New Years Day 2015, and lo and behold.... I've got food on my mind. Before the holidays ~ and their soft silky glow ~ leave us, may I ask you a personal question: have you fallen head over heels for a food? Group of foods? Is it "your heritage" food? What calls you? Do you celebrate with different foods than your birth family?
Wait though, group of foods, that’s so not the phrase I’m looking for. Nope, that's not the ambiance at all. But don't let the lack of that detail prevent you from heading in to this exploration, we'll figure it out together, I promise.
After umpteen fat and crispy eggrolls dipped in duck sauce and hot mustard, platters of Vietnamese cha gio cushioned by green leaf lettuce and bean sprouts, slippery bowls of hot and sour soup that sting your winter weary throat, egg foo young – sitting quiet and simple on the plate waiting for your chopsticks, spicy peanut noodles, and deep cavernous bowls of pho topped with a sea of cilantro and basil and mint life-rafts, I came to the screaming decision that whatever it was about this plethora of plumpness (not mine...hey!) I had to control my addiction by doing the only sane thing. Abandon ship and go cold turkey (not with szechuan spices..or sticky rice, please, oh god, can't we have just a little!) without Chinese food. I beg your temporal and temporary collusion on calling all of this Chinese food..it’s not, I know. I was literally beside myself with conviction. I would be steadfast. Wasn't it ok to want to recreate the tables of the past? That sounded suspiciously like backsliding and rationalizing, and so I did what any other person would do. I sternly took myself by the hand.
After I calmed down, I took a cold hard look at the enemy, Eggrolls Past, and how this came to me. To be me.
I rolled the camera back. Chinese food was as foreign a food as a food could be when I was growing up in Reading, Pa. There I was surrounded by Liver Pudding, Schnitz and Ep, Bot Boi, AP Cakes, and ...lots of Germanish dishes. Was Chinese around when you were growing up? It was a lot like A Christmas Story - (click the link and travel to the Christmas Story Museum in Cleveland, Ohio -- who knew?) where Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun, and on Christmas Day they are forced to go out for Chinese as the hounds next door ran-sacked the turkey. We never had to do that with Nana standing duty by our turkey on Christmas.
But my adopted mom, Aileen, married a Jewish man the second time around, and while I am not sure of the exact pathway, it seems we developed a love for Chinese food after that. Chop Suey and Chicken Chow Mein. I can still see the neon sign for the restaurant in Mohnton, Pa. The Far East Peking House or something like that? I can't decipher the name but I can taste the crunchy noodles, and that's more important... wahhhhhh!
Erick was seated in a high chair, though at five months he was not ready for that. So my husband held him in his lap. Our dinner arrived, and the steam swirled around and under and gently embraced us with a perfume of exotic oneness. Erick’s face brightened as he tasted a small spoonful. His mouth fell open. "Wow this is wild. This is delicious. What is this?"
It was the ever devilish, fried rice.
Back in the day in Colorado Springs we often visited Mekong restaurant on the south side of town, owned by Dang Truong and his family. They made us feel like we were home. They made us feel like family as Dang always welcomed us and during the Dinner of Seven Beef Dishes carried Erick around the restaurant and into the kitchen, his first restaurant kitchen calling him Super Boy. We were lucky enough to visit some old time friends in Colorado Springs and see Dang again in his new place Lemongrass Bistro.
If I had been enamored of say, always making pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day as Pa Dutch tradition demands, wouldn't I be denying the food and the people where I was living? I had changed.
After I left Pa. I celebrated and searched and shared a multitude of yummy ways of looking at the world. I didn't worry about what I had left. I quite possibly was consumed with I for I was young.
For me and for us, Chinese food came to mean family, and celebrations, and spending time together with our sons. We had moved away, and embraced a new life. The nights we got take out Chinese were a delicious "wok" of WE. And by we I mean all of us, everywhere. I believe eggrolls and dumplings helped us celebrate being as different and perhaps pilgramatic, as say Chinese food on Christmas.
Colorado is where my oldest son, Erick, returned, and is the executive sushi chef at Sato in Edwards. Kayla, his girlfriend works there too, and has the most amazing and descriptive palate and aspires to new adventures of her own. Their world is chock a block and blazes full of snow storms, fish and rice (not usually fried) and kombu.
My youngest son, Jaryd, is entrenched in the LA world at Dreamworks where he works on dragons and cavemen during the day. Ana, his girlfriend is studying urban planning and public health at UCLA and together they love sharing Nicaraguan, Brazilian, Ethiopian, and Houses where Dumplings number in the hundreds for choosing at will.
And what would I be showing my sons if I stopped eating Chinese food? The very epitome of what we shared and cherished. What made me lift the ban on Bahn Mie or Pork Steamed Buns, was the same thing that led me to abolish it, celebration. Suddenly bowls of Pho that once seemed so full, and yet so empty, swirled and were swilled. This holiday season we had a wonderful wonderful time with both Jaryd and his girlfriend Ana and with Erick and his girlfriend Kayla as we made cha gio (and other things too) in the kitchen. Was it sharing this ritual with their special someone's that made things OK? Perhaps it was. It definitely was! Is there change afoot? In buckets!! Am I a Drama Mama? I am perhaps, but count me ready.