Claire-Dee Lim

Writer, Content Marketing

Category: Recipe

The Way to a Man’s Heart

I’m often asked how I learned to cook. This sweet story about my mother, written by my father Paulino, will give you some insights.


The Way to a Man’s Heart

by Paulino Lim, Jr.

She was the teenage cook of the family, my best friend’s sister. The household consisted of a mother, brother and maid, and the father sailing the oceans of the world as a merchant marine.

I’d listen to tales of shopping in an open market for fresh vegetables, fish and meat. One incident sticks in my mind. She was haggling over the price of a milk fish (bangus) with the fishmonger, who wore rings and bracelets as she trimmed and scaled fish on the table. Rather than give in to the teenage girl’s price offer, that she might have thought insulting, the woman threw the fish into a bucket of discards.

She’d bring home a live chicken. The maid slaughtered it, cutting a vent in the neck and collecting the blood in a dish with vinegar. The fledgling chef cut the chicken for four recipes: soup, stew, adobo, and dinuguan, a delicacy cooked in coconut milk mixed with the chicken’s blood (dugo in Filipino).

That was over half-a-century ago in Manila, fifty-seven years to be exact. The chef and I began dating, and we got married shortly after her senior year at the Philippine Women’s University with a liberal arts degree. I’d started to teach with a master’s degree in education, major in English, from the University of Santo Tomas.

Our life took a turn when UCLA approved my application for a PhD program in English. We came to California with the first James Bond film. My wife had the discreet pleasure, years later, in seeing Sean Connery in a crowd at Wimbledon and touching the back of his jacket. I did meet a James Bond villain Christopher Lee at the B. Dalton bookstore in Westwood, and he kindly autographed my copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude.

My wife worked while I was at graduate school for four years. Her parents paid for the rental of an apartment off of Pico Blvd. Every morning she’d take the bus to downtown L.A., dropping off our daughter at a nursery school run by nuns. I’d take the bus going to Santa Monica, and transfer to another bus to go to the UCLA campus in Westwood.

My wife’s cooking repertory expanded from watching her aunt, who often invited us over on weekends, prepare American dishes. On weekdays her aunt cooked for the late Hubert Eaton in Beverly Hills, founder of Forest Lawn. We still have the Jewish Cookbook copyright 1941, that she gave us. Our cupboard has colored salts, white kosher, pink Himalayan, and black volcanic. She thinks the Peruvian salt is the best. It adds so much flavor.

My wife still cuts up chickens she buys at the supermarket, and stores the pieces in four freezer bags. The bones definitely go into soups. Two delectable recipes for the chicken breast stand out: chicken piccata, and baked with garlic and butter pushed into the meat with an injector.

For the dark meat, my wife would ask me, “How do you want this done: Southern fried chicken, Thai with lime juice and Sriracha, or Filipino adobo?” For dessert her piece de resistance is leche flan. Guests we invite for Thanksgiving Day dinner rave about her turkey. She splits the breast from the neck down, removes all the bones and the giblets, and stuffs the inside with her dressing of wild rice, pork, and sautéed vegetables. Then she sews the turkey back into its original shape and roasts it. Before serving the guests, she plunges a knife into the turkey to show that what they are about to eat is entirely boneless.

Is there truth to the proverb that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?



Thinking About 5 Things: From Fidgeting to Bones

1. Sully

For someone who once had a fear of flying—take-off and turbulence equaled my own personal hell of anxiety and panic—I love airplane movies! Last weekend I saw Sully and it didn’t disappoint in the terror department. Cool effects, gripping, heroic, and the extra bonus of a cartoony portrayal of the NTSB “bad guys.” Very cathartic to see Sully save the day.

Side note: I overcame my 20-year fear of flying with the help of a hypnosis recording. This summer I took 8 flights with no issues. One time I even fell asleep during take-off. Now that’s a first!

2. Fidget

The goal for this Kickstarter started at $15,000 and, at the time of this posting, it’s well over $4 M! For a plastic cube you can play with at your desk. No joke. Check out the link and watch the money pour in.



3. Bone broth

In our continual efforts to achieve good health, we’re consuming bone broth, from grass-fed, grass finished bones. My husband lets it simmer on the stove for two-days, creating a broth rich in minerals and collagen. Our hair and nails are growing like crazy and my skin’s looking healthier too. I can only imagine the positive effects on my innards.


Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.


4. Apple Plug

Not yet ready to upgrade to the iPhone 7? Consider this …



5. Graffiti

A strange place to find this political statement.



Guest Post: “Pining for Pinangat” by Paulino Lim Jr.

Whenever I’m asked how I became a writer, I simply answer: it’s because of my father. Paulino Lim Jr. is a distinguished novelist. He’s the author of the Filipino political series Tiger Orchids on Mount Mayon, Sparrows Don’t Sing in the Philippines, Requiem for a Rebel Priest and Ka Gaby, Nom de Guerre, and several short story collections. His award-winning short stories have been featured in AsiaWeek and other publications. His scholarly monograph, The Style of Lord Byron’s Plays, is cited as the preeminent work about the romantic poet. He’s also a professor emeritus of English at California State University, Long Beach. So no surprise, he’s been a huge inspiration.

