Sunday, May 22, 2016

Table for One : Field trip to Chinatown

i had the afternoon to myself and i was in the mood for a bit of adventure.  i'd spent the morning with mom and needed to indulge myself in a lovely time alone. somewhere interesting, if only to me. i was dressed for just about anything, which usually would inspire a stroll out of the zone, perhaps into memorial for pork belly at bramble or west U has that cuban place i've never tried. but being noon on friday, a city trip was immediately nixed. i mean, i want adventure, but i don't do friday commuter traffic. i'm a spoiled housewife.  i don't do inconvenience.

i was thinking chinatown.  a reliable go-to for me, so not exactly an adventure, but i was getting hungry and kept picturing myself at the white-clothed table at szechuan house, digging into a bowl of mapo tofu with a plastic chinese spoon.

A word about mapo tofu:  i crave it.  there are times i have to have it.  i am ever on the quest for the most tingly, tasty, spicy-soft mapo tofu on the planet, specifically radared-in on places within 10-20 miles from my house. i'm lucky to live close to a real chinatown, but one of my favorite mapo places is nestled in suburbia, right in my neighborhood.  like i said, i'm lucky.

the best thing about mapo is the tingly spiciness of the szechuan peppercorn. and nothing high-fives that peppercorn flavor in your mouth better than ice cold beer. it's like hot wings. i mean they're good, but the beer, that's what makes them great. chinatown is crammed with tons of dive-spot cafes, but most don't serve beer--or any alcohol. and herein lies a bit of adventure -- bring your own beer to lunch.  it's kinda like free beer, at least it feels kinda like it.

I mentally gauged my adventure capacity and what kind of experience would satisfy the thirst for self-celebration that i hankered for, i knew it was going to involve szechuan in some capacity.
Back to  Mala? (the Houstonian's darling of the mapo, consistently nabbing their top slot for best szechuan, which i was level-8 excited to try.  and was disappointed like a child when it wasn't even tasty, let alone tingly spicy) i want to give it another chance, but i hesitate. it's pricey and full of white people. A few other options skirted through my mind, all clustered in chinatown, somewhere.  i tossed two cold beers and a koozie into my purse, headed for the beltway and figured i'd make up my mind when i turned onto Bellaire  (aka: chinatown blvd).

I live in a super-diverse area.  i have neighbors from bangladesh, hong kong, nigeria--everywhere.  so i know about stereotypes.  i know about PC..  i thought i'd drive around the shopping centers and if something interesting appealed to me, i'd park and go in.
chinatown was a mass of traffic. no biggie.  i'm on an adventure, i guess a teeny bit of inconvenience can be tolerated. but yall: chinese people can't drive.  it's a stereotype, but sister let me tell you, it's rooted in real life.  parking lots in chinatown are where road rage was born.  cars parked in handicap ramps.  not the space --the ramp next to the space.  every backing out and pulling in was an act of intricate and slowly considered movement.  i think the same person that teaches  Tai Chi teaches the parking class.  i sat behind an old buick with it's blinker on for over three minutes.  three minutes.  it was just sitting there.  with it's blinker on. i don't think the guy ever saw me, even when i backed up to get the hell out of the isle, as he was sitting in right in the middle of it.

I ditched exploring and aligned all my energy into finding somewhere --anywhere-- to park . by now, hunger was overtaking my sense of adventure and the whole parking lot fiascos were killing my happy.  just as i was considering other options, a spot opened near me and i snagged it. i looked around to what was close:  szechuan house it is.  white table cloths, here i come.

man the place was packed.  i loved the energy.  four waitresses orchestrated the room with eye gestures and quick words -- "you one?" she shouted to me from across the room, i smile and headshake yes, hold up one finger.   "okay here!"  another she shouts & points to a seat in the left corner of a 4-top, facing the kitchen. she sets down a menu and catches my eye with a smile. my happy is resurged. i've got a big table and a prime spot to watch food come out of the kitchen.  i've been here a few times--the mapo is really good and they serve lunch portion, which is unusual, plus it's about six bucks with soup and rice, so it's a no-brainer.  (remember, i brought my beer from home!)

 i love the symphony of a busy chinese restaurant, the clanging of chop sticks on ceramic bowls and the low, chopped language broken up by laughter.  Ladies, business men, families and couples reach across round tables to pick up noodles, or separate fish from their garlicky sauce. there's a communal element to chinese eating---i think it's the round tables.

 I ordered, then got up to fill my ceramic bowl with steamy soup from the self-serve cauldron at the front of room.  the slightly thickened hot and sour soup had strips of soft tofu and long twines of chinese mushroom.  the broth was tangy and rich. i popped my beer and savored the moment.  i love going to lunch alone.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Table for One: Field Trip to the Museum

A facebook ad caught my attention last week -- the Museum of Fine Arts had an exhibition of art deco cars titled "Molded Steel." The photo in the ad looked chic and cool and i made a mental note to section off one thursday afternoon to go museum exploring.  Thursday is free museum day in Houston.

