Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pampered

As the youngest of 5 children, I was doted upon by both parents. It was both a boon and a bane, depending on the circumstances, but for the most part I loved being pampered.

I had a close relationship with my father, who would have turned 85 today. I had an attachment to him like an invisible umbilical cord. This isn't hard to understand.

Baby, Baby

My mother said I was such a cry baby. "Masyado kang iyakin" (You cried a lot). Even though I was already asleep, I would wake up and cry as soon as my back hit the bed. Thus my father spent many nights on the rocking chair with me in his arms. I would continue to enjoy being carried by those arms.


My father and me in front of our house


My babyhood was unusually extended. I was unintentionally weaned from the bottle at age 4. (My siblings forgot to bring it to Mt. Makiling where we we stayed overnight at my grandfather's nipa hut). I slept in my crib in the same room as my parents until I could no longer stretch my body inside it, maybe till the age of 4 or 5. In the morning when I woke up, I called out "Tataaaaay!" (Father!) so that he--or my mother if he wasn't around--could carry me to the dining room. This stopped when I was 10. What a baby!

I liked my father's arms. He let me hang on them like they were exercise bars. We would also walk around the living room, my feet on top of his, while I held onto his arms or hands.


Mr. Fix It

In case you didn't know, my father repaired broken radio and TV sets. It was his sideline, when his clients--mostly friends, relatives and neighbours--actually paid for his services with not just snacks and a thank you. He often did repair work at home on weekends. I liked to hover around him and handle electronic parts and tools, which often ticked my father off.



My father at work at the U.P. College of Engineering



Me, at my father's desk at work, two blocks from home.
When I was old enough to go by myself, I dropped by every now
and then to be treated to a burger and Choco-vim at their canteen.


I think I got a streak of the fixer-upper from my father. I have the urge to troubleshoot or repair when something is broken. I'm not the greatest DIYer. I sometimes make do with duct tapes and twist ties, but I just feel the need to do something. Anything.

When my father needed to buy electronic parts, he, often with my mother, went to Raon St. in Manila on a weekend. They let me tag along on the condition that I would not ask to buy anything from one of the shops in the Quiapo underpass. Although the bus ride made me carsick and throw up, I took that opportunity to see the outside world, the world off campus.


Teaching moments

My parents did not have much education through no choice of their own. Hence, they instilled that value in their children with such conviction.

I showed an eagerness to learn my ABCs and 123s early, which my parents nurtured and fanned with hardly any resources. I can't remember having a preschool book of my own except for two old American storybooks I found in an old chest. My parents sat me down to teach me the basics and entertained my many questions at other times. I was an inquisitive child.

Even our bus rides and out of town trips were teaching moments. My father challenged me to read shop names and store signs along the sidewalks. I learned a big word in this way--Upholstery. He humoured me too. He said Dressed Chicken meant they had clothing. Once on our way from Baguio City, he made count the electric posts in Tarlac. I fell asleep counting posts.

My father was always very encouraging and bragged about my proficiencies to just about everyone. I was ready for kindergarten. He took me for the entrance exam, which I thought was a breeze.


A major disappointment

The results came in: I didn't make it. I failed the kindergarten entrance exam!?

I sensed something was wrong and my parents were upset. Long story short, my father did not rest until he could see my test paper which was refused him by school officials. He went to the top, someone he knew at the Board of Regents, a well-respected man whose TV he repaired. My file was opened.

My father was told that the problem was not with my test result. I was underaged by one month. So why let me take the test in the first place? My father believed I was bumped off to give priority to children of academic personnel. He was a non-academic staff. Nonetheless, I got accepted to the only school my parents considered for their children. There was no other choice for us, and especially for me, the last child.

It was probably against this backdrop that my father invested so much time in my studies. He helped me with my homework every night. He was very pleased and felt vindicated at the end of each grading period. I performed very well.

"Laging first honor!" (always first honor) he often said. That was not always the case but maybe he meant to be more "prophetic" than factual. He wanted to speak things into being, declaring a good thing over my life.


