MOLO FOR CHRISTMAS 

There is always a traditional dish that graces the table to mark the occasion, say, a birthday or Christmas. Some have lechon or pork barbecue while others have turkey. In my family Christmas means having chicken molo soup. The Yuletide season isn’t complete without my mum’s molo soup despite the plethora of goodies and the all- time favorite pasta and roasted chicken. As my mum put it, “There is something soothing about having chicken soup.”

The dish is typically known as pansit molo or molo soup with the wontons made of ground pork. Being non- pork eaters, my mum uses ground chicken. Buying ground chicken is generally easy despite the fact that it isn’t a favorite choice to make wonton. Hi-Top, a supermarket along Quezon Avenue, usually has it as well as the square molo wrappers you wrap the chicken wonton in. But this year was a shocker – the ground chicken and molo wrappers were out of stock! Fortunately, we were able to buy ground chicken and molo wrappers at the supermarket at Robinsons Magnolia in New Manila. 

From the pot…


…into the bowl for a wonderful Christmas dinner


My part in cooking is making the wonton. I scoop just enough of the mixed ground chicken (it has egg, salt, and pepper) onto the wrapper and press the sides together. The amount of ground chicken should be just right so the wrapper doesn’t rip. Then mum does the rest – boiling the broth, balancing the flavors, adding the spring onions, and dropping the wontons gently into the boiling broth, including the ladling into the bowls reserved for the molo soup. Her ladling is to prevent one family member having more than one to many wontons than the others. The wontons, after all, must be equally divided. 

What dish makes Christmas the way Christmas should be in your family?

BULONG NG PUSO

(para kay VC)

Ikaw ang bulong ng puso ko

na pumipiglas sa haplos ng kalungkutan

Na bumabalot minuminuto.

Puso na hinahanap ang 

iyong mga halik

bigkas ng iyong mga salita

tindig ng iyong katawan

yapos mong walang katumabas.
Nasaan ka noon?

Bakit ngayon ka lang dumating sa buhay ko?

Ito ang lagi kong tanong sa mundong malupit na

ipinagkait ang kasayahan sa akin.

Ito ba ay isang biro na maglalaho muli?

Dadating ka ngunit aalis sa isang iglap?

“Sana naman ay manatili hanggang sa wakas” – iyan ang sigaw ng damdamin at isipan ko.

Ikaw ang nagbigay ng kulay sa mundong napalamutian ng itim;

ang nagbigay sigla sa aking matamlay ng paninindigan.

Ikaw ang nagbigay ng lakas

na tanggapin ko ang ibibigay ng mundo.

Ikaw ang dahilan sa pagsikat at pagbaba ng araw; 

at ikaw di dahilan sa pagbibitiw.
Kung ikaw ay lilisan

magdidilim ang mundo ko;

ngunit kung ikaw ay magiging masaya

sa piling ng iba

ikaw ay malayang kong pakakawalan.

Sa aking pagbitiw kasama ang tahimik

na nais: “Sana naman ay manatili hanggang sa wakas”.

Sa tabi ko o sa malayo

ikaw ang laman ng damdamin ko,

ikaw ang nasa loob ng isipan ko,

ikaw ang bulong ng puso ko.

BANANA BLAST 

That the Philippines is replete with cakes, pastries, and gelato cakes is an understatement. Every nook and cranny of a city is teeming with such sweet stuff imaginable that anyone with a sweet tooth would simply burst with excitement. Amici is one of the most popular places to satisfy one’s cravings for something sweet with their line of Caramia cakes and gelato cakes. A favorite among its loyal clientele, I learnt, is their “cute version of the banana split” called Banana Blast. It is a colorful vista of scoops of banana, strawberry, and chocolate gelato neatly arranged on top of a chocolate-flavored crust and topped with slices of strawberries. The final touch: chocolate syrup drizzled all over the gelato cake. 

Banana Blast was the unanimous choice for the Christmas Eve dessert following the suggestion of Cathy, manager at the Tomas Morato outlet. It is no wonder it is a perennial favorite among Amici’s regular patrons. The sweetness of the chocolate crust and the scoops of gelato is balanced by the slices of strawberries, creating a delicate fruity-chocolatey sensation on the palate and a light feeling in the tummy. Gone also is the guilt of indulgence in such a decadent dessert during the festive season. A slice goes for PhilP140 and a whole cake is priced at PhilP935.

