Kitchen dreams

I  am dreaming of a new kitchen. I know exactly what my husband, who loves to cook, and my daughter, who loves to bake, need; I also know exactly what I desire in terms of space, function and storage.

Very certainly the most used space in our home, our kitchen does need a makeover. And that is a fact, not just the by-product of this housewife’s whim or flight of fancy. After 10 years I think I finally have a better understanding of the way life and food flow through our kitchen; in bits and pieces and through the years, habits have surfaced, quirks have unfolded, likes and dislikes are evident, needs are sparklingly clear and they are as diverse and as personal as the recipes I have grown to love.

I now know that my husband really, really loves to cook and that my daughter loves to bake (I suspect even more than I do). He is a multi-tasker who can entertain and cook a three-course meal simultaneously, and he can watch TV while doing that, too. I feel, as I’m sure he does, that a cook-top range incorporated at the end side of the island would be ideal so that he will not be too far away from the people he loves to feed.

I know and love that our house is always filled with people with healthy appetites, some of who love to cook just as much as they love to eat. That being so, gatherings both planned and impromptu come aplenty. We love to feed people, we love to eat, we love that there is always happy company to be had with all the happy meals prepared.

I know that, even as I cannot cook anything more complicated than eggs, fried rice, and de lata, I am a sucker for big plates and pretty cups and saucers. I like heavy cutlery and everything in our house is big — our cups are the size of size of deep, high soup bowls (our friend Nani says he always feel like he can make hilamos with the amount of liquid one cup can hold), our glasses are short and stubby but the circumference is just a bit smaller than our cups, and most of our platters are super-sized. We have all these huge plates we got from Cardinal Ceramics eight years back — huge Christian Tortu square platters that can double as chargers and that I found in Dapitan at only P80 apiece, especially long solid-colored rectangular and stainless ones I bought for a song and stuffed in my maleta from trips to Japan and places like Target and Kmart in the US. And then I walked in Gourdo’s one fine day and the collection grew even bigger. Everything being so huge, I now realize that our kitchen sink is far too small. It is a regular-sized one but is divided into two sections. I now know we need just one big sink, and that it has to be deep. That way, none of my big platters will get chipped.

The fine china we got as presents we somehow never really use because they are far too precious, in an almost purely sentimental way, and I am terrified of ending up with one broken or chipped… so I just keep them forever and ever. One day I know we will use them, but not just yet. I need to store those guys, not necessarily where I can see them every day.

Over the past two years I have added dainty cups, normal-sized ones. I think even my husband’s friends who are all the size of giants in my daughter’s eyes appreciate the smaller size when they take their coffee, hot chocolate or tea. Big men that they are, they also know that these hot drinks stay hot in the teeny containers, and are better enjoyed in smaller doses.

I realize that we love using trays and so the new and improved kitchen must have ample space for them, where they can be neatly stored out of sight but are easily accessible when needed. I also need a place for my all my linen, the coasters and the candles that function both for purposes of ambience in addition to keeping the flies away when we dine out in the backyard.

Baking will be much simpler if all baking ingredients as well as supplies are kept in one place; that way my daughter and I need not run from one end of the kitchen to the other the way we find ourselves doing now.

I need shelving space that will not collapse under the weight of all the heavy tableware we use on a daily basis, shelves that can be adjusted at a moment’s notice, too. Our drawers are all the same size, big and quite deep and the cooking utensils get all tangled with the measuring cups and spoons in a confused mess. More shallow ones will work better, and will definitely make for a more organized storage setup.

I know exactly where to go to make my full-fledged kitchen dreams come true. For many months now we have been frequenting the Ethan Allen showroom on Pioneer St. They are sole distributors of the Siematic kitchen and they have this thing called an appliance garage that stylishly keeps out of sight stuff that you do not really need on a daily basis, like my baking supplies. It is just lovely. The Siematic guys have thought of everything, in terms of function and design and the marriage of both, and as steep as the prices may initially seem, all signs say it is well worth it. To make things even easier they have in-house designers who can dream up your dream kitchen for you, based on your specific needs.

