Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Philippine Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! The Philippines calendar is stacked with feast days; still, we Americans had to celebrate one of the few feast holidays we do have. For Thanksgiving this year, I traveled up the road 5 hours to Bontoc, Mountain Province, celebrate with 2 other Americans (Tristan, another missionary serving there, and Nancy, a wife of a Filipino priest) and 30+ Filipinos. 

Traditional Thanksgiving ingredients (including turkeys) were a challenge to find, but after much searching and culinary creativity, we found what we could and substituted local ingredients for the rest.

The menu included:

Of course. After tracking down a man who raised turkeys in the province, Tristan slaughtered the first one himself. We had 2, which were considerably smaller than your average Butterball, but naturally fed, and they seemed to have had a good life. Tristan basted one with local honey and orange rind, and the other with bacon grease and rosemary. Mmmm… Delicious. We baked them in the industrial sized oven at the diocese compound canteen... with no temperature gauge! Thankfully, they turned out great. The Filipinos seemed to enjoy them; it was many people’s first time trying turkey.

Rice Stuffing
We had to incorporate rice… since eating is not considered a meal unless there’s rice here! Here’s the rice stuffing recipe I used:

2 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 small white onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Saute celery and onions with butter until soft. Add rice and salt and pepper. Stuff. 

It was my first time with this recipe, but it tasted great and was very moist.

Mango Sauce
Every time I walk in the market, one thing I’m most thankful for is all the new, delicious tropical fruits to which I have access. Cranberries are hard to come by, so the next best local substitute I could find was… Mangoes! They paired surprisingly well with turkey. Will definitely be making again, and stay tuned for mango cobbler come summertime. To make at home, use:

4 medium sized mangoes
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
¼ cup muscovado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon cornstarch

Slice and chop mangoes into small pieces. Boil in water until soft. Add sugar and cook till dissolved. Mix in cinnamon. Add butter. Add cornstarch mixed with a little water and stir until you’ve reached your desired thickness.

Candied Ube
Ube, my new favorite food and flavor, is the purple relative of the sweet potato, and often used in ice cream, donuts, etc. When you cut it raw, the color is white with a gelatinous purple oozing out of it, but when you boil, it turns a rich, dark purple. For the topping, pecans are hard to come by, but cashews and coconut aren’t! I’m enjoying substituting coconut milk for fresh milk, too; in large part, because I’m fascinated to watch them make it in the market. They crack a mature coconut open with a machete, grind out the white coconut meat, then mix it with water to squeeze out the milk.

1 kilo ube, boiled
2 eggs
⅓ cup coconut milk
½ cup sugar
2 ½ T melted butter

½ cup cashews
½ cup shaved coconut
½ cup muscovado sugar
2 T melted butter

Mix the filling, mix the topping. Assemble and bake for 35-45 minutes at 350 F. 

Kamote Coconut Pie
When pecans and canned pumpkin were not to be found, I turned to kamote, the local sweet potato and freshly shaved coconut from the market. Here’s the recipe for the filling:

¾ kilo kamote (or sweet potatoes), chopped
2 T butter
2 T coconut oil
½ cup sugar
¼ cup muscovado sugar
¼ cup coconut shavings
1 ½ t cinnamon
½ cup coconut milk
5 eggs

Heat butter and oil in pan until melted. Add kamote and roast until softened. Add coconut, sugar, cinnamon, and coconut milk. Mix until smooth. Add eggs and mix 1 at a time. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes.

After feasting, someone brought out a guitar and lead us all in singing John Denver and Bob Marley songs into the night. The Filipinos enthusiastically embraced Thanksgiving, not only being excited to share in an American holiday celebration, but also to spend time together over food and drink appreciating our fellowship together, inspiring me to be more thankful for life’s many blessings and renewing my spirit of gratitude to honor of the essence of the day.

The full spread, including 2 turkeys, rice stuffing, mashed potatoes, candied ube, mango sauce, canned cranberry sauce, penne pasta, cranberry-almond coleslaw, Japanese pumpkin pie, kamote coconut pie, and the standard Filipino condiments: soy sauce, vinegar, chili peppers, and tiny limes.

Monday, November 21, 2016

9 Things you may not have known about the Philippines

1.  The Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands.

But only 2,000 are inhabited. Luzon is the biggest island, where Manila is located, and also where I am located. Specifically, I’m in the Caliking Barangay, Atok municipality, Benguet Province of Northern Luzon, amidst the Cordillera Mountains, which makes for awe-inspiring mountain views.

2.  Over 171 languages are spoken in the Philippines.

Most people I’ve met so far speak at least 4: Tagalog, English, Kankana-ey or Ibaloi, and Ilocano, the main language here in the North. I’m learning, but it’s challenging because I’ve only found few written resources on the language. The grammar is tricky; for example, the word “I” could be 4 different Ilocano words, depending on the context. Schools all teach English and Tagalog from the elementary level onwards, although a new government initiative is having classrooms taught in the local language, which is problematic in a classroom with students of different native languages, as is often the case here. 

