In my life, memories are always floating in and out of my brain. Life has included so many of them that it shouldn’t surprise me. Does that happen to you? It’s almost like this blog has opened numerous drawers in my mind, some filled with dusty threads of memory and others containing full-blown made-for-TV movies, or let’s make that ABC After-School Specials. Those are fun, and I’ve shared some here, but today’s memory is more of a fuzzy snippet. A brief but clear memory of one of many trips my family made to Chinatown in Boston for the August Moon Festival.
My father loved Asian culture
My father had a fondness for Asia, Asian people, and Asian Culture. I’m not sure why. But he always had a geisha calendar hanging on the kitchen wall at home, (it was a thing in the 70s and my father always got one at Christmas time from a restaurant he visited in Lynn), and he loved going to Chinatown to the shops, smelling the food, seeing the whole fish for sale in the shop windows, letting us buy trinkets in the shops, listening to the music.
Trips to Chinatown were special!
We always went to both the August Moon Festival, and the Chinese New Year Celebration, all four kids and my mother and father, packed into the van or the family car for a drive into “the city.” As we got older, we were allowed to invite friends. But most times those friends couldn’t get permission from their parents. I mean who takes kids to Chinatown (or that’s what those parents were thinking). I don’t know that it was particularly because it was Chinatown, but more likely because it was adjacent to what was known in the 60s and 70s as The Combat Zone. Which also included a huge building with a big black and white bunny logo painted on the back, Boston’s own Playboy Club, which opened in February of 1966.
Inner City is in the eye of the beholder
My parents both came from families who owned their businesses, in Malden, and Chelsea, respectively. They were accustomed to going into the city regularly for work and had done so from a young age. My mother used to go in on the streetcar on her own to meet with clients, and visit her father, near Scully Square or along Newbury Street. My father made deliveries by truck to the Haymarket and the North End. And one day, my sister and I made our own memorable trip on the subway when we were 11 or 12. It was our first trip on our own!
Trust is earned, or trusted to be there when necessary
I can’t even believe my mother let us go, but I’d been going into Boston to the hospital every month since I was very young, and my sister also came along occasionally. Believe it or not, some days my mother brought all four of us into the city! My poor siblings had to sit around in the hospital hallway all day long waiting while I saw doctor after doctor for tests, evaluations, went to the orthopedic shop, and sat some more. And back then, hospitals were not kid friendly. There were blocks and some books to read, but that’s it. I distinctly remember one intersection near Mass General. The cop would stop traffic and comment about the “mother hen with all her chicks.” My mother would tell us to hang onto her coat, and across we’d go with traffic waiting impatiently as we crossed. But if pedestrians didn’t move fast enough, the cop would yell, “go ahead hit them, that’ll teach ’em to move faster!” We always held on tight and moved VERY fast!
But back to that memorable trip.
We started in Medford, walking from my grandfather’s house down to the Fellsway to grab a bus. We then switched to the T in Wellington Circle. My mother’s rules?
- Don’t talk to strangers
- Go exactly where we planned and nowhere else
- Get off the train BEFORE we got to Dudley station
Unfortunately, on that day, we were chatting and missed our stop. We were stuck on the train and had no choice but to get off at Dudley. We were petrified! Here we were stepping off the train exactly where my mother had told us not to go. We carefully walked down the platform and across the bridge over the tracks. We sadly noticed that even the pigeons in that neighborhood were missing toes, and appeared a bit tougher! But we were safe, didn’t talk to anyone, and were heading back towards home within 10 or 15 minutes. Crisis averted!
Festivals in Chinatown
On our family trips, we drove in and parked on a random street where my father could find space. Chinatown Festivals were huge events. They had stages set up for dancers and singers, politicians with their speeches, shop owners thanking the community, and kids from local clubs performing. And always the Lion Dances, firecrackers going off, incense, constant gongs, horns, and crowds!
Chinatown streets aren’t all that wide, and with shops bursting at the seams with shoppers, booths set up on sidewalks, and people selling their wares at every street corner, it was chaos to keep us all together. The year I’m remembering had to be around 1967, and it was the August Moon Festival. I was all of 8, and my youngest brother was 5. He may not remember this, but I can remember my mother’s panic.
We were all watching a dragon dance, with clashing cymbals, gongs, and people cheering. Suddenly a group of competing lion dancers came out of an alley, and bricks of firecrackers were lit and tossed from balconies to crackle overhead and explode around the dancers. The crowd shifted and people were pushing to get out of the way.
