30 December 2010

38 Years and Counting (The Blessings)

On the eve of my 38th birthday I decided to try writing again.  And I would like to write about the 38 nearly random things I am truly grateful for in my life.  I only mentioned "nearly random" because the very first item on the list was that which inspired me to list down all that I am thankful for.  Here they are:

38.  Halo-halo on a sweltering day
37.  A clear and smooth drive through Katipunan at 3 PM.  On a school day
36.  Killer stilletos I can run in
35.  My little girls belly laugh
34.  Dancing in the rain under a John Mayer sky
33.  Bacon
32.  Diamond Peel
31.  Senor Pedro Lechon Manok and Liempo
30.  Being friends with exes
29.  High School reunions
28.  Spanish sardines after a great, big function
27.  Having a laugh with my staff
26.  Coming up with a really cool outfit
25.  Acting my age
24.  NOT acting my age
23.  Macadamia Brittle Ice Cream
22.  Sweet Corn  Sorbetes 
21. My neighborhood Panaderia Pantoja-- for the softest and prettiest Sesame Seed    Bread  (under 60 bucks) that make for the best Ham and Cucumber Tea Sandwiches and for indulging my whimsical demands such as slicing white loaf lengthwise (to roll into Cheese Pimiento Pinwheels)
20.  Bento Boxes
19.  Saizen, Choto Stop, New Hatchin
18.  J.R.R. Tolkien
17.  Our Yaya of 13 years
16.  Our new "Ate" of 6 mos.  (please don't change)
15.  My food being on someones yearly Christmas Table 
14.  Wagyu
13.  Ebi Tempura
12.  The absence of debt
11.  Being part of someone's happy memory
10.  The gift of always being able to do the thing I love-- and making a living out of it!
  9.  Friends who are the same whether you're with them or not
  8.  Brothers who inspire me to see the world through someone else's eyes
  7.  Sisters who are so different from who I am and teach me there's no one perfect way   of being a Mom/Daughter
  6.  Simply the best Dad in the whole wide universe!
  5.  My strange but wonderful family life
  4.  Holding on to the last rays of my boy's "baby-ness"
  3.  Letting go bit by bit, to watch him one day be the best man he could possibly be 
  2. A daughter who massages my head when it hurts and hands me tissues when I cry watching sad movies
  1.  Eating, praying and loving-- at home.  That I only have to light up my stove to be nourished to the soul,  that I only need to close my eyes and feel so small against the will of God, that I only have to reach out my arms to hold the loves of my life--  I am truly, truly thankful.

12 September 2010

Kitchen Spirits

There is an old woman crooked with age in the rust colored house overlooking the ocean.  She is standing in front of her trusted stove while the sun is bidding the sea goodbye and the wind whispering distant howls across the lush, rolling green of this place she now calls home.  Even when the light begins to fade and surrenders to the darkness of evening, she takes her time to prepare a warm meal to provide for what would be a chilling, starless night. The shadows have grown long and what used to be mere whispers of the howling wind are now bales of manic laughter dissipating against the imposing rocks of these ancient cliffs.  And yet inside this house the world is entirely different, everything is quiet save for the  gentle sizzling of garlic in olive oil now filling the entire house with its intoxicating perfume.  It is in fact considerably warm with the many candles she had lit in the kitchen and on the dining table which she, for some unknown reason, had grown accustomed to setting for two.  If it hadn't been for the shaking of the windows against the fury of the approaching tempest, you would be tempted to walk out into the courtyard to wish on the first of the twinkling stars.  But we already know there are none.  There will be none for a long, long time.

She turns back to the plump chicken pieces which have been bathing for a while now in the sultry, crimson-colored paprika that have been stone-ground and have journeyed from the deepest valleys of La Vera in Spain to her cupboards now as old as she was.  They are quietly humming in unison with the olive oil and the very salt harvested from the oceans below.  She caresses each piece and gently powders them with flour the way a woman gently powders her nose.  Not too little and not too much, just a little dusting to  protect and prevent the direct contact of skin and fire.  She turns the heat up of the pan where the slivers of garlic have been gently coaxed by the oil into giving up its very essence of existence.   She puts in the pieces of the chicken to brown and with the final dousing of the best Sherry she could afford, the spirits of chicken, garlic and paprika-- united in steam, rise from the cast iron pan to ascend and return to the home of the gods.  The pan exalts in glory  announcing that  this concerto of food, this symphony of sight, smell and sound has officially reached its denouement.

But as if by the command of an invisible Maestro, a knock was heard on the door.   The old woman was startled. After all this time, she still gets startled. She looked up from where she was standing  and saw the wind blow across her windows what appeared to be a coat of some kind.  She walked unsteadily to the door and opened it ever so slowly like she always does.  All those times this has happened, nobody was ever there.  But tonight was different. There is a man standing outside her very door. She recognizes him but wonders how and why he was there.  She tries to speak but instead of her voice  only tears spoke of all the things she would never find words for.  The old man trembled as he reached one hand to his mouth and the other to touch the  face of the woman he can't believe he was seeing now.  He was crying too.

02 September 2010

Regrets Only

I am usually the optimist's optimist.  But there are days like this when I can't seem to accomplish anything else as I wallow and do laps in my swimming pool of self-pity.  I dive to the deepest end and watch the world pass by from underneath my silent abyss of what ifs and why nots while waiting for the answers to come.  They don't.  Whoever said they don't regret anything they have done or said in their lives is an absolute hypocrite.  I think that we all have our secret regrets for which we pat ourselves on the back as a form of contrition and confirmation (though more a way of convincing really) that we have done good and right.  But who are we kidding?

Maybe it's because of the combination of getting old and having contracted Inward-Attention-Deficiency- Syndrome (IADS)-- a deficiency I have proclaimed to exist, that makes me have days like this.  Though maybe the latter would be the product of the former.  In contrast to ADD where kids/adults are deficient in paying attention to outside things,  IADS sufferers are deficient in receiving any form of attention from anyone.  Anyone at all. 

Today I almost had a tantrum because our Yaya (nanny) wouldn't make me coffee at the instant I asked for it.  I felt invisible, irrelevant and powerless against her will.  All for a cup of coffee I could've made myself.  Her cup is in fact nowhere near as good as the one I make, but as in all things in the universe 'tis not about the cup but the power for making one yield into making  that cup.  Hmmm.  Maybe it's time to take THAT happy pill.

To my 11 followers, my apologies.  I will be back on a better day.  Now to dive back into my pool... 


23 August 2010

Ode To The Pig

I love the Pig.  I think that no other creature that has walked the face of the earth can  ever be more gastronomically perfect than him.    I really, really do.  And that is saying a lot because as a gastronaut of sorts, I have a very wide and open-minded palate and therefore find joy and contentment in eating a plethora of things.  However, a perfectly cooked pig for me is like the absolution of sin, an experience both captivating and liberating in the same breath. I'm quite sure some of you may argue that some other animal is much worth the kind of admiration and adulation that I am doling out in this entry and I would completely understand my friends who belong to sects that forbid the consumption of pork, but to all others, please bear with me and hear the reasons for my love for the beast known as Pig. 