Today, still very much in a kitchen mode, Juliana and I visited the home section of Rustan’s Shangri-La with the sole purpose of getting kitchen towels and a decent picnic basket for Richard to bring during his taping; I stuff it with energy bars and healthy snacks because he gets a headache when he does not get to eat on time. I did not find the kitchen towels I wanted as they were out of stock, but I had a grand time with the cutlery and the ice trays and plastic food containers.

I remember when Richard would send money to his flight attendant friends and ask them to please buy — whenever they were in Germany — the WMF utensils that he really likes. Now, many years later, WMF is readily available in Rustan’s. I do not know exactly when that started to happen but it is finally here. What fun! I got the cheese set and cake set, two things we lacked in our home.

We also chanced upon a line of adorable high-gloss bakeware under the brand name Silicone Zone that Juliana and I could not resist; potholders that multi-task as trivets and jar openers; ice cube trays and cardboard-thin cutting boards that will not take up storage space. I think I really like this brand. I also found some very pretty white linen napkins from Portugal that were priced way below what they should have been, and there were as many dainty crocheted liners that would look good on any tray as there were pristine white linen tablecloths in different shapes and sizes. This housewife and her daughter went home very happy with her kitchen purchases.

As I share my kitchen dreams with you I am seated on the bench of our dining table, looking out to our garden that, for some time now, has stopped looking like one. It actually seems more like an open space with grass cutting through rectangular slabs of cement and tall, lush Eucalyptus trees along the perimeter. Once upon a time it was Zen-like and minimalist, but not anymore. Two too many gardeners have planted a tree here, a shrub there, such that it now looks hodgepodge and everything but Zen. I do not know why both the late Roque and the Manong Florencio we now have love to plant papaya trees. We have far too many papaya trees, not that it is a bad thing. I just don’t know why they have to be where they are now.  Our garden, too, needs a makeover; maybe even more than our kitchen. That is another dream in the making. I know I want it lush and green, with bamboo trees along the wall in between the giant Eucalyptus ones and graceful curves and serene spots that even our dogs would find too pretty to mess with. I want a flowering plant somewhere within it but if that is not possible then clean and green works fine for me.

The kitchen and/or the garden, two of my little household dreams waiting to happen. Being a housewife, even without the actual cooking and gardening part, can really be so much fun.

Of pie crusts and cookouts

It is a Friday and husband and daughter came home today from PriceSmart with two ready-to-bake piecrusts, among a harvest of other edible treats. They so love doing that together, disappearing for long afternoons to weave in and out of grocery aisles, piling their carts with milk, orange juice, cereal and cottage cheese for her, meat and pasta and fish and greens for him (for his cooking). He loves to cook, she loves to be his little helper, and I love that they love what they love to do. We are a family that eats much, happily and often and always together, such that it is never just about feeding a basic hunger; it is more about wanting and savoring the pleasure of human company, being grateful for lives and loves. Eating is just a backdrop, and as it has been since Day 1 of life as I know it in Manila, we have a steady stream of people to break bread with. We are very rich in friends, one thing that has made this big city that is so different from the small one I come from feel almost instantly like home even when it was yet to be.

Since the long summer days ended and the balmy nights started, we find ourselves enjoying the shift by having cookouts in our backyard, sometimes just the three of us, but usually with a handful of other such good friends who are like family already. And now with my daughter much bigger and the desire to be with people her age much stronger the family grows bigger as the kids of our friends join in on the fun.

Saturday is always the choice day since most everybody (kids included) can stay up late without having to worry about waking up early Sunday. For this particular cookout, filling the piecrusts was my assignment, apparently. The orders were: one lemon cream pie (her order), one banana cream pie (his order), and choose the not too sweet ones, please (his again). Now how am I supposed to know that, when most every cream pie recipe calls for condensed milk? My own requirement simplified it all the more: choose the least complicated recipe, preferably the no-bake ones. I Googled cream pie recipes and hundreds popped up. I chose the ones with ingredients readily available, and the journey began.

