Friday, October 17, 2008

The Nanay Chronicles #2 - Comfort Food

Ours was a very large family. With nine kids to feed and host of workers in her small garments business, Nanay was an expert in whipping up meals good for an entire battalion. I could not remember having small cookware in the old house - everything was big. We have a pretty big kitchen that opens up to the backyard where food was cooked during big celebrations.

Of course, I will never forget the food - glorious comfort food that Nanay would prepare for the clan.
  • Sinigang na Ayungin - this small fish is caught in Laguna Lake and is best cooked in sour broth made from either ripe guavas or Kamias. Garnished with sili leaves, it is perfectly complemented by patis.
  • Ginataang Biya - Nanay chose biya that have eggs and would use the "dilaw" variety of ginger for that unique tangy taste.
  • Menudong Bato-bato ng Manok - I don't see this in the market now, but Nanay used to buy chicken gall bladders from the Pasig Market and cooked them menudo style - with tomato sauce, soy sauce, and potatoes.
  • Ukbo - a true-blue Pateros delicacy, Ukbo is actually aborted duck embryo that did not fully developed into balut. Pretty much like a day-old chick, it is cooked either as adobo or kaldereta. Nanay would use 7-Up and pickles to give it a different twist. I love the egg yolks especially.
  • Kare-kareng Bituka ng Baka - When I was younger, I hated it when Nanay cooks this version of the kare-kare. The sebo would fill my mouth even before I am halfway through my meal, and I had to rinse my mouth with hot water after the meal. But my Nanay's kare-kare is tops!
  • Menudo - Nanay cooks the dry version of the menudo, tasty and especially great with hot pan de sal. On special occasions, she would throw in some raisins for that sweet-tangy taste.
  • Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging - Nanay's version is not raw, although it was still made with vinegar. She used pork sauteed with shrimp and then garnished with sotanghon.
  • Pinakbet na Isda - Nanay would use either fried labahita or grilled bangus for her version of this Ilocano favorite. I would pick out the ampalaya and kalabasa from the many vegetables. Then as now, I still hate the okra!
  • Sinuwam na Baboy - Better known as batchoy to many people, Nanay always partnered this meal with fried galungong. She would boil fresh galungong in vinegar, crushed garlic and peppercorn before frying them to a crisp. For the sinuwam, she used pork tenderloin, liver, kidney and spleen. The exotic flavor was courtesy of fresh pig blood, lots of ginger and kimchay. The sinuwam broth was made even better when taken with a sprinkling of patis with calamansi and siling panigang.
  • Almondigas - I loved helping Nanay cook this meal, as I get to do the meatballs and dunk them into the pan. The meatballs are made up of ground pork, minced onion, pepper and eggs. Then she would do a sautee of garlic, onions and ginger and uses the second washing of rice for the broth. Of course, Nanay's broth will not be complete without patis. After the meatballs have been cooked, she finishes it off with misua and kasuba.
  • Paksiw na Pata - one of my all-time favorites! Pork knuckles boiled in water, vinegar, soy sauce and banana flowers until succulently tender.
  • Paksiw na Bituka - Only Nanay can prepare this dish perfectly. She knows how to pick the right intestines and clean them. I especially like the part where that is also used for chicharon bulaklak. She cooks this with dried oregano and whole peppercorns. As usual, great with patis - and I eat and eat and eat until my lips turn white because of the vinegar!
  • Tinolang Manok - I used to tag along with Nanay when we buy the live chicken and would watch as she slits the throat and let the blood pour in a saucer with uncooked rice. She would only use manibalang na papaya and lots of ginger, giving the broth a wonderfully sweet and tangy flavor. Great with patis and calamansi as well.
  • Boiled Eggs in Catsup - The first time I cooked this for friends, they were incredulous. Nanay would boil the eggs, cut them in halves and make a sauce by sauteing garlic, onion and catsup with a bit of water.
  • Sinuwam na Itlog - another egg dish that I only get to eat in our house. Nanay would saute garlic, onions and ginger strips, then add water. When the water starts boiling, she would break the eggs and drop them one by one into the boiling broth. She would then add patis and misua to the poached eggs.
  • Fried Pork Chop - I tried and tried but could not even approximate how Nanay prepares one of my favorite baons. She would boil the meet in vinegar, garlic and peppercorns until dry and then let it fry in its own oil.
These are just a few of the food that I remember Nanay cooking for us. In future posts, I will devote a whole series for these culinary delights.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Nanay Chronicles #1 - Maria Went to the Market

One of my earliest memories of my childhood were my frequent trips to the market with Nanay. Although already busy with her small home business, she was hands-on when it comes to going to the market - be it in Pasig for our food, or in Divisoria to buy materials for her garments business or to deliver finished products. I remember only very few instances when she would tag me along to Divisoria, but I have many vivid memories of market trips to the public markets of Pasig.

