If late November and all of December is the conventional Thanksgiving and Christmas chaos, well then, in our Delicious family, we are not so traditional. Certainly, our family goes all out for the Holidays, but it is the months of February through May that are truly my celebratory hell on earth. No, they’re not on your calendar (if they are, that’s weird, okay?) but they are marked with an extra fine red Sharpie all over mine – family birthdays. The Delicious family must collectively get busy in the bedroom around June/July because everyone’s birthdays are from February to May. Except mine, which, as always, makes me the odd one in my family, but don’t worry, that was an easy one. It only took 90 minutes of therapy.
Like a vice president with a sawed-off shotgun, an email gets blasted out en masse weeks before the actual birthday, kicking off a chain reaction of replies that get slung back and forth in a massive convoluted scheduling conversation that could permanently disable an Exchange server. Text messages fly across the wireless airwaves with cryptic “y,” “n,” and “chk ur eml,” all the while, the same kind of reply-all communication is occurring in a parallel analog universe via telephone since Mom doesn’t have email and Dad still hasn’t figured to how to check his voicemail on his very expensive cell phone. We set a date, find out that someone can’t make it, re-schedule, find out that “Never mind! We can, indeed make the original date!” and schedule lunch or dinner back to the original date, but for a different time. We vote by proxy for lots of small gifts or just do one big gift from the group. We bake or pick up cakes, go back because we forgot candles, carpool to the restaurant, write the card in the car, and finally, we have to add one more chair to the end of the table because someone is bringing a guest. It is absolutely chaotic coordination insanity, and it’s back to back to back weekends through early Spring. It’s enough forehead-banging, hair-pulling, nail-biting stress and fuss to send me off the deep end singing Looney Tunes.
But I love it. We all L-O-V-E, love and live for it. Otherwise, we’d all be sending each other easy eGreetings. Except for Mom and Dad, of course. They’d still send cards via US Mail.
This year, we added one more thing to our delicious Spring fling – my niece’s behk-il. If you’re not Korean, or just love/hate your heritage like I do, that’s “100 days” (behk=100, il=days). I have some words about my niece’s 100 gloriously pink, cuddly, soft poopy days on earth, but those I must save for a post all their own.
Since my niece’s behk-il coincides with Mom’s birthday, we did it all in one shot (and boy, I could have used a shot or two of...oh, I don’t know, Don Julio? and I hate tequila). We decided to keep it private by staying at home and catering food for our extended family. Okay, actually, we’re not all high-class private like that. We have absolutely no problem storming a restaurant on a Saturday afternoon with a baby that requires no less than 30 cubic feet of equipment, the Captain lecturing at decibels audible to the people in the next building, and enough chitter chatter side conversations between people on opposite ends of the table to overtake the entire atmosphere of the restaurant. We just thought it’d be nice to invade my sister’s newlywed condo and destroy it, Delicious family party style.
Given that birthday planning is as hectic as it is, the only appropriate food for lunch was Chinese. If ever on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon you happen to stumble into a cavernous banquet hall with some permutation of various versions of the words “Ocean,” “Empress” and “Seafood,” printed on faded plastic out front, you will have stepped into the clanging, cacophonous din of dim sum. And you will know why Hong Kong-style seafood from JR Seafood was the necessary climax after planning for Mom’s birthday and my niece’s behk-il luncheon.
I’ve written about JR Seafood before. It’s a Chinese Seafood restaurant that does sufficiently well for the Westside, and even comes complete with murky tanks full of death-row bound crustaceans. We picked up enough food to feed a small fishing village, brought it back to my sister’s condo, transferred everything to serving platters and bowls, and spread it all out down the center of the dining room table. It was, how you might call? It was incredible. The gorging commenced.
One of my sisters had done the ordering, and I was impressed. She h
ad taken into account everyone’s preferences and particular food quirks. For Dad, she had ordered a seafood soup that was teeming with sea creatures, some of which looked like they could have been alive, but I guess thats just the way sea cucumber jiggles. There were deliciously salty dry-sauteed green beans for brother in law Jimmy, and a simple tofu and vegetable stir-fry for me. The focus was clearly on seafood, with whole battered, deep-fried flounder, steamed cod filets or some other variation of Happy Family, but there were a few dishes that included animals that walked on earth, too. (And something that looked suspiciously like Panda Express, but I’ll keep my mouth shut on that). And for the birthday girl, whole steamed crabs. Mom loves crab. Did I blog “love?” I meant “luuuuuuuurve.” If she had been alone in the kitchen with the Smart and Final aluminum catering trays cradling a whole crab swimming in garlic sauce, she could have polished them both off by herself. And licked the shells dry.
My father and I do not love whole crab. In fact, I am not fond of the entire crustacean family. Aside from the fact that the small ones (shrimp) have caused me much itchy, blotchy, histamine induced grief in the recent past, I don’t find the texture of crab or lobster all that appealing. The worst part, however, is the amount of work – ripping a limb from the body, cracking a shell that’s as hard as a full set of Lee Press-ons, then pick pick picking over the cartilage and other strangely shaped internal infrastructure. All that work and you end up with a bite of one miniscule piece of opaque flesh that tastes like nothing and fingers that smell like they’ve been up Neptune’s ass.
My sisters love crab, too. Apparently, this is a genetic characteristic that gets passed from mermaid to mermaid, and has never been more clear to me than at this birthday lunch. I got up from the small Mother-of-pearl inlaid table with folding legs that was set out for the “kids” to get another helping of tofu or some such normal Chinese food. My mother was at the “adult” table working on a plate of crab in front of her, periodically flicking broken crab shells and emptied body cavities on a plate of other discarded inedible calcified protective exteriors of sea animals. I was in awe. Utter, somewhat amused, awe. I looked back toward the “kids” table in the floor and burst out laughing, for there were my sisters at the far end, huddled over a small pile of bright orange and white, just like Mom, picking away at crab with their long, slender fingers, like two monkeys plucking lice from their siblings. Their movements were short and rapid, as if I were watching them under a strobe light. They looked like refugees.
The three of them, Mom and my sisters, are as happy as Manila clams that have been thrown back into the ocean when they go down to the Redondo Beach pier for crab. You know the place. You stand in line for 40 minutes in the 40 degree fog, stare at the crabs that are suffocatingly stacked up on each other in tanks that look like they’ve been filled with the run-off from the storm drain, point at a miserable little creature, wait for someone to steam it, pay a ridiculous cash only amount per pound, squeeze your ass onto a rickety bench between a grumpy ah-juh-shee in a Members Only jacket and an ah-joo-mah in a visor that’s invading your personal space and eat in an environment that is more unsanitary than the public port-a-potties at a rap concert. I hate that place, especially when I see people mixing steamed white rice with the bitter acid yellow crab bile and eating the mixture with as much relish as Mikey with a bowl of Life cereal. *shudders* But I’ll save those emotions for another day.
The lunch from JR Seafood was good, but I’m quite sure that it tasted so much better than it really was. Though it was only our family in my sister’s condo, we were spread out from coffee table to couch to folding table on the floor to dining room table. The amount of food, the back and forth passing of plates and platters between tables, the cross-table, sometimes cross-room conversation, all made it feel like we were in our own private little clanging Chinese banquet hall. Crabs and chaos. Perfect birthday bedlam.
J.R. Seafood Restaurant
11901 Santa Monica Boulevard (@ Armacost)
Los Angeles, CA 90025