Entries in Bride (7)
I don't remember ever eating at a Chinese restaurant growing up.
That's not strictly true, I guess. I remember going to a Chinese restaurant with a girl in high school. She and I dated for most of high school. So I might have been 15. Or 17. When does 'growing up' stop? I'm also not really sure why I remember that date in particular. I mean, we went to a Chinese restaurant in suburban Georgia in the late '80s. Which I guess is pretty memorable. But I don't remember it like "Oh, hey - I know! Let's go on a grand adventure and try some of that foreign food." In my memory, it was kind of an ordinary thing to do, which means I had probably done it before. Maybe it sticks out because it wasn't salmon cakes*.
*(for that to make sense, you'd have to know that every time I went over to that girl's house to have dinner with her family, her mom was making salmon cakes. Every. Single. Time. For three years. I couldn't explain it. I also can't eat salmon cakes to this day. I think I used up my lifetime quota while we were dating. And probably yours, too.) (You couldn't have known that before I told you that story. But now you do, see?)
I don't know what we ordered that night - probably something on the order of Sweet And Sour Fried Chunks Of A Familiar Domestic Animal With Pineapple Chunks. Because that would have been safe. I also don't remember what the name of the restaurant was. It didn't stand out. Most Chinese restaurant names in America come from the same standard formula. Pick a word from column A [Asia/Jade/Golden/Hunan/Bamboo/China] and add it to a word from column B [Palace/Wok/Panda/Dragon/Garden/Wall]. Boom. You've got yourself a Chinese restaurant.
I know that I must have gone out to Chinese later on, when I had entered college and was spending time with much more worldly friends in downtown Atlanta. I remember a giant lazy susan, pots of green tea and twelve or so of us trying to figure out if we could afford something more than a couple of plates of egg rolls. As worldly as we were, we probably still didn't venture too far from the aforementioned sweet-and-sour-pineapple-meat.
I do remember learning to make fried rice from my older brother at some point in my youth. Many years later, when I was staying for a weekend at a different girlfriend's apartment in San Francisco (the girl who would go on to become my beautiful Bride. Despite the story I am telling you now), I sought to impress her by making fried rice like my brother had taught me. Because I didn't know much. But I knew that chicks dig a guy who can cook. So I asked her if she had the ingredients handy.
Her: 'Probably. What do you need?'
Me: 'Uncle Ben's rice. One beef bouillon cube. And an egg."
Her: "... Uncl- ... what?! What the hell? No. Just... no."
Me: "This is San Francisco. It is the San Francisco treat. I've seen the commercials."
Her: That's Rice-a-roni. And still no."
Apparently sensing that intervention was necessary, we met a bunch of friends for dim sum at a Chinese restaurant near San Jose. It's possible that some of my family might read this, and still have never gone to a Chinese restaurant outside of suburban Georgia in the late '80s. So let me explain.
Dim sum is a style of Chinese food separate and different from all other Chinese foods. It's small, appetizer sized portions, typically dumplings, buns, or other small & conveniently shaped portions of delicious somethings served in a steamer basket or small bowl. They're like Chinese tapas**. It's a great weekend brunch kind of thing. In the really good places, you don't order off a menu. The dishes are brought out in stacks on wheelie carts - three or four different kinds on a cart. You just point and they put a basket of something steaming hot on the table and stamp your bill. Keep choosing til you're full.
**Which may not help much in explanation. I didn't try tapas until I was almost thirty.
I was never really a picky eater as a kid. I just was not adventurous. (Which I maintain is a different thing). I stuck to the things I knew, and was pretty happy. So when we went to this particular restaurant, I tried to figure out which mysterious basket held something that was sort of close to my comfort zone. I didn't expect to find anything in the Sweet and Sour food group, but I figured I could find something at least vaguely familiar.
I pointed at one of the baskets and asked the cart-pusher, "What's in this one?" She said something back to me in Chinese. Which may or may not have included the ingredients in that particular dish. I smiled and tried again. "What's in this basket?" She responded in Chinese again. Except louder, and more slowly. I shook my head shyly and waited for the next cart.
Unfortunately, that didn't prove to be enough time to improve my Mandarin much. The lady helpfully tipped back the lids of the baskets so I could see the choices, though. Which all looked like a sweaty wonton wrapper, squished around small chopped bits of various somethings. One basket contained something that looked an awful lot like boiled chickens feet. (Turns out, they were boiled chickens feet). This had definitely not been on the menu of the Jade Wok of Conyers, GA.
The pretty girl that had brought me smiled encouragingly between bites of ... whatever... she was eating, and offered me one out of one of the baskets she had chosen. I was hesitant, but I was also pretty desperate to not look like I was hesitant, and somewhat nervous that my earlier Uncle Ben's comment had not improved my chances of seeing this girl naked again. (Note to my children: only after we got married. By a priest. In a church. With our familys' blessing). So I took one.
