Homemade Pancakes and Waffles: A Renewal of Family Ties

The last time I was in the US was when Obama was newly elected. It was my first time in the midwest–Batavia, a city outside Chicago, to be exact–and my first time staying with my relatives there. On my first morning, my cousin made pancakes. My eldest niece was six then, my nephew two, and my youngest niece just a month old. Eight years later, I was visiting again, this time under a new administration. And again, my first morning involved pancakes, this time made by my nieces, now fourteen and eight respectively, under the supervision of my cousin. The girls did the flipping while my cousin served the plain pancakes with melons, blueberries, and maple syrup. They were delicious.

My American relatives and I don’t communicate a lot unless we’re in each other’s countries, but whenever we do, it’s always fun, comforting, and enlightening. Before my first visit eight years ago, our memories of each other consisted of their summers spent in Manila, where they stayed at our grandmother’s house. I remember my two cousins marveling at how cheap the books in the Philippines were compared to thee US, and how they would stock up on them before returning. They’ve also visited once or twice as grownups, staying at my uncle’s place with their respective families after our grandma passed away.

Despite our sporadic interactions, we’ve somehow remained close, our doors open to each other for however long we want. My cousin, the one whose kids made the pancakes, explained that those summers she and her sister spent in Manila were fun ones, and it’s the memories of those times that have kept us comfortable with each other, despite our geographical distance. It’s what makes it possible to meet again after many years and take up where we left off while getting to know each other at the same time.

My nieces made pancakes again the weekend before I left, this time with chocolate chips mixed into the batter. But my visit wasn’t all about pancakes–when I visited my other cousin in Chicago, she made waffles for breakfast. Clearly, their side of the family has a griddle cake thing going on, something that I enjoyed very much. Now that I’m back home, I can’t eat a pancake or a waffle without thinking about the ones I had in Batavia and Chicago, which not only taste better, but were also made with care. I hope it doesn’t take me another eight years to return.

Sisig, Halo-Halo, and Carrot Cake: A Tiny Tour of San Fernando and Angeles, Pampanga


My friend Vanessa invited me to Pampang to see their newly opened bakeshop outside The Orchid Gardens, a popular resort in the area. Ian, a friend who I travel a lot with, came along.

Matti’s Bakeshop started as a kiosk in a strip mall in Pampanga. It’s now a bakeshop and cafe. The first time I tried their cakes, I mentioned that they made the best carrot cake I’ve ever had, and I’m glad to say that, years later, this is still the case. Ian agreed. Too bad I have to go all the way to Paampanga to get it. 

Aside from the carrot cake, must-trys include the ensaymada, soft and even made more interesting by the addition of cream cheese; the spaghetti, Pinoy-style sweet and strangely unputdownable, the kind you have too keep eating (Ian had leftovers for breakfast and said it tasted good even when cold–Ian may be a big guy, but he reserves his calories for food that’s worth eating); and the fruit tea, green tea steeped with different fruit, warm and sweet and comforting.

Pampanga is famous for its cuisine. It’s the kind of place where even a random street stall will yield delicious fare. But it isn’t just the food. There are historical places to visit as well.

The San Fernando Railway Station, a small, rectangular brick building that used to house the now defunct train station is now a museum filled with relics that date back to World War II, when it was used as the last stop in the Bataan Death March. Not part of the exhibit but equally attention-grabbing is Marsing, the station’s adorable pit bull. Mars, as she’s called, the station manager adopted Mars, as she’s fondly called, because she would have been put down otherwise. She’s affectionate and loves attention, so be sure to say hello. There are ancestral houses nearby thaat aren’t open to the public yet, though there are plans to do that soon.

There’s also the San Guillermo Church in Bacolor, which was mostly buried under lahar after Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991. The church is fully functional though it remains half-buried–it only takes a short staircase to get to the belfry, where bats still live.

