Chapter 5: Chicken Soup for the Soul

“Food is one of the most important things at a wedding,” my friend, Tammy told me the other day as we sipped coffee on an empty stomach. “But it also accounts for most of your budget.”

We sat down at an outdoor cafe, after a long afternoon of covering an event–a kick off for a multinational food company–while the clients feasted on a catered dinner. 

Throughout the affair, I had been eating free samples of strawberry-filled biscuits and sneakily took a vanilla cupcake from one of the guest tables, while Tammy and I took pictures of salespeople and marketing managers discussing their goals for 2010. My head hurt and temper rose as I felt devoid of something hot, salty and served with steamed rice, from one of the burners. Because I was working for free as an extra member of the production, I had to settle for buying my own food.

Mad Host: In Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter throws a rather strange tea party. On the other side of the rabbit hole, guests expect something more substantial than just tea and bread with butter.

 

A full and satisfied stomach at an event is more than just a necessity for both guests and suppliers; not merely a to-do of the party hosts. Great food leaves every one with something good to say about the party. Fail to feed your waiters and documenting team and they’ll surely scorn you. At every event I’ve done, the crew’s food was always top priority. 

A former client from the banking industry once shared that the reason why they spend over a million on the the 10-course meal served during their annual New Year’s party for top customers is because the quality of the food is the most popular feedback given during post-event evaluation. Guests remember how delicious the dishes were; how this grand dining experience is what makes them look forward to the invitation in the mail.

Earlier this evening, I randomly thought about wedding food. I don’t mind spending a little more on a great buffet or sit-down dinner. Hence, I feel that planning the meal should be given a little more thought than other details like say, floral centerpieces, which will wilt and die soon after we’ve toasted the last glasses of Chardonnay. 

It is so easy to call up a caterer and ask them to send you sample menus at different price points. But more than that, I envision food that ties up with the book theme that Mark and I want for the wedding. There are so many famous images of food in literature and I think it would be great to include some of these into the line-up of dishes that we plan to serve, without making the offering look like a bad mish-mash. 

I haven’t come up with an in-depth list, so beginning with this entry, I plan to write several food-themed entries focusing on one dish.

Today it’s chicken soup.

One of my earliest memories of hunger pangs resulting from reading a book was in the grade school library of Assumption College, my alma mater of 17 years.

While sitting at the illustrated books section on one of the many red and blue leather mats, I read Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup with Rice and suddenly, the thought of a steaming bowl of savory chicken soup with rice sounded deliciously appealing at the end of a long, tiring day at school. 

I told you once, I told you twice
All seasons of the year are nice
For eating chicken soup with rice 

In Maurice Sendak's book, the author describes Chicken Soup with Rice as a savory treat that one can enjoy all year round--the perfect description for comfort food.

 

I personally love soups, whether it’s a creamy chowder with fresh mussels and scallops, a simple garlic broth with threads of gently scrambled egg or instant Japanese beef ramen cooked in a microwave (my favorite midnight snack). Former officemates of mine once said that if ever I get pregnant, my baby will take advantage of a generous supply of milk because I eat so much soup. 

At weddings, I always start with a bowl of broth, bisque, chowder or borscht. The sight of a big steaming pot always excites me. Somehow I believe that a “warm-up” readies my stomach for the gastronomic treats that await at the carving table, buffet line and dessert counter. Besides, I believe in taking my time eating; and am quite the slow eater, easily consuming over an hour from the consommé to the chocolate fountain.

As for chicken soup, I love it because there’s something very comforting about that hot, golden broth that never fails to warm both body and soul.

Chicken Soup with Rice sounds like an interesting addition to the buffet table, but I think all those carbs might make it too heavy. The same can be said of a very similar and local version of Sendak’s dish: Arroz Caldo. While Sendak’s is “sip-able,” Arroz Caldo is not because of its thick, chunky texture. Served as a light meal or a snack, Arroz Caldo is a classic Filipino treat that boats of sticky rice, boiled chicken, lots of ginger for spice, freshly-chopped scallions and toasted garlic flakes for a slight crunch. It’s typically seasoned with calamansi juice, fish sauce (patis) and cracked black pepper. 