True that the Toulouse Goose (which gives us foie gras d'oie) or the Tajima breed of Japanese cows  (which give us our prized Wagyu steaks) are prime examples of beasts also worth putting atop a pedestal.  Oh and please don't get me wrong, I love both as much as the next carnivore and would not completely discount trading in my first born for an eat all you can foie gras and wagyu buffet. But may I just point out the fact that the sublime tastes and textures from these animals  are not congenital as they require much manipulation from man.  And don't get me wrong again, I am not against such manipulations (sorry PETA friends, I can only be me) because it is precisely because of these shenanigans that I am able to experience the smoothness, silkiness and creaminess that  I can only describe as the world's best savory milk chocolate (if there was ever such a thing) that is foie gras.  Similarly, Tajima breed of cows were not born with the most perfect marbling one can imagine that it might just as well be marbled by design.  This of course as we all know is the result of the cows staying put forever  in one place coupled with endless sessions of daily massages to the tune of classical ambient music add to that the perfunctory gulping down of at least 40 liters of beer and/or sake a day. And because of these accoutrements, the resulting cost for both foie gras and wagyu is much too steep for your average Joe, Kim, Pierre, Pedro to pay for.  In fact  our very own Juan here may never even see the top of the tin of worst grade canned foie gras there is for as long as he shall live.  These simply cannot be food for every man.  

What about seafood you may ask?  The thing with seafood is this, no matter how much of it I eat, I never get full.  I always find myself saying, "Boy that was a good, light lunch" after a seafood meal and it makes me feel like I was being good and healthy, which more often than not I'm not.  But two hours later I'm at a McDonald's drive through ordering a quarter pounder with cheese and a side of fries.  I don't ever get that feeling of fullness  and ultimately satisfaction from seafood though I love, love, love eating them.  Our Dad used to farm prawns and crabs in our province Bulacan and I'm telling you I can eat those babies by the kilo on my own. Also, if you didn't farm them like we did, the price is a bit prohibitive too.  Not as much as foie gras and wagyu, but prohibitive just the same which is compounded by the fact that you need to eat more of it to feel satisfied.  

And no I did not forget about chicken and other birds.  To borrow the words of Simon Cowell, if I'm being honest with you, I'm not a  huge fan.  If a chicken sang in front of me I would probably say something like "Please go back into your shell and develop some more." In fact, I think that the best thing that ever happened to chicken is KFC.  (Kids may argue and vote for Chicken Joy, but kids don't read this do they?) Yes I do make a pretty good version of curry, but if I had a craving for chicken-- which is not so very often, curry would not be on top of my list.  KFC more often than not does the trick.  In fact, come to think of it.  My cravings were not for chicken but for KFC chicken.  So no, my vote does not go to our feathered friends.  Sorry.

Which brings us back to our lowly yet lovely and affable Pig. You don't have to have Kurobota to enjoy it's meat.  It doesn't cost an arm and a leg to purchase and is readily available in your local butcher or market.  You could fry, roast, stew, braise or grill it.  You could bread it, dry it, grind it, smoke it or make it into sausages.  Every single part of the animal can be used and prepared in ways that would warm your bellies with a happy fullness and satisfaction sans the heaviness that the meat of cows bring.  It takes very simple ingredients and methods to make a memorable meal out of your common pig.  

Case in point is this recipe for my Oven-Crisped Lechon Belly.  It is a humble recipe that needs nothing more than three ingredients, a well chosen pork belly included.  It is an easy, foolproof (even for the hardened kitchen offenders) spatterless method that will consistently give you beautifully blistered, crunchy skin and juicy tender meat  glistening and basking in the glory of it's own rendered fat.  It will earn ooh, aaahs, hugs, kisses and more than that. 

My Oven-Crisped Lechon Belly   

1 Kilo Pork Belly, Skin-on/Bone-in
2 Tablespoons Rock Salt
Enough water to cover
  1. Clean pork belly. 
  2. Boil in water with salt until tender but not falling off the bone (around 40 mins.) 
  3. Drain whole pork belly and cool in a dry place. 
  4. Prick skin all over with a steel brush ( I bought mine in Divisoria.  It looks like a toothbrush with pins for bristles.)
  5. Put in a roasting rack and roast at 300 degrees until skin has perfectly blistered, usually another 40 minutes
If you want to roast a bigger belly, you may do so but as always, do adjust the salt and time of cooking.  This is a very basic recipe so you can experiment by trying to put stuff in the boiling liquid like lemongrass, onions, black pepper, star anise.  The result is somewhat similar to the flavor of Lechon Cebu.  But whatever you choose to add, don't add sugar as this will ultimately affect the crispiness of the skin. 

Like I said, I love the Pig.  I think maybe that after all the evil that escaped from Pandora's box, it was a little Pig and not Hope that was left in it,  speaking in it's wee voice a message from Dionysius himself and thereby bringing back  hope and everything that was good and worth living for in the world.  And even if that isn't accurate Greek mythology, I am sure that one bite from this recipe will have you call out the names of the gods in honest gratitude for letting such a beast escape from the heavens to grace our many tables here on earth.

17 August 2010

Thank You For the Music

There is music in the wind that moves and breathes in the spaces of my soul. It is a song that constantly rocks and cradles the skiff of my heart from one shore to another in the many journeys of my life. I would find myself in the midst of the most perplexing labyrinth, and it has always been music that clears my head and keeps me finding my way back to shore .  Its words are the rivers I follow knowing they always unite with the ocean where my boat  patiently awaits--like a tiny dancer frolicking with the waves as if calling me to set sail once more to another journey scheduled by destiny but written by me.   While children will always be the anchor that keep me from drifting where I should not be, it has always been music that keeps me sailing through the most wicked tempest  of the seas.  No.  Music is not just my refuge.  Music is my redemption.

Even when the house is still, as it is right this very moment, there is a musical score  playing in my head.  It is there whatever it is I am doing, wherever I am in my life.  And in the moments where I have no answers to the questions in my head, the volume of that musical score is multiplied by a factor of at least two.  With it I am able to stare at my  demons, my doubts and fears right in the eye.  And through it, I am able to slay them all.  Music makes me muster the courage I never even knew I had and pushes me to conquer things I never even dreamt I could.   It is the magical potion  more intoxicating than any mind altering substance man can ever invent. It can make you feel bigger than you really are faster than you can say Wonderland.  Chemical concoctions may reach the innermost crevices of ones mind, but only Music has the power to break into the deepest, darkest alleys of your soul.  Other things can make you forget, but Music-- Music will make you remember all the things you are. 

