Being in a strange city on a National Holiday makes you feel ever more like an alien. Without gas to power the stove in our new house, and fearing the result of room service at the hotel, Ghassan and I drive the lonely streets of Torrance searching for a meal.
We are rejected at the door of Marie Callander's after arriving minutes before the last seating. Dejected, we venture furthur away from the hotel. One neon sign flashes in the distance. We follow the talisman, curving left and right, and ending at "Chinese Sea Food Restaurant". With hesitation, we enter.
A petite woman guides us to a booth near the door and hands us worn leather-bound menus. We opt for the set menu featuring soup, fried spring rolls, rice and choice of a main course. Within minutes, we have hot, dark tea to sip on and a soup mascarading as Hot and Sour arrives. The soup is missing any semblence of heat, relying on the dishwater the cook must have used for a base for flavour. After two sips, the soup is set aside.
Crisp spring rolls arrive next, accompanied by a sweet apple sauce and mustard so hot it might actually burn right through the roof of your mouth into your nose. But the rolls mimic the soup in their (lack of) flavour.
Thankfully the server arrives with something edible next. At least, it was edible for me... my husband, a Muslim, delined on eating the pork fried rice. I made quite a scene out of enjoying the first tasty dish that night, humming over the garlicliky rice, moist pork and bright green peas. He stared of in distance, trying to ignore me. A waiter holding a huge whole fried fish paused for a second at our table, just long enough to drop off Almond Chicken and Beef with Green Peppers.
We heap the saucy meat over our rice, season with soy sauce, and dig in. The beef is thinly sliced and chewy, with a thick gelantenous sauce enrobing it. It is passable, only slightly better than your typical shopping-mall Chinese food. Under-cooked green peppers add a crisp contrast to the chewy beef.
I try the Almond Chicken next. At least the name is not misleading- it is merely chicken and almonds. Some spice, or any addition of flavour would be welcome here. Still, the hole in our stomachs begs to be filled and we make a brave attempt to finish the meal.
After consuming nearly half of the huge portions given to us, we sit back and ponder our fortunes. "Unless we change direction we are likely to end up where we are going." Well, there is no way to dispute this fact. My husbands' fortune is more appropriate: "There is absolutely no substitue for a genuine lack of preparation." What an apt description of this, our first American Thanksgiving.