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IMG_5313No, it is not Chinese.  Yes, it is in Chinese restaurants located in the USA.  No, restaurants in China do not offer these cookies for dessert.

Yet, the iconic fortune cookie makes its way into ethnic lore.  Sometimes it appears in movies.  Iron Man 3 the Mandarin waxes eloquent on the history of this crunchy tasty morsel.

He acknowledges what is generally accepted as true.  The ethnic identity is associated with Chinese.  Yet, few Americans realize that their assumptions bear little influence on the world stage.

The Mandarin reflected, “A true story about fortune cookies. They look Chinese. They sound… Chinese. But they’re actually an American invention. Which is why they’re hollow, full of lies, and leave a bad taste in the mouth.”

This monologue was true.  American ingenuity seems to have been at the forefront of this invention.  Originally, the cookie and fortune seem to have Japanese roots. This cookie announcement many say it all: “originated by the Japanese, exploited by the Chinese, consumed by Americans and entertained by all.”

Regardless of the real history of this conversation piece the fortune cookie is fun.  They offer a tasty end to a delicious meal. Further, they bring most people to a cheerful moment as the evening comes to a close.

Recently, I was out with friends.  We all ate a delicious Chinese restaurant.  The evening was delightful.

Our menu was well-balanced.  Chicken, fish, pork and tofu gave us our protein.  Green string beans, carrots and choy gave us our vegetables.

Flavors from Cantonese style foods were delicious. There was a wonderful blend in each of our plates.  Rice and noodles soaked up those taste bud sensations and satisfied every hungry soul at our table.

Without a second thought or expectation fortune cookies were delivered with the final bill.  We were laughing, joking, reminiscing and doing a lot of talking.  Pictures filled the climax of the meal as well.

Then we passed out the fortune cookies.  I opened mine and announced the delightful revelation.  It simply read, “Hallelujah!”

Our gathering of redeemed souls picked up a special enthusiasm.  Everyone wanted a cookie to explore “God’s will” and we all laughed.  Some of the fortunes were philosophical.  A few were nonsensical.

That special one-word declaration of “Hallelujah!” was unmatched. It was short, fun and true all at the same time.  That after all is what a fortune cookie is all about, eh?

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_5065Texas BBQ has a common menu.  Chicken is always on the menu.  It is usually served as a half of bird, grilled golden brown and offered with a drenching of BBQ sauce.

There is always some beef option.  Rarely is the an option of beef ribs.  While it is Texas and beef is common here, beef ribs are still uncommon.

However, there is always brisket.  When brisket is offered it comes with options of lean or wet.  Go with the latter.  It is tender, moist, flavorful and you won’t gag on it because lean brisket is so dry.

Pork of course is the meat of choice.  It is tender and full of flavor as well as tender.  My taste buds salivate just thinking about delicious ribs, chops or ham.

There is another choice of pork that is as versatile as any BBQ menu selection.  It is pulled pork.  Flavor is always amazing.  Moisture and tenderness are rarely a disappointment.

Last week I decided that pulled pork was so good that I was going to make it myself.  Yes, I watched a video or two.  Also, I read up on it in my BBQ cook book.

For five hours I smoked a whole piglet on my grill.  On low heat, 200 degrees, I let the steady heat cure the pork with a perfect red band.  Now, the work would  begin.

Inside of our kitchen I laid the pieces of pork out on a chopping board.  Carefully I separated the main parts of the pork.  The aroma was killing me!

To quench the craving I ripped off a piece of hot juicy pork and popped it into my mouth.  It was delicious.  Before I could go on I closed my eyes and slowly chewed on the product produced in my own backyard.

I let the pork cool a bit so that my fingers would not burn.  Then, with methodical care I pulled pieces of pork off the bones.  Once hunks of meat were removed, I shredded the pork chunks into strips.

Our kitchen was filled with great aroma.  Mounds of freshly smoked pork were pile high in different bowls.  I would make sandwiches, tacos, breakfast sides, lunch entrees and dinner main courses from this store of prepared food.

