It started a few months ago. Every time I checked our family group chat on Messenger, a new picture of my Mom halfway through another recipe would pop up. It began with cupcakes and a passable attempt at frosting for all the October birthday celebrants in our extended family. Since then, her arsenal of baked goods has expanded to banana loaves, cookies, strawberry gelatin and, most recently, calamansi bars. Nausea could disable her only temporarily, as she was back to baking a day after she could move again.

Her sudden obsession wasn’t what caught my attention. Normally, I would have just grouped this together with her rigorous house cleanliness standards and her propensity for expertly organized family events. What intrigued me was her insistence on dedicating almost each new dessert to either me or my sister. The first cupcakes were themed after her children’s favorite ice cream flavors (vanilla for me, chocolate for my sister). The banana loaf and strawberry gelatin contained our favorite fruits. Even the toppings were related to one of our interests. 

We would have gladly tried her new recipes if Yanyan was not currently undergoing her medical residency training in Taguig, and I wasn’t finishing my chemistry master’s degree in France. I never bothered to ask why she was honoring her kids in such a way, but this inaction speaks more of me being her son than a lack of curiosity in her new ritual. I also doubt my sister would ask, and dad is more about eating on our behalf than asking any questions.

I was immediately grasped by a macabre feeling of dying before my parents did — that the offerings I could never taste were somehow made in my loving memory so that everyone who tried them could at least recognize how much I meant to my mom when I was alive. Of course, I didn’t die, and I am not about to. Whenever I did have free time, I just went through the photos in our group chats, figuring out how to give a rational appraisal of the baked goodies given the physical constraints. I’m not a professional chef myself, but I was able to hone my cooking skills in Europe well enough for my friends to request that I make them some of my dishes a second time. 

In reality, I’ve always wanted to cook since I was little. My sister and I used to be mom’s sous-chefs, dipping our spoons into her baked-ribs sauce one too many times. We began as her sauce pot stirrers before advancing to consultants on whether or not food was ready to serve. Very important tasks. Once, as a teen, I insisted on cooking something on my own, which was met with a doubtful look from the head chef. Her reluctance stemmed from her concern that I would put the entire kitchen in disarray. Eventually, I was given permission to make something on my own, and the result was a very bland baked potato. I also forgot to poke holes, which resulted in a mini explosion, the remnants of which my mom was quick to highlight inside the oven. I left for Europe with a comprehensive understanding of instant noodles and an eye for menu items that probably taste good.

My desire to prove my mother wrong remained strong even as the time difference between the both of us increased. I can cook. I just needed more opportunities to hone and perfect this essential skill. It felt paradoxical how, out of all the life tips I have received from my parents over the dining table or at the backseat of the car, cooking was never a topic. I was simply advised to buy ready-to-eat meals at the supermarket, or to save enough to eat outside. 

My first official attempt as an independent man was a pairing of scrambled eggs and sausages. After a long series of kitchen accidents (most of which I prefer to keep to myself), I learned to use fresher ingredients, and my culinary creations grew more complex in flavor. The tone of the comments from the extended family group chat transitioned from “at least he tried” to “I wanna try that.”

Every food picture I’ve sent since I left is also my way of reassuring my mother that she raised her son well. Though she never bothered to teach me how to cook in the real sense of the word, I’m grateful that she at least inspired me to get better at it. Seeing the joy brought by cooking for others helps me remember the warmth I felt every time I could just shout out my mom’s name and she appeared in front of me, unfailingly.

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