Around the late 1990s, cross stitching became a fad that everybody in my group of friends, except me, took to it to while away the time, or possibly to get together to gossip about. In hindsight, and no offense to them, i also considered that taking on the hobby was a way for them to escape hearing my separation narrative that had their ears already full for months since my marriage fell apart in September 1996.
We were first neighbors in an exclusive village called K-Square Townhomes in Quezon City, Manila’s capital as well as the largest city in the Philippines. Through the regular homeowners’ meetings, 4 of us gravitated towards each other and not long after, we have developed a solid friendship that has stood the tests of both time and distance. The circle expanded to include 2 other friends who lived outside of K-Square who were friends with one or the other. Tess and Menchie T were coming to our place almost daily or nightly for our game of Pusoy 2. Soon they were virtually residents of our village and that made my original neighborhood friends of six. Five of us are now living abroad. Menchie T and myself are in CA and is in New York,in the United States;Tess and her family live in Vancouver, British Columbia, and Aida just recently migrated to New Zealand. Menchie Sexy ( an adjective we have attached to her name to distinguish her from the Menchie with a T in our group) still lives at K-Square, a decision she stood up for to provide moral support to her son as he finished his medical school. Vincent, who is godson of all 5 of us, is now a practicing pediatrician,
When all five of my friends became so engrossed in cross-stitching, I looked for an alternative hobby to pursue because my eyesight could not handle the tediousness of sitting all day sewing x-shaped stitches to complete a pattern.
I did not hurry. Between sobbings over a failed marriage and trying to heal emotionally though spiritual retreats, I bid my time and waited until some promptings came to me. Then it just dawned.
I had no experience at all in cooking but I I could very well undertand and follow cooking terminoogies and instructions without even consulting Mr. Websters. So I told myself why not baking?
So baking it was. The following morning, I rushed to Killion Merchandising, a place where bakers, caterers and cooking enthusiasts flock to source ingredients because of its cheap prices. It is located in Quiapo in downtown Manila, about 12.3 km from our place but about a two hour ride from Quezion City given the perpetually notorious traffic reputation of Metro Manila.
Every trip to Killion always included a visit to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, famous home for the shrine of the Black Nazarene, a dark statue of Jesus Christ which many claim to be miraculous. The Basilica or the Quiapo Church as it is more colloquially known is just a stone’s throw away from Killion.
While Killion was a place for me to stock up on my dwindling baking arsenal, Quiapo Church was a quiet, serene sanctuary for me to unload my pain and hurt of my failed marriage that had swelled anew from my last visit. I would stay in the church for some indeterminate time, not saying anything, listening to my grief that I believed was being divinely transported to the right channel of grace. I would come to the place burdened but always emerged feeling light as a feather.
With every visit to Killion and corollarily to the Church, I knew that, aside from getting better at baking, I was, more importantly, getting emotionally healed increasingly and progressively.
So my baking saga continued. My first attempt was a simple pound cake. I found it in my older sister Beth’s stack of recipes which she must have left when she moved to Japan with her husband. Beth and another sister Cathy are the good cooks in the family. Mom,when she was younger and in her heydays, was a very good cook herself. Beth also took some courses in Culinary Arts while waiting to move to Japan; Cathy, on the other hand, was a Food and Nutrition graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, which must have imbued in her the art of food preparation, and ergo, the art of cooking. Techie, the baby sibling, and myself, had our interests away from the kitchen.
Braced for the task at hand, i propped up the recipe and spread out all the tools and ingredients in front of me. My nephew BJ and niece Carina were my little helpers. I suspected however that they volunterred during my baking sessions to be around not to help but to lick the batter from the mixing bowl once I was done with the mixing. Carefully and thoughtfully, I followed the instructions verbatim. When the mixing bowl started whirring and I saw how the dry ingredients softened into a thick paste of butter, egg, milk, sugar and flour, I was ecstatic. When the batter was done, I greased the yellow bundt pan and shoved it in the oven to bake for 50 to 65 minutes. Needless to say, my first experiment was successful and from then on, my cross stitching friends had made it a point to gather in my place, almost daily at around 3 pm, their cross stitch patterns in hand, while waiting for my next baking experiment to come to fruition. While I cautiously and painstakingly separated the dry from the wet ingredients, folded in the eggs into the batter of flour, sugar and butter, and poured in the milk into the batter, my friends had their heads bowed down on their cross-stitch patterns, looking up only intermittently to see my progress and how far off still they were from getting their hands into the finished product. This became a daily bonding time for us and for every compliment I was getting, I was progressively getting affirmed of my emotional healing.
My baking repertoire grew over time and inspired me to branch out to cookies and other cake variations. Oh, cookies. The plain sugar and butter cookies which my niece Trisha so much loved. When I first made these I had all 5 of my nephews and nieces ( Trisha, Erika, Raymond, aside from Carina and BJ) present, cousins who were then all playful, and obedient and whose gifts of innocence , almost certainly, would end in time with the coming of age and reality.
It warms my heat to remember that memory when they would huddle around the kitchen counter and soon as mixing was done, grappled for the bowl to get the first taste of the batter. Trisha,herself a mother now, bakes this recipe to her own children Raphaela and Thea.
The hihglight of my baking adventure was when I chanced upon a recipe for Food For The Gods, a sweet dessert bars, made with dates, butter, walnuts and honey. It became a hit soon as it came out of the oven. So good in fact that my family and friends suggested I make them as give-aways during Christmastime. So I did and did it with flair. They were given away in beautiful christmas themed boxes or tin cans with either gold, red or green ribbons tied around it and a fancy gift tag dangling from it. Soon after they were not just giveaways. I was getting orders from everywhere which I accepted for a while to keep me engrossed until I was ready to leave for the States to make a brand new start in life, on a clean slate and without a man.
I have been living in sunny California for the last 18 years now and bake only at my leisure. When I look back though the rearview mirror of those devastating years of my separation in the Philippines, I am grateful for that prompting to try baking as an effective vessel for me to rise above emotional hurt. This prompting would have been difficult to decipher without the wisdom of the Holy Spirit whom I have fully embraced during a three day spiritual retreat back in 1997.