Every morning, we would wake up to the aroma of home-made bulad (salted dried fish) and chorizo frying in the kitchen, staples on our breakfast table. Squeezed around the table, my cousins and I would stuff ourselves silly. Eating the bulad and chorizo with either garlic fried rice or maize and our choice of sunny-side up or scrambled eggs. There was always hot pan de sal (bread rolls) accompanied by assorted jams and butter and of course, budbud kabog.
Diets and restraint were unheard of then; healthy meals and light eating were things of the future. The kitchen staff, well trained by Mamaita, cooked with careless abandon and we ate in the same fashion. If breakfast was a feast, lunch, merienda and dinner were no different, perhaps even more so. Desserts were aplenty, there was never just one but a variety. Hot chocolate was available any time of day, the super thick kind, none of that watered down stuff.
But it was while I copied her recipes that I felt her close. I couldn't believe my eyes when my aunt handed me her recipes. It came bunched together and wrapped in plastic. The day before my uncle had joked that I would need to open the package in an airconditioned room and using tweezers and gloves to protect the paper from my bodily oils. I pulled out the notebooks and loose papers slowly, realizing he may have been only half-joking. The pages were brittle and stained with age and tiny fragments that had crumled over the years came spilling out.
My hands shook slightly as I lay them down carefully on the table in the corner of her room. Two notebooks, some newspaper and magazine clippings, scraps of paper with tasting notes, and a book on Cured Meats - a book that taught you pretty much everything you needed to know from butchering to cleaning to cutting and curing, dressing, canning and cooking pork, beef and lamb.
I slowly opened the notebook and felt a wave of nostalgia. I touched her familiar neat cursive on the yellowed page. They were rounded and leaned slightly to the left. At the head of the table, I watched her write so slowly and deliberately, as if time stood still for her. I found most of what I was hoping to find here. Some were written in Spanish and the rest in English.
There was the recipe for my favorite salchichon de pili, and the chocolate ice-box cake my mom made me promise to get, the tocino del cielo which I love so much, her flan, sans rival, food for the gods, maja blanca, lengua de gato, canonigo, tarta de fruta, banana brunch cake, cheesy cassava cake, bread pudding, - wait - these are all desserts. Where are the recipes for her different chorizos? And bacalao? Apparently, I am to learn the next day at the breakfast table, my grandmother never needed to write any of the savory recipes down because she had them memorized and she made sure Basil, our cook, had them down pat. My uncle was kind enough to give me his recipes instead.
So I went to work, burning the candle at both ends, copying the recipes. And as I tapped away on the keyboard, I imagined her speaking to me through the written words. In my mind I saw her patiently teaching me in her pale yellow kitchen while I stood on the chair next to her. She had her grey hair in a neat bun as she always did, and she carefully weighed each ingredient, describing each one to me as she did so. I heard her speak to me, explaining each step of the process while she worked with her skillful hands. And I did my best to write it all down, without missing a beat.
I'm a little nervous but very excited about trying the recipes. But while I would like to chronicle the attempts here, they've asked me kindly to keep the recipes in the family for the meantime. Although I am not the type to hide cooking or baking secrets and love to share great recipes, I totally understand and respect this request because most of the recipes were used in the family business and may possibly be used for that purpose again in the future.
This is a picture of Mamaita in her 20's. I hope I make her proud. :)
PS: I just found out my dad has become a regular reader of my blog and is especially enjoying all these posts about his hometown and his mom, so HI DAD!! :)