The little ones helped me: Bettina and Juliana squeezed the lemons and poured condensed milk and lemon concentrate from the cans into the bowl, Antonia sliced the bananas, I whipped the cream in the mixer and measured all the ingredients. They took turns mixing it all in with a spatula. Manu got bored waiting for the pies to be ready and promptly fell asleep on the couch. Belay, who is the oldest of the kids, did not join the kitchen activities this time. She stayed in the living room, far, far away from the little ones who had left her to do all the work the week before. Then they had all started enthusiastically with a project of baking a huge brownie cake and chocolate chip cookies. Midway, they started deserting her one by one; two went up to play, the other one watched TV while yet another fell asleep. We had wonderful cookies and cake that night for dinner but we also had one very exhausted Belay. Poor thing.

So on this particular Saturday the little ones were on their own, with just me, and no Ate Belay. They were a naughty bunch, forever licking the ingredients and turning over the bowls and pretending they were hats, talking non-stop and mimicking accents they heard on Disney Channel and the Cartoon Network. At one point they started talking about science and how teacher says that when they grow up they will all have wider hips and fuller breasts and how they will all need bras especially when they play sports. To all these facts of science they say “Ewww” and “Yuck” and “I don’t want to have boobs and hips when I grow up.” Really, now? I would love to listen in on this same conversation when you’re all 18, I wanted to tell them. But I was just quiet, pretending to be very focused on the condensed milk and lemon concentrate concoction before me, while I guiltlessly enjoyed the innocent giggly banter of little girls talking, whining, giggling, and well, just being little girls.

As we were finishing the pies, the men took over. Richard did the Caesar Salad Dressing, Boyong and his wife Bess (whom he had just picked up from the airport) collaborated on penne carbonara, Jay prepared the mashed potatoes, and Mike grilled the steak.

The kids stayed at one table, all the adults stayed at another, although everybody was free to cross over. While we had cocktails and wine, the kids only drank iced tea and water. When we had coffee, they had their own cups but with tea and milk. They seem to like mint tea with milk and sugar, something they picked up from me last week, the very same thing I picked up as a young girl from an Englishman named Jack Goodwin. Now that I think about it, I do not know for sure if they truly enjoyed the taste or if they just liked the idea of drinking tea: how adult it made them feel and look, pouring their own tea and milk into their own pretty little cup with matching saucer and little teaspoon, as they sat on a long wooden table, lost in their own conversation, under the same balmy night we adults were enjoying.

We talked about many things big and small, loosely planned the menu for the next cookout, laughed at silly jokes and at the antics of the kids (at one point Bettina was singing opera with our dogs Helen and Coke as her audience), speculated on what life would be like when our kids were old and us, even more so. I remember my own childhood and how it was during family gatherings, how times were different then and it was an absolute no-no to cross over and mingle with the adults until we were adults ourselves. I remember how my cousins and I would eavesdrop on adult conversation until my mom and her siblings, knowing what we were up to, would say the words backwards and/or talk in codes that we eventually learned to decipher (although that took years of practicing feigned nonchalance and lots of pen and paper). I wonder if the kids do that now too, and I am reminded to always be mindful and careful about what we say in front of them. We can no longer resort to spelling it out because they can read, so much more so if the letters are written in the air and they feel that saying the right word out loud is a game they were meant to play. I wish for them to be kids for as long as they can for there will be plenty of time to be adults. As I sit in quiet observation, I delight in watching them enjoy the tender bubble of childhood, as they chat about dolls and games and diaries with locks, cups of mint tea with milk between their little hands, knowing full well that in time the bubble will burst and they will have bigger things, not only to talk about, but to deal with; bigger dreams, too, to weave and make happen. Then I can only wish that they bring with them all the good things they learn from home and school, from mommy and daddy and teacher, lolo and lola, tito and tita.  But for now, as they sing to the dogs and eat dessert they helped make, I will not worry about that just yet. I know they are making their own memories of tonight and I wonder how different or similar theirs will be from mine, or my husband’s, or our friends.

