I heard echoes of laughter and I was jealous that I wasn't there. The wooden walls reverberated familiar voices through the phone, voices of my aunts who traveled for more than half a day just to be with my mom as she celebrated Papa's birthday. He was supposed to be 79 that day.
We are having "deko" said my mother, referring to sticky rice cake or in tagalog bibingka. "It is a gift for your Papa's birthday" she further explained.
Papa's birthday was always a big celebration in our home. Every year, our family and friends, along with his clients, visit our house to bring their gifts in the morning and then attend the party later that day. Gifts of livestock included pigs, goats, the freshest catch from the ocean, and yes "deko". Drinks overflowed and I remember amongst Papa's favorites were Black Label Scotch whisky and Fundador brandy. And like a little boy, each gift and each birthday greeting would make him flash his "kindergarten" smile. During the latter part of his life he would say, "I won't celebrate my birthday this year!" but my mother knew better. She would always prepare just the same, ready to feed an army because she knew his plans always changed at the last minute. "I can't help it!" Papa would shyly explain. "They come to the house with gifts, so I invite them in to celebrate" would be his annual alibi.
But we all knew Papa loved the festivities. So on the first birthday after his death, there was not much to celebrate. Calling home on his birthday and not hearing his voice was unnerving. I miss his voice, his laughter, his excitement in anticipating the party. I was suddenly enveloped by sadness so consuming that words cannot explain how I feel.
After I hung up the phone, I willed myself to be transported home. I wanted so badly to just be there. Sadly, I am unable to. Instead, I had the craving to have a slice of "deko" to reminisce about my dad... to just remember him. One of my favorite blogs, Jun Belen's food blog, had a post on how to make "biko" or another version of sweet sticky rice cake. I was immediately inspired. I got my utensils ready and luckily I had the ingredients (I've been wanting to do a bibingka recipe). And before I could even think of how much I miss my Papa, I found myself tying the strings of my trusty apron... But the echoes in my mind kept repeating "I miss him... I terribly miss him”. So to celebrate Papa’s birthday, I made Royal Bibingka (a special kind of sweet rice cake). I can imagine again my dad's "kindergarten" smile – as I remember him on his birthday and greet him: “Happy Birthday Papa, this one's for you!!!”.
I was so inspired to bake, to write and to take photos that day.... I turned it into a slide show and this video is the start of a special segment that I have always wanted to do. For those of you who requested a step by step account of my recipe, here's my first attempt at preparing a video. This is the initial episode of my "How to cook Filipino Food Series". Your comments and suggestions to improve on it will be most appreciated. Thanks.
3 large eggs
1 1/2 c sweet rice flour
1 1/2 c coconut milk
1/2 c evaporated milk
1 1/2 c sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 c condensed milk
1/2 c evaporated milk
1 small can heavy cream
1/2 package shredded young coconut
Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees
Line your baking pan with banana leaves
In a mixing bowl, add everything on the first list of ingredients. Stir them all together until it is smooth and in liquid form. Pour into the lined pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until a little firm.
For the topping:
In a saucepan, break the eggs add condensed milk and evaporated milk. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously. When it thickens add the heavy cream. Give it a quick stir. Then you may now add the shredded coconut.
Check the cake mixture in the oven. When it's firm enough, add the coconut caramel you just made. Bake for 7-10 minutes. Broil for 4-5 minutes or until the top caramelizes. Keep a tight watch as you don't want to burn the topping. It should be golden brown...Voila, enjoy a bibingka made for the Royals... haha. Enjoy!