Kitchen & Pantry

Lasang Pinoy 8 : Creative cookery with children

My entry for Lasang Pinoy 8, published in the April 6, 2006 edition of the Manila Standard Today.

Creative cookery with children

Lasang Pinoy is an ongoing project of Filipino food bloggers. I wrote about it before but, in case you didn’t catch that column, Filipino food bloggers from all over the world post entries on a common topic every month. Lasang Pinoy 8, hosted by Beijing-based Iska Montero (http://iska.ai3ds.com/edx), is Kusinang bulilit, lutong paslit (cooking with kids). I told myself that writing the entry would be a breeze. Even if my kids didn’t cook anything new (it was final exams season when the topic for LP 8 was publicly announced), all I had to do was refer back to older Web log entries — their experiments in the kitchen, dishes they helped me cook, dishes they photographed for my — our — food Web log.

When the time came to write my entry, I realized that there was more to cooking with my kids that I wanted to write about. I wanted to begin with what it was like when I was a curious kid in my grandparent’s kitchen and in our own kitchen where my father often did his own experiments with our meals. It is going back a long way but what I experienced back then has a lot to do with my own attitude with my own kids’ curiosity about cooking.

I grew up in a family where food and cooking were significant aspects of daily life. My grandparents had a grocery store (that specialized in cured meat) in Quiapo during the post WW II years and that was how they began to make their small fortune. They were both terrific cooks and I don’t remember badly cooked food in their house which was next to ours. They weren’t believers in canned goods—everything was fresh. Marketing was done every other day and meat, seafood and vegetables were bought and cooked fresh.

I grew up in a compound in Caloocan — a large lot with four houses — ours, my grandparents’ and my grandmother’s siblings’. The lot was owned by my great-great-grandmother who divided it among her children. When the siblings eventually bought houses elsewhere, my grandparents bought their shares of the lot. Eventually, there was only my grandparents’ house and ours — my father had bought a parcel from my great-great-grandmother years before. With only two houses left, there was a lot of vacant space — land where my grandparents planted fruit trees and vegetables.

It was on those grounds where most of the old-style outdoor cooking was done. My grandmother’s siblings, and their families, would come over for Christmas and the preparations would begin days ahead. My brother and I would watch the grinding of tinapa and chicharon for the pancit luglog, see the ube halaya cooked in a large carajay over live coals… We would pick and taste and we were never told to scram and get lost, or made to feel like we were a nuisance when the adults were cooking. We were welcome to watch and learn. My brother didn’t turn out to be a foodie, but me? Oh, learn I did. And how!

Except for the first three years of our marriage when we lived with my in-laws, my kids grew up in the same compound where I did. When we moved to the suburb, my kids were old enough to take interest in cooking. But our house — and the grounds — are nowhere as large as the one I grew up in. This is a modest house by comparison but we love it because it is our own house — our home. My one complaint was the kitchen — a kitchenette, actually — that was too tiny. I didn’t encourage the kids to hang around because I felt cramped. Heaven knows I wanted them to feed their own curiosity… but those were times when I was working outside the house and cooking activities were almost always hurried and frenzied.

When I opted to become a work-at-home mom, I realized that cooking with my daughters was a great opportunity for bonding. The tiny kitchen — with my abhorrence for feeling cramped — was making us miss the opportunity. That was when my husband and I decided to build a new kitchen — a new wing that would be built on a portion of the backyard.

Today, the girls sometimes help me out with the cooking. Alex would often pop into the kitchen and ask: ”Mommy, can I help?” And she would peel potatoes or flake the chicken… Sometimes, they do the cooking by themselves. On some Saturdays, I’d get up with breakfast ready — either Sam or Alex had already prepared something.

But the best part is the experimenting. Some of them, I posted Web log entries about. Others… well, sometimes I get lost in a maze and haze of kitchen mess (oh, they do make a lot of mess when they cook!) that blogging is the farthest thing from my mind.

The baked stuffed potatoes that Sam picked up from a Chinese TV program that she did not even understand was something we did together. And Sam is so great at rolling maki — perfect rolls even without using a bamboo mat. She can be very radical too — like the time she threaded gummy bears with wooden toothpicks then dipped them in melted chocolate. If that’s not radical enough, she even revolutionized the common cold drink of sago and arnibal by adding a few drops of blue food color while cooking the sago. It caught the attention of a Cebu-based food magazine and wanted to publish it.

Alex, now 12, makes wonderful puto. Haven’t had a chance to photograph them because they get eaten practically right off the steamer — they’re that good! Her mango shake, with the alternating layers of freshly pureed mango and milk, is pure delight. And we even tried giving Starbucks a run for its money one time with Alex’s “choco loco.”

Thing is, by encouraging my kids to express their creativity with food, I am also allowing them to learn a skill that they will find useful in life. I have a lot of female friends who, despite having their own apartments, ate out all the time when we were single young lawyers. Not because they had no time to cook but because they didn’t know how. With the kind of fastfood junk so popular these days, it is always good to feel independent enough to say: “I can live without them because I can cook meals far better than the garbage they sell.” And that is more than enough incentive to spend time cooking with the kids.

(links to previous blog entries supplied)

[tags]food, cooking, cooking+with+children, Lasang+Pinoy, food+blog, cooking+blog, Philippines[/tags]

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