Saturday, November 26, 2016

Paw Manhattan and the Pad Thai

"Your father likes Pad Thai now!" my mother told me over the phone. I grinned. Neither of my parents are especially adventurous eaters--to the point where using the word "adventurous" to describe Pad Thai is an option--so when they try something new, I'm really happy about it. They were on a Korean food kick for a while, where they developed a fondness for bulgogi and scallion pancakes in particular, but I had never been able to convince them to eat Thai food with me. So to hear that my dad has not only tried a new dish but enjoyed it, is a delight.

"Where did he try it?" I ask.
"At Whole Foods!" she says, effusively. My mother didn't really like going to Whole Foods all that much--she said it's too expensive and she's right--but she loves the new one that opened up in a town not far from us in South Florida. "You'll love it!" she told me before I went with her for the first time. "They have a place where you can squeeze your own orange juice! And they have amazing rugalah. And organic candy in bulk!" I didn't know how good a corporate grocery store could be, but if my mother, who often preferred the local fruit market and fish peddler to bigger stores, was crowing about it, then it had to have some merit at least. "I only wish it had a barbecue bar like the one in Boca," she said. "Their brisket is so good."

I liked its wide open shopping spaces, being greeted by its colorful wall of bottled juices, and was amused by its Himalayan Pink Salt candles--making what was once dismissed as hippie-dippy bullshit into a desirable wellness and/or decorating commodity for the suburban upper/middle class is truly an art--but what I think I enjoyed more than anything was my mom's enthusiasm for it. "I want a sandwich, let's go to the panini bar," she said, expertly pointing her cart toward the counter bearing prosciutto and mozzarella-stuffed breads as if she had placed it there herself. "The refrigerators are near there too, if you're thirsty. Go get some weird drink that you like," she said, remembering my penchant for things like cherry-flavored green tea soda. I did as I was bidden.

While the new Whole Foods had won over my mother, I thought my father would be a tougher prospect. He had barely been grocery shopping until the last few years, when my mother was ill and he would go to Publix himself, my mother's infamously long shopping lists in his hands. I remember as a child she would say "We'll be in and out, don't worry" only to be clawing my way into the car three hours later. Bless this man's soul, did he know what he was about to embark upon? But he mastered it with aplomb, and began shopping with my mother once she was able, Whole Foods included.

I don't know exactly how it happened, but I imagine he was hungry and my mother was pointing out some of the culinary points of interest from which he might choose to eat that day, and they found themselves in front of the sushi bar. The sushi bar that also prepares Pad Thai, ramen, and bibimbap. My father saw the bowl of Pad Thai projected on the video screens above the bar and, liking what he saw, was inspired to order it. He ate it--with a fork and knife, assuredly, as my father has no interest in using chopsticks--and the rest, as they say, is history.

Cut to yesterday, when I am home visiting for Thanksgiving and my father and I decided to brave the wilds of Black Friday and go to Barnes and Noble. He was, as we say in our house "out of book," and needed a new one to read. While I have a bookcase and now a bedroom teeming with books I have not read, I only wrote down some titles to add to my list while my father purchased some light reading on the educational philosophy of how we learn ideas. Hungry post- book search and knowing his newfound love of Pad Thai, I suggested we go to Whole Foods.

Before heading to the lunch counter, though, my father wanted a drink. "Come here, I want to show you something," he says. "I love their fresh squeezed orange juice. You've never had anything like it." When my dad, man of few words that he is, says he loves something I listen, and I listen hard. We amble over to the juice machine and my father picks up an empty bottle from the dispensary, twists off its top, places the bottle under the spout, and does as is requested by the "Press" button. But only a few trickles of juice come out. He is disappointed and his face falls. "I wanted to show you something really cool," he says. To the point where this man who almost never asks salespeople for help seeks out a produce clerk not once but twice, first to ask the gentleman to please fill the machine up with more oranges, second to tell him the machine still isn't working. I am nearly in shock, as I have never seen my father call someone over twice in the span of two minutes for anything in my life. But the second time the clerk presses a series of buttons and suddenly the machine starts making noise. "Okay," my father says. He smiles, and places the bottle under the spout. "Now watch this."

Suddenly oranges start moving from the basket on top, down a curving metal slide and into a machine that splits the orange in half, juices it, then throws the peel away, all to the exposed eye. My father's juice bottle fills up, then he takes a sip. "Try that, it's incredible." I do. It is. My father smiles. "Wasn't that cool?" It was cool but, like my mother before him, what I love most about it is how much he loves it.

Next is Pad Thai. "It's this way," my father says, confidently pushing the cart toward the noodles. "How about steak, do you like steak?" he says. I confirm, and he orders at the counter, asking the gentleman to please cut it into small pieces. Shortly the Pad Thai is ready. "Will you grab me a fork and knife, Lyss?" my dad asks. I comply, grabbing chopsticks for myself. We sit down and share.

"Had you ever eaten Thai food before, Dad?" I ask. He shakes his head, no, as he dips his fork into his bowl. "I like that it's sweet," he says, biting into a bit of steak, then broccoli which he almost never willingly eats. I tell him about other Thai dishes he might like, like Pad See Ew. He nods, interested. "That sounds good," he says. "I'd like to try that."