How to make Kare Kare (according to my mom)

When I think of kare kare, I think of home.  For as long as I could remember, it has always been referred to as mom’s specialty. There wasn’t even anything significantly special about it.. no special ingredients, no special seasoning. She makes it the classic way it has always been done – peanut powder made from processing regular peanuts in a blender, colored by submerging atsuete from the neighbor’s tree in bone marrow broth, and using various types of meat with it.

How to make Kare Kare (according to my mom)

I decided to cook this one Sunday while I and my siblings were reminiscing about the things our mom used to do before cancer took over. Mom is bedridden now, and asks us to sit on her bedside, talk continuously and goes ‘oy!’ when you stop, on good days. The bad days are much harder to swallow – our mom writhing in pain screaming how she just wants everything to end, finding my siblings swallowing down the tears that threaten to spill as we all crowd around her bed and try to calm her. It has come to a point where we sometimes question home – if this is what we’re supposed to believe in, isn’t this just a tragedy (I’m stealing lines from Beauty and the Beast now)? As the eldest, it’s not hard to feel as if it’s my duty to bring back good memories of our mom. If not for my siblings’ sanity, then I’ll cook it for mine.

Stew the meat (use pata with bone marrow or tuwalya/beef tripe) with dahon ng laurel, pepper, and onions, until tender. (Mom: use the pressure cooker for 30 minutes)

It happened to be a good day. My mom was excited to try the kare kare I will be making, and had my siblings pass on instructions and tips as I slave over it in the kitchen. I took out the meat too late for defrosting and decided, what the heck I will put this in the pressure cooker for an hour. The result: the meat was falling off the bone and it was really hard to scoop it all out.

Separate the meat from the broth. Saute garlic and onions. Mix in the meat. (Mom: use the big pan so it won’t spill)

The big pot often used for this dish needed cleaning.. and I am unfortunately not very diligent when it comes to household chores. You can see where this story is going already, right? I had to clean up all the spills on the gas range after cooking.

Mix in the broth and use the atsuete to turn the soup red/orange. Pour in the peanut flour made by putting peanuts in a food processor. (Mom: do not pour in all the broth and use a strainer for both atsuete and peanuts)

I think the eldest kids usually go both ways, they either become over achievers or someone who likes to test all the rules that parents set for their guinea pig child. I wish there is a flashback video that exists with a montage of all the time I was the latter. Turns out some concerns were legit, though half was a bust (you’re welcome baby sibs). I was still operating under the ‘I can do anything if I put my mind into it’ belief (people really need to think about the context of that saying) that I forego the use of strainer and thought I can simply control the way I pour. We ended up having to dissect the already loose meat to remove atsuete pieces, and finding peanut tidbits in the sauce.

Put the rest of the vegetables in and let it simmer before turning the heat off. (Mom: do not put the vegetables too early because it will be soggy by meal time)

My sister had How To Get Away with Murder running in the background, and OMG WHAT BONNIE KILLED REBECCA *spoiler alert?* that I totally forgot I was in charge of lunch.

But my mom loved it. Even the sibs did! We ate all the soggy vegetables, my mom finished everything on her plate (a rare occurrence these days) and told me it tasted very well. And you know what, that’s how I will always think of my mom. She may be annoying and would nag a lot, but she’s only trying to provide you with the best outcome of whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. She convinced me to remove the trainers off my bike even if I threw a hell-raising tantrum against it because I was afraid to fall – she knew I can’t bike with trainers forever. She told me that boy is trouble, but I continued to date him behind her back because ‘she knew nothing’ (famous last words, right) – no ‘I told you so’s came from her while I cried during dinner when he broke my heart. I used to come home to her sleeping on the couch with the TV on because she waited for me to get in. She wakes up early the next day to cook breakfast because my brother is the type who will go eat fast food when there’s no food on the table and that’s not very healthy. She cooks chicken dishes whenever C comes over because she observed how C eats more when there’s chicken on the table. I used to hate it when she yells at us when she wants to get things done, but we cherish when she yells now because that just means it’s a good day. There are so many contradictory statements I can describe my mom with, so many conflicting feelings about her, but when it comes down to the things that matter, I know there is nothing we can do that will make her stop loving us (soggy vegetables and loose meat included). Not even cancer.

Today is my mom’s 53rd birthday, but unlike her previous birthdays, I am not going to wish her a long and happy life. All I wish for my mom now is that God lets her live the rest of her life with minimal suffering and that whatever happens in the future, we keep making her proud. 🙂

It’s the little victories

Normally, this photo would be captioned by #teeshlikestocook and #teesheats. But for today, let me tell you what happened outside the frame.

