The milky way

There are a handful of things that make me wax poetic; among them, a delightful and spontaneous kiss, a good book, very warm soup in a big bowl on a rainy night, a sappy love story (with a happy ending, preferably), French-style scrambled eggs, and almost directly before all that, milk. Yes, milk, in all its full-cream goodness.

I grew up in a household that espoused the virtues of milk, especially what it does for the health of the body and, consequently, the mind. Grandma told us that; mom and dad and pediatricians, too. But push all those cooing benefits aside and I would still love it — simply because I like how it tastes. It goes without saying that I will always prefer full cream to its stripped-down, skinnier alter ego.

Even after I discovered the joys of junk food — absurd amounts of chocolate, chips and dips, cured meats — I never quite outgrew the glorious goodness of this creamy white stuff. Such that on many nights over dinner at our white round table with the Lazy Susan in Bonifacio Street where I grew up I would have a glass of milk with the most unlikely suspects — steak and rice, pasta, with malunggay soup and buwad even (you call the latter tuyo here in Manila). Milk was my juice, my soda.

I also remember making edible rings out of Titay’s Rosquillos with my sister and cousins all the time back then we were just a little bit higher than a ruler. For those not familiar with Rosquillos they are crunchy cookies, delicately scalloped around the edge, with a hole in the middle that you can stick your one finger all the way through. The cookies are so crunchy they break easily, so the only way to make rings is to dunk portions of it in milk, until it becomes soggy enough that the softest bite will chip a chunk off. You do this all the way around until all you have left is a delicate little ring that is just a bit bigger than a Froot Loop or a Lifesaver candy. To this day when I am blessed to have Titay’s Rosquillos from Cebu I cannot resist doing this little game I feel I invented. It is almost like a ritual, but no more than it is a happy childhood memory.

Synergy. That is what comes to mind now that I am about to share with you one of my guilty pleasures — milk with ice cream (even as I know that ice cream already has milk). Have you tried that yet? Oh, if you haven’t, please do yourself a favor today. Milk can make a divine thing like ice cream even more so. I just had it last night again with strawberry, vanilla and chocolate ice cream from the label Nestle’s Heaven. What can I still say that my purring sighs did not already convey at our kitchen table? This is desire-worthy premium ice cream, I’m telling you, with lovely names to match: Vanilla Secret, Belgian Bliss and Strawberry.

Our family — Richard, myself, Juliana, Lolo Manoling and Lola Julie, too! (it’s everybody’s milk nga) — endorses Birch Tree, and we naturally have a lot of this good stuff at home. Owing to its creamy goodness, I dare say in the next breath that this is the brand that is the absolute best overall ice cream. Allow me to teach you how to do it my way: you scoop into a glass a very, very generous amount of Birch Tree powder, and add just very little water (by that I mean the least amount of water needed to dissolve the powder almost completely but not quite so). You must end up with a concoction that is very creamy, almost lumpy, and quite lazy when you shake it (imagine the almost non-movement you make when someone tries to nudge you after you stuff yourself beyond next day’s appetite). Pour the very thick milk like you would sauce over your ice cream, but make sure there is still more of the latter than the former in the bowl. It. Is. Better. Than. Good. Take my word for it. I have been doing it since I learned to spell “forever” and I never quite outgrew it. I just know something perfect is about to happen the moment milk descends upon the melting scoop of ice cream as if it were king, which it is actually, come to think of it. And that is maybe why I love it so much — for all its innocence and pureness milk holds the power to make an already perfect thing even more perfect.

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As I say that I know the calories have you worried already. I am not beyond that, especially with the form-fitting clothes I always have to squeeze into for my job on TV, but even if all this decadence notifies my hips almost immediately after it passes through my lips I know it is just worth it, each time. And as I surrender to a second or even third serving, I assure myself I will just do yoga or dance it off the next few days, so help me God. That gives me hope of a yin to my yang, even if sometimes reality sees it helplessly tipping over more to one side ever so gently.

Naturally, I love all of milk’s reincarnations too — cheese (except the very blue ones), yogurt, also almost everything it disappears into — cakes and batters, scrambled eggs, soups both savory and sweet, meat. A chef who appeared on The Sweet Life marinated fingers of chicken breast in fresh milk before coating it in bread crumbs and it came out very succulent; one of the best barbecues I ever tasted is in a town a couple of hours away from Ormoc and the suki intimated to our driver that their secret is in the marinade that has milk. I have yet to try that, but where and when milk is involved, I take their word for it. Delia Razon when she appeared on the show also made a marinade of crackers and milk for her Veal Scallopini and it was just delicious. I copied it that same week at home.

I love coffee, but never when it is black and always when it is more than just a little bit splashed with milk. I never quite liked tea, until I saw a houseguest of ours, a very gentle man named Jack Goodwin, who was an Englishman, take his with milk. I saw him corrupt his brisk tea with milk and after I copied him and had my first cup (I was around 17 then), I never looked back. It was like a secret, wonderful, delicious something had come to be and I was part of it. Whoever discovered that first, Englishman or not, is a genius. And I thank you, whoever you are, wherever you are, each time I enjoy a cup.

Milk will always soothe me, the same way lullabies will always quiet babies, and in many other ways you will just have to taste to fully understand.

I am off to the kitchen now, armed with a precious piece of paper, yellowed around the edges with time. I am going to concoct something with my daughter, and next week I will tell you all about it. But this early, I already know it will be delicious. Why wouldn’t it be? Milk is involved.

Until then.

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