Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bochog, 29

Two days ago, I entered my 29th year as a breathing, eating, living specimen of female humanity. (I share my birthday with Dennis Hopper, Bob Saget, and Jordan Knight of the New Kids On The Block. Or NKOTB—when they tried to stage a comeback in 1992, releasing the wannabe OG single, “Dirty Dawg,” which not many people got but which I liked ‘cause it was Donnie Wahlberg being resident bad boy… I like to know these things).

Anyway… In celebration thereof, I present, in random order...

Bogchi, 29
(29 Eats)

1. Breaded Porkchop. With gravy, rice, and bean sprouts. At CASAA, UP-Diliman.
2. Quikiam. Authentic Chinese. With spicy sweet sauce. At a food fair my parents brought me to when I was a kid.
3. Green Tea and Sesame Seed Ice Cream. At Teriyaki Boy.
4. Lumpiang Shanghai. Best with Nido with Quail Eggs Soup. At Chopstick Restaurant, Cubao, when I was a kid and the waiters/waitresses all told me to come back and eat some more. I did come back, several times, and I ate. More and more. The Chopstix restaurant in Cubao today is not the same restaurant. It’s a poor replacement.
5. Chicken Macaroni Sopas. With hotdog bits, carrots, green peas, raisins, and yellowed with a block of margarine. Homemade, by my mom.
6. Dayap Chiffon Cake. At Chocolate Kiss.
7. Leche flan.
8. Salted Fried Squid. At North Park.
9. Pork BBQ. Great with itlog na pula (duck egg), misua soup, and of course, 1 and ½ rice. At Beach House, UP-Diliman.
10. Pancit Malabon. In Malabon.
11. HFIK. Hotdogs fried in ketchup.
12. Quarter Pounder. With Twister fries. At McDonald’s. McDonald’s should make Twister fries a regular part of their menu. I should petition McDonald’s. I probably won’t, though. Have lots of nothing to do.
13. KFC Chicken. Original.
14. Carbonara. At Napoli’s / A Veneto.
15. Halo-Halo. Minimalist, just 3 ingredients. At Razon’s.
16. Lechon Wrap. With hoisin-mayo sauce. My sister’s wedding.
17. Zeb-Zeb. Cheesy puffed corn. In Malabon.
18. Isaw. Pig and chicken entrails. Grilled, charred, dunked in vinegar sauce. At UP, near SC and also near Balay Kalinaw.
19. Root beer float. At A&W. The only thing that keeps A&W, ahem, afloat.
20. Chicken and/or Seafood Crepe. With some kind of white garlic cheese sauce and a siding of veggies. Best with Maggi Savor. At Full House in Katipunan, during the late 90s when I was a dorky college student. Full House has been replaced by The Old Spaghetti House, which I’ve not been to. After all these years, I still long for Full House, with its nursery school ambience, Maggi Savor on every table (or was it Knorr Seasoning? I can’t remember.), and profiteroles in cups. Sweet.
21. Sisig. Chopped pig face (ears and cheeks), sautéed until crispy, seasoned with Knorr Seasoning, calamansi juice, and hot sauce. At Gerri’s Grill. At Congo’s, too, for sisig with mayonnaise. Monterey’s for instant sisig.
22. Ika Fry and Potato Balls. At Tokyo-Tokyo.
23. Yakisoba. Instant Japanese style cup noodles. Nissin’s.
24. Apple flavored wine.
25. Fresh orange juice.
26. Green mango with alamang (shrimp paste).
27. All meat pizza.
28. Longganisa, longganisa, longganisa.
29. Chilli dog. Smokey’s. There’s one in Ortigas, which is great ‘cause I thought Smokey’s had ceased operations. What a beautiful surprise! Will be in Ortigas on Monday. Might drop by Smokey’s, see if the hotdogs are still, in the words of future inmate Paris, HOT.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sunday Morning Mom

My mother was up early that Sunday morning cooking food for 30 people. She had celebrated her birthday a few days earlier, so the pastor of the small church she and my father were attending called in a request for her to cook lunch for the post-service fellowship. Apparently, that was the pastor’s idea of a birthday gift—a strange one--but mother did not seem to mind.

