morning offerings

I’ve been drinking coffee longer than I can remember. I don’t say that to brag—I really can’t remember exactly when I started drinking coffee. If I had to guess, I was probably three years old.

Back then, I lived in the Philippines with my mom and extended family. My grandparents lived there too, and I spent every morning with my grandma. We all called her Mama.

Every morning, Mama would stir a few spoons of freeze-dried Folgers into her cup of hot water, topped with powdered creamer and a few spoons of sugar. She’d bring out a roll of pan de sal and lay it on a platito, periodically dipping the roll into her coffee before taking a bite and washing it down with a slow sip.

I adored Mama and loved to spend mornings with her, after my mom had already left for work and before I went to nursery. I wanted to be a part of her morning as she was mine, and I started sneaking sips of this glorious kape that she drank every morning without fail. Eventually, she caught on, scolding me for drinking something for grown-ups, while stirring me a cup of my own. This was our special routine every morning until my mom and I moved to the US.

I think of my Mama every morning as I make my own brew; she continues to be a part of my morning to this day. Except these days, I make the coffee for both us.

My morning brew and some oranges freshly picked and gifted by neighbor.

times like these

In the best of times, I feel invincible. I am planted firmly into the earth, my roots extending warm embrace after warm embrace.

In the best of times, I am fearless. I ride the waters in flow, with the sun and the moon, following my charted course.

In the best of times, time belongs to me. I manipulate it as I choose, but always out of honor and never out of spite. The ticking of the clock hastens the hum of my heart.

But in the worst of times, I feel frail. Pieces of me flutter and chip away in hurried gusts. I am wrecked. I am reckless.

And in the worst of times, I am not my own friend. To her, I whisper words that wash away those parts that glimmer in the sun.

Still, in the worst of times, my humanity remains. Those parts that ache and bleed stubbornly and with relentless, unnerving awareness.

And through those times, I realize the irony of choice and the sting of circumstance buried in my beautiful bones. Though they have broken, they are strong. They carry me through the next step.

groundhog day

Wake up. Skim emails. Get out of bed. Greet cat. Feed cat. Brush teeth. Wash face. Start the kettle. Scoop the litter box. Sweep the floor. Pour the coffee. Turn on the computer. Respond to emails. Take a yoga break. Attend meetings. Catch up on news. Respond to emails. Make lunch. Attend meetings. Respond to emails. Respond to emails. Respond to emails. Make dinner. Respond to emails. Play with cat. Feed cat. Shower. Brush teeth. Skim emails. Go to bed.

the cycling of the sun and moon

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.”

an inspired home

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?

lessons in love

I came home to visit my family for the holiday weekend and attended my first indoor, extended family party in a long while. I saw family who I haven’t seen in a number of months, others two years, some in ten, and some in twenty. I’d held a newborn nephew who I hadn’t yet met. I cried with an older cousin whose husband just recently passed from COVID in August.

My younger cousin had digitized my aunt’s home videos and uploaded them to YouTube. They were playing in the background, and by the time I’d sat down to watch, they were on a recording from March 1991. You could hear my aunt asking what the red light meant. “It means you’re recording!” my uncle responded in Tagalog.

1991 was the year my grandma, mom, and I came to visit the US, which ended up being a permanent migration for my mom and myself. My mom was just a year younger than I am now when she made the choice to stay. I had just turned five. The home footage caught so many things I’d either forgotten or had no way to make sense of at the time—my grandma’s testing of the waters, my mom trying to put her best foot forward, and me—clueless and still unable to speak more English than what I could mimic from my mom’s Whitney Houston cassette (I was obsessed with “Greatest Love of All” and credit all of my early English learning, pre-migration, to the late and very great Whitney).

I didn’t know if my mom knew we would be staying here at the time of that home video. I suspect now that she did, or at least was considering it heavily. I wonder if I could’ve made such a brave decision at her age, essentially my age now—to leave behind my entire life and take my child to this foreign place and start brand new.

My relationship with my mom changed after we stayed. Once carefree, an emotion and lifestyle of privilege, my mom took on a different demeanor—one of struggle, disappointment, exhaustion. And I changed alongside her.

I think about this video and laugh. I’m wearing my Mickey Mouse cap for most of the video, speaking in Tagalog and playing some game that involved sweeping the back patio and tumbling like a roly-poly. However, my favorite parts are much more obscure. In the video taken at night of my now-aunts and uncles having conversation on the sofa, you could see my mom sitting on the floor, leaning against the sofa with me sitting on her lap. We’re playing some kind of game, and it doesn’t matter what, but it ends with me giggling with a huge smile on my face and wrapping my arms around her with the biggest hug I could give.

This post is dedicated to Ne, Romy, Dan, Ong, and Fely.

purple stuff magic

Juggling two jobs as I onboard for one and close out another, I needed to make space (aha! See my previous post for context) for self-care during a fifteen-hour work day. I got in 35 minutes of Pilates, made myself a nice omelet to go with the tortillas I’d saved from the Salvi bodega around the corner, took some impromptu dance breaks, and cooked up some purple stuff magic.

There’s always something so magical about the color purple in nature. From florals, to gems, to foods—purple is ethereal, mystical, soothing, divine. My particular choice of purple stuff magic today was making ube halaya, a Filipino candied yam that’s often used as a spread, condiment, or with baked goods. It can be mixed with other things to add that distinctly purple, ube flavor. Personally, I love to eat it right off a spoon.

While ube has become more mainstream in US cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, it was hardly in anyone’s vocabulary a couple of years ago. Often mistaken for taro or sweet potato, it is most decidedly its own category. For reference, here is a comparison of an ube (left) and a Japanese sweet potato:

Who knew that the purple one was not ube?

In all my 35 years of life as a dedicated ube fan, I realized at Seafood City that I had no idea what an ube looked like in its raw, unpeeled form. I only found out when I came home and realized that what I had taken home was, in fact, a Japanese sweet potato. Disappointed but determined, I made my way back to the store and made sure I asked the manong attending to the fruits which rooty things were definitively ube.

I drove home, feeling triumphant and proceeded to boil three ube. Peeling the pale skin with a spoon, revealing its unmistakably rich, violet hue, triggered the rods and cones of my retinas to dance with delight. See below:

Tell me that color isn’t magical!

Since I boiled way too much ube, I froze a considerate amount and have since made ube ice cream and ube halaya. Today, I tweaked my ube halaya recipe, using the last of what was frozen. Here’s some I snacked on this evening, with macapuno sprinkled on top:

Purple stuff magic.

Does color move you? Does food?