At certain points daughter would run to embrace me and her daddy and cling to us, wanting every minute to be with us as she always does, and I feel all warm and fuzzy inside as I always do when it happens. Her daddy feels the same way, too. We relish it as much as we can because we know that the way she hungers for our time, our company, will not be this very same way forever. Time will come when we will be the one clinging to her and, love us dearly though she may, she will want to spread her own wings and fly to her own dreams, have her own friends and live her own life.

As I read her a storybook at the end of the very long day, she talked about new words and the happiness of having a full day with her friends. She talked animatedly and non-stop, and I let her be, for her energy was still up, unabated and overflowing. As we cuddled and played “Sleeping Fairy,” a game we made up together, she hugged me sleepily to say, “Thank you for making Lemon Cream Pie, Mom. It was kinda good.” Suspiciously, I asked, “What do you mean, kinda good?” With eyes half-closed and a smile that said she would love me no matter what, she answered dreamily: “It tastes like my vitamins.”

Despite myself, I had to laugh, but her daddy laughed even harder.  And to think they had not tasted my Banana Cream Pie yet.

Books, coffee and milk tea

It’s been raining hard the whole day.
There is something about a rainy day that brings to my mind books, and hot drinks in pretty cups, and watching (again) classic love stories I have already seen. I do not know why it is so, it just is. I see/hear rain and I just want to spend the whole day in bed with my books and the sound of little feet padding around, knowing too that any other room in our home my husband would happen to be in, chances are, he would have before him good coffee or a pot of tea.

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The happiness list

Stuck in traffic on a rainy day with only a notebook and pen to keep me sane, I share with you the happy list I came up with in the 47 minutes it took me to get to my destination… I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged to make your own, sometime soon, with the rainy weather as your perfect backdrop.

Happiness is:

• Enjoying a bowl of lomi on a rainy day;

• Waking up to a child’s chubby arms and legs entangled with yours;

• Secretly watching your daughter play dress up;

• At 32, having a dad who still finds time and reason to leave a bowl of your favorite fruits on your work table the way he always did while you were growing up;

• Parents who still call you by that little nickname you grew up with;

• Treating myself to Nestlé Premium Full Cream Milk after a hard day’s work;

• The low-fat version after a lazy, slow day;

• Eavesdropping on an innocent conversation between toddlers;

• Handwritten letters received by snail mail;

• Classic pancakes from Pancake House, mocha cake from Goldilocks, and Bread Pan from Oishi, Jack & Jill Chippy and Potato Chips forever in your pantry;

• Candid photos that capture a moment in time perfectly;

• A great love story;

• Orlando Bloom cast in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (a fourth, fifth, sixth still with him in it… please…);

• Great onscreen romances and kisses;

• Holding hands with the one you love while watching the news;

• Chai latte from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf;

• A man’s strong legs;

• Mashing your face against the crook of a child’s neck, knowing that she smells like cookies and rain at any time of the day;

• Waking up to find the one you love staring at you;

• Watching him as he sleeps;

• Finding a pair of shoes you adore and, upon buying them, realizing they are on sale!

• Walking out of a bookstore armed with a pack of books picked at random, not because they came highly recommended or had great reviews, but simply because the title spoke to you, the cover design reminded you of that great summer, a beautiful time in your past, or a secret hope for your future;

• Balancing your checkbook;

• Knowing you have an extra 15 minutes before you really have to get up from bed;

• Lingering in bed on Sundays;

• Waking up to the sound of rain, falling asleep again, and finally waking up to find out that, yes, it still is raining out there;

• A tomato sandwich — yes, just buttered toast and fat slices of fresh tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper;

• Staying up till dawn and knowing that you do not have to be up early the following day;

• Being able to laugh or smile about something that once made you cry;

• Baby pictures;

• A new box of crayons and sharp scissors;

• Friends who pass the bar;

