Saturday, January 30, 2010


I’m a tiny bit famous for my chili. Frankly, you can’t survive 20 years of campus ministry without a chili recipe that feeds the hordes. I’ve made huge pots of chili for Columbia students, staff colleagues, Harvard students, faculty from Boston, not to mention many church, family and friend gatherings. Former students tell me when they reminisce about college fellowship days, they talk about my chili—that’s how good it is.

When I cook chili it grows and expands like Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes. I’ve had friends watch this process and laugh because the pound of ground turkey I begin with doesn’t look like much, but 15 minutes later, as I transfer overflowing chili to another pot the quantity seems truly miraculous. Twelve years ago, the chili I made for a Super Bowl party not only fed the 10-15 folks at the party, but the 15 women who came to the Community meal at our church later that week along with our entire small group that was volunteering. On top of that, we scrounged up quart sized yogurt containers and every single woman took home one to two quarts of my chili. Only then did we scrape the bottom and wash the 20 quart pot.

But Jesus says a prophet has no honor in her own home, and this applies to chili just as much to words from the Lord. We haven’t hosted a Super Bowl party since that expanding chili party. Instead, we’ve enjoyed the hospitality of my friend Jean and eaten her chili. And my kids FAR prefer her chili to mine.

All night long, as the TV blares and the men gather in front of the screen, we ladle bowls of Jean’s chili with its big chunks of beef chuck, a recipe straight out of the New Basics cookbook, my three kids approach me and say:

“Jean’s chili is SO good!”

“Jean’s chili is SO much better than your chili.”

“Can you make Jean’s chili?”

“I want you to make Jean’s chili instead of your chili.”

“Let me tell you again that I like Jean’s chili better than yours.”

“Can you get the recipe from Jean so you can make her chili?”

I can’t shut them up. I demur with,

“Yes, Jean’s chili is delicious.”

“Isn’t it great that you get to eat Jean’s chili once a year?”

In the spirit of “every family has its different rules,” I even try the “Jean makes her chili and I make mine” parry. But they know that I’m pacifying them so they step up the pressure until I’m hearing:

“Your chili sucks! Jean’s chili is AMAZING!”

They just won’t shut up. And when my middle child, the most persistent foodie of the three kids, finally realized I actually own the New Basics so have the ability to make Jean’s chili, her wrath knew no bounds.

Why don’t I just capitulate and make Jean’s chili? Well first, I actually like my chili. Also, when I cook I try to make healthy foods as delicious as possible. My chili uses ground turkey, beans and tons of vegetables. Because I know it’s so healthy, I don’t feel bad about adding a sprinkle of extra sharp cheddar and a dollop of sour cream. I don't feel bad if my kids wan to eat it for breakfast, lunch and snack. The extra deliciousness that chunks of beef chuck would add just isn’t worth it. And chunks of beef chuck not only take time in the butchering, but also don’t go as far with a crowd. My Chinese frugal soul loves that a couple pounds of ground turkey can eventually feed 50, if not 5000.

All these thoughts and musings about chili cross my mind because I just made a humungo batch in my new 12 quart pot I found at Home Goods and the Super Bowl is next weekend. After feeding my staff team on Friday, tonight I feed the Cana Marriage ministry, and given that once again, the chili overflowed my new pot, I assume we will have chili on hand for many days to go. I will probably freeze a bunch after tonight. I’m not sure if Jean is hosting her Super Bowl party this year, but if she does, I will be eating Jean’s delicious chili next weekend, enjoying it and feeling grateful for her generous hospitality.

As will my kids.

MacTuan’s Loser Vegetable Chili

4 Tbs. Canola Oil

2.5 lbs. ground turkey (or can use beef)

8 medium/large onions, diced

10 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

2 cups Chili powder

1/4 cup Cumin powder

1/4 cup Oregano

2 tsp. cayenne powder (optional since this is really hot stuff)

2 lbs. dried beans, soaked and cooked until very soft (I don't know how many cans of beans this would be--suffice it to say, a lot!)

4 28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes

4 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes, tomatoes cut into large chunks

4 cans corn

2 lbs. carrots diced

4 cups frozen peas (can buy the frozen peas and carrots for ease of preparation)

4 Zucchinis diced (I didn't use this because too expensive)

4 Peppers, Green, Red, Yellow, Orange, whatever color you want (I didn't use this because too expensive also)

Cheddar Cheese (I prefer extra sharp), grated

Sour Cream (I prefer light)



Minced Red Onions

In oil, saute the onions until soft, add the garlic, swish around a little, add the ground turkey, brown. When turkey is browned, add spices, and fry for several minutes to let the spices seep into the oil. Add beans, tomato and carrots. Let simmer for as long as you want. Between half an hour and 10 minutes of serving, add the other vegetables. Salt to taste. Serve over rice, offer cheese, sour cream and other condiments as a garnish.

