Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles

I love Chinese food; it's my absolute favorite. I've managed to get the whole family hooked on the food so as to feed my addiction. And of course one of the best parts is getting the fortune cookie after the meal. Even Mia loves waiting to see what hers says. I usually have a fortune or two floating around in my purse, but most of the time they are so generic, that I forget them within minutes. Except for one. When Jesse and I were first dating, we went to a restaurant and got the obligatory cookies at the end of the meal. He opened his first; it was the customary vague hint of wisdom like something you'd read in the astrology section of the Sunday paper. Then I opened mine and it read: You are the guiding star of his existence. I remember feeling overwhelmed with emotion when I showed it to him. Imagine for a moment if he had taken that cookie: it would have made no sense. I felt like I got a golden ticket. I tucked it carefully in my purse, and it now resides in a jewelry box in our bedroom. At the time, we took it as a sign of our destiny together. All because of a little cookie.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee is the author's fascinating quest to discover the true history of the fortune cookie. Fortune cookies, ubiquitous at Chinese restaurants, are crunchy with a slightly vanilla flavor; this unassuming cookie wouldn't seem to bear up under the weight of an entire book, but Lee makes this book delectable. Want info on the Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989 or about the Chinese immigrants aboard the Golden Venture? Lee has a wide variety of stories that she dug up in her search for the origin of the cookie. Chapters about the cookie are alternated with stories about Chinese immigration throughout the history of the US, how Chinese restaurants have become international, where did General Tso's Chicken come from, and so many more. Lee's book is like a great Chinese buffet. There are lots of selections to choose from, and there's just enough of each to satisfy without a glut of information. Lee's stories about the Chinese immigrants who work in and own Chinese restaurants across the country are the strongest. The images of ghost towns in China filled with huge homes built with the money sent home, but have no residents, streets empty of those of working age, and a school where the older children are taught just enough English to work in the restaurants, show an entire society built on food that no one in China actually recognizes. The best of this genre of book not only educate the reader, but teach the writer something about his/herself as well, and Lee succeeds on both fronts as she connects with her Chinese roots. The mystery of the origin of the cookie is solved in an unexpected way. This book is a must read!

Doogie and Molly are home sick from school again today, and Jesse should be home. They all have awful sore throats and coughs. Here's hoping that Mia and I don't catch it!