Sunday, August 27, 2006
I started coking when I was in the US Pacific back in 2003. Prior to that, the extent of my cooking skills was limited to reheating and seasoning pre-cooked foods. Back in '89 when my sister and I were plucked out of the comforts of our house in Bataan to go study in Manila and live in a hell-hole of a studio-type apartment in Sampaloc, my Mom would prepare Tupperwares and Tupperwares of home-cooked meals that would last us for weeks. And even though she made meals that would give Kamayan or Via Mare a run for their money, I had to season it and add extenders...in an effort to stretch any meal further by a couple of days, just so I'd enjoy Mom's home-cooked meals longer. That was how I perfected my "seasoning skills", thanks also to the countless years where I was the official "tagatikim" and food critic during town fiestas when my Mom and Aunt Solly would whip up a banquet of excellent food. On top of my "seasoning skills", there were really no other feathers on my cooking hat...save for some occasional messed up Sunny Side Ups, half-burnt corned beef, and a couple of disintegrated fried tilapias. That, until I stayed in Marianas and Guam.
At first, I foolhardily convinced myself that, like dem Americans (aka Haoles) I was then canoodling with, I could subsist on a diet courtesy of McDonald's, Long John Silver, Taco Bell and 3-Minute Microwave Meals. Boy, was I terribly wrong. Don't get me wrong; l do love these food chains...but not on a 7-day, 3 square meals rotation.
I believe it was the day after Thanksgiving when I realized I had enough burritos and McNuggets to eat. Snatching the keys of my Scion, I drove to the nearest Payless Supermarket and prayed to a Pinoy God that there was an Oriental Food section in one of the aisles. I was blessed. There were actually TWO freakin' aisles. With a vivid recollection of the tastes of my Mom and Aunt's feasts (and not to mention my Mom's incorrigible habit of recycling food), I mentally calculated how the food I was going to make would taste even half as good...and then started dunking ingredients into my cart.
With leftover turkey that could feed the Desert Storm US troops, and with really no on-hand recipe but simply a recollection of the sensations to the taste buds, I whipped up an impromptu version of Lechong Paksiw...with the help of the bottles of Sarsa ni Mang Tomas that I got from Payless. Lechong Paksiw ala Thanksgiving. How's that for East Meets West? The bunch that ate it (who, if I may add, has very discriminating taste...which makes you wonder where 'twas coming from, considering their staple food was bought over the counter!) gave it dozens of thumbs up, raving about how good my "teriyaki" was. Teriyaki my ass.
From "teriyaki" to sinigang to kare-kare to tempura to pancakes and omelette royales, I jumped from food taster to full-fledged unofficial chef. But no thanks to that, I am no longer the unexacting food critic. Ever since I've learned how to cook, eating out has become a taste and quality test of sorts: is it bland, too salty, overpowering cayenne or cilantro or turmeric, a bit soggy or crusty? Similarly, I would be on a constant "autopsy" of every new and interesting food that I'd be eating--discovering and experimenting how to replicate its taste, texture and presentation. So far, I've been successful.
So upon moving in a new condo, I made it a point that it had a kitchen, for obvious reasons. So when I found a nice condo with a spiffy kitchen but with no stove exhaust, I was devastated. I signed the contract and had the contractor drilling and piping for a brand-new, albeit makeshift, exhaust fan. And in no time, the exhaust was up and running. And although it took me five months to finally complete the kitchen/cooking ensemble, in retrospect, the wait was well worth it.
The very first meal cooked on the brand-spanking new single burner--whose LPG was courtesy of Maita and Chrissie--their belated birthday gift to me!--and everything else new (from the pans to the knives to the chopping board to the wooden ladle, name it, they're all newly-bought hours before the first dish was ever cooked) was my very own version of my mother's sopas. Having scoured the Fresh aisles of the supermarket earlier for hours, dunking ingredients into my shopping cart, I have cut and sliced every conceivable vegetable and spice to mix in my sopas. I even threw in a couple of broken spaghetti to add to the elbow macaroni to give it the Charry (my mom) touch. Yes, I guess I could get Oedipal when it comes to my mother's cooking.
