Lengua Franca

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Deneng Deng (left), the Ilocano pinakbet (simmered vegetables in fermented shrimp paste), and lumpiang Shanghai (top right; mini meat egg rolls), fresh tomatoes and atsara (pickled papaya)

I will be visiting this summer my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA after three years. Trips there have been few and far between, so like anywhere else, I try to do and see as many things as possible.

It’s amazing how my folks put down roots in a place like the Burgh, so foreign to them in the beginning, but they eventually grew to love. After all, they raised a family and own a home. I would consider it my family home but not necessarily mine. As years pass, I realize home to me is somewhere else. Yet, there’s no denying my palpable sense memory, especially around food.

Lumpia (egg rolls) and Q BBQ Recipe are delicious staples in my family’s food culture.

My parents are often at their best when they are in the kitchen. In 2012, I wrote this unpublished essay for a food magazine, and since I’m feeling rather nostalgic, I will fit it in here as well as the recipe:

Having beef tongue for the first time one weekend when I was a teen was such an addictive experience that I went into a kind of all-day grazing mode, consuming it and playing into my parents’ hands to stay out of trouble. I recall it had the texture of my own tongue, with its subtle bumps and ridges. Obviously, I got past all that and discovered it had this nice mouth feel (no pun intended), as tender as any piece of meat should possibly be.
The real kicker, however, was the divine tomato sauce in which it was swathed. Lengua obviously wasn’t carried by the regular supermarket, so my Filipino parents would often drive to a butcher shop in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. Our trips into the city felt like an adventure away from the suburbs where we lived. I learned Foster’s Meats and later Butcher on Butler are now defunct, but there, in a nondescript brick-red building and hurricane-glass block windows, they found rare meat products and “nasty bits” for such native fare as karé-karé (braised oxtail in peanut butter sauce) and the Ilocano version of dinuguan (pork parts stewed in pig’s blood). My siblings and I would wait in our boat-size hunter green Mercury Marquis, as one of my parents or both would go shopping for those delicacies.
You could say beef tongue as it was prepared by my dad that weekend not only made me a really good girl, but also kept me from completely assimilating, lest I would lose my delectable and soulful food culture. From my standpoint, I am more than sated by it.
Filipino Dad’s Beef Tongue in tomato sauce
Beef tongue from the butcher’s

Vegetable or canola oil (1 to 2 tablespoons)
Tomato sauce/puree and/or fresh diced tomatoes
Garlic (2 cloves, sliced)
Onion (1 medium, sliced)
Soy sauce and pepper to taste
Sugar (optional)
To prepare the beef tongue, cover it in water and boil for 3 to 5 hours (1 lb./50 minutes is the conventional wisdom). You may also use a pressure cooker to shorten the cooking time (follow its recommendations).  When done, cool and remove outer skin or covering and any gristle or sinew.  Cut quarter- to half-inch slices.
Tomato Sauce:
Sauté garlic and onion slices in oil until soft. Add 2 cups of tomato sauce/puree and/or diced tomatoes and simmer till thickens. You may also add a little water to thin out the consistency if it’s too dense for your liking. Season with soy sauce and pepper to desired taste; cook for two minutes. Add beef tongue slices to sauce and let them meld together, basting the gravy over the beef to help heat it through. Once done and the meat is tender, serve and enjoy over rice or by itself. Green olives (or pimento stuffed ones) for some briny flavor would also take this dish to another level.

 

Mentors

UZAD1166 Adjusting to a new job no question takes time. Be that as it may, I am mindful of what I already have in my career and lucky enough to have two I could call mentors from journalism to contracts management. Jason, a former contracts manager at Interior Architects, imparted knowledge and the path forward to leverage in my current career. Rene was my first and only editor in journalism, who taught me to be a better writer. They are both highly-skilled, invariably men in their positions.

The women whom I can say are my mentors are really my peers, which speaks more to the lack of them at a higher level. And those in positions of power, I have observed, are merely surviving, dare I say scheming (although they may call it succeeding), in a stratosphere of male culture that rebuffs equally qualified women who would otherwise be at the table but refuse to play the game in a man’s world.

This month I was honored to have met as well as delight in the gastronomic offerings of Chef Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Restaurant and “Top Chef” fame. She put together a meal featuring her soul food menu for the Macy’s Culinary Council during its Spring Flower Show. Her ability to transcend norms and create more of a life than simply a career resonates with me, and I peppered her with questions in exchanges during her cooking demo as we tucked into her dishes and imbibed in wine and spirit.