In my kitchen, where there is a constant humdrum of action, the fire in the stoves are further fanned by the fire of Music.  Generally though, during prep time, the soundtracks are either as aseptic and crisp as Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor or something as nerve-calming as Astrud Gilberto's haunting affectations.  The music is always the backdrop that frames all elements in its proper places-- ingredients and staff included.  During the actual cooking though, the music is hot, dirty and full of lust.  (No I don't play dirty raps or that idiotic song Birthday Sex).  Think something along the lines of Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis jazz, the kind they play in smoke-filled parlors in some alley in New Orleans.  It's gotta be something with so much feeling and soul because that's what happens food meets fire.  That music and the sizzling, the hissing and the exaltation  from the sacrifice of the spirits of food--these are the only hymns heard throughout the kitchen at cooking time.  Well,  those and my voice telling everyone to shut up and pay attention to the process.  And Music does that to my attention-deficit mind.  It makes me see what I need to see and feel what I need to feel  in order to experience the process more vividly.  It doesn't matter if the experience was happening in the kitchen or in life as it unravels .  It doesn't matter whether the experience was something joyous like the birth of a child or something that makes me feel like jumping of the ledge (my friend).  Music is truly the exclamation point to every emotion I've ever had.  It makes me feel so much more alive.  

When I'm heartbroken, listening to stuff like My Immortal makes the pain so much more painful.  But when I am happy and I'm listening to Come On Eileen, the ride is so much happier and undoubtedly more interesting.  It's as if I am able to enlarge, underline and italicize the font of my life through music.  It makes the highs much higher and the lows so much lower which I realize is what life is,  as it happens-- a series  of beautifully timed ups and downs without which can literally transpose into living a flatlined life.  And if that isn't an oxymoron, then I don't know what is.

Life is not so redundant or scary with Music.  I find that the deeper I am into my story and my personal soundtrack the closer I am to actually finding Me. With its company I find that I am a little bit braver to live, to love.  After all it is in the living , the loving and the music  that I learned and am continuing to learn who I am. So I say Thank you for the Music, (all together now) for giving it to me.

05 August 2010

My Adobo

Theoretically speaking, recipes are formulas for success.  But in actuality, as you may very well know by now, they are not always so.  One can follow a recipe to the last milligram of salt and yet come up with something not even the dog would eat.  But do not dismay.  Just throw the anti-god particles of your stew and try making it again.  Anyway, it is possibly not your fault as some recipes are recipes for failure. Some recipes are just utterly unreliable.  However, and this is very sad, I find that the most unreliable recipes are those found in our local cookbooks.

I don't know if the writers meant to NOT share their true measurements or if the quality of locally made products (like soy sauce, patis (fish sauce)) are so diverse that choosing one over the other adversely affects the outcome of any particular culinary experiment.  For example, when I was starting to cook, I wanted to make Adobo because it was , after all, our national dish (which I think they changed to Sinigang as of late) and I thought with less than 5 ingredients, it would be easy enough to experiment on.  I followed the recipe from a cookbook I borrowed to the last drop of soy sauce only to be completely shattered that the adobo turned out to be unforgivably salty and to my utter dismay, completely inedible.   To redeem myself, I tried making Beef Calderetta following the recipe from the same cookbook and that made me even more amateurish (which I actually was at this point) and depressed as it turned out too sour.  The book has been burned since. Really.  

But the inaccurate measurements were not limited to that book alone.  I was gifted with another local cookbook, this time one for baking which of course I eventually checked out.  I experimented on making Filipinized Pound cake and the result was  such a travesty of a cake that the Roadrunner could have used it to stupefy the always unsuspecting Wile E. Coyote by dropping it off a cliff. It came to a point that I stopped cooking Filipino and proceeded to cooking more continental dishes.  In fact, I had perfected my Lasagna Bolognese way before my Adobo resembled anything remotely edible.

So because of this, and also because Linggo ng Wika is happening sometime very soon, I am sharing my very reliable and always successful Basic Adobo recipe  with high hopes that your success in making this will inspire you to cook more meals for your loved ones .  And  the reason I say this recipe is very reliable and always successful is because the measurements are completely customizable to your own taste and to whatever kind of vinegar you have at home because the quality and kinds are so diverse.  I prefer to use locally made coconut vinegar from the province and not those found in the grocery which could pass off as toilet bowl cleaners.   Mine actually comes from Bicol which is brought in by our Yaya (bless her) who has been in our employ for the past 12 years.  But if you are not as fortunate as I am and do not have a patient Yaya who hand carries gallons of vinegar from their province, you may want to try Arengga Vinegar or Sukang Iloko.  Just adjust the measurements.  My brand of soy sauce is plain, ole Silver Swan.  My secret is to ALWAYS taste the "vinaigrette" before you put in your meat of choice.  If using chicken alone, do not add water.  If with pork, I like using the belly and I add a fourth of a cup of water to the mixture below.  If making CPA (Chicken-Pork Adobo)  I cook the belly ahead by 15 minutes before dropping off the rest of the chicken.  Here's the recipe good for one kilo of meat:

Basic Adobo for Dummies or First Time Cooks
1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
3 Tablespoons Vinegar of Choice
1 Teaspoon Whole Black Peppercorns
Garlic (as much or as you like)
5 Bay leaves-crumbled
Pinch of salt
  1. Put everything together and TASTE.  Adjust accordingly.  Some like their Adobo      more sour than salty, so do adjust.  Mine is like a tug-of-war of salty and sour.
  2. Pour in a non-reactive saucepan and add in meat of choice.
  3. Cook covered in medium heat without mixing until it has boiled.
  4. After it has boiled, you may mix it then lower the heat to the lowest possible and       cook covered until everything is of a melts-in-the-mouth texture.
You may serve it at this point or, you can separate the meat from the sauce, fry it to make it crispy on the outside but still sticky in the inside and then pour the strained sauce over it when serving so it looks a little more, uhm, sosyal.  This is what they call Twice-cooked Adobo (as seen in picture above).  It can also be flaked then fried to a crisp to make Adobo Flakes.  It can be made without Soy Sauce and then it would called Adobong Puti which was how it was done prior to the arrival of our Chinese neighbors. Throw in a couple of slices of Turmeric  or Luyang Dilaw and it will be called Adobo sa Dilaw.  If you put some Annatto or Atsuwete Oil in it and pork  or chicken liver, it will be Batangas Style Adobo.  Add some coconut cream and it will be Adobo sa Gata. 

I love Adobo of any form, color and texture.  You can make it soupy, dry or fried twice. It could be bright orange, caramel brown or purely white. I'll love it just the same.  Smelling the heady brew cooking in my kitchen always makes me want to sing the National Anthem with much love and pride for I think no other aroma can be so distinctly  and deliciously Filipino.  May the aroma of this Adobo fill your home and bring you fond memories of our beautiful , beautiful country, the Philippines, wherever you are in the world.  Enjoy!

