. we observed the silent grief of people who lost their parents or brothers and sisters far across the seas. we watched familiar grown-ups and strangers collect money for those whom the year had not been kind.
and in december, we celebrated christmas in our house with or without a bristly, plastic tree. with an abundance of christian classmates, i knew the story of the christ child and the reason for the season. the messages of faith, giving, and kindness weren’t unknown to our family. i heard the messages at temple and heard them again at home. my brother and i received two or three gifts, always sensible items like a sweater or pajamas or a toy that wasn’t super expensive. i drew stars, bells, and wreaths on notebook paper and hung them with scotch tape on the windows. my mom made a turkey or whole chicken with sides like papaya salad or coconut pudding. we brought a large apple pie and a card every year to our elderly neighbor, mr. john.
when i got to college, i made friends who came from many cultures and religions. some of them celebrated christmas; some of them did not. and a few of them were like me; they grew up with a little of this and a little of that. for the first time, my heart swelled for our mismatched christmas. christmas didn’t have to be, look, or feel exactly the same to everyone. in the end, what mattered was the warmth in your heart.
and now we return the fir tree. we’ll remove the ornaments and lights, and the city will recycle him into mulch. i’ll probably grumble like my nine-year-old self. but i’ll carry on its magic and fond memories of decembers past.
today’s recipe is very special to me— it’s the quintessential soup of my childhood. whenever we watch top chef, the contestants are challenged (usually toward the finale) to cook a dish that evokes a warm memory. when i think of my parents’ kitchen, i see a little girl in a bowl haircut sitting in a wooden chair eating kow piek.
kow piek literally translates to “wet rice.” it’s a traditional chicken and rice soup found in many southeast asian countries. the base of the soup resembles chicken pho; in lieu of noodles, the chef adds steamed rice to the hot broth.
- 8 cups of chicken stock or broth
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons of minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon of minced ginger
- 1 1/2 pounds of chicken thighs (remove bones) or cutlets
- 1 cup of chopped scallions and cilantro
- fried garlic (available at asian grocery stores)
- 4 cups of steamed white rice, chilled
- soy sauce
- sesame oil
- kosher salt and pepper for seasoning
- warm a large pot with your chicken stock or broth (you can also use a crock pot).
- preheat a skillet to medium. add a dash of sesame oil and sauté the onion, garlic, and ginger until fragrant and lightly browned. add the chicken thighs or cutlets and cook until they are no longer pink. dump the contents of the skillet into the pot.
- cook the soup on low with a lid to tenderize the chicken. while the soup simmers, prepare the rice. check on the soup after a couple of hours and shred the meat into pieces with a fork.
- allow the rice to cool to room temperature. using a ladle, slowly add a cup of rice at a time into the soup. the rice grains will separate as they touch the liquid. season the soup with soy sauce (or salt) and black pepper. replace the lid until you’re ready to eat.
- serve the soup in bowls with fresh scallions and cilantro and a pinch of fried garlic. if you want more spice, citrus, or salt, take my mom’s advice: “add whatever you like.”