SECOND HELPINGS

Fish The tasty, nonthreatening seafood fare at China Legend reminded me of the time I watched a graduate-school pal of mine at Berkeley prepare a Chinese fish dinner. A lanky, Midwestern blonde, Ann had spent years in China, and now was pursuing a Ph.D. in Chinese literature. She had also picked up a Chinese husband along the way, the kind of guy who expected his wife to have dinner ready the moment he came through the door. So she had to get started early. One morning, I accompanied her across the bay to San Francisco, where, in flawless Cantonese, she ordered a live fish at a Chinatown shop as fluently and casually as I might order a pastrami sandwich at a Brooklyn deli. The shopkeeper filled a large plastic bag with water, dumped the fish in and sealed it tight. Dinner in hand, we got back onto BART, where we barely merited a stare from blas‚ subway riders, who apparently had seen many stranger sights than two Berkeley-bound passengers hauling a two-foot live carp. Once back home, we hurried to her bathroom, where she filled the bathtub with water and let our catch of the day loose. That evening she dazzled me with her cooking prowess. First, she sizzled up the wok with a bit of oil. Then she retrieved Shamu from the tub and unceremoniously threw him into the skillet. The startled fish immediately launched himself in the air, alternating the side he landed on each time he flopped down into the red-hot wok. After a minute or so, the flipping stopped, and Ann stepped in to transfer the inert creature to a platter. "See," she grinned, as she poured on the black-bean sauce, "the Chinese know how to let fish cook themselves." A Crummy Tale: A few weeks ago, a loyal reader passed along some disturbing information, picked up while he was scanning E-mail on the Rio Salado Community College bulletin board. Someone posted a note claiming that Neiman Marcus had ripped her off. The victim says she was eating lunch at the store, and had particularly enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies. She asked the waitress if she could have the recipe. The waitress checked and said it would cost two-fifty. The customer agreed, but when she looked at the bill, she discovered two-fifty meant $250, not $2.50. After a round of complaints to Neiman Marcus personnel went nowhere, the note went on, the victim decided to get even by publishing her tale and the cookie recipe on computer bulletin boards everywhere. And it's there for the copying: 2 cups butter, 2 tsp. soda, 5 cups blended oatmeal, 2 cups brown sugar, etc., etc. A great story, except for one detail: It's not true. Kitty Broderick, public relations manager for Neiman Marcus Arizona, doesn't know how the hoax started (the story first popped up in 1986), but she's ready for it to end. In the first place, she says, Neiman Marcus doesn't have a chocolate chip cookie recipe. And the store is perfectly happy to give any of its recipes away, free. Still, nothing seems to be slowing down this bit of cyberspace folklore. Broderick is thankful for one thing. People who have tried it tell her the recipe makes a particularly tasty chocolate chip cookie.

 
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