*Photo taken by Oliver Zapanta of Lumen8 Studio
  Styling by Vanessa Zapanta of Thema

12 July 2010

Of Fears and Dreams

Somewhere between dreaming and wakefulness is your heart's truest fears and deepest desires.  If you stay still enough and peaceful enough, you will know what it is you truly want in your life. It is the single moment that can be shared only by you and the voice inside your head.  Some think that that voice is that of a higher being, one that encompasses and orchestrates all that is and is to come.  Others think of it more along the lines of an invisible evil twin,  a mere intellectual discussion or altercation between you and yourself.  But no matter what you believe is to be true, it is an all too important conversation to ignore.

I, myself, try very hard not to think of my fears right when I'm about to sleep for the obvious reason that that will keep me awake the entire night.  But when I do think about them, I realize that I have very few fears and most of them are of the tangible or inanimate kind.  I have no fear of dying, though I do worry about those I will leave behind.  I do not  fear growing old or growing old alone, I've been that way most of my life (alone that is--not old, though am certainly getting there).   I have no fear of getting  sick or terminally ill because frankly, I would immensely prefer that as opposed to dying instantaneously because at least then, I could get things in order, ask for forgiveness from those I've hurt, and say my fare-thee-wells accordingly.  I have no fear of being forgotten because I know that those who matter won't , and those who will forget me, in the end, don't matter.  

On a much lighter but freaky note, I do have a fear so tangible and real it is multi-sensory.  It's the fear of cockroaches scientifically known as Katsaridaphobia.  I can smell them when they are in the room and I especially let out a shrilly scream at the sight of flying ones.  Our Yaya does a very accurate and irritating impression of it which is usually followed by her thundering, mocking laughter.  I  imagine their prickly little, brittle legs and instantly my skin crawls and there... I did the shrilly scream again.  I hear the fluttering of their amber, translucent wings and I  could bolt from lying to running position in all of 2 seconds like an animal whose predator it can sense miles away.   In fact, my idea of hell is a room full of cockroaches of every permutation, color and size and me strapped on a bed right in the middle with a spotlight slowly fading into absolute darkness as the creatures begin to crawl and fly towards me. Vivid, I know.  If I'm to sleep in a room other than my own and the windows are open and there is no screen, I will ask that the windows be shut tight like heaven's gate for Ted Bundy. Never mind if I die of suffocation.  Anyway, I think I would die faster with the thought of cockroaches in the dark, hovering above my head.  

On the other side of the monochromatic rainbow of fear, I do have fears that involve my children, like them being rejected or having their hearts broken to a million pieces. But I am trying my darndest to train myself to own these fears (as in they are MINE and not THEIRS) because I know that if I don't do that, I will end up forcing them  to live their lives from my perspective instead of  a fresh one such as their own.  I don't know how to explain it but it's  much more difficult for mothers to let go.  Maybe it's because there's nothing quite like the bond between mother and child which is probably why it's not easy to even theoretically watch our children jump off a cliff not knowing what the landing looks like.  But as my kids grow I know that I should let them have their own dreams, fears and visions and not just replicate my own by letting them make decisions based on MY experiences to avoid the mistakes I'VE made and the pitfalls I'VE fallen into. Surely I don't want a duplicate of my life, I wish for a better one for them.  I wish to share the wisdom of the years to them, however,  I've learned  that in this life this much is true: Wisdom is nothing we can pass on to our children. It just  all comes with time and shoving the truths down their throats only make them resent us.   Sure we can try.  But they'll never learn it anyway and I know because I never learned it until I made the mistakes myself.  

Obviously, everything here must be taken with the context of time.  I mean, I wouldn't let my twelve year old write the story of his life on his own as of yet.  But eventually, the pen will be his for the taking.  After all, to live a scripted life, written, produced and edited by Mum, is not living after all.

My dreams too have all been connected to my children. Perhaps, the only dreams I  really have for myself are to someday put up Le Pirouette, the cafe and eventually write my recipes and memories in a cookbook. Other than that, everything else is connected one way or another to them.  But like my fears, I acknowledge them as mine and mine alone.  They are not necessarily the same dreams of the kids.   I may suggest, but certainly I will try my very best not to force it upon them.   I dream that one day, not too soon I hope, I will prepare the wedding dinner of the kids.   Or breakfast. Just whatever theme they want, wherever in the world they wish to have it. I'll be there for them.  I dream of long tables filled with endless stories and even more endless laughter. Of barbecues and picnics in the summer, and soup and hide and seek when it rains.  I dream that the kids will find the one thing they are truly passionate about and build a life around it.  I dream a life of sky-blazing fireworks, strolls into sunsets and walks under starlit skies.  I know theirs will probably  be a life less than perfect but I wish for them a life less-ordinary just the same.  It is my most hopeful dream and  most fervent prayer that they will find their happily ever after in this lifetime.  But should clouds gather anywhere along their journey to find it, I will be in my kitchen waiting to hear their stories, cooking up a storm and egging them to carry back on.

27 June 2010

Food vs. Fashion

If it weren't for the infernal nagging of my logical brain, I would have again succumbed to the temptation of buying a new exercise machine. I have a spinning bike you see.  One of those humongous contraptions that spoke to me with a vow of returning my now mythical  as a chimera waistline which is by the way still below 30.  I mentioned 30 because a 30 inch waistline  for a woman my height (or lack thereof--5 feet flat) in my opinion, should be the breaking point of tolerance and the beginning of suicidal ideation-- well maybe suicidal ideation is a bit much.  But if it happens to me, this is the part where I dispose of all things that reflect my likeness, buy loads of clothes from Gap Maternity and generally live a life of recluse.  Away from obnoxious, uncouth and utterly rude people who manage to wag their fingers at you saying "Ang taba mo ngayon."  Well f*ck you. Pardon me for my irreverence but people who tell you that you look either fat or tired  without you asking them truly deserve that invective.  And then some. 

The thing that used to screw up my mind was not an existing wrong sense of security or self-imaging.   I have never been anorexic nor bulimic in my entire life and my tiff with weight gain was nothing that can be traced back to my childhood which was pretty crazy, I admit, but relatively normal just the same. It was the prevailing fact that other than food, the only other worldly thing I am obsessed about is fashion.  And we both know that food and fashion are not exactly the best of friends.  Now Photoshop and fashion, that, lads and ladies, is a match made in  sartorial heaven. 

Imagine Agyness Deyn, or Natalia Vodianova having a conversation with a Double-Double In and Out Burger.  "Oh dahlin' it's absolutely lovely to have seen you again. Every moment without you is like a moment without air.  You... complete me."  Of course, a conversation like that would only transpire in a parallel universe but here on the third planet, the conversation would most likely be like this, in between bites and barfs... "I hate you Mr. Burger. (Bite)  You are so good but so evil for me.  (Barf) Why can't I resist you?  (Bite) Why must you cause me to be eternally damned with cellulite? (Barf)  Damn you Mr. Burger!  (Bite) Damn you!" then proceeds to hurl the entire contents of her stomach at the nearest latrine.  Okaaaay.  Agyness, and Natalia might not have this actual conversation with food, but you do get my point.  Food and Fashion are frenemies!   And at a certain age, they are just plain old enemies.

