Wednesday, October 7, 2015

High Expectations   Letting Go!!

I have been writing and re-writing this blog in my head for a long time.  I have written various versions while walking to work, chopping vegetables in my kitchen, ironing bed sheets. I have written down different opening lines and endings, but the middle bit has been hard to put down. 
Much like my blog about the doormat, the content is just so personal.  And painful.
Today, I realized while taking another long walk, that the reason why it was so difficult to write was the title I had given it – High Expectations. 
Time and the walk (in fact, a lot of time and walks and moments of  introspection) made me realize that high expectations result in futility.  Because, what I really should be doing is – Letting Go!
Yes – letting go.  Of things which I can not control or change.  Like the decisions my children make; promises that are not kept; friends who move on to other friends or to other stages in their lives; dreams that have passed their sell-by-date.
I accept  that I raised my kids to be independent human beings.  I started them on that path the moment they took their first step.  I accept that sometimes people make promises because at that moment, it seems feasible and right.  But the moment passes and is forgotten.  I accept that friends move on.  People change along with the circumstances in their lives and the adjustment may no longer include me.  I accept that many of my so-called dreams may have reached a point of un-attainability.
So, I settle.   I settle for imessage photos of my daughter’s Sardinian vacation and my son’s quick hellos.  I know that I am still part of their lives. I settle for the promises that are kept and file the ones that are not, in a box called Forgive.  I settle for and cherish the people who are around me; and keep the ones who have moved on in a safe place in my heart. I settle for the realities of today knowing that I have given my dreams a try and success is not always measurable.
And …. I celebrate  the love that I know my husband and my children have for me.  Even though some days I wish they would actually tell me.  But in my heart I know, and will always know, they do. I celebrate the friendships I have made in every country I have lived in. I celebrate that undeniable bond of kinship that I share with my family in Manila.  I celebrate the link which my blogs have created with the many people whose lives have touched mine.  And mine, theirs. I celebrate every line and wrinkle in my brow, every age spot all along my body.  Each one is testimony to a life that is lived.  A life filled with joy and pain, and enriched with countless beautiful experiences and memories.  Every single day.

 Yes, I can happily let go!! 

Here's a real simple, every day recipe for one of those days when you really do not want to work so hard in the kitchen.

Minced Meat with Chick Peas

1 kg. minced meat (beef, beef and pork, lamb or chicken)
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 big onion, chopped
1 tin tomatoes
1 tbsp. tomato paste
a dash of sugar, salt & pepper,  chicken, beef or vegetable bouillon
1 tin chick peas
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped (as garnish)
Saute garlic and onions in olive oil. Add meat.  Cook till all the meat is brown.  Pour in the tomatoes and tomato paste.  Allow to boil and then simmer for about 15 minutes.  While simmering, add the sugar and spices and the bouillon cube.  Mix in the chick peas.  Cook through for another 5 or more minutes.  Check the seasonings.
Top with the chopped hard boiled eggs just before serving.
This is a simple family meal which can be cooked and frozen to be served another day. It goes well with rice, potatoes - fried or mashed, or couscous.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Vanity Fair 