I find that canned tomatoes add a lot of salt, so you really have to add very little. If you use canned beans, you may not have to add any salt. To make it more spicy-hot, add more cayenne pepper. To give it a richer chili flavor, add more chili powder, to make it more smoky, add more cumin.

You can obviously add or delete whatever vegetables you like. The flavor will be the same, but I like it more on the healthy side.

Note: I wrote this recipe because folks kept asking me for it, but everything is approximate. So add what you like in greater or lesser quantities.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Meeting with our youth pastor

Last Friday, Garry our new youth pastor, came over for dinner and to create a spiritual plan for our daughters. I had planned to make Mama's pork chops in cream of mushroom soup because the pork chops had been defrosting in the fridge for awhile and I was getting a lot of pressure from the kids to cook them. But in the afternoon, I had a little panic attack. It felt dishonoring to feed a new acquaintance a meal seasoned by Campbell’s--like feeding the youth pastor Campbell’s flavored food meant I valued him on par with ready-made American casseroles.

So I made coq au vain instead. (This is why I love my new Christmas present deep freezer that replaced our 16 year old one—I can whip up meals because I store up ingredients!) Turns out my panic attack might not have been just a prideful egocentric need to assert my identity. Instead it might have been a word from the Lord. Because when Garry showed up, he told me he’s allergic to pork--that he starts sweating and turns faint within ten minutes of a bite.

Anyway, as we sat down with Ling-Ling, our oldest child, Garry asked her all sorts of questions, prefacing them all with, “I’ve talked to your parents. There’s nothing you can say that will get you in trouble. You can tell the truth and not be worried.”

He needn’t have feared. Ling-Ling has no trouble saying whatever’s on her mind. When he asked “What do you like the best about your mom?” Ling cocked her head and said, “She cooks good food almost every night.” Ever since we got our kitchen re-done and I could only grill or sauté in an electric skillet, the kids have come to a new appreciation for my cooking.

“Anything else?” he prodded her.

“Well, she’s easy to talk to. I can talk to her about pretty much anything.”

Whew! A human quality she appreciates.

“What don’t you like about your mom?”

Uh-oh, here it goes. And as I suspected, Ling had no problem plunging in, “I don’t like how she yells at someone every day. I don’t like the one morning she’s around before school because she gets in a battle with the other two kids about waking up. On mornings she’s not here, it’s really nice and peaceful with Dad.”

For Dad, she reiterated liking the peace of the mornings, how he makes funny jokes and how they make fun of church songs together. Garry seemed a little shocked to hear our family’s bastardizing of “We’re blessed! Blessed! Blessed! Blessed!”

Describing what she didn’t like about Scott, she said, “Dad is like a soda bottle that you shake and shake and shake until it finally explodes.”

She looked at us and laughed. “I think our family has anger management problems.”

I nodded and agreed, trying to look calm and wise and open to airing our dirty laundry. We’ve talked quite a bit about our anger issues as a family, and are pretty transparent about it with our friends. Yet here sat a young man whom we barely know, who’s called to shepherd our children, hearing the truth of our family. But it felt oddly good to let him see our family warts and all.

I truly do have anger management issues. In fact, rage seems to be passed down the female line of my family. My Puo-Puo was known for her temper—even setting down her purse and kicking it on her first date with Gong-Gong because the movie they meant to see in 1920s China wasn’t playing. His response was “Uh-oh, I think I’m going to be in trouble.” My mother has a temper and her temper’s been passed down to me. I swore as a child I would never yell at my kids the way she yelled at me, but instead, I think I’m much worse.

I’ve done just about everything I can to battle my rage. I’ve repented from the childhood vow about not being like my mom. I've read books. I've been in therapy. I’ve gone up for prayer during church repeatedly—for several years, just about every Sunday I got prayer for my anger issues. I did the 20 week Living Waters inner healing course. I’ve even had people bind the demons and cast them out. Yet despite it all, I still lose my temper just about every day. Every night, as our family prays I have to either say, “I’m sorry for losing my temper with ____” or “I’m sorry I was impatient with ___.” My lack of progress around anger issues has often left me with deep feelings of shame.

