Messy Fingers, Greasy Chins, and Gravy Stains Vol. 2 D

Aug 15


Isn’t it interesting that we remember some of our favorite foods from childhood , but they weren’t usually our first choices. Bravery….it took! Or curiosity , or maybe with my Mom…. it was psychology. Take Peanut Butter and Red Onion Sandwiches . Odd combo that ; but why not? The onion has practically as much sugar in it as an orange. What American kid doesn’t like peanut butter.

One hot summer’s day, Mom , my brother and I were driving to her favorite farm stand …not too far from “The Acre “. We didn’t grow all of the vegetables that we ate and the farm stands delivered those we didn’t plant and harvest. On our way home – in the bag , on  the blue and gray seat covers we got at J. C. Penney’s , next to me  were huge red onions. Big fat ovals- a deep ,dark red color …. a wonderful smell filled the car. “What are you going to make with these big red onions, Mom”, I asked. ” Well…I think I’ll make some Red Onion and Peanut Butter sandwiches. “ “What? That doesn’t sound good at all “, I followed .  ” You are wrong, young man. They are really good : all the more for me . Don’t know what you are missing .” I made sure she knew I wasn’t going  to try such a odd combination as that . Of course I should mention that since my mother came from British and Dutch heritage , she made sure I was exposed to foods that she grew up with. I was the only kid at Winnetka Elementary in the 50’s that would often have my lunch box filled with sandwiches made with cream cheese and black olives , home made bread , butter and imported chocolate , and little sandwiches made with our garden cucumbers . Not your typical bologna and Kraft cheese on Wonder bread.

I know you have already zoomed past me on this red onion/peanut butter idea. When we all got home , I went to play in the yard with my dog Trigger. Mom made lunch…called me in a bit later. There on my plate was a tuna salad sandwich and potato chips plus a big glass of milk. I watched Mom eat her sandwich and the curiosity was gnawing at me. “Do you want to try a bite ?” , she asked . “OK .”  That was all it took . The tuna fish got wrapped in wax paper into the refrigerator and I had Red Onion and Peanut Butter for lunch….the creamy kind . Not a fan of crunchy.

A car trip was planned……a drive from Canoga Park to San Diego and visit my brother Ray and his new wife . They had moved recently from Honolulu ; discharged after his second hitch in the U.S . Navy . He grew up in San Diego and had a job waiting there driving an 18 wheeler around  San Diego County; making deliveries.  They had moved in their first home…a small beach cottage in Ocean Beach . My brother and I were so excited to be across the street from the ocean! It was going to be a really fun summer trip. They also raised parakeets and had a large screened cage beside the garage ….seemed like there were hundreds of the noisy and colorful birds . I ended up just sitting and watching them for what seemed like an hour , sometimes.

We got to the beach after driving for hours and hours, it seemed. No connecting freeways in those days. Driving through endless little towns with stop lights and 25 mph. zones. The sun had gone down and it was late. My brother Ray offered to take us all out for a Chinese dinner. We all piled into my brothers 1947 Ford and set off for CHINALAND! It was away from the beach , close to Highway 101 ; close to the MCRD and Naval Training Center. There were lots of businesses that catered to the Marines and the Navy in the area.. They loved CHINALAND. Imagine a Chinese-American restaurant with car hops! Not only that , but this “Las Vegas Neon Nirvana” (it was all lit up) had a full  18 hole miniature golf course behind the dining room. My brother and I were in heaven…but we were also very, very hungry.

Chinese restaurants in the early 50’S were pretty predictable . The menus were “Americanized” . You never saw any Asian customers eating there. We were a typical American family ; but what was different was my sister in law, Sally, was from Hawaii . There the food was a bit more unique. While ordering the usual sweet and sour spare ribs, deep fried shrimp , almond chicken , fried won ton, and so on …she said we needed to get the Green Pea Chow Yuk. I saw it on the menu and said to myself ,” I hope I don’t have to eat that”.

The food started to arrive . Piles of steaming colorful food , all sitting atop little silver pedestals. I always liked those . I don’t see those used anymore…WHY? my Mom served and us boys and helped pass the dishes. The Green Pea Chow Yuk smelled wonderful. It was a simple dish…little Chinese Pea Pods (Snow Peas) , some thin sliced beef , coins of water chestnuts, slivers of onion , bell peppers , all in a smooth and tasty sauce. It was my first time eating pea pods. It started a lifelong love affair with a delicious vegetable which I have continued to enjoy. Such a simple pleasure. We don’t look at the simple pleasures of food , it seems , any more.Restaurant dishes are so grandiose in composition , too many ingredients ; like we need to be impressed with the makers skill. I think the dish’s success lies in a simple presentation…. like that evening when we ate Green Pea Chow Yuk in that crazy , flashy Chinese restaurant so long ago on a busy boulevard in San Diego.




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