Banana Blast by Amici

DEALING WITH BULLIES 

How do you get bullied? Let me count the ways. One, you get bullied because you speak English. Two, you get bullied because you are not part of a major religion. Three, you get bullied because you are not reed thin.

In high school, three classmates of mine took it upon themselves to ‘chastise’ me for speaking in English. One of them was this boy who was not academically astute that I accidentally bumped into in an empty classroom. I was hoping to sit inside an empty classroom to get away from the din of the school. I entered one unaware he was inside. Out of nowhere, he walked towards me unsteadily – he seemed to have had a tipple somewhere – and remarked, “Why do you speak in English?! What is wrong with you, huh?!” Although he slurred throughout his utterance, his menacing visage and the fact that he towered over me sent my heart pounding loudly that it almost drowned out his voice. Bully number two was a pair of popular and pretty girls in my batch. Yes, pretty, but dumber than a box of rocks. Similarly, they cornered me but in the lockers area and ridiculed me for speaking in English. 

“A Cartoon Thug” image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Religion was another reason for me to be bullied. This time it was by my elementary teacher who was prejudiced towards a child whose parents gave her the choice of faith. She gave off a vibe to the entire class that I was an oddity which my classmates internalized by ostracizing me. It got to a point that none of my classmates would even look at me and would blatantly shield their eyes whenever they saw me. I was alone most of the time, sitting by myself during recess or avoided like a plague in class. The library was my refuge – I lost myself in the books and momentarily forgot about the bullies in my midst.

Last, being fat. We are not talking about being obese, but I wasn’t predisposed to the thin look and certainly no thigh gap. Body shaming was not considered inappropriate – people teased me to my face or behind my back. At gatherings, family members never talked about my scholastic achievements like being a constant dean’s lister or the fact that I made it to the university soccer varsity team. The first line uttered would always be, “Uy, ang taba mo!” (“You’re fat!”) and then the endless comparisons to the thinner cousins. 

“Overweight” image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


How does one deal with such bullies? Admittedly, I was and am still scarred, but I became more tenacious in not being affected by them through the years. I weathered the bullies by parrying their snide remarks. For example, with the language bullies, I had witty retorts along the lines of, say, “It is not my problem if you can’t speak English” and then walking away with a Jedi’s placidity. Alternatively, I simply ignored them. The social stigma of being an agnostic in a secular school has stayed with me to this day, putting me on the defensive mode every time talk centers on religion. Back then, I had wanted to transfer school but my father dissuaded me, saying that it could be worst outside of JASMS. In high school, religion didn’t figure much in the syllabus so I lowered my defenses. There were still the occasional wide-eyed looks thrown my way whenever classmates, teachers, or colleagues would hear about my case, but I remained composed. Like a mantra, I repeated to myself, “Walk away. Faith is a personal issue.” If they dared proselytize, I would cheekily remark, “I am still developing my own religion.” This is still my modus operandi for sanctimonious colleagues and acquaintances who feel the need to preach to me.

For the body shamers, I have learnt to channel their taunts into my workout sessions, using them as the reasons not to miss a session especially when I am feeling lazy to head to the gym. In my youth, I worked out to stop the barbs but not anymore. My workout sessions are for myself to be healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Bullies will never vanish and will always be relentless in their insults. Stooping to their level shouldn’t be an option. One should rise above their derisions because that is the only way to deal with bullies and to stop being a victim.

OF BIRTHDAY CAKES 

I am a big fan of birthday cakes. No matter what my personal trainer says about avoiding cakes because of the empty calories, I indulge during my birthday. After all, birthday cake calories don’t count. Second, a birthday isn’t completely a birthday if there is no birthday cake in sight. The number of lit candles on the cake doesn’t bother me all – so what if I am older than most of my colleagues?