My father looked down and saw my little brother, standing there looking around with horror in his eyes. He leaned over to my sister and me and said, “Get in a doorway and stay there!” Then he grabbed my little brother and deposited him atop a pile of trash nearby. Suddenly he was lost in the crowd with my other brother. My mother had been looking for us and yelling but I couldn’t see her anymore. Slowly the crowd pushed its way past us, but my sister and I held hands and stayed in that doorway, scared, surrounded by noise, and people speaking a language we did not understand, and wondering how we’d ever find our family again. (Kids are dramatic, aren’t they?) Slowly the dancers wove (weaved?) their way down the street and the crowd passed with them. It seemed silent, although I know it wasn’t.
With the street clear, my father and brother Moe came back looking for us, and my mother came running, yelling our names. When she saw there were just three of us with my father she panicked! “Where’s Billy????” My father reached over towards the alley and lifted my little brother off the pile of trash by one arm and plopped him down on the sidewalk in front of my mother. We’d survived the chaos!
You’d think that would be it for the day, but no. We stopped off at one of the local shops for Mooncakes and little paper fans with dragons painted on them. I think my brothers got paper fish that you could hang up by a red silken cord. I am certain we all fell asleep on the ride home that day.
Thinking back to that adventure made me want to try a Chinese-inspired sauce for the Slow Roasted Crispy Pork Shoulder I made today. And since I didn’t have Hoisin Sauce or Five Spice Powder, you’re getting recipes for those as well!
Crispy Roasted Picnic Shoulder with Char Siu Sauce
- 8 – 12 lb Picnic Shoulder Roast (mine was 9 pounds) bone-in
- salt and pepper
- Yup, very simple ingredients but the directions are slightly more complex
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F
- Line a cookie sheet with sides with foil
- Set a rack into the sheet, and cover with parchment paper
- Liberally sprinkle the roast with salt and pepper
- Set on the rack and place in the center rack of the oven
- Allow to roast for 8 hours or until a fork easily enters the meat
- Remove from the oven and tent with foil for 20 – 30 minutes
- Raise heat to 500 degrees F
- Uncover pork and return to oven, roasting for an additional 20 – 30 minutes turning one quarter turn every 5 minutes, until the skin is crackling and well browned.
This kind of pork is best picked off the bone. The skin is crunchy and flavorful, and the meat can be shredded right off the bone. Serve with your favorite BBQ sauce, a pan juice, or Char Siu sauce per the recipe below:
Char Siu requires Hoisin Sauce, and 5 Spice Powder. I had neither so I’m sharing the recipe for both of those below and then the Char Siu after that! If you have Hoisin Sauce, or Five Spice Powder you can skip the DIY section!
Ingredients for Hoisin Sauce
- 4 TB low-salt soy sauce
- 2 TB peanut butter
- 1 TB honey
- 2 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 finely minced garlic clove
- 2 tsp light olive oil
- a couple grinds of fresh black pepper
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well blended.
Ingredients for Chinese Five Spice Powder
- 6 star anise pods
- 1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
- 1 cinnamon stick (3″ – 4″)
- 2 TB fennel seeds
- 2 tsp black peppercorns
Directions: Place all ingredients in a spice grinder (Or coffee grinder) and grind until smooth. I used a small food processor and it provided great flavor but I had to strain my final sauce to get rid of the bits and pieces that escaped the blades!
Making the Char Siu Sauce:
- 1/3 cup Hoisin Sauce
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 3 TB dry sherry (don’t use cooking sherry if you’re trying to avoid salt)
- 1 tsp or more of Chinese Five Spice Powder
Directions: In a small bowl, whisk together all ingredients. Allow to sit for a bit to allow flavors to blend.
Drizzle over your pork! Enjoy. The sauce I made was a bit salty but we don’t use any salt in our cooking on a regular basis. This sauce is supposed to be salty sweet. I made it a bit sweeter than usual. You can also serve with apple sauce on the side. I hope you enjoy it!
If you’ve enjoyed this post, why not check out some other of my recent posts?
- Apple, Bean, Ham and Turkey Soup with Honey Green Chile CornBread
- Crispy Pork with Char Siu Sauce and memories of ChinaTown
- Curried Autumn Squash Soup and A Fall Day at the Beach
- Two birthdays, a Hot Air Balloon Ride and a Tropical Escape
- Battle Road Hike and a delicious Lentil Stew for later!
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