Pho is Love

“Oxtail. That’s beef right? I like to use meat with the bones; that’s the difference between my pho and the one at restaurants.”

My friend Sarim’s pho is by far the best, made with love.

I sat in her dining room feeling both humbled and ashamed while she cheerfully, lovingly tended to the broth that she first prepared the day before. She said she had to set the timer for midnight to continue babying the pho stock. This is a super-busy woman, devoted mother to two young children, both in Premier soccer, wife to her equally hard-working, adorable husband Michael.

Together, they share a huge extended family. I’m talking enough to fill several hotel ballrooms. Between their families and their millions of other friends, they can barely spare a moment for … well, this intimate get-together for the four of us (minus five) on a random Thursday night.

Originally, I suggested a moms’ night out. Then, it grew into a potluck hang at one of our homes when Sarim offered to make us pho.

I’m the asshole who never gave pho much of a thought. I’m a ramen girl. In the outskirts of my mind, I vaguely knew that properly making the beef-bone broth alone took an enormous about of time, just like real ramen pork-based broth did.

Sitting there, I felt undeserving of such hospitality. I didn’t slave over the stove. Sure, I brought Ina Garten’s chocolate chunk cookies as Sarim requested, and threw together Spam musubi (I could make in my sleep), but this pho was altogether another masterpiece altogether.

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All this for us?

She and her family had moved into this new house just a few short years ago. I never paid attention to their talk of a housewarming. Our other soccer mom friend Meghan of M.E. Life Photography took the family photos which Sarim proudly has hanging in her living room.

I never lifted a finger to find out more about how they found the house, how I could make their new house a celebration, how they were doing, where they came from, how they came from nothing to build this warm, loving home that extended way past Washington state… why they would ever bother to include me in that family.

I just grudgingly showed up to soccer games, some practices, a few moms’ nights out at happy hour focusing on entirely the wrong things, like whether the place served crispy fries and Buffalo Wings, who else would or would not show up, who would include me in conversation, or if I should cheat that day or stay clean.

Asshole.

Last night, I completely focused on Sarim for a change. I watched this little spitfire buzz around the kitchen, between her simmering stock and her young daughter, Josie’s friend (Meghan’s daughter), and their dinner of pho with slices of French bread for dipping (what, really?!).

The entire time, Sarim kept up a lively chatter about soccer, the coaches, the other moms, our lives, our children. But she never really talked much about herself, and we never asked. Well, I never did, because I’m selfish and delusional; I actually fooled myself into believing I was a caring, giving individual.

I do care about her, about all of the ladies in our core Misfits group. I just get caught up in my own bullshit sometimes, most times, that I don’t really see what else is going on. I don’t really see the beauty in people who give more than they can afford — money, time, attention. I certainly couldn’t see how much Sarim has given, continues to give without complaint.

Her pho was outstanding. I felt her love with every drop. I also learned how to eat this humble Vietnamese dish after decades and decades of staring it in the face, my nose turned up in the air (because I really wanted ramen, or something French and expensive).

Sarim’s pho contained the traditional slices of beef (I had mine medium), but also slices of sausage, which I topped with green onions, bean sprouts, cilantro, and jalapeño, with a squeeze of lime.

Next time, she wants to make us this skillet dish with all the ingredients laid out for us to roll our own spring rolls, maybe a hot pot too. The next time may be in six months, or a year, but that’s okay.

I can’t wait to show her how much I do care. It isn’t much, but I’ll dust off another friend’s old lumpia recipe. I haven’t made these Shanghai style, ground-chicken lumpia in three to four years. Lumpia’s very time-consuming. It’s why Filipino moms and grandmas make them in bulk by the hundreds to freeze before needing them for a special occasion.

Lumpia’s the least I can bring.

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This guys walks into the lobby lookin’ like Noah Cappe…

Cut through the fancy semantics, and I was fired, I lost my long-running, paid gig as reportedly only a handful of writers for this new program on this new edition of a blah-blah-blah…

Yes, I’m shocked. But completely? Not really.

I live my life with a remote control and the disheartening, alarming ability to rewind, pause, and go, “WTF? I just saw that happen. So, it’s true!”

Two-three days ago, I had a really weird dream, weird for me, because Noah Cappe figured prominently in it. Cappe is the host of the Cooking Channel’s “Carnival Eats.” I hear he’s also the host of the Canadian version of “The Bachelor.” On Twitter, he’s a really nice guy, very approachable, and knows how to use social media with his own flair for personality. He also has a really hot girlfriend/significant other.

Well, in my dream, he popped up in the lobby of a slew of offices, my writer’s workplace, turned to me with a shit-eating grin on his face, and announced quite happily that he was there to interview for and take my job.

He was so charming and I was so agreeable to this notion that naturally, we fell in love. By the end of the dream, when we were forced to share quarters with a group of other people, I didn’t want him to leave. He left, as they all do, because it was better that I share my room with a family who needed the extra beds more.

