This is my favorite time of the year. When the temperatures cool and the leaves fall; the scents of pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and clove drift along on the clean, crisp breeze to signify end-of-the-year delights. And I fall in love with the earth all over again. I was happy to spend a few precious days with my mother over the holiday break. We don’t have the chance to visit with each other very often due to distance, so this was a very special time for us. For her, it was a chance to bond and catch up with her only daughter. For me, it was an opportunity to convince my mother to part with a few of her family recipes—just being honest here. Not that I’m necessarily past the point at which pizza or takeout on a weeknight starts to lose its appeal… (Although no person should have to eat leftovers out of a box for more than three consecutive days—unless that’s your…style.) And I do have a small, steadily growing collection of recipes on my kitchen counter and taped onto a couple of cupboards for easy access… (Although most of them came from Pinterest or any of the random food/health blogs I frequent in my spare time.)

I just found myself in the mood for tradition and a decent home-cooked meal, and I figured a few of Mom’s dishes would lend a dash of authenticity to my humble dining table.

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The family dishes were actually a lot simpler than I’d expected, which made me feel silly for not learning them sooner. The hardest part was probably…the waiting. Something my mother would laugh about. (My life is a constant battle for patience.) While we lingered by the stove, pausing to stir the pot every few minutes, I would get my mother to reminisce about her days “back home, in the province.” Her stories always revolve around a difficult childhood in one of the poorest corners of the countryside. Tales of an impoverished upbringing that prompt me to count my blessings, acknowledge my privileges, and feel humbled. Or guilty. The eldest of twelve, my mother had many responsibilities as a child; she served as a second mother to her brothers and sisters, and a caretaker to her grandparents. Growing up was a swift race towards adulthood for a young girl burdened with familial duties from sunrise to past sunset; seldom afforded the chance to focus on her own needs, my mother pushed herself to excel in school and became a teacher in the city—top educator in the entire region, I’m proud to say. (I still have no idea how she managed it all.) Then she traveled across the Pacific to America and had me.

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My first attempt at a traditional chicken adobo, and my mother tells me the broth would have tasted better if I’d used the right brand of soy sauce… So it begins. Does any adult-child ever get used to this? Well, okay, sidestepping that landmine for a moment. I do look forward to making more mother-daughter memories by the stove, taking the time to cook together, learning more about my mother’s past while improving my skills in the kitchen. If the soy sauce was the only issue, I shouldn’t have too much trouble perfecting the dish for my mother’s next visit… (Pfft, we’ll see.) Knowing myself, if this had happened only a few years ago, chances are I would not have been too eager to accept my mother’s criticism. Now that we’re living in separate parts of the state…I don’t mind it so much (lol). After I left home to attend uni, there was a significant decrease in the amount of time we had together, so I started to cherish the few visits we manage to pull off each year—and I like to hope that my mother is now able to relax and give more time to herself. On this visit, we spent our mornings chatting over freshly brewed coffee, our weekend afternoons taking short hikes through the nearby regional parks, and our evenings cooking up some delicious meals. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the autumn season with my mother.

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#optoutside w/mother & nature

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We end this meal with grace
For the joy and nourishment of food,
The slowed time away from the world
To come into presence with each other
And sense the subtle lives behind our faces,
The different colors of our voices,
The edges of hunger we keep private,
The circle of love that unites us.
We pray the wise spirit who keeps us
To change the structures
That make others hunger
And that after such
Grace we might now go forth
And impart dignity
Wherever we partake.

John O’Donohue


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