On the runway, clothes just lift models somewhere beyond clouds, to a place closer to the feet of gods.  They float on the catwalk literally towering above everyone splitting the  great, big sea of lesser beings.  However, most of those clothes do no such thing to less than perfect, meaning not reed thin bodies.  If anything, it just emphasizes further how human we are and how human models are not-- strictly in the sartorial sense, that is.  It's just a fact we will all have to live with, clothes fall more naturally  and beautifully on mannequins, live ones or not.  It helps to begin with good genetics and a body that metabolizes food as quickly as Britney Spears' first marriage.  At a certain age though, somewhere after 19, metabolism catches up on them and they have to, just like us, work on maintaining model physique. This fact is  probably why in the modelling world, 25 above is considered "Lola" and only Lolitas get primo bookings. 

If you ask me, models truly deserve to be elevated in a class of their own not only because of their beauty but also because of how hard they work to maintain their figures.  What with their cigarette-coffee-granola-bar or egg-white-omelet breakfasts, matchbox -sized meat portion and a side salad with vinaigrette lunches (which COULD be omitted if there is a shoot), and the fish cooked in "no-shit-I-can't-believe -it's -butter " dinner.  I just can't do that stuff.  For me it would all taste like "no-shit-I-can't-believe-that's-food."  And that is why I have this body and not theirs.  Egg-white omelets?  Come on.  Last Sunday, my breakfast comprised of a freshly (and quite perfectly, if I may say so myself) poached egg with freshly made Hollandaise on top of crispy-edged back bacon sitting smugly atop  an English muffin.  Alas, I could never betray my Eggs Benedict for egg-white omelets .  Not for a million Alber Elbaz for Lanvin single-shoulder, sequin-covered play suits. Alright, maybe just one.  

Here's the deal.  I respect fashion and admire models.  I look at them and I see absolutes and possibilities-- as in absolutely not going to work or possibly a red-carpet moment for me.  As I've grown older, I learned to intersect these two parallel lines of real food and  real fashion that will never meet on an ordinary plane.  I know my body and I've learned that not all that is fashionable is fashionable for me.  Goddamit it is not tres chic to be wearing an Herve Ledger bandage dress if my tummy would be "nakatuck-out" in it. That would just be plain revolting. I also would not wear bunny ear rabbit head bands even if Marc Jacobs told me in the flesh to wear them for him.  Not even on Easter.  And it would be the end of life on earth as we know it, if you ever catch me donning  a micro-mini skirt with knee high socks and sandals even if it was seen all over fashion shows from Alexander Wang's to Timbuktu.  

Like I said, I respect fashion.  But I respect myself, what my body can do and all those people who I may bequeath excruciating pain upon seeing me in an outfit revealing what must be hidden in the secrecy of the Pentagon.   I know too that, I ought to get back on the saddle of my spinning bike and maybe one day soon, I will.  But it will not be so that I can steal my youth and retrieve my once 23- inch waistline because frankly, I know I am more than my physical self which I  have come to love and be quite happy with.  After all, it is this body that bore two beautiful children and has gone through many life stories both of love and war with scars to show too.  It has come to survive many summers and storms and has acquired what I'd like to believe is a certain je ne sais quoi that is ultimately mine and mine alone.

I will get back on the saddle so I will not have an all too sudden heart attack and leave my children motherless.  I will do it for health.  And of course...of course... the hedonist that I am, I will do it so that I can have the pleasure of eating Eggs Benedict any day of the week.  And twice on Sundays.

*Photo from Style.Com

17 June 2010

Happy Father's Day

When I was a lot younger, our Dad couldn't emphasize enough to all of his children the value of reading. He made us read pocket books, magazines, newspapers (more on that later) and reference books. He bought volumes upon volumes of encyclopedia so that if we had homework, we could use them for research instead of asking him things like "What is a paramecium?" and "What is chlorophyll for?" I remember one specific crying incident because I couldn't find some topic for school using the encyclopedia as there were so many of them . I asked myself how many years it would take until I actually came across the topic I was looking for if I had to browse through each and everyone of the 20 volumes. Of course I didn't know then, that there was this magical thing called the Index. And so when Dad saw me at wits-end flipping through volume 2 he asked what the be-jesus was wrong with me and proceeded in teaching me how to use the index. Problem solved, homework done, peace in the universe-- restored.

He also taught me how to use the dictionary when one Sunday morning, I was reading the paper and didn't recognize a certain word. It was an advertisement for a product I was not familiar with but for some reason, was very curious about. I meekly approached and asked him while he was reading the rest of the paper if he knew this word which I couldn't even pronounce. He smiled at me, his "diligent" daughter and asked me to show the word to him. Within seconds I saw my father's face shift from happy to furious as he blurted out in Filipino--"Don't you know how to use the dictionary?!" I only understood the sudden switch from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde in all of 10 seconds after looking the word up by myself. The word was Vagina and the product, Tampax. Can you imagine a better way of handling such a situation? "Ah, this here is a thingamajig and is inserted in the watchamacallit to put a stop to the events leading to the apocalypse... " Thanks Dad, you were truly wise for letting me be.

And that was how my Dad saved me--by letting me be. To tell you frankly, we were never really that close. I was the second daughter and right after one year, my brother was born . Naturally the first born son was favored most and I was left mostly to fend for myself. He was very cute too and I wasn't. I was thin, quiet, shy, not cute nor amusing-- in short, I was a very boring child. I had the personality of a porcini mushroom and I don't mean food-wise. A year after, another daughter was born. She too was so cute the neighbors would borrow her every afternoon. Right there you'd know our family was different, because we actually lent her without any accompanying nanny. Anyway, Dad began to panic thinking that since there was only one boy and three of us girls, our only brother (brother number 2 came only after 4 more years) might become gay. Back then, people thought that it was so very wrong to be gay, of course we know that doesn't count for squat now. But then, it was a big deal. And because of this insane fear, Dad started to dress me up as a boy. I swear, we had the same corduroy pants. The same boots. The same checkered shirt. And the same cowboy hat. (Brokeback Mountain--hell-low) He bought boxing gloves and actually made us fight against each other.
We even took goddamn Karate lessons together. Of course I whooped my brother's butt all the time but still, it wasn't right.

One day when we were having a brother-sister fight not unlike Bart and Lisa Simpson, he told me "Go ahead, punch me." He was egging and egging and egging me on and so finally, I did. I put one on his kisser and then he cried and told on me. The next thing I knew, I was being summoned for a closed-door meeting with my Dad in his room. About that time, Dad and my brother spent a whole lot of time together because of tennis training (my brothers were like mini-tennis stars then). Dad asked me if I punched my brother because I was jealous that he was spending so much time with him and none with me, a fact which I was so used to already. I shook my head because I truly just punched him because he bloody asked for it. And then he started to explain why they had to do so much training blah blah blah...then it happened without warning and quite so suddenly like if the song Smoke on the Water or Sweet Child of Mine played without the opening riff, my tears just involuntarily flowed. I don't even remember what he said that made me cry for and in front of him but in my head I was thinking, I'm going to punch that little sh*t when I get out of here. But I didn't. We eventually grew up and stopped punching each other physically though we would go at it verbally every now and then.

