My Ex’s Out of Control Adobo and Kinilaw

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Padada City, Mindanao, Philippines

You should’ve had my baby.

What a way to start a conversation.

Last week an ex almost gave me a heart attack with that text. But he is constantly inconsistent and full of surprises which is why he is, and will always remain, my favorite ex. He is not the first guy I dated but the first who stole my heart.

The year was 2007. May of 2007 to be exact. I was splitting time between NY and LA and visiting the SF Bay Area where I was raised. As soon as I landed, several girlfriends dragged me to “Two Dollar Tuesdays” at a local club. We walk in, grab our drinks and take over the dance floor like we always do at clubs. A group of guys try dancing with us, like most groups of guys at clubs do. A birthday was being celebrated and I end up dancing with the birthday boy.

Out of the corner of my eye I spot him.

 

 

Leaned against the wall he was so relaxed, oozing confidence. His charisma is so overwhelming I feel it a mile away. His boys surround him and they are all watching me while talking amongst themselves… probably about me, most likely making a bet to see who out of them, I would talk to. Running that scenario in my head I smile while dancing.

Back then I thought I was so smart and so cool. I was in my mid 20s working in music and entertainment. Partying was part of my job. I knew how every situation plays out in the club scene and learned to steer interactions advantageous to me.

I keep dancing as though I am having the time of my life. (Men are attracted to happy people more than the pouty tragic model type, I promise. Try it some time. It works.) I knew they were watching my every move but I don’t acknowledge. If I happen to face their direction while my body is flowing to the rhythm, I would glance in his direction, make quick eye contact, throw in a subtle wink here and there. Out of my peripheral vision I know his gaze hasn’t left me, his body also moving to the beat.

Done and done. He’s going to approach me.

By this time the alcohol is flowing. Armed with the liquid courage, I dance away from the random birthday boy towards him. He was even better looking up close — tall, handsome and sexy. Our eyes met for the umpteenth time but this time, I held the eye contact. He signals to go to him but I know better. Shaking my head in playful defiance, I tell him to come to the dance floor. Flashing his one dimple he shakes his head no and motions to join him at his place near the wall. Oh okay, I see how it is. He’s too cool to come to the dance floor on my request. This wasn’t worth the fight so I decide to let him win the first round, making my way towards him. Our eyes lock up close and it is so electrifying in reality can’t breathe, but I manage to keep my cool. We introduce ourselves, his friends introduce themselves. They shake my hand, give the nod of approval to him and discreetly disappear.

He and I head to the dance floor and we move to the beat, bantering over the loud music, laughing, flirting until the ugly lights come on illuminating the club signaling the end of Two Dollar Tuesday. Even in the bright lights he is still the best looking guy in the club. As I went to go look for my friends, he took out his phone and asked for my number. Laughing I replied “Oh I don’t give out my number. But you can have my email address.” He was taken aback but quickly regained his composure and took down my email.

We exchanged a few playful messages, went on two to three magical dates and then, I got news my mom was about to die.

It was May of 2007. She was in the ICU. 99% of her vital organs were failing. My brother – who I was staying with at that time – and I hopped onto the first flight out from SFO to Hawaii. Both of us in shock – we had zero clue my mom was in such a dire condition. Three hours after my brother and I touched down onto Honolulu my mom left the Earth.

My brother and I spent a few weeks in Hawaii, packing up her belongings, tying up loose ends and taking care of her affairs. It was a confusing period. And it was then, when my brother shifted from being my little brother to a man. He stepped up and took care of the minuscule details, paperwork, things I had no bandwidth for. I was basically useless processing that my mom, my best friend, was gone.

The only person I talked to was my ex. He was at a crossroads in his life too. His life long dream was to pursue a professional career in basketball and was so angry with his parents for holding him back. But now that he graduated university, held a full time job, he wanted to pursue what he always felt he was destined to do: play professional basketball. We talked hours upon hours on the phone everyday while I was in Hawaii.

A month later, my brother and I returned to California. Motivated by my mother’s passing that life was too short to ponder what-ifs, he quit his job and began training for try outs. When we saw each other after only a few dates but hours on hours on the phone getting to know each other, everything just felt right.

Our chemistry was one of a kind – and still is. I haven’t met a man after him I mesh so well with. We have the same sense of humor, can finish each others’ sentences. We instantly knew the other inside out, like we’ve known each other for years. We had our secret looks and expressions only we understood and read each others’ minds. We spent the summer of 2007 falling in love. And in mid-September, he left over seas for try outs.

Over the summer we agreed we weren’t serious or in a relationship. That once he leaves, we would stay in touch but no promises. I was okay with that, as him and us were a much needed distraction from my mom’s death.

But of course we were too attached to each other. We were on the phone as much as we could manage. Emailing. Gchatting. Texting. He was on the way to super stardom. The pros took him under their wing and he was practicing with the biggest names in the league. He was all over the social scene partying with super stars athletes, actors and actresses and even picked up modeling gigs. He made the development league – a requirement before being drafted to the pros – then, he got injured. A team mate deliberately smashed into his shoulder while driving driving towards the basket. His left shoulder popped out and it was over. Forget pro try outs, he was banned from playing for the remaining season until he was fixed.

