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Gastronomica

My Comfort Food

Okay, here’s something I should have done ages ago but it completely slipped from my spongy gray matter. Lurchie tagged me to name my comfort food.

Hmm. I do love food — whether it be gourmet, deli, or cooked in some provincial nanay’s woodstove, I love food. But those that stand out and bring great cheer to my palate are those that are simply made, home cooked, and done with love (and it shows through the waistline I’m lugging about). But my weight is one matter I shall not write about in this blog, so, here are three favorites that provide a source of solace when the going gets tough and my soul needs a little soothing to face what lies ahead.

(never mind the calories just for a moment)

1) Fried Chicken

my memories of my late grandfather (on my father’s side) involved Sunday lunches with the Sunday special crispy-fried chicken from KFC. the family (during those happier times) would sit around the table and share a bucket of chicken, exchange jokes and family news. I considered including gravy as a separate comfort food, but i guess it just goes well with the chicken. Today, at work, I still seek out fried chicken from the office canteen when I am feeling just a bit overwhelmed.

2) White Bean Stew

a very simple and homely dish. i seek this out each time the weather gets too cold and i need something that would warm me down to my toes. works every time!

3) Spaghetti Carbonara

light, creamy, with just the right zap of garlicky flavor. i prefer eating this rather than discussing its flavorful merits.

Therefore, I conclude, from the above display of gustatoria, that I am no sweet tooth. Savory dishes are what makes me happy.

(I’m tagging anybody who stumbles on this post. Happy Eats!)

images courtesy of my recipes.com for the chicken, the fat-free vegan for the beans, and steffen’s dinners for the spaghetti.


Bloodlines

UPDATED 12-27-2007

So, it was finally Friday. At seven, I just wrapped up my Math tutorial and effectively squelched the demands from the kids for an extension of one hour just to hang around the Mission House by giving them the cryptic “I have a date (plus inane smile)” statement.

I pulled on a black blouse — the only decent, no-ironing-required piece of clothing available from my stock of washed, yet still unfolded, wardrobe — and splashed on my usual cologne  and attempted to tame my scraggly hair with the aid of a clamp. I caught my reflection in the mirror and decided that I looked more blah than ever so I ditched the clamp.

As an afterthought I also ditched the stiletto sandals and opted for my reliable pair of black Islander. Gateway’s just around the neighborhood anyway and I didn’t want to add more worries to myself if I tripped up on some cracks in the dark sidewalks of Cubao.

Anyway, I wasn’t aiming to impress anyone. My cousins, endeared to me by ties of blood, were more viscious than a pack of starved hyenas when it came to teasing other members of their family that it could either leave one permanently traumatized that would require years and years of near-futile psychotherapy to undo the damage or it could thoughen anyone’s hide and immunize one from any other criticisms encountered over the years from people outside the family.

The stilettos would have been my undoing if I’d worn it.

Since I live in the vicinity of Cubao, I got to Gateway first. I exchanged SMS with the cousins who were still on the way from Ortigas area who assured me that they would be there in less than half an hour.

While waiting, I sat outside Pizza Hut and people-watched a bit. However, I made the mistake of looking a stranger in the eye. The next thing I knew, he, a man of about fifty-six with sparse hair and yellowed teeth plus a beer gut (no criticisms intended), walked up to where I sat and fixed me with a smile that only he could personally think was beguiling.

I shuddered inwardly and gave him an arched eyebrow plus American accent, “What do you want, grandpa?” send-off. He looked embarrassed and quickly shuffled away.

Great. I got mistaken for a night flyer.

I informed my cousin, Lanie, who was still in her cab at that moment. She gave a characteristic “Ha ha ha” reply. Very sympathetic, my cousin.

Fifteen minutes later Lanie arrived. We hugged. Bussed each other on the cheeks and proceeded to give each other the customary once-over.

Lanie: Shucks, you look… thinner!

Me: Hmmm, you too! (Lanie was always underweight. Score one for me.)

Lanie: You actually look, um… good this time. How’s your boyfriend? I saw his pic in your friendster, my God! So… antique! (ouch)

Me: Thanks. He’s my showcase.

Lanie: Hahahahaha! Funny ka talaga!

We decided to stay outside while we waited for the other cousins to arrive. Lanie brought me up to date of the things that happened in the intervening six years that we never communicated (she’s a mother now, unmarried, she works as a telemarketer, was  recently promoted, and enjoys her singlehood) while we waited for Tox and Che (and Che’s friend, Lienny).

I’ll just leave it to the slideshow to do the rest of the narrating.


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Pancakes by the Hundred

One of the highlights of my life in the mission house is that on some days I have the opportunity to cook simple meals and snacks for the kids as well as for the occasional guests who come to visit.

Now, I don’t have any formal training or a degree in culinary arts nor did I spend years slogging it in the kitchen until I could make a perfect paella from just the freshest ingredients hours before a party of 50 is scheduled to arrive.  Cooking has been one of those simple joys I cherish in my moments of solitude. I enjoy the moments of preparation, from slicing the ingredients, to the hiss of spices in the frying pan, to the wafting aroma of a simple dish beckoning to those who care enough to sample the flavors of my cooking.

But let me reveal a secret: I usually cook to please myself.

A little background first.