Each time the tender bits and flavorful mouthfuls made me smile.  My bride and I marveled at the fun it was to have a week’s plan of meals all scheduled out after a weekend of preparation by a labor of love.  I sure am glad that God gave us tastebuds!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_4418We have had our pellet burning smoker for over a year.  I can finally grill chicken, steaks, pizza and pork tenderloin without burning or magically transforming them into jerky.  But, the adventure continues.

Smoking a brisket is one of the high points of a grill master.  Just kidding.  I would never assume that I deserve that title.  If I deserve any title for my outdoor cooking it is burn master or shoe leather maker.

My smoker success has rekindled the possibility of cooking a brisket.  So, I pulled out the cookbook that came with our smoker.  It had a page on smoking a brisket so I read it once, twice, thrice and then again two more times.

Have you ever bolstered your courage with the repetition of preparation?  That is exactly what I was doing.  I was prepared to take my bride out to dinner if this experiment failed.

The preparation for the meat was not hard.  I used a mixture of both a dry rub and wet BBQ sauce.  Then, I prepared a water spray to keep the meat moist.

I set my grill to smoke.  Once it was ready I laid the meat right on the grill and let it smoke for two hours.  Then, I increased the temperature to 275, put the meat in an aluminum tray with some water in the tray and let the low heat have its way for another three hours.

Every 45 minutes or so I would peek and spray.  It was looking good.  The aroma was fabulous.

At the total of 5 hour mark I donned my BBQ gloves and lifted the final product out of the grill on to a platter.  When I set it on the table I snapped a picture.  Then, I had no idea how it tasted or if it was a dry as jerky.

The brisket looked great and smelled even better.  It was worth a picture.  Then, the moment of truth came.

With the table set for two, I sliced several pieces off the finished product.  It is the cook’s prerogative to taste it in advance, right?  So I popped a piece in my mouth and was stunned!

It was delicious!  The flavor was amazing.  A deep satisfaction of seeing the red halo and watching the juices run over the carving knife blade only vie for attention from the popping of buttons.

photo credit: brucefong photography

 

IMG_4332My bride was thousands of miles away.  Before she left she filled the refrigerator with good cooking that I could divide up and enjoy during the days of her absence.  I was not shy.

Her selfless preparation, however, could not last forever.  When her food ran out, I began to wonder how I would fill the void.  What does a man do when he is by himself and it gets close to dinner time?

I am blessed to not only have a wonderful wife but also a large box store just a few miles from my home.  They sell large quantities of what most people need for their monthly staples.  A number of specialty items fill in the gaps.

Someone must be thinking of busy lives with little time to prepare a meal.  So this store stocks several items for hungry people like me.  It is a simple stop on the way home from work.

With my buggy leading the way I head for the back of the store.  Under the heat lamps and packaged in perfectly shaped containers are roasted chickens.  They are browned just right and the juices are oozing out along with an aroma that will not let many skip a smile as they walk by.

I am not one who is a passer-by.  Instead, I stop, select my bird and pick up the hot container and place it carefully in the shopping cart.  Next, I push my way over to the next aisle and see what is next and last on my list: tomato bisque soup.

A four-wheeled cart is really not necessary.  It is just that the chicken is too hot to carry.  Letting the soup sit next to the radiating entrée helps get the bisque ready for serving.

After I arrived at home, the “hungries” hit and hit hard.  It was time to put out a serving of my gourmet meal and enjoy the evening.  One plate and one bowl was all that I needed.

The microwave did its job with the soup.  I cut up the chicken.  It was an efficient serving.  There was not need to worry about presentation just get the edible food on the table.

One fork, one knife and one napkin round out the table setting.  I returned thanks to God for His bounty and I took a picture before digging into the meal.  My wife was proud of my delicious fare with enough in the refrigerator for three more meals, bachelor style.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4213Getting a chance to slip out of Texas during July is a respite from the searing heat and sticky humidity.  Taking a week to see family made sense.  Yet, it did not take long for the soul to be missing the tug from the Lone Star state.

