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Sunday, December 26, 2010

"I cut off the bottom of the steak...and I fed it to my family."

My dad is a bit of a softy. The best storyteller I have ever known, he often gets so caught up in his own recalling of the past that tears begin to well up in his eyes.

One particular story crumbled him into a balling mess. It's one he has told me often since I was a child. Only, as I have grown older, the elements of honour, truthfulness and sacrifice have unfolded and blossomed in my wiser heart. This family history is, of course, the spine of my play Eating with Lola. It is the nail on which my entire one-woman show hangs upon and spirit which moves me from scene to scene.

My father's mother, Rufina, was a prized cook. Her recipes were so renowned that she was hired by an American teacher in Manila -- one of the remaining Thomasites who were hired to teach English and American morals to the Filipinos -- to cook for the entire Jenkins family. Despite her ability to create gastronomic magic in the Jenkins' kitchen, her own family was starving in post-war Manila. She would sneak into the Jenkins' ice box, take out a piece of steak and cut it laterally so that her deed wasn't obvious. She would then take this tiny sliver of meat and serve it to her family.

This is the part in the story when my father would start the waterworks. Many years later, when my father married my mother, the Jenkins were invited to the wedding. My grandmother took Mrs. Jenkins aside and confessed to her about the food stolen during those difficult times. Mrs. Jenkins laughed and told my grandmother, "I always knew. That's why I always gave you extra money to buy food at the market. I always knew."

In honour of this moment of forgiveness and understanding, I give you Filipino beef steak. This is probably what my Lola made for her family with that tiny sliver of meat. It's so simple, I won't even bother giving you a recipe. It's just tenderized beef marinated overnight in equal parts of soy sauce, lemon juice, pepper, garlic and onions. You fry the pieces of meat until cooked well, then you wilt the onions with the remaining marinade. Served with steamed rice, all remaining sauce on your plate can be sopped up with a piece of banana.

To make things complete, the steak is served atop the Depression Era serving dish from my other Lola Pacing.

Happy Holidays.

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