Sunday, September 10, 2006

Not for the Faint of Heart

Cooking in our family is not for the faint of heart, literally and figuratively.  Most of my kin prefer hypertension-inducing Pinoy cuisine (lechon kawali, kare-kare, and the like) and they deliberately ignore all that have been said about the health hazards caused by consuming too much fried food.  Fried chicken and fried rice are thus staples in our household.  In fact, my youngest sister only succeeded in being a vegetarian when she moved to the US. Her apartment had its first smell of duck and pork when we stayed there for a week last December.  She burned her scented candles and did everything to extinguish the smell of meat that her nostrils were no longer used to.  

Aside from the fare that’s usually set on the table, everyone in the family is so opinionated that whoever slaved over the stove has to prepare to hear comments from these aspiring food critics.  Whenever a dish is too salty, the cook is bound to hear it.  What makes it worse is the fact that my parents and I have opposite tastes in food.  While I prefer my pasta cooked al dente and my steak medium rare, they prefer spaghetti that’s so soft it could be mistaken for pancit canton noodles, and they can’t eat steak if they see blood oozing out from it.  I’ve learned not to take it personally, as they criticize each other’s cooking as well.  When we still had our angel in the house, she planned our weekly menu and could silence all contrary opinions because she was able to capture all of our taste buds.

Now we’ve been forced to endure one another’s cooking.  Thus, we have ceased to experiment for Sunday lunch, because that’s the time when my brother’s family comes over- and there are more critics.  The kids hardly eat fish and vegetables anyway so we’ve limited our menu to dishes that have worked in the past. Miko, in particular, who reminds me of the boy Calvin from the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, sometimes acts as if being asked to eat rice is sheer punishment.  He only eats snacks and sweets so we often wonder where he gets his boundless energy.

My dad had been doing the cooking for almost a month now, since he decided to face his retirement.  After two consecutive experiments with munggo which did not sit well with my palate, I thought it was time for me to do the cooking.  I decided to keep to the tried and tested dishes and cooked spaghetti with meat sauce and pork chops for Sunday.  To adapt to my clients’ taste buds, I added a little sugar to the sauce, even though I would have wanted to add more herbs.

To my relief, everyone silently ate their lunch.  It was a good sign, no leftovers on their plates, and nobody threw up.  I guessed they were hungry.  The only comment I got was from Miko, “Next time, if we’re going to have spaghetti, could we have hotdogs?”, to which request I replied affirmatively.

For dinner, my mom cooked fried chicken.  Miko said he wanted spaghetti again.  He then asked me across the table, “Tita Ella, where did you buy the spaghetti? I like it.”  

Could it be?  Were my ears playing tricks on me?  I replied, “I made it myself, Miko.  I’m glad you liked it.”

Could you please teach Mommy how to cook it?  I really like it.”  His mom laughed out loud, and I confessed that I didn’t follow a recipe, as I only added the ingredients that were available.  He looked so cute that I wanted to put the rest of the meat sauce in a jar for him to bring home.  My mom warned me that he might refuse to eat the same thing a third time, and it would be a mighty waste of red sauce.

He confessed as well.  He said, “But please don’t put mushrooms anymore.  I hate mushrooms.  Yecch!”  

So for the love of the little kid, though his mom and I love mushrooms in our spaghetti, I’ll substitute it with TJ hotdogs next time.  I just hope I could repeat the same success on my succeeding kitchen assignments.

Another compromise I allowed was for my parents.  Mama just had to boil, and I mean boil, the cooked spaghetti for just a few minutes more, until the pasta became so white and soft I thought the noodles would burst.  

I can’t please everyone, but at least my cooking today was good enough for one.

In cooking, as in life in general, we really have to strive to please our Audience of One.  And His approval should be enough to keep us going.

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