Last night I took one of those Facebook quizzes – At What Age Will You Actually Be Before You are Old?  The answer was 17.  The answer came as a shock at first, but its validity is slowly becoming apparent to me.
As I face the mirror wondering whether I should continue coloring my hair or allow it to grow back into the shade of gray that it should be at my age, I am once again confronted with the fact that this time – I am actually old.  As my sister-in-law said to my face: who are you trying to fool?
No one, really.  Just my self.  My vanities.  Thinking of the young girl inside me who refuses to grow old and probably never will. The one who still dreams, still cries at sad movies and enjoys a naughty joke.  The one who still believes in love and a God who made the world and who will eventually make things right.
And yet, my colleagues in school are even younger than my daughter; my visits to the doctor (and to the bathroom!) more frequent and the parties I go to are more likely to be golden anniversaries than weddings.  Let’s not talk about the beautiful clothes still wrapped in drycleaner’s plastic that are hanging in my closet waiting to be worn when I go back to size 34! 
When did I grow old?? Was it really at 17?  Or was it at 22 when I learned of my father’s death from a letter sent by my best friend while sitting alone in a cold apartment in Amsterdam?  Or at 51 when Louis lost his job and we had to readjust to a new reality and an uncertain future?  
Funny that I equate growing old with dramatic life-changing incidents. 
And yet, in my mind I associate coming of age with the joyful events in my life – the way my father made each birthday a family ritual; getting married at 21 in a simple church ceremony with my girlfriends singing my favorite Carpenters songs in the background; at 25, coming home to Manila to deliver our first born; the tears of joy when we found out that we were to have another child at 34….  The list, just like the years, goes on.
So should I turn gray or keep going different shades of brown?  The action is still on hold.  I have booked the appointment for the 16th of December.  Then the expensive process of growing gray will officially take place.  Until that day comes, I am taking a friendly survey – so far, half of my friends say, go for it!  while the other half  are screaming – oh, please don’t!
Meanwhile, I’m checking out wigs, make-up for white-haired (not gray for us dark-skinned folks!) women and the possibility of hibernating in some dark hole till all the roots come out.
Louis says: I’ll love you any way.
A reassuring sentiment; but … will I love me anyway in shades of gray?

I  made this recipe a few days ago because I had some leftover vegetables and few other bits in the fridge. My grandson loved it! 

Vegetable  Fritter
Ingredients :
1 big carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 onion, sliced fine
1 cup, shredded zucchini (for this recipe, I used leftover sautéed broccoli)
1 cup flour plus 1 tsp. baking powder or 1 cup self-raising flour
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 egg
¼ cup water
salt and pepper
Procedure :    Mix flour, baking powder, egg and water.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add all the vegetables.  Mix thoroughly.  Chill till ready to fry.
To cook :  Heat oil in a frying pan, drop the mixture by spoonfuls.  Flatten each spoonful and cook till brown and crispy.
Serve immediately with your choice of dipping sauce : soy sauce with a touch of vinegar and spring onions, hot chili sauce, catsup or aioli.
Other vegetable options : canned or freshly grated corn, grated sweet or normal potatoes,  finely sliced French beans.  I think it is also a great way to use up those little bits of vegetables leftover from a meal.  If you chop them up and mix them into the batter, they will come out crispy.   No one will ever know it’s a leftover remake.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Ice Cream
Baby blue skies, cotton wool clouds, trees green and lush, birds singing as they fly by… it is summer.  All 28°C of it.  And, as most people here in Holland say with a big smile : heerlijk! (delightful!)

It is ice cream time.

Pass by any ice cream parlor and you can see them – young, old, brown, black, white, yellow, male, female – happily licking their ice cream cones, spooning away into their ice cream cups or tall parfait glasses. Chocolate, vanilla, pistacho, melon, lemon or a hundred other flavors.  With cream, drenched in chocolate syrup, studded with nuts or plain. There are no sad faces here.

 Ice cream.  Its velvety smoothness slides down slowly, gently all the way to a welcoming tummy.  Soothing frayed nerves, uncrinkling those lines etched in your forehead, turning the drooping mouth into an upward smile. Heerlijk!

I have often been amused by those comedy sketches on tv where the actress after being dumped by a beau heads straight for the fridge, takes out a giant tub of ice cream, sits down and shoves spoonful after spoonful into her mouth as the tears fall from her face. A cliché perhaps, but there is some truth here. 

 I know that ice cream can’t heal a broken heart, solve the Greek crisis or cure cancer.  But sometimes, that little bit of reprieve makes a world of difference.  Maybe, it is that 90 second break from reality that gives one the time to see something from a different perspective or to realize that it really isn’t as dire as it seems.   