I didn't have a lot of fights with my siblings. But I also wasn't as affectionate as I should have been. I don't do hugs and sweetness, that's just not me. I didn't know how to show it and I didn't know how to receive it either. I think the only time I truly learned how to do this was when I had children of my own. But back then, all I knew was to remind the younger ones to do their homework, to not open their mouths when chewing their food and to put on their plates what they will only be able to finish. I was as affectionate as, oh right, I told you already as a porcini mushroom. And then something happened that changed my life forever. I learned to coo
k. And through food, I found the stage for my voice and the canvass for my expression. My Dad still let me be most of the time, learning my way through life by experiencing it myself. But when I needed the answers to the most important questions about life, he answered them quite comfortably. We went from "Go get the dictionary" to some of the most important lessons I now pass on to anyone who cares to listen.

When my heart was badly broken for the very first time, (as in the "why did he leave me, please come back to me I'm begging you, I'll never be the same again" type) I was sitting by the dining table just staring into white space. I was just sitting. Not crying or anything like that which I realized just now, was the calm before the storm. He walked into the room, and without me telling him I knew he already knew of the breakup because he sat down beside me and put his hand upon my knee. Without saying a word I started to cry like that child in his room again. Only this time, I would remember his words forever. He said, nothing in this world is truly ours. Everything is borrowed. This life, our parents, our children, the clothes on our back...Everything. That we should only be thankful for the time it was lent to us. He told me about his marriage and how he was just thankful that out of it, he had six of us. I cried for my pain, but mostly I cried for how miniscule my pain was compared to his. I cried because of his quiet elegance by choosing not to say anything against the woman who so badly broke his heart. I cried because of his infinite and simple eloquence speaking to heal rather than impress and grandstand as (forgive me) most lawyers do. And healed I was. Then after the last tear was wiped off my cheeks he tilted his head, smiled and said, "Nasaan na ba kasi siya? Gusto mo patayin natin?" (Where is he now? You want, let's kill him?) Rock and roll.

Food was the bridge that brought my Dad, my brothers , sisters and I together. It still is. You cannot imagine a group of people more different than we are. But we all love Kare-kare. The fact is, food unites. Food is the fiber that binds opposites and is the elixir that dissolves differences. For me, food did exactly what the staff did for Moses and parted the great big sea between Dad, myself and the rest of the world. I love my Dad. I thank him for being the kind of father he is. Though far from perfect, he is the most humanly perfect father to me.

Happy Father's Day Dad. See you on Sunday.

05 June 2010

Baby's Got The Blues

Loneliness is the tight-lipped bitch waiting for me when I get home. She saunters to and fro on the second floor of my house in her stilettos walking to a hypnotic beat making her presence undoubtedly known. She sits at the end of the dinner table tapping her long painted nails on her wrist, signaling and impatiently waiting for me to finish the "insipid" talk. She lies long, languid and lithe on my bed moving as slowly and as lazy as honey as if saying I have nowhere else to go. Even as children fill my home with laughter and noise, she tiptoes in the shadows of happiness to constantly and quite relentlessly remind me that devoid of an equal, I am in fact alone. Often times, I wish and convince myself that she is nothing but a figment of my imagination, a product of my vivid and aging mind. But I know she isn't. And the older I get, the more real she becomes.

She has a twin sister this bitch, Loneliness. Her name is Longing. She comes in unannounced in the strangest places like in the middle of a crowded room, where a band is attempting to drown everyone with decibels not fit for human consumption, or while driving and listening to the radio as the rain goes vertically mad on the pavement. You know that feeling when you are in a room full of people and everyone is laughing and then something crumples your ticker it feels "sour"? When your chest cavity is flooded with the feeling that something so rightfully yours has been taken away from you? That is Longing--the most unwelcome guest of my heart.

When I get the feeling that my unwanted guests (Loneliness and Longing in case you haven't been paying attention) are home, I find myself making Spaghetti alla Carbonara. I think that maybe, all of the world's problems can be solved with bacon. There's just something about the way simple, earthy ingredients are transformed into something rich, ethereal and soothing to heart, soul and tummy. It's what I'd like to call a gustatory blanket, something equivalent to a human hug. For me it's not just the eating part that is comforting but the whole ritual of making it.

First of all, I boil a big pot of water. In my interpretation of this dish, I use slab bacon. None of those thinly, machine sliced excuses for bacon. Traditionally, one uses pancetta or guanciale (from the jowls of the pig) but I like the smokiness of bacon which both pancetta and guanciale lack as they are not smoked. I then proceed to cut the slab into thick rectangular slices and render the fat over low heat. While waiting for the water to boil and the bacon to give off its ambrosial and deliriously sinful fat, I separate 3 egg yolks, which I mix with a cup of cream and half a cup of freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano. Once the pasta is al dente, I throw it in the pan of the now lightly-browned bacon, turn off the heat and pour in the trinity of egg-cream-cheese and toss it all around until everything is locked in heavenly embrace. I put it in a bowl and begin to eat while reading a pocket book mostly of the mystery, horror, sci-fi kind. Think Stephen King, Robert Ludlum. Pointless to search for the comfort of food if you end up in masochism hell reading The Bridge Across Forever or Love in The Time of Cholera, right? So it's either a pocket book or a film such as Zombieland to blur the images of loneliness. Better to sleep with the memories of Zombies than stuff that only exist in fairy tales.

In the beginning, I said to myself that this path that will eventually lead to a solitary life is good. After all, everyone leaves whether it be a geographical, physical departure or a spiritual dissipation into the cosmos or vast unknown. Everyone leaves. Eventually, everyone becomes alone. However, is there really a point in preempting a definite ending? Loneliness and Longing, one day we three will have tea. I will have to live with them as the most ironic housemates in all of the earth. But right here, right now I really can do without them. I have a choice. And I choose to not be lonely anymore.

24 May 2010

Remembering Mimi

I am lost in reverie of the thousand songs of summer. The wind through the trees, the crickets and their evening hymns, the tiny insects swarming about the lone orange bulb on the patio. Instantly I am taken back to the house of my childhood, the one where I moved from kid to teen to adult. The one where I lived through 2 Proms, 1 Ball , 2 graduations, 2 boyfriends, and about a million heartaches. I’m sorry but you’ll have to forgive me if I wax poetic with this entry. I’m sure most of you can relate as that usually happens when one remembers the blithe nature of one’s youth.

