Friday, September 24, 2010

i'm taking a leave from blogging

I've been wanting to explain why I haven't been blogging lately but every attempt I make, I cannot find the right words to say.  It's been difficult to say the least.  I am currently in the Philippines to be with my father who is fighting for his life.  My children and husband joined me last week but as I write this are now back in the United States, and  are finding it hard to get back to normalcy.  Today I saw this note posted on my facebook wall written by my daughter for his lolo (grandpa) and Im sharing it with  you to take the place of my usual blog... until I could find the right time to start blogging again...

For my Lolo Diddi

 I visited you every day during my week-long stay in Tuguegarao. These visits were not held at your law office. They didn't happen in the terrace, where we used to have siestas and meriendas together. They didn't even occur in important family venues like Patio Lorenzo or Tuao -- just as I had seen in family photo albums from the past decade (in all of which, I am absent). I never saw you in these places -- the places where I had imagined we would be spending time together during my long-overdue homecoming. Instead, I visited you every 10 AM-12 PM and 5-7 PM, during visitor hours. They happened in sets of 10, sometimes 20, minutes- in an intensive care unit at a Catholic hospital where my Lolo was confined in after suffering an aneurysm.

With a hiatus this long and a distance so vast (10 years of absence, 15 hours of a day behind, 10,930 km apart), there's just so much for a granddaughter to say to a constant guiding force in her life. What can she say to the man whom she thought would sit in the first row of the auditorium for next year's college graduation ceremonies, sit in the chair beside her for when she treated him to merienda in Mira Mesa's Jollibee, sit in the living room couch to watch CNN while she ran to proudly show him her two Bachelor of Arts diplomas, sit in the first pew of the cathedral for her future wedding day, sit in and be present for so many more milestones that she depended on to make up for the lost time they could have spent together? What can she say to him in the moment when he -- invincible in her eyes -- is found on a hospital bed, unconscious, supported by nurses, two stiff hospital-issued pillows, medical machineries that whisper and and beep to tell you he's still fighting for his life, and a grandmother who's been patiently and devotedly calling for him to wake up?

After all these years, how do I fit everything I want to say to my ailing grandfather within these 10 to 20 minutes per day, six days a week, knowing that this could be the last time I may ever see him alive?

Lolo, I didn't know at first if you could hear my quivering voice say "I love you," if you could feel me brush your salt-and-pepper hair away from your stoically calm face, if you sensed that I was holding your hand, if you really knew how much we all were rooting for you to stay strong (and how often we violated the ICU's one-visitor-per-patient policy). We all wanted to tell you how much we love and care for you, but I struggled to find the proper words to express everything I had inside me from the moment I received word of your condition.

"Something happened to Lolo." My mom sobbed through the phone. "What happened?!" I asked.
Shock. Disbelief. This can't be. I'm hearing things; it's only 6 AM.

"He had an aneurysm on Sunday."
Guilt. I'm sorry for not emailing you as often as I should have! That was all you ever asked for -- an email to let you know how I was doing. I should have sent you my latest Philosophy and Legal Studies papers, like you had requested. I should have called more often. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry.

"Mom, don't say that."
Denial. This can't be happening to my Lolo. He's a strong man! He's going to be here in the States this October. We're spending Christmas with him, Mom, remember?!

"He's in a coma, Heather."
Fear. Panic. I can't even remember when we last spoke on the phone! Did you get my postcard from Athens? Am I going to get to see you soon? Will you wake up if I visited you, Lolo? Can I get on a flight back to the Philippines tonight? Am I going to lose you? What's going to happen to Lola? To your practice? To our family? We cannot lose you.

"Heather, we must pray for him, OK?"
But I'm angry. Incredibly angry. This is not fair, God. He was supposed to be here in the States in a couple of weeks. He was supposed to finally spend a Christmas with us, just like the good ol' days. He was supposed to help me write my Legal Studies honors thesis. He's supposed to be there for Joey's high school graduation. He's supposed to enjoy America like we've all planned for him to, with Lola. Why is this is happening to a loyal servant of yours, God?

"We need to be strong, Heather."
This was the most important truth about the situation.