• Waiting for the next baby to come;

• An unexpected kiss from your husband in the middle of the day;

• Watching the one you love walk across the room;

• Lighting a scented candle;

• Receiving a rosary as pasalubong from out of nowhere;

• Having a mother with a great sense of humor who laughs hard and prays even harder;

• Having priests and nuns for friends;

• Crazy girlfriends who make you laugh, who cry with you, who cheer you on;

• Grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate chip cookies from Gretchen’s Kitchen;

• Dinners with Ben and Miguel, Tito Ver and Tita Ne, and Keren Pascual;

• Knowing that your parents are still crazy about each other even after 34 years together;

• Running into a classmate from elementary whom you have not seen since grade school (hello, Pereger Canin!);

• Almost nine years after graduation, finding the classmate in college you always meant to thank for helping you pass your math subjects (thank you, Gligorick Garupa!);

• Instant noodles;

• Knowing that I will never outgrow parlor games, fairy tales and cartoons and books about Amelia Bedelia;

• High school pictures and yearbooks;

• Witnessing how your younger brothers fall in love;

• Doodling on paper;

• Lysol Spray in Linen Scent;

• Having an older sister who loves you in many funny ways and days;

• The first happy thought after your heart has been broken;

• Househelp who stay with you forever and ever and become like family;

• The smell of garlic being sautéed when you’re hungry;

• Al dente pasta anytime;

• Having a husband who touches your face after kissing you hello;

• All four CDs of Rod Stewart’s “Great American Songbook”;

• Staring at the Boracay sunset, enjoying its many pastel hues;

• Building sandcastles;

• Dancing the rumba;

• A child’s drawing;

• Finding a cheap pen that makes your handwriting look oh-so-nice;

• Pressing the “Send” button on the computer and knowing that you have met yet another deadline;

• Getting the call you have long been waiting for;

• The arrival of your magazine subscriptions;

• Reading and re-reading Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s The Last Full Moon;

• Finding notes and letters you forgot you had;

• Love letters my Lolo Julio wrote to my Lola Carmen, kept in a tin box;

• Crocheted and embroidered linens and things;

• Milk and honey;

• A freshly made bed and the sun’s rays making the room bright;

• The sound of music, ocean waves, and a child’s giggles;

• Peanuts with Coke;

• Buttered popcorn;

• Watching The Notebook and reading The Bridges of Madison County over and over again;

• A long embrace;

• Books by Ruth Reichl;

• Fresh flowers in a nice vase in your home even when there is no occasion;

• Baroque pearls and finding the perfect pair of jeans;

• Wearing a dress;

• Guiltlessly daydreaming;

• Praying to God that His will be done and meaning it;

• Five nights in Hong Kong;

• New notebooks with crisp pages;

• Ube ice cream;

• Being able to laugh at myself;

• Realizing that, slowly but surely, many of my little dreams are coming true;

• Loving my work so much it feels more like play;

• Loving the people I work with even more;

• Marrying the one I have loved since I was 13 years old;

• Knowing that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you cannot pray for and talk to God about;

• Knowing that He always listens;

• The gift of family and real friends;

• Making wishes and finding out that, more often than not, they do come true;

• Wrapping presents thoughtfully, lovingly;

• Learning to ride a bike, falling, and getting up again;

• The feel of baby oil and lotion on my skin after a hot shower;

• Wearing beautiful under-wear;

• Saved text messages;

• Little presents packaged in many pretty ways from my Tita Inday;

• Afternoon siestas;

• The summers you spent as a child;

• Falling asleep in the spoon position;

• Knowing that you are entitled to your one last cry;

• Listening to the iPod uploaded with inspirational audio books that Kris gave me;

• Knowing that you are loved and appreciated;

• Walking in the rain;

• Buying school supplies;

• Having your heart broken into pieces and knowing that this, too, will pass;

• David beating Goliath;

• Laughing until tears fall from my eyes;

• Dreaming big dreams and believing that they can come true;

• The first time I tried bagels with cream cheese;

• Eating in a restaurant with your one great love and hearing your song being played on the piano;

• OPM;

• Knowing that I can call a wise man like Tito Dougs any time of the day;

• Making lists like this and knowing that even when I have already filled 10 notebooks with entries about what makes me happy, there will always be reason to fill up 10, even 20 more.

