3 Readers Celebrate Their Moms Every Day, One Book At A Time

Today is extra special: we’re celebrating all kinds of mothers around the world—who they are, what they do for us, how much they mean to us. Here, three readers share some of their most touching and intimate stories about their moms. We hope you enjoy them, and please feel free to share your own lovely memories with us as well. Happy Mother’s Day!

My memories of my mother are set mostly in the kitchen. I grew up watching her cook, and mimicking her in the process. She cooked so much—enough for one barangay, my father said, which sort of ensured that we were always well-fed at home.

Of all the dishes I watched my mom make, two were etched deeply in my mind: tinola and bread pudding.

My mom’s tinola was as simple as it gets: chicken broth cubes, sayote, pechay, malunggay or chili leaves, and chicken sautéed in ginger and garlic. Because she had me cooking this in her place many times, I memorized her recipe and adapted it as my own.

Tinola is warm, invigorating and light. The gingery scent tickles your nose and nudges at your taste buds. The soft chicken and the oily broth trickles down your throat and eases the coldness inside your belly. As expected of comfort food.

Meanwhile, the one dish that baffled me the most was her bread pudding. She was obsessed with cooking large batches of them, especially during fiestas and holidays. Those things took long to prepare, and as a kid, I didn’t find it as appealing as, say, leche flan or ube halaya.

One thing about my mom’s bread pudding was that she loved giving it away to neighbors and relatives. Note that while I found them unappealing, they did taste great. Eventually, it was the dish that our family identified most with her.

Later in life, I thought of learning new genres to write so as to break the monotony of my career and sharpen my skills. It was ultimately my love for eating, which I developed after having so much of my mom’s cooking, which led me to write about food.

My first impulse was to draw from my memories while taking inspiration from Anthony Bourdain’s works. Most of his books told of his time in the kitchens he worked in. Taking Bourdain’s cue, I sought to remember the dishes I learned from my mom. (Related: “8 Readers Whose Travels Were Inspired by Books“)

Mom’s tinola recipe was the first true life lesson I learned from her, and was a big part of my adult life. Tinola was my go-to dish when I moved to Baguio City, and one I worked on when I decided to introduce to my family the first girl I dated. Come to think of it, I have seriously my heart and soul into my tinola in three instances, all involving someone I was in love with, but that’s a different story.

Cooking bread pudding, on the other hand, was a chore. I remember the gentle violence of tearing slices of bread apart, watching sugar caramelize, the struggle in mixing milk, eggs, and sugar, and the anticipation as they pop out of the steamer. I guess the best part was having some of the pudding and watching the smiles on the faces of those we give them to. I bet I had that smile at one point.  

Reading through Bourdain’s books made me realize there were so much to look back to regarding my mom, dining, and how I would shape my work. See, writing about food means trying to put into paper the scents, the flavors, and the feelings revolving around the food you cook and eat. Translating smell and taste into words is tough, but it enriches the imagination.

To date, I’ve successfully written about tinola only once, and it was an attempt to write a short love story. I hoped to put on paper how cooking helps convey one’s feelings to another. Somewhere along the way, things went south and it turned into a thriller.

This year would mark a decade after my mom passed away. The last I saw her alive was at lunch time, as she was in the kitchen, cooking as always. I missed hearing her voice, seeing her doing chores, having to listen to her tirades, and coming home to her home-cooked meals.

I mourn the fact that she left without having read my crime books. I won’t call my works top-notch, but I poured everything I have in my stories. She appreciated my work as a journalist; I hoped she would appreciate my other genres as well. (Related: “#HeistClub: Manila in the Eyes of an Outsider“)

To be honest, I don’t think I can cook tinola the same way she did, nor can I duplicate the taste of her bread pudding. The least I can do to continue honoring her memory is remember her and her meals, and someday, write in length about her cooking.—Mark Manalang

Mark’s mother and niece | Photo posted with permission

When I was young, I would always get excited whenever Mama goes to the supermarket and do grocery shopping. I would always be her shopping buddy because I was the Ate and I figured I should learn to buy things for my siblings.

One day while waiting for Mama to pay the groceries, I found a nook near the counter. It was a bookcase! I couldn’t help but start browsing the novels. They were new to me. I only read textbooks and school materials because I was still in elementary.

I was very focused with the books that I didn’t hear Mama calling my name.

“What are you reading?”

“Ma, can you buy this for me, please?”

She frowned. “This a love story, Pau, and it is not even new.”

“Not too old, Ma. Look!” I pointed to the back of the book.

“Do you really want to read this book?”

“Yes, Ma.” I answered. “I’ll read it on Saturday after I finish my homework.”

“Okay.” She gave me 100 pesos even though the book was only 60 pesos. “Add the change for your baon.”

“Thank you, Ma!” I smiled triumphantly and went to the counter.

I was then an incoming grade five student and even though, I was not familiar with romance and fantasy, I got hooked to the story. I started to save money from my baon to purchase a book whenever Mama and I went to the grocery store.

Since that day, whenever my birthday rolled around, Mama would always give me books as gift. She would always take time to go to the bookstore. Because of that, I grew up reading V.C. Andrews and Sabrina the Teenage Witch books. These novels made me crave for more stories and shaped my childhood’s imaginary world.

And Whispers in the Woods, the book I asked my mother to buy is still with me. I reread the book every year because it would always remind me that Mom bought my first book. —Paula Alagao

Paula with her mother | Photo posted with permission

My mother taught me many wonderful things: how to walk like a lady, what losing one’s virginity felt like, why a child should never talk to strangers.

Above all, she taught me to read, and to love every second of it.

Contrary to what most people assumed, my mother wasn’t a teacher. However, her passion for books ran deeply in her veins. Her collection could have rivaled mine, though her choices were a stark contrast to my favorites. She mostly had romances on her shelves—the bodice-ripping, princess-abducting kind. I liked the covers, took in the corsets, bosoms, muscles, and long-haired men, and let the images run free in my mind. Even as a child, I already knew who Johanna Lindsey was.

I saw more names in her collection: Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, John Grisham. Strangely, I hardly ever read them.

That wasn’t a problem, though. My mother, the smart woman that she was, put a colorful display of hardbound books. The titles ranged from
Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. This collection sparked my love for the classics, and I never looked back.

She also let me leaf through those free Nido booklets, weekly Newsweek subscriptions, Junior Inquirer, Reader’s Digest (however dated they were), and National Geographic. Never was there a dull moment during summer. I had one of the most fun and enjoyable childhood experiences, thanks to reading, thanks to my mother.

This goes without saying that she allowed my own literary tastes to develop, to find a body of their own. She cheered me on when I finished reading Alice in Wonderland, let me mush over Sweet Valley High characters, and called me to dinner when I buried myself in Mary Higgins Clark’s detective stories. In more ways than one, Mama instilled in me the same passion for books that burned in her chest. There was no judgment, no censorship, no conversations about high and low brow lit. As long as I read, she was happy.

She may have died more than a decade ago, but her influence is very much visible in my life. I still kept a few of her books, at the same time I have chosen to give away or sell her bestsellers. The rare ones, like Sophie’s Choice and The World According to Garp are on my iron-wrought shelf, waiting for my eager hands to turn the pages, and for my hungry eyes to devour their words.

The world taught me to celebrate Mother’s Day in May. My mother taught me, among other things, to celebrate life every day, one book at a time.—Maria Criselda Santos




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