Time and stomach constraints meant that we could only try a few restaurants. Since Ian and I had already tried Aling Lucing’s, where sisig was supposed to be invented, we decided on Mila’s Tokwa’t Baboy and Sisig, Lucing’s closest rival. There’s a reason that tokwa’t baboy and sisig get equal billing on the restaurant’s name–they’re equally delicious. I can’t eat meat because it makes me queasy, but I was more than happy to brave a headache for the sisig, which was crunchy and chewy without the aid of egg or mayonnaise. 

The tokwa’t baboy was, for lack of a better word, amazing. It’s your usual hard tofu and pork (they used pig’s ears) in a soy and onion marinade, but the restaurant’s version has celery and kinchay, which adds a surprising amount of flavor and texture. It didn’t need the pork, honestly. We also enjoyed the pako (fiddlehead fern) salad, which was topped with a surprising amount of salted egg and came with a sweet vinaigrette. It’s hard to find pako in Manila, and the Pampangueños are fiercely proud of the fact that it can be found most anywhere in Pampanga. Am I jealous? Yes, I am.

Vanessa was raving about her favorite streetside mami (noodle) stall, which served noodles with beef brains, so we tried some of that, too. I just had a sip off my Ian’s bowl. The noodles were nice and chewy, not overcooked. The broth was deep and rich and tasted like it had been simmering for a lot longer than the three hours tthe veendor said it took to cook it. The brains were soft and buttery. Brains aren’t my thing, but I can understand why this dish is such a big hit. The piping hot snack cost Php35 (US$.70) and is filling as well as delicious. No wonder it sells out so fast.

It was also mentioned that we had to try the Razon’s halo-halo in Pampanga, where the chain is originally from, because the serving in Manila is but a shadow of the glory that can be found in Pampanga. And you know what? It’s true! A Razon’s halo-halo in Manila, though absolutely delicious, only comes witha smidge of ingredients–the rest is ice and milk. In San Fernando–we didn’t even try it in Guagua, where it’s from–the ingredients take up half the tumbler! At Php80, it’s a bit expensive by Pampanga standards, but still cheaper than in Manila (where it costs Php115), and more satisfying, to boot.

Pampanga halo-halo is diifferent from regular halo-halo. Also known as ‘white halo-halo,’ it only has three ingredients, leche flan being the darkest in color, and doesn’t use beans. We got an extra plate of leche flan because you can never have enough leche flan with your halo-halo. At Php80 for five slices, Razon’s leche flan is expensive, even by Manila standards, but it was oh so worth it. Creamy with a hint of citrus, a reminder of how most places don’t make leche flan like this anymore.

Ian and I also stopped by the San Ferando Wet Market, where we bought Pampanga-style tocino (cured pork) and longganisa (breakfast sausage) to take home. If you like your breakfast meat sweet, Pampanga-style is for you! Our last lunch was at Abe’s Farm at the foot of Mt. Arayat. You get the same fare as the Abe’s restaurants in Manila, but with a different view. The only thing missing were hammocks where we could nap after.

There were more places that we wanted to try, but we didn’t have time or stomach space. It only means that we’ll have to find our way back someday.

Thank you very much to Vanessa, Melissa, Malds, and your mom for being so nice to us! 

P.S. If you happen to be in The Orchid Gardens, check out the 7-Eleven outside. It has wood paneling, well-lit booths, and machuca tiles.

As a depressive, ‘just okay’ is a good thing

Photo by Ptr. Michael Lim.

A depressive friend once told me that feeling ‘just okay’ was what she aimed for every day.

As a depressive myself, I can empathize. Everyone expects to be happy all the time, like constant happiness is what humans should strive for, though it’s since been proved as not being normal.

But there’s extra pressure for people experiencing depression to ‘cheer up’ because surely, if you’re sad, looking on the bright side is all you need to do to be happy, right? Why settle for ‘just okay’ when you can be supercalifragilisticexpialidocious on the daily?

What non-depressives don’t realize that for someone used to the crushing weight of their hopelessness, to someone who would rather sleep all day because we all die and there is no point in anything, ‘just okay’ means being able to get out of bed. It means being able to bathe and eat and get out of the house, to meet friends without worrying about bringing them down.

