Kyle returned from California this evening where he spent the weekend visiting the University of Santa Clara where he has been accepted into their business program. He was reunited with two boys, David and Brian, who he played with as a 2 year old on the very same campus . Jeanine has remained in touch with their mother Julie for all these years. Kyle was treated like royalty and received the grand tour of San Francisco, Santa Cruz and was reaquainted with the majesty of the giant redwoods.
This evening Jeanine and I dined with Maya’s new friend Annabelle and her parents at the Flatbread Co. The grown up girls enjoyed bottled beer (as in root) while their parents got to know each other. Jeanine talked me into a vegetable topped pizza featuring beets. My Italian heritage nearly forced me to object on principle. Thankfully, I was persuaded by Jeanine to give it a try and was quite surprised by how yummy the combination was.
I surprised Jeanine with a bouquet of roses last night in celebration of her first published article. Her New Year’s resolution was to have one of her stories published. Less than a month in, she has received positive word from Exceptional Parent monthly magazine and the Santa Clara Weekly newspaper.
Chinese Chicken Salad – by Jeanine Calabria
Every time I think about Chinese Chicken Salad, I’m brought back to the weeks following my son Nicolai’s birth in July 1994, Santa Clara, CA. If I told you that each tangy, salty mouthful was accompanied by a pang of grief, you might wonder who in their right mind would continue making this dish. Yet this salad wasn’t the source of grief, it was the sustenance that got me through a hard time. As I mix the dressing of sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sugar, my eyes fill with tears. I think of the women who supported my family during those post-partum days, especially, Julie Gutierrez-Muegge. She wrote the recipe down for me on a Garfield Post-it, while I sat at her kitchen table. She then shared with me what her Mexican grandmother said about childbirth. “Every woman visits the valley of death when giving birth, and some are lucky enough to return to tell about it.” Julie reminded me that I was one of the lucky ones. Chinese Chicken Salad helped me to believe that.
Fifteen years later, my son, Nicolai, just home from soccer, puts in his order for Chinese Chicken Salad.
“Mom, tomorrow will you make Chinese Chicken Salad? I’ve been telling the guys about it and they’re coming over tomorrow night just to eat it. I dream about that salad!”
I agree. He can’t possibly know what this request means for me. Yes, it is wonderful that he’s not asking for pizza or pasta for the thousandth time. But what I am referring to is the nostalgic significance this recipe has for me– and indirectly him.
On January 1, 1994 my husband Carl, my 18 month old son, Kyle, and I (barely showing my early pregnancy), boarded an airplane in Indianapolis, IN and flew west to Santa Clara. We were starting a new life on the West Coast, near high tech Silicon Valley and warm weather. My job for the next 6 months was to entertain an active toddler while incubating a baby. I loved the prospects of exploring a new place and immediately joined Las Madres, a unique mother and child support group. Every week, I would race to the back page of the paper to check the playground location and times and plan everything else around the Las Madres gathering. Before I knew it, Kyle and I had instant community. What a way to become familiar with the area! We met in a different park every week, so I now knew of a wide range of play options as well as learning which pediatricians were taking new patients, what days the farmers’ markets came to town, and the real pay dirt of the group: names and numbers of good babysitters.
What I didn’t anticipate was the support this group would become after the birth of my son. Nico was born without his right leg and hip. A huge surprise since the ultra sound didn’t pick up the abnormality. The weeks after his birth were filled with the aftermath of shock, medical visits and the demands of my other son. Every night another meal would arrive from a Las Madres family. The generosity was touching and after two months we were astounded as the meals just kept coming. Lasagna and casseroles were tough to eat since none of us were very hungry, and the July heat was oppressive in our third floor condo. So, each time a Chinese Chicken Salad arrived, I ate it. It was the only dish that really appealed to me. Having a cool salad that felt so nourishing and spring- like, brought me hope. I don’t know if the dish was in vogue or if it was a regional dish, but we just couldn’t seem to get enough of it and every week several arrived. Cilantro, toasted almonds, sesame seed oil, crunchy romaine, roasted chicken with the skin on, the recipe ingredients varied little and were a symphony of flavors.
Nico requests this salad regularly. What I don’t understand is how this dish had such an impact on him. He was a nursing newborn with no experience eating Chinese Chicken Salad and yet he asks for the food that nourished me back from sadness and landed me in my kitchen today, wondering about the mysterious effects some foods have on our psyches and our lives.
(Nicolai Calabria was born at Los Gatos Hospital on July 8, 1994. He now lives in Massachusetts and wrestles and plays soccer for his high school team. In 2008 he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with his father and raised over $100,000 for the California based Free Wheel Chair Mission.)
Chinese Chicken Salad (serves 6)
Dressing:1 teaspoon. salt
½ teaspoon pepper
4 tablespoons Japanese rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup canola oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
Whisk together until sugar is dissolved.
Salad:1 head of Romaine lettuce, torn in bite-sized pieces
½ bunch chopped fresh cilantro
4 green onions, thinly sliced at an angle using ½ of green stalk too
½ cup toasted, sliced almonds
1 whole rotisserie-roasted chicken, sliced in small pieces
15 won ton wrappers, sliced in strips and fried or1 can prepared Chow Mein Noodles
Layer in the order of the above ingredients list. Pour dressing over the top, toss and serve.
Jeanine received word last week that one of her stories has been accepted for publication by Exceptional Parent magazine. The article is both a recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad and the story of Nicolai’s birth. I was called on to provide pictures to accompany the story and had to complete my work quickly as Nico was chomping at the bit to have his dinner.
My company held its holiday Party this evening at the House of Blues. Buses carried us from iRobot headquarters to the downtown venue located across the street from Fenway Park. More than 700 employees and their significant others were treated to passed hors d’oeuvres, fine food, and live music by the band SoHo. I had an opportunity to introduce Jeanine to my colleagues and to meet their spouses although the music was more conducive to dancing than extended conversations. And dance we did, for more than an hour.
We added another licensed driver to the family this afternoon. Nicolai, more so than Kyle, worked to obtain his license as soon as possible after reaching the legal age. Contingent on Nico maintaining good grades, we will make available to him our official car for new drivers, the Smart Car. Within minutes of returning home he concocted a reason to run a solo errand. We are all thrilled for him.
On my drive home from the office I stopped to pick up chips and soda for Nico who was hosting a poker party for his friends this evening. Kyle had Hannah over and Maya (who is officially under the weather now) had her friend Sarinnagh sleeping over. Jeanine and I are thrilled that our kids and their friends enjoy hanging out chez Calabria and it was nice to come home to such a hotbed of fun after a particularly challenging week in the office.
I enjoy using shallow depth of field (selective focus) in my photography. When I returned from work after a tough day in the office, I was thrilled to find a UPS package with a new (used) lens waiting for me. It is a 50mm f/1.2 which is an exceptional low light lens and also known for producing great bokeh (buttery smooth out of focus areas). Maya was looking rather moopy and we fear she may be getting sick.
Last weekend Maya and Jeanine volunteered at Open Table where food is prepared and served to anyone in need of a meal. Jeanine brought her sous chef with her as she created a healthy and delicious meal for 100 guests (including all the shopping for ingredients). Jeanine forwarded this photo she received today of all the volunteers.