When last I wrote, I had just returned back from our day trip to the great city in the mountains, Baguio City. I believe they call it the summer city of the north. Why? Because it is much cooler there in the summer than in the lower areas surrounding it, of course!
Our trip was a good one, but tiring. I awoke the following day not feeling much like doing anything, but I had an idea for the following day. I wanted to make a dish that I am known for here in the U.S. Nothing crazy, but it is well liked by many of my friends and family. Spaghetti. Now, I have to warn you that I was raised on a simple jar spaghetti sauce, which is not bad if you don’t really know how to cook, or just want something quick and easy. But, as I… um, grew older, and my taste buds matured, I decided that a simple sauce from the jar was not good enough for my palette. So, I began experimenting, and came up with what came to be known and favored with my friends and family. At that point in time, I started with jarred sauce and modified. NOW, I am a complete by scratch kind of guy. But, I digress.
So, I tell my lovely fiancée, Joan, that I would like to make her and her family a nice dinner of spaghetti with homemade garlic bread, and maybe a fruit salad as desert. Which means what exactly? Yet another trip to the mall. If I haven’t already expressed this to you, I hate the mall. Not the mall where we went in Dagupan City. I hate ANY mall. I hate ALL MALLS! But, this is the only place that I personally know of that will, I pray, have the things I need for my spaghetti dinner. We make the trip, by driver and private van, of course. And enter the grocery part of the mall. We start going aisle by aisle looking for everything. I find the ground beef, the bags of spaghetti sauce, tomato paste, and then I get to the spice aisle. Or, maybe I should say spice shelf. Ok, a section of shelf. Where are the danged spices?! Needless to say, the spices I use are few and far between. I will have to improvise my recipe, and do with what I have. Ok. Bread. Where is the bread aisle? Bread aisle? There is no bread aisle! Seriously? Where can I get some bread? Well, the bakery of course! Now, I’m starting to feel like I’ve stepped back in time. I have to go to an actual bakery for bread? Sir, yes sir. Ok. Let’s go!
We find a bakery, which looks very nice from the outside, and the smells of fresh baking bread get my blood stirring. I’m getting excited! I love fresh made bread! I think it’s from when I was a kid and my mom would make it on a weekend morning. Waking up to the smells of bread baking is an awesome treat! Joan and I walk into the bakery and everything looks empty. Are they out of business? It seems odd. So, I ask a clerk about some bread. She informs me that she has all kinds of bread, which relieves my tension, for about a minute. When I tell her I am looking for Italian loaf bread for making garlic bread she informs me that they make it every morning, but that they sell out, and have none left. Scavenge and rescue mode kicks in, and I ask for what they have. She shows me all kinds of types of bread, none of which should be used for garlic bread. She then says, I have hot dog buns. Now, I am an American, in a foreign country, so I am a little amused at this thought. But, then I see the hot dog buns. They’re perfect! They are huge, but they are WAY bigger than an American hot dog bun, and they’re baked individually, so they look like Italian loaf bread. I’m sold! We gather up our purchases of hot dog buns, neigh, miniature Italian bread loafs, and we head home to cook.
So, I need one more thing for my sauce. This is my secret weapon, but you can feel free to use it if you choose. I make my sauce with mozzarella cheese directly in the sauce. Not a lot, but enough to tickle the senses. Oh, how difficult it is to find cheese in the Philippines. We went EVERYWHERE!!! Giving up on the cheese, we stop for pizza to take back to our friends, who asked us to bring them back one. As I’m watching them make the pizza, I see something wonderful!!! Mozzarella cheese being sprinkled on the pizza!! AHH!!!!!! “Where do you get the cheese for that pizza”?! I asked. Back aisle, in the small refrigerator case. Oh man. After I had given up all hope of finding cheese, it finds me!
Now this is where the surprise comes. “This is your despedida”, my fiancée says. “My what?”, I ask. “Your despedida”, says Joan. What is that? Well, as it turns out, it’s a party you throw for yourself to when you are going away. Now, I don’t know how this went from a private dinner for 10 or 12 to a despedida, but I think since I am cooking and preparing things, I should have been told in advance. Ok. I’m going with the flow, after all, it’s been a great time, and I have ZERO stress. Well, I didn’t. So, how many people will be attending this despedida? Unknown. Now, I’m stressed. We are only a couple hours from dinner and I don’t think I have enough food. I guess we’ll just wing it and see how it goes. If we run out of food, they can just say how dumb the American is for not preparing enough for an army. An army, by the way, is what I am told to expect. The story of how people get invited, and the invite others on the way to the party is ringing in my ears as I brown the meat in the pot. The sauce is cooked, and I’m looking at about 6 pounds of noodles. Now, you don’t know me, but when I throw a party I like to make sure everyone has enough to eat, and has a good time. I don’t think I have enough sauce or noodles! We cook the noodles in batches and add them to the pot as we go. I have made a 40 qt. pot of spaghetti, and about 3 gallons of fruit salad. We are going to run out! I am so sure of this, I would donate a kidney for a double batch. Luckily nobody needed a kidney at the moment.
We arrive at the party in time to cook the garlic bread. I want it fresh and hot for the guests. What do I encounter? A countertop toaster oven that holds two pieces of bread. Oh my, oh my! But, all is good! I am, after all, in the Philippines and in the presence of my new family. I get to work on the garlic bread, and the first batch I make, I cut into little pieces for the kids to try. That was a mistake. Now, they’re standing there, waiting for more to come out of the toaster oven!! I slowly make all the bread and continue to cook the last of it as the guests begin to arrive. They are fed, and seemed to enjoy the meal. Apparently, spaghetti there is sometimes made with milk and also sugar. I’ve seen sugar used here to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, but I don’t do that style. I like a robust and savory sauce. So, everything is ready. As the guests arrive, they eat the spaghetti and love it and the bread. Or so, I am told. The kids DEFINITELY loved it, and wore a lot of it on their cute little faces.
It was time for dessert! Fruit salad, American style. Well, sort of. I used pineapple, apples, oranges, pears, grapes, and one Pomelo I had received from my new Grandma’s yard. Everything was cut up, there was no ice. There was no condensed milk. It was, an American style fruit salad!!! The way “I” like it! As it turns out, the kids loved it too. I lost track of how many times they came back for more to put in their bowls. But, I was happy they liked it, and was happier that there was enough to give them more. The spaghetti, on the other hand, was gone. I barely had a chance to get some for myself!!! Let me tell you something, after all the work I put into finding the stuff for that food, and then cooking it… if I didn’t get some, I would have been a VERY unhappy man! But, all ended well. Everyone had enough to eat, or was polite enough to say they had, and we relaxed and talked for a while together with my new friends and family.
Until next time. Salamat, ingat, and God bless!