But, it isn’t just ice cream.  It takes so little to break that mood of despair or apathy.  A quick drink with a colleague after a grueling day at work.  A mint offered by a stranger in a packed train.  A comforting glance from a friend.  A kind word from a  supervisor.  A phone call from one of your children, for no particular reason but hello mom, just thought of you today.  An  unexpected I’m sorry as someone accidentally rolls over your toes in a crowded supermarket.

Sometimes we forget how little it takes to make someone else happy. Even our selves.

I tasted this for the first time in a friend's house.  I was amazed at how easy it was to make and how good it tastes!! 

 Meringue Ice Cream Cake

Ingredients : 

  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 90-120 gm dark chocolate bar, coarsely grated (70 % chocolate is great but a normal dark, milk chocolate or even white chocolate bar will do as well!)
  • 1 tablespoon coffee liqueur or rum (optional)
  • 50 gm, unsalted almond slivers or chopped cashew or pistacho nuts
  • store bought meringue, crumbled roughly to make 2 cups

Procedure : 

  1. Line a loaf tin or round baking mold with cling film, making sure you have enough overhang to cover the top later.
  2. Whip the cream until thick but still soft. Add the liqueur.
  3. Fold in the chopped chocolate.  Then the nuts. 
  4. Fold in the crumbled meringue.
  5. Pack this mixture into the prepared loaf tin, pressing it down with a rubber spatula. Carefully pull the cling foil hanging on the side to the top of the tin to seal it. Just to be sure, rewrap the entire tin with more cling film.  Freeze overnight.

To Serve : 

 Peel off the cling foil.  Unmold into a plate and slice as you would a loaf cake.
You can top each slice with fresh fruit like strawberries  or blueberries or canned fruit like peaches or mandarins. 

For an even richer dessert, pour
a strawberry sauce over it (blend 1cup fresh or frozen strawberries with 1/2 cup orange juice.  Sweeten with a bit of powdered sugar).   
or store bought chocolate syrup.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sweet Dreams Under the Mango Tree

Louis and I have always believed that starting our married life in neutral territory is the secret of our 41-year marriage.  Living neither in the Philippines nor in Holland meant that we had to rely on ourselves to resolve our every day problems.  For me specially, there was no family to run to.    Phone calls to my parents took a great chunk off Louis’ salary, so they were limited to birthdays and special occasions. Letters took a week to 10 days and often got lost in transit. All we had was each other.  Becoming not only life partners but more importantly, each other’s best friend. 
 The only setback was that our children missed out on having the big family experience.  There were no Sunday lunches, no All Saints Day picnic at the memorial park (very Filipino!), none of those Italian-movie family gatherings under a leafy elm.  

Growing up away from either of our families, our friends became our children’s surrogate uncles and aunties, their children replaced the cousins who were living in different continents and our household help became part of the core family.  Exposure to the real family came in annual 2-week doses.  In Manila, they were cuddled (actually crushed with kisses), showered with presents and proudly paraded to all the other relatives, friends, neighbors and anyone else interested – the mestizo (Eurasian) children of Alma and Louis.  In Holland, the reception was more sober but nonetheless, warm. 

Our two children were also never exposed to family rifts and feuds which always seems to be an essential element in a happy family scenario.  And neither were we.  In my heart though, I often feel that being away from such incidents only served to alienate us even more from the whole family reality scene.

Still… that idyllic picture of the long table laden with food and drink under the shadow of an ancient mango tree, surrounded by 2 or 3 generations of happy, noisy family members celebrating nothing in particular except a warm summer day… is the vision that both Louis and I can not shake.  

Perhaps such a scenario is purely a Hollywood invention. But is it really?  Is getting the family together, forgoing childhood resentment and forging new relationships particularly for our next generation too difficult to achieve? Does one really need a Tuscan landscape or a grand ancestral home to make it happen?

Clearly the answer is NO.  A balcony, a living room cleared of the usual furniture and filled with assorted sizes of folding tables, a rented hall, a public park, any place will do.  Because it is not about where, but why.

