In April of 2008, we decided to move to California. Losing our house to a foreclosure became a certainty after months of trying to make up for the lost income. Our Serbian friends Dragana and Milan moved to Orange County two years before us, and put a lot of effort into convincing us that relocating to a palmy balmy paradise was not such a bad idea. We would have to say goodbye to our beautiful house and move to an apartment no matter what we did. So why not California? Husband’s manager had flown him out and he was in love with it. The Beasties were too small to comprehend the recession, and they were extremely excited about the move. Not so much the College Kritter, who at the time took classes at a Community College as part of the specialized curriculum her high school offered. The idea of having to take another PE class as a requirement for graduating a California school did not sit well with her. Not to mention all the friends and the boyfriend…
We spent a lot of time rearranging our lives. Father bought the tickets to Serbia for me and the kids for the whole summer, allowing Husband to have an enormous garage sale, pack up all our belongings, put them up in storage, and vacate the house, without breaking little innocent hearts. Our friends put the deposit on an apartment next door to theirs. The College Kritter decided to graduate in December. She also had to abandon her Midwest University choices and shift towards California schools. Farewell to University of Michigan, Northwestern, and University of Chicago! Hello… whatever schools are in California!
Fast-forward to spring of 2009. It is March twentieth, my birthday. Dragana is taking me and the College Kritter to a nice Italian restaurant in Aliso Viejo for lunch. We sit outside where the sun is caressing our skin. We are relaxed, laughing, gossiping in Serbian, completely enjoying the food and the company of each other. We drop Dragana off and continue on to pick up the groceries. I am still in a haze, feeling great after a good meal when the College Kritter drops the bomb: “Mmmmm, I don’t think that I have been accepted at any of the UC schools”. My heart instantly skips a beat, starting to gallop wildly, faster and faster, while I clutch the wheel with such a force that my fingers are devoid of blood.
She does not want to ruin my birthday lunch, but now that it’s over, she has to share. My eyes well and I can barely see the road. I park the car, relying on instinct as my vision is lost to tears. I cry. And I cry for a week, regretting our decision to move to California, feeling that I have betrayed my child by putting our needs above hers, completely crushed by the injustice (after all, she was at the top 5 percent of her class, with a GPA of over 4.3).
Amidst all the crying we try to reassess our options. There is a community college right next to our new apartment complex. She can take classes, do really well, maybe transfer into the U.C. system later… And there are all the culinary schools… We schedule the interviews and rearrange our work hours to attend them. My heart is literally hurting for this child who has put so much effort into achieving excellent results, only to bang her head against a wall. And I hate California!
A week after my birthday, my butt is firmly ensconced upon the love seat while the College Kritter claims the couch, playing with her iphone. I allow a Food Network show to take my mind off my imminent stress when I hear, “I guess I just got accepted at Berkeley” uttered in a deadpan voice. It takes me quite a while to understand what she has just said. Berkeley? For real? Hippy trippy cool as all hell Berkeley? That’s when I jumped off the love seat and started screeching, hugging her, whirling, and crying, but this time out of pure happiness.
Yes, my first-born is fully embedded in the People’s Republic of Berkeley and enjoying every minute of it. She has finished her first year triumphantly, pulling an A average. I accompanied her for her orientation, bonded with other parents, and spent a wonderful weekend transversing the streets of San Francisco until we collapsed, crushed by sheer exhaustion.
We made trips to Berkeley several times to move her into a dorm, to attend the weekend of parents’ visitation (never again!), to move her out of the dorm and into her first apartment. And a couple of weeks ago I flew to SF to spend a weekend with her. We had no agenda, no plan, no schedule. She met me at the airport BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit… y’know… the train) Friday night and we talked for the hour long commute to Berkeley. Her roommates went home for the weekend leaving us the run of the apartment and we talked for hours into the night.
Saturday morning, I made Turkish coffee and brought it to her while she was still rubbing her eyes, sleepy and tired. And then she made breakfast with eggs and chili. We left to explore Berkeley, wandering the streets, stopping by the Farmers’ Market, buying a flat of succulent strawberries, and snacking on them while walking. She had invited several friends for the meet-the-parent night, and we planned a visit to Berkeley Bowl later that day (she had envisioned a cheese and wine party as a perfect back-drop for me meeting her friends).
We knew we did not want to eat anything big or heavy. Mulling about the ideas, we decided to find a Vietnamese restaurant and try some pho. Walking up Center Street we stumbled upon Le Regal and decided to give it a try. We were drinking our jasmine tea when the waitress brought two huge bowls of soup that could easily feed a family of six. In a separate bowl there were twigs of Thai basil, lime wedges, minced chiles, and bean sprouts. We dug in, getting lost in the hints of anise, savoring the balance of complementary tastes, slightly sour, slightly spicy, slightly sweet. After we were finished, most of the soup was still in our bowls. We took it home for another day. And we vowed to learn how to prepare a proper pho.
Back in Orange County, I joined the group French Fridays with Dorie, which celebrates Dorie Greenspan’s new book Around My French Table. Every week, we prepare one of her recipes (and in the month of October, she picked the dishes!). The book is beautiful, and filled with glorious recipes. I cannot wait to try them all!
This week we are cooking the Vietnamese Chicken Soup, very similar to pho. I had all the ingredients in my pantry except for the chicken breast on the bone. The soup was extremely simple and quick to prepare. The balance of tastes was impeccable. We ate it two nights in a row and all that was heard at the dinner table were some very satisfied grunts.
Sometimes, everything just works out.
The recipe for Spicy Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup can be found on page 98 of the book. Please, buy it, it is so beautifully written and photographed.