Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Chopsticks and Peppercorns: the perks of learning the slow way

by Emily Conrad

Sesame chicken, fried rice, kung pao chicken, shredded pork and potato… Am I making your mouth water yet?

These are just some of the Chinese dishes I've learned to make.

Kung pao chicken was my favorite dish when I visited my sister in China four years ago, and I was especially excited to make it myself. When I returned from that trip and tried to find authentic Chinese recipes, I was intimidated, but hosting a Chinese student encouraged me to try again. By taking it one step at a time this year, I’ve been learning and growing progressively braver.

Eventually, I ordered chili oil and Sichuan (or Szechuan) peppercorns off Amazon in order to make our food more authentic, but I was nervous about the new ingredients. I was especially hesitant about the Sichuan peppercorns, which are a common ingredient in Chinese cooking but are known for their numbing effect. Were they very hot? Would my whole lip go numb?

The bag of spices arrived. Sichuan peppercorns are shaped like the peppercorns we'd put in a peppermill, but they have a strong, fresh plant scent like lemongrass and lavender or juniper. I checked with my sister, who said I shouldn’t have any problems using them. I followed the kung pao recipe and added them in.

(This picture isn't the kung pao chicken. I was too excited about it to stop and take a good picture. This is a kind of orange chicken and a tomato and egg dish.)

When we sat down to eat, our student recommended picking out the peppercorns instead of eating them. Apparently, they'd done their job throughout the cooking process. So there I was with my chopsticks, picking through my chicken for peppercorns.

I missed some and knew it every time because of the strong flavor—again, more herbal than peppery. I had to pay attention to notice the very slight numbing effect, though my brother popped a couple all at once without other food and told me a few minutes later part of his lip was numb. I’m still not sure if he was serious or joking…

Regardless, the adventure was worth the risk. The food is delicious.

New things tend to involve some risk and some discomfort. I’ve been reminded of this again not only in cooking Chinese, but also as I press on toward accomplishing some writing goals. I find myself in new situations that I’m not always sure how to handle. I end up picking my way through and encountering the occasional zing of a misstep.

Sometimes, I wish I could jump ahead. I want to master new skills before I make a mistake. I want a fork I can use to shovel in the experience quickly and without embarrassment.

Unfortunately, I can’t know it all at once. Learning comes slow. It's like using chopsticks to pick my way around little flavor bombs of peppercorns.

Despite my impatience, maybe this is the way to go. When I’m used to a fork, eating a meal with chopsticks makes me much more mindful. Each bite is more rewarding and satisfying when I’ve worked hard for it.

If I take similar time with new experiences, my growth is meaningful and lasting.

Perhaps that's also why spiritual growth isn't something we can do much to hurry.

Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20, NET

When we hear Jesus’s knock and invite Him in to dine with us, I'd posit that He doesn’t bring a fork (and certainly not a shovel) to the table. He's there to share a meal. He brings chopsticks. He settles in for this to take a while—the rest of our lives.

There are seasons of fantastic growth and change, true, but it seems to me these are the exception, and often they are the result of change that’s been brewing for a while. Most growth comes in small bites as Jesus takes us one step at a time through a process that would otherwise overwhelm us.

And the blessing of it is that, whether the adventure is cooking new food, launching a debut novel, or pursuing spiritual growth, Jesus is always and forever willing to show us again how to use chopsticks. How to take it slow, savor each bite, and trust Him to teach us what we need to know as we need to know it.

PS - If you’d like to try some Chinese recipes yourself, I recommend this cookbook, this chili oil, and these peppercorns. (Yes, those are affiliate links, which does not increase your cost, but does result in a small commission to me if you purchase.)

Learning and growing is a painstaking process, but that's okay. The adventure is worth the risk. via @emilyrconrad


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

Great post Emily!
Learning things slowly helps ensure we do them right - although mistakes are there to be made LOL!
Good luck and God's blessings

Emily Conrad said...

I like your perspective! It's so much better to laugh over the silly mistakes than to kick ourselves over them!

Kelly Goshorn said...

This has been one of the biggest lessons I've learned along this writing journey! Great post!

Ruthette said...

I lived in China for a while. Good chopstickery takes a while!

Emily Conrad said...

Yes! This is definitely an important one for the writing journey!

Emily Conrad said...

It does! Slightly sticky rice helps, I've found ;)

Jerusha Agen said...

Great reminder, Emily. I'm one of those people who doesn't like to try new things in public until I know how to do them perfectly. So I just don't really try new things. ;) I needed to hear this challenge. (And beautiful photos, btw!)

Emily Conrad said...

Yeah, I struggle with opening myself up to the possibility of looking silly, but hopefully it's one of those things that gets easier with practice! :) Thanks on the photos. I use a lot of images from Unsplash, but you correctly noticed these are mine :)