Divisoria was a long trip back then, when the only way to go there in comfort was the TPT bus. Comfort then means sitting on wooden benches, with no aircon, and inhaling all the smoke and dust along the way. But who's complaining? If the conductor happens to be Mang Itoy, or anyone who knows Nanay, we get a free ride. It was always a long ride - TPT was not known as Takbong Pagong Transit for nothing.

The market in Divisoria, then and now, was a maze of stalls and stores. Nanay would navigate through the maze in a breeze - she knows its ins and outs like the back oh her hand. She walks fast, makes sure she gets the seller's attention and bargains hard. She was a real pro! As for the little pesky kid she had in tow, when I could not keep up the pace anymore, she would leave me with an Indian couple (or at least that's how they looked to me) who owns a stall, and then come back for me when she's done. So while other children would shudder in fear when old folks tell them to behave or otherwise be given to Indians (called Bombays in olden days) carrying sacks where they put misbehaving children, I was happily playing with them in Divisoria.

Other than a few occasions, I do not have much memories of Divisoria - much unlike the many happy, although sometimes embarrassing, memories of Nanay in the Pasig Public Market. I used to dread Saturdays, when Nanay would drag me out of bed early in morning to go to the Pasig public market. Pateros folks, for some strange reason, prefer to take the jeepney ride all the way to Pasig instead of going to the small market by the river. Well, maybe that's the reason - there are more choices in Pasig compared to the almost empty stalls in the Pateros market.

Nanay would always ask me to sit on her lap on the jeepney, even when there was enough space for me to sit on, so that we only have to pay for one seat. Nanay calls everyone in the Pasig Market "Suki", be it the meat, fish, vegetable or dry goods vendor. Much later when I was older and understood better, I learned that calling them "Suki" gave her the license to ask for embarrassinly huge discounts. I always cringed when she would ask the vendors to sell to her at more than half the price. But as a testament to her bargaining prowess, she would almost always get her way anyway. She even perfected the art of pretending to walk away from a deal if she did not get her discount, with the vendor almost always calling her back and giving in to her price.

In fact I learned my first business lesson from her right in the market. When I would tell her that "kawawa naman yung tindera, baka nalulugi na", she would assure me that vendors will not sell anything without at least a decent profit, if not from her, then from someone else. That made an impression on me. and had always been in my mind when dealing with contractors and suppliers, or with clients if I happen to be the one selling. Business is always give and take - you give to some, you take from the others but always leave something for yourself.

Me and Nanay would hie off to the market at least once a week for many more years until I went to Baguio for college. She would always have the week's menu in mind, and would methodically and systematically comb through the huge market - starting with the meat section, then chicken, fish and vegetables. When she and Tatay finally decided to settle in the US, I would go to the same market on my own. As I pass from one stall to the next, the vendors would ask me where Nanay was, and how she was doing. It was then that I realized that she really did cultivate real relationships with the people in the market. She knew each one of them personally, and her relationship with them went beyond the bargains.

Looking back now, little did I know that those market trips to Divisoria and the Pasig would have a lasting and significant effect on how I now deal with my business associates and clients. Nanay was my first and most influential business mentor, and whatever business lessons I put into good use all started in those trips to the market.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Nanay Chronicles

On 08 November 2008, our family will commemorate the 10th year of the passing of our dearly missed mother, Maria Enriquez Concepcion. Nanay, as she was fondly called by everyone, including her grandchildren and friends of her children, was a woman of fortitude, courage and grit. Her simple life left extra-ordinary marks on people whose lives she had touched.

In honor of this extra-ordinary human being, I am running a series of personal recollection and reflection on my beloved Nanay. I may never be able to do justice to her life's achievements, but hopefully through this series of reflections, I can perpetuate her memory and the lessons of her life for generations of my family.

