“Get Your Baon;” Adventures In Bento

I have been making a lot of baon lately; pronounce it [‘ba.ʔon]. That’s the Filipino word for meal provisions; it can refer to packed food or money intended for a meal. Filipino kids are reminded to get their baon before they leave the house.

I like to make mine bento style, because they are:

  • Not wasteful. There is nothing disposable involved in eating these.
  • Compact. Put it in your backpack with a spoon and go.
  • Visually appealing. Bentos should look good for two reasons; so that you feel a spark of joy when you get to eat it, and so that other people feel jealous when they compare their sloppy lunch filled with plastic wrappers and unappealing piles of food.

Making your food look bento-y is easy. The two principles are: a) arrange the foods to be next to each other, not on top of each other; b) cram the food into the box so it doesn’t move during transport.

I started bento-ing a while ago, and blogged about it here, and started a tumblr called lunchboxjpv. I try to follow these constraints:

  • It’s gotta be spoonable. I don’t make meals that require more than one utensil. A single fork or a single pair of chopsticks will also do the trick but the point is to keep it simple.
  • It should be low maintenance. It should still be good to eat after half a day in a cool, dark place without refrigeration, just in case… It should be ok to eat without microwaving… just in case.
  • It should be satisfying. It should have proteins and greens. It should be colorful. It should have something that the eater is eager to eat.

The other day, my sister called us saying that she was going to have an emergency c-section. That meant K had to go to the hospital, and there was no telling how long the two of them would be staying. My sister was already complaining about hospital food. I asked K how long before he left for the hospital, and he said about an hour. I had started making a ragù earlier in the day, so I figured I could have nine bentos ready to go by the time he left for the hospital. I packed the ragù with some tortellini I found in the pantry, plus I through together some baked sockeye with some cabbage that I adoboed. Boom, nine meals. That got K and my sister through the weekend.

So making these bentos is a little tricky. I’m a diabetic pescatarian, so I don’t make anything with sugar, and I don’t eat any meat. My sister and brother in law are meat eaters, so I make meat for them, but don’t cook with sugar out of habit. Also, one of them doesn’t eat chiles, garlic, or onions, and the other one really hates bell peppers.

So given those restrictions, here’s what I know how to make so far:

  • Baked salmon
  • Pork adobo
  • Kalua pig
  • Chicken adobo
  • Ginataang gulay (some veggie cooked in coconut milk)
  • Chopped suey
  • Steamed or roasted veggies
  • Steamed rice
  • Little roasted potatoes
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Shrimp and veggie yakisoba
  • Tuna omelet
  • Simple sausage ragù

Crockpot Recipes

Kimchi pork roast

Over a decade ago when I lived in Shanghai, I created a crockpot recipe. It went like this:

  • Step 1: Dump a pork roast into a crockpot
  • Step 2: Dump some kimchi into the crockpot
  • Step 3: Cook (8 hours on low, or 5 hours on high)
  • Step 4: Serve with rice.

As you can see, it was stupid easy. For the video above, I chopped that pork into cubes, but on subsequent trials, I just left the roast whole and liked it better that way. This recipe works great with beef too.

I may have based this recipe on my friend M’s Kalua Pig Recipe.

Kalua Pig with Cabbage.

  • Step 1: Dump a pork roast in to a crockpot (I ilike pork butt or shoulder)
  • Step 2: Season with Hawaiian salt and two drops of liquid smoke.
  • Step 3: Cook (8 hours on low, or 5 hours on high)
  • Step 4: Remove meat from crock pot and let it cool/rest.
  • Step 5: Shred cabbage and toss it in the fat of the meat. Let it cook for an hour.
  • Step 6: Shred meat and return it to crockpot.
  • Step 7: Serve with poi. Or rice.

Here’s a new one. My sister and brother in law can’t get enough of it.

Bratwurst in a Simple Ragù

  • Step 1: Dump one tetrapak of tomatoes in the crockpot and set to high.
  • Step 2: Grill some bratwurst. Don’t bother cooking all the way through, just get some grill marks and char flavor.
  • Step 3: Dump the bratwurst into the tomatoes and leave them there for 5 hours.
  • Step 4: Serve with pasta or something.

I’ve been using bratwurst because of some dietary restrictions, but Italian sausage sounds more appropriate.

Speaking of dietary restrictions, I don’t eat any of this stuff anymore, I’m a pescatarian. But I am feeding my family with these recipes still.

Welcome Baby Kora

My sister and brother and law welcomed their daughter Kora into the world. I like her. More about her later!

I’m looking at condos now. I prequalified for more than I expected but I probably won’t go that high. There’s also the possibility of getting a family house. We shall see.

It is day 55 of Covid 19 quarantine. I’ve been teaching online classes My family has stayed safe, thank God. My friend R caught it and recovered. I’ve sewed masks, I’ve wiped down groceries, I’ve bought my limit of hand sanitizer. I’ve baked bread and given myself a haircut. I’m currently teaching online, and even had a zoom bomber! (It was kind of disappointing; a herpes joke.) My sister and I collaborated on a haircut (it wasn’t bad) and I sang in an online choir collaboration. I learned triads on my ukulele in the various inversions, and I may have learned the fretboard… working on it anyway.

I don’t mind the quarantine; I don’t feel isolated since I’m with family. I used to wonder about how lonely I’d feel had I stayed in California, but I don’t think about that anymore.

The Day We Became Filipino

It was June 10th, 1990, a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in Tumwater, Washington.

I’ve told this story a thousand times, and I’m a little shocked to learn that I haven’t blogged about it before. I did a search on this blog and turned up nothing, so I figured I better tell it now.

We were actually Filipino from the beginning. A more contemporary title to this story would be “The Day We Came Out as Filipino,” because it was a day that cultural assimilation officially stopped.

When I was a little kid, my parents gave me a button to wear on my lapel on St. Patrick’s Day. It said, “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” To be clear, it was a joke. I was a little brown Filipino American kid, and zero kinds of Irish. In addition, I hated kissing. Regardless, I thought the pin was funny, and I think my parents did too. I don’t think most white folks saw it as funny, they saw it as factually inaccurate and a dishonest way to engage in physical intimacy, which again, I cannot overstate the fact that I hated kissing.

Most people thought it was not that funny, but I remember one man at Capital Lake Park saw my pin and started laughing way too hard, saying “that’s a good one!” I thought it was worth a chuckle but not THAT funny; that guy laughed hard in a creepy way. Thank goodness he didn’t kiss me.

By the way, you all would have been lucky to kiss me, I was the cutest; cuter than all my cute cousins, who were then, and still are, cute AAF.

Anyway, “Kiss me, I’m Irish” was a public recognition of ethnicity in the 1970s. I cannot imagine a similar button saying “I’m Filipino.” When white classmates would demand, “WHAT ARE YOU?” I would answer that my family is Filipino in a very frank yet quiet tone. I did not yet know how to say it easily, they way I now know to smile and say, “I’m diabetic” or “I’m a fat man!” When would say “my family is Filipino,” it was really a way to baffle them. Most of them did not know what “Filipino” means, and since they were expecting to hear “Chinese” or “Japanese,” my answer was outside of their world view and stopped them cold.

Occasionally, some of them had an uncle who had served in the military, so they had to confront me on my dog eating. Back then, I honestly didn’t know if Filipinos ate dogs, but the question seemed to stress out my mom, who knew more about racism than I did. I’ve still never eaten a dog, but now that I’m grown I like to tell people that yes, I ate a thousand dogs, and I’m about to eat your dog. It’s better that way.

Anyway, the point of all this is that we were, in fact Filipino, but it wasn’t a thing to act Filipino in front of the Whites. Everyone was glad we had honky accents and that we didn’t speak Filipino. We didn’t criticize them for their strange food habits; we even made a concerted effort to experience things like meals without rice; cereal and milk, extra cheese pizza, etc. Peanut butter and jelly, that was a difficult thing to accept for my mama, she fed a neighbor kid lunch once because they said they were hungry. “Didn’t you eat lunch at home?” my mama asked, and the kid meekly said yes. “Well what did you eat?” she asked (it occurs to me now how Filipino that question is). The kid answered peanut butter and jelly, and my mom gasped and offered the kid a plate of ulam and rice. That’s a culture shock, folks, most of the world doesn’t consider “peanut butter and jelly” to be any kind of food, much less a meal. My mama still tells that story, imitating that kid’s pathetic, “peanut butter and jelly,” scandalized.

As Filipinos, we had public food and secret food. Public Filipino food was pansit, lumpia, leche flan; chicken adobo… white folks liked that. If they came over to our house, we might serve them a steak, a pork chop, or beef stew with a side of rice, and if they remarked about never eating rice with a steak before, we’d tell them that it was our Filipino culture, and they would shrug and say, “wull that’s differ’nt!”

The secret food was dinuguan, of course, but also sinigang was too strange for them. Longganisa, pork adobo, squid, any seafood. If there was a fiesta with a whole roast pig, I’d be surprised if there were any white folks invited. Anything with bagoong was secret food; pinakbet, kare kare. Also there might have been a gag order on veggie dishes like dinengdeng and laing, because Filipnos think vegetables are only for poor people, and we can’t represent ourselves as poor. If white people are coming over, better make them a pork chop and a salad… but steamed rice is a non-negotiable.

When I was growing up, we’d have simple meals like a fried fish and rice with inabraw, and when the meal was served, my mama would close the curtains. We would eat our meals in the middle of the day with curtains closed, so that on the off chance that any once came to our window, they wouldn’t see us eating with our hands. We were taught to be ashamed of that, to not allow white folks to see us do it. Never mind that Americans eat hamburgers, pizza, chicken parts, hot dogs, French fries, and a million other things their hands; we couldn’t be seen eating rice with our hands. To be honest, it’s often embarrassing to watch Americans and Europeans try to eat food with their hands on travel shows; they don’t know the technique, or they don’t know that there is a technique, and they eat like messy toddlers. Frankly, it’s appalling.

Anyway the day we became Filipino was my high school graduation party. It was the same year that my dad finished his college degree, so we had a joint party, with family and a few of my friends, who were not Filipino at the time. It was a big party and my mama covered the dining room table with all kinds of public Filipino food, it was spectacular. As a meat eater back then, my favorite were the pork or beef skewers known as “barbecue,” which white people loved and refused to call “barbecue.” They’d say I LOVE THE KABABS, and my cousin would turn to me and clench her teeth and mutter, “it’s called barbecue.”

My mama had grilled whole fish, they were long, thin meaty fish, the shape of pike mackerel but chubbier, one or two per guest. They looked spectacular. I was concerned, though, because the heads were on, which made them secret food. It’s long been known that white folks do not tolerate food with heads. Their hamburgers, their hot dogs, their Thanksgiving turkeys, and their fish sticks are always headless, it’s a rule.

I went into the kitchen where my mama was still cranking out banquet food. Mama, I said, you left the heads on the fish! There are Americans coming! In fact, the Americans were already there, in the living room, drinking cans of pop and munching on lumpia. It was probably the wrong time to ask my mama about the fish heads; she was elbow deep in party food and trying to keep the magic happening. “We are Filipino!” she said.

And that was it. I got the message loud and clear, at that moment. June 10th, 1990, it was a sunny Sunday in Tumwater, Washington.

“We are Filipino.” It’s no longer a secret. I had graduated, my dad had graduated; and now my mama had graduated, graduated from cultural assimilation. We are serving head-on fish to the Americans and the entire explanation is “We are Filipino.” Your squeamishness will no longer be accommodated.

As predicted one of my white friends remarked that the fish were on the banquet table, grilled to perfection, with the heads still on. “We are Filipino.” I answered.

“It’s looking at me!” said my friend. Bless her heart. For once, some one else was experiencing culture shock. The fish was not looking at her, it was cleaned, seasoned, and grilled to perfection. If I remember correctly, she did eat that fish and enjoy it, but the head was a huge challenge for her to conquer.

And that’s the Day We Became Filipino, publicly. Now, if someone asks WHAT ARE YOU? I smile saying, “my ethnicity? I’m Filipino American, how about you?” I make them say “ethnicity” because that’s the right word, and “WHAT ARE YOU?” is embarrassing. When people guess, and say, “are you Filipino,” my answer is “of course!” Because it’s not a secret; it’s important to my identity, there’s nothing else I can be, nothing else I would want or know how to be. Mabuhay!

Recipe: Iced Coffee and Cold Brew

I’m not a coffee snob, I don’t have a very discerning palate. I do, however, know when coffee tastes like ass, and I refuse to subject myself to that. I go out of my way to buy fresh roasted beans (purchased within days of roasting, checking the date on the package.

I use a French press because it doesn’t waste a paper or plastic products every day, and is fast and easy to clean up. If you want to see how I do it, here’s a video I made in the original Spanish. The original is better but if you need English, I have that too.

Iced coffee and cold brew are a nice way to enjoy coffee on a hot day. It’s also a good way to consume left over coffee. You can kick it up a notch by making coffee ice cubes to go with your chilled coffee drink, but that’s extra.

Recipe: Iced Coffee

Ingredients: Leftover coffee that you brewed but didn’t finish.