When I woke up, she was well into cooking the first of two viands on her menu, giniling, or ground pork, potatoes, carrots, and raisins stewed in a proudly Filipino combination of 1 part tomato sauce, 10 parts ketchup. The pot was already simmering and the sauce was beginning to thicken as I made my way downstairs, still sleepy but determined to offer my mother some help.

I had been strangely anxious about her latest project. For some unexplained reason, I did not feel that my mother was up to the task. Two nights before, I had badgered her about the lack of a menu. I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t bothered by it, and that alarmed me. Cooking for 30 potentially judgmental Baptists wasn’t adding a wrinkle to her remarkably smooth 50-something face. She assured me that she already had a simple menu planned: giniling, which she was going to cook, and chicken lollipops, ordered from her caterer friend.

The fact that she was going to cook only one viand eased my discomfort somewhat. Until the next day when she announced that her friend was out of town. It meant my mother was going to have to wing the chicken wings.

That was why I was up earlier than usual that morning, ready to be the wind beneath her wings. But my mother was already flying high all by herself. She had everything under control; there was no need for wind. The robust, meaty smell that greeted my nose as I went into the kitchen told me the giniling was going to be a hit. The chicken wings were already breaded and waiting for the oil to heat, and the rice was already cooked white and fluffy. All I had to do was make the sawsawan (dipping sauce) for the chicken, which I did with much gladness and no small amount of relief.

An hour later, the wings were fried and arranged on a large serving dish. There was even an extra plateful. My mother had cooked as if a great famine was going to sweep across the land. She had pulled through. Without breaking into much of a sweat, she was able to cook enough food for 30 Baptists, with something extra for her family.

So instead of helping my mother, what I did was become a kid again, sitting in the kitchen, greasing up my mouth and fingers with my mom’s crispy, crunchy chicken lollipops. All the while, I gushed to my sister about what a culinary genius our mom was. “She didn’t need my help,” I crowed. “She did it all by herself.” I sounded not unlike mothers who are seeing their babies walk unaided for the first time.

Later, I would find out from my father that the Baptists also loved the food. All judgments were positive, all comments glowing.

As I sat at the table, licking my chicken-flavored fingers, chicken bones littering the space in front of me, I wondered why I ever doubted my mother’s skill and panache. It’s not like cooking for 30 Baptists was the hardest thing she ever did in her life. Yet, somehow, I had forgotten the various feats of parenting she had performed to raise three willful, independent, slightly smart and, therefore, considerably condescending daughters. This was my mother who, among other things, taught us the difference between the “p” and the “f” sounds (a difficulty for many Filipinos), cooked the best chicken macaroni sopas, and even made ham and tocino (candied pork) herself instead of buying them at the market.

When I was younger, such doubts would never have entered my mind. My heart would have told my mind to believe and my mind would have done so. But I am not as young as I used to be. I carry inside me almost three decades’ worth of questions and the illusion that at least some of these have answers. The thing with asking questions, though, is that it requires an admission of the temporality of suppositions. What we believe today flies in the face of what we held true yesterday. Certainty is a ship with holes trying, nevertheless, to stay afloat in a sea of ambiguity.

It is not that I know more than I did when I was younger. It is that I doubt more and, therefore, believe less. In the case of my mother, it had been a long time since I took her word without checking with other sources. Like all children, I started out believing firmly that there wasn’t much she couldn’t do. Not that I thought she was perfect, but I never thought she was imperfect. Her imperfections existed, yes, but they did so outside of my mind and, therefore, they never crossed it. The end result was the same: my mother, as with all mothers, might as well have been perfect. Her word always seemed final.

But like all children, I got older and started to grow my own mind. The illusion of maternal perfection gradually dissolved to reveal my mother as just another flawed human like myself, and her word as just another hypothesis to be tested.

