Thursday, January 23, 2020

If I had had a crystal ball.....

As I sat on the stage clad in a makeshift black and gold cape, posing with nearly 80 of the 120 girls who graduated high school with me in 1969, I had to take a deep breath and control the flood of tears which I knew was beginning to swell from the pit of my belly.  No, they were not tears of sadness.  They were of joy.  Of being right there in the midst of the women whom I had known from my childhood.  Each of us with a story to tell.  A story of love, of loss, of disappointments as well as triumphs.  Perhaps not of Olympic proportions but monumental in our own little worlds.
As I looked at the faces around me, I recognized in each one of us dressed in that glittering polyester outfit, sporting wide smiles for the camera - a survivor. 
Perhaps survivor is too dramatic a word.  It was, after all, a highly emotionally-charged  moment.  Resilient is really more appropriate.  Because not many of us knew at 16 that we were stronger than we had given ourselves credit for. I know with certainty that I did not. Perhaps I could have been a more confident teenager had I known, saving myself from all that angst. But I didn’t. 
1969 was a year of great expectations.  It was the year Neil Armstrong made a giant leap for mankind; flower power exploded into a gigantic party called Woodstock; Ferdinand Marcos was reelected for a 2nd term; another Filipina, Gloria Diaz was crowned Miss Universe; the Cultural Center of the Philippines opened its doors for the first time.  Yes, the moon was on its seventh house! 
If I had had a crystal ball, maybe I would have been more assertive. I would have raised my hand more often in class. Studied harder (oops… Maybe not).  Dared to do more in the age of Aquarius.  Just think of all those missed opportunities, so many I-could-have-done’s but didn’t do. 
But would I still be me? The person I am today. 
I like to think that the person looking at me from the mirror is a reflection of all the accumulated fears, self-doubts and epiphanies of that 16-year-old girl.  Not knowing what the future held, meant that I, like every single one of the women with me on that stage, had to learn to do with what I had been given.
With my mother working day and night at our pharmacy, I learned to managed a household.  To create meals for the family from whatever was in the cupboards. Watching those TWA commercials (Up, up and Awaaay!), I wanted desperately to travel the world or become an exchange student to the USA or to Europe like many of my classmates. But that was not within my parent’s budget.  So, I applied to become a flight stewardess – too short.  Then I tried out for an international dance group – can’t dance.  My soulful moves were not quite ballet!  Eventually, I settled for a summer travel program and then joined a local student travel organization which took me to Marawi, in Mindanao, the Southern part of my country.  The process, allowing me to realize that there are many roads to travel and many ways of getting there.
If I had had that crystal ball, I would not have had that most wonderful surprise of my life. Meeting my husband Louis. At 16, hopelessly in love with Captain Kirk of the Star Ship Enterprise, I would never have guessed that I would meet a blue-eyed Dutchman in the living room of a friend’s house in Makati.  Marry him at 21 and leave my childhood home and friends for a life of many unknowns. Many new frontiers.
Now, as I sit in my dining room in Holland writing this blog, I look back at the 50 years since we were last on that same podium.  Not in the bold colors of gold and black but in the innocence and purity of our white high school graduation caps and gowns.  Yes, we have all come a long way.  No longer wide-eyed and na├»ve, but women seasoned by time and experience.  Blessed with the knowledge that in spite of all the years apart, we have always had our friendships to fall back on and carry with us.
Today, I not only understand, but truly appreciate why looking through a crystal ball would not have guaranteed a happily ever after. There are choices I wish I had not made or had done differently.  There are roads which should been left untraveled.  But, here I am.  The sum of all of the above. Scarred but not beaten.
Why do we want to know what the future will bring?
Isn’t it better to just live each day as it comes?  Welcoming each sunrise. And as the sun sets, looking forward to whatever tomorrow has in store. 
Borrowing a phrase from the kids of today...bring it on!

One of my favorite Indonesian snacks or side dish to a meal is fried tempeh with peanuts.  Tempeh or tempe is a traditional Indonesian soy product that is made from fermented soybeans. It is a natural product made through a controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. 

I have never been able to recreate the ones we used to have when we lived in Jakarta but this recipe comes very close.  The sweet-salty combination and the crunchy peanuts make it a wonderful meat substitute. And the best part is that my grandchildren think they’re delicious! 

Fried Tempe with Sweet Soy Sauce and Peanuts


 Ingredients :
500 gm. tempe, sliced into about ¼ inch strips
2 pcs. Garlic
3 -4 shallots or 1 small white or red onion
2 -3 tbsp. sambal badjak  (sweet sambal)  or sambal oelek (saltier version)
2 -3 tbsp.  kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce)
2 -3 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp. lemon or lime juice
1 lemon grass, bruised (optional)
1 cup of plain roasted, salted or unsalted peanuts
oil for frying

Preparation :
        1.  Grind the garlic and onion/shallots in a mortar or use an electric grinder.  I use the latter because it is just so much easier!!
2.    Heat the oil.  Deep fry the tempe until golden brown. Do this in small portions so that you do not use too much oil.  Set the cooked tempe aside on paper towels to drain off any excess fat.
3.    Leave about 3 tbsp of oil in the frying.  Saute the garlic and onion mix for a minute or so and then add the sambal oelek (if you don’t like it to be too sweet) or sambal badjak (my family’s choice of sambal).  Put in the lemon grass if you have one.  Mix well.
4.    Pour in the kecap manis.  And then the lemon juice, blend well into mixture. 
5.    Add the peanuts
6.    Lastly, toss in the fried tempe.  Combine all until they are all coated with the kecap-sambal mixture.
Serve hot immediately or at room temperature.  It tastes better after a couple of hours as it gives the tempe time to soak up all the flavors and spices.
It can be kept in the fridge for a week (if it lasts that long). Microwave or allow to cool to room temperature, serve as a side dish or a snack.