My mother-in-law, Grandma Luz, was the Filipina Martha Stewart. Every holiday, she would decorate her house, meticulously design her dining table and execute a perfect mix of Filipino and American dishes. I always told her that her tablescape and food could be featured on Bon Appétit! Thanksgiving was her favorite holiday.
Being the oldest of three brothers and a sister, Mom took on the caretaker role early as they lost their parents at a young age. I learned from her brother that when Mom and him worked summer jobs during their youth they ate rice and eggs for lunch for days as that's all they had. That gave me some perspective as to why Mom cooked with painstaking care on everyone's birthdays and holidays, especially Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Perhaps the times that she experienced going without resonated with her and made her resolve that if she could help it, she would not have that happen to her loved ones. Seeing us and her guests eat her food and come back for seconds always filled her with joy. She beamed with happiness and pride when someone commented they always accepted an invitation to her home because of the delicious food she served.
No matter the formality of the occasion, she always served a hearty meal when the family was together, even for a regular Sunday supper. Mom would order the prime rib from the commissary a week ahead. Then Mom and Dad would drive to a certain bakery to pick up a caked that we liked. Then they would make another trip to a different store/bakery to pick up dinner rolls that Mom knew was a favorite of my daughter's. For a big party, Mom would plan her menu days, even weeks ahead. Mom would make the itinerary of places to stop and Dad was the designated driver. Two days ahead, she would prepare her pecan tarts. The day before she would make her signature bibingka, chop up her vegetables for her vegetable lumpia and pancit. Hours and hours would be spent in the kitchen.
It has been a little over a year since Mom went home to God. We definitely felt her absence during the holidays as there was no paella, lumpia, pecan tarts or bibingka. I spent each one eating half-heartedly with a lump in my throat and a hole in my heart especially in the immediate months following her passing. Celebrations have just not been the same.
On July 9th, 2016 we had family and friends over to pray a rosary in her honor and celebrate her life. Dad made sure her standards were met. Dad made a huge roast beef and lechon kawali. Mom's balae's (in-laws) also made beef mechado. There was a dish each featuring chicken, beef, pork, seafood and noodles. Mom would have wanted it that way. Dad also did his best to make her famous pineapple upside down cake.
Months ago I found Mom's leche flan recipe written in her own hand. I have made it a couple of times at family get-togethers. One day I hope to find more of her recipes and try them. I promised myself though, that not until I can dedicate and replicate wholeheartedly the time, effort and love she put into cooking would I attempt one of her signature dishes. I am lucky that Mom passed on her cooking skills to her son Eric, my husband. As the saying goes, "Like Mother, Like Son," Eric spends a lot of time in the kitchen. He also makes special trips to out of the way places to bring home his kids' favorite foods. He spoils us with the meals he makes. Through him, Grandma Luz's legacy of love through food will continue. It is evident that every day, he lives the love he received from his mother's kitchen. Every day, we remember our Grandma Luz.