Monday, May 9, 2011

Flowers for Ima

It was Saturday. The next day May 8, the world would be celebrating Mother's Day.

At work that morning, there were seven of us seated at our long lunch table – six middle aged ladies and a young man in his 20s. Our conversation topic centered on Mother's day and what this young man would give his mum on this special day.

None, he said and added that he had no idea what else his mum wanted or needed. His mum, by the way, was a famous artist in NZ and according to him had been knighted and was now called a 'Dame'.

"Give her flowers," I suggested. A decent arrangement of roses here would cost a little less than a hundred dollars.

"Or if you want something affordable, there are flowers at the supermarket," Vanessa, the lady seated next to me seconded.

"Bring her breakfast in bed," Sue, the lady seated at the head of the table suggested. "It doesn't have to be something pricey, even simple things as doing something for her would please any mum," she added.

The young man did not respond to any of our suggestions, which I took to mean he was thinking about them.

But that conversation and my own suggestion reverberated in my thoughts. "Give her flowers." That was something I would love to do for my own mother.

I first thought about that – giving flowers to my mother - a long time ago.

It was during the early 90s and our Publisher/Boss was having another idea for a new weekly magazine in Pilipino. So, Tess, Glo and I were asked to come to her house in WackWack for a brainstorming session.

In the middle of that meeting, the Boss' daughter arrived with a bunch of flowers in her arms. (If I remember right, they were white lillies.) The younger woman apologized for disturbing the meeting, approached her mom to kiss her and hand the flowers.

I thought I saw the old woman's face glow with delight as she took the bouquet of flowers in her hand. She was obviously pleased with her daughter's thoughtfulness.

The Boss then excused herself, sprang from her seat and disappeared into the kitchen. She appeared again carrying a tall, crystal vase in which, she carefully arranged her flowers before placing them on the table where she was working. With a wide grin she looked at them admiringly. "Beautiful!" she blurted out. And then thanked her daughter, planting a kiss on the younger woman's cheek before bidding her goodbye.

That scene left me thinking to myself. Would my own mother appreciate flowers too? Would she be delighted as well to receive flowers on Mother's Day or even on her birthday?

She was not used to receiving flowers from us her children, but they would be something different.

I resolved to buy her flowers on Mother's Day. Several Mother's Days passed since then and even her birthdays came and went but no flowers were bought for our Ima.

Then all of a sudden in 1998, with nary a goodbye, she slipped away from us.

Finally, I was able to bring her flowers for the first time on Mother's day in 1999. They were beautiful white roses which I tearfully arranged on a simple vase and carefully laid on her tomb. Sadly, she was not able to see the flowers I brought for her. And I did not get to see her face light up at the sight of flowers, nor did I hear her thank me for them.

I would have traded anything in this world that day for that last chance to hear her call my name, see her face light up and smile at me as I bring her flowers on Mother's day.

Happy Mother's day to all mothers. And to everybody who still have their mothers around today, treasure them. You never know when you won't be able to hear her call your name again.

Imelda Cruz Wood

8 May 2011

Friday, February 18, 2011


Shortly after I arrived in New Zealand and my husband started showing me around, I would always notice buskers in big and small cities and sometimes even in small towns. I was curious about them and they never failed to fascinate me. On occasions when David would go to the capital city for business meetings, I would sometimes tag along and he would drop me off to where there were shops I could indulge in my "retail therapy". I would just walk in and out of shops or observe people moving about, birds on parks and everything around while he was having his meetings with clients.

One of my favourite hang-outs was Cuba Mall in Wellington. It seemed to be one of the favourite places in the city for buskers. Let me tell you first that Cuba mall was not like the SM malls of Manila which were huge, multi story buildings full of shops and people. Rather,Cuba Mall was a stretch of road where there were lots of shops on both sides.

I remember an instance when my eyes caught sight of something new in that spot of the mall where there used to be an empty space. There stood what looked like a newly-built monument. The 'statue' was that of a young man, tall and lean, donning a suit and a hat that I recalled seeing from pictures of men from a generation ago. The whole thing was the colour of bronze-y, muddy brown and was glistening under the mid-day sun.

