I cooked this dish on March 11 — at dawn — because I couldn’t sleep. Again. It’s been that way for a week. I remember (and the EXIF data of my camera confirms that) because, at the time, rumors were rife about an impending I-don’t-know-what-to-call-it but the official announcement would not be made until a day later. We, however, had already stopped going out much earlier.
I love nasi lemak. And I wanted to make it with all the trimmings. Alex and I brought home a bag of spicy crispy dilis from Chiang Mai and I thought that a few tablespoonfuls of the stuff beside the rice would be fantastic. But I couldn’t locate the bag of dilis. And, at 5.00 a.m., it wasn’t a good idea to wake up everyone in the house to ask who knew where it had gone.
So, I cooked fried chicken wings. Because, why not? Fried chicken is another popular accompaniment for nasi lemak, after all. The wingtips, I set aside and returned to the fridge. Later, I would dump them in the slow cooker to make chicken bone broth that I would use to make a cauliflower and spinach egg drop soup.
What’s with the careful plating?
The truth is, a lot of things went through my mind as I was cooking and plating this dish. I was thinking about how long it would be before it was safe to go out again. I thought about banks. If they stopped operating, will ATMs be replenished regularly and faithfully? And even if people have cash… I wondered if food supply would become problematic in a few weeks and if this was the last time I’d be cooking chicken in a long while.
I almost forget to unplug the rice cooker while lost in my thoughts. Then, I realized I was just stressing myself with fear of the unknown — the what ifs that I would never have immediate answers to. Some things are simply beyond my control. But there are things that are totally within my control. One of those things is my attitude.
And I thought about ways to be even more productive at home (as though cooking and blogging weren’t enough) because, yes, being able to learn to create is good for one’s emotional and mental health. So, I thought… Why not practice food plating?
It’s not food styling — a concept and practice that I so abhor for its artificiality and pretentiousness. So, no carefully folded napkins, no spices scattered on the tabletop and, especially, no effing fakery.
So, it’s just plating — arranging food on the plate in a more visually appealing manner. But I know from experience that it’s a skill that needs to be developed and honed. Unless you’re a born artist (I am not), you cannot transfer cooked food from pan to plate and everything will just miraculously fall into place look mouthwatering fantastic. Oh, no! In my case, even while still cooking, I already try to imagine what plate the food will look good in, whether it should be presented as a plated meal for one or whether it will look better in a platter served family style.
It’s not much. It doesn’t solve the problem of health workers getting sick on the frontlines. It doesn’t solve the problem of daily wage-earners who are cut off from income they need to feed their families. It won’t make government officials more responsible and responsive.
But this is about focusing on what’s within my control and not stressing over those beyond my control. So, I practice food plating. I probably won’t be the foodie equivalent of a Michaelangelo when all this is over. But at least I have a creative challenge to look forward to everyday — and a fifty-fifty chance of being pleased with the result.
That keeps me emotionally and mentally satisfied — satisfied enough not to be tempted to spend my waking hours rumor-mongering on social media. And that, I think, makes having a productive activity significant enough. I don’t have to be part of the problem.
Two days later after the nasi lemak meal, I wrote Stay Emotionally and Mentally Healthy. So, that post didn’t come out of nothing. That was me organizing my thoughts and my priorities. I sleep much better these days.