Food is Love. Enjoy the Love.

14 May

I was in Southern California for a two-week visit recently, spending time with family and friends and generally stuffing my face with every tasty thing that was offered.  These included back-to-back lunch/dinner get-togethers, where I consumed almost 3,000 calories in one day (not recommended for someone who is 5’2″), and multiple visits to my parents’ house, where “no, thanks, I’m not hungry” is considered one of the most inhospitable things you can say.  In our family, food is love, and I certainly felt it this visit.

My brother-in-law scored major points by buying what seemed like 10 tons of dungeness crabs and steaming them for my uncle’s 70th birthday.  Here’s a photo:

My niece Sophia and I having a battle of the crabs. That's her little hand holding her monster up for inspection.

My mom served one of her typical multiple entree meals on Sunday, just reward, I thought, for accompanying her to church.  She still goes to the same one we grew up attending, which has gone through multiple paint jobs and bouts of guitar playing and choir singing, and now boasts the “yell-y-est” priest in all Christiandom.  (Yes, I just made up a word.  It’s one of my favorite things.)

You have to hear this guy to really appreciate what I mean.  All of his utterances, from the “Our Father” to his weekly sermon to the closing benedition are shouted in this kind of belligerent voice that rises at the end of each sentence, making him sound like he’s asking some very angry questions.  Pretty odd.

Mom served up three complete meals, any of which I would have been proud to serve as *the* meal:  broiled whole fish (stuffed with onions and tomatoes), fried eggrolls (stuffed with ground pork and veggies and served with a soy-sauce-and-garlic dipping sauce) and chicken soup with bok choy.

Lunch, Filipino-style

I felt free to stuff my face because I don’t know how many months I’ll have to wait before getting such a meal again.  I remember dating guys whose mothers didn’t really cook.  I felt bad for them.  Really bad.  I can’t imagine not being able to drop in on my parents, on any day, at any hour, and not being fed some delicious something that my mother whips out of the refrigerator and cupboards in a matter of minutes.

Sadly, I haven’t exactly picked up the same facility with food.  I like eating it alright, more than like it, but my meals are labored-over things that require much reading and re-reading of recipes, agonizing over the doneness of things (like I know what “done” looks like), and dirtying every pan, bowl and spoon I own.

I made more than a few visits to the market with my mom, which is a little misleading, because market sounds so cozy and manageable.  The places my mom shops should really be considered food emporiums or warehouses, where apples, tomatoes and corn are piled in mini house-sized bins, and the aisles spread out over what must be several acres .

Helloooo, hellooooo, hellooooo (the echo effect in the super giant food warehouse)

It’s a little terrifying, actually.  The first place we visited was a Vietnamese supermarket in Huntington Beach, brimming with Asian vegetables, frozen fish balls, great slabs of pork belly, rows and rows of differently sized and colored noodles, and the prickliest fruit you’ve ever seen.

The Hispanic market right in their neighborhood is another fantasmagorium of flavors and ingredients, with huge blocks of fresh cheese, fist-sized sugared pastries, and so many kinds of peppers it would make your head hurt and your tongue fall off.  I wanted to take everything home, which just isn’t possible when you travel the way that I do, which is with as little baggage as possible.

This idea of food as love was made blatantly clear at my uncle’s 70th birthday.  Everyone brought a dish of their own, and my aunts outdid themselves making my uncle’s favorite things.  After we’d gorged on steamed crab, sauteed shrimp, roasted pork loin, noodles, egg rolls and blood stew (a traditional Filipino dish which I never touch – don’t even think about it!), my aunt decided that, for “dinner,” she’d cook up some steaks she’d been marinating.

If you’re ever lucky enough to be invited to a Filipino meal, go.  Don’t hesitate, not even for one second.  Yes, there may be some weird stuff that only “true” Filipinos eat (as in blood stew), but there will be plenty of crowd-pleasing favorites, like lumpia (egg rolls), noodles, and some kind of broiled or roasted meat.  We like food and we like it a lot.  If we like you, your belly will know it.

I’m back in NYC now, where it has fast-forwarded to summer in the city, which means humidity, stickyness and thunderstorms.  It seems like I only put away my winter clothes a few weeks ago, but I guess that’s how it goes in this topsy-turvy, five major earthquakes in as many months, volcano-blowing-up world we find ourselves inhabiting these days.  The only recourse is to eat, drink and be merry.  I know how to do that.

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2 Responses to “Food is Love. Enjoy the Love.”

  1. Lavinia May 23, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    I asked Samantha as she sat in my lap who that was a picture of and she happily said “Ti Annie”. She used to call you ti nana. Someday she’ll get it right.

    • jhointhecity May 24, 2010 at 2:31 am #

      “Tita Jhoanna” is a mouthful. Maybe she can just call me”Tita Jho”? Although I’m happy to answer to “Ti Annie.”

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