Saturday, September 30, 2006

...dirty enough to be happy

As the youngest child in my family, I had the privilege of occupying a big bedroom all to myself after all my older siblings had gotten married and left the nest. I enjoyed this for a few years until I too got married. I absolutely loved it – the space, the privacy, the peace and quiet of my own bedroom. I kept it neat—not perfect—just clean and neat. My bed was always made. My books were organized according to height on the wall shelf. I had a nice palm plant beside my keyboard. The wooden floor was clean and shiny, the windows had curtains of my choice, my mementos were in the cabinet. My desktop (the tabletop) was decorated with my tacky artwork. My mess was contained or hidden in drawers and boxes.

Gone are those days. Today, if I could clean even one section of the house here and there, I’d consider it an accomplishment. And if it stayed that way for more than three days, I’d say what a surprise!

Sometimes I feel like a failure at housekeeping. When will our house ever be neat and tidy, not like a playground or a giant hamper? Then I ask myself, Would you rather have peace and quiet, a place for everything and everything in its place? OR, traffic in the hallways, footsteps up and down the stairs, bursts of laughter, chatter, chatter and more chatter?

Come to think of it, when my house becomes spic and span for any prolonged time, that might well mean I am retired and my children have moved to their own places…. Nahh, I’m not excited about that.

A messy house is sometimes a happier house. Ours is.


Friday, September 22, 2006

What’s not cooking… or Who isn't

If you've read my previous blog, you know that I love reading recipes more than I love cooking. I enjoy cooking and it helps me unwind after working all day in front of the computer. But it’s not my big passion. I know people who are really into cooking. I’m not like that. I won’t think twice about handing over the apron to anyone who wants to put it on. If you want to cook in my kitchen, please, feel at home. I will eat whatever you cook.

To avoid cooking every night, I sometimes prepare a big batch of food and serve leftovers—as-is or recycled—the next day. Or, I freeze make-ahead portions that can easily be thrown in the pan with other ingredients. Or, I buy and serve roast chicken from the supermarket. Or, I heat up frozen pizza. Or, I declare a junk food night of chips and pop and some other comfort food. Nobody complains. In fact, the boys get excited. After all, we don’t often have junk food at home. Our agreement, er, my policy is that we can have chips and pop—Sprite, Gingerale or Seven-Up—only on weekends.

On special occasions, we get to eat out as a family. This is not very often, so I welcome the opportunity when it happens. Like last Sunday after church. We had all-you-can-eat lunch at Top Gun, a Japanese restaurant in New Westminster for Markus’s post-birthday celebration.

That afternoon, I felt really heavy and bloated. Sushi expands in the tummy. I didn’t want to see any more food or even think about it. I thought everyone felt the same.

“Guys, I’m not cooking tonight,” I happily announced.

“Mom!!” I didn’t expect a chorus of protests.

“What? We’re so full. I don’t want to eat anymore,” I answered.

“I’m already getting hungry, Mom,” Markus replied.

“Mom, just because you’re not hungry, you won’t be cooking. What about us?” I think that was Gabriel speaking. Or complaining.

“All right. We’ll have something light and fruit-y,” I said. I went to the supermarket and did my weekly groceries. I bought lots of fresh fruits—longgans, grapes, oranges, guava… As a compromise, I served canned spicy Portuguese sardines in olive oil to go with the buns or pan de sal I baked the previous night. I did not cook. Everyone was fine with that.

Tonight, I get another reprieve from the kitchen. Gabriel and Markus left for church camp and there’s more than enough siopao for those of us at home. Tomorrow is Saturday. No one wakes up early so breakfast is the same as lunch. Mickey has work in the afternoon and will most likely eat Church’s chicken. Gino’s going to watch a play in Seattle. There’s leftover adobo… Hmmm, I may not have to cook dinner too. Yippeee!! I have a lot of time to read recipes!!!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What's cooking?

I am an imaginative cook. I like to IMAGINE cooking. That’s why I have this thing for recipes and recipe books. They trigger my imagination.

I have a HUGE collection of recipes. Some date back to my Home Economics days in high school, and some to my bachelorette days when I started thinking about marriage, but the bulk were collected when I was finally a homemaker.

Today I have several recipe books, a recipe box with my handwritten recipes copied from everywhere, recipe cards from food manufacturers, recipes at the back of can labels, recipes from newspaper and magazine clippings, recipes from friends and relatives, and recipes I had written on various pieces of paper while eavesdropping on other people’s conversation or after stumbling on a cooking show on TV. When I started using the Internet in the mid-90s back in the Philippines, I went crazy over cooking websites and email lists. I printed off page after page of recipes. I still keep these in a binder now gathering dust in my bedroom.

I am a recipe nut.

Unfortunately, my passion for recipe collecting way exceeds my love for cooking. If I were as passionate about cooking, I'd be a great cook. I believe I’m a fairly good cook, but I can do better.

The problem is, or was, after reading all those recipes and cooking them in my mind, I fail to actually follow through. I resort back to adobo, tinola and sinigang and some other familiar dishes which do not require me to do a lot of thinking.

It was only recently when I really challenged my brain to think variety and go out of my default cooking mode. Yes, I have tried and added several new dishes to my culinary portfolio ever since landing in Canada. But it was only in the past, say, two years when I gained and sustained the momentum to cook more and cook better.

As a result, I re-discovered my recipe books. What I’ve been doing is going through each book for a period of time and cooking several recipes in it. Then I move on to another one. I see to it that I cook familiar foods alongside or in between new ones.

