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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_4304The movie theater is a Houston refuge.  When the summer months descend on our city, the temperatures soar.  We have learned to take refuge in places where the air conditioning is always guaranteed.

Sometimes we go to the Mall for a walk.  Hordes of people have the same idea.  There is always plenty of parking.

Other times we do our grocery shopping.   For some reason we linger in the refrigeration area.  Even when we do not have to buy any frozen goods we open a door and pretend to be doing some shopping.

When the legs tire we hold out for the movie theater.  Our Senior status makes it an affordable option.  The air conditioning is always on.

Often the Texas way is to walk into a theater with short sleeves and shorts.  But, it is wise to carry a light jacket or sweater.  Yes, it is so cold that Texans go in to put something on.

This time the lights dimmed and the movie The Hundred Foot Journey was showing.  The plot is the adventure of an Indian family who trying to find a new home after they were burned out from bad people in their home country.  It is the father’s patriarchal extra sense that is leading them.

Their wanderings in search of a new home take them to England, Switzerland and finally to France.  It is the life in the flavor of abundant ingredients that keeps them in a small French village.  There they acquire a neglected restaurant and start their business.

Unfortunately, right across the street, a mere hundred feet away is an upper scale French restaurant.  The widowed owner is famous for her one star establishment.  Competition between the two establishments is the tension in the movie.

The talent of Hassan is finally acknowledged by Madame Mallory through painful admissions marred by arson, open impediments and social friction.  Yet, the melting of the cold feelings is the delight of the story.  Enemies become colleagues.  Colleagues become allies.  Allies become deep friends.

Success puts the spotlight on one.  Those who are left behind settle for the best that they can do.  But, love draws the family back together.

Love fills the kitchen.  Joy comes with the love.  You can taste the delight that climaxes the reunion.

The future is bright.  Laughter and achievement abound.  The third star is aptly deserved and appropriately settles in as part of the blended lives of these who treasure amazing taste.  It is an excellent film.

photo credit: brucefong photography

Motorcycle to Banff 2008 144This is a special day.  We stop whatever we are doing and pause to remember. It is an honorable recollection.

For some of us the BBQ grill is fired up.  Guests are making their way over to our home.  Food is brought out from the pantry and lining the counters.

Games are scattered throughout the backyard.  Little ones will fill the inflatables, pool or field the badminton court.  Space will be occupied by special lives.

Sounds will overwhelm the space.  Laughter and talking will test our sensory overload limits.  Smiles and hugs will dominate our day.

Others will have a traditional journey in their day.  They will drive to the family plot at the community cemetery.  There fresh flowers will decorate the headstone of a dear loved one.

Next to the flowers an American flag will be inserted into the ground.  This was not just a family member that is remembered.  Here lies one who died for his or her country.

Yes, Memorial Day is about family and friends.  Yes, it is about a day off to relax from the rigors of our labor.  Yes, it is about celebrating with food and fun.

Nevertheless, at the heart of this day is why all of these moments for fun and partying were made possible.  Those in our armed forces who fought and died for our freedoms is the meaning behind this day.  Liberty is a costly privilege.

Some time during this special day, we can deepen the meaning behind our gatherings when we take a moment to look at our American flag and be grateful.  Our thankfulness for those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us would give meaning to our day.  It would inject great value into the remembrance of those who died on our behalf.

Then, our gratitude would be a treasured moment.  Suddenly, it is not just a day-off but a day of meaning. Life is much more than a time about doing what we want instead of what we have to do.
Listen to a patriotic song and feel your spirit leap.  Consider the lyrics of our national anthem and be grateful.  Treasure the sight of Old Glory waving in the skies above.

When the red, white and blue come into view, be a thankful citizen.  Smile at the thought of those who courageously squared off with the enemy and beat them in battle.  Remember the warm tears of loved ones who buried those brave soldiers in the soil that they won for our liberty.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone 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

 

IMG_3319On the road, when the tummy is calling for a refill, it’s easy to look for a familiar sign and pull in and grab something satisfying.  Naturally, eating healthy is also a big draw.  When it tastes good, it is even better.

One of our choices has been a sandwich chain.  It has a national presence and our far and wide travels makes it a common choice.  No matter where we have been it seems as if one shows up when the hungries make their call.

They had ads for a month-long sale. Every sandwich was marked down.  “Hey,” I exclaimed, “let’s pick up a couple of their sandwiches for dinner tonight.”  “Sure,” my bride smiled back, “I can grab them on my way home.”

With honest expectations of a delicious meal my day went along with its normal brutal pace.  But, I had the anticipation of a fun dinner with my bride over bargain priced sandwiches.  It was a satisfying drive home.

My phone rang.  It was my bride, “I’m at the shop. What kind of sandwich would you like?” “Get one of the deluxe ones since they are all included on the sale.” “Does cheddar bread sound good?” “Sure!  At this price we can go all out!” I exclaimed and garnered a laugh from her.

Not only could I taste the dinner but I could smell it as well.  Naturally a smile broke out on my countenance.  It was going to be a pleasant evening.

