Saturday, December 16, 2017

Kitchen rules

SLOW conversations go with slow food.

We had Igorot friends visit for the weekend. For our last dinner, they prepared pinakbet and adobo, the Ilocano way.

It took a time to look for boneless bagoong from Pangasinan. And then more time was needed to slice the vegetables. The size of the pork cuts warranted another discussion. And the order of sautéing the garnishing.

Always, there seemed to be a Cebuano way and an Ilocano way. In a matter of speaking, there were significant differences in going about things.

And a spontaneous concurrence of what is good food.

Trying to combine Ilocano and Cebuano ways, we ate dinner at past 1 a.m. Somehow, all of us woke at 7 a.m. to whip up an omelet and then resume eating the pinakbet and adobo of undefined ethnicity.

Looking at the frothy mounds made by the whipped eggs, M. remembered that the omelet his mother made for him and his seven siblings was as thin and smooth as the film that floats to coat the surface when oil is poured onto water.

His mother warned all the children watching, round-eyed, as that omelet was sliced and distributed around the table that there was no need to ask for more.

Mealtimes where “more” did not exist taught M. and his siblings that rice was not a staple but a strategy. He said he buried his viand in a mound of rice. After everyone else had eaten, he dug out and ate his hoard.

He felt full, whether from consuming his share or being consumed by his sibling’s envy, he could not say.

R. said having too many mouths was also a challenge for researchers in remote areas. He and his fellows once bought a chicken from a farmer.

The native fowl was lean and compact, virtues for a boxer but not for the meal prospects of ten hungry youths. D. volunteered to cook the chicken.

Sliced and spiced, the chicken adobo ended up as the dish for no one except D. When R. complained that the dish too spicy, D. explained that pepper is the secret in cooking. Why, he now had an entire chicken to finish!

Sharing a meal reminds us that we have more than appetites in common. M.’s drunk father insulted his neighbors. Walking home, M.’s father was set upon and nearly beaten dead by the neighbor and his sons.

Months later, these neighbors visited M.’s family to apologize. M. recalled that when it was their turn to visit, these neighbors would cook and eat breakfast even when M and the family were still in bed. Isn’t this tolerated because it’s all in the family?

M. asked his neighbors: When one’s father becomes an ugly drunk, do you look the other way or knock out all of his ugly teeth?

To this day, M. and his neighbors still visit each other’s home on the other side of the mountain.

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s December 17, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, December 09, 2017


BY next week, these corridors will be empty.

Above the flushing sounds of the toilet at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman, I overheard this line exchanged between two women.

The speaker may have been just observing a trend of immemorial predictability. Like other campuses, UP quickly empties after final exams in December.

Yet, the comment resonated again when I stood before the tableau set up for this year’s Lantern Parade, the tradition closing the year in all UP campuses.

The Oblation is set in the midst of a gigantic eye overlooking a field of installations representing children. From pennants hanging around the Oval, I learn that the theme of this year’s Lantern Parade is “Paaralan Palaruan”.

School, playground. Are these terms synonyms or kindred metaphors? Or, from the way the words are positioned on the pennants, binaries and therefore bipolar opposites?

By day, the Quezon Hall tableau remains the favorite for selfies. The gigantic eye, some of the freestanding children figures, and even the “parol (lantern)” ingeniously designed to resemble a child are wrapped in pastel yarn and dangling with strips of kaleidoscopic color.

By morning, the Quezon Hall tableau is a happy place. It is different at night.

Joggers and bikers still gather on the steps or nearby. Unlike the rest of the year, Quezon Hall and the Oblation are ablaze with light and color.

Perhaps there is something wrong with my 52-year-old eyes but the spectacle turns into a stark presence the dark that saturates what’s beyond that golden circle. Many of the “children,” specially those that are bare outlines or unadorned tracery, become more absence than presence.

In the gloaming, these resemble the chalked silhouettes that mark where bodies lie at the scene of a crime. Rushing from my evening class, I glanced at the Quezon Hall tableau, and felt the cold that was not the nip of evening air.

Schools are emptied not only by holidays. Personal crises jeopardize studies.

Midway this semester, the unjust suspension of scholarships by the Commission on Higher Education forced many teacher-scholars, specially those in private and overseas universities where cost of living is steeper, to drop out from graduate school.

The war in Marawi also displaced students and teachers.

And the other war—the bloodiest and most contested in this nation’s history—is blotting out Filipinos, including those who should have been anticipating now the break from classes.

How can we forget Kian delos Santos pleading before the cops shot him: “May test pa ako bukas (I still have an exam tomorrow)”?

Light brings to sharper focus the dark in us.

( 0917 3226131)

*First published in the December 10, 2017 issue of the SunStar Cebu Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Golden grain

STREETS of gold.

On a recent journey to the north of Luzon, I saw the local practice of drying rice on the highway.

Even outside the urban centers, Luzon is blessed with superhighways. In Dagupan and Cabanatuan, half of the highways and even narrow feeder roads are covered by rice being dried.

These grain gardens are swept and raked into rows occupying half of the road. Set off by endless rice fields in brilliant quilts of green, the streaming grains, poured by workers into sacks, are redolent of abundance.

For drivers, though, the practice of drying rice on highways is a nuisance. Vehicles are forced to share the remaining lanes in a highway ironically expanded to decongest traffic.

The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has advised farmers and rice traders not to dry their produce on national roads, particularly the McArthur Highway or the Manila North Road, widened and improved to improve access to the Ilocos Region; the Cagayan Valley Road going to Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya and Isabela; and the Manila South Road or Daang Maharlika leading to Bicol.

Obstructions placed to prevent vehicles from driving over the drying “palay” pose a threat to road safety, pointed out the DPWH.

Yet, the practice endures. Local culture, particularly the influence of local elites, dictates what constitutes as unbreakable custom.

In more ways than one, Luzon’s thoroughfares of grains are truly “Daang Maharlika (high by birth, rank or title)”.

It’s not only the DPWH that’s against the practice of rice-drying on roads. In a 2011 online post, the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) of the Department of Agriculture published its “Panatang Maka-palay (“Save Rice, Save Lives" pledge)”.

First vow on the list: “I will discourage and avoid drying ‘palay' on busy roads and highways as this will reduce the quality of the grains.”

The rest of the RICEponsibility campaign is relevant, specially in the approaching holidays, when many Filipinos bond through feasting.

Order rice in half-portions or bring home what cannot be consumed. I remember a catered lunch when two cups of rice were served per participant. A colleague took home the extra rice for her pet cats.

Another PhilRice advice is to recycle cooked rice. Garlic or fried rice for breakfast tastes better when leftover rice is used rather than newly cooked rice.

The PhilRice also promotes more nutritious rice substitutes, such as corn, sweet potatoes, “gabi,” cassava, and banana. Root crops have lower glycemic index (GI), representing less risk for heart disease or type 2 diabetes.

When I put rice on my plate, do I see and value each grain?

( 09173226131)

*First published in SunStar Cebu’s December 3, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata"