Our family lost my mother, Bessie Magsaysay-Sevilla, in March of this year. Before that, we went through a roller coaster ride with one health issue or another that made my head spin. But between the time Spouse and I came back to the Philippines in 2006, in time for my mom’s birthday in early November…we simply enjoyed our time with her and with the rest of our family.
My mother was a natural cook as her elder sister told me after she passed away. You can’t fake having a knack for cooking my tita said. You can learn and study for years and be good but not a natural. Mama was certainly a natural, at more than just cooking. She was a miracle worker even. She fed and raised seven healthy individuals on a very limited budget. All seven of us grew up loving our food and all learned to love to cook. It’s one thing to be able to cook and another to LOVE to cook.
I’ll always see her lovely hands cutting butter into flour for her pie crusts as I make my own pies. I’ll always make my pastel de pollo her way, with tomato sauce and not the more popular cream sauce. And I’ll forever remember her look of surprise and recognition as she tasted this same dish, my first attempt at making it for Christmas two years ago. I made an extra effort to make it exactly as she told me it was done. She gave me all her little tricks and secrets and I was not disappointed.
No matter that she was stingy in her praise, as her mother was before with her. I was toughened enough in a house full of critical siblings, to keep persisting. Ask them and I’m sure they’ll tell you I had more than my share of failures. Unlike my mother, I am not a natural cook.
I told myself I was beautiful because no one else told me I was. Then I found and married a man who tells me everyday I am….so I took the same approach with my cooking as I did with my looks and crossed my fingers!
It was an invaluable gift my aunt unknowingly gave me during that phone conversation in March. She told me of a time she and my mom were on one of their hour-long cross-continent phone conversations. Their topic turned to the inevitable, food. Paella came up and my mother told her sister, “Do you know who makes a good paella? Mita does.” That was enough to make me cry all over again.
I will treasure those words my mother told her sister and not me. She always said, even a dog needs a pat on the head every now and then. That was my pat on the head…not that I need one…I just want one.
I hope my mother knew how much we all loved her and looked up to her as our hero and role model. No matter how much of a conscious effort you take to make someone know you love them, after they are gone, it all seems so inadequate.
Perhaps I named this blog Unofficial Cook because no matter how many cooks there were around to spoil the brew, we only had one Official Cook in our kitchen – My Mama…and this blog is dedicated to her.