There is something very gratifying about earning a good day’s wage from hard work and then relaxing at home with the love of my life over a shared meal.  My home was in sight.  I parked my rig and entered our retreat with an appetite ready to be satisfied.

Together we sat at our dining table.  Each of us had our sandwiches still wrapped and sitting in front of our seats.  We gave thanks for our meal.

We rehearsed our day to each other.  The blessings of people and circumstances were shared with delight.  Together we sliced our sandwiches in half and ate while we talked.

Then, as if on cue we both slowed our munching.  We looked at each other and then at our meal.  Each of us set our sandwiches on the table and opened up the bread.  The same quizzical look came over both of us, “Where’s the meat?”

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_32202012 was a year that many remembered for a brief moment.  Destined to be a forgettable moment of temporary horror, we languished in the feeling of helplessness.  The emotion drove us all to ask what we could have done to prevent the loss, but we were impotent.

None of us had the power to stand against the apparent tide of the inevitable. Had the time for this step into the future a resignation of a necessary loss? Who was to blame for this iconic devastation of Americana?

Yes, the “Twinkies” was going the way of the Gooney bird.  News of this demise blanketed the news broadcasts.  Sadly, parodies of this passing gave the comedic voices plenty of material in the month of November.

There was no outcry from the health industry spokes persons.  Quietly, their march toward an organic-only society was swallowing up every mom and pops operation in the nation.  This was a major swipe at forced health bias in recent current events.

Memorial services played out in every region of the nation.  The farewells were sincere.  Many adults recalled fond memories of their childhood lunch bucket having the golden snack prominently placed on top of the PB&J sandwich.

Then, like the passing of familiar friend, life returns to normal.  Presence turns into memories.  Memories fade into living with adjustments.

However, the world was awakened to entrepreneurs who captured the meaning behind the memories.  Within the next year there was a major move to buy the brand.  Clearly the brand had demonstrated its universal impact on this nation and the world.

No other competitive product rose to fill the void.  How strong can a brand actually be?  This was historic!

Details of the sweeping acquisition brought back nostalgic smiles.  Eyes sparkled at the news.  Conversations shifted and talked up the change in events.

Comedians found more material for their late night sets.  People laughed.  Yet, with so much “good” humor, everyone knows that there is truth behind the punch line.

It is back.  The Twinkies, not unlike the animated Minions on the despicable silver screen, is back on grocery shelves.  In my duties as the motor behind the grocery cart, I paused and gazed at the golden sponge cakes with the creamy fillings and paid a moment of cheer at their return.

In a respectful gesture, I picked up a package.  Then, I turned it over, read the ingredients, put it back on the shelf and kept on moving.  I felt good that the Twinkie had returned.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3107Have you ever stumbled across a world-wide website that gave you a grand idea?  Did you, like me, disparage the novel thought with skepticism?  I have dismissed many good ideas that captured my attention in cyberspace.  This time I thought that I would give it a try.

Many of us who have very busy lives know by experience the crush of the morning rush.  We are trying to pull everything together that we need for a productive day.  If we can answer some emails, text messages and social media inquiries that we squeeze them into to packed first-light-of-day.  A quick glance at the keeper of time and we realize that we lost track of time.  It is time to grab what we can and drive to work.

We are clothed, brief case is packed and the vehicle is ready for the commute through heavy traffic.  There is that last moment of thought: breakfast.  If I only had a hardboiled egg to take with me.  That little morsel of food would tie me over until my lunch engagement.

That’s when we triple check the clock and realize that time will not allow for a boiling of an egg.  Mentally we make a note to boil several eggs in the evening, store them in the refrigerator and further hurried mornings would be served well.  Of course like many of you that kind of mental note is lost several times over.

Even when I have remembered and boiled a half a dozen eggs, then I try and figure out how to separate them from the fresh eggs.  Is it one of the worse things in life to grab a seemingly hardboiled egg and crack it only to realize that it is a fresh egg?  Gross!

Now, thanks to the www tip, I now put however many fresh eggs into a pot of tap water  and turn it on to high.  Then, I add the skin of a brown onion to the water and cover the pot.  Once the water heats up into a rolling boil, I set the timer for 5 minutes.

When the timer goes off, I turn off the heat but leave the cover on the pot.  After about 15 minutes I flood the pot with tap water, remove the onion skins and place all of the hard-boiled eggs that all have brown shells into the fresh egg containers ready to leap into my hands on those very rushed workday mornings.  Yay for the WWW!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3195Glancing at my watch I just had a minute to wrap up a project.  Then, I would have to dash to a meeting in the Houston Heights.  If traffic was not too much of an issue then I would arrive in time for my lunch gathering.

This would be a new eatery for me.  New friends would be gathering.  They are a delightful bunch.  We serve together at our church and have fun doing what we do.

The five of us were enjoying our visit.  Sometimes we laughed, other times we caught up on each other’s happenings and of course we had some serious conversations about studying the Scriptures.  The brainpower of my colleagues is very stimulating.

Our fellowship was interrupted by waiter.  He announced that there were several options that were not listed on the menu.  Then, he recited about five dishes.

