During my trip to the Philippines earlier this year, one of my most cherished moments was the day I spent the afternoon cooking with my beautiful Auntie Lou in her kitchen.
Auntie Lou is an amazing cook. When I showed up at her house, starving and waiting to be picked up by her daughters for lunch, she invited me to have a little bite to fight off the hunger. She apologized that all she had was leftovers, but I wasn’t complaining. Especially not when her leftovers look like this:
That ain’t meatloaf, darling. (Not that there’s anything wrong with meatloaf.) No, her leftover dish was shrimp sauteed in butter, olive oil, garlic, red peppers, maybe some wine in there … my stomach’s growling just thinking about it.
Auntie Lou was also the one who opened a whole new world of homemade yogurt, sweet lassis, and pandan-flavored simple syrup to me. (My inability to keep away from the lassi pitcher was also the reason I was too full to eat anything when we finally got to the Indian restaurant for lunch.) Her paella has effectively relegated all other paellas to “I guess I’ll settle for this if I can’t have Auntie Lou’s paella” status, and the recipes that she shared with me are so precious that I hand-carried them on my flight back. Oh yes, I put jewelry and vintage coins in my checked-in luggage, but her recipes? They were safely tucked inside my camera bag.
She also has amazing taste and a wonderful eye for decor, and no recipe—no matter how detailed—can ever teach me how to furnish and beautify my home the way she does.
Here is the study, done in a Mediterranean/Turkish theme. I swear, I don’t know how she does it. I wouldn’t even have thought of doing a Turkish theme if a turkey came and flew right at me screaming “HGTV!”
I don’t know about you, but I can almost smell the spices and feel the silk and rich fabrics. Never mind that I’ve never been to Turkey. Or the Mediterranean. (Or have HGTV.)
Here is a section of the living room that adjoins the terrace. It’s dark, so you can’t really see that the terrace leads into the backyard. But the next photo shows a better view of the backyard, which slopes down and leads into the pool about 15 or so feet below.
I almost did all my scuba pool sessions in that pool.
The thing I love most about this house is that, as beautiful as it is, you’re never afraid to touch anything. It’s as warm and inviting as can be, and everyone knows that the instant they enter the house. Notice the collection of bags thrown on top of the seats and tables.
Even the kids know that it’s a place where they can just hang, plug in their games, rest their feet on the furniture and rearrange couches so they can all see the screen.
Not even the grand piano is off limits, and it’s not unusual to hear the first tentative strains of Hot Cross Buns spiral down into some heavy-handed Chopsticks-Blue Moon mashup, followed by uncontrolled giggling.
It’s also the place where we were treated to an impromptu talent show/program by the kids. It was a night of song and dance and gymnastics and witty emcee spiels and commentaries.
Ah. Lovely, warm memories, indeed.
Just the other day, I found out from my uncle that the tragic floods caused by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in the Philippines brought 5 feet of dirty flood water through their home. This home. This lovely, warm, beautiful home.
I can’t wrap my brain around that. Five feet of water? That’s almost the height of my cousin below, the one in pink, who is about 5’4″.
And as bad as that sounds, they are merely grateful that they’re safe, alive, and that things are not as bad as they could have been. There are so many others who have lost far more, and my heart goes out to all of them. Some have nothing left but the shirts on their back, and others, not even that. Many have had to evacuate to their rooftops and wait to be rescued. Some subdivisions are still flooded as we speak. And yet, again and again, I see news clips of people who still have the strength to smile, to give of themselves to help others, and who, secure in the thought that things will eventually get better, simply roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of cleaning up and moving on.
Things are ultimately replaceable. Not people, and not their spirit. Calamity may cause destruction, but in the long run, the things it destroys are overshadowed by the strength that it builds.
I do hope this portrait of Auntie Lou wasn’t destroyed, though. It’s one of my favorite things in her house.