Friday, November 4, 2011

Sweet-Sour Pork

It was Harriet’s day off, and because she was feeling particularly adventurous, Mrs. Bridge decided she was going to make supper. She provided Harriet with a shopping list and instructed her not to prepare anything to cover her absence, as she usually did. Mr. Bridge had casually remarked earlier in the week that there was a new restaurant downtown — The Lotus Blossom — and that some of the men from the office had eaten there for lunch. “Oh!” she had exclaimed, but he offered no more detail, and went back to reading the paper.

Mrs. Bridge could not imagine what the Chinese were doing in downtown Kansas City, or why they thought Missourians were inclined to dine with them. Mabel Ong raised the subject at that week’s Auxiliary meeting, and appeared quite keen on trying it out. An outing was proposed and voted on, and even though Mrs. Bridge was quite frightened by the prospect of having to eat fried chicken feet and strange vegetables, she found herself raising her hand with the rest.
“I’ve heard they serve cats and dogs, you know,” warned Lois Montgomery, “all smothered in a bright red sauce made of roosters.” Mrs. Bridge turned pale and thought that surely the food licensing board wouldn’t allow that sort of thing, and that perhaps someone ought to inform them. The Auxiliary, if necessary. They could start a letter writing campaign. Nevertheless, she felt mildly excited by the thought of seeing where her husband ate his lunch. Lois proposed that since this would be venturing into unfamiliar territory, they all ought to learn a bit about the Chinese so they would know what to order, and everyone heartily agreed. “Thank goodness,” she whispered, and made a note to keep the pets locked indoors from now on.

Not knowing where to turn, and certain that the library wouldn’t be much help, Mrs. Bridge consulted one of the books Carolyn had given her for Christmas, which had in it a section on foreign foods. Sure enough, there were some recipes for Chinese meals one could prepare from ingredients that sounded reassuringly American. It didn’t look nearly as terrifying as it sounded. It had been years since she donned an apron, but surely it wasn’t as hard as it looked.

 When Mrs. Bridge announced that she would be cooking a special dinner that night, Carolyn cried out in anguish. “Oh Mother, must you?” she groaned, shrugging off her coat. “What happened to Harriet?”
“I thought you’d be happy,” replied Mrs. Bridge. “After all, I’m using the cookbook you gave me.”
“That was meant to be a gag gift,” said Carolyn. “It was Doug’s idea.”
Mrs. Bridge was taken aback. “It’s not polite to give gifts in jest. Now do your homework.” Carolyn ran upstairs in a huff, without her school satchel. Minutes later, Mrs. Bridge could hear the phone click open.

When she placed the steaming bowls of Sweet-Sour Pork on the table, Douglas screwed up his face. “Now, now,” his mother said, “we’re going to be open to new cuisines. Who wants to eat the same old thing every night?” She glanced at Mr. Bridge for support, but he looked equally stricken, so she carried on, depositing a sticky clump of rice in the center of each plate before ladling the chunks of meat and pineapple on top. Everyone had been given a pair of chopsticks along with their knives and forks. Mr. Bridge gamely speared a piece of glistening pork and put it in his mouth. Everyone watched as he chewed. At first, Mrs. Bridge held hope that he would declare her meal equally as fine as the one served at The Lotus Blossom. 

But as he continued chewing, the thin reed of her dreams folded in on itself like an origami swan, so that by the time he finally swallowed, it was a crisp knot. Mr. Bridge put down his knife and fork and gave a small cough. He smoothed the tablecloth on either side of his plate with his hands. None of the children moved. The swan inside Mrs. Bridge opened up and flew away, the sound of its enormous wings filling her ears as they beat the late fall air.

Meals With A Foreign Flair, Better Homes and Gardens, 1963

Also from this book: Vive La Cuisine Franglais!Bohemian Rhapsody

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