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.
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?
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:
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:
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:
Does color move you? Does food?
where the road meets the sky
where dust dances with air
where limits dissolve
where time roams free
Tomorrow is the official U.S. Election Day of 2020 and I’ve been volunteering at the polls at a local center in Los Angeles. I just got home an hour ago, and it’s almost 10 PM here. Tomorrow’s going to be an even longer day, and while we expect that many have already mailed in their absentee ballots, it’s gotten even busier over the last few days. There are over 6 million registered voters in LA County alone.
We’ve registered many first-time voters, eager to have their voices heard for the first time during this momentous election. Personally, it’s my first time volunteering at the polls. I wouldn’t have even known that volunteering as a poll worker was a thing, had it not been offered to me when I had to sort out my registration a couple of months ago.
I’m proud to be part of this election, doing my part in some way, no matter how the elections turn out. I’ve spent many afternoons and weekends canvassing and phone banking for local candidates I believe in. There’s a fervor that’s palpable with so many during this cycle, and it’s exciting to see so many younger people involved. Two of the volunteers at our center are college freshman. When I was their age 16 years ago, there’s no way volunteering for anything election-related would have even occurred to me, nor would I have wanted to.
The times are a-changin’. It’s been a polarizing election cycle, with families and friendships being blown apart with outspoken beliefs—some of mine included. Regardless of how the votes tally, the U.S. has been building up a collective sense of existential crisis that will require repair for decades to come. Whether we can come together and rebuild bridges is another story, or maybe it requires demolishing old bridges to build new paths? I won’t pretend to know the answer. All we can do now is brace ourselves for what’s to come.