The joy of Scrabble & the comfort of home-cooked meals

I feel hot pain while I am seated on the floor with my knees bent and my feet together, an almost-tearing happening somewhere, I am half convinced, of hips that need to be opened, muscles that need to be stretched, a mind that needs to relax. My yoga instructor has a gentle but firm hold on my knees as she presses them down on each side from behind me, in the hope that I am ale to make them touch the floor for more than just one breath. A large part of me wants to struggle and push up against this gentle force, but I don’t. Even when the urge gets too strong I resist it, and sink deliberately into the uncomfortable feeling some more, staring it in the eye, as if daring myself to measure just how much I can endure. I refocus, and try to be thankful for the gift that is the rhythm of breathing. There is that, at least, and I know it will help see me through.

I breathe in deeply, and exhale just as profoundly. I do not fight the pain that I know will actually do me some good at some point forward; I acknowledge and make friends with it. It is just a feeling, I remind myself, maybe not so good yet but also not quite that bad. It is just a feeling. Just one more thing to go through before class ends. I know the lightness, literally and figuratively, I always exit class with is well worth it anyway.

Why do I remember that now? Maybe because we exist in not-so-easy days. The suffering of so many after Ondoy and Pepeng combined is still palpable. And though we cannot always control what gets thrown our way we can always control the way we react to them. Take the rains, for example. They come, and then they go. But then they come back again to give you a cold and soak your toes when you are in sandals and you least expect them to. Then there is the power supply.

Just last night, exactly after a delicious home-cooked meal enjoyed at our kitchen table the lights went off. It was not without warning though as the lights already started fluctuating several times during dinner. We were about to have some good coffee, Juliana and myself some milk tea, but then there it was: darkness. The night was all of a sudden so genuine.

With a collective sigh we turned on the rechargeable lamps that have been on standby since Ondoy. I also took out some of the many lovely, beautifully scented candles I always have at the ready and lit them. Scented tubes and votives and oversized pillars hiding almost shyly inside clear hurricane lamps — I lit them all, scattering them all around the house. All of a sudden the night was quieter, and the house looked somehow romantic, like it was waiting for a proposal to happen in some little corner. But of course there was none forthcoming for we were just a bunch of family and friends, one person short of a happy dozen, that wanted to enjoy Thelma’s (the cook’s) talent for preparing wonderful meals, especially because there were a lot of new dishes in her repertoire by way of a new cookbook I had bought (more on that later). That and perhaps a round or two of Scrabble thereafter.

I refused to complain about the discomfort of having no electricity, which also obviously consequently meant no TV and no Internet. And I was all set to spend the night enjoyably still, literally reading by candlelight if I had to (something I’ve always wanted to do) or play Scrabble even (with a flashlight or some votives), if the others did not mind straining their eyes a bit. Or maybe Juliana and I could continue making the little fairy dolls we were so engrossed with earlier. I worried a little about how Juliana could sleep if the night became too hot, and I told her I would fan her to sleep. With a glimmer in her eyes she said I would not have to because her tent, which can comfortably fit three persons and sits squarely in our bedroom, comes equipped with a battery-operated overhead fan. How cute is that? But still, that plan was for much later, when sleep had to come.

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For the moment I just wanted everyone to be as comfortable as possible given the immediate situation. I told myself that after lighting the last candle I would run up the stairs to our room to bring down fans for everybody. We would fight the heat the old-fashioned way, fanning ourselves like prim ladies of old. These thoughts were randomly running through my mind when, after lighting the last pretty candle, the lights came back on, just as suddenly as they had disappeared. The blackout lasted all of 20 minutes, give or take. It had commanded us to rearrange the comforts of the night when it arrived, and just when we sort of settled into it, it was over. We were at its mercy, at its whim. I was almost sad that the light reappeared so quickly, for I was already conditioned to enjoy the golden glow of flickering candles.

With the new brightness came a collective yelp, and everyone sprang up from where they were lounging, eager to get on with the original plan. As it turned out very serious Scrabble was played, a coconut cake was baked, and one more little fairy doll made, with lots of stories skipping and hopping across the wooden table where most everyone converged. It was all nice and pleasant. Thinking always gets people hungry, and to cap the night off I brought out some Sky Flakes, and tubs of ready-to-eat paté de queso and paté d’ canard from Terry’s. I never want to be without these two guys. Oh, I almost forgot the hot sauce. So let me say that again: I never want to be without these three guys. I grew up with Sky Flakes but right after Ondoy I seriously could not get hold of them. I sent the driver out one afternoon to look for some but they were out of stock. Everywhere. Seriously. Everyone was just after them, I guess. He finally came back from some pocket-sized convenience store that had three packs, each of which contained about 20-plus pieces. We ate the last two packs of that batch that night, smothered with store bought ready-to-eat paté that tastes special and homemade, and sprinkled with hot sauce. Yum. And along the way while we played Scrabble I learned interesting new words. Like “jo,” which I just thought was a name but is actually also an accepted word in the Encarta English Dictionary that means “somebody whom somebody else loves.” Or “qoph” (defined as “the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet,” represented in the English alphabet as “q”), “qin” (a Dynasty in ancient China), and “xi” (the 14th letter in the Greek alphabet). Amusing.

I leave you for now with the happy idea of getting a copy of this cookbook called Martini’s and Aprons, put together by nine ladies who are obviously familiar with the kind of warm joy that a home-cooked meal can distinctly bring. It is chockfull of wonderful recipes, from real kitchens and real homes. Think of it as if you were invited to partake of a really wonderful meal in some lovely home and the hostess graciously gave you the recipe of the dishes you could not stop raving about. This book promises to be full of such recipes. Thus far, Thelma has made for us Trining’s Pinoy Roast Chicken and the Osso Buco. We have not yet tried the many others I have marked because we keep on asking her to make these two over and over again. They were just delicious.

I hear the book is selling very fast so get your copy before they’re totally gone. And then do as I did. I went through each recipe page by page, marking the ones I wanted to try immediately with neon-colored Post-Its. I have been taking cooking lessons also, courtesy of The Julius Maggi Kitchen and Chef Florabel, and I cannot wait to prepare some of them myself. But knowing full well that I do not always have the luxury of time, I handed over to Thelma the fat, colorfully tabbed recipe book. Through the fickle rains and fluctuating/erratic power supply two things are at least certain for now: the classic joy of Scrabble and the comfort of wonderful, home-cooked meals. And always, always, the gift of family and friends to enjoy both with.

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