• Friday, December 22, 2006

    SoCal sojourn & the growing family table

    The meals out
    The frenzy of pre-holiday trip planning is heightened by the decisions about the number of restaurant stops we must make and the ordering of them...do we do In-N-Out (double-double, animal style) first or fish tacos? If it's tacos, do we go to Rubio's or Wahoo's? Scott's near the South Coast mall is a must-do each trip. It's the first place I had shishito peppers after just hearing about them in the LATimes. They serve perfect steaks, martinis made by and for grown-ups, and the tastiest miso-marinated Chilean Sea Bass I've ever had.

    The meals in
    Then there are the family meals. Which ones on which days, the parents' anniversary dinner or lunch etc. This year our new niece is old enough that we can't just plan to eat while she sleeps. And boy, can this kid eat! She and her Auntie are going to get along just fine...

    What could be more fun than a toddler at Christmas? First, we went "shopping" with a great mini version of a shopping cart Po-Po (Grandma) had hidden away for the right age. Among the groceries is a can of tuna - I noted with interest that it carried the "Dolphin Safe" label.

    At just 19 months little Enna loves to help in the kitchen. She was delighted (dancing and giggling) to receive her own mini whisk and whipped up the egg wash for her Uncle's favorite Gai le Go (chicken curry dumplings.) Next we made the salad with "Mo-Mo" (that's me in her version of Cantonese "Daicomo" or Aunt on Mother's side). Tearing lettuce and spinning it in the salad spinner was fine and a few of the carrots actually made it to the dinner table (rather than her mouth). I was amazed at her resolve. Imagine tearing a lettuce leaf the size of say, a king size pillow, while sitting at a table that comes up to your chin; getting sprayed in the face with water splashing off, but cheerfully carrying on. You can forget how big a lettuce leaf is to a little person until you watch her hold it up to tear it.

    There are certain meal traditions that we maintain, year after year: a constant and cherished thread. The Aunties and Uncles, Mom, Dad, Sister and Brother-in-law, all delight in re-visiting these special meals each holiday. Tonight, I have decided not to make lasagna again, as it will obviously never live up to Uncle King's. And though I love Shabu Shabu, and am pretty resourceful around the kitchen, there are at least a couple of good reasons not to attempt that meal at home. First, Auntie Anne's is so good, I would never come close. Second, we have a decent restaurant that serves hot pot not far from home. Finally, the special meals that this extended family makes or shares with us each holiday represent unique ways that the people who loved my husband before I did (but not more) show their affection for him.

    Sharing great food, along with lots of laughs, telling stories about our lives since the last visit, always seem easier around a meal. The ups and downs can be recounted with more sympathy, encouragement, astonishment, whatever - when it's around a good meal.

    The expanding family traditions
    I'm so lucky to get folded into these warm family celebrations. I can't wait to recount them for my niece one day, explaining about all of our evolving food stories and traditions.

    Maybe she'll tease me someday like her Daddy does, when we go to Mexicali (really good, authentic Mexican, largely unavailable in Boston). I will once again say - swooning with a mouthful of guacamole - "You just can't get avocados like this in Boston!" (A Californian who has never tasted a New England Avocado will never understand me.)

    I'll recount for Enna the way we made our first salad together. I'll tell her how she danced when I gave her her very own whisk. I'll remind her how she literally danced with it, recognizing immediately that it was her size and belonged to her. We'll pass on our reverence for food and family and the unique ways we weave them together. And we'll see what the next generation brings to the table. I'm hungry again, for all of it.

    Check my Easy Open House - Rules for the Entertaining and for Life for more on the theme.
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