Arroz Caldo is popular as a complete meal on any given morning, noon or evening. Photo credits: http://www.philippinenische-kueche.com

 

After school, I would always ask my parents’ messenger to buy me take-out Arroz Caldo at the nearby lugawan (a food kiosk that sells Arroz Caldo and Goto, a rice porridge served with tripe instead of chicken). The messenger would always order from the Lugawan ni San Pedro located at the Greenbelt 1 mall. I remember how their Arroz Caldo was more watery than the pricier ones served at restaurants like the upscale Via Mare, which is known for its Lugaw with Toppings, a special porridge loaded with slices of salted egg, adobo (marinated beef) flakes, tofu and  tripe, fried wonton. Nevertheless, I have nothing but warm memories of enjoying San Pedro‘s lugaw at the small pantry of my parent’s office, with nary a worry about the three pages of Math homework I had not done and would postpone till late evening.

Another book-related (chicken) soup  favorite of mine is Tinola. In chapter 3 of Jose Rizal’s (the Filipino national hero, doctor and author) novel, Noli Me Tangere (“Touch me Not”), the main protagonist, Crisostomo Ibarra, returns to the Philippines after spending several years studying in Europe. He is welcomed by fellow upper class society members with a dinner of the classic Filipino dish–which is traditionally made with chicken pieces boiled in broth with sweet green papaya,  sili leaves and ginger. Everybody is having an enjoyable time except for one dinner guest, the antagonist, Padre Damaso, who is irritated when he is left with the meager neck and wing parts, which lacks enough meat to feed the overweight and corrupt friar.

Unlike Damaso, I’d like my wedding guests to help themselves to several bowls of Tinola, prepared with smaller chunks of cubed chicken to make it ladle-friendly. The familiarity of this classic Pinoy favorite is a great alternative to the ubiquitous Cream of Mushroom and a livelier option to a clear broth with sediments of vegetables, settling sadly at the bottom of the pot.

Tinolang Manok...with Rice. Photo credits: http://tinybites.ca

 

Moreover, Tinola is my personal pick for the perfect comfort food. Like Arroz Caldo, it reminds me of my favorite moments at the dining table. But I’ve always been a fan of the former. I even like it more when it’s three days old and the soup has developed a spicier, gingery flavor. Whenever my mom cooks Tinola served with freshly-steamed rice and patis seasoned with a crushed green chili, the stresses of college papers and later, work deadlines, melts away with the pungent steam of this delectable dish. 

Nothing could be better than kicking off your first meal as husband and wife, in the company of friends and family, with something familiar, comforting and filling.

– Punky

Advertisements

Chapter 4: Immortal Beloved

For two young people getting married, their union is a celebration of a new life together, of beginning a journey that will see them through their youth, the arrival of kids, the domestic challenges, the family milestones, old age, golden anniversaries, the grandchildren, sickness and eventually–death.

It is the proverbial love story, starting with the sun rising on the wedding day and setting as we say the final goodbye. We all expect and desire a long, fulfilling life together. We are so immersed in our youth; so driven by the energy and optimism that allow us to dream big.

This stream of positivity begins with the wedding planning. The goal is to create the perfect party. It is perfect  because it captures the couple and their family at their very best: happy, healthy, hopeful.

That is why we all jump, clap and smile at the announcement of the engagement. As soon as the ring is presented, all visions of  a picture-perfect family life come to mind. We begin pooling our savings, making plans about where to live, choosing our entourage and thinking of honeymoon destinations.

At the engagement party, it is not expected to deadpan about the woes of one's future married life.

 

Here’s my vision:

When I look at Mark, I see a 35-year old man who will become successful in his sound engineering and film work. I will continue working in advertising. Eventually the marketing communications partnership I will form will grow stable. Our work pays the bills and allows us to enjoy the creature comforts of married life. He and I will live in a starting out place less than a hundred square meters, located in a comfortable and secure village  fifteen minutes away from the central business districts. A decade into our marriage, we have a daughter named Naima and a son named Josef/Yussef. They are beautiful, smart kids who inherit all the good genes in our families. Naima and Josef grow up, go to high school then college. They eventually graduate and take on their first jobs, which we advise them to choose based on their skills and passions. Mark and I decide to go into semi-retirement, pack our bags and see the world. We come back home with trinkets from Barcelona, pictures from South American fiestas and tan lines from the French Polynesia. Years later, we enter our 70s and 80s. Our children now have families of their own and it satisfies us to see our grandkids smother us with little kisses and humble gifts of half-eaten cupcakes. But with age, comes the natural deterioration of our physical bodies. Sooner or later, we are diagnosed with disease, and eventually, one of us dies. The other follows, months, years or a decade later. Our children bury us side by side in a family plot, but our legacy lives on in those whom we have left behind

I wonder, what could be wrong with this picture.