(to be continued)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Oh men!!

I grew up surrounded by older men--my father, one brother, several male relatives from both sides of the family--all in the same household. So I was used to having men in my life from as early as I can remember. I believe their presence gave me a sense of stability and security.

Over the years, I've had male friends in my closest circle. I've enjoyed their friendship and company in a different way. They have a certain depth and none of the complications that we women are known for. We, ladies, can be deep too, but often, you have to deal with layers and dimensions to understand what we're trying to say. With guys, it's simple: WYSIWYG!

With my guy best friends, we have confided in each other, assured that none of us would be yakking about them to others the moment we turned around, or 20 years later. Their total transparency with me has helped me understand the way the male mind and hormones work. I hope my friendship also gave them an insight into and an exercise on handling my gender's complexities--granted they understood me. Or even if they didn't.

What I like about men is that they don't normally talk in riddles. I don't need to read between the lines or hear what's not being said. My mind doesn't have to work overtime to get them. Often, it's my mind that reads what's not there and that sometimes presents the problem.

My attitude towards men is a mixture of respect and fear. I believe this springs from what my father meant to me--someone I respected and depended on for just about everything. I respond well to male authorities in my life who take on their role respectably. But I realize too that not all men are as respectable or trustworthy as he was, and because of that I am afraid of those men and the hurtful and vile things they can do.

Overall, I look up to men. I believe God created them with a divine purpose and gifted them with great qualities for noble purposes. I thank God for the male species. I feel sad or angry when they live less than they really are and more like brutes. Man, oh man!

One time I attended a big Christian conference in Manila. We were singing a hymn when the song leader asked only the men to sing a stanza. Deep booming voices filled the huge auditorium in worship, declaring words of truth. I stood in awe. I thought, This is how it should be--men rising up, taking the lead, making their voices heard. I love to see men at the forefront, giving of themselves, exercising godly authority, living in integrity... If only every man would be man enough, this world would be a much better place.

Today, I'm still surrounded by men. As the only female in my family of 6, I sometimes still wonder what God's reason or plan might be, but I'm loving it. I know I've been prepared for this. And one of my roles now is to help prepare my boys become everything they can become. Cheers to men!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

What's for dinner? -- The verdict

So how did our first week of cooking and eating dishes off a restaurant menu go? Hits and misses.

First, the hits.

The spicy prawn linguine served with garlic bread turned out well. "Worth repeating," MrB said. I thought it was a bit too spicy, but my boys liked it that way. Oh yeah, there was one suggestion. Remove the tail. My boys don't like eating unshelled shrimps. I thought tails were okay. Not. By the way, I used the tiger prawns' poorer cousins. So for around $17, we had a big pan of shrimp pasta that fed all six of us.

Blackened salmon
with rice pilaf and green salad on the side - I was lucky with this one too. I printed off an online recipe that called for different kinds of ground pepper, which I already had in my pantry. Instead of fresh salmon fillets, I used the cheaper frozen kind.

The rice pilaf was okay but I will probably not do it again in a long time. It's a lot simpler to just cook regular steamed rice. Besides, it uses white rice which I have given up for brown.

The chicken Caesar salad served with garlic bread was the easiest to prepare. You wouldn't go wrong with it.

The clam chowder was prepared by my 15-year son, Gabriel, so I'm putting it under hits. I found a simple recipe that he could do on my chore-free day during which he takes over the cooking. I think it was yummy, but he was not very happy about the outcome. I, however, was very happy about not cooking. Hit!

Now, the misses.

The cajun chicken was not spicy enough. I should have added more cajun seasoning. The flour coating should have been less. I served roasted potatoes and green salad on the side. I was able to use my garden herbs for the roasted potatoes. That's a plus.

Markus's choice, the NY burger, was not quite right. "What's this, Mom?" Markus asked, "Why, is it not good?" I asked. He tried to be nice about it.