The sopas was just the start of an almost daily ceremonial cook fest. The main room of the condo, despite the strong exhaust fan in the kitchen, would inevitably smell like either a Chinese takeout resto or a Mediterranean al fresco cafe. And that's not to say that it smells awfully good. ;)
To date, I've cooked paradadas (it's my family's specialty: imagine French Toast but without the milk and sugar, and corned beef hash stuffed in pandesal [which I cooked for a trip with the Astrokids to Tagaytay...and was gobbled up--all 30 pieces of it--by them in a record-breaking time of 10minutes!]), tempura, crispy kangkong, hoisin stir-fry, mixed veggies with oyster sauce, siomai/dumplings, quail eggs wraps, pancakes, spring rolls, chicken breast with olives, afritada, chicken with cream of mushroom, garlic mashed potatoes, spicy tomato sardine soup, garlic eggplant salsa vinaigrette, beef puttanesca spaghetti, and even chocolate coffee gelo. My friends are still waiting for my hoisin-marmalade Vietnamese prawn wraps. Stay tuned now, will ya.
So far, the only idiosyncrasy I've had was the automatic photo op of every meal cooked. And yes, in saying that, I have the pictures of my foods to prove that I ain't just blabbering.
I am aware that it is so much cheaper to just eat out (spending about 400 to 600 pesos PER meal/cooking doesn't exactly spell out c-h-e-a-p, ya know), but when I'm in the kitchen, I feel like a different person...and I am totally in control. I don't get that all the time. Especially with takeout. And not even with sex.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
After two hours of doing lower body exercise at Gold's gym last night (note to self: it's upper body tonight), I came home to an empty condo. Apparently, everyone was either out or sleeping in their respective rooms. As I was getting out of my sweaty workout clothes (I had to wear the same clothes because my oh-so-dependable laundrywoman just miraculously made my long sleeved shirt smell like unwashed feet...which I was able to smell properly in the evening, when my sinuses decided it was done being too clogged for the whole day), I started hyperventilating: the whole room started spinning around me, all colors turning into some monochrome swirls, a faint buzzing in my ear, and a considerable--hell, TOTAL--shortness of breath. My whole body seemingly got the cue and then started acting up all at the same time. I felt a cold sweat trickling down my spine, gooseflesh appearing here and there, and episodes of close-but-not-quite seizure-like muscle spasm. Anxiety attack.
To risk sounding like a nutcase, I've been going through similar episodes in the last few months. And in saying anxiety attacks, I am not necessarily referring to big-time, full-blown outbursts of biological abnormalities...but even simple (?) beast fits. Not quiet like Tourette's syndrome but something that could just as well be a disease.
After years of being timid, equipped with protracted patience, having given in to just about any requests, and having been too hard on myself to fulfill my self-inflicted responsibilities, I think--somewhere in the middle of all the niceness and tranquility facade (?)--I snapped. And, boy, did I snap hard.
The littlest of things tend to make me mad lately. And sometimes, these episodes of anger escalate to rage. And, although I am yet to kill someone to actually fall under the category homicidal, I couldn't say that I am exactly the old Ben. I remember Nolet "briefing" Pink at some point that if Pink managed to get me mad, then there was probably one major transgression committed against me...as it really takes A LOT to make me mad. Apparently, those days were neatly nipped, tucked, and stashed away in one of my old shoe boxes under the dresser.
I was watching an episode of Smallville some days back. In it, Lex Luthor was joining an anger management class (kinda like those AA Meetings...which you'd wish was a trendy thing here in the Philippines) for hitting a parking official's car with a golf club. He was talking with a fellow attendee, a female doctor, who told him she was there because she once kicked an orderly. When asked why she did that, she said, "because I have a low tolerance for incompetence". A chord or two were struck inside of me. I was like, "Holy smokes, I *am* her!"
I hate it when people--especially loved ones--are either pesky (i.e. the ones who'd do something [to you] when they, in fact, already know [because you've told them time and again] that you hate that thing) or plain dumb (playing it or otherwise, nothing irks me more than incompetent and retarded people). Why can't people just be...normal?!
I do not know how this all started. The littlest of things piss me off. My heart rate isn't exactly slowing down to plateau level anymore. And I am almost always on anxiety attack mode. Right now, I am in desperate search of a good and effective anger management class...and I do have a strong desire to, to use my colleague Paula Popple's words, find pockets of kindness in everyone everyday of my life.
Somebody help me before it's too late.