Hi, friends! I am so happy to have my best friend write a little piece for this week’s post for Friends on Channel Maddie!
From those high school days to those handful of times we were able to visit each other, there’s just way too many memories with Vanessa! We shared a lot of stories, quite a lot of inside jokes and codes, and we were just there for each other as we went through all sorts of high school drama LOL. We always used to have recess and lunch together — had those extremely orange cheese sticks, cookies and brownies from the canteen, and those chocolate-dipped potato chips Nessa would bake and bring to school. Those were the best, honestly.
In this post, she touches on the importance of having an open mind especially in terms of food and culture, discovering that innate cooking skill and further developing it over the years, and that connection she has with food!
Have a great read, friends! ❤️
PS. Today’s her first day of graduate school so if you’re reading this, let’s all wish her the best!
My name is Vanessa, I’m from Los Angeles, California. Currently in LA, it’s been drizzling off and on. There are a couple clouds in the sky and the sun is emerging through its little pockets ever so slightly. These days are my favorite; the cusp of Winter to Spring. The warmth of my oven preheating to 375ºF and the smell of fresh baked chocolate miso cookies occupying my apartment while John Coltrane’s Blue Train reverberates in the background.
Gosh! Where to even begin? Mad and I have been best friends for 12 years now… When I moved to Baguio, she was the person I was most drawn to in my class and naturally, we clicked—quite possibly because we looked nearly identical with our long wavy hair and shared the same love for Staedtler fine colored pens and post-its. I remember the first time we hung out on campus, she invited me to join her for lunch with her family. It was the most elaborate meal with actual plates and metal utensils. At first, I was so confused, I thought, “Is this even allowed?” and became unbelievably curious. This act of communal dining with family at school was at first, very unusual for me… But in a time where I felt black sheep-ish and alone, my first experience with Madeleine at a school picnic table was my first taste in feeling part of something meaningful.
Granted, snack time and lunch are essentially communal. But this was different; even our dining hall blew my mind! Buffet style meals with an actual kitchen staff, shawarma Thursdays at our cantina, and the occasional “bake” sale where the tteokbokki was the true winner. Brent Baguio is a small school and by having had these moments where the basis of coming together was centered on food built my relationship and camaraderie with my community. You see, I grew up eating grilled cheese sandwiches, lunchables, or whatever mystery school lunch was provided in the US public school system. For a very long time, I was ashamed of bringing my own food from home to school because I was scared to be made fun of… because it’s happened. I remember my mom once packed me arroz-caldo with all the beautiful, fragrant toppings because I wasn’t feeling so great that day. When it came to lunch time, it was still warm in its little thermos and I couldn’t wait! As I was about to take a bite, a group of kids from a different table walked by me and pinched their noses and said, “Eww gross! What is that? Dog? Mulan food?”. I lost my appetite that day and a few days after that. As a young child, that type of trauma really stays with you. Now more than ever, the AAPI community is recognizing these racial aggressions AND microaggressions. We need everyone to recognize the severity of these issues, especially to our little ones. #stopasianhate
I’m in an interesting place in my career. I am a full-time first grade teacher and a full-time grad student studying Education & Psychology (future child therapist, woo!) and because of this I think back about my adolescence and my time living in the Philippines quite a lot. It wasn’t apparent to me until just recently on how invaluable the experience has truly influenced my life but also my taste buds! While a majority of childhood has been spent in the United States, the three years of living in a different country, I feel, has set me apart from so many.
A running dinner question I’ve been asking lately is, “What movie that appears on television, would you always stop for?”. These are some of my favorites: Remember the Titans, Ratatouille, Mrs. Doubtfire, Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (it’s the best one, let’s be honest), and Julie & Julia. Besides being a huge Meryl Streep fan, Julie & Julia is the one movie I can really recall watching over and over while I was in high school. Call it what you will, it inspired me to be more adventurous in my cooking. The connection to food and memory is one that consequently feeds my soul. While I dance to de-stress, cooking has been a growing hobby that really began at a young age, only to realize (or rather, accept), that I’m a pretty damn good chef! I rarely ever use recipes and somehow instinctively know what goes with what. It started with rice krispy treats that my upperclassmen friends would request, upside down pineapple cakes for any birthday party I was invited to, and helping my mom with her famous Food for the Gods. I became beguiled at chefs such as Masaharu Morimoto, Grant Achatz, and Rene Redzepi. I once saw Tim Hollingsworth at his restaurant having a meeting with his sous chef and sommelier, I swear, I almost passed out. When I was Baguio, I was fortunate enough to live in Camp John Hay. My mom and dad thought it would be a good idea for me to work in the kitchen of the Manor Hotel. She may have thought it as punishment or a way to teach me the value of work, and honestly, it was a dream. I learned how to make silky chocolate ganache and fresh strawberry mascarpone filling all going into a delightful cannoli shell. I learned piping techniques on 3-tier wedding cakes for big events, perfected my very popular banana bread recipe, and now, attempting to become a sourdough bread maker.
