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.

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