Word count: 1286
Estimated reading time: 7 mins
Some stories don’t begin the way you expect it to. This is one of them.
December 29th 2018. Two days before new year. It was not an ordinary day because it was pleasant. No one was angry. Everyone was happy. I knew the pleasantness had an expiration date. I was waiting for that moment.
It was after sundown when I was sent to do a stupid errand. Something like “go to the store and buy this for me. NOW!” You see, in that household I was the designated errand person. They didn’t have maids in this home so I filled that role whenever they were in town.
One time I was sent to do an errand to buy cherries at Costco. At the time I was living alone in my family’s second home in California. I was to buy twelve cases of cherries, pack it in a box, and give it to a flight attendant who would take it with her on the return flight to the Philippines where the family was living. Unfortunately, I was not successful with the errand because the only day I could visit the store in between school and work was labor day. The stores were closed. As punishment for not sending cherries as expected, I was kicked out of the house in California. I slept in my car and on a friend's couch for several days.
For every errand I did I was exposed to a similar type of consequence. Another time I was late to pick up the family at the airport. The consequence? A generous beating in the downstairs bedroom.
The errand I was asked to do that night was simple. I completed the purchase and had the receipt on hand. I parked my car on the driveway and entered the house the same way I left it. Everyone stared when I entered.
“Bastos ka talagang tao.” She glared at me. You really are a rude sonofabitch, was what she said.
I stood frozen on my step. I wondered what I did now.
“She told me what you said behind my back!” She was referring to her daughter. The one she claims looks like her but is actually a replica of her father.
“She told me what you said to your scumbag boyfriend!” Now she was stepping towards me. Fingers darted at my forehead.
By then, yes, I remembered what I said. I told my boyfriend he doesn’t have to be her errand boy. If I can help another person avoid her dictations, I will. He didn’t have to fix her garage if he didn’t want to. She liked to use people to get an obligation out of them.
I was caught in between her prowl and the door. The regular procedure of berating, calling me names, saying I’m worthless, and claiming I am nothing without her happened. Her husband and two children surround us like houseplants. I told myself not to cry and almost succeeded until she said the words. Her breath reached for me like a foul egg.
“Wala kang kwentang tao. You’re a worthless person. Who do you think you are? You are not part of this family.”
I felt the water rising. I asked if she meant what she said. She said she did.
I said okay. I looked at her family once more and turned away. I got in my car and vowed to never return again.
If you’re wondering where the cooking part of this cookbook begins, we will get there. This is a cookbook about food from home. First, I want to show you the kind of home I come from.
It was through the way I ate and sat around the table how I noticed I did not belong in my own home. When I was very small, the table was absent of family members. It was only me and the household help for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Those were the days when I felt I still belonged, but eventually I was removed from that table and was introduced to a place that did not expect having me over.
I grew up as the stepdaughter of the house. Having a step family can be a warm or cold experience for a child. For me it was both. It was warm because I gained step cousins who were kind and friendly and it was cold because a few adults went out of their way to make it known I did not belong.
I came home with red shot eyes from recounting the scenes that led me to that drive. I saw before me the days when she loved me. How she took me grocery shopping and made me sit next to her when she introduced me to a date. I remembered when we discovered a carinderia, a small sidewalk eatery, and laughed so much because the food there was all it took for me to be happy. I remembered when she got married, had kids, and abandoned me. She became the mother she always wanted to be. I remembered when she told me to leave and wasn’t deserving. I remembered how much she didn’t love me.
I opened the front door of the home I shared with my so-called scumbag boyfriend. He caught me and asked, what was it this time? I fell limp on him and cried and cried. I told him I have no family. He was all I have. He was crying too. He held me and for the first time someone saved me.
“Nica, I am your family. My family is your family. Will you marry me?”
How to Make Rice
Rice is staple to Filipino cooking. It is foundational. A Filipino meal is not complete without rice.
I cannot recall a meal in my primary years without rice unless I was eating something foreign like pasta. What’s for breakfast? Rice. Packed lunch for school? Rice. Dinner? Of course rice. Rice cultivation in the Philippines dates back to several thousands of years. In fact, it’s where you’ll find the Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO world Heritage site.
The first step to making rice is to make sure you have it. I buy mine by the sack. Scoop a cup of rice and pour it into an empty pot. After, place the pot under a sink and fill it with cold water until the rice is covered. I usually stare at the rice at this step. I like to watch the water turn cloudy.
The second step is to clean the rice. Using your hands, spin the rice in a circular path as if you’re massaging it. The water will become murky as you clean it. After several spins, pour the water out while carefully cupping the rice with your hands to prevent it from spilling. Watch the starchy water leave the pot. Do this three times.
When I massage rice sometimes I feel like I am massaging myself. I clean it so thoroughly so the starch is removed. Before I cook it I want to achieve the clearest water I can. That’s how I know I cleaned the rice thoroughly. I can move forward.
After the rice is cleaned, pour water into the pot. Use the first line of your middle finger to measure the water. If you cleaned two scoops of rice, use the second line. If three, use the third line. I know it sounds peculiar, but dunk your middle finger in the water until it reaches the bottom of the pot. When the water is leveled with a line, you can start to cook.
It’s surprising isn’t it. When cooking rice the best measuring tool is yourself.
Next pages: Will be posted on January 17th, 2021