The Korean missionary brought with him from Korea several cast iron molders of a type streetfood common in their country called boong-o bbang. These boong-o bbang are made from flour batter filled with sweet red bean paste. They are shaped like fish, mostly of the carp family.

smfishbean.jpg

the humble boong-o bbang

However, when the Korean brought the molders to the mission center, he immediately assumed that anyone could whip up a batter of this boong-o bbang and serve him some piping hot carp pastry with his coffee when he comes for a visit. He just told the staff of the mission house that the ingredients consist of flour and water. Indeed.

And the missionary wanted to give away some of the 60-ton molders (four in all) to the families in the community of Sleepy Hollow to kick start his livelihood program.

There wasn’t any problem with the entrepreneurial spirit of the Filipinos. It was more of how boong-o bbang, or fish bread as we decided to call it to give it some sense of adhesion to our memories, should taste since the Korean wasn’t generous enough to bring with him some samples from his homeland.

We had the families lined up for a workshop on boong-o bbang making. We preheated the molders and flexed our muscles, readying ourselves for the task ahead. We had pushcarts built to accommodate the behemoth molders so the families could peddle the Korean fish bread to the far reaches of this big city.

Yet, the problem remained. How exactly does boong-o bbang taste like?

Some of us theorized that boong-o bbang is a Korean version of the Japanese kamaboko. Yet one of those present in the boong-o bbang flavor development brainstorm proclaimed that it couldn’t be like kamaboko since kamaboko tastes like moldy football socks left in a tub of vinegar water for three weeks (no offense intended… it was only one person’s opinion which I had no chance to verify as of writing). Another thought that boong-o bbang should taste like the Japanese pancakes with cheese, ham, or ham and cheese filling sold in university canteens.

Others in the mission house have already tried developing their versions of the batter. The first trial batter consisted of flour and water, just like what the Korean instructed. The batter was poured into the hot molds, turned once, and voila! — flatfish cakes. And the taste? Don’t ask.

The second batter still had the constant flour and water. The new additions were the eggs and the heaping shovelful of baking soda. Result: passable but could use some sugar.

The third batter consisted of the ingredients from the second batter minus the baking soda, which was replaced with a heaping shovelful of yeast. Then milk was added plus the missing sugar. Result: major gas as the taste developers were also the taste testers. But the taste was better than the first two batters.

Another brainstorming ensued. It was decided that instead of focusing on how it was supposed to taste like, why not develop our own flavors that could appeal to the Filipino palate (deep!).

We had help from an uncle of mine who came to the mission house to bequeath to me a worn and mold-infested cookbook. He had training in the culinary arts so he’s legit. He stayed long enough to laugh at the stories of the failed batters and to teach all of us, from the cookbook, a recipe that changed our view about boong-o bbang.

My uncle assigned me to the task of developing the ingredients. Following the instructions from the Moldy Book of Shadows, Section on Cooking, I gathered

  • flour
  • milk
  • oil
  • eggs
  • baking powder
  • salt
  • sugar

mixed everything in a bowl, transferred the golden batter (ours never turned out that color) to a pouring vessel and poured the contents to the molders.

The result: everybody happy.

Well, not quite everyone. The Korean was miffed. We had completely adulterated his national street food. He didn’t comment on the taste and left us alone in our celebration of a finally perfect batter for the fish bread.

bbang.jpgThat day, we puttered in the kitchen, crammed fish bread in our mouths and laughed at inane jokes. There must have been a hundred of those fishies baked for all of us — including the children — gathered in the mission house’s kitchen.

But until now, we are still looking for any information about boong-o bbang’s original recipe.

Actually, the recipe we have for our fish bread is for pancakes. Sometimes for breakfast, I use the recipe for a batch just enough for the people in the mission house who’d be around early in the morning. I’d ditch the molders and prepare the cakes in a good old griddle. As the pancakes turn golden, I would sometimes catch myself sporting a self-satisfied smile.

And as for the Korean, he hasn’t inquired about his precious boong-o bbang yet.


Sham Loaf

A perfect loaf.

It stood there, in the display case, brown, crisp, crinkled. It radiated an air of scrumptiousness about it and so hapless woman with a craving for a wholesome slice of loaf bread that I was, I excitedly ordered a slice from the indifferent servedora.

She plonked a slice of the bread on a saucer and handed it to me and rang up the rest of my order. I nearly dropped my lunch tray when the green numbers popped in the display. The cash register blinked twenty more pesos than what I expected would be my bill.

“How much for the bread?” I asked the servedora/cashier and she quoted the price; way, way up higher than the amount I had fixed in my hungry mind.

“And that’s not bread. That’s choco marble cake.”

Oh.

Okay. Oh.

I really presumed it was a loaf of bread in the display.

Oh.

So okay, it’s my fault because I didn’t ask beforehand what was in the display case. But see, in my vocabulary, and the accompanying word pictures, cakes could either come in layers, logs, tiers, or boxes but never loaves. Loaves are reserved for breads.

I was duped. And highway robbed.

So I resigned myself to having a loaf of cake for dessert. 

When I finally got to taste the cake though, the tendrils of respect I had for the office canteen’s baker melted like butter in a double boiler.

Cakes, again in my vocabulary, should be moist, scrumptious, heavenly, and light. Angels ought to come out from the blue skies and sing hymns once I get to taste the cake. But this loaf does none of the above to my senses.

The piece I struggled to swallow abused my esophagus like a serial rapist on a rampage. It was oilier than the shores of Guimaras after that tanker accident. And worse, it tasted like the made for business cake that it was, bland and lifeless.

So much for a sweet ending to lunch.

Moral of the story: Always have a glass of water at hand when eating pastry products, especially if dining in the office canteen.


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