A time to count blessings
Salisbury steak: Pan-fried The Plaza burger with a sunny side-up egg, steamed rice and mushroom gravy.
B’ley Villones
A time to count blessings
FOOD FOR THOUGHT - Millie and Karla Reyes (The Philippine Star) - April 2, 2020 - 12:00am

Millie: I was wondering what it was going to be like during the next few weeks when practically the whole of Metro Manila is on enhanced community quarantine and now total lockdown. I was looking forward to just staying home and doing all the things I’ve always wanted to do there.

For two years now we’ve been “help-less,” meaning no maid/yaya/kasambahay to keep house for us and do domestic chores like cleaning, washing, and cooking. Karla and I survived the cooking part as we learned to manage to do things ourselves despite our busy schedules.  In a sense, it has made us closer to each other because when one of us cooks, the other does the dishes.  We get to chitchat and laugh as we recount our experiences during the day. It’s like bonding and more fun! We plan our meals together and have since learned to take turns doing the grocery routine, as it really lightens the burden.

Freezer finds

Karla: Since mom and I were too busy before the community quarantine was in effect, we didn’t have time for panic buying. We were both juggling several things at the same time. Mom was busy contemplating about shutting down The Plaza and its branches, or keeping at least one or two branches open, while I had to shut down our Fort restaurant, plus managing relief operations for Frontline Feeders Philippines.

When I got home last Monday, the first thing I did was to check our stock cabinet. I was so worried that we only had two cans of corned beef and no Spam! We’ve been getting by the past few days with whatever we had on stock when this started. The first thing I found in the freezer was The Plaza burger patties. Ever since I was a kid, mom would always have this in stock in our freezer. It was convenient for when I’d have friends over; there was always something for us to eat. Through the years, I’ve learned to get creative with it.

Since The Plaza burger is already seasoned, it’s convenient to use for last-minute dishes. Some of my favorite meals are Salisbury steak, which is a burger, sunny side-up egg and gravy. I also use the burger for Swedish meatballs, stuffed mushrooms with tomato basil salsa or spaghetti with meatballs. And of course, one of my favorites, a scotch egg, which is ground meat stuffed with a hardboiled egg, breaded and deep-fried.

One thing I’ve made sure I always have in in my pantry is Knorr seasoning. I use it for quick marinades when I don’t have time. The other day, I made a whole roast chicken, marinated in Knorr seasoning and garlic cloves.

Another amazing freezer find was salted duck from last year’s trip to Hong Kong and lap cheong, or Chinese sausage. It’s probably one of the easiest and delicious meals I’ve made while in quarantine. All you need is five to six ingredients: salted egg, lap cheong, bok choy or whatever greens are available (optional), dried mushrooms (optional), rice and water. Prepare to make rice with your regular ratio of rice to water, then add everything else on top except the bok choy. Add in the bok choy maybe 5 minutes before the rice finishes cooking, or you may steam or boil it separately. Serve with a special sauce made of 1 tablespoon canola/vegetable oil, 2 smashed cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup light soy, 2 tablespoons dark soy, 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 tablespoons water and 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil. Procedure is to put everything together and heat it up until sugar is dissolved. 

Technology to the rescue

Millie: Two days into the community quarantine, Karla and I were getting on each other’s nerves. It’s funny because we normally agree 99 percent of the time, whether about work or other things. We are almost always together at work and at play, that friends wonder and ask when one of us is not around.

But under quarantine, despite social distancing, it was quite different. We would bump into each other in the kitchen as we did chores. We would do things differently and blame each other. She was forever cooking or trying out something new that I was forever picking up things to be washed after she messed things up that, at the end of the day, I would be so tired!  What’s worse, we could never agree on what to cook and eat for lunch or dinner!

Karla: Because we could never agree on what to eat, I’d always rush cooking lunch or dinner. It took us a while to get into the groove of things and started planning meals ahead.

One thing that has made my life easier is my InstantPot, my best kitchen investment last year. It is a multi-function cooker that works as a pressure cooker, rice cooker, slow cooker, steamer, and has functions for making stews, porridge, yogurt etc. The “delay cooking” function is for when you can set a time before it starts cooking your food. The “keep warm” function is for automatically keeping your food warm after cooking until you press “cancel.”

When people ask me how I can still make time to cook, I always say it’s because of my InstantPot. It cuts down my cooking time by a lot and it’s safer than a normal pressure cooker. It’s also safe to leave on its own while I run around to accomplish some errands. Some InstantPot cooker favorites are pressure-cooking meats for sinigang, bulalo, oxtail mechado, and kare-kare.

I think one of the blessings during this quarantine period is the availability of Lalamove and Grab to have things delivered. Well, at least the essentials. I empathize with the riders because every time they go out, they put themselves and their families at risk.

Some time in the middle of the first week of quarantine, we realized we needed essentials like drinking water. Our supplier failed to deliver as scheduled and we had maybe a gallon left. Mom and I agreed that I wasn’t going to go out unless I absolutely had to. I decided to take my chances and go to the Rustan’s Supermarket near my house, but Mom said San Juan was on lockdown and it might not be possible for me to cross. Luckily I knew the store manager, so I sent my shopping list through text message, settled the bill using GCash then booked a Lalamove car to deliver it to my house. Talk about Rustan’s staff going above and beyond the service required of them.

Technology has also been a big help as well. I’ve been ordering my vegetables directly from farmers through BukidFresh.ph. They make sure that farmers are paid at fair prices, and add on the little incidental costs to cover for transportation, packers, admin costs, website fees and all. They have weekly vegetable deliveries and can deliver to your doorstep every Wednesdays and Saturdays. The vegetables arrive in a reusable bayong, where you pay a P50 deposit and it can be exchanged upon the next delivery. Similar to this business model and social enterprise is Session Groceries and the Veggie Drop-off on Katipunan.

Back to basics

Millie:  Being under quarantine means meals with no frills. Simple pleasures. Back to basics. Breakfast is a piece of toast with butter sprinkled with sugar, the way my mom used to do it. But Karla pampers me and brings out the French butter!

On a meatless Friday of Lent, we had garlic fried rice and tuyo, which we found in the cupboard. Too bad there was no salted egg. Snacks would be day-old chicken adobo, shredded with a bit of mayonnaise.

I appreciated the quiet time under quarantine and had my own space and moments to do my centering prayer, attend TV mass with Pope Francis at 2 p.m. every day on EWTN Channel 76 on Skycable and 9 p.m. rosary. In between, I managed my office work and developed a routine, spending at least three hours each day to sort, clean and discard the clutter that has built up in my home office, which I have wanted to clear for the longest time.

Being locked up like this has made me realize that God must have a purpose for what is happening in our lives today. As I learned to accept the government’s quarantine orders, which is for the good of all, I became sensitive to the plight of many, who had no means of income, my own employees included. It has made me appreciate the sacrifices of the medical team and the frontliners. But most of all, it has made realize that Karla is such a blessing to me!


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Send email to milliereyes.foodforthought@gmail.com and quichethecook.ph@gmail.com. Find us on Facebook:  Food for Thought by Millie & Karla Reyes and Instagram: @quichethecookph.

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