3.  The Episcopal Church has been in the Philippines since 1898.

On September 4, 1898, the first Episcopal service was held for Americans and English-speakers when U.S. Forces occupied Manila. A service for Filipinos was held on Christmas of that year. In 1901, the Philippines was designated as a missionary area and received its first missionary and residing bishop, Charles Henry Brent who, interestingly enough, served as the Chaplain General for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. 

In 1937, the Philippines transitioned from a missionary area to a diocese of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Fifty-three years later, in 1990, they became independent, forming the Episcopal Church of the Philippines. 

While more than 80% of the country is Roman Catholic, there are 125,000 Episcopalians, and here in the North, some cities are 95%+ episcopalian. According to our Bishop here, the reason is that although the Spanish occupied the Philippines for 377 years, there were 3 regions they were never able to conquer: Mindanao (the Southernmost island with a strong Islamic presence), Intramuros (the Chinese community just outside the walls of the administrative district in Manila), and the Cordilleras in the North. 

Bishop Brent, unlike other Protestant missionaries, did not seek to convert Roman Catholics to Anglicanism, “placing altar against altar,” so to speak. Instead, he worked to establish the church to serve English-speakers, Christians who did not have a church, and indigenous communities where the Catholic Church was not established. So when Episcopal missionaries arrived, they were better able to establish themselves without an existing Catholic presence. 

4.  The Philippines is the 13th most populous country in the world. 

More than 102 million people live here. Half the population lives on Luzon with me. And it feels like it. Well, in the cities anyways; the urbanization rate here is 1.25%. Manila is the most densely populated city in the world! It also has the most malls per capita. Very sprawling as well. Baguio, the nearest city to me, has seen rapid population growth and is now dealing with the problems of congestion and traffic

5.  Sugarcane, coconuts, and rice are the Philippines’ top 3 agricultural products.

Agriculture accounts for just over 10% of GDP here, and I am fortunate to live in the agricultural capital of the country. Benguet province, referred to as “the salad bowl of the Philippines,” supplies most of the vegetables to all other regions. Grocery shopping at the market is always an adventure; I’ve discovered so many new favorite fruits and vegetables! I’m also food tripping in the kitchen -- I’ve made sugarcane syrup from scratch and now incorporate freshly squeezed coconut milk into every dish and drink I can.

6.  The Philippines is currently under a state of emergency.

I was first made aware of this while driving up from Manila to my new home when our car slowly cruised through a Philippine National Police Checkpoint on the highway. Since then, I’ve cruised through many PNP checkpoints and Anti-Hijacking Road Blocks, with policeman armed with M16s peeping inside car windows. 

President Rodrigo Duterte declared the “state of emergency on account of lawless violence” on September 4, 2016, after the bombing by Islamic terrorists in Mindanao two days prior and also conveniently timed with his war on drugs. While police supposedly cannot search your car unless they see illicit substances in plain view, some suspect them of abusing their powers.

7.  The Filipino President endorses vigilante killings.

As part of his controversial campaign platform and now his administration, Rodrigo Duterte’s DU30 program endorses extrajudicial and vigilante killings of drug dealers and users. Police, “civilian police” (or policemen out of uniform taking extrajudicial actions), and “assets” (or regular civilians taking extrajudicial actions), have murdered over 4,000 people since. Of course, the concern is that one could kill someone he had a personal rife with under the pretense that the assassinated was a drug user. I’ve heard violence in the streets has increased significantly and people are refraining more from going out at night.

The President has also been recently accused of ordering murders of political, business, or personal enemies, during his term as Mayor of Davao. And, of course, he’s made plenty of headlines with his, um, spicy remarks towards towards the US ambassador, President Obama, the Pope…. Still, I’ve seen a surprising amount wristbands, arm sleeves, sleeping masks, car window tints, etc. with his logo of a fist emblazoned with “DU30.”

8.  The main mode of transport is jeepney.

If I want to go into the city, I stand on the highway and flag down a jeepney, a vehicle style that evolved from retrofitted military vans Americans left behind after WWII with 2 bench seats facing each other in the back. Jeepney drivers take great care to deck out their ride! Metal horns protrude from the front, a few hood ornaments may be mounted on, and the sides of all of them are painted with a mural depicting the Jeepney driver’s family, Marvel superheroes, an American Western landscape, and the like. The bumper and mudflap will usually have phrase thanking God. My jeepney ride to the city an hour away is only $0.75 USD.

9.  Country/Western culture is huge!

Maybe the mention of “American Western landscape” in the last fact caught your eye. That’s right: Filipinos in the North are about country/western music and culture! I’ve heard more classic country radio here than I have in the South!