Welcome to My Chaos + The Secret to Tender Chicken

I enjoy hosting. Hospitality usually ranks pretty high on those giftings tests. I’m definitely not the Hostess with the hostess, but I like having people in my home, serving them, and making them feel comfortable.

In the past (pre-kids), I would have everything tidied up, snacks or a meal prepared and ready to go. I liked to be ready early so I could enjoy our company instead of having to scramble around, still getting ready, as they’re walking in the door.

With each kid (we’re up to 3 now), I’ve had to let a little bit of that preparedness go.

It wasn’t so bad at first, so it didn’t phase me much. With our second, it was a little harder, but I could still manage. Now with three, I feel like if I’m dressed (forget hair and make-up most of the time), I check that as a “win.”

Unlike our other living situations, where we currently live, we have a lot of visitors. Out-of-towners, neighbors, teachers, students, co-workers, and bosses can and do show up at our door at any given moment. A good portion of the time, unannounced.

One part of me loves the spontaneity of a visitor! I love people, and if they’re coming to engage in conversation about something more than when the next snack time is, I’m all ears!

The other part of me is not such a big fan. Couldn’t they have given me at least a 5-minute warning to allow me to change out of my pajamas (hello, I’m a stay-at-home-mama!), bark at the boys to grab as many toys as possible to take back to their room, and clear a space on the couch for them to sit??

I used to be so embarrassed when people would walk into my world of chaos. Sometimes I would just hover in the doorway, waiting to see if they really wanted to come in or if I could just take care of what they needed right there, in the safety of the doorway.

Recently, I’ve been learning to let it all go. I’m facing the facts. Sure, I’d love to have a magazine-worthy home at all times. But who really has that?! Especially overseas! I have 3 youngsters and a lot of other things on my plate.

Now, when I hear a knock on the door, I don’t panic and wonder which task I should do before opening it. Instead, I just look around, chuckle and cringe, then accept it for what it is. And you know what? No one on the other side of the door has ever criticized me for my chaotic home. (Now, maybe they think it, but I live in a culture that saves face, so I lucked out there!)

As I think more about my tendency to resist sudden changes and desire to control, I can’t think of anything else but pride.

Why am I embarrassed about the state of my home? Because I want people to think I’ve got it all together. Pride.

Why am I frustrated that I didn’t get a warning they were coming over? Because I want to control what happens next. Pride.

Why do I put so much weight on what others think? Because I want to please others. Pride.

It’s been a long, slow process. One which God has had to hit the repeat button many times. I’m finally starting to grasp it a little.

You’re warmly welcome to my home! Just don’t be too surprised if you have to move the toys and books out of the way to find a seat, or if I ask you to help me chop some veggies while I help the crying babe.

*****

The main protein we eat here is chicken, so 80% of the meals I make use the clucker. However, due to reasons I don’t (want to) know, the chicken here is tough. Like, inedibly tough. My boys are pretty good at trying new foods. But tough meat? Never. You know the face…wad of meat in their mouth, and they’re gagging and begging with eyes half-full of tears to let them spit it out. I let them, every time. One, because I was that kid too. Two, because I’m having a hard time myself chewing it, but instead of wasting the dish that just took me over an hour to make, I just swallow the chunks half-chewed. Not a good idea for this girl who has choked twice, Heimlich performed and all. I digress.

All this to say, if you have tough meat where you live, I’ve found the secret to making it oh-so-tender!

It finally dawned on me, after having a helper for 5 years, that them adding potato starch to the bits of chicken before they cooked it worked like magic.

Yep. Potato starch. So simple, right? The research behind it is that it simply helps break down the proteins in the meat, making it more tender. Or, in our case, edible.

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Today, while our helper prepared lunch, I snapped this pic. She adds an egg to her mixture. I do not and can’t tell a difference. Your choice!

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Let the potato starch work its magic for a bit! Doesn’t it already look more tender?!

Tender Chicken

Slice, dice, or chop your chicken into desired pieces.

Add roughly 2 tsp per pound of chicken, along with a splash of water. Mix well.