We moved quite a lot during the 80’s, 4 times if my memory serves me right, in the very same village. But it was that house in Banaba Street that I remember the most. Certainly it was no mansion. But the way I remember it, it went on and on. It was this typically 70’s designed house the façade of which was triangular and the windows were made of jalousies. I know nothing about architecture but that kind of window is a real pain. First, it wasn’t all that pretty and second, if for some reason you had to go in or out of the house (like a fire breaking in the hallway) without going through the front or back door, you’d have to take each jalousie out one by one or you’ll have a grand time trying to do a rock star move by throwing a chair to break the hell of all of them.

Anyway, in front there was a star apple tree that bore so much fruit that every summer we would offer them to neighbors and passers-by. We climbed that tree a couple of times sometimes to gather fruit and others to just to know how it felt up there, not that anyone of us went very high up since the branches also became thinner and therefore weaker as you went higher. One summer, the fruit suddenly went bad. Every ripe one we opened had these filthy, wriggly, white worms in it. Mimi, our nanny-slash-cook-slash-governess, who was with us since forever, said that someone made “lihi” the fruit of our tree and was the reason why there were worms in it. She also said that the worms were okay, and that eating them could actually make your voice sound really good. Now I don't know the validity nor reliability of that particular claim but what I'm sure of is that that was the story behind my not having a singing career. I didn’t have any star fruit that summer or the rest of the summers having developed a permanent aversion to it.

At the back of the house was a jackfruit and camias tree. The camias nobody seemed to care for. The fruit would just grow and dry up into clumps up on the tree every single time. But the jackfruit tree was like this great big mother always pregnant with fruit. She knew nothing about birth control, I tell you. The fruit were so big she looked like she was pregnant with octuplets all the time. They looked like sacks of rice, for crying out loud. During its season, the house would be filled with the heady perfume of jackfruit especially when Mimi had to turn them into preserves. The seeds were then boiled and eaten as they were reminiscent of chestnuts. Cheap chestnuts.

Now, Mimi was no cook when she first came to our employ. But by virtue of default, she had to take on the role of cook, mother, yaya, governess, what have you. But mostly, she did the cooking. Her repertoire consisted of the ubiquitous Adobo, Sinigang, Nilaga, Fried whatever and sautéed vegetables. She also made Pancit Bihon and Spaghetti Bolognese every time anyone celebrated his or her birthday. And she served them with rice! I kid you not, we actually grew up thinking that that was how it was eaten. I'd be over at a friend's house and they would be serving spaghetti and in my head I would be waiting for rice. I would be thinking, who the hell serves spaghetti without rice? I know, i know. All your Italian forefathers would be rolling in their graves but you would be amazed at how many people share this strange bacchanalian abnormality. If you try it though, you might find that it is strangely comforting as is anything carbohydrate laden. I have since stopped eating spaghetti with rice. The Pancit with rice, I still do now and then.

She also made some Vietnamese dishes she learned from our mother before she left. Those were my favorite amongst all she cooked and is to this day, some of my go-to dishes when I have no idea what to make for my kids. One of them was this Teriyaki- like dish only it had fish sauce (nuoc nam) instead of shoyu. It was sweet from the addition of sugar and spicy because of the insane amount of freshly cracked black pepper added into it which earned this dish the name “Maanghang”. As in--What’s for dinner? “Maanghang”.

She was a funny lady, old Mimi. She used to sing in an awful falcetto Lupang Hinirang to lull the little ones to sleep. Of course she didn't mean disrespect or anything like that, but that was truly the only song she knew (that and the Visayan song Matud Nila). Come to think of it, if you listened to the national anthem over and over again, even you would fall asleep. It was either that or she would be also listening to Gabi ng Lagim on the AM radio. Boy was that frightening. I didn't quite decipher properly if she listened to it because she was entertained or because it was the perfect way to keep the kids quiet because of the intensely eerie opening of the show. Something about a woman shrieking in fear, wolves howling and chains being pulled. And the stories would always be about aswangs, kapres, headless ghosts, mangled body parts. It was so scary and real I recall that my prayer before going to sleep included that my Dad would not be devoured by a harem of manananggals in the night. In fact, to this day, I sleep with my hands under my pillow or inside the blanket for fear that someone or someTHING would hold it in the middle of the night.

You couldn't really blame Mimi for her less than orthodox way of raising us. After all, she had never had children of her own and yet found her way in a strange situation where she had to help raise six kids. I have only two and they manage to drive me up the wall most of the time. So I cannot imagine how she was able to last all those years with us . All I can conclude was that she learned to truly love us up until the day she passed away. When she came to us, her hair was darker than the darkest moonless night. Then it turned salt and pepper through the years until finally it became silvery threads that reminded me of moonbeams and angels. She was extremely loyal and loving that anytime any of us were fighting, she would cry. If our Dad scolded anyone of us, and he was pretty good at it, she too would cry. Even when she left for her hometown Leyte because she was much too old and sickly, she would ride a habal-habal (motorcycle public transport) to call us just to greet us during our birthdays. It was in one of those rides that she fell and broke again her already once broken hip. It went downhill from there on.

We lost her the year before my brother got married. She appeared in my dream and in it she was falling in the buffet line about to partake of the wedding dinner I had prepared. She looked happy and content which to me was like her way of saying she approved of my brother's getting hitched. How we all miss Mimi.

In my time, we had Mimis, manangs and yayas that became our second mothers, first confidantes and primary counsellors. They listen to everything we can not tell our mothers or fathers and accepted without judgment. They laughed and cried with us, cooked our food, gave us baths and watched over us when we were sick. When we fell in love they gushed beside us and when we got hurt, they too cursed at all who broke our hearts. Some of them didn't even get married or had children of their own. I think those days are long gone. But it is not necessarily bad because it must mean that the pool for nannies is getting very shallow as there already are relatively better choices for jobs for them. But I am thankful that we had our Mimi. She was truly the angel that helped light the path for us to walk on. While nobody turned out to be some great big rocket scientist in our family, I dare say she would be proud at what we have become. Loving, patient, dedicated, funny, caring, pancit-with-rice eating bunch who will forever keep her in our heart of hearts.

Here is the recipe of "Maanghang" from Mimi's kitchen to yours:

500 grams Chicken Fillet, Pork Tenderloin or Shrimps*

3 Tablespoons Fish Sauce

3 Tablespoons Sugar

1/4 cup Water

Freshly Cracked Black Pepper

Marinate meat of choice in fish sauce and sugar for thirty minutes. Put in a saute pan with water and boil covered until tender. When tender, remove cover and let water evaporate. Add some oil and toss around until golden or caramelized. Add black pepper to taste. As I find that fish sauce have irregular amount of salt in them, you might have to add more sugar so do taste it and add as much as you wish. Also, this dish has very little sauce so if you want it to be saucier, just add a little water in the end.

For shrimps, proceed directly to stir-frying it in oil so as not to overcook the shrimps.

22 April 2010

The Tipping Point

I have been thinking of Tipping Points a lot.

