When I think of kare kare, I think of home. For as long as I could remember, it has always been referred to as mom’s specialty. There wasn’t even anything significantly special about it.. no special ingredients, no special seasoning. She makes it the classic way it has always been done – peanut powder made from processing regular peanuts in a blender, colored by submerging atsuete from the neighbor’s tree in bone marrow broth, and using various types of meat with it.
How to make Kare Kare (according to my mom)
I decided to cook this one Sunday while I and my siblings were reminiscing about the things our mom used to do before cancer took over. Mom is bedridden now, and asks us to sit on her bedside, talk continuously and goes ‘oy!’ when you stop, on good days. The bad days are much harder to swallow – our mom writhing in pain screaming how she just wants everything to end, finding my siblings swallowing down the tears that threaten to spill as we all crowd around her bed and try to calm her. It has come to a point where we sometimes question home – if this is what we’re supposed to believe in, isn’t this just a tragedy (I’m stealing lines from Beauty and the Beast now)? As the eldest, it’s not hard to feel as if it’s my duty to bring back good memories of our mom. If not for my siblings’ sanity, then I’ll cook it for mine.
Stew the meat (use pata with bone marrow or tuwalya/beef tripe) with dahon ng laurel, pepper, and onions, until tender. (Mom: use the pressure cooker for 30 minutes)
It happened to be a good day. My mom was excited to try the kare kare I will be making, and had my siblings pass on instructions and tips as I slave over it in the kitchen. I took out the meat too late for defrosting and decided, what the heck I will put this in the pressure cooker for an hour. The result: the meat was falling off the bone and it was really hard to scoop it all out.
Separate the meat from the broth. Saute garlic and onions. Mix in the meat. (Mom: use the big pan so it won’t spill)
The big pot often used for this dish needed cleaning.. and I am unfortunately not very diligent when it comes to household chores. You can see where this story is going already, right? I had to clean up all the spills on the gas range after cooking.
Mix in the broth and use the atsuete to turn the soup red/orange. Pour in the peanut flour made by putting peanuts in a food processor. (Mom: do not pour in all the broth and use a strainer for both atsuete and peanuts)
I think the eldest kids usually go both ways, they either become over achievers or someone who likes to test all the rules that parents set for their guinea pig child. I wish there is a flashback video that exists with a montage of all the time I was the latter. Turns out some concerns were legit, though half was a bust (you’re welcome baby sibs). I was still operating under the ‘I can do anything if I put my mind into it’ belief (people really need to think about the context of that saying) that I forego the use of strainer and thought I can simply control the way I pour. We ended up having to dissect the already loose meat to remove atsuete pieces, and finding peanut tidbits in the sauce.
Put the rest of the vegetables in and let it simmer before turning the heat off. (Mom: do not put the vegetables too early because it will be soggy by meal time)
My sister had How To Get Away with Murder running in the background, and OMG WHAT BONNIE KILLED REBECCA *spoiler alert?* that I totally forgot I was in charge of lunch.
But my mom loved it. Even the sibs did! We ate all the soggy vegetables, my mom finished everything on her plate (a rare occurrence these days) and told me it tasted very well. And you know what, that’s how I will always think of my mom. She may be annoying and would nag a lot, but she’s only trying to provide you with the best outcome of whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. She convinced me to remove the trainers off my bike even if I threw a hell-raising tantrum against it because I was afraid to fall – she knew I can’t bike with trainers forever. She told me that boy is trouble, but I continued to date him behind her back because ‘she knew nothing’ (famous last words, right) – no ‘I told you so’s came from her while I cried during dinner when he broke my heart. I used to come home to her sleeping on the couch with the TV on because she waited for me to get in. She wakes up early the next day to cook breakfast because my brother is the type who will go eat fast food when there’s no food on the table and that’s not very healthy. She cooks chicken dishes whenever C comes over because she observed how C eats more when there’s chicken on the table. I used to hate it when she yells at us when she wants to get things done, but we cherish when she yells now because that just means it’s a good day. There are so many contradictory statements I can describe my mom with, so many conflicting feelings about her, but when it comes down to the things that matter, I know there is nothing we can do that will make her stop loving us (soggy vegetables and loose meat included). Not even cancer.
Today is my mom’s 53rd birthday, but unlike her previous birthdays, I am not going to wish her a long and happy life. All I wish for my mom now is that God lets her live the rest of her life with minimal suffering and that whatever happens in the future, we keep making her proud. 🙂
TEESH || PHILIPPINES