The paradox of having too much
Chicken and ginger congee is my comfort food in times of sickness. Burning from a high fever a week ago, I woke up with a squeamish stomach so I asked our house help to make one.
She made it deliciously, but there was too much chicken in the porridge. I could taste its meat in every spoonful of soup I put into my mouth. That “ruined” it for me, somehow.
You see, I flew with Philippine Airlines quite a lot in the past. And I used to hang out in their business class lounges while waiting for the flight announcement. They have a beautiful spread of canapés, open faced sandwiches and a huge pot, the kind you see in soup kitchens, of delicious chicken congee. There wasn’t always a lot of chicken so part of the challenge was how to dip the ladle deep into the pot to come up with as much chicken meat at one go – for the ladle was huge and one ladle was all you need lest the bowl will overflow.
I usually stirred the pot first to feel the chicken bits, tried to get a few pieces into the ladle and pour it into my bowl. A squeeze of half a calamansi juice, a dash of black pepper and a sprinkling of dried garlic and fresh spring onions… I remember it vividly now as I brought the spoon to my lips and tasted the chicken meat I “triumphantly” caught, for I usually get four to five small slices on a bowl of ten spoonfuls. It was heaven on an airport lounge. I couldn’t go for a second for one bowl was filling enough.
Kind of reminds me when we were young children. Hotdogs, chorizos and any processed meat never made it to my grandmother’s market basket. She bought everything fresh from the vegetables to the live organic native chicken, which was slaughtered at home, much to our fascination. Our father was the red meat guy, so on those very rare occasions he’d come home with hotdogs, corned beef and the like, it was party time for my sister and me.
Because of the scarcity of finding such on our table, my sister and I used to bury our hotdogs under our rice so we can get seconds or thirds. We ate it with gusto much to the chagrin and consternation of my grandmother for she always said,
“Oh no, those kinds of food are really bad for you. You don’t know where it’s coming from and what they put in there. It’s unhealthy.” She never took so much as a single bite of any processed meat in all the years I lived with her.
Her choices weren’t a question of money for my grandfather left her a sizeable inheritance back in the day. But she never really acquired much stuff. And hardly threw anything away either.
Today, we live in a world where everything is at our fingertips. I can’t even begin to count the hotdog varieties available from Frankfurter, kosher, Hungarian, German bratwurst, Mexican-style, Chicago and the list can go on forever. There are more than 200 kinds of cookies in the supermarket. And when I want to just go for a quick grab of salad dressing I have to make up my mind on the following: ranch, thousand island, Italian, Mediterranean, Greek, vinaigrette, reduced-calorie, low fat… it’s dizzying.
Supermarket shelves make me suffer from choice paralysis. I’ve tried this so many times and I end up going home and whipping up my own dressing. Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, a spoonful of balsamic vinegar and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard from my fridge, sprinkling a bit of black pepper, salt and any chopped fresh herb on hand works every time. It doesn’t stress me out and I’m satisfied.
It is easy to acquire stuff these days, but do we really need most of it? When we take stock of what we have now, we don’t even use half of the things we already have in our possession. This irony is not lost on the soaring sales on how-to books on de-cluttering, Zen-like and minimalist living.
When something comes too easy and acquiring it doesn’t entail much work and sacrifice, the level of satisfaction it provides is fleeting. Paradoxically, when we know we can’t have too much of something, our tendency to appreciate it dramatically increases.
Having less makes room for creativity and experience. And experience, as opposed to material things, are the stuff wonderful memories are made of. Ten years on, who knew a pot of congee could make so much impression and elicit happy memories just from the sheer enjoyment of not having too much chicken in it?