Politely I listened but that courtesy stopped when he described their Texas chili.  My ears perked up.  When he asked me about my order, I asked him if their Texas chili was made without beans.

His smile erupted like a spontaneous dancer who just got caught up with the music.  Affirming my inquiry, I filled him in on my interest.  “I have been in Texas for a year and a half and have not found a place to try real Texas chili with out beans.”

Continuing his animated conversation, he assured me that their Texas chili was one of the best in town.  I confirmed my order.  This was going to be a check off the list of to-dos in Houston.

My lunch order arrived piping hot.  They often refer to Texas chili simply as “Red”.  It is not that it is so hot that it burns.

Rather, Texas chili made commonly on the ranch or on the trail, always simmered a long time.  The natural spices and herbs were allowed to cook in and blend with the beef.  Any flavor of raw spices was melted away over time.

Ground beef or chunks of beef are a toss-up depending on personal tastes.  Texans appreciate tradition but as aficionados of this Tex-Mex food staple they also without apology act through their individual independence.  If they want to substitute another kind of meat in their Texas chili no one is going to tell them otherwise.

Texas Red is wonderful in flavor and individuality.  Chili competitions have rotated around many offerings.  What counts is that you try it, love it and pass it on.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_3065A signature dish makes everyone smile.  Restauranteurs delight that their reputation has won a following.  The chef is delighted that his creation is growing his reputation.  Perhaps best of all, hungry customers look forward with anticipation to enjoy a special dish.  I am in that last category.

Visiting my in-laws triggers the signature dish.  It’s a local family run eatery, not far from my folk’s home.  They know the owners and have a great time connecting with them whenever we stop by for dinner.  It is fun to hear the Chinese dialect at a breakneck speed seasoned generously with laughter, teasing and over-the-top complementary expressions.

Eventually, we get around to talking about the meal.  That is when the signature dish comes up.  There is no need for a special request.  It is on the list.

It is served right after the soup.  A home-made soup, made from scratch has a rich pork broth.  It is filled with Chinese Winter melon.  Pork bones keep the flavor filled with seeping  doses of pork flavor.  The melon is rich with vitamins, flavor and amazing texture.

Then, the signature appetizer dish is served.  It is wonderful to see.  The aroma is tantalizing.  Expectations of flavors are mind-numbing.

Inside large clam shells, there is a medley of fresh seafood.  Clams, of course serve as the featured part of the dish.  It is mixed with green onions, scallops, shrimp and a sauce that accentuates the best of what God created in the Pacific Ocean.  Thin rice noodles are the foundation of this mixture.  They soak up the sauce and spread the flavor for a memorable moment of the meal to come.

After a large bowl of hearty soup, this clam delight is enough for a meal.  After that I am must picking on the green beans, chicken, fish and steak cubes that follow.  That is one of the best features of family style eating.  Eat what you like and hide the rest of your satiated appetite by pushing a pile of rice around on your dinner plate.

Whenever your hosts offer you, shake your head vigorously and point to how much food is still left on your plate.  Carry on with friendly conversation, spin your plate 25% to give the impression that your food is moving around.

Soon all the food is adjusted.  The wait staff comes to box the left-overs.  You are satisfied without being stuffed and yet you enjoyed the best dish of all, the signature dish.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2929Our radio interview was completed.  We exchanged greetings with our on-air hostess.  She is a consummate professional in her world of broadcasting.

Even though the total time at the station is relatively brief, the intensity of the interview is taxing.  Concentration is high. Messaging is concentrated.

We record two different spots to be aired in the next two weeks.  Trying to sound spontaneous, animated and fresh is mentally challenging.   At the same time we keep our subject matters focused so that there is very little duplication.  We need to sound like we are a week apart even though the recordings are back to back.

Everyone was happy with the final product. We smiled, exchanged our pleasantries and concluded with our farewells.  When we left the studio we knew that we were hungry.  I let my staff member choose the lunch destination.  We were heading for Middle Eastern cuisine.

During my travels I have enjoyed walking the lands of Israel.  Feasting on the table fare of that ancient land was always an adventure.  I was looking forward to scanning the menu from lands on the other side of the planet.

When we arrived, the little eatery was filled with people from that part of the world.  The aromas that wafted throughout the establishment were wonderful.  I could see the roasting meats on slowly spinning carousels behind the counter.

Slowly the line of customers melted and soon it was our turn to order.  I tried to steal glances at what the other patrons were eating as we passed their tables.  Then, a fast glance down the overhead menu made me smile.

There in featured position was the meal of choice: LAMB!  I love lamb.  Since I was a youth this has always been a favorite.

We sat down to wait for our order.  It came in a timely fashion with the an aroma that made me salivate.  Roasted to perfection the lamb was waiting eagerly for me to dive in.  I did not let it cool down much before wrapping it in bread and enjoying the wonderful flavors satisfy my palate.

The procedure is part of the experience.  There are a lot of fingers and few utensils.  Just tear a part of the bread that meets your approval.  Tuck in a few pinches of greens, chunk of grilled tomato and finally include several delicious pieces of lamb.  Eat away and enjoy the company and conversation with your table friends.  Social interaction with good people just add to the delectable table fare.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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