I’m not a foodie. Or maybe I am — depends on your definition. I’m more gourmand than gourmet.
Very often, you hear people say, “Chow Ping loves to eat,” but when they say this, they don’t mean “Chow Ping enjoys delicious food.” No, what they actually mean is, “Chow Ping has a knack of stuffing mountains of food into her mouth.”
Or as my grandma says, 牛不知花或草 (a cow that doesn’t differentiate between a flower and grass).
I love food, but taste is secondary to me, for I will cram my mouth with anything and everything the MOH defines as food — and love it all.
Since I am no supertaster, it’s a little funny that I’m about to undertake a book project on food.
So I’ve been doing my homework
I’ve been reading on food to prep myself, trying to learn from food writers, Malaysians and non-Malaysians alike.
A friend recommended The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon, a chef cum Episcopalian priest. The writer walked me through the cerebration of a man in love with food as he divulged how innocuous cooking is laced with the divine, and gastronomy is the essence of the spirit man.
His preparation of his lamb inspired me to prepare my own lamb — lamb mandi in my case.
Excited to cook lamb mandi, I marinated the lamb
I bought my ingredients on Monday and marinated the lamb overnight. I put the slabs of lamb shoulder in a big bowl and showered them with a healthy portion of salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, and cardamon pods.
The plan was to cook on Tuesday…
But on Tuesday morning, something big happened. A person close to me fell terribly ill. It was a tumultuous time, so I chucked the marinated lamb into the freezer and forgot about it until Friday.
When I turned my attention to the lamb on Friday again, my brain was home to thoughts I did not know on Monday, and now I understand the Episcopalian priest-chef — that as trouble bodies-forth/ The form of hurts unknown, the frying pan/ Turns them to divine comfort and gives to airy uncertainties/ A habitat and a name. (Adaptation of quote from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
I fashioned my own mandi pot
I do not own the fancy hardware required for making lamb mandi, so I improvised.
I put basmati rice and water in a big bowl, then covered it with aluminium foil. Next, I poked holes all over the foil as openings for the juice to seep through.
That foil isn’t the only thing with holes now. My heart has plenty too. Having a sick loved one tends to do that.
I appreciate all the kind words I’ve been receiving. It’s been encouraging seeing the love pour in.
Therefore, I’m going to sound like a jerk for what I’m going to say next.
There is one thing that some people have been telling me — repeatedly — over the past few days. They say to “trust God” to perform a “miracle”.
I know they mean well. The thought that God “can perform a miracle” is comforting to them, so they assume it is comforting to me too, therefore they tout it to me.
Except, they are soooooo terribly WRONG. The thought makes it WORSE for me, at a time when I’m already troubled. It drowns me in dread.
Think of it. For somebody who has scrutinised then dismissed the idea that God is omnipotent, the belief doesn’t just come back on, no matter how hard I try. It’s like if you believe that the world is round, no matter how hard you try, you can’t un-believe that the world is round.
But say I do believe in an omnipotent God; that doesn’t mean that I believe in miracles — for reasons that I’m not in the mood to elaborate on now.
So now, by telling me to just “trust that God will perform a miracle,” one is suggesting that I believe that the impossible will happen because of reasons that I have emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually taken apart. Not just that, it is also a suggestion that my only option now is to believe in this impossible.
Essentially, I translate the well-intentioned words as “there is no hope”.
You see how this is a terribly unkind thing to say to a person who has deconstructed her faith?
Every time I see/hear a message like that, I feel a temporary spike of numbing anxiety envelope me.
I chucked my home-made “mandi pot” into a microwave oven
Actually, I don’t own an oven. But the manual of my microwave tells me that there is a “grill” function. Some googling convinced me that this function could serve the purpose of a traditional oven.
The home-made “mandi pot” fit comfortably into my microwave oven. I set the timer for 3 hours, then sat back and prayed.
Contrary to what certain church people think of me, I have always believed in the divine, even though I changed my mind about the characteristics of the divine. Note: I did not suddenly redevelop a faith because my loved one fell ill.
Although I don’t indulge the pentecostal roof-dropping reality-altering screeching type of prayer anymore, prayer is and has always been a part of me.
In one way, as Danish philosopher Kierkegaard puts it (shared by my friend ML), “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Furthermore, praying for another is a way of sending kind thoughts, of standing in solidarity. When a community prays together, they are standing with the one in need.
On top of that, it draws our focus to the quiet peace of God. It’s like meditation — cold toothpaste over a nasty burn.
Turns out, you can’t cook lamb mandi in a microwave
After three hours, my lamb mandi was ready…not. Sigh.
So the grill function is not like an oven.
Some improvisation was necessary, so I dumped the rice into my Tefal cooker, then secured the lamb above by cooking rice with the edges of the aluminium foil sticking out of the cooker.
I believed that this would work. This will surprise some people, but I’m actually a rather optimistic person.
A part of my optimism comes from my evolved view of God.
I can not believe in an almighty person sitting on a throne, being all holy and deciding on whether to heal or not heal the sick. I can’t even accept this image being simultaneous with the “suffering Christ”.
Instead, I’ve come to think of God as “The Force” from Star Wars. I heard a version of this in a podcast once, and it resonated with me. It’s just a theory though; I will not profess my theory to be the truth.
But what is this Force (God) like?
The Force is like an eagle, sharp eyed and swift, with wings so wide I can play under their shadow.
The Force is like the stars, forever present and bright. Even when they feel far away, I can always look up and see them winking at me.
The Force is like the flame of a candle, warm and inviting. With The Force close by, I can look to the light and see through the darkest of nights.
The Force is everywhere, swirling throughout the world, whistling across mountain ranges, rustling through trees, and pressing against my cheeks on a breezy day.
Whenever I’m not sure what The Force is like, I think about what makes me feel safe, what makes me feel brave, and what makes me feel loved.
That is The Force. That is God.
(Lines have been paraphrased.)
The improvisation paid off!
Both lamb and rice came out of the cooker, smelling like Christmas.
I was quite pleased with the lamb, but the rice could’ve used more taste; ideally the cooked juice should’ve dripped down for 3 hours.
Nonetheless, the dish earned the approval of my husband, which is enough for me. (Perhaps this speaks to internalised misogyny? Hmm.)
It wasn’t the best, but it was my lamb mandi, and I was happy with it.
As I put mouthful after mouthful of rice and lamb into my mouth, I reflected on the past few days.
Having a sick loved one is nothing new to me; sometimes I think I’ve been conditioned to it.
As time continues, I might have more to say on this topic. But for now, I’m happy with playing under an eagles’ wings while looking up at the twinkling stars, a lit candle in my hand, as the wind tease my unruly hair.
I don’t need a “miracle”. I need whatever makes me feel safe, brave, and loved.