Allow to sit at least 15 minutes before cooking. Stir fry, saute, or cook as normal.

*I have tried cornstarch as well. While not quite as tender as the magical potato starch, it still works. Perhaps just let it marinate a bit longer.

**I have not tried this with other meats, but I think it would work the same. Let us know in the comments below if you try something else and it works!

Have you had to let anything go since moving overseas? What has God taught you from it?

16 Comments

  1. Carrie October 27, 2015

    Thank you, Ashley, for the reminder to let go of this drive to make everything perfect.  Last night on the bus to a birthday party that had been moved last minute to a new location and earlier time, feeling frustrated that I would now be baking a cake at my friend’s instead of at my own home, and that it may not be ready in time as there were new plans for the rest of the evening, I found myself preparing my excuses for being unprepared.  Again.  But this time Abba stopped me in my tracks.  “Carrie, they don’t expect what you expect of yourself.  You can stop making excuses when your plans are derailed by this culture.”  Wow.  I am chewing on that (like a tender piece of chicken!) and savoring this new idea of freedom from frustration and excuses born out of my culture that has higher expectations for preparedness.  I am looking forward, also, to how not making excuses but simply going with the flow might effect my relationships – because when I think about it, my excuses are really complaints against whatever (or whomever) threw off my plans.

    The cake, by the way, did get baked and cooled enough for frosting before the beautiful birthday girl showed up.  Fascinating how God always seems to make everything work out with seconds to spare!

    1. Ashley Felder October 28, 2015

      Carrie, love this: “my excuses are really complaints against whatever (or whomever) threw off my plans.” So glad you are hearing what the Father is speaking to you on this matter! And, awesome that the cake turned out in the end. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Ott October 28, 2015

    Now to find potato starch!!!

    I am learning how to let my need for control and cleanliness go…  We are late-comers to the overseas field as the Lord interrupted our lives to bring us here (Zambia), and I *might* have been known as pretty neurotic in the states ?.  Thank you for the reminder that the opinions that matter about the state of our homes usually don’t care about the chaos!  (And I totally hear you on the kid thing.  We had 3 in 3 years, and then added a 4th.  Vacuum lines in the carpet became a thing of the past!)

    1. Ashley Felder October 28, 2015

      Jennifer, so glad you’ve begun to embrace the chaos! Sometimes I tell myself I’d go even crazier trying to keep this place clean, not only because of my kids, but because of all the dust and pollution! Impossible to keep up, so it just is what it is! My visitor’s home is probably just as dirty. 🙂

      I hope you can find some potato starch!! If not, use corn starch (if you have that?) and let me know if it works well for you!

  3. T October 28, 2015

    Hey!  Now that I’m past the little, little kid stage, I can see that if people felt too weird about our clutter and toys and mess, then they wouldn’t have kept coming over!  So, I guess the repeat visits are testimony to that!  Now that my kids are older, and life is just different, I guess (I now have kitchen help 3 mornings a week), I just try to make sure we pick up the living/dining room before bed and then at least that keeps things manageable!

    I was always tense about it, though, esp since in this culture, people do not have clutter and kids may have 5-10 toys in total…so I felt like I was failing at being like a local (which was fine w/me only if they didn’t see it, and it was hidden in the kids’ rooms, not spread thru the entry hall and living room).

    1. Ashley Felder October 28, 2015

      T, what a great point that guests wouldn’t keep coming unless the clutter didn’t matter to them! Love that!

       

  4. Grace L October 28, 2015

    We deal with the tough chicken by slicing the chicken breasts thinly, lengthwise. Then we cover with plastic wrap and pound them with a mallet. My husband makes an absolutely delicious dish that he calls Chicken Francais. He pounds the chicken thin, then coats the slices with milk, then flour, and then egg. He sautes the slices in butter (that we have to order online). And right at the end of the cooking, he drizzles lemon juice over them. They are so tender that we can cut them with a fork, and so delicious. My husband thinks that the lemon juice does something to help make them more tender, but he doesn’t add that until the very end of the cooking.