While I was taking this photo, my mom was throwing a tantrum insisting that I don’t love her and I’m trying to kill her by overdosing her with medicine. She has vomited a few times this morning but she refuses to take what the doctor prescribed. After hearing all the things she told me (out of pain, out of suffering from cancer, out of I don’t know where – about my “attempts” to kill her because I don’t love her and that our house help cares for her more since I leave on weekdays to go to work so I can afford to put my brother through university, have a job with HMO for dependents that has paid for half my mom’s treatments and pay bills), I went to the fridge and took out ingredients I can work with so I can cook myself lunch while the sound of my mom crying/shouting gibberish plays in the background.

I sautee garlic, onion, and ground pork in ¼ cup of butter as she throws everything she could reach around the room while the house help try to calm her. I put in oyster sauce and a pack of corn and carrots while she demands for buko juice and negotiates that she’s not going to drink any medicine without it. I pour this over a bowl of plain white rice as she tells the house help to not leave her because all her children has left her alone. I turn a piece of hard boiled egg into garnish by slicing it to pieces as she calls out to her dead parents to take her with them. I take this photo quickly and go back to her bedside as I have calmed down enough to not let her words get to me, and negotiated for an hour until I convinced her to take her meds.

Now I can have my lunch. It’s the little victories.

We’re back (at the hospital)

Hey, guys! 🙂

I have a few posts queued but I probably will not be answering any messages. The past two weeks have been a surreal blur of hospital food, work, daily commute and whatnot. Everything that has happened has a dreamlike quality to it which is mostly due to little sleep and stress. Mom’s been discharged a few times, only to be admitted again. So we decided to have her stay in the hospital until everything has been checked.

A few days ago, I realized how I have actual true friends. Okay.. that sounds weird. But when my mother needed blood (lots of it, really) and I (and the rest of my siblings) turned out to not be compatible (otherwise, they could harvest whatever they need from me as long as it was for my mother – they got a bag of blood out of me for the first time) – a few messages sent to my friends had all of them coordinating with blood banks, hospitals, friends etc. A lot of my family also came together and although I had barely enough sleep due to being the family’s spokesperson (it’s a tough job), it was all worth it.

When I wrote the generic “work well under pressure” in my CV, I have never really proven it. But when you have to decide whether you have to wait for the bloodletting to finish, or pick up the reserved blood bags from other hospitals – among other tough decisions you have to make where time is crucial, you find out.

However, it’s not the decision making or the coordination with hospital staff or having to attend to your mother’s whim that is the hardest. It is when my mom starts the conversation with how she feels it’s unfortunate that she may not be able to see her grandchildren, tasking me to take care of my siblings or giving me advice when I have a family of my own.. I have had to hold back tears, laugh and tell my mom to not worry because she’ll be there to witness all of it. I hold on to that belief with all I have, because if I doubt it, I do not think I can smile and give her any more assurance that everything is going to turn out okay.

So far, mom’s vitals are slowly going up. The doctor ordered a cranial scan, and since it’s a Sunday, the results will probably be out by tomorrow. At this point, I have all my fingers crossed that whatever’s wrong is something we can fix. The waiting is what’s going to kill me at this point. Ugh.

Dear kids,

Cancer is not just a chick lit/flick plot line. It is very real. One of the most stupid things you could ever wish has it as well, just so you can have a whirlwind romance. My mom has Stage 4 Lung Cancer and her love life is still the same, okay.

It may be a tasteless joke on your part, but I find it alarming that quite a number of young people has actually wanted to get sick. You know what they say, be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.

Cancer – 1 word, 6 letters. but it could easily break someone’s heart. You don’t even fucking need to read any John Green novel to prove that.

Six months ago, my mom woke up in the middle of the night feeling intense pain in her hip. I accompanied her to the hospital for a check up and the initial finding after an X-ray was some sort of acute osteoarthritis (I might be wrong, I do not have any medical background at all), and she was prescribed with vitamins, pain relievers and scheduled for physical therapy.

Nine sessions of physical therapy later, the pain was still there and it has not gotten a bit better. Another series of tests was done (MRI and CT scan) and we found out that mom had bone marrow edema. Since the bone will eventually heal itself, the doctor instructed for mom to use crutches in order to not put any more pressure on it – and have it healed nicely in about six more months.

We thought it was the end of it until two weeks ago when, again, mom woke up in the wee hours of the morning crying with the pain. This pain was so intense, her sobbing woke up my brother who was sleeping in the adjacent room. My brother roused me and in 15 minutes, I had mom and both my siblings dressed, mom’s medical records in hand and one of our neighbors/my godmother waiting outside to drive us to the hospital.