Seeing that there were a handful of people milling about it, I took a cursory look, then a second glance. It was then that I noticed something unusual about the 'new monument'. The 'statue' in it was standing on a one meter by one meter platform and at the foot of the 'monument' was an opened overnight bag (containing some tools used by a builder or a carpenter) with the same bonze-y, muddy brown colour. When somebody from the crowd waved his hand on the face of the 'statue' some of the girls around started to giggle. A cheeky bird perched on his hat and other passers-by started doing their bits to distract the 'statue'. Another woman readied her camera and shouted, "Smile please!" That was when I saw his eyes moved! He was not a statue! He was alive! A real person busking as a stone monument! When onlookers started clapping their hands, I also clapped mine. Why, he was able to deceive me for a few minutes! Unbelievable! He looked like a real bronze monument to me! I was kicking myself though, for not bringing my camera and not being able to take a photo of that amazing busker!

I have since then made it a point to always bring my camera whenever we go out of town. But it was always awkward approaching buskers and asking them if I could take their picture while performing. The few shots I took of them, I would say, were not as satisfactory as the talents on display.

Another one that really captured my fancy was a young girl we saw at Alexandra in the South Island. She must be around 10 or 11 years old and she was making really beautiful music with her violin. Written on a piece of paper on the violin case at her feet was her reason for busking-'fund raising for a school trip'. After dropping two gold coins on the violin case at her feet, I asked her if I could take her picture. She didn't mind. An elderly woman who just could not keep her amazement to herself dropped two or more gold coins onto the violin case before giving her the thumbs up sign.

I would say, my fascination with buskers started when I was just starting as a beat reporter for a weekly tabloid in (sigh!) 1982.
On the right side corner at the entrance of the Santa Cruz Church in Manila (where I used to go to hear mass on Sundays), I would always see this man dressed in white shirt and khaki shorts with a white 'good morning' face towel on his shoulder. He was propped up on a square piece of wood with rollers underneath it, that enabled him to move around. He looked clean despite the fact that rain or shine, he was always exposed to the fumes and dust and grime on the streets of Manila. He had no hands and no feet. Birth defects, I learned later when I had the chance to talk to him. He suspected that his mother tried to abort him while still a foetus. But he never voiced out his suspicion to his mother, he said. His lower limbs stopped at his mid-calves and looked like stumps where legs were supposed to be. His arms were stumps from one or two inches from the elbows down. And to make matters worse, his empty eye sockets were mere slits on his face. It was a tough role assigned to him by our Creator. But he refused to be a burden, he said. So at a young age, he started to look for ways he could earn a little to get by. He learned to play the harmonica by pressing the instrument in between his stumps of arms and bringing it to his mouth. An empty tin can encased on his left leg stump was used to tap on the ground as accompaniment to his harmonica music. Church goers and passers-by would drop coins onto his second tin can that was conspicuously placed in front of him. Some other days when he felt like the people giving alms were tired of him, he would stray from his favourite post and would play his harmonica within the vicinity of that area. He could not stray far for obvious reasons. With the kindness of other people and his music he managed to get by on a daily basis. The second time I talked to him, I was with a photographer who took snapshots of him while performing. Pity that I did not keep any for myself. To this day, I am reminded of him whenever I see buskers around. Whatever happened to him after my interview with him, I have absolutely no idea. But one thing I was sure of, he was a brave man who lived to the challenges of his role in this world.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Surplus Tomatoes

What to do with surplus tomatoes from your garden?
Well, there's tomato preserve, tomato ketchup, tomato jam...

Back when I have never seen nor heard of tomato paste and tomato sauce (and therefore, spaghetti sauce in tins), I would see my mother slice, deseed and boil tomatoes in a huge cauldron. (This she did when at harvest time, the prices of tomato would be too cheap, like, a bushel weighing eight to ten kilos would cost only Php2.00 to Php5.00. She would then decide to just cook them or feed them to hogs as picking and bringing them to market would cost more.) When the pulp is nice and soft, she would pour everything on a bamboo sieve (bistay in Pilipino and bikse in Pampango) to remove the skin. What remained was a watery tomato concentrate, which she would then pour back onto the huge cauldron, add a little rock salt, then bring to a boil again for several hours until a desired consistency is reached. By this time, the tomato concentrate has turned into dark red, almost brownish color and would be very thick in consistency. It looked very much like what we now use as tomato paste, which she poured into sterilized jars. Since we had no refrigerator back then, she would keep it in the wooden cupboard. She called it tomato preserve and we would use it in place of fresh tomatoes long after harvest season in May was gone. One time, she also experimented on "tomato jam" which she did by doing the same procedure for tomato preserve, except that she used sugar instead of salt and added grated young coconut to it. But we, her children did not really like it, preferring star margarine and a sprinkling of sugar on our pandesal or hot monay. The thought of using "sweetened tomatoes" as a spread on bread was something that simply did not appeal to us as we would always regard tomato as a vegetable.

