Thursday, February 26, 2015

Grand Motherhood

My head feels half-empty from 4 hours of interrupted sleep, my eyes are burning, the living room is littered with play dough, a wooden train and a scooter lean against the bookshelves in the study, cracker crumbs and half-drunk glasses of juice can be found in the most unlikely places – it’s lola (grandma in Filipino) day with Leon, my nearly 3-year old grandson! 
But could I be any happier?  
As I watch him pounding the floor with a 2-ft  plant stick to the rhythm of  You Tube’s segment of  Frozen’s  Heart,  for the upteenth time ( he knows how to press the repeat button on my computer), singing the last words …..bining, let it go!…heart !   I can not wipe the smile off my face.  Nor can I repress this unreasonable swell of love and the need to grab him and crush him with kisses. 
I try to recall if I ever felt this way with my own children.  I must have.  I look at my bedroom walls and they are filled with photographs taken in various stages of their lives.  I go through their baby books and the entries I have logged in.  Yes, this warm, body-crushing hug-gy feeling I did have for my children as well.  
The beauty of  Grand Motherhood is that it brings back this once-upon-a-time part of my motherhood days.  I can see beyond the teenage years of closed bedroom doors with the music blasting, the silences in their twenties, today’s … really mom?   In my mind’s eye, I see myself dancing on top of the coffee table with a 3-year old Mike, whirling, singing to some forgotten song on the radio.  I hear myself laughing as I catch Amanda wearing that happy, so-proud-of-myself look on the face which she has smeared generously with her nappy rash cream. 
The days that we spend with our grandson have made my husband and I aware of the fact that we missed so much of our children’s growing years.  He was busy being a traveling salesman while I was engrossed in catching up with a career that had to be reinvented in every country we moved into. In our 30s and 40s, parenthood seemed merely a part, albeit a vital one, of the big picture. A still-life on the wall – happy couple with 2 kids, a house, 2 cars,  summer and winter vacations in exciting destinations. 
Grand motherhood is,  for me, payback time.  Both kids will attest to the fact that motherhood came easily to me.  Not that I was a natural at mothering.  It was because I had fulltime help and could play storybook mom.  The one who could spend quality time with her already-fed and bathed children.  The one who read the story, gave them a good night 
kiss and went off to join her husband’s business dinner or the neighborhood costume party.  
In our 60s, reconciled to the reality of broken career expectations and thankful for having lived the “good life” of the 80s and 90s, we now have time to appreciate every new word learned and repeated over and over again, every step taken towards the actual sitting in the potty, every new antic – be it naughty or nice. 
Grand Motherhood is a mother’s heart’s resurrection.  It brings back to life that simple, honest, unconditional love we shared with our own babies.  Babies who have grown up to be independent men and women:  whose “boo-boo” no longer needs to be kissed to make better; whose hands do not have to be held as they cross the street.
The truth is - Leon is growing up.  Much too fast for my sake.  As I bend down to untie his shoelaces, he brushes my hands off  and says :  “No. No, Lola… Leon”.  (Funny, how we work so hard at making our kids self-sufficient.  At the same time, making our own roles redundant. Obsolete.)
I know that our relationship will change. It is inevitable.  
Until then, I will happily babysit.  I will make up all sorts of excuses so that his parents will take him to our home and leave him with me for a day or two.  I want to be part of his journey of discovery.  Even if it means I have a messy household and a backache that lasts a couple of days.  For when he wakes up next to me with a big smile on his face (after a whole night of toilet runs and replenishing of juice bottles), rolls over, cups my face and gives me a good morning hug, I know that it really doesn’t get better than this. 
Grand Motherhood is really all about that warm, loving feeling.  Not to mention that smell that only babies and toddlers have.  Even their feet smell good!!
What’s the other perk  of  Grand Motherhood?    At the end of the day  (or two) you can always give them back to their moms and dads.   And, in a couple of hours, your home is as good as new.  Till the next visit!!  And that can’t come soon enough.

This week’s recipe, one of Leon’s favorites :

 Mini Spring Rolls

(A great way to give them a bunch of vegetables and make them think they’re having nuggets!)