Texas has a pride that grows on you.  I was not born in Texas but I got here as fast as I could.  That is a standard line for all of us transplants.

It usually gets a knowing laugh from native Texans.  This phrase also brings a warm welcome from the locals.  Soon the mystique grows on everyone who emigrates here.

It is not usually the scenery in Houston that conjures up  the spirit.  Houston is flat with no landscape sensations worth mentioning.

Natural beauty takes place in June when the wildflowers burst into bloom.  Blue skies and puffy cumulus clouds add to the flavor of the state.  Green grasses set off the blues, reds and yellow flowers.

Another natural wonder that we see often are the cloud formations.  Since the land is so flat we watch the spectacular thunderclouds roll in and see jagged flashes of lightning across the skies.  Jacob’s ladders form in the clouds as the sun fights to send its rays on to the earth.

People are a strength in Texas.  The people here have a kindness and hospitality about them that is refreshing.  Texans are likable and they like others in return.  God seems to have added a larger dose of cheer in the average Texan.

While I enjoy a variety of cuisine, Texas BBQ is special.  When the smoker is pumping out the white billows of hickory mixed with the aroma of pork ribs, beef brisket, chicken halves or sausage links the mouth waters up cheeks full of saliva that only knows eating as a solution.  This is the Texas spirit.

While away in Oregon, I saw an opportunity to take my family to some BBQ.  An eatery was recommended.  They served BBQ beef ribs.  I did not have to think about that choice; it was off my lips as soon as the waiter greeted us.

The aromas of the grill wafted through the restaurant.  I was looking forward to my treat.  The plate was mounded with ribs and the sides were just like home.

I sank my teeth into the fare.  At first I was happy.  Then, I knew that I was just encouraging my own spirit.  I missed Texas and BBQ was one of the reason I did.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_4235My culture is marked by its cuisine.  It is no doubt a favorite take-out choice of many busy Americans and people the world-over.  Many of the menu selections of a Chinese restaurant are comfort food for the billions of us who grew up eating that style of food.

Mom’s devotion to her task of feeding the family marked our palates for life. Grandma double-downed on the family recipes.  Daughters and daughters-in-law copied, observed, tasted and tested the ingredients for that familiar family smile and reservoir of compliments.

Now, when we celebrate we go out to a local restaurant.  On a menu that seemingly needs a magnifying glass to read it, we pick out what we know.  Something familiar leaps out from the pages and we wait with expectation to enjoy all the memories of family, youth and legacy.

Once in a while something new happens.  It is not a completely new dish but there is a certain twist that captures our creative adventuresome spirits.  That happened at a Portland restaurant with my best buddy.

We have joined him there only once before.  It was so long ago no one could quite fix their finger on the occasion or date.  Finally, we set that thought aside when it was time to give the waitress our order.

Bob asked about our favorites.  We told him our short list.  He filled in a few gaps.

“You guys like tofu, right?”

“Oh, yeah!” it was a chorus in unison.  Comfort food was written all over that interchange.

“Then this will be a real treat,” he smiled broadly.  “I have this dish a couple of times a week.  You’re gonna love it.”

We have been friends for decades.  Our paths in life have covered many adventures.  Some have been sad but most were marked with great joy.

When the dish showed up we all took a modest helping.  The expectation was reserved.  After each one in our family tasted the dish we were stunned.

It was very familiar to all of us.  Nevertheless, it was very new.  Everyone was eager for a second helping only with a bigger portion this time.

The texture was buttery smooth. It nearly had the similarity with custard. Everyone complimented this dish.

Bob was right. We loved the dish.  There was some leftovers that he graciously allowed us to take home.

Excellent leftovers make it to breakfast. After that they are just a memory.  Something so familiar with a new twist gave us another great memory to tuck away with a fabulous friend.

photo credit: brucefong photography

iPad-2013.09.19-12.42.07.804 (1)This past year has been full of adventure, challenges and God’s blessings.  But, it is past.  Now, it was time to gather my leadership team, go out for a good meal and reflect on what we did well and what we can do better.