I identify with her eclectic background, having also grown up and educated in the East before moving west. She said she loves being her own boss, an entrepreneur who is also interested in empowering her community in the Bay Area and globally. She has a degree in Russian language and literature that later led to being a U.S. culinary ambassador to Kazakhstan for the Third Annual Culinary Diplomacy program in 2015.  While current public discourse has become polarizing, she said, food is instrumental in opening up dialogue and discovering commonalities when sharing a meal.

It’s comforting to know a role model like her exists when I am less than satisfied with how my career is progressing. She reminds me I have more agency over my life than I can imagine, and it keeps my eyes locked on the prize.

The Joy of New Beginnings

It was months ago last year in October to be exact that I wrote about eagerly anticipating my next move, and now I can happily say I have turned that page. I can’t say it was easy, but as I am told often, anything hard is more than likely worth it.

This was a no-brainer. There were no conflicts or fears on my end–just it was time to get out and be more me. So here I am with a new job and a freedom I don’t think I have ever known because I am so unequivocally joyful. I see it in wanting to watch my nephew play ball and being my own boss in whatever I choose to do. It is, as overused as this term might be, liberating once again and as ever a moment of gratitude and abundance–twin states of being I could only express in how I live and who I am.

 

Averting Death

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Poolside: MLK weekend getaway before a brief scare on the return flight.

I was taking off in a plane last month on a windy morning from Palm Springs, and before the critical 30 seconds when the aircraft would have reached a safe level, it started to bounce violently like a puppet being willfully pulled by invisible strings. Obviously, I survived, however, the event nudged me to think how final moments are never shared after the fact because, well, one would not have lived to tell them. Once we disembarked, my travel companions and I reunited and immediately debriefed to comfort each other. Later, I also texted my siblings.

I was seated in the last row, where one could feel every bump and disturbing noise expressed from a plane’s gut, when it started rocking in a not so pleasant manner. I turned toward my sole row mate, and he looked about to lose it, including all his saliva, judging how he was cupping his mouth. With little assurance there, I took hold of the arms of my seat, curling mine around them, imagining I would have some kind of protection if separated from the plane in a hard, vertical fall.

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My nephews are babies no more but still raison d’etre.

Then my phone popped out of the pocket in front me. When I had a chance to grab and pick it up, the top screensaver of my two nephews around two or three at the time, lit up, as most phones sensitive to any touch or movement are want to do, and glowed in the gray well of my row. I locked into their angelic faces that were increasingly coming into sharp focus, as I brought my phone closer to me. I thought if this is my final moment, then I am at peace and good with whatever follows because these boys, whom I consider at times my own, were the last images I would have seen.

But I dodged the grim reaper again, and well, I guess, at this juncture, the directive is more or less the same as time immemorial–live like there’s no tomorrow–but also speak of what’s in my heart, especially when without any notice, it may suddenly be on its last tick.

Even-Keeled

Self-Portrait

A portrait composed by my coworkers on the whiteboard of my office.

I just thought it’s the perfect moment to plant a flag on something I’ve often wondered–whether my own plan would at some point coincide with reality. Office desk

Here it is–I have a job I’ve come to appreciate because it supports a life I love. By the same token, I approach my job situation in similar fashion as my personal life: It’s how I feel about the job not the company that’s primary. Therefore, it’s about my partner not marriage that’s foremost. I am hopeful on both fronts as I navigate my next move. 

Another Leg of the Journey

I don’t often have my days to myself so it’s nice to have at least this week to sit back and consider things so far.  It almost seems like a few months ago that I wrote about starting a new job, and comes September, it’s now a year. It was quite a mountain to climb because it was a learning curve only as steep as the workplace I’ve had to maneuver. And I declare I’ve come to a comfortable point.

I’ve said how seeing the forest from the trees magnifies the real estate I’ve covered that translates in the abundance given to me. And that’s where I find myself now–proud of where I am and how I got here.

I used to disabuse myself of expectations since they’ve proven to disappoint, however, I’ve learned course corrections and resets are always available when plans go awry, as they most often do.

A year does go by in a blink of an eye, so why not continue to believe in unicorns despite conventional wisdom. There’s nothing to lose but for the possibility of anything and everything, and that would be tragic, a failure of imagination.

G’Day!

While pictures often tell the story in our Instagram culture, just a few words about my trip to Sydney and Melbourne in Australia last March: In my first overseas trip in 10 years, I realize how much I miss traveling abroad. Like anything that hasn’t been done for a long time, I was naturally anxious at first, even dreading it. Fortunately, I pushed through the fear and with my last trips to Italy and France in mind, it was like riding a bike.

Experiencing the world provides perspective that couldn’t be gained stationary in one’s comfort zone or permanent residence. Although I am three months removed, I am no doubt changed, infused by my time there yet being present here, a thread I am following and exploring. But articulating it is another matter, given my long absence from this page, so please enjoy the snappies in the meantime!

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