In any event, there’s a point to this dream other than warning me that I was gonna be out of a job soon. The warning signs were already there in real life; certain things happened in succession that didn’t make me feel very secure anyway. It’s not like I’m psychic or anything…

Anyway, I have no idea what I’m going to do next.

I have a feeling that the universe has been trying to tell me to use my time more wisely and to focus on what really matters before it’s too late.

And that’s not punching in a time clock, or mooning over Cappe’s lip-smacking way with words.

The Pink Paisley Shirt

 

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Photo of 1968 Fender Telecaster from Reverb

First of all, we started this time-traveling experiment from a safe place. Let’s get that straight. We were a rag-tag motley group, strays including a few semi-potty-trained dogs roaming around outside (because I’m obsessed with that stuff).

Today, two or three of us were to test-drive this time-traveling machine. Only, there wasn’t a machine to speak of, just us, clutching our things, my unlaced running shoes — Would I have time to tie them? — his quarter, leaning against a wall in this side room of a shopping complex or resort a few miles away from a tourist trap.

Five minutes to go, and we start bickering about what we would do once we got there. Where? Good question. I wanted to get my running in. The other two questioned the importance of running in the past when maybe we should save a famous person from assassination or something.

“What the hell are we planning on doing? Do we even know what year we’re going to?” he asked. I don’t know who he is; he feels familiar, like my husband. He’s the one I clasp the quarter with before it disappears in our hands and we fall back into a strange room through the now-wood-paneled wall like an invisible elevator.

Before we dissolve, another-he says, “Let’s find the quarter I lost.” I have no idea what quarter he’s talking about, but it’s too late for more questions because we’re falling into this motel room, thick curtains drawn.

I go to draw the curtains of this picture window, wondering if the world behind will stay in black and white. As I pull these burlap-thick curtains slowly aside, I’m relieved to see the sepia tone fading into almost cartoonishly bright prime colors outside. The barren, deserted street keeps wanting to change scenery.

Impulsively, I open the front door to the mild protests from behind. They’re still getting their bearings. But I’m dying to know where we landed and when, when I get as far as the back of this motel room. Seaside, we’re seaside, it’s California before the population explosion, it has to be, I tell myself, when the man who reminds me of my husband calls out, “Not too far, we only have two and a half hours, remember.”

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I begin to make my way back, when the street in front of our motel room turns into a building on fire, rioters smashing storefronts, angry black rioters. The street returns to normal, then changes again to another scene that will come in the near-future, maybe related to the music explosion, before settling down.

As I make my way back to the front door, slightly nervous about making our way back home to the present, a man wearing a pink paisley shirt approaches from the front office. He’s the manager, looking perturbed. After all, we just appeared out of nowhere, right?

“Uh, I must have missed you folks,” he says to me, deciding whether or not to call the cops.

I have to know. So I interrupt him as charming and as subtle as I hope I can be. “What’s your favorite band?”

He doesn’t miss a beat, “The Mamas and The Papas,” like I was some moron who didn’t know the score, before continuing on about the cheap-as-hell room rates.

I don’t even hear him anymore or care if he does call the cops, because I realize it’s California, circa 1966. I don’t even know how I know this, since I barely paid attention to the hippie flower power craze. Honest to god, I don’t even know when The Mamas and The Papas came into focus.

But I know I’m right. I hear myself quipping, “I am two years old and crapping my pants right now!” The others laugh nervously.

Suddenly, we fast-forward toward the end of this show, two and a half hours later, we’re in front of the setting sun, it’s dusk at this funky olive green-shaded family steak house, and I’m about to cry because this woman tells us something very profound that we take to heart when we get back.

I wish I could remember what she said. The gist was to hold onto the memories, you leave behind more of a legacy with your words and your joy and your journey than you realize, and that the next generation will carry that legacy to heart when you are back in your safe place cheering them on.

Something like that. It was all in the color of the fading sun through the slant of the surf and the sand, the copper in her hair and in the roof of this now-abandoned roadside relic families once gathered at for summer dinners.

Time really isn’t linear or an infrastructure outside ourselves, but … simultaneous and glowing, constantly shifting, parallel, strangely conceptual, and locked in our minds?

Hollister, San Benito, California, USA, circa 1800s, photo from http://greenerpasture.com/Places/Details/1875
Hollister, San Benito, Calif., circa 1800s, photo from GreenerPasture.com

When I woke up, I sat on the toilet listening to “California Dreamin'” on YouTube. The opening, inter-woven melody on guitar haunted me. It seemed to hold a secret. Maybe it always had, and I never really paid attention before. My mind does, though. Apparently, my mind pays attention to everything, even California in 1966 when I was still in Korea and wouldn’t arrive for another year or two.

“All the leaves are brown
And the sky is grey 
I’ve been for a walk 
On a winter’s day 
I’d be safe and warm 
If I was in L.A.

California dreamin’ 
On such a winter’s day”

—”California Dreamin’,” The Mamas & The Papas

The deeper question is, What else is locked there, and, Where’s the fucking quarter?