So I just tried to be strong for you and for the family. "I'm not supposed to cry," I told myself sternly as I walked up carefully to see my Lolo for the first time in six years. He still looks the same, mostly, with his diligent hands that used to write my excuse letters for school and used to pray over me when I fell ill. Now, I find them prodded and marked by IV needles. His eyebrows still furrow the same way; he used to do that to convey playful hurt when I wouldn't immediately go to him in the morning to make mano. Now, he uses them to convey physical pain and frustration from not being able to speak when I talk to him (when he's awake). His feet poked idly from the bedsheets, and I used to remember the dread I would feel when he would call me to remove his shoes after a long day at court or at the law office. Now, they have been rendered immobile for the past two weeks, missing out two week's worth of daily 5:30 AM masses with my grandma. I stood there, recognizing bits and pieces of his frail physical stature. I wanted to embrace him and cry, but instead, I talked about how long the trip took to get to Tuguegarao and that I love him.

It wasn't until the middle of the week when I could finally say something more than "I love you, Lolo" and "I'm praying for you." I started talking to him like I would regularly talk to him once he could open his eyes. I talked about anything and everything, nonstop: from the Durkheim articles on Law and Community I've been reading, to PASS and the struggle for social change, to how I found the postcard I had sent him from Athens in his study, to making sumbong about Joey's new girlfriend, to recalling him the events of our busy days. "Everyone's here,na Lolo. All your children. Even we're here! We're finally going to be in family pictures, too, Lolo! Annnd I want Jollibee, like the good ol' days. I can't go without you, so please wake up na! OK? I'm hungry." I joked.

The last visit (a week ago already?!) was brief. A nurse was feeding him through a nasal tube, so I couldn't stay close to him or talk for too long. They were also prepping him for a minor operation. I talked to him for about five minutes. The last line I said was, "I'll be back, Lolo. I'll let you eat, OK?"

And I didn't realize that I wasn't coming back until I looked at the clock in the nurses' office. 11.45 AM. I knew right then that if these procedures took longer than 15 minutes, we wouldn't be allowed to see him for the day anymore. Which meant a final goodbye; I was leaving back for Manila to fly to California that evening.

It's really difficult to be back in Berkeley when he's still in critical condition. I wish I didn't have to leave Tuguegarao. I know I'm supposed to focus on school, extra-curriculars, work and everything else, but I just worry all the time. I wish I could still be there in Tuguegarao with my family. I wish I could still visit my Lolo every day, every night. I wish I could have those 10-20 minutes back.

And it's tearing me inside that I never got to say the a real message to him while I was there. I distracted ourselves with funny stories. Whenever I was serious, I promised him I would be a lawyer and that I would make him proud. I promised him that I would stay strong and love our family. I told him how much I love him and how I wish he would wake up already. I sang him the song I wrote for his 76th birthday. But I never got to tell him how grateful I am for taking care of me.

If I could tell you one last thing, Lolo, it would be this:

All these years, you've been my inspiration and a source of support. I hope you know that. No matter how far apart we are, no matter how much time has passed, no matter what, you are always with me. I am where I am because of you and your belief in my aspirations and my success. Because of your care and the values you instilled within me during my youth, I am who I am now: a person of faith and love and hope. Thank you for being there for me. Thank you for giving me wonderful memories of the Philippines. I'm still praying for you, for Lola, and for our family. I wish I could still be there with you, to hold your hand and to tell you anecdotes and to sing you songs... anything to keep you company. I don't know what God has planned, but I do know that you wouldn't want me to be angry with Him. So I'm entrusting your life to His hands, while hoping for the best. I know that you're a strong fighter who will not give up. I know you love and care for us, Lolo. I love you, Lolo. You're always in my heart. Always.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"the house that fried chicken built"

My family describes it as fried chicken heaven.  Think crispy.  Think tasty.  This is absolutely "sarap (delicious) to the bones"  Yes folks, for those of you who remember that slogan, we all know that I'm talking about Max's Fried Chicken.

If America has Colonel Sanders' KFC, in the Philippines we have Max's.  But while Colonel Sanders' recipe hides the chicken with its breading, Max's does not.  Max's Restaurant is famous for its unique fried chicken recipe.  A usual order is for a quarter or half chicken with dinner rolls and butter on the side.