Happiness is the beginning of joy. Go on, make your own list too, and find yourself smiling along the way. Happy Sunday everyone and to all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day! To my dad, thank you for being the kind of dad that you are, have been, always will be to me; Caren, Matt and Jules, even to Mommy. You are one of our greatest blessings and we love you very much. To my husband Richard, I only have to see how you spend and make time with Juliana to understand how much she adores you. You are her hero, and I say mine, too. Thank you for so much.

* * *

Announcement: On June 16 and 30, July 14 and 28, there will be an information seminar about migrating to Australia. For those interested, you may call 744-5893 or 0918-9037200, or e-mail koalaimmigration@yahoo.com for more details.

Remembrance of glorious food past

It has been a few weeks since I got back from Ormoc where I spent the holidays and still my body clock is on provincial and vacation mode. By that I mean I still am traipsing on what others might call an idyllic pace – languishing just a bit longer under the sheets when it is obviously time to get up in the morning, savoring my meals leisurely, burying my nose in the pages of a good book, staying home and doing my chores while listening to music, watching Barefoot Contessa, Sweet Dreams, and Molto Mario on the Lifestyle Channel, picking up a little crafting activity here and there, or just smelling the roses, so to speak. Of course, the pace is 10 notches below the ideal because I am back in the hustle and bustle of my life here in Manila, once again busy as a bee, but a shot of restfulness still flows through my veins.

I love the quiet charm of the rural setting. Somehow, I always feel that the pace it offers just gracefully pulls us back to where things matter the most – the present. That is where life is meant to be lived and savored.

Living life in the present moment – yes, that perhaps is the greatest bit of wisdom I have learned to appreciate from centering prayer and my Aunt Fergie last year, and I wish I could share with all of you just how that came to be. Maybe one day, in the distant future, I will tell you about it, but not just yet. I want it to be all mine for now.

Idyllic in Ormoc: that is how it was for me, I guess that is how it always will be. It will forever be my shelter, my place of healing, where I will recharge and fill my cup once more when life in the big city has already emptied out so much from it. It is my celestial territory, my heaven on earth (aside from my husband’s arms and Juliana’s smile).

There was a time when I thought I could not live in the province anymore after being in Manila and enjoying its amenities for so long. But after almost two weeks in Ormoc, I know I can. And I will be just as happy, just as content.

I really do love the simple life. I love the multiplicity of home industries that seem to be attached to every province. I love the close-knit community (it can be both a boon and a bane, although I still think the former still reigns supreme over the latter), the genuine warmth, and the lack of pretenses.

Growing up, the many sukis we had were never just nameless faces. The fruit vendor was a plump old lady with a perpetual, toothless smile and shiny, ruddy cheeks: Her name was Manang Feliza. I have not seen her in a long time, I heard she has really gotten on in years, thus her children have already taken over the business. The manicurista was Belen (my grand dream when I was all of five years old was to be a manicurista because I so envied the bag she carried with all the wonderful shiny, thin tools and bottles of colorful polish that made my mom’s nails look so pretty), and when she passed away at a relatively young age, Nita took over. We never called her just Nita. There were many other Nitas we knew, so she was always referred to as Nita Manicurista, as if that were her family name. Ironically, after Nita came another Belen, actually short for Evelyn. Beauty salons and barbershops were practically unheard of and everyone availed of sukis who earned their keep doing home service.

When we needed clothes, we went to Tita Jeanette who owned and operated Dressmaking Etc. Manang Pedam was her master cutter and she always made such darling dresses for me, my sister, my mom, and the rest of Ormoc. Tita Jeanette and her girls made the nicest embroidery, and it made every piece of clothing look extra special.