There are times when I wonder how it must be like to be a mother. (I am not one, and I probably won’t be for a while.) What I imagine is that motherhood is an exercise in heartbreak. Human development proceeds from a state of relative ignorance and innocence to one of (at least, ostensible) knowledge and awareness. It is the gradual replacement of wonder with unbelief, awe with indifference. The heart thrives on people’s ability to be pleased. We begin our lives with this ability but we lose it steadily as we learn more, know more. Knowledge is power, the power to be fastidious. And the fastidious mind breaks hearts.

To be a mother, then, is to be the object of opinions that are bound to change. The evolution of Mother, from the child’s changing perspective, is from one who can do no wrong to one who can do no right. From supreme repository of all worldly knowledge to hack who knows nothing about Me and the Stuff I Am Going Through. Motherhood, I realize, is an inevitable fall from grace.

And yet, watching my mother work her culinary magic that Sunday, I also realize that evolution does not preclude reverting to earlier ways of seeing and believing—at least for a while. Maybe magic exists outside of the natural imperative to grow up and to mature. Maybe the fastidious mind can still open itself up a little—and be pleased, after all.

That Sunday morning, I saw my mother again through younger, easily pleased eyes. That Sunday morning, my mom could do no wrong. She did everything crispy, crunchy perfect. Just like she used to, when I believed more and doubted less, when my knowledge of her was still pure, untainted by my knowledge of anything else.

(Published in the Youngblood Column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 May 2007 issue, with the title "Perfect Mom".)

Monday, May 07, 2007

ABOUT A BOY, Part Deux

I once met a boy named Reynaldo, who ate his snot, in that juvenile purgatory we call grade school. We were classmates for two years, in Grades 1 and 2, and got along famously. He was sweet and non-threatening, so fat that to call him chubby would have been lying. He was cute and we were friends. Our friendship was based on two very important things, food and love, these two things rumored to be, at times, interchangeable. We both loved food, and we both loved Zierlyn.

Zierlyn was my best friend in elementary school. We met in first grade and were inseparable. We were in the same section, after all. That is, until fifth grade. Then she transferred to a different section and, I guess, we were not that difficult to separate, after all. But while we were together, we were the best of friends. No matter that she was too quiet, too demure, too not funny. No matter that I think she lied about her dad owning a Mercedes. None of that mattered. I loved her, with a whimsical kind of love, the kind that wraps its recipient in fancy, making her seem more than she actually is, more interesting, more alive. It was a grade school, we’ll be best friends forever, kind of love.

Reynaldo loved Zierlyn in a different way, whimsical too but different. They weren’t best friends. They weren’t even regular friends. Reynaldo was mere classmate to Zierlyn, a random, could-be-anyone classmate. But none of that mattered. To Reynaldo, Zierlyn was purpose, specific and localized in his heart.

Reynaldo had a plan, and I was part of that plan. I may have planted the seeds of it in his mind for my own selfish gastronomic interests, but my memory’s not to clear on that one anymore. The mind, after all, chooses to forget, chooses what to forget, keeps for itself memories that make us seem better than we ever were and discards those that show us up to be everyday occurrences instead of the extraordinary phenomena we all wish we were.

The plan was to woo Zierlyn with food, specifically gelatin cups. I was to be the bridge. My job description was specific: deliver the gelatin cups to Zierlyn and put in a good word about Reynaldo. I worked on commission, getting for myself one for every gelatin cup I passed on to Zierlyn. (It was a sweet deal, and I wonder now what happened to me. Because, clearly, I had what it takes to do sales and make money when I was a kid. I was a greasy, sleazy, balding salesman with a sweep-over. Oh, how times have changed).

This went on for several months, Reynaldo shyly handing over the food, me passing Zierlyn’s gelatin while I slurped mine, Zierlyn shyly taking it and saying thank you. But I never put in a good word for Reynaldo. It was obvious that Zierlyn didn’t have any kind of crush on him, and maybe I didn’t have the heart to tell him to quit hope. It’s the cruelest thing one can do to another, to take away one’s hope. Or maybe I just didn’t want my supply of JellyAce to stop. I don’t remember, and I don’t know who to blame for these huge gaps in my memory.

