TEXT & PHOTOS BY MIDGE K. MANLAPIG
It’s a Monday as I’m writing this particular piece and every other Monday night finds me at a dinky little bar—well, a gastropub, to be exact—in Makati’s Legaspi Village. On these Monday nights, I have a small, insulated bag aside from the carry-all slung over one shoulder; inside this wee red gingham bag is any one of a number of homemade treats. It was a small tub of lemon-ginger Madeleines the first time; a just-baked loaf of Tuscan pane al cioccolato studded with roasted hazelnuts the next. Some nights, there will be a box of homespun peanut butter cups with spiced-up dark chocolate or even a crème caramel infused with scotch. It’s become a regular thing and it’s all because of a friend I thought I lost many years ago … and it’s because I get a real kick out of cooking for family and friends.
This wasn’t always the case, though. I didn’t really get the hang of cooking and baking till I was 24! Before that, I actually flunked Home Ec in grade school, high school, and at university—and teachers were actually telling me to give up the idea of actually cooking and just, well, eat. But the problem with the Philippine educational system is that it makes relatively easy things to learn like cooking utterly complicated by turning it into a group activity. And I do not play well with others.
But I am a hard-core foodie. Dyed in the wool; bred in the blood: I learned to read from my grandmother’s collection of old-school American cookbooks and my mother’s volumes of The Good Cook series. My best memories involve food and travel: the salty-sweet flavor of the famed jambon du Paris eaten with crisp pommes-frites; that first buttery, crackling bite of pain au chocolat in Lourdes as I stood in line to drink from the miraculous spring; peanut butter cookies—the first things I baked successfully—eaten by a grateful boyfriend; a glorious crown roast of pork forming the centerpiece of a family Christmas. Yes, my best memories are of food—both eating it and preparing it.
But my favorite food memory—or series thereof—involves a hard batch of very badly baked cookies and a schoolmate I wanted to impress. I remember being eighteen or nineteen; a junior at university. I hung out with a rather motley crew of student leaders with a shared hankering for food, travel, books, and music—though not necessarily in that order. It happened that I decided to bake a batch of chocolate crinkles, those rich, fudgy half-orbs of chocolate dredged under an avalanche of icing sugar. Of course, I decided to do this without checking first if I had any baking chocolate, icing sugar, and butter at home. And, of course, overconfident little me swapped it all for Milo powder (eek!), granulated sugar (no!), and cooking oil (forgive me, I was young!) … and ended up with rock-hard lumps that could crack a concrete wall if you chucked them at it.
The person I wanted to impress at the time took one bite—or, should I say tried to take a bite (not successfully, alas)—and grinned at me.
“You know,” he said, “if you were a Hotel & Restaurant Management (HRM) major like me, you’d fail.”
That hurt, of course, and our friendship went downhill from there. There were a number of other, more brutal reasons why our friendship failed, but this was the first major insult he threw my way. (I was very touchy, alas.) And we weren’t friends anymore by the time I graduated.
Over the years that followed, I wanted to prove him wrong: that I could cook, that I could bake, that I could do more than just eat and be appreciative of someone else’s food. And I tried: baking cookies every weekend, trying one cake recipe or another, moving beyond baking and on to glorious meals. Simple affairs at first—sautéed veg, pork chops, pasta—and then more elaborate dishes like Aussie-style beef and red wine pies, lasagna; exotic dishes with complex flavors like Chinese three-cups-chicken, braised pork leg with shiitake mushrooms, even hand-rolled cannelloni stuffed with homemade sausage. It was glorious to watch those winces on my family’s faces transform into huge, appreciative smiles paired with exclamations of delight. From fancy holiday meals to simple weekend repasts, I have learned to cook—and I can now cook exceedingly well, if I do say so myself.
But you may ask at this point: whatever happened to the guy you wanted to impress? Did you ever see him again? Did you ever become friends again?
Well, yes: we are. And, yes: this time, I finally managed to impress him. We’re friends and I bake for him every other week whenever I head to that dinky little bar in Makati to hear him sing. He balked at first when I gave him those lemon-ginger Madeleines; I couldn’t blame him after that Milo cookie episode, really. But the smile on his face after that first bite…! I knew it was time to start over and that, yes: it was time for me to get cooking.
About the Writer: Midge K. Manlapig is an advertising professional and public relations specialist from the Philippines. Her kitchen exploits are online via her blog Midge in the Kitchen at http://sybdive.wordpress.com. She is currently working on her first novel.