Due to the 3 AM trip to the emergency room, mom got confined for more than a week for pain management and the doctors ran all kinds of tests on her. In doing so, they found a lump as big as a tennis ball residing in her lungs. Due to its’ location, a CT scan guided biopsy was performed, along with an ultrasound, a CT scan and a bone scan.

Four days after mom was discharged from the hospital (yet again with a new set of pain relievers), I was facing my mom when the doctor broke the news that she had lung cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer cells have spread (explaining all the weird bone disease) which meant that it was already in its’ advanced stage. Never, in my entire life, did I imagine that my mother would be diagnosed with Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer. I actually asked the doctor to repeat himself because I just couldn’t believe my ears. Of all people, why does my mom has cancer? Sure, my grandmother did die of lung complications and I have had minor lung complications as a kid as well, but I never thought it was inevitable.

Mom’s first question was about her life expectancy. The doctor gave a vague answer since he’ll be basing this on how her body will react to chemotherapy. And my mom’s next question was whether it was possible for her children to acquire the same disease and if she ought to have all of us checked. At that point, it took all of me not to start crying. My mom just found out she had cancer, and her primary concern was if one of us might be sick with it too.

Last night was one of the most heartbreaking family dinners I have ever had. The four of us (of course, excluding dad) was quietly eating at the table when my mom started telling us what we shouldn’t forget to do the moment she’s gone. Everyone started crying and I had to assure my mom she’s not going anywhere anytime soon. My new mantra was running through my head the entire time.. “Be strong, be strong. Hindi ka iiyak.

I had to remind my mom all the milestones in our lives she has to fight cancer for. Both my siblings graduating from college, all of us pursuing our respective careers, my upcoming move to a foreign country (which is something I am working on for 2015), all of us getting married, meeting all her grandchildren.. and I honestly believe in my heart that my mom will witness all of this alive. My mom is the strongest woman I know, and she has always been a fighter. This is something our family will get through in time.

On another note, reading something I wrote about my mom just made me shed tears (while I was out of anyone’s sight). I don’t even care what that says about me but it did.

Who run the world? (Mothers)

Watching Pokwang’s interview on The Buzz, and hearing her tell her daughter “Anak, hindi naman ako nagtatampo sa’yo. Masaya nga ako na naeexperience mo yung hindi ko naexperience dati”, or something similar to that strikes me as similar to what my mom would say.

If I fail to make it to an event or gathering, armed with the “hindi ako pinayagan ng mommy ko” reason, I might be lying. My mom allows me to party all night, on impromptu sleepovers and whatnot. Mom would always tell me that she wants me to experience everything she missed out on (prom, parties, etc.) when she was younger since she opted to work in order to study.

She let me have a boyfriend while still in high school, reasoning that “mabuti na yung alam ko, kaysa hindi kita papayagan tapos itatago mo na lang.” which is the reason why if a guy wants me (who I want back, of course) I’d tell him to ask my mom for her permission (Note: C did. WINNER KA C!). Heck, she allows me on overnights even if C is present (belief me, I know a lot of people whose parents do not allow them on sleepovers if their boyfriends will be around) and simply tells me “pinalaki kita ng maayos, at hindi ka lang napulot kung saan saan. Alam mo na ang tama sa mali.” before I leave the house. Therefore, whenever I lie to my mom, I confess afterward, even though her motherly instincts already told her the truth. Come on, from someone who have been betrayed so many times *ahem dad ahem*, the amount of trust she gives me deserves the truth.

If I’ll be lucky enough to have children, I want them to feel how much I trust them, their judgments and how I will always love them whatever happens. I have committed so many stupid mistakes, and yet my mom forgives me without my asking for it, and simply hopes I learn and live better. This is exactly how my mom makes me, Tan and Tin feel most of the time. The time we don’t feel that way are the times when she worries too much. Mothers.

God knows how my mom equates to half of my support system, and of my siblings too. I used to be a writer for the school paper, and my mom would cut out all my articles and place it in a brown envelope. When my graduation photo arrived, she cleared out a wall, hammered a nail into it and immediately put it on display where everyone can see (personally, though, it serves as a reminder to work my ass off). She beamed with pride when she found the First Honor’s certificate within my messy work space and even wanted it laminated. Oh wait, she always beams with pride at all my milestones in life.

Even though she annoys the hell out of me when she nags and constantly pushes me to do something or not do it, my mom will always be the most important person in my life. Whatever I become in life, I owe it to my mom. So I’ll make sure I’ll make her proud.

If I love C to the moon and back, I love my mom to the sun and back.