Lessons on Laser Focus from Thai Chicken and Rice

Thai Chicken with Coconut Rice

I remember typing up my first professional resume at the wise old age of 22. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story with his Red Rider BB gun essay, I knew that my business catch phrases and the listing of my shiny new college degree would wow any prospective employer. And nothing made my heart sing more than when I typed up, what I believed at the time, to be my greatest asset as an employee: multi-tasking.

A couple decades later, I still multi-task, but I’ve discovered that while I may check off multiple action items, I rarely finish a complete project. I never seem to focus long enough to finish something before another one of my many tasks needs my attention.

At the end of the year, when I compare my goals with what I actually accomplished, I find myself disappointed. The projects that meant the most to me were barely started let alone finished. Yes, some things got done such as labeling the spice jars and organizing my toiletry drawer, but the more meaningful “if I die tomorrow what would I regret not doing” things were still sitting there incomplete. A few years ago (yes, I’m a little slow,) I realized I needed to reevaluate my multi-tasking ways.

I started noticing people who were experiencing great success (and I don’t necessarily mean financial but more of a soulful, life-fulfilling success) by concentrating their efforts on doing one thing well.

If you follow the food scene buzz at all, you may be aware that Portland is known for our food carts. I am enamored with one food cart in particular: Nong’s Khao Man Gai. Nong serves fragrant tender chicken atop a bed of jasmine rice with a “use your finger to swipe up every last drop” garlic and ginger sauce. She also has a story I love.

Nong went from arriving in Portland from her native Thailand in 2003 barely speaking English to opening a successful food cart in 2009 to bottling her famous sauce and selling it in stores nationally to running 3 successful food carts and 1 brick and mortar dining room. This past spring, she was a featured speaker at TEDxPortland. Nong’s done all of this by focusing on doing one thing well. As her tagline says, “Chicken and Rice. That’s all we do.”

She was asked in her September 2013 Eater interview, “If you open future carts, are they going to be just khao man gai?”

Nong replied, “Yeah, one dish only. But it has to be good. Khao man gai is a lot of work, you know. Do it good. I kind of learned, too, that I’m not good at everything. If I focus on something, I can be good.”

Choosing one thing is challenging for me. I am not naturally laser focused. Oftentimes, I feel like I’m my own middle schooler who can’t sit still to read two chapters. I have to log out of all social media and the Internet. I have to turn off all music, radio and the TV. If someone interrupts me – say one of the dozen kids around here or the dog – it’s challenging for me to get back on track.

I have a list of aspirations miles long but I’ve come to realize that I’m never going to get anything checked off if I’m doing a little of everything. Which is why my fourth desire for 2014 is:

I desire to feel laser focused.

When we’re young we’re told, “You can be anything.”

And yes, it’s true, we can be anything but what they don’t tell us is we can’t be everything. We have to choose.

What about you, my friend? Are you focus-challenged like me? If not, what do you do to stay focused? I would LOVE to hear your tips. I can use all the help I can get here, people.

With love,

PS: This post didn’t get published last week as I had hoped. My plans were derailed by my 14-year-old who needed 22 stitches on his foot after he picked a fight with a water glass and lost. So, this week you’ll get two posts. Expect another post from me in a few days in which I share…trumpet blast…my goal for the year.

PPS: In case you’ve been sunning yourself on a beach somewhere and have missed my string of stories addressing goals and desires, here are the links to the past posts:

Week 1 – GoalsWait, What? Goal Setting on Summer Vacation?
Week 2 – Choosing GoalsIf You Could Only Choose One, What Would It Be?
Week 3 – Desire 1 of 4Do You Know the Hidden Beauty of the Cherry?
Week 4 – Desire 2 of 4What Can You Do to Feel Lighter?
Week 5 – No Post – Staycation with my Sweetie
Week 6 – Desire 3 of 4Don’t Interrupt the Sweater Change and Other Thoughts that Define “My Own Voice”
Week 7 – Desire 4 of 4 – The very post right now
Week 8 – My Goal for 2014

Thai Poached Chicken with Coconut Rice
Course: dinner
Cuisine: Thai
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
Let me start by saying, this is NOT Nong’s Khao Man Gai. It’s not even in the same league. If you want Nong’s recipe, she has generously shared it on her website which I’ve linked to above in my post. What I have for you here is a quick, nourishing meal to make when you don’t have a lot of time to cook because you are focused on more important things. My kiddos especially love the rice. And, let’s be honest people, it’s a nice tie-in with today’s post.
  • Ingredients for rice
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • ¼ cup peeled, minced shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups brown rice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 ½ cups chicken broth
  • Ingredients for chicken
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 quart (4 cups) chicken broth, plus any leftover broth from rice
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • ¼ cup sliced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Ingredients for cucumbers
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon rice or white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
  1. To make your rice, heat your coconut oil in a large pot. Add your shallots and sauté 2 minutes over med-low heat. Add your garlic and sauté another minute. Stir in your rice and salt and sauté for 3-4 minutes to toast your rice. Carefully, pour in your chicken broth, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  2. Once your rice is going, salt and pepper both sides of your chicken breasts Put them in the refrigerator while you prep your garlic and ginger for the broth and slice your cucumber.
  3. Combine your chicken breasts, broth, garlic cloves, ginger and 1 teaspoon salt in a large pot. The breasts should be fully covered by the broth. If not, add enough water to cover them. Put the lid on. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10-15 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees. As soon as they are done, pull them from the pot and let them rest on a cutting board for about 5 minutes. Once they’ve rested, slice your breasts, fairly thinly, against the grain. Strain your broth keeping the liquid and pitching the solids. Reserve to use on top of your finished dish or later in the week for a soup.
  4. While your chicken is simmering, toss your cucumber slices with the vinegar, olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  5. When everything is finished, put a large scoop of rice on a plate. Top with chicken slices and cilantro leaves. Serve cucumber slices alongside.
  6. Make sure to put some Srircha sauce, Thai sweet chili sauce, or the strained broth in case you are serving extra saucy people or a sassy nine-year-old.
  7. Enjoy!




  1. “We can be anything but we can’t be everything.” Oh my, that is so true!
    I think, especially women, try to be everything and end up pretty darn exhausted.
    Being laser focused is a great reminder to be truly present and grounded in each moment. If we stay present, it’s impossible to do everything and opens us up to doing that one thing really well. It also makes room for me to set the 3 multi-tasks down and play backgammon with the kiddos. Precious moments to be present for.
    Thank you for this great reminder, my dear friend.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Julie. Much appreciated. And yes, I’m glad you brought up the fact that when we women, at all ages, try to do everything we end up exhausted. It becomes this vicious circle of trying to do everything and never accomplishing much because we’re too tired.

  2. I agree with Julie! I think we try so hard to be everything, we are exhausted and unfulfilled by the end of the day! This was a great reminder to focus back in on one thing and be filled with the joy of accomplishment!


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