Just such a thursday made itself known the other day, when the hubs and kids had plans that would keep them out until after 5.    I'd had a busy morning, up early and out.  i had a chiro appt at noon, but after that---nothing. Of course i could go back home, have an egg on toast, fold two loads of laundry, move dirty and clean dishes around. think about mopping. or i could go into Houston and see the museum. 

These crossroad decisions for my day -- these moments where i make the choice, to zig or to jag or to clean.  These moments of pure freedom when i am left to wholly and completely choose the path of my day, i get a glimpse of my unfettered self.  (and let me interject, that i very often choose "to clean.")  but this day,   I left the yoga pants and put on a pair of jeans, checked the gas gauge and hit the freeway. The Zone be damned, we were going into Houston.

Once in the museum district, i found an easy parking spot at the church lot across from MFA.  For like 25 seconds, i sat in my car and questioned this move.  The museum by yourself in the middle of the day?  will that look weird?  also,  i didn't tell husband i was going into houston.  should i?  these thoughts flashed through my consciousness like an imperceptible lighting flash. they were there, they were gone.  i snapped a quick pic of the painted VW van in the parking lot and turned off my phone. 

Walking into the lobby at MFA was like becoming a kid again,with that field-trip sense of excitement for what's to come, the anticipation of a slow, thoughtful day with nothing to do, but look and think.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mothers Day Past...

originally written May 13, 2007 ...

On Mother's Day morning many years from now, if God grants me the time, I'll roll over and wake up to sunshine coming in through gauzy bedroom curtains. I'll wrap a downy soft robe around me, then shuffle into the clean and orderly kitchen to make a pot of strong coffee. I'll sort through a fat, dew-kissed Sunday paper, setting aside a stack of coupons and flyers to savor that evening. I'll leisurely dress for church. My daughters will call with good wishes for my day. Maybe they'll even invite me to brunch where I'll eat with sticky grandchildren on my lap and have a tall, glossy slice of chocolate cake before waving them goodbye in carseats and SUVs of their own.

For now, I languish in the tentative years. As Sunday approaches, a dull ache creeps up my spine into the base of my brain as I an anxiously try to imagine the plans my beautiful, well-meaning daughters have for me this mothers day. Probing questions give their schemes away: "how many scoops do you put into the pot to make coffee?" the 8yr old asked me on Wednesday. "do you think M&Ms would be good on a waffle?" She pondered out loud Friday night. And then, tucking them in last night my youngest asked: "four is not too wittle to cwack an egg, wight mommy?" Note to self: hide eggs in the vegetable crisper.
But no eggs were harmed in the making of this Mother's Day morning. Fate had a different plan: this year, the girls would be sick.
As is our usual Saturday night ritual, they slept in my bed... My second grader began nursing a cold yesterday; by last night her congestion and rhythmic coughing kept me on the couch past 11:00. Finally, i succombed and went in to scoot feet off my pillow and retrieve the top sheet from a crumpled mess at the foot of the bed. After what felt like about 10 minutes of sleep, the little one awakened me with the tell-tale sounds of a stomach virus. Casualties were heavy. Sheets, bathroom rugs, the couch, even the living room floor took a hit. Each of us was splattered in collateral damage. After deftly avoiding another missile, I wiped her little mouth and adjusted the chilled eye mask wrapped around her forehead. With flushed cheeks and red lips she looked up and said, "all bedder now mommy." Something about it made me laugh out loud. I looked around at the mounting pile of soiled stuff. This is what mother's day is all about.
By four AM the house was quiet again. The three of us were toe-to-toe in my king-size bed, nestled in clean sheets and new pjs. The washer rocked with its load, the dryer hummed, foretelling my afternoon of folding. As I drifted off, with one ear open for a rumbling tummy, a chubby hand reached out for my face and rubbed my cheek. I heard the long, slow breath of a truly content child, secure that she was in the arms of a mom who was going to be there should sickness return. And as night creaked into dawn, my soul filled up with pride and Godly thanks in the assurance that I'm a good mom. Her sweet touch was, at that moment, the best mother's day present I'd ever had.
On my fantasy mother's day many years from now, as I retrieve my half-eaten slab of chocolate cake from the fridge and sink into an evening of coupon clipping in a quiet house, I'll wax nostalgic for these early mother's days. I'll smile with memories of restless mornings hearing the bump and crash of little chefs exploring my kitchen. i'll remember the squish of over-glued homemade cards and tissue paper flowers on my serving tray, with a cup of coffee grounds floating in lukewarm water. i'll laugh at the challenge of cleaning the trail of syrup from the kitchen floor to my bedside. And I'll remember this mother's day with it's sour smells, pale-faced children and piles of laundry—and I'll hope my girls will one day have a mother's day as rich as this.