The interview with Ling-Ling took almost an hour and a half, so when Kai-Kai, her younger sister, came up, we had to rush a little bit more. If Ling doesn’t care what others think, Kai-Kai is the opposite, so we had to prod her to reveal anything negative. For my good qualities, she also said that I cooked good food and that I was easy to talk to. Apparently my strengths manifest the same ways for both girls. She wouldn’t confess the anger issues in our family, but we raised them and let her respond a bit.

Overall, it was an encouraging night. For both girls, we were able to talk about their potential, and both girls were encouraged to set dreams and goals for themselves. Garry didn’t start sweating profusely or faint because of the bacon I had added to the coq au vain, for which I felt profoundly grateful. We were all given the chance to speak the truth, not just the hard truth, not just the good truth, but to give Garry a holistic picture of our family and family relationships.

Yet rather than letting the truth of how our family has anger management issues dominate the entire portrait of our family or my entire identity as a parent, I somehow saw it as a significant piece, but not the only piece of what our family is about. And when I raised how Ling had good relationships with many of my friends, and how I’ve heard how a mom’s wise friends have a greater impact than the mom, I felt gratified that she said, “Yeah, but I would talk to you about everything way before I’d talk to any of them.”

Someday she may find the need to confide in one of my friends, or Garry, or another youth leader. I feel grateful that this web of relationships exists to catch her if the anger management issues in our family overwhelm her ability to come talk to me. But mostly I feel grateful that love covers a multitude of sins. Even anger.

(P.S. I made the pork chops the next night, and so can you!)

Coq Au Vin

(adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

1 bottle medium bodied red wine (I’ve used Trader Joe’s 2 buck chuck cabernet, shiraz and merlot and it’s been fine)

2 cups chicken broth

10 sprigs fresh parsley

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

½ lb bacon cut into ¼ inch slices

4-5 lbs. boneless skinless chicken thighs cut in half crosswise

Salt and pepper

5 Tbs. unsalted butter

1 bag frozen pearl onions

20 oz. mushrooms (button or cremini)

2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 Tbs. tomato paste

2 Tbs. all-purpose flour

  1. Bring all but 1 Tbs wine, broth, parsley, thyme and bay leaf to simmer in large saucepan over medium high heat. Cook until reduced to 3 cups, about 25 minutes, discard herbs.
  2. Cook bacon in large Dutch oven until browned, using slotted spoon transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate.
  3. Drain fat. Lightly season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat Dutch oven over medium-high until just smoking, add chicken in single layer and cook until lightly browned about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to plate and repeat with remaining chicken and 1 Tbs. bacon fat.
  4. Melt 3 Tbs butter in dutch oven, add pearl onions and mushrooms, stirring until lightly browned.
  5. Reduce heat to medium, add garlic and cook until quite fragrant, 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and flour, cook stirring frequently until well combined about 1 minute
  6. Add reduced wine mixture, deglazing pan. Add ¼ tsp pepper. Return chicken, accumulated juices, and reserved bacon to pot, increase to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot and simmer until chicken is tender, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time.
  7. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to large bowl. Increase heat to medium high and simmer sauce until thick and glossy about 5 minutes. If it won’t thicken, add some flour mixed with water.
  8. Off heat, stir in remaining 2 Tbs. butter and reserved 1 Tbs wine. Season to taste with salt. Return chicken to pot and top with minced parsley. Serve immediately over noodles or with mashed potatoes.

Note: I’ve added a ton more chicken, onions and mushrooms to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe because there’s enough sauce for it all and why not make twice as much food and either eat it later in the week or freeze it?)

Pork Chops in Cream of Mushroom Soup

Pork Chops in Cream of Mushroom Soup

Canola Oil

4-5 lbs pork chops (about 12 chops)


Garlic Salt (I like Lawry’s the best)


4 cans Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup

1. Mix a bunch of garlic salt and pepper in a cup or two of flour in a plastic bag. (sorry, don’t do any measurements here, just dump things together)

2. Rinse each pork chop in water to get any scum or bone meal off, shake and bake the pork chop in the flour mixture,

3. Heat oil in large Dutch oven, brown 3 pork chops at a time on both sides.

4. When all pork chops are browned, remove them all, dump in one can of cream of mushroom soup and scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan.

5. Add a layer of pork chops, put some cream of mushroom soup on top, add another layer, etc. until all the pork chops and soup are in pot.

6. Rinse cans dumping water from one to the other and add to pot.

7. Braise pork chops for 1-2 hours until pork chops are meltingly tender

8. Serve over rice or barley

Note: This is my mother’s recipe, probably off a Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup can in the 60s. It was one of the few “Haole” dishes we ate growing up.