One thing I remember well, though… one image my mind won’t let me un-remember is of Reynaldo standing over a trashcan during recess with a finger up his nose, digging like a crazed prospector of gold. It is disgustingly crystal in my head: Reynaldo pulling out his finger full of snot, rolling and balling it around, then popping it into his mouth faster than you could say… nothing. Because witnessing something like that leaves you with nothing to say and nowhere to look but at him, chewing.

I was a shy child but loud when I felt I needed to be. This was a time for loudness. So I announced Reynaldo’s act to everyone within earshot, and that included Zierlyn.

Yuck!!! Reynaldo ate his booger!!! I shrieked, and I think they heard me in Timbuktu, but I’m not too sure.

Reynaldo denied it, disowned the act he had just so gleefully committed, and denied it so vehemently that the others knew. He did it. Truth is in Denial.

Everyone had a laugh. I don’t remember if Reynaldo felt humiliated or if he suffered years of teasing because I told on him. Zierlyn and Reynaldo never got together. I don’t think it was because of my horrid announcement. My outing of Reynaldo’s gastronomic fetish was entirely separate from Zierlyn’s inability to develop a crush on him. Still, I sometimes feel guilty about taking all those gelatin cups and giving back nothing in return. That’s not good, equitable friendship in my book. Reynaldo could sue me for breach of contract and he would win. After all, instead of putting in a good word for him to Zierlyn, I put him on the spot and made him a possible object of ridicule.

This was not a shining moment for me.

I think now of Reynaldo, and I cringe. Eating unearned gelatin cups is worse than eating snot.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Definition of S.I.N.

Sin is… slices of lechon (roast pig) in a hoisin-mayonnaise sauce, with one celery leaf to lessen the guilt a bit, all wrapped in soft pita, tied with a green onion stalk...

Last Saturday, 28th of April, my sister and now brother-in-law got married on their 10th anniversary as a couple. It was a simple affair—short, solemn, sweet. The reception was modern, forgoing the usual trite traditions like the bouquet and garter toss and couple’s dance. Instead, it was a night of music and words, songs and poetry, sweet tribute and sour wit..

The best thing about my sister and bro-in-law’s wedding was not the gowns—although the bride was radiant in ecru and, if I may brag, my other sister and I were hopelessly cute in our funky gray-blue and magenta dresses. (The designer, Mitzi Quilendrino, is all about the quirky, and it worked out really well. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find our photos in wedding magazines. In fact, I’d be surprised if we didn’t). It was not the brilliant hosting I did, at turns innocent and scathing. (Obviously, I don’t suffer from that illness called modesty and obviously, I’m my own publicist). Or the brilliant sarcasm that spewed forth from my mother’s mouth… “Levi, you are very fortunate to now be a member of our family… My daughter will love you even if you are unlovable…”

No, the best thing about last Saturday’s wedding was the food prepared by Kaye Cunanan. Below are various definitions of S.I.N…

Salmon Blinis: coin-sized pita circles topped with slivers of smoked salmon on a bed of wasabi mayo and garnished with herbs
Lechon Wrap: slices of Cebu Lechon (roast pig) in a hoisin-mayo sauce and celery leaves wrapped in soft pita

Pan-seared fois gras, scallops, and mandarin orange segments on a bed of fresh greens, drizzled with balsamic dressing

White Rice with herbs and nuts
Carrot Rice: buttered white rice with flecks of carrots

Main Course
Grilled Tiger Prawns, served with roasted vegetables
Red Snapper baked in smooth, creamy sauce and mashed potatoes, topped with almond slivers
Osso Buco: braised beef shank with soft, melting bone marrow, aka Swiss bulalo

Fresh yoghurt drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped nuts
Tangy Orange Sorbet