What is life if not a juggling act, a dance, a frenetic shimmy here, and languorous glide there? We try to keep pace, keep as much balls in the air as we can. We’re not happy unless our agendas are filled to the brim, including margins and side notes….only to moan and cry as we struggle to check each task off. When did “busy” and “stressed” become status symbols?
Not everyone is like this. Oh no. There are brilliant people who know the real score and smile gently in the background as we do our frantic dance, racing to somewhere nameless with only the stubborn knowledge that we must race there, ideally with a hundred balls in the air and oh the chiding if we let one slip. These people have got it all figured out.
I still throw myself onto the hamster-wheel, running pell-mell into nowhere. I still grab much too many balls and then sigh about having to keep them all sailing smoothly.
But I’m learning.
I’m learning that I can set the pace at which I dance. I can choose the music and the steps too. I can choose how many balls I want to juggle, and which I can leave behind for others. I’m learning that all dancers have breaks and so should I. That doing nothing sometimes has its own purpose (my strong predisposition for “me-time” helps me along). That sometimes it is not life that is complicated, but we that make it so.
Cooking is one of those “balls” that I gladly keep in the air. It nourishes me and my family, but I’ll have to admit that I also cook for purely selfish reasons. I love it. It makes me happy. In truth, it is the therapy that keeps my stress at bay. As does scribbling it all down here. I suppose I wouldn't be doing it for almost 6 years if it wasn't :)
Stir Fried Chicken with Dried Chillies
(adapted from Xi Yan Cuisine by Jacky Yu)
- 400 grams chicken thigh fillets
- 1 egg white
- A big pinch of sea salt
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 10 pieces dried chillies (adjust based on your preferred level of heat)
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns, ground
- 1/3 cup roasted peanuts
- Canola or other vegetable oil for frying
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 - 1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- Cut the chicken fillets into 1-2 inch chunks. Mix with egg white, salt, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch and let this marinate for 1 hour.
- Mix Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, black vinegar, water, sugar, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and sesame oil together and set aside.
- Heat oil in a wok or skillet. Fry chicken until about 60% done (you will finish cooking it later). Drain and set aside.
- Drain pan leaving only about 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the dried chillies and garlic and stir fry until chillies are toasted (slightly burnt is the original directive). Return chicken to the wok and fry. Add the sauce and cook further. Add peanuts and ground Sichuan pepper and toss until everything is well coated and the sauce is sticky.
I have taken liberties with the original recipe and have adjusted some things to suit what is easily available for me. The original called for caltrop starch which I have not the foggiest clue where to find, so I substituted it with cornstarch. The original also indicated Zhenjiang vinegar, which is likewise unavailable (if anyone has a supplier in Manila let me know!) so I used regular Chinese black vinegar instead.
I found this recipe in a old cookbook my godfather and his wife gave me. They live in Hong Kong and had attended a function of the chef/author (who has a restaurant in Singapore). His name is Jacky Yu and I know nothing about him except that he looks young and happy, his cookbook is half in Chinese, and that I love his stir fried chicken with chillies. And that's enough for me. In my kitchen I dictate how complicated or simple I want things to be.