‘Just okay’ means hearing about a death without one’s first thought being ‘why couldn’t it have been me?’ ‘Just okay’ means being okay about still being alive and recognizing it as a blessing and not a curse, a chance to do good things for oneself and for others.

My friend’s statement made so much sense. Now, when we ask each other how we are and we say, ‘just okay,’ we both know that it means we’re fine.

True Supernatural Stories: Felicia talks about her abilities

Today’s reader wants to be known as Felicia. She grew up sensing things and hiding them from other people because of her intense Christian background, only to later realize that her mother grew up with the same abilities, and she too had to tamp them down.

Felicia’s answers are in Taglish (a mix of English and Tagalog) but can be easily understood, even if you don’t know Tagalog. If you do know Tagalog, the #hugot is strong in this one.

Do you believe in the supernatural? 

Totally believe in it; all over it. I was born and raised a Christian, so I guess it comes with the territory.

I have relatives who are the fire-and-brimstone kind of Christians, so I learned about Satan and friends really early on. I wouldn’t say I’m interested in it in the sense that I actively tried to learn more about it, though. I didn’t have books of spells or memorized chants or anything like that, though I did spend lots of time in the library reading about it. I was surrounded by people who constantly invoked the powers of the Holy Spirit to fight Evil (capital E), so the supernatural wasn’t that big of a deal.

I distinctly remember being confused as a child about one thing, though, and I suppose this confusion was what led me to a lot of the questions I asked later on in life. I remember “seeing” my first…something (I’ll get to the part why I’m calling it “something” in a bit)…during one summer Bible camp. (Told you, hardcore Christians

I was surrounded by people who constantly invoked the powers of the Holy Spirit to fight Evil (capital E), so the supernatural wasn’t that big of a deal. I distinctly remember being confused as a child about one thing, though, and I suppose this confusion was what led me to a lot of the questions I asked later on in life. I remember “seeing” my first…something (I’ll get to the part why I’m calling it “something” in a bit)…during one summer Bible camp. (Told you, hardcore Christians

I remember “seeing” my first…something (I’ll get to the part why I’m calling it “something” in a bit)…during one summer Bible camp. I remember telling one of the counsellors that I saw a ghost. She scolded me and said that there were no such things. And then I asked, “But what about the Holy Ghost?” No kidding. And I didn’t even say it like in a nang-ga-gago way. But she thought I was, and she just talked to one of the head counselors and I (don’t remember what happened after). Anyway, because of that experience, I kinda just shut up about the things I “saw” after that. Besides, it was hard to explain, which is what I’ll attempt to do now.

Basically, I don’t “see” dead people (or spirits kasi hindi naman lahat sila people dati…) as much as I *feel* them. And emphasis talaga sa “feel” kasi my awareness of their presence is REALLY intense. It starts with an intuition that something is there. And then I start feeling what they’re feeling. And because of that, I start sensing what they’re sensing. Not just that I sense that they sense my presence, but I can sense their experience of their own presence. And because of that, I can sense what they look like. Like, I can “feel” or sense my two legs, or the length of my hair because the tips graze my shoulders. So I can sense what they look like. Sometimes all of that awareness happens gradually. Like a cotton sheet

Sometimes all of that awareness happens gradually. Like a cotton sheet na may tiny tip lang na nakadikit sa water na eventually magiging wet. Sometimes the awareness happens so suddenly, I am *literally* winded. Lalo na kung marami sila. I remember crossing the

I remember crossing the Tumana bridge (in Marikina) months after Ondoy (Typhoon Ketsana) and I had to rush to the restroom to vomit. I didn’t tell anyone because, well, Christian guilt. But I couldn’t shake off the feeling that it wasn’t bad, so why can’t I talk about it? When I got older and (thankfully) met some non-Christians, I didn’t feel so bad about it anymore.

It got freaky sometimes like, for example, we would go to a hotel in the province and the caretaker would talk about the resident ghost and I could tell if they were telling the truth or not because I could “see” the ghost in front of me. Or sometimes, I’ll silently confirm that it was my friend’s dead grandmother that I’d seen in the garden because there would be a picture of her in their bathroom. I also lived alone in a big house (long story) one time and the asshole ghost dude (as in he wasn’t a nice human when he was alive) was so delighted that someone could finally see him, he would give me bad dreams every night.