To my dearest Nanay, wherever you are now, allow me to indulge you on this humble tribute. For my Tatay and the rest of the family, thank you for always keeping Nanay's memory alive in our hearts and our lives. Her presence in our lives keeps this family together, even as we faced the many challenges in life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dying Young

This will be a quick post. I have actually started a couple of other posts the past months, but all have remained as drafts. Some were on the early stages, a few need only a paragraph or two to wrap up. Much as I wanted to, I could not bring myself to put the final touches and publish them. Perhaps my muse had left me?

I sit in front of my computer today, a Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. I am thinking, maybe I should also stop my abstinence from writing on my blog and start anew. Maybe I should go back to the drafts of my unpublished entries and finish them once and for all. Or maybe I should write about something new on my mind?

In a month's time, my family from the US will be descending on our little town for my mother's 10th death anniversary. We will also celebrate my father's 83rd birthday, and my brother's 50th. Throw in the November 1/2 observance of All Souls and All Saints, and it will indeed be a celebration of life and death - the inevitable cycle for all of us.

So why the melodramatic title of this post?

A little over a week ago, I got a text message from a good friend from San Francisco, in sunny California. He was using his Philippine number, which made me suspect that he was actually in the Philippines. Well, turned out he really was. He came home, rather abruptly, to attend to a very sick sister. He did not see her alive anymore. She died one day before his scheduled flight, and she was only 44 years old.

If you asked me twenty years ago, I would say that would be a good age to pass on - in fact a bit too late. In my younger years, I would fancy dying before the age of forty. I thought there's just too many problems in the world, and by the time I reached that age I would have achieved what I needed to accomplish, plus some more - good or bad. There is no need to plod on and see my skin all wrinkled. That would not have looked good on me as I lay on an open casket. All those movies about dying young and leaving everyone bereaved and devastated had the hopeless romantic in me all fired up. I imagined myself in the peak of my life, shining brightly in a firmament full of stars dimmed by my brilliance - and then suddenly disappearing in a burst of luminous shower in the sky. Talk about drama!

But here I am, all of 43 years old and looking forward to growing old gracefully - never mind the wrinkles and aching joints. Well, it helped that the Church is now more open to cremation, and I do not have to worry about people talking about my wrinkles as they view my remains. They would be raving about my Photoshopped portrait instead! I have seen the light.

Over recent years, I have grown fond of reading through the obituaries and found special interest on people who died young. When I am in the memorial park, or when I had to attend wakes in chapels or funeral parlors, I would look around and check for people who died young. I would imagine how they died, and what could have been of the people they left behind. Did they die of accidents? Or did they die of lingering illnesses? Could there have been foul play? Or maybe they took their own lives?

How did those they left behind cope with their early departure? What if they have a young family, with kids deprived of a parent? As the youngest in the brood, if fate would take its natural course, I will have the unpleasant task of burying my parents and my siblings. I already went through burying my mother 10 years ago, and it was such a painful experience that the melancholy still lingers up to this time. I dread the day of the inevitable.

Maybe that was partly the reason for my fascination for dying young. Subconsciously, I may have wanted to escape that dreadful task. I want people to cry for me, to pine for my presence, to wax eloquent about my worthy life in a heartfelt eulogy during my memorial service. My fate is otherwise. If I would be blessed with a long life, I would be standing by the coffins of all those dear to me, crying for them, pining for them and feeling all alone. Dying young would have been more dramatic - romantic even.

But the years weave its magic on weary souls like mine. Warts and all, life has been good to me. As we add numbers and digits to our ages, we acquire a different appreciation for our lives. As we mature, we start looking at mistakes as lessons, challenges as opportunities and failures as just another reason to try harder next time. Love gained and lost through the many colorful episodes of our lives give a different dimension to the endless cycle of sleeping and waking up. The days when we look forward to waking up to a new day, and the forlorn days when we hope the morning never comes - all these makes life such a wonderful and joyful journey into the unknown. And it can all end in a snap.

I always say yes whenever people ask me if I am ready to go. But the truth is, I am not. Not that I am not ready, but its just that I do not want to go. Not yet anyway. In fact, I am enjoying life so much I want to live forever if I can. Maybe God designed it that way, that our lives can be taken from us at anytime - even at the least expected time, so we can learn to appreciate each day and each moment. So we can take time to look at the scenery as we travel through life, talk to people, love them - even hate them if we must. Each day, each experience, each person bring lessons that enrich our own lives, and each new day is more exciting than the previous day - if only for the fact that you are still alive. Who would want to die young?

Like power, life is addictive the longer we have it.