My mother’s kare-kare

NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. - The Philippine Star
My motherâs kare-kare
Illustration by Jimz Abecilla

It was a pleasant surprise when at one lunchtime my mother served kare-kare for the family. Happiness escaped from her lips as she scooped the dish into a bowl. It was the first time she cooked kare-kare.

“Madali lang pala. Akala ko talaga kumplikado (It was easy to cook it. I really thought it was complicated),” she said. She thanked Inang Deleng, one of her best friends in their Duster Gang, for teaching her how to make the dish that had pata and liempo as main ingredients.

My mother is a great cook of all the “do’s” — hamonado, menudo, embutido, mechado. She makes fork-tender morcon. Her batchoy (the Tagalog version) is the best, so much so that my friends from Manila who have sampled it want to order from her. Even her inihaw na tilapia is a gustatory excursion because she puts magic when she stuffs it with a salivating concoction of diced tomatoes and onions and pepper —up to the mouth of the fish. The simple sinalab na ayungin (grilled silvery fish) becomes a fare because she dunks each fish in a bowl with water and salt — and that doubles as the soup with smoky, bitter flavor. Her ginatang hipon with sitaw and ampalaya is a hit. Ditto with her sinigang sa bayabas na bangus or buto-buto.

But her kare-kare is another story. She did not have the patience for it because she thought it was laborious and expensive to prepare. But when she craved for it that day, she learned to cook it. And served it to her children and grandchildren.

“Pag gusto mo pala talaga, pwede (If you really want it, you can do it),” she said. She was talking about making kare-kare. She might as well be talking about life.

She knew her kare-kare was not perfect. She forgot to add puso ng saging. And also forgot one of the most important ingredients — peanut butter! And she forgot that there should be bagoong. But she never forgot to sprinkle it with love. And that made it special and sumptuous.

Love doesn’t require memory. Not that my mother’s memory is fading. It is still as sharp as a razor. She still knows the exact date when we had our first black-and-white television set or the date and time when we had a poso (deep well). Take note, my parents, who were both farmers, saved money for our poso because they did not want to ask from politicians who gave away poso during election time. The dignity of hard labor was instilled in us. And the culture of living within our means was a cardinal rule.

When she forgot to put puso ng saging and peanut butter and cook bagoong separately, she remembered, nevertheless, that she was cooking it to surprise us that she could still reinvent herself — with the kitchen as her springboard for change, for reinvention, for discovering her new reach.

My mother can cook good pancit but she does not know how to make spaghetti. “Kasi mahal ang sangkap ng spaghetti. At walang-wala tayo noon kaya hindi ko kayang ihain ‘yon. Hindi ko na inaral lutuin (Because to make spaghetti was expensive. And we could not afford that then so I did not learn to cook it),” she said.

My mother is now 77. If not for her tendonitis in the back that makes her grimace in excruciating pain at times, she’d be all right. Well, she has other ailments but nothing that her meds and doctors cannot address. In sickness or in health, for richer or for poorer, I continue to love my mother.

The wisest thing a child can do for his or her elderly parents is to continue to love them. They were there for us when we were growing up. The best gift we can give them now that they are old is time. Give them time.

Like I had the time of my life in appreciating profusely my mother when, for the first time, she prepared kare-kare. It was a big deal for me as it was an occasion for my mother to be able to create something new for the first time. Because of her advanced age, there are things that she cannot do now. But love is all about focusing on what she can still do and not on what she no longer can. And appreciation is the extension of love.

I’m 50. I don’t think there will never come a point in my life when I won’t need my mother’s affection. If I would be born anew, I would still choose Candida to be my mother. She’s love.

The love that she put in her kare-kare reminded me of God’s blessings. What we have now is more than what we wished for in life. Her kare-kare was a reminder that dreams are valid and have value; that dreams are relevant; that dreams are the fiber of the soul, the fortification of the spirit. The dish brought me back to my seven-year-old self when I would eat breakfast of labay-tubig (piping hot rice doused with water and sprinkled with salt) while smelling the appetizing aroma of tender-juicy hotdogs being fried in the neighbor’s house. Life was good despite our many wants. Life was good because my mother said, “Bibili rin tayo ng hotdogs isang araw (We will buy hotdogs one day).”

She’s my moral compass. Her heart points me to the right direction when I lose my way. When one day she felt I was mending a broken heart, she forced herself to get in the car to bring me back to Makati, where I stayed, in the middle of the night. It was past her bedtime. But a mother’s heart knew how to stitch her son’s pain and make him whole again. She entertained me in the car from Gulod to Makati, regaled me with songs and stories of hope with one of her lines — “Hindi naman lagi-laging umuulan (It doesn’t rain all the time).”

She’s my sunshine. The rain in my life stopped. And my mother continues to water my heart with love.

Just like when she cooked kare-kare for lunch. It was a labor and flavor of love.

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at [email protected]. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend.)


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