I am currently using a cookbook that has been with me from the Philippines. I know I have read it through in the past as shown by my pen markings, but it’s only now that I’m actually cooking recipes from it. It has good packed lunch ideas. So far I have done menudo roll, puto cake, pan de sal, siopao… I can easily buy these things from a Filipino or Chinese store around here and spare me the trouble of kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise. But after doing these myself, I think I prefer them homemade—like I have all the time and energy in the world! Last night, I stayed up till 1 am steaming siopao. This morning, they were gone so fast. Tonight I am doing another batch.

One thing I like with my boys is that they love to eat, which is very rewarding to any cook. They give me instant feedback too. Often they say it with words, but mostly they show it by their mouthfuls. When they like something, they are very vocal about it. But they also give comments like, “Mom, add more salt and sugar in the pan de sal.” “Mom, add more cheese topping on the puto.” “Mom, Make the the siopao bigger!” I have heard a lot more unflattering remarks. I take them all in stride—good or bad.. From these feedback, I make a mental note of which recipes are wonderful, so-so, or never-again.

I still do a lot of imagined cooking, but I am also cooking more real food. Yummm…

Friday, September 15, 2006

Crouch!

One of my sons developed a rash on his upper thigh. He was told by our family doctor to apply Fucidin Cream on the rash twice a day after showering. Then he was to cover the affected area with gauze. Last night, he did as he was told. He struggled to get the tape to stick, but he refused my help.

This morning, he took a shower again and did the same thing. From the kitchen across the washroom, I hollered, “Do you need help?” “No!” was his instant reply.

“Where’s the rash?” I asked. “Is it on your crouch?”

He didn’t answer. Instead he started snickering. What’s so funny about that rash? I thought.

“Mom… It’s crotch, not crouch,” he finally said, still laughing.

“Oh, yeah. Crrr-otch, crrr-ouch, they sound alike.” I tried to save face.

“No,” he quickly answered back. Then, teasing, he said, “Mom, you should make your own dictionary.” He thought I had uttered enough malapropism to start my own book. He was very amused.

Riding along, I said, “Crouch is when you have an ouch on your crotch.” There’s my first malapropistic entry.

Monday, September 04, 2006

September morn

Wow, September already? I can’t believe summer went by so quickly. I had a good summer, a very productive summer. Autumn is at the doorstep. I will miss a lot of things…

I will miss Beth. She and I have become very close over the past months. Rode to work together, prayed for each other, chatted endlessly about gardens, recipes, family, work, church, life in the Philippines, and thrift buys! A woman after my own heart! Her family’s moving to Alberta today. Another goodbye. Too bad we only had about a year to get to know each other. Thanks to the Internet and cheap long distance rates, we will easily be in touch. I am happy for her and her family as they carve out a new life in Edmonton. And I am happy to have someone to visit in that city. Hopefully, next year!

I will miss my vegetable garden. I still have broccoli plants, tomatoes, peppers, basil and parsley left, but these will soon thin out like my lettuce, sweet peas and cucumbers. I didn’t imagine I would feel so sad to watch my garden fade away. It has been like a pet to me. Cheered me up every morning and every time I came home from work. I plan to plant tulip bulbs this fall so there will be blooms in early spring. They will be very pretty. Haven’t done this before, so let’s see how it goes—or grows.

I will miss long days. Sunrise before 5 am and sunset after 9 pm. Looong day. Makes me feel like I can do more during the day.

I will miss summer clothes and outings… It’s time to prepare the sweaters, turtle necks, nylons, boots, scarves…Time to do more indoor stuff. I will learn to sew! I took home my mother’s old sewing machine from Seattle yesterday and I’m so looking forward to doing something different. First, I need to learn how to thread that thing. No more sawing. Time for sewing.

Ohhh, September. While I will miss some things that will go with the summer season, I look forward to new things.

I look forward to the colours of fall. Reds. Yellows. Oranges. Maroons. It’s what I like to call nature’s last hurrah before everything turns dreary and grey. It is so beautiful in the fall. I like looking at the mountains gradually turn yellow. Although I like lush and green trees, I find art and beauty when deciduous trees start shedding. They are like women without make-up, or men without steroids. The naked beauty of a tree’s skeleton. So nice to look at against the sunset or a cloudless sky, or through the fog.

I look forward to all my sons being back at home. Gino’s finally back after 4 months in Toronto and 2 weeks in California. We picked him up from my mother’s Seattle apartment this weekend. Mickey’s flying in from Bangkok tonight. See you at the airport! Welcome hugs to you, guys! Back to reality, back to school and work, back to chores. It would be interesting to see how things get back to normal…

I look forward to school opening. Gabriel will be in high school, wow! Big change. Markus will be by himself in grade school. I will have the same morning route as I drop off the two at different schools. The car will be emptier though. It used to be full every morning with all four of them. Now, it’s down to two.

I look forward to new TV shows. We watch House, Mantracker, Malcolm in the Middle, The Simpsons. I have dropped Desperate Housewives from my few favourites after I realized that the stories and relationships are way too dysfunctional and too desperate. We’ve seen the first two episodes of Prison Break, and I feel I may dropping this too. Aside from the violence, it’s getting badder. I won’t last watching a TV show that regularly leaves me feeling bad and angry. Gimme a break! Have some redeeming value. I’ll get back to your program towards the end of the season when the good and the truth will hopefully have the upper hand. I hope to see more feel good TV series appear this season. I don’t mind shallow comedy. I like family sitcoms.

I look forward to more stories to blog. New season, new colours, new stories.