Smelt the Flowers, Summer is Here ; )

Summertiiiiiiimmmme! And the living is easy... (this is me singing). It’s getting warmer here in the tropics and I am skipping the SPF 25 day cream ritual because my face feels hot and sting-y (so do my eyes, from eye cream).  I don’t know about you but the gel kind that’s supposed to feel lighter and cooler on my face sort of ‘runs’! Not icky like it gets with the cream type, but when you are commuting in polluted Manila, your face towel ends up sporting a road map the likes of which the people over at Google  has never seen.  When I was working at an airline company which office sits between a parking lot and a hangar, all that tarmac and macadam seem to shimmer and I swear I could see white heat rising. You couldn’t make me go out in that! 

We don’t have an air conditioner in the house.  Strike that...we do! We just never got around to putting it up.  We worried about our electric bills running high and in summer, it shoots up even with just the fans going.   Besides, the house is pleasantly ‘drafty’, with the second level done in wood.  The ground floor has been raised several feet through the years to help lessen flooding (I’m in Manila’s Venice, remember?) and the local government raised the street level for the same reason, practically turning our ground floor into a basement.  The upside is the living room is cooler all year; a boon in a power outage. When I read about a ’cold room’ or cantina in novels set in Italy, I imagine they meant something like our living room.  

It gets hot only when I bake or when mom is cooking fit to feed an army (in appetite, that is).  When she was still working, she did her marketing on Saturdays; cooks slow cooked dishes that highlights our Sundays; and got all burners going for the weekday reheat parade.  Of course, some dishes end up eaten ahead of the menu schedule (sigh).

Retirement allowed mom the pleasures of haggling with the vegetable cart man at the gate or going to the nearby market every morning to buy the odds and ends of an improv menu.  For specials she goes to Polo Market, like (tamarind) sampalok flowers (hard to find, used to sour chicken cooked like sinigang – think Tom Yum, which uses lemon grass instead), ar-arosep (grape like seaweed you eat with a dash of vinegar and pepper), balay (small mussels with tails) and tatampal , like a lobster wearing body armor.  I call it Alien shrimp ; ).

All moms like to boast about good, fresh foodstuff paid for ‘just this much’. The rest of the family love seafood to death, as opposed to crustaceans being the death of me (my throat closes up).  When I read (or hear singing) about fish and crabs and shrimps jumping, I think about the poor dears (oh yes, they’re costly, too) knocking about in an aluminum pan, trying to get out of the wet heat and the inferno under their butts.  Soon they’d change color, go soft and crunchy and delicious as they cook! A true sign of freshness, mom says, is how sweet the taste (even meat).  Based on my encounters with the few fish I am not allergic to, I could attest to that.

This fish I don’t eat.  
Mom makes me something else when the family is on a seafood binge. My mom likes the simplest of meals (she and my brother can live on paksiw na isda – fish cooked in vinegar and ginger- she always has a pot at the table). She likes the challenge of rich slow stewing but takes a break from it with quick wok-ing.  Often, she would throw foodstuff in the pot or wrap them in banana leaf with the trinity of Pinoy sautés – garlic, onions and tomatoes; let it steam and simmer a bit.  Then she stores it awhile to let the flavors ‘bloom’.  She dumped everything - silinyase fish (don’t know if that’s the right spelling), the trinity, the duet (hehe, salt and pepper) on the banana leaf , drizzled it with a bit of vegetable oil and then cooked it in the wok a few minutes, lid on.  She said it is sweet, delicious, saves gas (this is why this summer ain’t easy – the Libyan crisis is cranking up prices in a domino effect ) and money (she bought this lot for twenty pesos).  It is also apt for Holy Week lunches. 

Looks pretty, right? All silvery bright and sprightly (uhh, that’s me imagining). It does remind me of Dakota Fanning’s quote in Glee, ordering Rachel to go on a diet of smelt.  I wonder if this is the Pinoy counterpart.  I imagine people living in coastal villages elsewhere cooking fresh caught fish this way – spare but flavorful. I’m taking mom’s word for it hehehe.  

What’s nice about this summer is that it is hot on the heels of January’s cooler weather and chilly February nights, leaving the flowers in our garden (ok, pots!) with a deep, richer hue.  Mom's roses are positively blowsy, makes me want to dig up my summer skirts! The bougainvillea and yellow vine along our fence is a riot and one of my mom’s orchids is beginning to flower high up on the firewall.  My basil won't be outdone with tiny lavender and white flowers.  

I add to my humble flower pictures this one of a field of yellow and roses I’d love to have sent to me (ehem, ehem).  My friend Nessi took these pictures - a lot more sophisticated and otherworldly (she’s well-traveled hehehe) in subject and quality than mine. Someday I’ll sneak into her luggage!.  I love her pictures. She would blush reading this hahaha.  I asked her to contribute to this blog as guest photographer  ; ). 

P.s. Just so you know I am still baking! I paired mom’s pagkain ng mahirap (so-called poor man’s food, no offense meant) with lemon pecan pound cake.  It was perfect! I didn’t spend anything.  I had lemon in the fridge and pecans from Christmas (packed in foil and stored in Tupperware then bagged in the freezer.  Tita E said this way it will keep for a year).  I made a little one, the lemony taste nicely tempered by the sweetish, nutty-with-a-slight-bitter-edge of roasted pecans. Not a sunshiny yellow but warm and refreshing!  It didn't need much more than a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar. Must make again!


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