Four of us share in the leadership of our institution of graduate higher education.  Each one on this team is extremely capable and humble in carrying out their duties.  Loyalty is huge among us.

I chose the restaurant.  It was a surprise to everyone.  No one else had ever been to this snazzy place to dine except me.

It was a Brazilian steakhouse.  Lunch was the perfect time to come.  It was not as crowded as the evening and the price was like getting the meal on sale.

The salad bar is exquisite.  There are not many presentations of vegetables and unique offerings that compare.  Everything is fresh, bountiful and succulent.

But, for the four of us men, a visit to the salad bar was a mere courtesy.  The main event was waiting to converge on us.  All it took was to turn over a 3×3 card from red to green.

Setting the example with my veteran experience, I flipped my card to green.  Extremely attentive servers were at my side like flies to honey.  A long three prong skewer was loaded with three sirloin steaks, still sizzling from the grill.

The fragrance was enough to make my mouth drool.  He deftly sliced a generous portion and I grabbed it with my tongs and laid it on my plate.  But, I did not have a chance to taste since another server was quickly at my side.

On his serving skewer was a perfectly aromatic lamb roast.  I had to say yes.  When he sliced the tender portion and I laid it on my plate, I could not wipe the smile off of my face.

Another server sliced me a heavenly portion of prime rib.  It was succulent and overflowing with juices.  Quickly I turned my card over to red to stop the flood of food.

It was time to enjoy the moment.  Each slice erupted on my palate with the perfect balance of flavor, heat and tenderness.  This was an ideal spot for us to celebrate a fabulous year together.

Eagerly the four of us rehearsed the last academic year, discussed our hard lessons and reminded ourselves of what we could do better.  Each of us spoke specifically of our great strength, our faculty and staff team.  Others make the success possible, of that we assured ourselves, while downing another slice of roasted perfection.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

photo-1A remarkable Texas dessert experience is readily available to all.  Many would claim that ice cream is a favorite way to end a meal or to enjoy a special treat during the day.  Here in Texas there is an added dimension to this common phenomena.

A friendly Texan smiled at me early on in our move to our newly adopted state.  In their welcome to Houston they told me that one of our favorites-to-be would be Blue Bell ice cream.  I welcomed that prophecy.

We soon found ourselves at a local BBQ eatery on a Sunday after church.  People were excited and polite as we stood in a cafeteria-like line to select our entree.  Then, we helped ourselves to two sides among several choices.

Ice tea was a common beverage of choice.  Then, we collected our tray and found a comfortable seating.  Servers came along and offered us hot-out-of-the-oven rolls.  They were delicious!

As our meal came to a close another server came and offered us dessert.
“Sure! What do you have there?” I asked with expectation.
“We have complementary Blue Bell ice cream, sir,” came the cheerful reply.

Then, my memory that is as secure as a giant sieve, recalled the prophecy by a friendly Texan who welcomed us to Houston not that long ago.  That was one of those moments in life when reality and prophecy rendezvous and give us a taste of what is delightful in life.

The sever placed a mounded bowl of vanilla ice cream in front of me.  It looked refreshing.  On top of that it was free!

A spoonful went into my mouth and I remember sensing how creamy it was.  The flavor was full and natural.  Cold shivers raced down my back.

Then, the second mouthful confirmed my first reaction.  This ice cream was delicious.  After I finished my serving I greedily stared at my wife’s bowl.

She protected her territory with a single cold glare.  I was not going to risk life or limb.  So, I contented myself with gazing.

Now, on those rare moments when we can splurge and add a delicious confection to our meal, we will gravitate toward Blue Bell Ice Cream.  Someone told us to travel to Brenham, a short hour drive, and take a tour of the creamery.  We did that tour and enjoyed the treat of free ice cream at the end of the tour.  It is a Texas favorite of ours now and forever.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_3434We had a half of a day left in Tel Aviv before our pilgrims arrived for their Once-in-a-lifetime tour of the Holy Land.  My bride and I had heard of an open air market that was just blocks from our hotel.  We were in an adventuresome mood.

