I had fun doing research for this article. My entire ten minutes was wasted, however, as I’m writing about the hot and spicy root plant called ginger, and not Ginger, the hot and spicy castaway from Gilligan’s Island.
Be that as it may, I did discover I’m somewhat in the minority. It seems Mary Ann consistently outpolls Ginger in which-one-do-you-prefer competitions. In support of Ginger, let me just refer you to this wonderful 1957 recording of Tina Louise singingIt’s Been a Long Time.
Chinese love ginger. I also think some of them may get a perverse pleasure out of tricking me into sucking on a mouthful of it. My first experience was on a bus during a school field trip to the China countryside. Somebody was passing around a bag of ginger candy and WOWEE! Chunks of ginger are not…
I have a confession. I’m not a big fan of pumpkin pie. My favorite is apple. Hot, deep dish apple, to be precise. With vanilla ice cream. Two scoops.
This article isn’t really about pie, however. I’ll tell you in a minute what this article is about as soon as I figure out what this article is about. Let’s go with the pie theme for now.
According to my source (starts with G and ends with oogle) pumpkin pie is well down the list at number eight. No big surprise to me that apple is number one, followed by chocolate, coconut, pecan, berry, key lime, lemon, pumpkin, cherry, and banana cream at number ten.
But this is all a little, uh, fruitless. Gee, too bad I don’t have a pie chart to show you. Anyway, enough of…
The other day I was reading something called a “book.” While reading this book, I stumbled across an interesting factoid. (All I have time for anymore-just the factoids, ma’am.) The author was of the opinion that Peking Man was the first hominid to use fire. We know this because we have his left molar in a box somewhere.
Which got me to thinking. If there is a Peking Man, shouldn’t there also be a Peking Woman? I wonder what kind of recipes she has to share? I’m pretty sure Peking Man was too busy at the hunting and gathering office to actually cook.
So I got a copy of the Chinese Telephone Book and started looking. It took a long time as you can well imagine. I did find a listing for Peking Tom, but the number was disconnected.
I searched and searched. But alas, could not find…
My high school folk group from left to right: Dan Judd, Kevin Stephens, Wes Winn, Ron Hendricks and Jasper Winn. In 1971, Kevin and Jasper had gone off to college, so we were joined by Gary Knox. Here we all are in a photo from 2004 at the dedication concert for the Jack Williams Auditorium. Dan, Gary, Ron, Jasper, Kevin and Wes!
Mr. Williams was our beloved Mac-Hi Choir Director, Counselor and Teacher.
My friend Brian and I were both limping on the same leg. What I mean is, HE was limping on HIS right leg and I was limping on MINE. Or maybe it was his left. Anyway, it doesn’t matter.
Brian claims his limp is from an old football injury that occasionally flares. I think he slipped in some buffalo wing sauce during Super Bowl halftime. No, wait. Brian is British. Make that World Cup and malt vinegar. I finally went to a doctor and found out what my problem was. Osteoarthritis. But I am getting ahead of my story.
We hobbled around for about a week and things did not seem to be getting any better. It finally got serious when neither one of us could make it up the stairs of our favorite Chinese Pub (is that an oxymoron?). The pub is in the basement, so we were trying to go home. There might be another reason we couldn’t make it up the stairs. But I digress.
Finally, Brian suggested we get a Chinese Fire Treatment. His ex-girlfriend is part owner of a tea shop on the other side of Guangzhou. Apparently, they do fire treatments in the back room. I know what you’re thinking, but let’s not go there. Actually, that’s what I said to Brian. And I quote, “let’s not go there.”
So the next afternoon Brian picked me up in his Buick. Yes, he drives a car in China. Buicks are very popular here because they are American. But I digress again. Re-digress?
Now, let’s examine the situation, shall we? What my friend and I were heading out to do was get ourselves lit on fire in the back room of his EX-girlfriend’s tea shop. Sound like fun? You betcha.
We arrived at the tea shop without incident. We had the obligatory Gong Fu Tea out front. Then it was time for the fire treatment. Since there were two of us, Brian went in first. Fine with me. Then it was my turn. When I went into the back room, Brian was alive and resting on a narrow massage table with his knee wrapped tightly. He gave me the thumbs up.
Now, all evidence to the contrary, I am not a complete idiot. I did have the foresight to wear shorts instead of long pants. That way, I could keep my pants on and preserve my dignity as I ran flaming out of the building. I must re-digress again. If you are reading this—which I assume you are—and you are British, then I was wearing short trousers, since you people mistakenly think that shorts means underwear.