It was delicious. I had no idea what was in it. Neither did she.
Suddenly, I figured out that was kind of the fun, and I started pointing at things, and baskets were dumped on our table. Sometimes, the cart lady would cut up the longer sweaty wantons. Sometimes, she would pour an equally mysterious sauce on my plate that I guessed was supposed to make the dish taste better. It worked. Sure, every once in a while, I would find one that I didn't care for, and I'd try and remember its particular shape so I didn't order it again (anything with taro root). (also. the chickens feet). But I still look back on that lunch as the moment that would've let me eat the two cups of live catepillar gumbo for a million bucks or whatever reality show I might end up on.
Fortunately, the Critter has never had an issue - she started out as an adventurous eater, and while she's got a couple of things that aren't really her bag (e.g. beans. Of all the things in the world), she'll try pretty much anything at least once.
The Boy, on the other hand, is pretty much just like I was. He'll eat anything, if it's covered in a decent amount of ketchup. But his instinct is to stick to what he knows. Chicken. Bread. Maybe some green beans. Anything that comes from a cereal box, with or without milk. And peanut butter. Probably not all together at once.
But one day, Boy. You're going to meet a girl who's going to take you to a Chinese restaurant. And you're going to have a choice.
I recommend anything but the chicken's feet.
Last weekend, some good friends of us threw a party. They wanted a theme. I can't remember the last time I went to a 'themed' party. Unless, maybe, you count pork as a theme. So they decided to throw a Mad Men party. Appropriate attire was encouraged.
We watched Mad Men through the first season, but that coincided with our move to England, and we kind of fell out of the habit. It's dark and moody, and while I loved watching the office environment from back in the day as a comparison to the office of today, the emotional turmoil wasn't really our kind of escapism. Even if it is fantastically written.
(We're much more into the newer AMC character drama set in the 1870's, Hell on Wheels. It's still all kinds of emotionally scarring and screwed up interplay. But with cowboys.)
Most of the party goers had - at best - only fuzzy, childhood memories of the 60's. Or, like me, had only read/seen about it, as we were added to the world a few years later.
Apparently, what stood out in all of our memories were cigarettes and unnatural fibers. Because there were plenty of both at the party. Our hostess found boxes of artificial cigarettes and wrapped them in Lucky Strikes packages. Which was good for a laugh, and a placeholder. But who the hell are they marketing these to these days? Can I also find Candy Tequila Bottles to make sure the kids have a well balanced start?
I admit I was more than a little tempted to grab a couple of packs and stuff them into the kids' lunch boxes for school on Monday.
Because this was a Mad Men party, there was also a lot of booze. Not the candy kind, either.
This part I was much more into.
I got into a bourbon kick over the holidays, and can make a pretty worthwhile Old Fashioned these days. It seemed appropriate.
I had to buy almost nothing to fit into the theme, except that skinny tie. Pinstripe suit? Check. Retro-Italian pointy leather shoes? Of course. My Bride asked me if I had a fedora. Of course I have a fedora. I have several. I finally admitted a few years ago that I am incapable of keeping track of an umbrella. But I never have a problem keeping track of a hat.
I'm also secretely rooting for the return of the hat. I'm not sure why it died off. But I blame the hippies.
My Bride surprised me with how much she got into the theme. She approached it with her normal scientific discipline and research. She found a dress from the time period and had the hemline altered (she's shorter than the original owner, apparently). And spent hours experimenting with various hair styles.
Hair in the 60's for women involved a lot of product and tools. There were cans of aqua net and combs that looked like I could use them to make big rocks into little rocks. Or at least big ice cubes into little ice cubes. And it left it in tangles the next day until it was washed thoroughly a couple of times. I don't know how my mother didn't end up bald. I do dig the dress, though.
We asked if we could bring something to contribute to the party effort. 60's themed dishes were called for. So my Bride went back to her research and developed several authentic options for the menu contribution. We brought deviled eggs (which remain a Southern staple) and this marshmallow salad, with canned cherries and oranges, and mayonnaise. Also note the jello mold holding a proud place anchoring the table behind it.
OK, I can get behind some of the fashion choices, and live with the hair accessories. But how the hell did anyone survive the 60's food? Most of the choices came out of a can and had no aquaintance with anything that once lived in a garden. There were also a huge number of things served on Ritz crackers. At least half involved mayonnaise or a can of Cream of Mushroom soup. Or tinned pineapple juice. You know. To be fancy.
On the good note: that punch in the bowl there was about 30% rum. Which made up for a hell of a lot.
We absolutely loved the party and had a blast with our friends that evening. Might have to go back and watch the whole series now. But I can only imagine what our children will think of the themed parties they hold 50 years from now.
This week, my Bride and I celebrated 18 years of marriage.