Last Friday, I asked Gabriel and Markus to pick out one dish each as I was driving them to school. Markus was first to read through the menu.

"MOM!," he blurted. "The New York burger you made, you should have put patties! It's a burger!"

"Wha--?" Gabriel shook his head and chuckled. They started laughing.

"Mom, that's why you shouldn't just read from the menu. It's not a recipe," Gabriel said.

It was as if someone turned a light bulb on. "Oh, that's why!" I said. "But it doesn't say patties. Does it say patties? It says bacon, melted cheese and sauteed mushrooms." I was trying to find a graceful exit.

"It's in the name, Mom. Burger." They couldn't stop laughing. I have done dumb things before, but this one, by far, exceeds them all. I may be the quintessential cost-cutter, but making a burger which had nothing but add-ons? Over!!

"So Mom, if you see cheeseburger, does that mean you will only put cheese?" they kidded.

"I'm now afraid to say burger, but that's what I want," Markus teased. He eventually chose Chicken Club for this week. They continued ribbing me until they got off the car and I was left laughing by myself on the way to work.

I have already lined up our week's meals from the same restaurant menu. To compensate for the misses we had, I allowed Teriyaki steak this week. We had it tonight and were all very pleased. It turned out to be affordable too--$15 for the beef (and I've used only half) and $5 for a big bottle of teriyake sauce (I've used only a small portion). Even with romaine salad and mashed potatoes on the side, our steak dinner for 5 would have cost less than $20. Not bad!

At Costco last Saturday, I also bought a big pack of ground beef. I will reprise the NY Burger, this time with homemade patty!

Friday, June 05, 2009

What's for dinner?

I saw a stack of menu in our office kitchen yesterday that was left there to promote the grand opening of a grill & bistro in the area. I browsed through one and had what I thought was a great idea. I took a menu home.

"Guys, all of us will choose one item each," I told Gabriel and Markus first. "This will be our dinner for the week." They were confused at first. Are we eating take-out? Are we each eating a different item? Are we having all 6 items in one meal?

"No, it's one item per night. There are 6 of us so that's 6 nights. The last is a whatever night," I clarified.

Markus checked the items and picked NY Burger. Crisp bacon, melted cheddar and sauteed mushrooms. Simple, I thought. "Mom, do you know how this is done?" he asked. "I don't need to know." It's burger. What is there to know?

"Mom, these are not recipes," Gabriel said as he read through the dishes.

"That's okay. I'm just looking at the ingredients. I'll do it my way," I replied. I think he was disappointed. So we're not really having restaurant food nor cooking it restaurant style. It's just restaurant name. He chose Clam Chowder. A creamy white New England style chowder. He will cook this himself Sunday night.

"Spicy Prawn Linguini," Mickey said. Tiger prawns served in spicy tomato sauce. "Okay," I answered. Sounds expensive, but if I can't afford prawns, I'll use a cheaper kind.

"Mom, can we have Cajun Chicken on Tuesday?" Gino asked. Freshly grilled chicken breast, blackened with cajun spices. Gino is leaving for Greece on Wednesday so yes, I'll make Cajun Chicken on Tuesday night. Never mind if we don't have a grill. I'll figure out how to blacken it. I think I've done this before--unintentionally.

The last to choose was MrB. "We're not having steak," I said before he can blurt it out. "Aw, that's what I was looking at." I was quicker. "Blackened Salmon," he said. Fresh salmon fillet season in cajun spices. I have lots of cajun seasoning. I'm sure frozen salmon fillets will work too. Blackened again? I need to find that out the difference between blackened and burnt.

My choice is Chicken Caesar Salad. Classic Caesar Salad topped with fresh grilled chicken tenders. I don't even have to cook this. Just mix everything together.

So there. We now have our weekly menu starting tomorrow. It looks simple, except that each item is supposed to be served with side dishes like roasted potatoes, green salad, garlic bread, rice pilaf...

Let's see if this menu works. Or if it will simplify my cooking. If not, then it's back to whatever night--every night!