I took a long weekend off from work to celebrate my birthday quietly. I didn’t really have anything planned but my hope was that I would have enough time alone to relax, gather my thoughts, read, and write. My last blog entry was on Thanksgiving of 2019 and a new post is long overdue. I’ve had thoughts and ideas, but putting it on paper takes some effort…plus it also involves a bit of R&D for any food that I connect to any of my writing. I need some uninterrupted time to organize my thoughts to put it on paper. I am also behind on my reading. Finishing a book takes so long for me these days, as I only am able to read a few pages before bed, because I start snoozing almost as soon as my head hits the pillow. The reason for dozing off is never the book…it’s always me. The affairs of the day always hit me hard at night at the exact moment I might finally pick up that book again and read.
Birthdays are strange. They can lift you up or bring you down. Mine is usually a combination of both. My birthday this year was just right. I finally succumbed to the fact that I am officially old and have decided that I am good with it. The celebrations were varied, too. 1) We had some people over last weekend and I prepared an 8-course meal for some friends and family. I wanted to cook but I didn’t want a birthday party. We invited a dozen people to commune and celebrate. 2) On my actual birthday, my husband also secured tickets to the showing of The Godfather at a theater in Westwood. The Godfather is my favorite movie of all time. We sipped on martinis and Manhattans and enjoyed some grub as the movie played. It was fantastic. 3) My husband also felt, rightly, that the celebration of my birth wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t have the spacca culatello and tomahawk pork chop from Chi Spacca, our favorite LA restaurant. So, we went there for dinner on Friday night and, as always, it was terrific. 4) I had a couple of days to myself for self-care and enjoyed some alone time. It was perfect and I am grateful for it all.
It’s amazing how fast my long weekend flew by. Today was my last day of solitude. I sat in front of my Mac, slowly typing ideas of what to write. As it frequently happens, I thought of my grandmother. She was on my mind all weekend, even more than most days. I thought of her yesterday while I cooked breakfast for the family and saw that I only had a couple of eggs left in the fridge. My grandmother always had eggs at her house. Eggs were a staple in her kitchen, and those eggs fed many hungry grandchildren. Now, at almost five decades old, eggs are also a staple in my kitchen. It is a quick, simple, and delicious go-to for me when I am not particularly inspired to do too much cooking. We always have eggs.
A story as I’ve been told many times was that my maternal grandparents took me home from the hospital when I was born. My parents were so young. My mom was only 19 years old. She was still in college when she had me, and my parents either lived with my dad’s parents, my mom’s parents, or in an apartment in Manila they rented with cousins when they were in school. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for them to have a toddler (My older sister, Melinda) AND a newborn in that apartment with three other roommates.
My grandparents watched me while my mom continued going to school. My older sister spent her days mostly with my paternal grandparents. Growing up, she and I were not always under the same roof, and we looked forward to the weekends, when we could spend time with each other. There were times when we only met in school during the week. She was two years ahead of me in school. She would find me in my classroom before the bell rang to give me my lunch money sent by my mom. It was a good setup, but unconventional for sure. My sister and I didn’t mind it. Our grandparents loved us very much, and she and I didn’t miss out on anything. We were given all the attention we needed and more. We went to private schools. We were fed and clothed. We were consoled when our hearts were broken. We were encouraged when we were down. We were taught to be kind and generous. We were taught to take care of ourselves. We were shown how to be independent. We learned the value of family.
As I contemplate the life cards I’ve been dealt, I can’t help but feel lucky to be able to celebrate another year of my life and to be where I am right now. I think that I’ve always had the mentality that I have plenty of time left to do the things I want to do. The reality is that age and time are not linked. I shouldn’t put things off. Not because I am going to die tomorrow, but because time is precious and life goes fast. I am certain that I thought my grandma would see me as an adult with a family of my own. She was only 62 years old when she died and I was only 12. It was sudden and it was heartbreaking. She would have been 98 years old this month. Had I known that I would only have her for the first 12 years of my life, I would have memorized every line on her face and remember every word she said by heart. I would have been more thoughtful. I would have shown more appreciation for her love and care. I would have spent more time with her. I would have cherished every hug and would have held on tighter and longer. I would have told her every day how much I loved her and how grateful I was that she was my grandmother.
“Nostalgia is one hell of a drug,” wrote the latest author I am currently reading. I have these bits and pieces of memories from my childhood that might have been nothing back then, but have become quite meaningful to me now. They are a source of strength and humility. These memories inspire me in many ways, and continue to teach me. Thirty-six years after her death, my grandmother still dominates the memories of my past. She made a huge impact on my life in such a short time.
She was also my first culinary mentor. She was a terrific cook and a great planner. I wasn’t the only one who was raised by my grandmother. At any given time, on any given day, there could be a dozen hungry grandchildren and adults needing to be fed at her house. I remember multiple trips to the market in one single day because she had so many mouths to feed, and everything she made was served fresh. She would buy fish and shrimp, still swimming in their bags. She brought home freshly harvested vegetables that were so plump and bright, I can still picture them today. She’d pick up unpasteurized eggs that were carefully packaged in hay.
At the time, these market trips seemed like a chore, but the memory is a gift.
Feeding many people takes skills. My grandmother could stretch her ingredients like nobody I’ve met since. While the meats and seafood were scarce, she could get incredibly creative with rice, vegetables, and especially eggs. She would julienne a ton of sweet onions and sweat them in oil until they were tender and fragrant. Then she would mix in a bowl of beaten eggs and scramble the two ingredients and season it with salt. The dish is simply eggs and onion scramble, but it always appeared to be more onion than egg. She would serve this over hot steamed rice or on a hot roll called “pan de sal.” With this onion trick she would be able to feed all of us before school, or on a Saturday morning, or anytime everyone happened to be at her house. She didn’t fool my uncles though. They knew exactly what she was doing with the onions and eggs, and they complained about the unbalanced ratio of ingredients. But for me, with an untrained palate, an empty stomach, and adoring eyes, my grandmother created a meal fit for a sultan. I was happy to have a full belly, but mostly I was happy that she was there.
I make this egg dish often, but I purposely made it yesterday as an additional birthday treat. It made me feel like I was celebrating with my grandmother. I call it “Economy Eggs,” although my version is far from economical. With the addition of goat cheese, I get my memories…and a delicious breakfast. My husband loves it, too, though my son hasn’t quite developed the taste for eggs and onions that I had at his age. It makes me feel good when I cook this dish, because it reminds me of her influence, even all these years later.
Another egg dish that I learned from my grandmother is a picadillo omelet called Torta. It is one of our favorite egg dishes at home and we often eat it for dinner, too. This dish is traditionally made with ground pork. My recipe uses ground turkey. It is delicious either way.
In honor of my grandmother who undoubtedly loved me for who I was as a child and would still have loved me for who I am now as an adult, and because it’s women’s history month, I would like to share with you my recipe for Torta, inspired by my grandmother. I also want to express my gratitude to my mother and my mother-in-law for being such wonderful grandmothers to my son, Max. I know that they love him very much. I think Max and I are both lucky in this way.
Whether you make “Economy Eggs” or Torta at home, know that they taste even better when you eat it with someone who inspires you and loves you unconditionally.
CLICK HERE to download the recipe for Ground Turkey Picadillo Torta.