When I was young, he always encouraged me to tell my own stories and write them down. So I did. He’d read what I wrote, and besides correcting my grammar, his critical eye taught me how to use the precision of words to convey ideas. He also advocated exploring my own voice and not self-censoring, which can be a mistake for any writer. That early influence is probably why I’ve written some of the things I have.

I’m so pleased to feature my dad’s recent piece: it’s a story is about getting an undeclared food product from the Philippines through Customs. It blends both narrative and a recipe of a delicacy known as “Pinangat.”

Here’s a “taste” of Paulino Lim Jr. I hope you enjoy it!

(pinangat photo: Laing, Bicol Express, Wikimedia Commons)

 Pining for Pinangat

I am in line at the LAX International Airport, holding my passport and Customs Declaration form. Six other returning residents are ahead of me. A message on the monitor above the immigration gate shakes off the lassitude of the overnight flight. “Declare all food products. Failure to do so can result in up to $10,000 in fines and penalties.”

What to do? On the declaration form I only wrote “Books,” not the pinangat in a plastic container, wrapped with a bath towel. Twenty pieces each wrapped in foil, what shall I call it? Pinangat? Filipino tamale? I glance at the Customs Officer behind the counter, scanning a monitor before stamping passports and declaration forms. He reminds me of a young sailor in his late 30s, wearing blue cap and short-sleeved white shirt and matching blue tie and epaulets.

Scenarios play in my mind. Does the penalty apply for not declaring a food product? If I refuse to pay the fine, will I be detained? Will the pinangat be confiscated and, heaven forbid, discarded? I will plead, unwrap a package and say, “This is a delicacy in my hometown.” Who’ll believe me if I say that the pinangat is my antidote for homesickness?

So many copycat dishes have filched the name, but Filipinos know that there’s only one pinangat, the Bicol variety, and the best tasting comes from my hometown in Albay Province, Camalig, also known as the country’s “Pinangat Capital.” The town fiesta honoring the Patron Saint, John the Baptist, is an extended week-long celebration, dubbed Pinangat Festival.

Mayon Volcano

Mayon Volcano

What‘s so special about the Camalig pinangat? Geography is as much a factor as the South of France is to Perrier water. Its main ingredient is the gabi vegetable, also known as taro in Hawaii, that grows along rivulets and rivers flowing from Mayon Volcano. The volcano also accounts for the superb quality of the coconut used in pinangat.

A mature coconut, its husk turned brown, is broken open with a bolo or cleaver and grated. The grating is mixed with a cup of water in a basin, and manually squeezed and kneaded until the water turns milky. The coconut milk is poured into a container using a sieve. Water is again mixed with the grated coconut for a second squeezing.

Fresh shrimp and pork are two favorite pinangat fillings. The shrimp is peeled and the pork diced. They are seasoned with salt, chopped onions, garlic and, if desired, chili pepper. A third of a cup of seasoned pork or shrimp is placed on two overlapping gabi leaves. A tablespoon of the first squeeze is added, the leaf folded over the mixture to create a pouch.

More gabi leaves wrap the pouch into a rectangular shape that fits nicely in a chafing dish when served. A strand of coconut frond tied length- and crosswise secures the wrap, as a string does to a small package. The wrapped pieces are placed in a pot lined with white stalks of lemongrass, beaten soft with the flat side of a cleaver. Coconut milk from the second squeeze is poured over the pinangat, and the pot is covered.

The pot simmers over low heat from fired charcoal and cracked coconut shells. The dish is ready when nothing remains of the coconut milk, except for the whitish yogurt-like residue that adds an appetizing layer to the green of the pinangat. Each pinangat can be lifted with a fork from the pot by its frond string.

It’s now my turn at the passport gate. No more psychic scenarios, each move happening in real time. I pull my carry-on bag to the counter, and say “Good morning,” as I hand in my passport and travel form. The Inspector returns my greeting with a nod.

He looks at me. “What was the purpose of your travel to the Philippines?”

“I visited my folks in the province. For the most part I was a visiting professor at De La Salle University in Manila.”

“I see you’re bringing in books. Sir, anything else to declare?”

I shake my head. The Inspector stamps the passport and scribbles on the declaration form. Is it a note for the Customs Officer at the Exit gate to inspect my luggage?

This moment must be how a smuggler feels, or a gambler about to roll the dice. I pull my green canvas suitcase from the trundling carousel, and walk slowly toward the Officer, a bronzed Latino in his late 50s, standing behind a platform.

Buenos dias, Señor,” I say.

His face cracking a smile, he replies, “Bienvenido.” He takes the travel form, points to my suitcase, and says, “Do you have chicharones in there?”

I shake my head, and he waves me to the exit sign.

© 2017 Claire-Dee Lim

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