Or sometimes, I’ll silently confirm that it was my friend’s dead grandmother that I’d seen in the garden because there would be a picture of her in their bathroom. I also lived alone in a big house (long story) one time and the asshole ghost dude (as in he wasn’t a nice human when he was alive) was so delighted that someone could finally see him, he would give me bad dreams every night.

Later on, my mom and I were talking about this randomly and that and she casually told me how she used to sense ghosts and other supernatural beings so intensely when she was younger, but she had to stop because it was getting so powerful, (and also because of the Christian thing). I was so flabbergasted, let me tell you. I’d been hiding it all these years, only to find out I inherited it from my mother. I got super interested in it after that. I wanted to know why this was happening to me, what I could do about it, etc.

I didn’t really consult anyone because I couldn’t trust anyone enough, so it was all library work (there was no Google at that time). I didn’t know if there’s such a thing as a supernatural muscle, but for whatever reason, it was like exercising because I was suddenly becoming more sensitive to everything. As in I was starting to dream of people who were going through stressful times, only to be told days later by these same people that they were having a hard time and were thinking of calling me.

I wanted to know why this was happening to me, what I could do about it, etc. I didn’t really consult anyone because I couldn’t trust anyone enough, so it was all library work (there was no Google at that time). I didn’t know if there’s such a thing as a supernatural muscle, but for whatever reason, it was like exercising because I was suddenly becoming more sensitive to everything. As in I was starting to dream of people who were going through stressful times, only to be told days later by these same people that they were having a hard time and were thinking of calling me.

Frankly, it’s tiring. Up to now, when there’s a liar in the room, I get physically tired. So I walked away from all the “research” I was doing. I dunno if I turned it off or all the choosing I did to ignore it worked. But at least I don’t feel things as intensely now. (Sayang nga e, kasi nagogoyo pa rin ako ng assholes. Sana man lang yung pagka-empath ko about that na-retain. HAHAHA. Pag love or mga ganung kieme, I have blinders on. Stupid love, hahahaha.)

What explanation do you have for your experiences, if any?

You know what? I don’t have any explanation. I mean, apart from I guess I inherited it from my mom? (Grabe din yung pag sense namin of each other. I can tell what kind of day she’s having if I put my mind to it. And she lives in a different country.) But also, I’m actually okay with that. I like mysteries. Yet another effect of being a Christian.

Story #1: Supernatural Crush

Due to some unplanned circumstances, I found myself living alone in the house that my family owned. They had all migrated to another country by then and so the house was completely empty. It had a basement and an attic a balcony and a garden. I mostly “lived” in the Master’s bedroom and stayed there most of the time. Most of the neighbors thought it was weird of me to have decided to live there and in those circumstances, but well, I was too poor to have any other choice. Anyway, one night, I decided to go to the garden because it had gotten too hot

One night, I decided to go to the garden because it had gotten too hot on the second floor. As soon as I stepped out into the garden, I felt like I had disturbed something, as if I had trespassed into some weird territory. Later that night, something choked me (while I was lying in bed). My body was frozen and I felt like I was falling and swimming (if that makes sense) in this thick pool of dark muck. I woke up gasping for air. It would happen to me three or four times a week for about three months. It was pretty terrible. The odd thing was, I never felt like that thing wanted me dead. He just liked to choke me and lay on top of me. Anyway, I was having

It would happen to me three or four times a week for about three months. It was pretty terrible. The odd thing was, I never felt like that thing wanted me dead. He just liked to choke me and lay on top of me. Anyway, I was having merienda with an older colleague of mine and he just said really casually, “Hindi ka nya iiwanan kasi nakursunadahan ka na nya.” (He won’t leave you because he likes you.) We just sorta looked at each other and he knew that I knew what he meant. He told me to get rock salt and sprinkle it on the corners of the room at first, then gradually, over the course of a few days, sprinkle it outwards until I covered every corner of the house. And just like that, “it” was gone.

