My mother passed away two weeks ago on the 8 day of the Lunar New Year. She went on her own terms. She had a life that I do not envy, but she came from hearty stock, and she worked through the hardships in her own way, and she survived.
She overcame a great deal, the Japanese occupation of China, WWII in China, the internal civil wars in China, drug wars in China, all the atrocities that come with occupation and war, and her ultimate escape to the USA in hopes to have a safer life and better life for her children. Thank you mom (and dad) for your long journey over seas and land, which gave me and my sisters a better life, a life of autonomy, a life of free will, and the right to pursue happiness. Thank you mom.
My mom worked hard all her life to provide for me and my sisters. It was my hope that during her retirement, she would have a good and full life that she deserved. It was a slow start into her retirement because all she knew was hard work, she didn't know leisure or doing fun things for herself. What she did know was that she had to learn how to make retirement successful. There are four basic pillars of a good healthy life: nutrition, exercise, mental stimulation, and community. My mom always tried to eat healthy with mostly a plant based diet with some seafood as her favorite protein, and Chinese snacks (preserved plums and candied ginger) to sweeten the deal. She walked a lot. In Boston, it is easy to walk because there is great public transportation, and daily conveniences (grocery, drug store, etc) are all within walking distance of more residences. She was an avid reader, crossword puzzle fiend, and Scrabble player. Her mind was as sharp as a tack through the day of her passing. She also made a ton of friends at the Brookline Senior Center, which seems more like a university student union for retired folks. The friends my mom made, the activities she did and the trips she took with the Brookline Senior Center makes me want to move back to Brookline when I retire because it is all so fun!
It is my wish that if anyone would like to honor my mom, please consider contributing to the Brookline Senior Center (a 501 (c) 3 non-profit) by going to http://www.brooklineseniorcenter.org/ and clicking on the "How to Help" tab.
At the Brookline Senior Center, there are dozens and dozens of activities daily like yoga, painting, seminars of all kinds, book club, computer class, movies, and flower arranging to name a few. My mom, every Thursday morning would go do flower arranging. She loved this! Her and her three besties would get the leftover flowers from Trader Joes, and make flower arrangements to place around the Senior Center, and take arrangements to other seniors who may be under the weather and could not get out on that day.
A couple days per week, she would meet her friends at the Senior Center and then go out to lunch. She loved to dine out (as well as I do)! She loved trying new places, and eating new foods. She often went to Asian restaurants within a couple miles of the senior center with her besties. One place she went with her besties on a regular basis was Jo Jo Taipei up near Boston University. She really liked the mapo tofu dish, a spicy silken tofu that goes well over rice.
When my sister or I would get up to Boston, we would also go and dine at some of the best that Boston has to offer. We would spend time in Chinatown at the newest and best Chinese restaurants, or go to the best lobster (lobstah as a Bostonian would say it), or go to the best deli. One deli my mom really liked, as well as Anthony Bourdain liked, is Michael's Deli. It is the best corned beef you will ever have in Boston. The sandwiches are huge, so have half now and half later. The dill pickles are made the traditional way through salt brine fermentation to give a healthy dose of probiotics with lunch. This is what I did last on my last day in Boston, I went and had lunch at Michael's and ate 1/2 my sandwich. Because my flight was in the evening, I had my second 1/2 as my dinner on the plane. Yeah, made some folks jealous as they stared at their 0.5 oz bag of honey peanuts which taste a little chemically.
One little place me and my mom went to, and always kept a secret from everyone, including other friends and family, was the Daily Catch. The gig is, I did blog about this place once a couple years ago, breaking the code of silence of all my friends in Boston. It is very hard to get into this place. It opens at 4 pm, there are no reservations, and there are 6 tables of 2-tops and 4-tops. If you get there, the line is outside. You wait outside. There is no where to wait inside. Rain, sleet or snow, you are waiting outside. It is equal opportunity for people to wait outside, including kids, adults, and retired folks. Every time I was in Boston, my mom and I had a secret 4 pm dinner date on one evening of each visit, and WE TOLD NO ONE. Last year, some extended family asked if we could get together one night for dinner. It was hilarious, my mom and I looked at each other, and said I was busy with friends and couldn't make it. It was really because of our secret 4 pm dinner at the Daily Catch. It was our secret, as to not have competition for one of the 6 tables. We would get there at 4 pm as they opened, to stake our claim to one of the 2-top tables. She really liked the clams they made fresh to order. She also liked the flavor of the squid ink pasta because it reminded her of a Chinese shrimp paste which is full of umami.
For me, I just can't make a trip to New England without getting a steamed lobster. Every visit, my mom and I would go and get me a lobster. Before my mom downsized to her 1 bedroom condo, and she still had the house with a big-@ss kitchen, she would go to the docks and find the best deal on buying lobster direct from the lobstermen. It was cheaper to get "chicken" lobster, the lobster with 1 claw, and she would boil up 2 lobsters at a time for me. She would make a Chinese style vinegar dipping sauce for me. It was so dang good! The last few years, we went out for lobster at Legal Seafood. Regardless of its status as a chain restaurant, the Boston version of Legal Seafood is still true to making a great steamed lobster.
I saved the best for last, Bernard's Restaurant in Chestnut Hill. For decades, we had at least one meal at Bernard's Restaurant in Chestnut Hill for every visit I made. Bernard's is a Chinese Restaurant that is appealing to a wide range of folks, from the newbies who want more traditional Americanized-Chinese food (ex General Tsao Chicken) to a more traditional Chinese-Chinese food like tripe in fermented black beans. I think my mom liked this place because it is so easy to get to from I-95, Rt 128, Rt 9, Boylston St, and the T (Chestnut Hill T stop Green Line D). There is plenty of free parking. I think she also liked this place because it does have real Chinese food (there are plenty of items that are true to a Chinese Cantonese tradition), and Bernard's has a really great Chinese style ginger-scallion lobster. When I head to Boston next time, I am going to Bernard's for the ginger-scallion lobster, as I think about it time and again. I like Bernard's too, because of the food, and it is also near the Shake Shack for a delicious concrete (frozen custard with mix-ins). It is also near the Container Store, which I could wander around for hours and hours looking at ways to organize my stuff.
Talking to my mom's friends this past week, and thinking about my mom while writing this blog post, I realized how much we shared in our love of good food, and dining out with friends. Talking to mom's friends, they all mentioned their time with her and finding new or delicious restaurants to try. Thinking about my mom, I realized we are very similar in this way. Neither of us are flashy or extravagant, neither of us are clothes or shoe horses, rather most of our disposable income goes to food, good food, from a humble bagel to a magnificent lobster dinner. To my friends here who have asked what you can do to support me during my time of mourning: break bread and dine with me and share with me delicious stories of good food and friendship.