I remember there was a Max's restaurant near UP (University of the Philippines- where I went to school). I went there on a first date with a guy.  You might think "how cheap!" but in my defense, I was young and that was the closest restaurant to UP at the time that served an iconic dish.

Waiter (to me): Your order Ma'am?
Me: Fried Chicken
Waiter: What size ma'am.
God knows I wanted the whole spring chicken. But yeah, it was our first date so I have to look demure, so I said "A quarter!"
Waiter: And you sir (to my date)
Date:  Pork barbecue (on a stick)
I said to myself "Really?" as my eyes rolled in disbelief.  How could he order a pork dish in a restaurant made famous by its fried chicken???  Hmmm, major turn off?  Guess again.  I married the guy. haha!  I made a note to myself that I will have to do the ordering on our next date...

And so this fried chicken recipe I am sharing may not be the "secret recipe" Max's Restaurant has been keeping through out the years but trust me, it comes close.  Make sure to get your sauces ready: you know the drill, yes the Jufran Banana Ketchup, the Worcestershire sauce and maybe some Mother's Best hot sauce.  Serve with dinner rolls, King's Hawaiian Bakery or Costco dinner rolls are the closest to what is served in the Philippines.  Enjoy!

Fried Chicken ala Max's 

1 chicken whole or 4 leg quarters
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic
2 stalks of lemongrass
3 bay leaves

2 stalks of celery
cilantro leaves

Pound the lemongrass. Make sure to get the juices out. Rub it on to the chicken.  Mince the garlic and mix it together with salt and pepper.  Rub it to the chicken. Slip more of the mix under the skin. You need some TLC while rubbing it under the skin, you don't want the skin to tear. 

Throw in some bay leaves, peppercorns, cilantro leaves and celery (or any herbs and spices to add more flavor) in a steamer.  Steam the chicken for 30 minutes.  Hang it to dry or for faster results pat try with paper towels.  Proceed to the next step or you can  put it in the fridge until you are ready to cook it. Make sure to bring the chicken out an hour before cooking.

Now here’s  where you decide what to do next:  

a:  Submerge the chicken in a pot full of oil and deep fry it on high heat. 
b:  Bake it at 375F in an oven, or in my case, the turbo broiler, until very crispy. When you hear the skin crackling, voila, it’s done! 

Either you bake it or fry it, you will enjoy a tasty, crispy fried chicken ala Max's.  As I've said before  have some banana ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.  And if you would want to have some heat, add some hot sauce. Go ahead, mix that sauce just the way you like it and enjoy this crispy fried chicken. 

Check out my video on YOU TUBE

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Special Announcement

Do you notice the new foodista badge I have? Look to the right side of the page... Look a little closer...

It says WINNER! If you would recall, the Foodista badge that I had in that spot of my blog said, "Vote for me!" for almost 8 months. I participated in Foodista's Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest, and I just found out that I have been selected!

What's funny is that I first found out about it on Facebook! A blogger friend of mine, Divina of Sense and Serendipity ( congratulations Divina!), posted on her wall that she was one of the winners for the Foodista Best of Food Blogs CookbookWinners.  I clicked on the link and lo and behold, I saw my own entry:

My jaw dropped when I saw that I was one of them too!  Later that day, I got an official letter from the editor Sheri Wetherell.  The email reads:

Dear Malou,
After receiving and reviewing over 1,500 submissions, Foodista and Andrew Mcneel Publishing are thrilled to announce that you are a winner in The Foodista Best of Food Blogs Cookbook contest. Andrews McMeel will publish your recipe for Meatloaf with an Asian Twist, along with other winning blog posts and recipes in a beautiful, full-color, internationally distributed cookbook, set for release on October 19, 2010. Born out of the "Blog to Book" panel at the first International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) in 2009, the cookbook celebrates the best food bloggers worldwide.

I was floored. And I thank you, dear readers, for your wonderful support. I am now officially a cookbook author!

P.S. Did you notice how many times I used the word "official" in this post? Please forgive me; it's the excitement in me that's making me realize this publication is official! Again, thank you so much!

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