Last spring, David dug more plots for our veggie garden, so I was able to plant four different varieties of tomatoes--Russian red, Moneymaker, Beefstake, and Gardener's delight. Harvest time, we had more tomatoes than we could consume, harvesting an average of one kilogram per day. Seeing so much ripe tomatoes on our kitchen bench, waiting to be processed, I did what my mother did with our surplus tomatoes. This time however, I froze them whole, halved and quartered. I also made that tomato preserve. However, I did not have to use a sieve to separate the skin and the flesh. Plus, I did not add any salt as I would be freezing it anyway.

I learned how to skin tomatoes from a neighbor, so it came in handy when I had to do the tomato preserve and ketchup.

Here's how to skin tomatoes:

Pour enough boiling water on the tomatoes.
Then cover for two to three minutes.
Drain. Wash with running cold water.
The skin would break and should come off easily when peeled.

Searching for more ways to preserve the tomatoes, I found a recipe for ketchup from a book, "The Cook's Garden" by Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne (Mary Brown, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne, Published 1980) I altered some of the procedures to make it easier.

You might find it useful too, so I am sharing it with you.

6 kg ripe tomatoes
6 medium sized onions
6 cloves garlic
25 g pickling spice
1 tsp celery seeds
basil (a large stalk and leaves)
marjoram (a large stalk and leaves)
2 bay leaves
6 Tb salt
6 cups sugar
30 ml glacial acetic acid

Skin tomatoes. Deseed if you like. Chop roughly and place in a large preserving pan. Add the sliced onions and finely chopped garlic. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring until there is sufficient liquid to prevent the tomatoes from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Tie the pickling spice and celery seeds together. Add the muslin bag and herbs. Add the salt and sugar. Stir until dissolved.

Puree in a food processor. Pour the sauce back into the preserving pan. Add the glacial acetic acid and bring back to the boil. Boil until the desired consistency is reached. This may take from 5-30 minutes depending on the variety of tomatoes used, the degree of ripeness and the season.

Heat clean jars in a slow oven. Pour the boiling sauce into the hot jars and seal immediately.

If you're curious how sweetened tomato tastes here's how to do it:

Tomato Jam

1 kg ripe tomatoes
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups coconut milk
(You can try adding shredded young coconut)

Skin and deseed tomatoes. Chop coarsely then place in a preserving pan. Add brown sugar and coconut milk. Bring to the boil until the desired consistency is reached. Pour in sterilized jars.

Prawns and Celery Salad

Is your tummy tired of take-aways and greasy foods? Give it a break! Here's one interesting dish without the grease. Served with steaming white rice, it is nice and light on the belly.

Prawns and Celery Salad with Ginger Dressing

500 grms prawns, raw
2 large celery stalks and leaves
15 ml (tbsp) rice wine vinegar
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
1 tsp finely grated ginger

Steam the prawns until they turn pink. Drain and remove shell.

Cut celery stalks into 2 inches long, then cut each length into very thin length-wise strips.

Fill a small bowl with iced water. Add celery strips to water and sit for 5-10 minutes or till they are crisp.

Drain celery and discard water. Dry with paper towels to remove as much water as possible.

In a large enough bowl, combine prawns, celery leaves, vinegar, sugar, salt, and ginger. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Transfer to a medium plater and serve with steaming white rice.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Today, is the feast day of St Teresa de Avila, our patron saint here in Featherston. The church was filled to the brim and everybody was extra chirpy and cheerful greeting each other as they arrived in church for the 9.30 am mass. It was indeed a fiesta atmosphere with everybody joining in the choir, singing during the mass celebration. As every Sunday would go here, children – babies and toddlers – some wriggling from their mum's hold, others holding on tight to their toys, books and even security blankets were delightfully chatty. Of course our parish priest, Father Morrison himself was at his brightest even when his parting words and blessings to parishioners were drowned by a three-month-old baby boy's loud cry. After the mass, everybody proceeded to nearby Kiwi Hall for lunch. We were requested to bring a plate of food to share so there was enough for everybody. I brought a plate of crispy fried lumpia with fish filling and watched how they were snapped soon as I laid the plate on the table. There were performances after lunch. It was a shame I did not bring a proper camera to record the event, so I used David's i-phone which was of course, not as good. A group of little girls in baby pink dresses performed a dance number, students of St Teresa's Catholic school serenaded us with their colorful ukuleles, and four yummy mummies performed a Spanish dance to everybody's enjoyment.

