Monday, December 26, 2011
Having grown up in Dorchester and Brighton, Massachusetts at this point in my life there are only three things that stand out in my mind that are related to this holiday season. The first is my memory of how we celebrated Hanukkah in my grandparents’ home in Dorchester. My family lived with my mother’s parents until I was in the second grade and that was when we moved to Brighton. We never had a menorah. We used a thick wooden board that would accommodate all nine candles on the last night of the celebration. The candles were always orange and, at that point in time, never came in the multi-colored candles that one can buy today. Hanukkah back then did not compete with Christmas so our presents were usually a dreidel and small amounts of change. We usually had latkes the first night and I can still see the black cast iron pan in which they were fried.
Christmas was acknowledged in our house when we moved to Brighton. We used to put our stocking by the stove since we did not have a fireplace. I guess we thought that an alternate heat source would work just as well. When we awoke in the morning our stockings would be filled with fruit and nuts and maybe a small toy or two. We never expected to receive any major presents during either holiday. Our source for goodies was an event that was put on by the Masons at the Oriental Theater in Mattapan Massachusetts.
My father’s oldest living brother, Mike, was a Mason and it was he who provided us with the tickets that would entitle us to a seat in the theater. Before we took our seats we each were given a large paper shopping bag that was filled with utilitarian items like earmuffs and gloves and then you got to the good stuff. The good stuff consisted of small toys, candy bars and comic books. We would then take our seats and be treated to what seemed to be a never-ending series of cartoons.
The Oriental Theater was one of those old time movie palaces that had seating for 2167 people. It had an Egyptian and Chines motif. There were niches along the walls that held Chinese dragons whose eyes would light up when the lights went out. What was most memorable was the ceiling on which were projected clouds and stars. It looked so magical and I, for one, felt very special to have been chosen to sit in my seat holding on to my paper bag filled with goodies. The Oriental Theater closed in 1971 and was closed and later torn down and replaced by an electrical supply company.
When we moved to California twenty-eight years ago we started another tradition with our friends, the Slaters. Christmas day was the perfect time to eat Chinese. As it turns out, this is a rather common thing for my tribe to do. Living so close to the current hub of Asian cuisine in America, Monterey Park, there was no lack of places to go. Valencia, Spain would present a challenge. I did a bit of Internet research and discovered that there was a Cantonese style restaurant, Mey Mey, a fifteen-minute walk from our place. We decided to give it a try.
The restaurant is nicely appointed with a Koi pond in the middle of the space. The showcases on the walls are filled with Chinese statuettes and the wooden accents on the wall contribute to the tranquility of the space. We knew ahead of time that we were not going to find Monterey Park here, but we did hope for and we did have a pleasant experience.
They started us off with a complimentary appetizer that consisted of two very small egg rolls. Next came the won ton soup. The broth was on point, but the skin of the won tons was too thick and not as delicate as the ones we are used to in California. Next came our order of dim sum. There were stuffed mushroom caps, four different types of shumai and a shrimp filled dumpling. Next came a Shanghai style sweet and sour beef that was served with a four ingredient fried rice. Both were very pleasant. The Spanish palate does not like heat and that was one ingredient that was missing for us. Susan had some mango pudding for dessert and with our coffee they served us a mini-macaron and a green apple shooter. Portions here were small and our Chinese experience was one of the more expensive meals we have had here recently. We decided that we would wait until we got home for our next Chinese outing.
When we returned home we spent most of our remaining waking hours reading. Around 8:30 our bell rang and, at first, we thought someone had rung the bell in error. However, it rang again and when I asked who it was it turned out to be Miguel. He had just returned from Albacete and had brought us some charcuterie from his pueblo. As we unpacked the bag we discovered copious amounts of morcilla, sobresada and longaniza. The longaniza sausage needed to be refrigerated, but the remaining goodies are to be left out to dry because that is when they reach their peak flavor.
After Miguel left I went into my video archive on iTunes and replayed the episode of “On the Road Again” in which Mario and the gang visit Valencia. We were particularly interested in their visit to La Matandeta where Mario and Gwyneth enjoyed what is reputed to make the best paella in Spain. It is located smack in the middle of the Albufera, which is the rice-growing region of Valencia. The other place is a tavern called La Montaña, which is hundreds of years old and serves some of the best tapas around. Claus and Zahava recommended the latter and Brian and Ofelia recommended the former. They are both on our list.
Susan went to bed early – around 10:30 – and I stayed up close to 1:00 immersed in the book I was reading. It had been a good day, made better by our FaceTime conversation with Rachel. Miguel’s brief visit and a phone call from Pepe wishing us a Merry Christmas and inviting us to go to Pedreguer next Saturday to have lunch with his family.