Moms have hidden powers you still don’t know about
Since today is Mother’s Day I would like to pay tribute to mine, the gorgeous wonder woman Carmelita “Baby” Vargas Salcedo. I will share a few kitchen stories about her, also to encourage our readers to share their own on social media so we can all celebrate moms everywhere. (Tag me @margauxsalcedo and Inquirer @InquirerBiz and add the hashtag #firstclassmom—I would love to read your stories.)
Like many of you, my parents were my first kitchen mentors. It was my mother who taught me how to tell if meat is cooked (fork it), how to tell if fish is cooked (watch the color), how to make meat tender (adjust the level of fire) and how to make traditional hot chocolate from scratch.
Our first major project together was Nana Meng Tsokolate, an effort to share with the world the joy of tasting hot chocolate as we know it in Bulacan. While she gives me full credit, this brand is really not just mine but our baby, a tribute to my grand aunt, Nana Meng, and to the culinary traditions of my maternal hometown, Sta. Maria, Bulacan.
We make the tsokolate from scratch: we roast the beans, de-shell them, grind them to a paste (the Bulacan tsokolate texture is like paste, not the tablea kind), then bottle and cook. On our first Christmas selling the products, we did not expect the deluge of orders. Since we were just five persons working on the product, we worked 24/7 to meet the orders.
It was then that I witnessed one of my mother’s superpowers: sleeping while standing! I caught her at 5 a.m. with her eyes closed but still standing and holding the rolling pin in her hands, ready to de-shell the cacao. It’s true: mothers have the superpower of sleeping while standing.
Another superpower of my mother—probably like your mother—is negotiating. While sourcing for materials in Divisoria, I saw a container I wanted to purchase. My mom was at another stall. I listened to the prices that the vendor was giving other customers. He was giving it it to them at P120. When they left, I haggled with the vendor and he gave the product to me at P100. I walked away and told my mom about the item I wanted to buy. Then she went to the vendor while I waited at a nearby stall. She haggled and haggled and got the vendor to bring the price down to P60. Talk about negotiating skills!
Later, walking past the vendor with my mom, I confronted the vendor, “Bakit sa kanya binigay mo ng P60, sa akin sabi mo P100?” (Why did you give the product to her at P60 but you priced it for me at P100?). The vendor could not do anything but smile sheepishly and scratch his head.
Now that is our strategy when we shop. I do the initial haggling while she hides. Thereafter, I hide and she goes in for the win.
We had the honor of contributing to the sequel of Amy Besa’s book “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” so my mom and I had to submit a recipe for our family’s dinuguan, which Amy loved. The problem is that heirloom recipes in the Philippines are mostly passed on orally, without written documentation. So I had to translate my notes from our cooking session with Ka Tage, one of the lolas in Bulacan who cooked the dinuguan excellently.
I will never forget laughing our heads off as we tried to translate the first step, as Ka Tage explained: “Linisin ang tenga ng baboy” (Clean the pig’s ears). In the end, we decided to keep it straightforward.
We also realized the importance of preserving family recipes: You don’t want those recipes and yummy dishes to disappear when those who you relied on to cook them pass away.
My mother, in her own quiet way, is preserving our culinary traditions by keeping index cards of various recipes, a habit she formed before the advent of computers. (Does your mother have recipes in index cards, too? I have a few friends who tell me their mothers also record their recipes that way.) She is very studious with her documentation and who knows, maybe someday soon she might even have her own cookbook.
So here’s a shout out to all mothers out there to preserve your family recipes, for your children and the generations to come.
Food for the soul
More than food, my mother has fattened me up with food for the soul.
Aside from imbibing in us rich traditions of her faith, including attending fiesta processions and other traditions, my sister Goldee and I are lucky to have a mother who has been diligent in teaching important values, regardless of religion: truth, honesty, generosity, respect for elders, humility, kindness, compassion.
Most of all, my mother has been a living example of love. She is patient, kind, understanding, caring, present. As much as I love food, I have to admit that these are more important than the family heirloom paella.
Today, we cheer with gratitude for our mothers. May you keep getting better at your job and may you pass on wisdom, love, recipes and a state of grace to the generations to come.
Happy Mother’s Day!
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