    1. Ashley Felder November 1, 2015

      Grace, I also use my handy meat mallet when I need to keep the whole chicken breast intact, for chicken parmesan or something. Your husband’s recipe sounds refreshing and delightful!

  5. M'Lynn October 29, 2015

    we used to brine our chicken and it made a world of difference! 1 cup water, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar. soak for 6-24 hours. I used to think everyone in China deals with tough chicken. I’ve found since moving cities this isn’t true. We buy our chicken at the local grocery store who has good quality meats and RT Mart as well…and…since discovering that there is good chicken actually available, I avoid buying it frozen or refreezing it (especially if it’s already been defrosted by the vendor, refreezing will add toughness). Now I don’t have to brine it at all! Tender as can be! Oh, and I learned recently to stick to my trusted meat vendors like glue or risk getting some VERY QUESTIONABLE meat!!!

    In other news, I love your honesty about three kids and just not having it together when guests come a knockin’ LOL. I appreciate your willingness to let others into the chaos because I think that’s where REAL hospitality and friendship begins!

    1. Ashley Felder November 1, 2015

      M’Lynn, I brined my chicken right from the store, then straight to the freezer (store is 45 mins away so we only go every 2 weeks!), but it was giving me mixed results. I was glad to find this method gives me more consistent results. But I hear ya on the varying qualities of meat! I’ve never had to think much about tough chicken until we moved to our current city! Oh well. We adapt, right?!

  6. Monica F October 31, 2015

    I love hosting, and I LOVE a clean home:)  However, after baby #3, it was getting harder and harder for me to maintain a perfectly clean apartment for all of our pop-in guests.  I was felt embarrassed and frustrated until….

    One day our family was in a nearby village- a place we had been spending time in for years, when I walked into a friend’s home to say hello.  They had just finished harvesting sweet potatoes, so tools, baskets and potatoes littered the ‘front sitting room’. My friend grabbed us some stools and we sat amongst the mess chatting and catching up on life.  After years of living in the countryside and spending time in mountain villages- I had my ‘ah ha’ moment!  Never again have I stressed out about my home being in perfect shape- especially since the majority of the visitors are villagers!  I didn’t care that my friend’s home was ‘messy’ (especially since I got sent home with a bag of sweet potatoes), and she didn’t care that mine was either, I’m sure!  It’s the heart connection that matters.

    1. Ashley Felder November 1, 2015

      Monica, so true about others’ homes! So we’re fitting in better by having cluttered homes, right?! 😉 But really, it is about the connection made, not about what things look like. Because, really, when I do have it spic-and-span, it’s just a 10-minute facade. 🙂 The “greeting card” seen on Facebook and such is true–keeping a house clean with a toddler around is like brushing your teeth while eating Oreos. 🙂

  7. Michele Call October 31, 2015

    Thank you for this encouragement! I have 7 children and one on the way. Just had a houseguest from the US that pointed out the flaws in our home, and that was after we had taken care to get the house in tip top shape. Clearly we missed some details!  I have been struggling since then with perspective on the issue of hospitality, which is something we have been committed to practicing. Your post helps to remind me that I’m not crazy to keep opening up my imperfect home–while also learning from it that our US guests might feel some culture shock as well as large family shock.

    1. Ashley Felder November 1, 2015

      Michele, I’m glad this encouraged you. Criticism about your own space is not easy to take–especially after we take so much care to decorate and make it comfortable! I hope God continues to encourage and stretch you in this area. Congrats on another blessing!!

  8. Anna October 31, 2015

    I love having visitors over, too, and over time have learned to let go of “perfection.”  I put that in quotes, because it’s not like it was ever perfect, but at least somewhat together. 🙂  I have often joked that I have a rotating door.  The best is when people just walk in without knocking, and I’ve had a few embarrassing overexposures when I wasn’t completely dressed.  (It’s a tropical climate.)  But I have learned to try to ignore the mess, and focus on the person who is there in front of me.

    1. Ashley Felder November 1, 2015

      Anna, I agree…perfection was never quite attainable for me, either. And I get the under-dressed thing! So glad our coat rack is by the door so I can throw on a jacket as I answer the door. 😉

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