College Kritter earned that name well before starting college. The state of Ohio offered all high-school juniors with a GPA over 3.5 a chance to attend a community college, get their regular high school requirements met, and also finish off some college core classes. During her junior and senior years of high school, she was immersed in a college atmosphere, visiting her school only for an occasional and extremely useless mandatory meeting with her counselor. And she thrived.

Before we had decided to move out west, she and I picked colleges and her heart was set on the University of Michigan, followed closely by the University of Chicago and Northwestern University. The mortgage industry went belly up, Husband lost his pretty lucrative job almost overnight, and we had some extremely big choices to make. The majority of our material possessions, including the house and both of the cars went POOF, and instead of moving into a cheap apartment somewhere on the west side of Cleveland, we decided to really move west. As to California. College Kritter was aware of our financial downsizing, but the young Beasties were oblivious, Hollywood stricken, and eager to relocate (they even volunteered to donate a bunch of toys, stuffed animals, and games to an orphanage in Berea).

College Kritter moved her college interests westward as well, and applied to four UC schools. She graduated a semester early, and after spending a week with her dad in Florida, she joined Husband and Father on their moving adventure west. She did not know anybody in Orange County and I was the grateful beneficiary of her solitary existence. We spent hours talking, laughing, and reminiscing. We watched Kurosawa and Buñuel movies and analyzed till late at night. We went grocery shopping together and prepared meals stepping on each other’s toes in the tiny kitchen. She became quite skillful in her culinary efforts, and I enjoyed the unexpected gift of her presence.

It was the last week of March, 2009. We were watching TV in our tiny, 960 square foot apartment in Southern California. I was laying on the love-seat with my feet up on the armrest (I am not so short as to fit comfortably), and College Kritter was sitting on the sofa checking her iPhone during the commercials. Out of the blue, in a deadpan voice she said, “I think they accepted me at Berkeley”. For a moment I was speechless, trying to switch planets. Then I grabbed her iPhone, read only “Congratulations…”, got up and started jumping up and down, crying and screaming, a woman possessed, while she watched me with that WTF expression that is a rite of passage for teenagers. The rest is history.

When she came home from Cal at Thanksgiving, we celebrated her eighteenth birthday on the 28th of November within the family. We got her a basket of food-related goodies because she is a gourmand-in-making. She got to choose almost every meal for the four days she spent with us. We had a toast, welcoming her into the world of adults (even though she is a more responsible and adult person then many adults I know). She flew back to her roommates, classes, and exams, and I stayed behind, crying silently as I collected the clothes she left on the floor and aligned the books she disturbed, and threw away empty toiletries left in her wake.

We did not celebrate her high-school graduation. She did not go to the prom. There was no bash marking her acceptance to UC Berkeley. And her eighteenth birthday, one of the biggest milestones that would have definitely warranted a massive attendance by relatives and friends bearing gifts if we lived in Serbia, was a quiet affair, missing all the necessary bells and whistles. She finished her first semester with As, and proud does not even come close to explaining how I felt about my child.

I asked her what she wanted as a present for everything she had accomplished, and she said she wanted to take a trip with me during spring break. We tossed ideas back and forth talking on Skype several times a week. Constricted by finances and the short time period, we decided to go to Yucatan, Mexico. I trawled the Internet frantically for a couple of months, trying to cram as much as I could into one week, and on the eve of our departure, when she flew in from Northern California, our suitcases were packed, printouts ready, cameras charged, and the meticulously written list left on the counter with every item crossed off.

I have to devote several posts to describing our wonderful adventure in Mexico. It has been a year since then, and I still feel the Caribbean sun on my skin. I have bought a tortilladora in Valladolid after watching Mayan women make small, corn tortillas that we ate at every meal. I lugged heavy a molcajete y tejolote that I bought at the Farmers’ Market in Yucatan, convinced that salsas could taste as good as they did in Playa Del Carmen. I bought banana leaves, determined to make Cochinita Pibil, desperately trying to relive one more time the fresh, flavor-packed meals we ate in Mexico.

The first time I ever had ceviche, Nina and I were sitting at an outside table in a small seafood restaurant in Playa Del Carmen. It was a warm night, but the clouds were hanging low and a couple of raindrops fell intermittently on the concrete. The waiter told us that people did not eat seafood when it rained, apologizing for the lack of customers. It seemed that the Italian restaurant next door offered comfort food, but I could not imagine eating a plateful of spaghetti with Bolognese sauce on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

We asked for recommendations and he brought us a fish ceviche for an appetizer. We are both enamoured with raw food, and we were looking forward to trying another approach to raw seafood. It was completely different from steak tartare, carpaccio, and even sushi in its preparation. It was well balanced, clean, acidic, and spicy, with a fresh aftertaste of cilantro.

I’ve made ceviche several times since then, always consulting Rick Bayless’ recipe from the book Fiesta at Rick’s which I won during his Twitter contest. His recipe uses scallops and tropical fruit and it became a staple appetizer for any of our summer dinners. This time I wanted to try a Peruvian Fish Ceviche.

Our local grocery store, Henry’s Market, had beautiful corvina (sea bass) filets and I trust their meat department. The ceviche was extremely easy to make, and it was an enjoyable introduction to our fish dinner. The cubes of fish are marinated for 10-15 minutes with thinly sliced red onions, and served with corn and rounds of soft, boiled sweet potato, a completely new approach to our favorite summer nibble.

As I tasted every lime and jalapeño-infused morsel of fish, I remembered the warm Mexican night a year ago. One day College Kritter and I will be heading to Perù and I cannot wait to start planning again. I am looking forward to exploring the world with her, one ceviche at a time.

CEVICHE DE PESCADO, from Peruvian Cooking – Basic Recipes, by Annik Franco Barreau

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs. (about 1 kg) firm white fish (scallops or other seafood may be substituted)*
  • 2 garlic cloves, mashed
  • 1 chili pepper,
  • 1 cup (240 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice (between 8-12 limes)
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 1 large ear of corn
  • Lettuce leaves

Directions:

Boil sweet potato and corn (separately) if using for garnish. Allow to cool. (Can be done hours or even a day in advance). Wash and trim your fish. Slice into pieces between ½ inch (15 mm) cubes to 2 inch (50mm) pieces, depending on taste.** Place fish in a non-reactive, shallow pan in a thin layer. Season with salt and pepper.

Combine lime juice, chili pepper, coriander and garlic. Pour mixture over fish. Stir lightly to expose all the fish to some of the lime juice mixture. Put sliced onion on top of fish as it ‘cooks’. Let fish stand for 10 minutes. Lift fish out of the lime juice and plate individual portions, garnishing with lettuce, slices of sweet potato and slices or kernels of corn if using.

*It is important to use high quality, really fresh fish. You can use previously frozen The better your fish, the better your ceviche.

** The fish is going to “cook” in the lime juice – how thick you make the pieces will determine how much the fish cooks, so keep your own preference in mind when you are cutting the fish up.