Starweek Magazine

Not Just Desserts

- Tara Sering -
Life is too short not to have ice cream. And if you’re going to have ice cream, make sure it’s an event.

It’s really quite true: As people grow older, they develop a mild obsession with getting together for home-cooked dinners that don’t look home-cooked at all. The details–from the china, silver and glassware, to the music, to the mood lighting in which fat candles are the accessories of choice–belie the host’s Martha Stewart inclinations.

There is a brief annotation as each dish is laid down on the table: its star ingredients, its country of origin, the poignant manner in which lola passed on the recipe, and the host’s own accidental twist that made the dish better. The audience, usually an intimate group of not more than a dozen, then makes appreciative "Ooohs," and "Aaahs".

But a curious part of the process is this: While people eat, the conversation inevitably turns to other dishes not on the table. Or someone might breathlessly share a secret, weird ingredient that would change the present dishes forever (and since everyone is presumably broad-minded, no one takes offense). Everything is fair game for table talk, except perhaps certain episodes of "CSI." Judgment, when you see good friends over dinner left at the door.

At one recent dinner with friends, nostalgia was the main course. The conversation, which was originally about "things we miss eating" ("Bulalo!" said the OFW in the group; "Balimbing! Do they still grow here?" someone else inquired), had somehow zeroed in on ice cream, thanks to one friend who had not had a scoop since shortly after EDSA 1.

There were some rabid reactions to this declaration of decidedly un-cool ice-cream deprivation, but the one that sounded the flakiest of all turned out to be the most inspiring. It was this: ice-cream deprivation is so not Oprah. "Oprah," insisted a wealth manager friend, "has built an empire out of, among other things, reassuring the public that it’s okay to pamper yourself and indulge every now and then. And while you’re at it, make sure it’s an event. Whether it’s a spa day or a scoop of ice cream, it’s all about rewarding yourself."

Thus inspired, the whole group wiped off dinner while planning dessert. The funny thing about old friends trying to fulfill old passions is that they unconsciously, wordlessly, revert to old haunts.

Thus did we find ourselves in the lobby of The Peninsula Manila, where we had found ourselves at various points in life–after the prom, after someone else’s prom, resting our feet after someone’s debut, after someone’s wedding, after dinner, after nothing and everything.

It was thrilling to find an old favorite still on the menu. The legendary Pen Pals ice cream, 19 scoops piled high in a large, stemmed bowl and topped with a slice of a pineapple and its crown, looking like some chic woman’s feathered hat.

When we were growing up, the number of scoops was simply a rumor: someone said it was 30; another, 42. Sharing Pen Pals with friends in high school after a late night movie premier was a very big deal–big enough to make it to my journal. But my memories of the super ice cream date back even further, back to when my parents were younger and needed something to distract restless adolescents while they chatted in The Pen lobby: "Here, finish a Pen Pal."

Still, it was indulgence night, and the group was a large and merry one of about nine girls. The Pen Pals was dealt with and done with in less than half an hour. There is a trick I’m pretty sure everyone else uses when no one can really decide what to have–Explore and Share: get one of each so everyone can have a taste of everything. Unfortunately, this no-fail fun trick is not completely infallible, and since what follows is not a very savory episode, all names are entirely made up.

Jesse wouldn’t share her Halo Halo because, she argued, it has been a while since she’d had ube ice cream and leche flan. She would share a bit of it, but only the macapuno, langka and nata de coco. The rest, like the pinipig and sweet beans, she guarded with the dome end of her long spoon.

Tina and Lilian both wanted to order the Tropicana, and Eileen reiterated the rules and objectives of Explore and Share: "Everyone orders a different thing so that everyone gets to try everything." But Lillian, being pregnant, had to have what she was craving for–the Tropicana with its fresh pineapple, mango and buco salad ice cream topped with a chocolate palm tree.

The two of her got the chocolate palm tree and everything else, but it was gone in 60 seconds. Then she wanted some from Tina’s order. But Tina, ever the single girl’s rights rah-rah girl, couldn’t understand why a pregnant woman should be allowed to get away with everything. As she vituperated on this thought, Lilian listened attentively–or at least pretended to–all the while dipping her long spoon surreptitiously into Tina’s bowl. Good move.

Our token OFW, had her Fiesta Pinoy Halo Halo with mango ice cream on top of fresh fruit salad. Because no one else wanted to share, she had her fiesta all by herself. And because she wouldn’t share, neither would Miss Ice Cream Deprived, on the logic that since she had been deprived of ice cream for decades, so why should she share her first taste? When she took her first spoonful of the sinful Chocolate Sensation–chocolate cake buried under scoops of cookies and cream and chocolate marble ice cream and topped with dark and white chocolate shavings–I swear, I saw her eyes water.

I had a Banana Split, that classic that brings to mind a montage of my college years all the way to the fairly recent past. Bad dates? Reconvene with girlfriends for a Banana Split. Great job? Celebrate with a Banana Split. Foul mood? Banana Split! Happy over nothing in particular? Yup, a Banana Split.

This frenzied night with girl friends getting greedy is going to join that montage, and years and years later when, feeling nostalgic, I troop to The Pen lobby and help myself to everything on the menu, I swear I will go at it with gusto, sharing with no one.

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