Ingredients :
3 tbsp. oil for sautéeing
½ - 1 head of white, green or savoy cabbage or 1 whole Chinese cabbage or a mix of all 4, shredded or thinly sliced
4 large carrots, shredded or thinly sliced
1 cup, fresh or frozen green beans, chopped
1 cup, bean sprouts
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
200 gms. minced meat – chicken, pork or beef
100 gms. shrimps, minced (optional)
salt, pepper, 2 tbsp. light soy sauce
½ - 1 cup chicken broth or 1 chicken bouillon diluted in ½ cup of water
40 spring roll wrappers
¼ cup oil for shallow frying
In a medium size wok or flat-bottomed pan, sauté the onion and garlic till soft and fragrant. 
Add the minced meat or shrimps.  Cook till the meat is brown or the prawns pink.  Season with soy sauce. 
Put in the carrots, then the beans, followed by the cabbage. Mixing well as you add each new  ingredient. Pour in the broth.  Toss the vegetables, making sure they are all coated with the broth.  Cook till the vegetables are tender but not mushy.  Add in the beansprouts.  Mix all the vegetables thoroughly.  Check the taste.  Add the salt and the pepper if necessary.
Pour all the vegetables into a colander.  The drained liquid and any leftover vegetables can be used as broth for fried noodles!
Once the vegetables have completely cooled down.  You can start wrapping them in rice paper.
This recipe will make at least 40 mini spring rolls!  They can be placed in plastic bags in small batches and frozen.  Ready for the time the little one comes to visit!! 
Frying the Spring Rolls
Heat ½ cup of corn or vegetable oil in a frying pan.
When hot enough, slowly put in one spring roll at a time. This prevents the oil from splattering.  Lay enough spring rolls to fit the frying pan.   Lower the heat and allow the spring rolls to brown on one side and then turn over to brown the other side.
When done, drain some of the oil by placing the rolls first on a paper towel.
Serve with catsup or sweet chili sauce. Or as is.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Stew vs. 3-Tiered White Chocolate and Fresh Strawberry Frosted, Pure Chocolate Chiffon Cake with Fresh Cream and Strawberry Filling

I drew the sketch for my first blog (Curtain Call)  even before I wrote the text.  The content was always in my heart.  It just had to be filtered and that took a bit of time.  
It was how I felt and I drew it in a few minutes.   Karina, my son’s life partner, filled in the colors and the picture came to life. 
But my husband did not like my sketch.  He said that it was not good enough.  So, he spent all of Monday night making it better.  The curtains were transformed into thick, red velvet drapes worthy of a grand concert hall and the girl with the slanted eyes became the darker cousin of Belle (of Beauty and the Beast fame).
It broke my heart to say I did not like it at all. It’s not me, I kept telling him. Reluctantly,  many variations of the sketch further, and close to midnight, he gave in.  All right then, if that’s what you really want. 
I knew (and will always know) that what he does is out of love.  It is his need to protect me, sometimes even from my self.   
I am not perfect.  Have never aspired to be.  If I were to equate myself with food, I would be a stew not a 3-layered pure chocolate chiffon cake lined with fresh cream and  strawberries frosted with white chocolate and topped with even more strawberries. 
Good enough is good enough for me.  It means that there is room for improvement.  Perfect is scary.  If I add another strawberry on the frosting will the cake topple over? 
As for the stew, it can be pork, beef, chicken, fish or a combination of any of the above. I am sure there are vegetarian versions as well.  Plus you can add most anything you have in the cupboard into it. Throw in the frozen peas, mushroom, beans, even some apricots.  It never tastes quite the same and never looks like the one you made before.  
But, when you get down to eating it ... it tastes like .... home. Yours. It is no longer some famous chef’s creation or some lady blogging in her kitchen about her grandmother’s all-time, foolproof concoction.  It is a one-of-a-kind and personal.
Most of my friends are stews.   Perhaps, I feel threatened by beautiful people.  The ones to whom success seems to have been given as a birthright.  It is so much more comfortable to be in the company of those who quietly go about life, taking the punches and celebrating special moments. Friends who make me feel like I'm sitting in front of a warm hearth on a cold day, not out in the arena about to face the lions. 
As I leaf through the pages of the glossy magazine at the hairdresser’s waiting room, I must admit a certain amount of awe and a tinge of jealousy at the lives of the rich and famous.  Oh, to be able to casually walk around in my Armani summer dress, to be able to lie down and sleep all the way to Manila in First Class (Business will do as well!) and not with my face scrounged against the airplane window, to have a swimming pool in the cellar… oh, to be a 3-tiered chocolate cake with fresh strawberries over the white chocolate frosting.
I do have a saving grace.  I am lactose intolerant.  I was never meant to eat such a rich cake.  Nor be one.  I am the lady that makes the stew.  And that is good enough.