Story #2: Sad Ghost Girl

My boyfriend at that time brought me to a party at one of his best friend’s house. It was the first time for me to meet his friends, so I really wanted to make a good impression. My boyfriend reminded me to try not to be so shy and make sure I spoke with as many of his friends as possible. We were all having fun and making tambay

We were all having fun and hanging out in the garden. It was a nice cool night and I was seated near the edge of the tiled portion of the garden when I started getting one of my “feelings” again. Diba I told you before how sometimes it felt like I was a cotton pad that was slowly getting soaked with water? It was something like that. Like the being was slowly inching her way towards us. When she was finally right by the tree directly in front of me, I became intensely aware of her presence. I knew that she was a young girl, about 15-17, and she was sad and bored. Weird, I know, but it was definitely boredom that I felt. And then quite suddenly, it was like she started sensing me, too. When I knew that she was

I knew that she was a young girl, about 15-17, and she was sad and bored. Weird, I know, but it was definitely boredom that I felt. And then quite suddenly, it was like she started sensing me, too. When I knew that she was sensing me na rin, I looked directly at her (I dunno why I did that, to be honest). And she was so surprised to realize that I saw her, too. And then BAM, I suddenly felt her sadness. As in she was so, so, so, so, so sad. She was sad that she couldn’t be with us, that she couldn’t laugh with us, etc. And I started feeling incredibly sad, too.

And then my boyfriend’s kabarkada (friend) announced that he and his girlfriend were going to have a baby. So everyone was happy and cheering and joking. Meanwhile, the girl by the tree just felt even more FUCKING SAD. And so I felt so sad. As in I was on the verge of weeping. My boyfriend actually scolded me because he said I was being my usual anti-social self again. I got pissed, so I left the garden and decided to smoke near the entrance ng house instead.

The kabarkada who owned the house went to where I was just to make sure I was okay. And I said, “Sorry, a. Ewan ko ba, nasapian ata ako.” (“Sorry, I think I was possessed for a minute, there,” but in a jokey way.) Pero pa-joke lang. And then he grabbed my arm and said, “Nakita mo sya ‘no?” (“You saw her, didn’t you?”) And so yun, legit pala that there was a couple who lived in that house before and their daughter died because of cancer I think, I don’t remember. I described what she looked like, and he said, yeah, that’s the girl.

Story #3: Weird Dreams

This isn’t really a story as much as it is a recurring thing. I have a recurring nightmare kasi (I won’t describe it na lang kasi it’ll reveal who I am IRL). Usually, I’m alone in these dreams. But when I have these nightmares and I’m with a friend or relative, for sure, that person is either incredibly sad or in deep shit. I don’t mean a bad day at work lang, ha. I mean really deeeep shit. After each dream na ganun, I call the person to find out what’s wrong, and it’s usually something that they need my help with. So that’s it!

Weird stuff that I’ve just kinda learned to live with. Haha!

 

Photo from Pexels.

True Supernatural Stories: Luna and the Villa

Today’s storyteller goes by the name Luna. “I prefer to stay anonymous because of the stigma surrounding the paranormal.  I already had my fair share of it and would like my kids to live normally without going through the same things I had to endure,” they say.

Luna has an active third eye, which means they experience things most people do not.

Do you believe in the supernatural? What got you interested in it?

I was a skeptic at first, to the point where I almost believed I was going nuts. These experiences (unexplainable by science) made me realize I had to look for answers myself and not just run away and shut everything out. This was how I got interested in the supernatural and paranormal. Of course, I try to weed out the fake ones through common sense and by comparing the stories to my and other people’s previous encounters.

As someone who believes in science, what do you make of things classified as supernatural or paranormal?

Not everything tagged as supernatural or paranormal is true. Most are myth, lore, or lack of common sense–sometimes even a cry for attention. It’s beyond moving objects caught on cam, beyond Latin verses chanted by someone claiming to be a master of dark arts or and a floating barong Tagalog.

