for the joy in my song
and not because I sing to you
My family generally celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve and less so on Christmas Day. It’s December 23rd, and I’d originally planned to visit my family tomorrow. With COVID back on the rise and the positivity rates shooting back up in Los Angeles, I may have to stay home for another Christmas. I’ll listen to the rainfall for now.
Living by downtown, I easily forget how breathtaking the skyline can be. The air was bitingly crisp, the view ahead exceptionally clear. A faint halo hovers over this city of angels tonight.
As I’ve gotten older and built my own life independent of my parents (by parents, I’m referring to my mom and stepdad—who, for all intents and purposes, is my dad), my relationship with them has changed. The way I see them has changed. And it keeps changing.
It’s funny how we often forget that our parents are whole people whose lives don’t completely revolve around us, their children, even though that’s often the case for a really long time. No matter the relationship we have with them, we’d often idolize them and see their word as infallible, them—indestructible. Over the years, we’ve all gotten older, wiser, gentler, but they have also become more frail, and the reality of their mortality suddenly feels daunting and sometimes, frightening. Sometimes, maddening.
I find myself having to develop a newfound patience for when my parents fall short of my expectations. Admittedly, I feel guilty about this. Just tonight, my parents failed to make it to a Jo Koy show my younger brothers and I had treated them to. They didn’t check their email to verify the address. They didn’t use Google Maps to see the time to leave. They didn’t understand that parking was a separate charge or that they would have to park far in case they arrived late. They didn’t understand that all bags must be left in the car.
Well, they arrived late. Sure enough, they’d have to park so far and were spooked by the large crowd, on top of having to pay for a locker to store my mom’s purse, that they decided to leave the arena altogether without ever stepping out of the car. “I’ll Venmo you for parking and the locker fees!” I insisted. But they were tired. They’d driven for over two hours in traffic. And most of all, my parents are older. I forget about this all the time. What do my parents know about Google Maps and checking the traffic ahead of time? My dad was just asking me about the Yellow Pages not too long ago. My mom has plantar fasciitis and cannot take prolonged walks.
I found my frustration easing. It is a strange feeling, eclipsing your parents. Thinking about it leaves me feeling uneasy and emotionally and mentally unprepared. There is still so much to say. So much to do. Things to repair.
“Are you driving home? Or will you find a hotel to stay at overnight? Did you eat? Can I order takeout for you?” I texted.
“No, it’s ok,” my mom replied. “We’ll have a good time. As long as we’re together. No worries. Sleep and rest. Ok, low batt.”
At its best, cooking and eating are cultural, spiritual practices. They draw together a plethora of ingredients and sensations meant to be felt and savored in combination and sequence. There is something symbolic about preparing my countertop—the ritual in bringing together and sharpening my knives, the intention behind rinsing produce, the rhythm in slicing and chopping. And then there are the aromas that fill the air. The smoke from searing meat and veggies. The warmth of the kitchen.
I grew up cooking with my family. One of my favorite questions to ask people is about a food that reminds them of home. I moved around frequently—often every year—so geography has little bearing to my perception of this home. For me, home is feeling, a memory, a concept. My most vivid memory of food and home comes from rolling lumpia, the Filipino style of egg rolls, with my family. While my parents worked over the stove in the kitchen, my aunt would sit with me and my cousins at the table, teaching us how to roll tight, uniform lumpia. There was a precision to it, yet at the same time, my family never measured anything. “You can’t taste with your eyes,” my dad would laugh. My dad was always happy in the kitchen.
My parents sent me home with lumpia over the Thanksgiving weekend. They were lovingly wrapped in foil and waiting in the freezer. We typically have lumpia with sweet and sour sauce, but I didn’t have any at my apartment. Just like my dad taught me, I adapted a sauce with what I had. My dad taught me a lot about cooking, and one of them was enjoying the process. “What’s the worst that could happen? Just add lemon!” my dad would smirk.
So I put together my interpretation of sweet and sour sauce for lumpia. Sambal, honey, patis, brown sugar, rice vinegar, water. I found my dipping sauce to taste less like the traditional sweet and sour sauce of my lumpia and more like an amalgamation of Southeast Asian inspirations. Growing up next to Little Saigon and living in Long Beach, I transported myself to a home of homes.
It rained today, so I delayed my grocery run. I reached into my freezer and pulled out frozen steaks. I didn’t use lemon, but I squeezed some lime and sprinkled some sea salt and crushed black pepper on each side. I’m a novice when it comes to cooking steak, but I think I did all right this time.
What’s a food that brings you home?