Our housekeeper… I don’t like to write this, but what should I write? The lady who helps with everything in our little condo had to go home. His mother, bedridden but happy, had turned out badly.
All of us – my husband, his carer and I – understood. But that meant we had to take over his chores. I should cook again. Before he left, we discovered that our carer, Wim, had a special talent for marketing. His aunt owned a fish shop a tricycle ride from us. A quick trip would bring us enough fresh fish, vegetables and meat for two weeks.
Once, when I was young, I cooked quite well. A friend of my mother’s, an Italian-American, taught me how to make spaghetti like her mother did. I cooked this for a man who was visiting me and he asked me to marry him, so I guess my cooking was successful. I also used to make chiffon cakes and angels that didn’t fall apart. Then I got married and learned to cook better, still dependent on my cookbooks for recipes that I would first carefully follow and then invent as I went along.
After that, I separated but I still cooked. Sometimes I made waffles for my kids. Christmas lunch was always roast chicken. I did this deliciously. When we lived in the United States, I cooked an average lasagna and the greatest variety of roast turkeys for Thanksgiving and Christmas, although my last Christmas there I cooked an outstanding cocido.
But when all my children got married, I gave them the kitchen. From time to time, I made lenses, the rare times when I received. But I stopped cooking for many years. Instead, I’ve become an expert at buying food from weekend markets wherever I live – Pimbrera in Forbes Park, Carica in Makati or Tagaytay, Salcedo, San Lorenzo, Annapolis, Centris. I knew where to buy my favorite fresh lychees, my favorite local creative salads, the tapa and vongole spaghetti sauce that I love so much. Since I stopped cooking, I forgot everything.
Now suddenly I have to cook again. Besides, I have to cook fish. I don’t quite remember having cooked fish before. But now I have to try. I can’t deny a bit of panic at the start. I don’t know where my cookbooks are. I believe they are stored with the rest of my numerous belongings. I can’t pick them up because now I only have a driver once a week. I fired the other driver for his lack of respect so now we don’t have to send for errands. But it worked very well.
At first I ordered food to be delivered to us. Then I cooked fish in lemon butter with capers. It was rated delicious by the caregiver and me. I was supposed to make soup for my husband but I had no broth and no chicken or beef bones to make broth. But I found some chicken bouillon cubes, elbow macaroni and a small can of chickpeas in the pantry and two leftover chicken and chorizo longganisa from Bilbao in ref. I added some onions, a small clove of garlic, plenty of water to a pot and boiled them all together, removing the released fat before serving it to my husband. He liked that. It gave me some confidence.
Then I had to cook a big lapu-lapu. I searched for recipes on Google. My God, I was in awe of how many recipes from chefs I didn’t know at Sandy Daza, that I know. I took my old steamer out of storage. After four years (that’s how long I’ve been married) of non-use, it still worked. We had to cut off the head and tail of the fish to fit in the steamer container. I put a bed of minced ginger and spring onions on a piece of foil then put the salt and pepper lapu-lapu on top. Then I put more ginger in the stomach, put more ginger and onions on the fish. I should have used green onions but we didn’t have any. A cook works with what she has. Then I drizzled in soy sauce and leftover honey – some I found in the kitchen and thought I should already use instead of the prescribed sugar – and sesame oil. It was such a relief to find the sesame oil in the pantry. I had bought it and for a while I thought we had used it all up.
Guess what? It was pretty good. I finished half the fish. Wim had the other half.
Now I am learning to cook again. It proves to me that we can survive anything, even miss our lady-help-with-everything in our tiny condo.
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