Anyway, treatment began with some magic Chinese formula—Ben Gay, which is Chinese for “Are you out of your mind?” Actually, it wasn’t Ben Gay, but whatever it was, she slathered it all over my knee. Next, she wrapped my knee in several small towels and let me rest a bit while the magic Chinese formula soaked in.
Now, here is the part where you need to remember the famous quote from George Washington as he stood in the boat crossing the frozen Delaware river at two in the morning. “Kids, don’t try this at home!” Rubbing alcohol. I think that’s what it was. I don’t read Chinese labels so well. She soaked the towels with it and then took one of those long lighters, you know, the kind you use to start your backyard grill. She took one of those and lit the towels on fire.
I didn’t feel anything at first. But then, my knee began to warm up. About the time I was ready to panic, she deftly threw more towels over my flaming knee and the fire went out. After a while, she repeated the entire process. Then she wrapped my knee, towels and all, in plastic wrap. I’m guessing this part of the traditional treatment was added after plastic wrap was invented.
And that was it. Brian and I drank more tea and rested while the heat soaked in. Kind of like using an electric heating pad. Wait a minute… what a great idea!
The university in China where I first taught built five new dorms. During construction, the nearest gate was left open for construction traffic. As soon as students started to occupy the first few dorms, a steady stream of foot traffic began to beat a path to nearby shops and restaurants.
It wasn’t long until street cart vendors spotted an opportunity and lined each side of the pathway. All of this came to a screeching halt once construction ended. The gate was padlocked shut.
Free enterprise cannot be denied, however. Someone “discovered” a loose bar in the eight foot wrought-iron fence and bent it back. The school administration chose to look the other way, and the local street cart economy was thriving once again.
I would pass this way on a daily basis, but would always cross over to the other side of the street. Not because of the crowd, however. It was the smell. I was absolutely certain there was a busted sewer pipe somewhere underneath the street carts.
One day I made this observation to one of my students. When he finally stopped laughing, he began to tell me about the Chinese delicacy, stinky tofu:
Remember when the earth was flat? Life was simpler then. Three channels and always something to watch. Then color was invented, life got more complicated, and now they tell me my tongue needs upgrading. Who knew? I blame Walt Disney.
Sweet, salt, sour and bitter – only four kinds of taste buds. All you sweet buds over on that side of the tongue. Salt buds over here. Bitter buds, you go that direction and sour buds, you go… excuse me? Umami? You’re not from around here are you?
To be truthful, I’d heard rumors of a possible five. But I thought it was just crazy talk. Sure, there’s spicy. Mexican food is spicy. And so is kung pao chicken when you get one of this little red things by mistake.
But I never considered spicy to be a flavor. This umami thing took me completely by surprise. And they tell me umami isn’t even spicy, it’s, well, it’s savory. Whatever that means.
If this is the first you’ve heard of it, then I know it’s a shocker. But nobody says you have to get the transplant today. Let’s just read the brochure and think about it. I’ve heard there’s a shortage of penta-tongues anyway.
I’ve given it some thought, and I think I have a plan to nip this thing in the bud. Get it? Nip it in the bud. LOL. Basically, we have two options: (1) We can kick out bitter or (2) We can wear them down with ridiculous suggestions.
Option One: Kick out bitter. The choice is obvious. We need sweet to make coffee drinkable in the morning, salt to put on potato chips and sour, because, well because a lot of kids like that awful tasting candy. But bitter? What’s it good for? I looked it up.
The best thing you can say about bitter is that it let’s you know when you’ve taken poison. Believe me, taste is the last thing you should worry about if you have poison in your mouth.
So, if they accept our offer to kick out bitter and replace it with umami then we’ll still have four. Granted, not the original four. But how many rock bands still tour with all of their original members, huh?
If they don’t go for Option One then we hit ’em with Option Two. The first thing we should offer up is spicy. Only I think we should insist on calling it caliente. That would give us not five, but six tastes.
And then, just as they’re about to sign the paperwork, we hit ‘em with dorito. Catch my drift? And then, what about glow-in-the-dark? You know, the flavor of non-dairy liquid cheese food you put on nachos at 7-11. We might have to shorten it a bit. Maybe call it glowlicious.
So what do you think? Do we have a plan? Great! I think we should celebrate. Have some wine. Pardon? Do I think it tastes oaky? You mean, like from Muskogee?