Our tailor was Manoy Nestor, a quiet man with a small frame, who spoke softly and moved gently. He sewed impeccably and made the best-fitting trousers. We never bought ready-to-wear because the fit always paled in comparison to the ones Manoy Nestor made. Sadly, he passed away a few years back, and now Manoy Billy, a robust, perennially smiling man, has taken his place. He sews just as well. Pilar is the one who makes everyone’s curtains and in true provincial fashion, she operates not from a shop but from her own home.

I remember that growing up, everyone in the family loved to eat sha-e (or chicharon bulaklak as it is more popularly known) and Tonio Bungi always delivered a freshly cooked batch at least twice a month. If you must know, he also sold odds and ends of stuff, including spare parts for motor vehicles, and my father always bought from him simply because he was entertained, plus my brother Jules was endlessly fascinated with how Tonio Bungi animatedly talked.

Freshly made bibingka was peddled by another old man, Manoy Tusong, and the kesong puti was delivered weekly by a mild-mannered man from Valencia, one of the neighboring towns. I forget his name.

The sweepstakes my mother bought weekly from a blind lady, accompanied by her young daughter Mardi. Mardi is now a masahista also, and I heard her mother now lives in Australia with one of her children.

A bunch of happy characters they all were, and they peppered my childhood with many happy memories.

Often, Daddy would come home from a tennis game, balut vendor in tow, and right by the front door we would enjoy several rounds of the savory treat. With salt, of course, and cold soda: my favorite then was Mirinda. My sister and I so loved going to the tennis court to watch Mommy and Daddy play tennis, not because we really understood the game, but because we wanted to indulge in the chips, chocolate mallows, and chicken sandwiches that were just so, so deliciously prepared at the Boy Scout Canteen, which was located adjacent to the courts. The canteen was operated by Tita Glenda Yrastorza, who was the mother of Jimmy, one of my classmates from kinder all the way to high school. From her, you could also order pot roast with mashed potatoes on the side that to this day I still remember and salivate over for its unmatched delicious taste. The canteen and the tennis courts no longer exist, but my sister and I spent many happy afternoons there.

Daisy’s was the corner convenience store where everyone went, and Tita Daisy made the most delicious chocolate fudge bars. Her daughter Tina now has a dainty pastry shop called Tina’s Sweets, and she still makes the fudge plus to-die-for ube cake and fruitcake, of course, among a wealth of other desserts, each just as delicious as the next.

From the Pongos women came the most delightful treats. Tita Fe made yummy masapodrida, empanaditas, and pili bonbons, Tita Precy had the most delicious fresh lumpia (her daughter-in-law Faith now makes really delicious carrot cake that is moist and addicting), while Tita Ining whipped up the most heavenly sans rival and food for the gods. We always bought homemade mango ice candy from Manoy Pantang’s sari-sari store down Bonifacio St. where we lived before the flood. The best bodbod was from Lola Tuwang, who was the grandmother of two other good childhood friends and classmates, Benedict Tugonon and Eunice Malazarte.

After the flood, Ormoc became even more beautiful – The city has been named the cleanest and greenest not just once – but the warmth of the people and the raw charm of the city have remained the same. There are three hotels: Ormoc Villa, where my wedding reception was held, Don Felipe (I love their pizza), and Pongos Hotel. Tita Leny (Larrazabal) has beautiful plants and flowers; she operates Ormoc Petals, and last I heard, one of her daughters is going to open a restaurant in a garden setting. I cannot wait for that to happen. It would be lovely to have a place like that in the quiet of Ormoc.

There now also is a string of franchised establishments like Jollibee and Dunkin Donuts, but Mayongs, the local fast-food joint with the yummy schublig (my favorite) and the burgers sandwiched in homemade bread, still reigns supreme. They have a cult following that is as steady and sturdy as cement. There are also new local pizza joints there such as JCS’ (really yummy pizza dough), Tatta’s, and Chez Andre’s – all are delicious in their own special way. For lechon, there is Lorenzo’s and Songahid’s.