Here’s one of many stew recipes.  

This is the stew we had for dinner last Saturday.  I added black olives and slices of rookworst (smoked Dutch sausage) at the last minute because I was afraid it was not enough.  I am still eating the leftovers!!

Beef Stew ala Beef Bourguignon

1 tablespoon  olive oil
125 gms. smoked bacon, diced
1 kg. chuck beef, cut into about 1-inch cubes                                                                salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 big carrots, sliced into 1-inch chunks
2  onions, sliced
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup Cognac
1 cup dry red wine
1 cup broth (chicken, beef, pork or vegetable) 

or 1 cup water + 1 bouillon cube
1 tbsp. tomato paste, 1 tsp. sugar                               
spices -  choose 1 or more according to your own taste : 2 bay leaves, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/2 teaspoon dried) or fresh or dried lemon oregano, fresh or dried tarragon

250 gms.  fresh white or brown button mushroom, cut in half and sautéed in a bit of butter  (if using tinned mushrooms, pre-cooking is not necessary)

Thicken with: 3 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature mixed with
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour


Heat the olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed pot. Add the bacon and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly browned. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon to a large plate.

Dry the beef cubes with paper towels and then sprinkle them with salt and pepper. In batches in single layers, sear the beef in the hot oil for 3 to 5 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Remove the seared cubes to the plate with the bacon and continue searing until all the beef is browned. Set aside.

Toss the carrots, and onions, salt and  pepper in the remaining fat.  Stir occasionally and cook until the onions are lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the Cognac.  Stand back, and ignite with a match to burn off the alcohol. Put the meat and bacon back into the pot with the juices. Add the wine plus enough broth or water to almost cover the meat. Add the tomato paste and spices. Boil and then simmer gently for about 2-3 hours or until the beef is tender.

Add the mushrooms and allow to boil again.

Meanwhile, combine the butter and the flour with a fork.  Stir the mixture into the stew and mix gently until the gravy turns creamy. Simmer again for a few more minutes to allow the flavors to meld into each other.  Season with more salt and pepper or an extra bouillon cube if needed.

Serve with rice, noodles, roast or mash potatoes or crusty bread.

A fresh, mixed green salad or a dish of sautéed broccoli or green beans completes the meal.  
And don’t forget to serve the rest of the red wine with it!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Curtain Call

This is my curtain call. 

This is it.   My now or never moment. Show time!!

My blog.  Alma Matters.

A couple of days ago, over dimsum, I told my son and his partner that I had decided to write a blog .  His wide-eyed, disbelieving  response was : ” … but why  mom? What do you want to write about?”

Why?  Because it matters to me.  This is the novel I should have written, the CLIO award-winning ad I could have created, the book of poetry that could have been published.  A life- time of could-have-beens and should-have-beens.  This is me trying to make a dream come true at this stage in my life, knowing my own limitations.

What will this blog be about?  It will be about the world from my perspective. It will cover many things.  Some trivial.  Some not.  It will range from moments of epiphany, those so-called  Aha! moments to variations of a favorite recipe.  

Why now, he asked me.

Because I have lived in fear for so long.    Fear of being inadequate, of not having any thing worthy to say, of being seen as a dreamer and at worst, a moaner using my writing as a comeback tool. Most of all, fear of disappointing those who had always believed that I have a gift.  There comes a time when one has to stop being afraid.  And that time is now.

My “writing” moments come at the best of times and those not-really-good ones. To be honest,  mostly the latter.  Unable to stand up and say what really is on my mind or in my heart, cowered by someone with a bigger voice or stick, I walk away with all these thoughts racing through my head.   Funny this nearly always happens when confronted by strangers or people who do not mean a lot to me.  To the ones whom I care for, the ones I truly love – there is always time to say what is closest to my heart.  Perhaps not at that particular moment, but in my own time, on my own terms.

I write when I am happy too.  As I take my place in the dining room, apron still on, smelling of  garlic and chicken, watching my children tuck into dinner as they talk about their day, my husband happily pouring the wine. I close my eyes and say a quick prayer of thanks and  note  a word or two in my mind’s diary. 

This is me putting it all down on paper, on the net.  Weekly maybe.  It all the depends on .. . inspiration, time.  

At 62, I have earned the right to no longer be driven by someone else’s schedule or deadline. This is me… about to face the music… and dance!

This is my blog. 

Why?  Because Alma still matters.  So, watch this space….