With a not-to-scale map in hand, we got general directions from our hotel concierge and set off on a hunt for the open air market.  After a short six block foray we started seeing people coming from a common direction.  Each was carrying a plastic bag filled with produce.

That brought a smile to our faces.  We just went in the opposite direction.  We dodged a few cars, stopped a bus at an intersection and froze as a motorcyclist zoomed around us.  Then, the market came into sight.

The hustle and bustle of people foraging for necessitates and ingredients for the evening meal was fun.  I am not a crowd IMG_3435person but the experience of being in such a lively place pushed aside my inhibitions.  We clasped our hands tightly together and got jostled about and found ourselves having to step out of the flow to get a flavor of modern Israel.

A huge display of Turkish Delight made us smile.  Surely, the Chronicles of Narnia popped into our heads.  The powdered sugar jelly morsels made my mouth water.

Just ahead a brilliant display of baklava gave us more reason to salivate.  The honey aroma filled the market place.  That was
a temptation.

IMG_3436My attention was arrested again with the sight that is not common back home.  Fresh and smoked fish lay on open display for shoppers.  Fish farming is a huge success in Israel.  This selection had my jaw on the floor.

Food is a big attraction in this market place. Of course it is why people come.  Vendors hope to sell their foods to those who come here by the thousands.

But it is the crowds that ultimately fill my mind.  People are not bothered by the throngs.  Instead, they are focused.  A list is in their minds.

They are limited in what they purchase.  Most are walking, travel by bus or have a bicycle.  A big box store does not exist IMG_3433here. What someone can carry is common among the shoppers.

Bartering is going on all over the place.  Not only do people only buy what they need, no one wants to pay more than they have to in order to fill their shopping bags. Quality and bargain prices trumps quantity that will always be purchased tomorrow.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

 

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It is a new lunar year for a fourth of the world’s population.  January 31, 2014 is Chinese New Year!  It is the year of the horse.

This holiday is the most important celebration of the Chinese calendar.  Traditionally, it begins on the darkest day of the month.  Then, fifteen days after, when the moon is at its brightest, the celebration finally comes to a close.

Legend has it that twelve animals gathered to celebrate the beginning of these lunar based events.  These animals each has their unique characteristics.  Those who are born in the year that corresponds with that particular animals are thought to share characteristics.  Here are the animals and some of the highlights of their characteristics:

  • Horse: energetic, independent, impatient, and enjoy traveling
  • Sheep: mild-mannered, shy, kind, and peace-loving
  • Monkey: fun, energetic, and active
  • Rooster: independent, practical, hard-working, and observant
  • Dog: patient, diligent, generous, faithful, and kind
  • Pig: loving, tolerant, honest, and appreciative of luxury
  • Rat: quick-witted, smart, charming, and persuasive
  • Ox: patient, kind, stubborn, and conservative
  • Tiger: authoritative, emotional, courageous, and intense
  • Rabbit: popular, compassionate, and sincere
  • Dragon: energetic, fearless, warm-hearted, and charismatic
  • Snake: charming, gregarious, introverted, generous, and smart

During the New Year’s festivities, red is the dominant color.  It represents fire.  Fire was believed to frighten away evil spirits.  People wear red, decorate in red and keep red throughout the architectural designs.

Adults give “lucky money” to the children as part of the celebration.  It is also encased in a red envelope.  Of course in our modern times, the children just take advantage of the haul with a polite nod and courteous smile to the generous adults.

New Year’s Eve is the beginning of the celebration with large family gatherings.  It is a feast of all the delicious foods, laughter and sensing the bounty of the past year while anticipating the year to come.  Just as bountiful are all of the exploding fireworks designed to frighten away everything that is bad and flood your life with everything good.

Since many early immigrants came to the USA without family, Chinese community associations filled in during this festive time of the year.  To this day the community centers are still the hub of celebration as people welcome the new year.

Finally, on the fifteenth day of the month lanterns, red of course, are central to the celebration.   They match the light of the bright moon.  Parades ensue and climax a celebration of the highest order.  Happy New Year, everyone!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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