The other ‘family’ dinner

THERE is always a better cook among the siblings in any family household. In the case of my ‘other family’ (read: family formed through friendship), at least to me they are, Dina is the better cook, baker and the hostess with the mostest. She just loves to make us try what new dish she has learned. These episodes, everyone wants to take part in.

As a tradition, Dina gathers this family in her home during the Yuletide season for a gastronomic get-together. Posting the invite on Facebook with the menu always account for a perfect attendance, not unless there’s an emergency like Teng is needed at the hospital or Chin’s acidity acts up due to over-eating of sampaloc. Otherwise, no one in his right mind would pass on a dinner offering like this.

Of course, the whole dinner course is divine. But it is the starters and enders that I always love—cheese, grapes, nuts and wine to start, and the delectable, sinful desserts to cap the meal. Sometimes (in fact, most of the time), an encore of dessert serving transpires, just like a stage production perfectly executed.

I am not saying I have no interest in the in-between servings. The entrée is one of this hostess’ forte, and it is delicious (her latest gimmick is to cook the pasta sauce and serve it fresh during the meal), but I always leave (a lot of extra) room for her almighty sweet treats.

So let me tell you a bit about this family. Jin-jin became a good friend (and swing dance partner) in high school and her family sort of adopted me through college (I was at their place every weekend). The Barrios sisters, Dina, Brenda and Rommel I met during college days and got closer to them via mahjong tiles at the back room of our neighboring business ventures—you cannot believe the power of pong and chow, and how it can seal the bonds of friendship like bisaklat).

We never did lose the connection after. I may not see them for lengths of time but when we see do, it was like I only saw them 24 hours ago. What I really love about this family is they have managed (maybe with great effort) to put up with my mood swings and eccentricities (which is a nicer sounding term for ‘ka-buang” or “ka-mini”, as Rosalita and Brenda would put it). Who else would say that to your face?

After years of late nights of mahjong tile bonding (scrabble and chika-cha took over for a short while), we have finally gotten over it. In its place today is food and wine, which is less anti-social and more can join in, and the topics still encompass a wide range of ‘ka-minis’— family lives, matters of the heart, current events and philosophy— that much didn’t change.

Maybe one of the things that changed is that the ‘family’ has extended a few more branches with kids around (and growing up too fast). Not having them around seems like time is on a standstill and reality crashes in when they arrive in troves and you hear “hello mom, tito and tita” and dutifully give everyone a buss on the cheek or reach out for your hand to be blessed (read: mano). At that moment, I know we are far from those days when the family was just us, the mahjong tiles, and the banana cue.

Those happy days may be in the past but it definitely turned out happier today. For one, Dina is helping Mameng in the kitchen now in whipping up delicious dinner spreads. That and the ‘family’ gathering, we always look forward to whatever the time of year is.

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