In the kitchen

Weeks after the lockdown was declared due to the pandemic, I started cooking and baking, not repeating a single recipe once. I also avoided cooking using canned meat or anything pre-prepared. Though in the initial weeks of panic, I purchased several boxes of prepared cake mix–those that only required water and eggs and the promise of a fluffy and moist cake in under 20 minutes can be had—I eventually abandoned the idea and left it up to my younger sister to get rid of them.

But, upon realizing that the community quarantine is going to be one protracted business, an idea dawned on me–that if I have to survive this, I will have to cook and improve what I eat. So I bought several kilos of meat of various cuts, vegetables (lots of it) and different spices that will embarrass an Indian chef.

I also sharpened my baking skills which I acquired in my high school baking class. I began with basic cake types, graduating little by little to those that require more advanced baker’s intuition and adroitness in using the hand-held mixer. Soon, I will begin baking breads and other baked products that are relatively time-consuming. Soon.

Cooking and baking let my mind to escape from my physical body for a moment until there is nothing left but that singularity that we are all wont to feel when the action we take do not require our conscious efforts and what takes over is that primal energy that our supposed modern minds have long relegated to the sideways, languishing with the supernatural and and the irrational.

When I saute onions and garlic as the first step in most dishes I cook, the sweet scent of onion and garlic that permeates the small kitchen I operate in brings me back to that point in my short life when things were at their most elementary, the complications I have gotten myself into this time were then a future I never imagined I’d go through.

Cooking, in general, and baking, in particular, is that door that leads to that preternatural place where I approach the soul or the idea of it the closest, where language ceases to operate, because what for?

Uncle’s choice

My sister sent me the other day screencaps of an uncle’s Facebook page. This uncle was the husband of my mother’s older sister who passed away from breast cancer roughly two years ago. I didn’t have enough time to establish a close relationship with him when I was growing up. He was one of those more sensible people in my approximation as a kid. I was wont to eavesdrop on living room conversations among adults as they exchanged gossips and complaints about their partners and children while I made them believe I was innocently napping on the couch.

The photos struck me as bizarre because I initially thought it was he with his eldest daughter–though I knew my sister had sent that to me in order to make a point–I sensed a tone of judgment in the absence of an accompanying text to the screenshots I received. He was with another woman–and by the looks of it–a girlfriend. Upon closer inspection of the photos, the woman he was standing next to was quite unlike my aunt. Whereas my aunt was rotund, though not downright overweight, the woman in the picture was svelte like an ideal Siamese cat. While he and my aunt had maintained that ample distance between married couples during family get-togethers, an unwritten rule they needed to follow to avoid calling attention to themselves and also because married couples think PDAs are best left to the young and those liaising with their paramours, this uncle and his new girlfriend threw that unwritten rule out of the window in the first photo–my uncle can be seen wrapping his right arm around the younger woman.

He was looking straight at his phone camera with that unnatural twinkle in his eyes for someone in his late 50s. He looked in love, rather uncommon for a man of his age who’s with his partner for a good thirty years or so. The last time I remember myself sporting that twinkle was when I was 16. I am twice that age now, and the memory of that glow in my eyes is in a dusty drawer of my distant personal history. He looked content, very happy, almost looking like an Overseas Filipino Worker who has worked in the Middle-East for more than a decade without the benefit of seeing his family even once while his contract is in effect, and finally arriving home after years of doing construction on the Burj or Dubai airport.

In the second photo he kept his distance from the younger woman lest it be misconstrued negatively–of course he minded what people in my hometown would think of his new-found love, with a younger woman, and two years after the death of his wife, and in a place where the surviving party in a marriage is expected to be perpetually loyal not only to his partner when she is still around but even to the memory of the beloved who passed on, and to stay devoted to no one except to their children who may be adults by now but who still subject their parents to the same expectation to be responsible for them as a child would. He’s not given cart blanche to do whatever he likes, but his age more or less gives him excuse to be oblivious to what the neighbors will say if he desires so, and my uncle chooses to not care anymore and to follow the path where he thinks happiness is waiting for him.

And I am not wrong. Throughout the years, he has remained one of the more sensible people I have a wonderful chance of knowing.

 

Strays

While it is easy, almost justified, to only be concerned about one’s survival these days, I also think that part of our being human is our ability to empathize with other humans, even animals, and experience their sufferings as if they’re ours and to do something to alleviate their hunger, thirst, and pain as if it’s we who have them.

Walking

I have always been a walker. I love perambulating from point A to B with some detours midway, of course, and I know this is one of the reasons I am able to keep myself fit. At the height of the popularity of devices that measure the number of steps one has in a day, my pedometer always registered more than 10,000 steps a day. Then it stopped working when I migrated from Andriod to iOs, but since I am not someone who relies on a device to tell me how well I sleep or how many steps I am able to make in a day in order to give me an idea of the general state of my health, I got rid of it without much of a ceremony.

If the climate in the Philippines and the street of Manila allowed it, I’d walk to and from work every day; it is sad, however, that these two factors make walking for more than 200 meters an impossible task. 

But this Covid-19 pandemic has made walking fashionable again and indispensable for most people. I’ve walked from Mandaluyong to Cubao a number of times, all 4 kilometers of it, these past months.  And to be honest, it wasn’t very bad. It gave me time to think, to appreciate the details of the architecture of buildings along the way, which for the most part of my commute when times were still normal, I’d seen as bleak and gray, and to enjoy the sun unfiltered by the dust and smoke.

Everything is beginning to return to how it was before Covid-19. Surely, walking aimlessly or with obvious intentionality on the streets of Manila, will be one of the many things I shall reminisce with fondness about this fluke of a period. 

 

 

Amorseco

My elementary school days are now in a distant past, at least from my subjective point of view. Now that everyone is under quarantine and not able to move around much, I feel lucky to be greeted by something that I thought all along only resided in that wonderful period of my personal history.

I remember being told by our 4th-grade teacher to pull this weed from the school track field every Friday morning when I was in elementary school in the province. I was pleasantly surprised to find them growing in a park nearby while walking the girls, and I wasn’t triggered at all to pull them.

I used to pull this weed with reckless abandon, but today I thought I’d let them have their sweet time under the sun, undisturbed.