Farming

San Isidro Morning

You can feel it’s morning already even when the skies are still completely dark by the increasing frequency of sounds and the quality of silence in between: a little lighter, less compact. A cold breeze blows in from our garden, signaling the Christmas season which always begins with the ‘ber’ months. From the bedroom the cacophonous crowing of the roosters forces me to get up but for some reason it’s never annoying. The chickens like to roost on the branches of a gigantic pili tree by the agunan (copra oven). Last summer I made the mistake of parking under the tree. The next day the car was spattered with huge chicken poop all over.

The huge pili tree where the farm chickens like to roost on

No matter how late I’ve gone to bed the previous night I am always up at dawn, especially at the farm where I make breakfast on Saturday mornings. It is Peter who is on duty this week and he wakes up before I rise, already boiling water over a wood fire in the kitchen in their quarters.
My cousins and I had originally planned a completely organic kitchen for the farm house until I came to my senses and bought a gas stove. In the end the horror of a charcoal layer on top of impeccably painted kitchen cabinets won over smoke-flavored adobo, not to mention the drudgery of scouring charcoal-covered pots and pans.
This morning it’s a couple of sunny side up eggs, garlic fried rice, three-in-one coffee, tinapa and two pathetically pre-sliced pieces of Purefoods ham. If you look hard you can see the future in those ham slices.
I am in no hurry to cook because Peter has to gather the livestock to pasture first before we can sit down to breakfast. With 21 animals to bring to various grazing areas, it takes him the better part of an hour and a half.
I do the garlic fried rice first with the cheaper variety that I share with the farm dogs. I prefer non-sticky, long-grained rice for frying, but would never buy it capriciously on the farm budget. The best that can be done is to make sure it’s hot, with plenty of garlic for aroma. Then I fry the eggs, making sure mine is cooked the way I want it, with the yolks a bit runny. I only add enough oil to the pan, the fire on slow, patiently waiting for it to heat up. Then I slide in the egg, repeatedly spooning the hot lard over it until the whites are set and the yolk turns slightly opaque, but wobbly. There’s only one thing worse than an overcooked egg – an undercooked one. I’ve been teaching Maricel, our kasambahay, to fry eggs this way so she won’t have to pour in a ton of oil but she never listens. With the left-over lard I drop in the ham slices, just to heat them through, and then fry the tinapa next, making sure it spends more time in the pan. I consider frying a few eggplants, decide against it. This should be enough for us.

Breakfast of champions

Boiling hot water for coffee

Peter isn’t back yet so I clean up the kitchen, wash the used utensils, set the table, and pull up a chair, shooing the chickens away from pecking on the newly planted sweet potatoes in the small plot fronting the porch. The farm dogs and the cat sense they’re minutes away from getting fed so they circle around, their tongues hanging.
In no time I hear Peter’s uneven gait (his left leg is shorter than his right due to polio). He brings the thermos of hot water over for our preferred coffee brands. I am irritated that he didn’t bother to wash the thermos. It’s grimy from unwashed hands. But my coffee craving needs fixing so I shut my mouth.
All of them like Kopiko Blanca which is too creamy for me. Mine is Kopiko Black, ang kape ng tunay na barako. Fine. I’m delusional.
Into Peter’s plate I fork over one egg, one slice of ham, and a piece of tinapa so he won’t have to be shy serving himself. He informs me that the vermicompost roofing needs to be replaced.
Over breakfast, while the sun rises over the horizon my nose is assaulted by the odor of dewy grass, fresh horse, carabao and cattle dung, and the distinctly aromatic fragrance of resin that Michael had been harvesting from our pili trees. It’s Saturday, the end of the work week, and it’s pay day. And the tinapa is spot on. Coconut prices have not picked up, fuel prices are skyrocketing. But life at least in our little piece of heaven, though hardly perfect, is good.

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