Sunday, June 15, 2014

Midlife crisis

DOUGHNUTS make odd markers for life’s watersheds.

As his Sunday homecoming, a godson brought back a box of doughnuts. These were as colorful as jellybeans but less guileless.

Not usually drawn to sweets, I gave in to temptation, dressed up in green glaze and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Regret came as I was halfway through the doughnut.

The heartburn that followed lasted for more than five hours even after several antacids.

As someone who goes through bouts of acid reflux, I’ve learned to avoid foods that trigger heartburn. Indulgences like hot sauce and green mangoes are likely culprits for causing the regurgitation of acid and the searing pain in the abdomen.

The doughnuts, though, were a surprise. If I had not talked with a friend, who ate two doughnuts for late lunch and had a horrific time staying on his feet while suffering the classic symptoms of a heart attack, I would never have seen the doughnut as the usual suspect.

Compared to the merienda staples of my childhood, which had only a dusting of sugar for visual appeal, today’s doughnuts are packaged as spectacles and “experiences”.

They’re encountered first as beyond-mortal-reach superstars by the sip-and-chat crowd. When I encounter snarls in the flow of foot traffic in a mall, it’s usually caused by a long queue of aspirants for designer doughnuts dressed up not to look like one.

Perhaps doughnuts are a generational thing. Teenagers can go through them and walk away without sugar angst or the slightest hint of their inner plumbing undergoing a meltdown. Give a box of assorted doughnuts to my teenagers and they address each fellow by its name. What’s poison for me is cool and chill for them.

But I remember a time when I liked doughnuts and the feeling was returned. To keep us out of mischief while adults were having siesta, we were allowed in the kitchen, hand-rolling dough into pasty long snakes whose heads and tails we joined to form a ring.

We watched as the rings slid into a pan of spitting oil and popped into fat and brown inflatables. As privilege for helping make merienda, we got to roll our chosen pieces over and over in a plate of sugar.

The minutes spent licking away the fine white granules that melted on our sticky faces was the edge homemade doughnuts kept over the ones hawked on the streets. Because, truth be told, the ones we bought were always better.

It wasn’t only that they were chewy. Or that these doughnuts were also sold with “syakoy,” large sugar-coated pretzels that pulled like rubber bands and tasted like sugarcane-sweetened taffy.

Street doughnuts always made grownups upset. They were arranged on native baskets, barely protected by a flapping piece of stained Manila paper that probably collected much of the street dust and germs that adults saw and terribly minded.

We kids didn’t see a thing. We only unerringly knew what tasted good—all from the great dirty kitchen that was the streets: “pinasugbo” (candied banana) strung on coconut midrib, slightly salty boiled peanuts, cheap “chicharon (cracklings)” from the boiled hoofs of horses (or so the helpers said), “syakoy” and “donot”.

The latter was how one of the young country-raised girls minding us spelled doughnuts bought from the street. She said that whenever an adult cautioned her “do not buy this” and “do not eat this,” she said, with a wink, it was a sure signal to hail one of the doughnut-hawkers.

From the forbidden to the forsaken, doughnuts make lifetime companions. Or not.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 15, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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