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
- 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.
- Cook bacon in large Dutch oven until browned, using slotted spoon transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate.
- 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.
- Melt 3 Tbs butter in dutch oven, add pearl onions and mushrooms, stirring until lightly browned.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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.