This is the first time such an event was held in our parish, so maybe next year, we would be more prepared, there would be more attendees and it would be a better and more enjoyable fiesta celebration!

The Kindness of Strangers

Last year, David and I decided to spend two weeks of our Christmas break on a holiday exploring parts of the South Island I hadn’t seen before. We drove along state highways, discovered back roads and crossed bridges old and new. Every now and then, we would stop to take photos of anything that took our fancy.

Cruising along State Highway 1 in our black Subaru, we stopped by a paddock between Cheviot and Greta Valley to take photographs of bales of newly-rolled hay lying on verdant hills against a backdrop of grazing flock of sheep. Thinking it would take only a minute or two, David left the car key inside, closed the car doors then crossed the road for the photograph.

A few photos later and we were back to our car, only to find out that we locked outselves out of the car! We were in the middle of nowhere with no houses nor people in sight! And everything that would enable us to get in touch with people who could help us was inside the car!

Frantically, we flagged down the first approaching car for help. In the car were three English tourists touring the South Island for the first time. After telling them our story and the help we needed, they agreed to let us use their cellphone to call AA for assistance.

After what seemed to be an eternity, we were able to get hold of an AA man who assured us that help would be coming in about an hour. We thanked our new friends for their kindness. Hearing that it would take us an hour outside the car waiting for help, they left us a bottle of water saying that we could go thirsty under that searing noonday sun.

It was heartwarming to know that there were people who were just too happy to be of help even to strangers like us. Come to think of it, we may never see them again. It was an awkward situation we found ourselves in, but the kindness of these strangers just made it possible for us to laugh about it.

Bracing ourselves for the long wait, we leaned on the car watching traffic go by. Then we saw a red four-wheel drive made a U turn. In a matter of seconds, it was pulling over beside us. In it was a couple, who introduced themselves to be locals and who sensed that something was not right. “Are you guys, okay?” they inquired "Is there anything we can do for you?" We told them what happened and assured them that help would be coming soon. We thanked them for their concern. Realising that everything was taken cared of, they bade us goodbye and drove off.

You could just imagine how relieved we felt when help arrived after thirty minutes and not one hour! The AA man was able to skillfully insert a special rod through the car window and fish for the car keys inside.

I was completely bowled over by the experience of meeting strangers who were just too willing to respond to other people's call for help without hesitation. Truly, the innate goodness of humans.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Giant egg

What do you do with an egg as big as this one?

Driving through Waitomo Caves Road on our way to the Waitomo Caves to see the glow worms, we chanced upon a place that advertises ostrich eggs. Was it serendipity, I wondered. The previous night, David and I had dinner at the Chateau de Tongariro where David ordered a salad dish with ostrich meat in it for his entree. The meat was sliced paper thin and was served on a nest of greens, and dressed with a dash of vinaigrette. I did not really like the taste, maybe due to its texture which was quite slippery and not meaty at all. David said he could not really tell whether he liked it or not because it only teased his palate due to its thinness. So he decided that next time we find another restaurant that serves ostrich meat, he would try it again.

Anyway, because we were intrigued by the taste and texture of the ostrich meat, we wondered about the eggs! So we stopped by the place which turned out to be a B&B place as well. A bubbly lady by the name Ann Barnes (we presumed she owns the place) answered the door and our inquiry. She asked us whether we wanted the egg empty or whole. "We want to eat it, so we want a whole egg and not an empty shell" David said laughing. She led us inside her house and we were awed to see such huge eggs! Some were sitting on her dining table, and some were on special basket containers on the floor. But some of them were obviously just eggshells because they have a bore at one end of the shell. We later learned that she's also selling empty shells to crafters for 20 dollars each!

A single ostrich egg weighs an average of l.5 kg and is equivalent to 15 regular sized eggs, Ann explained to us. She advised against cooking it by boiling, saying it might not cook inside. "You can use it for omelettes, pies, quiche and any dish that needs eggs," she said, then showed us how to drill a hole into the hard shell to get the egg inside. The egg would keep for a month and could be divided into little containers and frozen for future use. It was such a useful information because it would not be possible for us to consume that big egg all at once.

Armed with that information form a lady who knows a lot about ostrich eggs, we went home with this giant of an egg and did what she told us. After David bore a hole at one end of the shell, I beat it and divided it into five small containers then froze four containers. Tomorow morning, I am planning to make a veggie omelette for breakfast.