It’s not easy having to describe the most inspirational woman in your life in a few short sentences. I will not even try to capture my mother’s essence here in this one post, but for starter’s sake, she was one of a kind. She had an infectious laugh that echoed throughout the house when she was chatting with her friends over glasses of wine or when she was on the phone by the kitchen sink (also over a glass of wine). She was a superwoman. She worked a minimum of 45 hours a week. She kept our three-story house spotless and tastefully decorated. She did the laundry, washed the dishes, set the tables, and never ever complained. She, along with my Pop, raised my two brothers and me. My brothers were born in the 70s, and I was born at the tail end of the 80s, so their years having to raise children extended a bit longer than most parents’. Still, she never ceased to tell us how much she loved us. Although my parents were not lovey dovey (at least not in front of us), they were in love and perfect for each other since the day they met in 1969. My Pop told Mama how beautiful she was everyday. Mama, on the other hand, was more subdued in her PDA, but her love was loyal and unconditional. She loved to host dinner parties, which she was damn good at, too. We had a houseful of guests not once or twice a month, but once, twice, or even three times a week — every week. She was born on Christmas day, and I can’t recall one year that we didn’t celebrate Christmas/her birthday with all of our friends and family at our house. At our parties, she and her friends would dance the swing or the twist, smoke cigarettes in the house (it was the 90s after all), drink bottle after bottle of red wine, and either mix it up with majong tournaments or karaoke.
One thing I’ve strategically left out is that my mother was… the best cook in the world. She didn’t bring flocks of people together by ordering takeout food every weekend, that’s for sure. She could make anything, and it was always mouthwateringly good. Despite her 8-5 full-time career, she always made time to cook. So much so that it was considered a ‘treat’ for us to order KFC or Pizza Hut because we did it so rarely. I was so young, I didn’t fully appreciate her expertise until she passed away. She got diagnosed with stage four uterine cancer in June 2003, and up until mere weeks before she was put into hospice care, she still cooked for us. She loved to do it. She loved serving people and creating culinary works of art — art in taste, not necessary presentation. She could’ve just served her meals from a big cauldron with the lid off on the stove and still leave her guests speechless. She cooked American, Asian, Italian, and especially Filipino food. After she passed away in January 2005, one of the most significant places where her absence was obviously felt was the kitchen. I was fifteen at the time, living with my Pop and one of my brothers. My Pop knew early on that our day to day food was going to be our biggest problem. We were so used to Mama cooking for us every night. My brother, Charlie, learned some dishes from our Lola Mommy (maternal grandmother) and also dabbled with some dishes he learned how to cook when he was living on his own. Pop tried to master some dishes, but after a year, he stuck to what he knew best, grilling steaks. When we weren’t cooking, we ordered takeout or just ate out at a restaurant. This option became more and more frequent. We went to Manila the summer after my mom passed away. We were there to bury her ashes, but I also had a mission of my own: to learn the recipes of my Mama’s teachers. Maybe it was because I was tired of eating takeout every night, or maybe it was just my way of coping, but I went to my Lola Mommy and my Mama’s aunt, Tita Dely, with a list of dishes that I wanted to learn: beefsteak, giniling, and mechado. I pretty much picked them at random from my memory bank of Filipino delicacies that my mother perfected, but still they were dishes that I was yearning to have again. As any Filipino-American knows, cooking is a form of hospitality in the household, so my Lola Mommy and Tita Dely were delighted to share their recipes and techniques with me. I took my learnings back home with me, and started cooking for my family. I started with the Filipino dishes, perfecting some and abandoning others that I failed at the first time (I’ve become a little bit more resilient since those days). I learned how to bake from one of my mom’s best friends, my Tita Vivian, when she spent a few weeks with us in the Summer of 2007. I started contributing dishes to our holiday get togethers, which were still often held at our house due to convenience and size, and when I was a freshman in college, I started hosting my own friends for home-cooked meals, as well. Just like my mom, I was a natural in the kitchen. Up until just recently, however, I considered cooking to be an obligation — maybe because I was a selfish college student at the time who would rather be partying and spending money on late-night grub than cooking at home. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t deny the feeling of pride I had when my family or my guests appreciated my food. I will never forget how at one particular family dinner, my five-year-old nephew, after eating two bowls of my pork sinigang, turned to my brother and asked, “Papa, how does Tati make this taste so good?” I realized then and there that this was what brought me the greatest feeling of joy and accomplishment — to host and serve my loved ones.
I started this blog as a way to share my culinary adventures with the world. I want to share my kitchen’s recipes, trials, errors, success stories, and anything else I create with love. I’ve come a long way from my first attempt at sinigang, and I hope to inspire any youths or anyone else who is picking up cooking for the first time.
Every time I’m in the kitchen, every time I chop onions or melt butter or bring a broth to a boil or taste a simmering sauce with a teaspoon or even pour myself a glass of wine with my apron on, I think of Mama. I think about making her proud and allowing her recipes to live on. I think about how she guides me with her spirit every minute of everyday. I tried, one day, to summarize what Mama taught me about life. I thought, How do you describe the life of a woman who loved her life, loved serving people, loved to smile and laugh, and loved her family unconditionally? What I came up with is, Live life. Love others.
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