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Sunday Lifestyle

A new old cook

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez Ventura - The Philippine Star

Our househelper… I don’t like writing that, but what should I write? The lady-who-helps-out-with-everything in our tiny condo has had to go home. Her mother, who was bedridden but happy, had taken a turn for the worse.

All of us — my husband, his caregiver and me — understood. But it meant that we would have to pick up her chores. I would have to cook again. Before she left we discovered our caregiver, Wim, had a special talent for marketing. His aunt owned a fish stall just one tricycle ride from our home. One quick trip would bring us enough fresh fish, vegetables and meat for two weeks.

Once, when I was young, I cooked fairly well. One of my mother’s friends, an American-Italian, taught me how to make spaghetti the way his mother did. I cooked that for a man who was visiting me and he asked me to marry him, so I guess my cooking was successful. I also used to bake chiffon and angel cakes that didn’t collapse. Then I got married and learned how to cook better, always reliant on my cookbooks for recipes I would first follow intently then I would invent as I went along.

After that I got separated but I still cooked. Sometimes I made waffles for my children. Christmas lunch was always roast chicken. I did that deliciously. When we lived in the States I made a mean lasagna and the widest variety of roast turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, though my last Christmas there I cooked an outstanding cocido.

But when all my children got married I turned over the cooking part of life to them. Once in a while I would make lentils, the few times when I would entertain. But I stopped cooking for many years. Instead I became an expert on buying food from weekend markets wherever I lived — Pimbrera in Forbes Park, Carica in Makati or Tagaytay, Salcedo, San Lorenzo, Annapolis, Centris. I knew where to buy my favorite fresh lychees, my favorite local creative salads, the tapa and the vongole spaghetti sauce that I love so much. Since I didn’t cook anymore, I forgot all about it.

Now, suddenly I have to cook again. Furthermore, I need to cook fish. I don’t remember cooking fish well before. But now I have to try. I cannot deny a bit of panic at first. I don’t know where my cookbooks are. I think they are in storage with the rest of my many things. I cannot recover them because now I only have a driver once a week. I fired the other driver for being so disrespectful so now we don’t have one to send on errands. But that has worked out just fine.

At first I ordered food to be delivered to us. Then I cooked fish in lemon butter with capers. That was deemed delicious by the caregiver and me. I had to make soup for my husband but I had no stock and no chicken or beef bones to make stock from. But I found chicken bouillon cubes, elbow macaroni, and a small tin of garbanzos in the pantry and two leftover chicken longganisa and chorizo de Bilbao in the ref. I added some onions, a little clove of garlic, lots of water in a saucepan and boiled them all together, removing the released fat before serving it to my husband. He liked it. That gave me some confidence.

Then I had to cook a big lapu-lapu. I looked up recipes on Google. My goodness, I was in awe at the number of recipes there from chefs I didn’t know to Sandy Daza, whom I know. I took my old steamer out of storage. After four years (that’s how long I’ve been married) of non-use, it still worked. We had to cut off the fish’s head and tail to make it fit the steamer’s container. I put a bed of sliced ginger and fresh onions on a piece of foil then put the salted and peppered lapu-lapu on top of that. Then I stuck more ginger down into the stomach, put more ginger and onions on top of the fish. I should have used green onions but we didn’t have any. A cook works with what she has. Then I poured soy sauce and leftover honey — a little I found in the kitchen that I thought should be used up already instead of the prescribed sugar — and sesame oil. It was such a relief finding the sesame oil in the pantry. I had bought that and for a while thought we had used it all up.

Guess what? It was pretty good. I finished half the fish. Wim had the other half.

Now I’m learning to cook again. This proves to me that we can survive anything, even missing our lady-who-helps-out-with-everything in our tiny condo.

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