Life’s a box of crackers

I  still feel a hazy trace of the holiday break. Although I have resumed my regular taping schedule and the welcome frenzy of happy get-togethers here and there have somewhat subsided, I still sleep later than usual (and to think my usual is already quite late).  But unlike the days leading up to Christmas and a little after New Year’s Day, I no longer have the luxury of waking up, much less cuddling and rolling under the sheets, as long as I want to. There is just too much that needs to be done.

There is a lot of tidying up to do, a lot of sorting and/or storing/giving away of things in the house that are either unused, unneeded, unwanted, or any combination of the three. Does it not amaze you how much stuff we accumulate in one year?

Christmas is over but I’m still not done sending out presents. And I have all my gifts to open yet.  So far, I’ve only unwrapped five presents.  I like taking my time — I keep the cards with all the little handwritten notes, the ribbons, and whatever can be saved of the very pretty wrapping paper and gift bags. That’s another thing that amazes me: with each passing year the gift-wrapping materials get lovelier and lovelier. What a happy luxury, to have such beautiful paper passed around from hand to hand, home to home. I keep the presents, but so do I keep the wrapping paper, trash that I consider treasure. Yes I keep them and sometimes cut them up for use as bookmarks, to wrap small-sized gifts I will give away in the future, to use as elements in the scrapbooks and artworks that Juliana and I love to make.

I will open a present a day until I have no more left to open. The gift baskets we received over the holidays have been put to good use. We have been eating food items that were gifts since the New Year rolled in. Thank God for the freezer: everything tastes as good as new. The queso de bola we slice into wide slabs and stick in the toaster — it comes out really delicious, almost a bit gooey, like gruyere or emmenthal but saltier. There was delicious rellenong bangus from Celia, homemade morcon from Nelson’s mom, and we cannot seem to stop eating JC’s mom’s kulob na manok. We have refrained from ordering any of the rich food that we indulged so much in over the holidays except for this one. It is just so good, over rice, over lots and lots of rice. Even as a leftover it is good. There are also many cold dips, two delicious ones from Mia: a roasted eggplant and a chicken spread, and fresh dulong also made by Bess, one of the best I have ever tried. I eat all of the above with a box of crackers that I plucked from one of the food baskets. It did not look very appetizing and I was almost sure it would not be good because it is one of those imported brands that seem to scream “I TASTE BLAND” and I am just so partial to BluSkies and Skyflakes and Rebisco; but it was midnight and I was hungry and I needed crackers, even if I was almost sure the one available would taste like cardboard. Lo and behold, it was good! I am a fan now of the very crisp cracker that one of my friends says remind her of wood bark.  Finn, it says on the box, and it is actually crisp rye bread. I am really enjoying it very much. It’s always nice to try something you are not familiar with, don’t you think? Life, or a cracker, just might surprise you.

Boyong drops by the house often with food in tow, either a pot of the callos that he makes so, so well (I really wish you could all have access to it too, although Boyong has yet to be convinced to sell it). With all due respect to all the other callos recipes I have tried, this is the absolute best. Just recently he also brought huge packs of goodies from Mindoro where his wife is from: delicious polvoron with pinipig (there is a special way that they toasted the flour, it tastes different) and banana chips, with the brand name John-nette, that tastes terrific. We cannot stop munching on them.

Mike is a master at making sawsawan, so for several days now we have been snacking on kamias with bagoong. The kamias we just pluck from the tree that grows in front of the kitchen and the bagoong the helper gets from the market; you know, that light pink one that is just salty, period. Mike mixes it with vinegar and calamansi and it just really opens the appetite, even the ones that do not need opening.

I have been juicing, too, taking advantage of the many fresh fruits I see in the fruit basket in our kitchen, and especially because one of my New Year’s resolutions is to eat many servings of fruit daily. I still drink my Del Monte Fiber-Enriched Pineapple Juice with all my meals every day, a habit I have had for years, and I still take my milk, almost as much as my Juliana drinks milk, because I just love milk. I just make mine a low-fat version although from time to time I indulge in its full cream counterpart.

A few days ago Juliana wanted to bake. She chose a recipe called honey orange oaties from a kiddie recipe book. It seemed simple enough except that it said to mix the honey and orange juice and cook over low heat until it became syrupy. For eight to 10 minutes.  But after 10 minutes it was as thin as water, not syrupy at all and so I had this bright idea of cooking it longer. Twenty minutes later it did become thick and syrupy but by the time I mixed it into the dry ingredients it had hardened into a gooey blob, like taffy. We went on to finish the job, bake and brave it, but it turned out to be a disaster — sweet but disastrous nonetheless. It wasn’t exactly the worst baking boo-boo I have ever committed but it sure ranks high up there. Oh well, at least Juliana and I had fun. But, honest as only a child can be, she said it was a “terrible cookie” and, perhaps to spare my feelings (not that they needed sparing) she added “Maybe the recipe was wrong and we should have added butter.”

We took a shower together after, laughing and maligning the “terrible cookie” with the overcooked sugar honey orange mixture and one of these days we shall attempt to try the same recipe anew, knowing better this time that sugar cooks in stages and that when a baking recipe says eight to 10 minutes, it really has to be just eight to 10 minutes .

I guess that will be my mantra for the New Year: to not sweat the small stuff, knowing that I will get my chance to make things better. Tomorrow is always another day. Besides, most everything in life is small anyway, we just make it big in our minds. I always remember that I am just a speck in this great, big universe and that not everything is about me, what I want, what I need. That puts everything in perspective, in baking and beyond.

I am glad that our schedules are back to normal but I do miss the long holiday break and how languid and lazy it all was. I look around the house and, with the Christmas decorations down but the gifts under the tree still there, our house looks like a happy bodega; in our room are boxes and paper bags of things I have yet to organize; on my desk is paperwork that I must file and keep. I bought so many books last year and, although I have read a lot, I still have not read all of them yet. I will remember to put a date on all the books I purchase from this day on, because I like having old things. I want my daughter to go through our bookshelf as she is growing up, pull out a book and see the date on it. She will make her own memories and I hope she will touch base with them always. I hope, too, that she will love to read, often and much, because it will take her to places far and wide, it will teach her to dream.

Handwritten dates on letters, cards, book covers, like songs, pictures and the scent of certain perfumes — all of it brings me back to specific times in my life, some mundane, others remarkable, a mix of happy and sad and happy again. It is always nice to remember, during holiday breaks and even beyond.

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