What explanation do you have for your experiences, if any?

There are certain psychological phenomena at work that make us likely to see things that aren’t there and come to conclusions that are fantastical rather than logical. Over the years, (we’re talking about 3 decades here) I learned not to scream, cry, or run on impulse and sheer terror upon encountering these things.

My experiences triggered my curiosity to find out what’s behind them–that someone might just be playing a prank on me; maybe it’s just psychological since its dark, quiet or whatever; or maybe it’s just nature (some nocturnal birds found in the metro can sound like a shrieking old lady that can scare the crap out of anyone alone in the dark). But so far, in my case… no explanation. Especially when I start rambling things about a stranger I just met, or point to things where something used to be.

Story: The Villa

Luna has a blog where she has started documenting her encounters. Here is the first story in it:

Circa 1988

Everyone was busy in the unit upon arriving. I was watching the adults go into their respective rooms to unpack, while my younger sister took her nap on the sofa, with the hood of her blue sweater on her head. Mama came out of one of the rooms and carried my sister to the bed, as I had my eyes fixed on the spiral stairs. I have been to this place a year before, they call it Baguio- we stayed at a place with the word “Villa” even if it was a condominium type of structure. What I remember about this place were the trees, the horseback riding, the strawberries and the little girl with a pink ball inside at the courtyard.

“Do you want to have a snack?” my thoughts were interrupted when one of my godfathers asked me. “No, thank you”, I replied with a meek smile. He pats my head as he went and left me in the living room. My godfathers and my dad started preparing food inside the kitchen and I was getting bored. Yes, 7-year old me getting bored is natural. My dad and his friends have this yearly vacation and the only kids joining the trip are always just me and my sister.

A cartoon was on television when I noticed a kid sneaking out the unit. Thinking it was my sister, I ran outside and followed the kid without making a noise. But then, there was no one outside. It was awfully quiet, and a bit dark. “Hello? Shobe!” I called while scanning the hallway. I was about to turn around and head back inside the unit when I heard the sound of small little bells and giggling. The sound was coming downstairs, I was on the 3rd floor. My curiosity got the best of me, and I headed for the railings.

From the third floor, I saw her. The little girl I saw running out of our unit. She wore the same blue sweater my sister wore, similar to mine- mine was red, though. She was playing with a pink ball, with little bells inside. The ball looked familiar, just wasn’t sure why it felt familiar. She handed me the ball and started to play with me. I realized she never spoke to me. She just gave me verbal nods and giggle the whole time.

The ball she threw bounced to a nearby unit. The door was open, someone must have checked out and housekeeping was probably doing their stuff. The little girl ran after the ball while I followed behind. The room was empty, no signs of housekeeping or guests. I tried to look for my playmate, she was pretty good at hiding.

I noticed one of the cabinets a bit open, and in my mind, I thought she wanted to scare me or play hide and seek. To my surprise, the cabinet had clothes inside. We were in big trouble for entering an occupied unit, I was about to run when I heard the tiny bells inside the cabinet. “Get out of there, we’ll get scolded if they find out we came in here!!!” I reached for my playmate inside the cabinet when I felt a hand grab my arm. As I tried to pull myself free, I hear a noise behind me. I look over my shoulder, and I saw my playmate!  “Couldn’t you find me?” screamed the voice in the cabinet.

Tears were running down my cheeks out of terror. I knew I was screaming, but no sound was coming out of me. My playmate was just staring at me until she suddenly helped me get my arm back. I ran out of the unit, straight to the 3rd floor where my parents were. I never looked back, I still couldn’t scream. I ran straight to my dad who was looking for me when he realized I was gone and the door was open. He knew something wasn’t right but decided not to talk about it anymore. He said I was just imagining things.

The next day, we were waiting for everyone in the courtyard to head for Mines View Park. I clung to my father and tried to avoid looking at the room I entered the day before. I was looking at the ground when I heard the small bells again. I looked up and this time my dad heard it too.

We both looked at the direction of the little bells, only to see a pink ball rolling slowly towards our direction.

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