But then again… is it really necessary to instill this ideal of kinship in our children? I remember at 16, running up to my room after an argument with my father, slamming the door and screaming – I don’t need you, I have plenty of friends! And here I am, all of 62 years, unable to remember the reason for that remark , regretting every word,  missing my parents, longing to be near my siblings and desperately wanting to create links for my children with their kin.

I think that part of Louis’ and my need to bring our children into the family fold comes from the fact that, even here in Holland, they are neither here or there. 

We do know that they have each other. 

A couple of weeks ago, Mike, our son flew to London to attend a music festival with his sister.  Their 8-year age difference no longer a hindrance.  Their separate lives, Mike’s in Amsterdam and Amanda’s in London, serving only to make their weekend reunion even more significant. I am sure they went on a food binge and had a bit too much to drink, but the thought of them together having a good time was reassuring for Louis and I.   This is what we had always wanted – our two children growing up, but not apart. 

And yet, we want more for them.  Yes, that idyllic under-the-mango-tree family closeness with their families in both our countries. 

The reality is : family bonding with or without the mango tree can not be forced.  No matter how much time and effort I put into the menu, the décor and the table setting of my perfectly orchestrated Christmas dinner,  I am not assured that it will create that closeness among the relatives that I/we have always hoped for. 

Every family is different.  The dynamics within each one, complicated.  The relationships even within the core unit, influenced by so many factors – favoritism, jealousy, neglect and so on, or perceptions thereof.  The consequence on the lives of the individual members goes beyond the present.  It shapes that of future generations as well.  

But there is no need to rewrite our ancestral history.  There is simply an option to start a new one.  

We have raised our children in the knowledge that family matters.  And that there are no perfect families.  Just people connected by blood who try to live their lives as best as they can.    Undoubtedly, there are, and will always be, differences.  But that should only serve to  allow for understanding and to make room for forgiving.  

This is the legacy that Louis and I shall pass on to our children. And hopefully, they - to theirs. 

Meanwhile, Louis is happily nursing a couple of fruit-bearing trees in our yard…

Mango Jam 

This recipe makes 3 – 4 bottles of jam depending on the size of the mangoes and the size of the jars!   I used the Brazilian variety which are readily available in Holland.   Ripe Philippine mangoes are a lot sweeter and smaller, so you will need at least 6 mangoes and use a lot less sugar.
Ingredients :
4 ripe mangoes
½ cup sugar
juice of ½ to 1 lemon
Procedure :
1. Before making the jam, make sure you have sterilized  jars and lids ready for filling.
2. Wash the jars and lids  in hot, soapy water, then rinse well. Place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven to dry completely. (120/140 C). 
3. Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into small cubes.  Place the fruit in a thick bottomed pan, add in the sugar and lemon juice.  Mix well.  Allow to sit for about an hour for the sugar to melt and blend with the fruit.
4. Cook the mixture over high heat until it boils and then simmer until most of the  fruit has softened and reached the thick texture of jam. This may take at least 45 minutes and needs to be stirred constantly.
5. While the jam is cooking, you may adjust the sweetness and/or tanginess according to your taste, adding more sugar and/or lemon. 
6. Remove the warm bottles from the oven and place them on a clean dishcloth.  They are now ready for filling. 
7. Let the jam cool for a few minutes before spooning it into the jars.  Seal immediately with the lids.   (This is normally enough. But, just to be safe,  I like to put the sealed jars into a pot of water filled to half the size of the jars and boil them. Then I turn the heat off and let the jars sit in the water for about an hour.) 
9.  Store the jars in a cool, dark cupboard.  Unopened, the jam should be good for at least 2 years.  Once opened, it has to be kept in the fridge. 
Other serving options : This jam can also be used to sweeten plain yoghurt, as a topping for ice cream or panna cotta or as pie filling.  Or eaten as it.