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When Mothers Made Sure Kids Ate Green Leafy Things

I cannot help but grimace when I talk to the young kids of today and discover that many of them have never stuffed green leafy things into their mouths. The Jollibee-generation, suffice it to say, would have gone into extinction during my time.

I did write in a previous entry oh-so-far-back that few children seem to instinctively like eating vegetables. It is always something of an acquired taste; and in my case, I was forced to acquire the taste with a little persuasion from Dad’s sinturon menacingly placed on the table.

Of course, growing up, I did begin to understand that I had every reason to be thankful to Dad for the sinturon diplomacy. As my colorful high school Biology teacher used to say, primary energy is stored in organisms of the Kingdom Plantae – i.e. plants, and mind how you pronounce that word, please – and that energy is broken up when ingested by those of the Kingdom Animalia.

Therefore, there is a more direct energy transfer when one eats vegetables than, say, pork, chicken or beef. Kung sa business man, walang middle man… This is, of course, a classroom oversimplification. Yet, if you follow the reasoning, there is a rather persuasive logic to it as well…

Taking the oversimplification just a wee bit further, one deduces that eating vegetables is, therefore, healthy. Small wonder Westerners, carnivorous that they have culturally always been, are belatedly turning to the East for vegetable- and fish-based cuisines.

And not that we were ever behind in the gulay-knowledge, as I always knew from my own Mom… Gulay was always part of the meal; and aptly so because it was always readily available either at the front- or backyard. Pipitasin lang

Take a stroll down Rob’s vegetable alley and you will see the veggies so neatly and attractively packaged. In the old days, these now-supermarket shelf products were the sort na pinupulot lang ng nanay ko sa likuran. In fact, Mom could make this really neat vegetable stew from stuff na dinampot lang from the backyard.

There was saluyot, which was nothing but a type of grass and which many people did not even know was edible; malunggay, plucked from the tree which doubled as an inter-linked wire bakod poste; plus okra and eggplants picked direct from Dad’s garden. Mom threw everything into a pot with some bagoong isdâ or bagoong alamang; perhaps, some shredded daeng and crushed garlic to taste. There was a marvelous bulanglang in no time at all!

Whether it was this or an Ilocano-style pinakbet that Mom had learned to cook from our neighbors, just about everything was available in Dad’s backyard garden. I had learned to eat most everything, even the so-called talbos or leaf sprouts: talbos ng kalabasa for the ginisa; talbos ng sili for the tinola; and talbos ng kamote for an ensalada.

When Mom was in a non-culinary mood – i.e. tinatamad – there was always the sinapaw technique of cooking vegetables. To the clueless, this was simply leaving the vegetables atop the sinaing while it simmered until cooked; perfect for okra, eggplants or bitter gourd. The veggies were then eaten sawsaw sa patis or bagoong, a perfect match for fried or pinais na isdâ.

When Mom was in a cooking mood, we would be treated to ginataang kalabasa or, perhaps, the ginataang laing that she learned to cook from a Bicolano helper. She would have the gabi leaves dried under the sun for three or four days before she cooked the ginataan; and yes, the coconut milk came from a nut picked from one of Dad’s own trees. Mom cooked her laing dry and moderately spicy – a perfect match for anything inihaw; yes, even if just the humble galunggong.

There are some vegetables that I can eat, but never really became fond of. I think the patola is alright with miswah; but ginisa, I just think it tastes lame. I think the same about the upo and sayote. Lame veggies that taste like nothing… Generally, I like my vegetables to be those green leafy things.

Recently, though, during a trip to Baguio, I discovered that sayote leaf sprouts are excellent blanched and eaten with bagoong. Apparently, it was something of an Ilocano secret. So, I guess now I can claim that I love something about the sayote as well…

I do love these western-style salads one can order from restaurants or even from some of the fast-food joints. Occasionally, I even make some of my own. Being me, I just munch at the veggies with gusto. But if I compare these salads to the gulay we were served at the dinner table by my Mom, they do rather seem bland, almost lacking in character.

I guess the green leafy things are best if they are cooked – as in a stew – or served – as in a salad – straight from the backyard garden and flavored with a touch of invention from Mom. Don’t they say Mother knows best?

Now let’s get those kids eating gulay again!

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