Thursday, August 25, 2005

To cook rice

NEVER mind the truculent topography to trample not too thoroughly, the hike-hop-hobble to the Sierra Madre work site just took over three hours.

It was past lunch time when we plopped ourselves down on a mat of grass for some easy breathing spell, allow famished stomachs to growl and gripe. Pay no heed to such grumblings. Legs can whine. Soles can whimper. Stretched taut sinew all over one’s body can fret and stew.

Stew? Delicious jolt this chewy morsel of a word

Ah, meals can be whipped up in a jiffy. A pot of water boils in less than five minutes on mountain tops-- well-boiled, fluffy steaming rice can be had in around 10 minutes.

So we rummaged through the tools, provisions, and not-so weighty things we’ve tacked on our backs for the three-day working weekend. We rummaged some more. We set down on the grass every article of consequence we had brought.

We looked at ‘em items with serious intent, eyeing each item in earnest. Mattock, kama scythes, bolo, knives, whetstone, pingga or balagwit (shoulder carrying pole) — all set for work, hah! Tree seedlings, change of clothes, packets of instant noodles, cans of pork and beans, sugar and instant coffee mix, crusty bread—we won’t starve, eh? Candies, matches, candles, tomatoes, onions, rice, salted fish, chili peppers, a kilo of tulingan fresh when it was bought some hours back, rock salt… We looked some more, poking each item with a lancing glance that scared off curious flies drawn to the fish gone limp and bloody.

We looked at the items then sighed. Yawned and sighed like a choir in after-song. Excellent: the sooty little aluminum pot wasn’t there alright. We could laugh at this impractical prank on a sylvan foray.

Back home, that aluminum pot ought to have raised a ruckus. Say, (1) blathered and blustered like the lawmakers in Congress, (2) caterwauled and farted off the mouth like the lead vocals of Bee Gees and Air Supply, (3) choked-howled-harangued like a rabid street parliamentarian begging for attention. Or (4) it could have shrilled like a siren of a MalacaƱang factotum’s convoy of cars and pleaded to be tucked in among the things we’ve brought for a working weekend.

It did none of the above. Pitiable pot.

So how was lunch coming?

Uh, with ample foreplay it ought to come with or without proper utensil but please don’t place undue stress on the first two syllables of “utensil.”

Heck, lovemaking and cookery whether indoors or outdoors ought to be done with some passion, yes, a paroxysm of passion.

Admission: I am sorry. There was lapse of better judgment trying to cook rice without a pot which is just like snatching a people’s mandate without having garnered the cast votes. Well, it took three failed episodes of cooking rice on freshly cut buho (light bamboo) culm before we got—ah, finally-- a decent meal.

Buho clumps grew trenchant on the hill slopes, edging out howl-spreads of cogon and talahib. Three full culm sections are cut-- a hole is then nicked off to put the rice and water into the buho tube. We liked our rice a tad softer so for each measure of rice, a measure plus an eighth of water is added. Umm, a tumbler-size lopped buho culm served as measuring cup on that particular weekend. The hole is plugged with banana leaf-- which also lends a subtle clean flavor to boiled rice—and this makeshift pot is broiled over live coals until the water has steamed out, the rice soft as manna in the wilderness.

Fact is, the first try was also a success in cremation.

Second try was a triumph in turning rice to activated carbon, umm, that’s charcoal.

Third try couldn’t be called a failure. But the result had to be identified by a more qualified technician that we couldn’t bring to the mountain anyway.

The fourth attempt was enough reason for celebration, an ode to joy. Rice infused with a subtle, all-too-faint but perceptible sweetness imparted by the freshly cut culm in which it was cooked. Rice grains swollen like pearls precious and soft like a mother’s milk-engorged nipples. Rice like teardrops of the sun, hot and scalding on the tongue like a wetter than wet French kiss.

Split the bamboo culm cum pot. Dig in and be sent to heaven.

But I must say it isn’t easy to cook rice if you haven’t any and all you’ve got are bamboo culms.

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