Without an end in sight to when he would heal, he decided to leave Manila and head to his parent’s farm in the Southern Philippines to recover. He asked me to come, I took a sabbatical and headed to him…which is how I spent the most incredible two months of my life in the rural Philippines, in a city that wasn’t even mapped on Google Maps (it is now).

Food in the Philippines is regional, like most countries on our planet. I don’t fancy the food in Manila. The meals are centered around salted, preserved and fried foods. The biggest bummer is the Western influence – there are too many mega chains like Chili’s, Outback, TGIFridays and not enough local delicacies accessible to outsiders. I was highly disappointed with the food in Manila.

When I reached Davao, it changed my entire perception of Filipino food.

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Padada City, Mindanao, Phlippines

 

Davao City on the most Southern island of the Philippines Mindanao, is a two hour flight from Manila. The foods are sourced locally, with a lot of seafoods. Grilled tuna collar, BBQd over coconut shells and adobo fish and meats. There are lots of farmland and greenery that grow out of control vegetables and tropical fruits (mango and papaya!) Even the citrus (calamansi – like lime babies – used instead of salts and other spices) was tasty. Kinilaw – the Filipino answer to ceviche, made with meaty chunks of tuna – was my absolute favorite. I couldn’t get enough and ate it almost everyday.

I can still taste the crispy skin and the juicy, tender meat of the lechon manok (grilled farm fresh chicken), lightly touched with the Filipino soy sauce cooked over coconut shells. We ate a lot of local fish prepared in foil or right over the coals, with tomatoes and suka (vinegar) sawsawan (dip) made of Filipino vinegar that’s tangy more than acidic, with diced red onions and garlic, sometimes chili peppers. My ex and his family introduced me to so many amazing unforgettable foods.

My ex is a phenomenal cook and we spent a lot of hours cooking, eating, drinking with endless conversations in both California and the Philippines. He is such a control freak in the kitchen, I was the sous chef, prepping the ingredients for him. We cooked together a lot while joking, laughing, dancing, teasing the other. On game days we watched basketball games while in the kitchen, shouting at the referees on TV. Every day was a food adventure with lots of laughter and a heap of good times.

Thanks to him, what should’ve been the saddest time of my life, was replaced with some of the dearest memories I still keep near and close to my heart.

We ended our relationship when he chose to quit pursuing his basketball dream and return home. Our time together was intense and we loved the shit out of the other – maybe too much. We both went through drastic life changes in such a short time, the only constant through the chaos was each other. Our love was largely based on chemistry, attraction and how we were always on the same wavelength. We just got each other and were the best of friends and lovers.

But with relationships, it not just about the highs. There are of course lows and our lows were really low. Because we relied on each others’ energies so much, our disagreements were pretty dramatic. Our emotions would dial to ‘angry honey bees shaken out of their hive’ levels. It also didn’t help we are both hard headed. While disagreeing our stubbornness kicked up to kindergarten La-La-La-I-can’t-hear-you fingers in ear immaturity. Pretty embarrassing when I write it out. We’ve both grown so much since then and can now laugh about how childish we were. But back then, it was horrible.

When we parted ways, I completely cut contact. He’d call, text and even Facebook or MySpace message me but I ignored them all. I have a general rule to leave the past in the past. A year after we broke up, we spoke for the first time on the phone and spent hours catching up. Since then, we have been in constant contact via text or voice.

I still refuse to see him – our chemistry is still so there, I don’t want to risk ruining our friendship if we did something we can’t take back. And now, he is one of the most important people in my life – almost like family – proving myself wrong that sometimes, it’s okay to have the past in my now.

As for my response to his text? It was a typical reaction from me full of sass: “What the fuck? Are you drunk???” Retrospect, a simple: “Awww that’s sweet. Thank you.” would have probably sufficed.

Don’t you think?


 

My Ex’s Out of Control Kinilaw (Filipino ceviche) and the best Adobo Ever

Kinilaw
1 English Cucumber
1 medium red onion
1 lb fresh tuna cubed
6 oz daikon or radish
3/4 cup coconut vinegar (can be found at local Asian grocer’s. If you can’t find it, substitute with Apple Cider Vinegar or White Vinegar with a smidge of sugar)
3-4 calamansi (if you can’t find calamansi, use 1 part fresh orange juice with 3 parts lemon juice)
“My dad puts soy sauce but I prefer sea salt” (to taste)
Optional: finely chopped jalapeño to taste (I like it without jalapeno)

Peel and cut the cucumber in bite sized (I prefer to scoop out the seeds but that’s optional). Thinly slice red onion and daikon. Add all the ingredients into a bowl and marinate in the fridge for at least three hours. Or until the raw tuna is ‘cooked’ to your liking. Citric acids denatures proteins of the fish the same way heating does – it’s pretty neat.

Serve chilled.

 


The Best Chicken Adobo I have ever had
3-4 chicken thighs
3/4 cup vinegar
3/4 cup soy sauce
6 cloves garlic
thin slices ginger
2 bay leafs
garlic salt/pepper to taste
2 tablespoons brown sugar.

Simmer all ingredients on medium heat for 45 minutes.

More random photos from the Philippines:

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