To observe my Mama Narni’s birthday last Dec. 8 (she would have turned 99 years old this year), my sister-in-law Coratec thought we should try cooking her favorite dishes. It would not be an easy mission.
For one thing, her most famous “creation” was a soup that was billed the “Soup of the Future” in a Lifestyle section recipe that she had decided to replicate. The soup’s base was chicken stock into which were added croutons, cheese, the usual condiments, and a most unusual ingredient: cow’s brain. We all remembered this unusual soup, but the recipe for it was long gone. So no “Soup of the Future” for us.
Another memorable dish we all associate with Mama is commonly found on many Filipino festive tables. This is frozen fruit salad, but Mama’s version began with taking from storage a tall, white enameled pot which was her chosen vessel to mix the ingredients. As a small child, eager to help, I would stand on a chair and help Mama pour the ingredients into the pot: fruit cocktail, chopped up apples, nuts, grated cheese and condensed milk and cream. Mama would carefully mix the ingredients together then spoon it into different containers for freezing. But her fruit salad was a dessert associated with Christmas, and none of us was in the mood to go through the motions so early in the month.
So we settled for near-equivalents. One dish Mama loved was embutido, but for her, only the version prepared in our hometown of Alaminos in Pangasinan would do. The hubby decided to try his hand at everlasting, the Marikina version of the steamed meat loaf. But, racing to serve the dish on time at our gathering, he took it out of the steamer too early. His everlasting didn’t pop out as a single loaf and instead ended up a steaming mess. Still, it tasted good enough for many return servings.
Growing up in a coastal town, Mama also loved seafood, so Coratec came up with Trixie’s grilled bangus, a good-enough substitute.
Christmas gatherings likewise see a cornucopia of beloved family dishes. For the celebration of the Jimenezes of Annapolis (the street in Cubao where most of us grew up) in the Antipolo hillside manse of my sister Joni and her husband German, we agreed to bring one (or more) dish each and one dessert.
The hubby, who is my nuclear family’s commander in chief in the kitchen, decided that this year we would contribute to the potluck the classic Pinoy beefsteak (or bistek), which our cook Lolit has mastered, and, on Joni’s
request, pancit molo. Coratec volunteered the famous rosemary chicken of her son-in-law Mario’s family kitchen, and spinach lasagna that she ordered herself from Sbarro’s. Joni’s contribution was barbecue from a neighborhood stand.
Even better news were the desserts: sister-in-law Soc apologetically texted us that all she could donate was bread pudding from Wildflour (which we all secretly rejoiced in), Tec brought an apple pie with whipped cream, and we came up with Campfire cake, enriched with chocolate sauce and topped with marshmallow icing from Purple Oven.
As you can tell, we Jimenez women are not much for slaving away in hot kitchens. But my hubby thinks it’s a waste of money to pay for food you could make at home for so much less, and with much better results.
I myself agree with my good friend Jesselynn’s son, Arjay, who on one of her birthdays paid tribute to his mom by praising her for “knowing where to order the best food for any occasion.”
Of course, home-cooked food is always a better blessing, the sweat and effort and love put into it being the secret value that makes each product so much better-tasting. But when hands and taste buds are inadequate, “knowing the best places to order food” is not a bad virtue.
A final word on our family celebration. Adding brilliance to the occasion were the “logic and math” games hosted and conceived by my niece Charm, which had all of us (save for the lazy “titas”) wracking our brains and exercising ingenuity. Best of all, she had boxes chock-full of prizes for the family teams (color-coded in fact), letting us all leave feeling like winners.
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