Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Valentine to Remember

"Hi, Bob! I need to heat up this rice dish, pronto." Said I.

It was an hour before the dinner specially prepared for thirteen religious priests and nuns who had been helping with a retreat at church. I just want to make sure the Suffron Rice I made the night before is ready to be served on time.

"Hang on, let me look at the salmon", he took out the two baking sheets full of the fish out of the oven.

I always love this kitchen. The gas stoves and oven, the oversized vessel to cook pasta, rice, soup or anything that requires large amount of water, the bread warmer, the steel top island, the ice machine, the industrial size fridge, the oversize sinks and the 90-sec per load dishwasher.
"Does it taste cooked to you?" He asked.

"Yeah, it does. What did you put? Lemon pepper and... We're not to supposed to overpower the fish, right...I mean it is salmon."

"I just put that stuff, it says 'salmon herbs' on it and some butter."

We then put the rest of the dishes out of the warmer to the serving table outside. There were an aluminum tray full of Bulgogi, some Tandori Chicken, and corn breads. There were three different kind of salad: avocado, spring mix, and lettuce & pineapple. Venezuelan shortbread with guava jelly and Maza Blanca (sweet corn and tapioca) from the Phillipines were for desserts. Warm apple cider with cut apples, oranges, and cinnamon sticks was personally served in little punch glasses. It was soothing with the 30 degrees weather outside.

Out at the dining area, linen covered dining tables were positioned to form a square so that everyone was facing each other. Glass of water with more than ice half full was on the right side of each plate, decorated paper napkin and silverwares were on the left. Square mirrors plates were used for decorations with candles and a bit of sprinkled Valentine themed stuff. There were even fresh flowers. It seems everyone enjoyed the eclectic menu. A couple even went for seconds.

"What kind of rice did you use?" A Sister from Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate World asked me. She is originally from Vietnam and is ten years into the order. She just grabbed a handful of the golden rice and ate it like snack while telling us how she missed on eating rice.

"Well, I'm using Jasmine Thai. I know I'm supposed to use something like Basmati. It should be better texture wise."

"Nah, I like it like it better like this. It's like sticky rice." She exclaimed.

"What did you put for the spice?" asked the other Sister, I think she is an Ursulin.

"Garlic, some butter...and Saffron."

"Ah, that explains the color."

I distinctly remember when I was nine or ten years old, there were two nuns on a visit to our church. One of them talked to me enthusiastically, we sat next to each other at Mass, and I really sang my heart out. I never asked my mother about that Sunday, but I have a strong feeling that she didn't want me to be exposed too much to that kind of religious life. It has crossed my mind once or twice lately.

"Are you looking for something, Father?" I saw an older priest wandering towards the kitchen.

"Coffee." He smiled.

The coffee machine did not work properly. It dripped water without even let it to boiling. We had to transfer it from the pot and heated in the microwave. I remember there was a real deal capucinno machine somewhere around. I wonder why no one ever uses it.

"Oh, yeah, we have coffee. I'll bring it right up." I said. We didn't have much coffee other than that 10-cup pot, but turned out, it was just enough.

At the end, the small congregration gave us an ovation, some even personally came over to say how delightful everything was.

That was one Valentine to remember.

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