Procedure: Pour your leftover coffee into a carafe or mason jar and chill overnight.

Serving: Drink it. Extra points for serving it over ice. Cream and sugar? It’s a free country.

Recipe: Cold Brewed Coffee

Ingredients: Fresh roasted coffee beans; water. Use the same proportions as you use for hot coffee; I use four heaping tablespoons of whole beans per 1.2 liters of water, which is the size of my French press cafetera.

Procedure:

  • Grind the beans to to somewhere between coarse and fine. Make it more fine than when you brew with boiling water, but still coarse enough to feel a poke if you stepped on spilled grinds with bare feet. Whatever, don’t lose sleep over it.
  • Mix the ground beans with cold water in a container large enough to hold it; a mason jar, a carafe, your French press’s carafe minus the plunger. Cover and put it in your fridge.
  • The next morning, strain it somehow; French press, coffee filter, cheese cloth, who cares.

Serving: Look, you’ve cold brewed coffee and strained it somehow; if I have to tell you how to serve it and drink it, this recipe might be too difficult for you.

The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I saw this lifestyle post about cold brew and it made my brain explode that people still think this is a mysterious, difficult and expensive process. It’s not; it’s cheap, easy, and frankly, lazy. Don’t buy special beans or equipment. Spend ZERO EXTRA MONEY on making chilled coffee drinks.

Recipe: Breakfast Potatoes

I don’t know what happened to this post, it was up, it got sees and likes, and then I found it in my draft folder with no text. Weird. So no i’m writing it again and posting it. The main reason I feel the need to blog this is that I always forget the temperature.

Preheat your oven to 425º.

Cube some potatoes. Toss them in a mixing bowl with salt, pepper, spices, and oil. Paprika is a good choice; turmeric or cumin if you’re in that kind of mood. Fine garlic or onion powder would be fine as well, but I stay away from things that will burn, like dried chopped onion or garlic. Anyway, add a gloop of oil and then toss with a big spoon until everything is fully coated.

Spread onto a baking pan or cookie sheet. I use parchment paper. Spread the cubes out in one layer so that they are not touching too much and bake them for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, the potatoes are fully cooked, you can serve them. Or you can flip them and crisp them up for up to 25 minutes more, if you are looking for that crunch.

This was the recipe that I modified; I mostly just needed the oven temp and baking time. I am uneasy with that person’s position on ketchup, so I feel better about endorsing this one instead. Either way, it’s 425º for 20 min, flip, and cook more if you want.

For the record, I also bake potatoes and sockeye salmon at 425º

Good Friday, Good News

We’re still in the middle of the coronavirus crisis, and for weeks the news has been all bad bad bad, to the point that whenever the state or local government declares new, tighter restrictions, I’ve been considering that to be good news. City parks closed? Yes! Finally good news. School buildings closed for the rest of the school year? Yes! More good news. I feel it’s good news just because it means we’re doing one more thing to stop the spread of this killer virus, but to tell the truth it’s more of a relief than actual good good news. And most people don’t consider it good news; lots of people find the social distancing to be spooky and sad. To tell the truth, I don’t mind it; I’m glad to be sheltering here in Seattle with family.

In the last 48 hours, there has been news that I’ve actually been excited about. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore have held infections to a minimum. New Zealand is crushing their curve. South Korea’s curve started to get away from them, and then they as a society wrestled it to the ground. The Taiwanese have found a brilliant, cheap, fast, and easy way to re-santitize used surgical masks.

Here’s some of the local good news. State and federal officials have agreed to dismantle and redeploy the emergency field hospital at Century Link, due to our success at flattening the curve. Turns out we don’t need them here, thank goodness, I hope they can go be a blessing where the pandemic is causing more suffering. Washington state seems to be flattening the curve, to the point where we’re returning ventilators to the federal stockpile.

I think the best news is that my good friend R, a Jesuit novice in Louisiana, has recovered from COVID 19 and was released from isolation this morning, to rejoin his novitiate class that is sheltering as a community. He texted me when he went into isolation, and I checked in on him every day. Every day he told me he was getting better, but last night on a zoom call he told me that there were a moments where he couldn’t breathe and he thought he was going to die. I felt annoyed that he had gotten sick; I didn’t have it in me to be sad or worried. I wanted him to contact all our friends from California, so that the burden wouldn’t be on me to relate bad news to everyone. Thankfully he has recovered. I am very, very relieved and thankful.