At a certain point, anniversaries stop having an official "theme." I think it was 15 years. After 15 years, Hallmark has apparently figured out that you're statistically more likely to spend money on cage diving with a shark while wearing a wetsuit made of carpaccio than you are to buy each other a card, and the themed anniversaries run out.
(Ha! Joke's on you, Hallmark. I totally bought her a card.)
We celebrated our anniversary by taking the kids out to eat fried clams, and then we went home and tried not to go into fried-food hibernation before the kids fell asleep. You know. So we could celebrate in private. By watching the TV programs we wanted to watch. The ones without 'iCarly Montana Squarepants of Waverly Place.'
Ooh, the dirty, luxuriant depravity of watching a full episode of 'Episodes' without stopping to explain the deliciously sweet irony of Matt le Blanc cast as Matt le Blanc playing an erudite headmaster at an exclusive boarding school to a pair of elementary school offspring who have no idea what a boarding school is, or what 'Thanksgiving pants' are.
Anniversaries are a funny thing at this point. We've been married almost half of my life. We've been married longer than my parents who made me were married. (Though not longer than my mother and step-father, nor longer than my in-laws. Although technically we have. Because they legally separated for immigration, without telling their kids until a couple of years ago. Or something like that. There's an immigration coming-to-America story there that I'm deeply curious about, but can never quite pin down. My Bride's version of it involves the family eating her favorite goat when she was 4 years old (eveyrone else denies this happened), and being forced to leave behind her favorite set of books when they moved to Los Angeles. Because they don't allow books in Los Angeles. Except that they do. Also: her parents deny this happened as well. Apparently, I married a pathological liar). (Excuse me. I meant to say "a girl with a vivid imagination.")
I don't remember a whole lot about our wedding - my brother had taken me out to get drunk on kamikazes the night before. I remember how delightfully cool the window of the taxicab was pressed against my face on the ride back to the hotel. This was a life lesson. I remember showing up to the church in the morning with a cold six-pack of diet coke, and a fervent wish not to ralph on the priest's shoes. I remember that our priest was 105 years old and hated little kids. I remember that there was a delicious spread of food. I remember that I ate none of the delicious food. I remember that a friend sang while we danced. I remember insisting that we pack every single one of the wedding gifts into the car to take along on the honeymoon. (we were young and dirt poor. Which meant our friends were also young and dirt poor. Which meant it wasn't that hard to pack the gifts into the back of the car.) I remember that we were so hungry by the time we drove three hours on a windy road with the packed car to Mendicino, we ate our wedding night meal at a little brewery down the road from our B&B. I have rarely had fried fish that I enjoyed more.
Here's a further random smattering of the last 18 years:
Moving to Texas. "The joke's not funny anymore. We can go back to California now." Driving a rental cross-country. Augusta, Ga. Making chocolate balloons for a Christmas party. Camping in the Keys in the middle of summer. A hurricane in the Keys in the middle of summer. Two dogs. Homeless people from the bus station knocking on the door in the middle of the night. Being too broke to pay the electric bill in the middle of winter. Ballroom dancing classes. Downloaded instructions on how to carve a turkey. Being chased out of New Orleans by the American Dental Association. Cancer. Scotland. Surgery. Chemo-therapy. Driving the other way cross-country. Two of us and a dog on a twin bed in her parents house. For a year. A down payment on a Very Ugly House in The Fog. The SLO bus. Another dog. Ireland. A four-poster bed I built. October at the KOA. Doglsledding & the Pope. A little girl, 6 weeks premature. Horseback trekking across the Rockies. Moving to England. Horseback trekking across the Scottish highlands. A horse of our own. Italy. Bluegrass. Ireland. Germany. Egypt. Renting a haunted castle in Scotland. A little boy, sworn in at the embassy. Massachusetts. Farm house. Another dog. Chickens. Mexico. Friends. A giant red cooker. The farmer's market. Maine. Tennessee. Making salami and dirty jokes. The best fried chicken in town.
18 years. A lot of laughs and memories. And still the girl that makes my heart skip when she enters the room.
My Bride: Did I ever tell you that I don't like to touch milk?
Me: You mean "share."
My Bride: What?
Me: You don't like to share milk. Even with your children. Which is weird, and kind of selfish. But we accept you anyay.
My Bride: No. I mean, yes: sharing milk is gross. But I don't like to touch milk.
Me: Why would you need to touch milk? When does this come up?
My Bride: Also, I don't like ketchup except when it's on things.
Me: What are we talking about? When would you have ketchup by itself?
My Bride: It feels icky. And then my hands smell like ketchup. Or milk.
Me: I'm lost.
My Bride: Try to keep up. This is the same reason I only eat watermelon with a fork, after it's been cut up.
Me: We've been married for almost 18 years. And you are still a mystery.
My Bride: I'm totally normal.