The best cassava cakes are from Ormoc’s Best, better known there as “cassava made by Flores,” and a version made with cheese and buko from a shop called Young Attitudes. I also love the cheese cupcakes from the Ormoc Ice Cream House, which my sister often sends me in bulk all the way here in Manila. Big Roy’s has yummy homemade food (their baboy sulop is delicious, and so are their crispy noodles, apple pie, and rum cake). Chito’s Chow, Sabin’s, Sal’s, and Zenaida’s also have consistently good, yummy comfort food.

The sweetest pineapples are from Ormoc, and you will not find a more delicious variety anywhere. The best are from Sabin, Poten, and Tito Ben Pongos. Somewhere down the street is always someone with the best chorizo, the best cassava cake, the best alfajores, the best chocolate cake, the best lumpiang shanghai. It is a city of many bests, we would always say. I guess every province is, and there lies its charm. Manang Virgie, the wife of Noy Delfin, made our tablea, or native chocolate, right at our backyard. By now, it will come as no surprise when I tell you that every time I am in Ormoc, I look forward to the many gustatory treats that all have sentimental appeal to me. The first thing I usually eat is Manang Resing’s perfect leche flan.

Our native suka comes from the farm. If marketed properly, it would make a killing in Manila. It is a grand treat as far as I am concerned. My sister sends me gallons of it by trucks that travel the Ormoc-Manila route.

As a new bride, we had barbecues almost every week in our backyard. Richard would instruct the cook to go to the wet market or the meat shop and tell the butcher to cut half-inch slabs of liempo that he would season oh-so-perfectly. I’m sure our guests had great-tasting sinugbang liempo at home, but they oohed and aahed over our version. I always said that was because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Always, I would proudly teach them to eat it please with native suka from the farm in Ormoc. They oohed and aahed even more. I was so pleased I bought dozens of pretty bottles the first chance I got and they became instant giveaways. Lined on a tray on the countertop near the kitchen door leading to the main door, the native suka was there for the grabbing by anyone who fancied it before going home. And I would be the happiest to see the tray empty at the end of the evening.

My biggest culture shock in Manila was that bananas and coconuts were actually bought. In the province, they grew in abundance and were easily plucked from trees. In our backyard was a tree that gave us sweet santol. We also had tambis and mansanitas, which we used as bullets for our tirador and luthang (handcrafted crude weapons, local versions of David’s slingshot).

There were no big shops, so there were a lot of PX goods and odds and ends from the bigger neighboring cities, like Manila and Cebu, that were tossed into huge bags and peddled from house to house. There were many good business opportunities for the enterprising ones. Mommy bought tela by the dozen from Tita Glenda and Tita Betty, and these, of course, were fashioned into pretty clothes copied from thick catalogs by talented, local seamstresses. When Dressmaking etc. closed shop, we relied on the wives of our farmhands to make our clothes.

There was nothing our panday, Manoy Dadong and Manoy Susing, could not make. From functional, real furniture to the miniature ones I needed for my dolls while at play, Noy Dadong and Noy Susing made them all with the same dedication and attention to detail. If we needed bedsheets, we did not go to a department store. We went to a fabric store (like King’s, operated by Tita Anling) and bought bedsheet tela, and Manoy Nestor would then cut and sew them to size. Because there were many choices, our sheets were never just the plain, white ones. Instead, we had sheets to match whatever color the rooms were. Custom-made sheets at bargain prices, only in the province! Tell me, where can you find a better deal?

Ormoc is a community circled by real people living simple lives, quaint places, cottage industries, like colorful beads strung into a necklace. Living in Ormoc is like being in one of those villages from our childhood storybooks, where the butcher and the baker have names, lives and families you actually know, and the fish vendor just happens to be the father, brother, or grandfather of your househelp. Everyone practically knows everyone else. Things are simple, needs are simple, life is splendid!

It is a small happy world all unto itself.

And it always makes for such a delicious thought that I will always have the restful city that it is to retreat to.

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