Friday, March 20, 2020

A simple vegetable dish from my childhood

It's Day 6 of our community quarantine. How have you been, mamas? My kids haven't left the house since classes were canceled on March 9 so they've been cooped up for 12 days today. We're not allowed to go to our condo playground so we're just going to do some indoor exercises and sun ourselves by the window.

We've not been doing anything special. It's summer and my belief is summer is supposed to be when the kids do absolutely nothing. Well, the kids have their chores. We're very proud of the boys because they prepare their own breakfast, make up their beds (kinda), and finish their chores all before 10am. I could learn a thing or two from my kids!

One thing I've always been keen to teach my sons is cooking their own food. I really want them to be independent men who won't need a wife to cook and clean for them. This week, I decided to cook something I haven't cooked for more than 20 years. I don't like cooking it because my Papa always said it's pang-mahirap. Konting karne lang, konting gulay, maraming sabaw, maraming asin so that it's malasa, and - tada! - may masarap at masustansiyang ulam na kami.

Kita niyo naman dito na dalawang patatas, isang carrot, at isang bundle ng pechay, when sliced like this ay dumadami agad. My Papa said this is the perfect ulam becasue its cheap and healthy. Konti lang kailangan na sangkap, masabaw pa, so mapapadami kang kain ng rice. Busog agad! So kapag wala kang budget, this is the vegetable dish you cook.

Actually, marami rin kaming ibang similar ulam na linuto na cheap but good. Upo na may miswa. Adobong kangkong. Corned beef and cabbage soup. Talbos ng kamote salad. But when my Papa cooks (or asks me to cook) this ulam that I'm blogging about here, alam kong walang-wala kami, lalo na kung gulay lang at walang karne yung soup.

So when I left home, I just never wanted to cook this ulam again. Bad memories ba. I was determined to improve my life and I was never going to eat masabaw na gulay ever again.

Then this week, something changed. I don't know what happened really. Maybe it's the quarantine and the warning to not go out to the grocery that made me think of food that will last for a while. Maybe it's the fact that such a vegetable-rich dish is healthy and we need to get super healthy these days that made me want to cook it. Maybe it was me going through my 2019 planner and I saw that this time last year, my sister told me Papa wasn't eating anymore and a few turns of the page later, my planner said he died.

I don't really know what it was but I decided I was going to cook this ulam and teach my boys how to cook food that's good in times of crisis.

So the two younger boys helped me wash and peel the veggies. I did the chopping. They did the cooking. Madali lang naman kasi gisa-gisa lang siya. I didn't put a lot of water so it wasn't soupy like how Papa cooked it. It also had 1/2 kilo of ground beef instead of the usual 1/4 or minsan 1/8 pa nga na karne na gamit ni Papa. I should've added more pechay, though. Parang kulang kasi nung luto na siya.

It was fun teaching the boys how to cook this and they enjoyed my stories of my childhood while we were cooking away. I also remembered na nung college na ako and I had boy problems, Papa would tell me to cook this and ilabas ko raw galit ko sa gulay when I'm slicing them. And I would tell him, "Papa, sabi ni Lola 'wag raw galit kapag nagluluto kasi papait yung ulam!" But my heartache would go away anyway and by the time we sat down to eat, okay na ako.

So eto siya. It's not the prettiest thing in the world. It's not gourmet. Pang-mahirap nga, diba. Pero masarap siya. I sat down at the dinner table, asked Vito to call their Papa, and I said to the younger kids, "I'll make tikim lang, ha!"

I put the first spoonful in my mouth after more than 20 years, and the smell and the taste overwhelmed me not with bad memories. Instead, such good and happy memories of me and Papa at the palengke and in the kitchen all came rushing back in one bite and I put my spoon down and cried and cried and cried.

My sons crowded around and hugged me. After my sobbing died down, IƱigo said, "I miss Lolo Jules, too."

Hay, ang puso ko.

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