Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Feeding the Grand

It is said that the insane, the children and the old always tell the truth. Strangers to lies, there are no gray areas in their judgment- they know how to tell the good, the bad and the beautiful with the sharpness of a good knife. In that sense, I believe they have the same take at food: they won’t care whether the cook is a fine chef who studied at a top culinary school or a fat, sharp-tongued woman who only finished fourth grade and whips up an unforgettable vegetable massacre. They won’t tell you what areas you need to improve your cooking, either they smile or shake their head then give you that painful shove of the plate. What they need is a little understanding of their lives.

I thought of these things when I was planning a lunch menu for the residents of the home for the aged last holiday break. It was actually only a reprise of what we have been doing many years ago, though now with a keen understanding of my profession. With a license in nutrition, I have been schooled to understand the logic of food when feeding people: what to add, what to eliminate, what to choose, what to prepare, etc. - for whom. Checklists are definitely helpful as they guide you at every step. Consider the physical attributes of food, i.e, texture, visual appeal, nutritional content, method of preparation, among others. Then respect the psychology of the person: elder people may be past their adventurous days, so think twice about serving the bizarre and the unfamiliar. I heard that the residents here didn’t like pasta dishes, including the everybody’s-well-loved spaghetti in red sauce, so how sensible is it to insist our sherried clams with chopped whatnot?

But there is something about geriatric feeding that is so dear to me because I grew up surrounded by a lot of old people. Food for them has its own story. I have countless tales of these heard at the dinner table- days of the Japanese war, town fiestas, lazy summer afternoons, Sunday mornings- back in the days. Emotions, when it comes to food, have a big role to the elderly– they give them a particular attachment to their own lives and memories.

It didn’t take too long for me to plan a simple menu. (Or after getting bone-tired from cooking the Christmas banquet, I was just too tired to think :P) What was running in my mind were thoughts of happy days, grand old times with a little introduction of the contemporary, then translate everything into a Sunday lunch.

So going there (with my two funky siblings, in Converse sneakers and apron) and the basketful of ingredients, I was armed only with two things from home: a knife and a chopping board. (I am really particular with chopping boards). Everything else has to come from their kitchen. It was a beautiful day, and we have to finish soup to dessert in a little over an hour.

Budget: 500 pesos, 15 pax ( Approx. $11)

The menu:
Ginger chicken vermicelli with vegetables: As colorful as the memories of old- time brunches after Sunday morning mass. The delicate flavor of chicken and fragrant ginger awaken the sense of smell and warms the stomach prior to a meal.

Pork hamonado, Chinese style: Reminiscent of glorious town fiestas when a whole pig was slaughtered for the household. Hamonado has always been a classic. The mixture of spices in the tender pork is just so nice.

Buttered vegetables- corn, carrot, chayote and mushroom: I wasn’t quite very sure about the acceptability of this (will they choke on the corn kernels?) but this item is a common dish in modern establishments (buttered corn and carrots, sans mushroom and chayote :P) – as siding to steaks and grilled items. I decided to have my vegetables cut into smaller pieces for easy digestion (One resident said at lunch time: “I only have my upper teeth, so a little chewing and it happily slides down my throat!”) I also decided to add a little aroma with a sprinkle of dried rosemary, and buttered just right as the old people are known to have aversion to strong-tasting, greasy foods.

Boiled rice (they have it their way)

Squash maja: Not only a vegetable disguised as a dessert, but it is also a well- loved Filipino delicacy alongside rice cakes, leche flan, etc. Red and yellow look appealing together as peaches and cherries do in danishes, so I came up with a simple contrast here: the all-too familiar, neutral tasting tapioca pearls and a little drizzle of condensed milk because I didn’t make the maja mixture too sweet.
The judgment:

What is it with grown ups that make us so ultra- conscious of our craft?

Whew. When the residents were wheeled in to the hall, I was there at the kitchen assisting in the portioning of food. Going through my mind were questions that swing to and fro in my conscious insanity. Will they even touch the flatware? Will they push the plate away and tell me what I didn’t want to hear? I try to calm myself with positivities: Oh, what was important is that I had fun doing – smashing the pumpkin, flavoring the lovely pork-it’s the fun that counts!

But for my little worries, I wasn’t truly expecting anything that day. After a few minutes, the grand people asked us to join their table and began telling the stories of their lives.

Just like the old days, I thought, when me and my sisters brought them porridge fourteen years ago and play the out of tune ukulele- they didn’t care if I repeated over and over a few chords- I saw them dance what they used to with old sweethearts. What was important…

Their best statement? An empty plate :)


Anonymous said...

This was such a nice thing to do. I'm sure you brighten up their day with all your delicious food and your wonderful presence. I wish to be old for a day so I can be pampered by you! :-)

mschumey07 said...

Kudos to you for taking time out to share your expertise to those who have been forgotten. Such a nice gesture and remind the old ones that someone remembers. Happy New Year!

foodhuntress79 said...

Spread the love first :) then go with the flow :) Chefs can really go out of their way sometimes, right, Zen? ;) Happy New Year too, Schumey. Rock on! :)