In real life, a fairy godmother won't always be there to magically solve your problems.

 

Youth and optimism inspires us to think long-term, literally. We feel so emboldened and confident that we can live the romantic life story we desire, as we visualize it in our heads.

But what’s a story without the conflict? 

There are so many grim moments that can happen in the life of two people, surprising you like a thief in the night and wielding a butcher’s knife that cuts into your very soul and self-esteem.

Serious disease before 50.

Tragic, sudden death.

Infertility.

A pregnant teen daughter.

Bankruptcy.

Anxiety and depression.

Foreclosure.

Separation and divorce.

Till Death Do Us Part: Former husband and wife, Dave Navarro and Carmen Electra in their infamous pre-nuptial picture.

 

These are not the things one would normally entertain during the months leading to the ceremony. In fact, it is something that nobody dares mention, at the risk of spoiling the high spirits of friends, family members, and the newlyweds-to-be.

However, these are the harsh realities and we are all aware of it because, in one way or the other, from failed marriages to fianancial lows, it does happen to our friends, family members and other newlyweds-to-be. 

I wonder, in the story of our lives, what challenges and tragedies await me and Mark. Will we be incapable of bearing children. Will one of us lose the other too soon? Will an affair break us apart?Will banks come knocking at our door, threatening to take our home? Will we lose our passion for life?

I know it may sound pessimistic, but sometimes, I think of marriage as both a celebration and a condemnation. I believe that it will bring me happiness and a sense of fulfillment. But I also believe that by attaching myself to another human being and his family, I am bound for a lifetime of more pain. I will have to witness people suffer and feel their sorrows. If a child of mine becomes the victim of illness or violence, I will have to watch him/her endure the trauma, the tedious medical treatments and the long recuperation. If a business fails, I will feel the pressures of making ends meet as Mark and I struggle to get back on foot. If brief moments of jealousy crop up, I will look for something to blame–like those stretch marks and other signs of advancing age and diminishing nubility.

Through good times and in bad : a couple in Barcelona cozies up in a street corner. Photo credits: http://www.sharnoffphotos.com

 

But conflicts can have a resolution. It is something that we have seen in other people’s stories.

The story of the mother who survives Breast cancer.

The tale of a divorced father finding love again.

The adventure of orphaned kids who succesfully make it on their own.

It is something I’ve seen in our own relationship before the engagement. For three years, Mark and I endured stalkers as I went through my own period of anxiety and depression–the darkest years of my twenties. The experience challenged my desire to stay with Mark as he entertained the same thought. Yet both of us saw these trying times as a test of resilience, a willingness to face difficulty together, weather it and come out stronger.

Love and marriage will not always be a fairy tale. We walk down the aisle looking like the king and queen of our own domain but down the road, there will be stumbling blocks. Problems will empty our pockets, weaken our bodies and bring us to tears. However, what is even stronger is how we will deal each challenge when we look it in the eye.

At the end of the wedding vow, the couple says “Till Death Do Us Part.”

We may not live forever, but I still believe that the love that two people have for each other is something that does not got away with the last breath.

It is a story that lives on to inspire others–the next generations of couples, families and their friends. It is retold to help them realize that no matter how cruel their world may be, a happy ending is still possible. Happy endings may not mirror the grandeur of fairy tales, but it all about real-life endurance and resilience, optimism and hope amidst dark times.

And that is the moral of the story.

– Punky

***

Anne Hathaway (Kym) snuggles up to her sister, Rachel and her new husband.

 

As an aside, I highly recommend Rachel Getting Married, which is probably the best wedding-themed movie in my book so far. While it’s not necessarily centered on the preparations for the wedding depicted in the film, it’s a great story about the troubles that can plague a family and break it apart and how compassion and forgiveness can bring them back together.

Published in: on February 7, 2010 at 7:24 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,