A tipping point is defined as "...the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development.." Immediately one can see the universality of the term. It is in fact applied in many fields such as in a. marketing- when a virtually unknown product becomes a household name b. politics- when people reach the humanly acceptable amount of bullshit before they attempt to overthrow a government (something which we Filipinos are all too familiar with) c. physics- the change from a state of equilibrium into a new and different state. And then of course, there is my definition and application of the concept to food and relationships in general.

In my exclusively amateur observation, I believe two kinds of tipping points may happen in any given event. One which may approach greatness, glory and everything good in this world while the other may point to the direction of complete nuclear annihilation. It can be that only one of the two may occur but it is not impossible that both happen one right after the other. In my epicurean world, this may be exemplified when 1. an ordinary chunk of meat is transformed to a rib-sticking, comforting, soul-moving stew and 2. when the very same stew becomes an unidentifiable pot of brown mush--an example of both tipping points happening in one continuous event.

In my experience, there are times I would be baking a cookie or cake and I look at it from outside of the oven and say to myself, maybe five more minutes. Five minutes later I am throwing away what could have been name-forgetting cookies which have now become curse inducing ones. It really takes only but a second or two for the moment of greatness to pass you by. You bake the cookie too long, it gets burned. You take it out too soon, and your cookie comes out raw. And that, as we all know it, is how the cookie always crumbles.

It is much, much more difficult though dealing with relationships. People are so much more complicated and unpredictable than baking ingredients damnit. You can't just stick a thermometer in them and say, alrighty this one here's just about right. There are too many nuisances and peculiarities with us human beings that French wines are goddamn bullet points compared to us. But knowing a thing or two about tipping points can do you some good, because as earlier mentioned, it can either lead to something poetically sublime or something even Hades will reject as it's own offspring.

Take for example when a shallow acquaintance becomes a life-changing, life-long friendship-- that is good. But when a perfectly aseptic, platonic relationship turns into an ember-smoldering love affair--that could be bad. It could be VERY bad. Looking forward to the next meeting where this boy is going to be there, the purchase of stilettos meant to lift your derierre when you have been living in your (egads) crocs the last 5 years, the extra five seconds of laughter for a just-okay-joke... these are significant details that point to the fact that a tipping point is being approached. Or not. At the other end of the spectrum, sometimes we wait too long to say hello and before we know it, the husband or wife of our dreams is married to someone else. Or-what could have been saved in friendship is now lost along with invectives that might not have been said had we found the courage to say goodbye earlier on.

Now let me just remind you that I am just a cook with a terrible case of insomnia. I have been known to trudge head-on proverbial hail or high water, walk across burning coals and tread waters with signs that say "piranhas, sharks and box jellyfish breed here" -not that they actually coexist. And I am the last specimen of human being to claim that I am the Confucius of relationships (Confused-Yes! Confucius-Hell no!). But all I am saying is that one could benefit from being aware of these tipping points. If you do want something to happen, then increase the heat of the oven of your heart (or any other anatomical part of your liking depending on your objectives). If you don't want things to happen, sometimes it is just okay to stay put. Yet other times, you might have to do a Forrest Gump and run like the wind the exact opposite way.

The point about tipping points is this: Once you've crossed it, there is just no turning back. If you take out a burnt cookie, you can't return it in the oven to try and resuscitate it back to edible land. Likewise, once you've crossed the point and you've taken the steps into elevating your friendship into something else, you can not undo that. You change and so does everything and everyone else. So if you are going to cross that point, you had better be sure that it is what you want. And if you're not sure, like most of the time I'm not, stick to baking cookies and making stews. You'll have a better chance of warming someone's heart and soothing a weary soul--Yours.

13 April 2010

Who Can Cook

I am no food or culinary guru, let's get that out. But by some strange alignment of the planets and the stars, not too far back, I found myself guesting in an afternoon talk show where I managed to make a complete blundering fool of myself thereby dismissing any possible future for me in TV. Even the cameraman thought so. He told MY waiter whom I brought to assist me during the cooking segment, that my answer to the question the host asked, went twice around the world and landed in Mars. Well, I sure hope he never sees a time when my hands will have to be responsible for the meal he will be about to eat.

Anyway the question was, and this was the first question she asked..."Had I acquired my cooking skills through heredity or through studying". I suppose I could have given some safe answer like "Both hereditary and academic" but my neurons immediately went into a rabid debate at the speed of a hundred words per ten seconds. I said something about the fact that my Mum- who by the way is an excellent cook- was born in Vietnam, moved to the Philippines, migrated to Canada and finally set-up camp on the shores of the United States before she came to visit us in '97. (So you see my answer did go around the world. Once.) The point was, I practically grew up without her. We did not speak with each other for a very long time and I was uncomfortable and hesitant to give her biological contribution any credit to whatever cooking skills I may have acquired. However, some credit must be due her because it was her absence that lead to my long standing affair with food.

Some people are fortunate enough to have had grandmothers or mothers that have taught and nurtured in them the love and skill for this art. I didn't. I grew up thinking that the oven was another place for hiding plates and the refrigerator an appliance for cooling water and making ice. Such is a house run by a lawyer with six kids. Nevertheless, it was a happy and crazy house with many stories both funny and surreal. But I digress, that's another topic. I was quite literally thrown into the fire by my father and so my skills and love for food were primarily born out of necessity.

But as soon as I've served my first meal, I knew that I was stricken and smitten by the kitchen gods. I felt they were smiling down at me knowing that I was theirs for the taking. I actually thought I saw my father's eyes smile like he smiled from the inside as well. And by the time he said "very good" my mind was already wandering, thinking of what I should be cooking next.

Now I believe that there isn't a long list of requirements for one to be a good cook. I think that if you are the kind of person who likes to make people happy, then I'm sure you would enjoy and do well in cooking. Never mind if you've never even fried a hot dog in your life because I could be wrong, but I don't think it is genetic, this skill. It's different from singing where one can actually inherit either musicality or being completely tone deaf. If you're
sintunado, that's pretty much it. If you can't find a rhythm to save your life, like say Kris Aquino, I'd encourage you to find some other way to make a living. But in cooking, you may screw up making something but that can immediately be corrected the next time you try making it. It's the kind of thing where the cliche practice makes perfect actually applies. However,and this is very important, the desire to perfect something comes with copious amounts of passion that can only come with love. And that, my friend, one does not learn in school.

I think it is more than biological and/or academic to have desire in your heart to elevate eating to dining... to want to unite and strengthen relationships over a well planned meal. You have something else in there when you can imagine conversations, lit candles, nice plates and a perfectly bubbling onion soup in the oven among other things. That is what makes a meal linger in the minds and hearts of guests long after the last plate is tucked in the recesses of your china cabinet.

While I may have no remembrances of warm cooking expeditions of the maternal type, I find that I am still fortunate because it is in that absence, that I found the other love of my life. I am fortunate because I have been blessed to create new memories for my family to go back to when we are all old and gray, when our children would have had children of their own. The road ahead is indeed paved with many more food stories that are waiting to be written. I am looking forward and truly honored to be writing these stories with you.