The cake from Estrel’s (formerly Estrella’s) was the traditional birthday cake bought to celebrate anyone’s birthday in the family. It was sacrilegious to buy anything other than the rectangular caramel chiffon cake topped with butter icing flowers. It still is a favorite for birthdays – and weddings – although I only get to have a slice on non-birthday occasions.

Estrel’s caramel chiffon cake can double up as birthday cake and wedding cake


My birthday this year had me blowing out candles three times, each cake with bearing greetings written in three different languages viz. Indonesian, English, and Filipino. I was prepared to quietly celebrate my birthday with a slice of cake and coffee at Starbucks, but some of my students caught wind of my birthday and surprised me in class with a birthday cake. The first one was given after a class with my grade 10 IGCSE students; I was fixing my stuff when they, like a swarm of bees in flight, came towards me. I thought they were going to ask for an extension of the deadline of the research paper. Experience has taught me that they want to talk about the research paper when they approach me collectively – they’re a firm believer in “strength in numbers”. This time I was mistaken. They came bearing a chocolate birthday cake. 

First birthday cake


The second and third cakes came after my birthday and before the start of class so we all had a bit of cake during the lesson. Cake number two – white chocolate cake – was given by my grade 9 students. Meanwhile, cake number three – fruity white chocolate cake – was from my grade 11 Writing Class students. 

Second birthday cake

Third cake

 

I might not have had my slice of Estrel’s cake, but the surprise birthday cakes certainly completed my birthday. Who would have thought that the students you had been berating for being indolent and careless be so sweet and endearing?

MANGO TANGO 

Christmas is my raison d’etre for indulging in sweets which I had dutifully avoided almost the entire year owing to my personal trainer’s dictum. Thus one simply has to have crepe when at Cafe Breton whether savory or sweet. My game plan was ordering a savory crepe for lunch: Galette Bretonne, a crepe filled with spinach, shrimps sautéed with crab meat and onions, fresh cream, and gruyere cheese. Then for dessert, I skipped the chocolate-filled crepe and gunned for something fruity. It is healthier, I convinced myself. The one highly recommended by the service crew at Greenbelt was Deja Vu, which apparently was a popular choice among its customers. I now knew why. The dessert crepe Deja Vu is a plate of sweet, luscious mangoes swathed in special cream sauce and drizzled with caramel syrup. It is paired with vanilla ice cream that is squirt with whipped cream and finished with caramel syrup. Enjoy the delicious sweet fruity tango on your palate.

THE MAGIC OF MARY GRACE

Goldilocks had reigned supreme for as long as I could remember. It was the undisputed leader in the ensaymada market being the go-to place for the Filipinos’ favorite snack. My childhood is filled with memories of ensaymada gracing feast tables or my lunch box. This was until Mary Grace. Alongside her signature cheese rolls that captured the palates of pastry lovers, Mary Grace inched her way into the segment becoming a formidable pastry opponent to be reckoned with. 

That Mary Grace is not a fictional character was the answer of one of the service crew of Mary Grace when I cheekily asked if she was fictional. Her short bio – written within the thick menu – outlined her rise from her stints in Christmas bazaars to setting up her own shop which eventually burgeoned into the ubiquitous cafés quaintly called Mary Grace dotting the city. The pastry shop-restaurant has reworked the traditional ensaymada: sweet bread that is roughly the size of a saucer sprinkled with granulated sugar and topped with grated cheese. But Mary Grace upped the ante by jazzing up the ensaymada and pairing it with her signature hot chocolate drink. 

Perusing the menu, it was a toss up between the banana ensaymada and cinnamon-apple ensaymada when I met up with a friend at their Greenbelt outlet. It was my first time to set foot in a Mary Grace restaurant and was piqued to try the much vaunted ensaymada. I settled for the cinnamon-apple paired with the the signature Mary Grace hot chocolate.


The magic of Mary Grace – her culinary skills honed in a baking course in the US said her short bio – had added panache to the humdrum traditional ensaymada, electrifying the palate with never-dreamed of flavors before. Washed down with Belgian hot chocolate with the right thickness and sweetness, merienda (roughly translated as afternoon snack) with a friend transformed into one magical meet up amidst a hot, crowded Christmas afternoon.