My palate has been strengthened since then. I’ve eaten at some of the finest restaurants in the world, some of the best hidden hole-in the wall, mom & pop joints, and the best street food anyone could ask for (still checking off foods and dishes off my list!). Food is very special to me for so many reasons. When I think about how I felt as a first grader, who brought adobo and rice for lunch and was embarrassed by classmates because it wasn’t a PB&J sandwich dripping with high fructose corn syrup, I’ve since made it a little life mantra to “try everything twice.” No, not once. Twice. Keep your mind open to eating new things… trying new things. It doesn’t look weird, it just looks different. It doesn’t smell bad, it’s unfamiliar. The first time you try something new, you may already have a preconceived idea of how something might taste, therefore, you’ll stand with your bias. Second time might be a totally different experience and change your initial opinion. Now as a teacher, I am hyper aware of my students’ culture and backgrounds. I want them to always feel represented and welcomed in my classroom but most importantly, that they feel safe and celebrated! I don’t want to get too preachy here but food is so connected to a person’s roots that no one should ever feel humiliated or shy away from who they are solely based on the food they eat. Food is culture, food is sacred, food is privilege, food is a basic need to keep us alive — why should anyone ever feel embarrassed about the food they eat or serve? Food should never be a passing thought.
I am simply motivated by well-balanced flavors. I could go on and on about the food adventures I’ve had but for now, I will share this: the pandemic has been a really rough and painful year. Life was paused. The world was literally shut down. That being said, so were my favorite restaurants. To my benefit, cooking at home is a piece of cake but I was able to get even more creative in my little kitchen. I even discovered how much I enjoy camping and I have even taken it upon myself to produce, elevate, and perfect camping meals. But most importantly, I’ve shaped my love for bread making; specifically, sourdough bread. My relationship with food began to adapt to the time of quarantine; a lot of realizations about how much I really take control of the kitchen, how to work with limited ingredients, how to slow the F down, and a lot of self-reflective questions, like, “why are you doing it that way?”.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I became my most creative when I had very little to work with and plenty of time on my hands. Now that the world is starting to slowly open back up again, I’m ever so appreciative of that time of discovery and slowing down. Living in Los Angeles, I’m quite spoiled by being surrounded in such a diverse food town. I’m practically a walking Yelp… come to me if you ever need to find the best tacos, sushi, soondubu, Napoli style pizza, boba, and so, so much more!
This is a recipe I want to share of my version of Chicken Adobo:
- 1 head of garlic
- 3 green chilies (I like to use Thai chili and serrano pepper, and I like spicy)
- 2 medium shallots, chopped
- Bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs and drumsticks
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
- 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- 3/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon of dark brown sugar
- Pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or deep skillet medium heat. Place chicken skin side down, allow the fat and oil to render for 7-10 minutes or until skin is crisp and brown. Once the chicken has a nice golden color, transfer to a plate skin side up (to avoid it softening and becoming ‘gummy’).
- Add the rest of your ingredients and bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low. Make sure the sugar dissolves. Then return chicken to the pot, skin side up. Cover and cook gently for about 30-40 minutes. You want to maintain the simmer while the chicken cooks.
- Remove chicken and allow the residual sauce to cook off until the liquid slightly thickens. If it coats the back of a spoon, you’re good to go.
- Serve with black rice and pickled bitter melon. Enjoy!
This is the dish I make after a hard day or a hard week, when I’m missing home, or thinking about my parents. Immediately, it brings me back to my seven-year-old self and how I would tell her that this is the food that you will come to for comfort. This is the same meal that Mad first shared with me when I was a new student in a brand new school, a brand new country. They say the way to a woman’s heart is through her ears. And while you could whisper beautiful, sweet-nothings in my ear, the real way to my heart is through my tummy. Cheers to you all!