I love my parents' kitchen. There's always something simmering or frying on the stove, vegetables and fruits resting on the counter, and people. People peeling garlic, chopping vegetables, telling stories. My dad tells the best stories. We'll be at the kitchen table, finishing up dinner, my mom peeling a grapefruit for dessert and passing around the segments, as he tells us about growing up in the Philippines. About diving off the backs of water buffalo into the river, eating ice cream sandwiches made with actual bread, picking papayas straight off the trees.
The kitchen in my parents' house -- much like countless other kitchens everywhere -- is where all the action takes place. Cooking is a family affair, even when not everyone is cooking. I could be the only one chopping and sauteing and roasting in that kitchen and yet still, every time I turn around, a dirty bowl will be suddenly clean and a cutting board cleared and ready for more. My dad is like a cleaning fairy in that respect, and it makes cooking in their kitchen all the more enjoyable.
Other times, I'm the helper. There are some dishes for which my mom requires help in the kitchen: making lumpia eggrolls, for example, and cooking pancit. Cooking these foods involves detailed chopping, careful rolling, assembly lines.
So when the people at Shen's Books sent me a review copy of the children's book Cora Cooks Pancit, I was kind of thrilled. Filipino food and culture isn't very well known in the Western world, and to be presented through a children's book really intrigued me. Written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, a Filipino-Italian who grew up in the kitchen and now raises her own children in the kitchen, the story not only focuses on the special nature of cooking with family but also plays with the senses to immediately transport readers into the kitchen with familiar smells and sounds and flavors.
The story is about a little girl named Cora who, on a day when her brothers and sisters are all out, finally gets her mother all to herself and asks if she can help cook. After considering some of her favorite Filipino foods ("Lines of lumpia pranced in rows. Adobo chicken legs be-bopped in time."), Cora decides she wants to cook pancit. "The thick noodles and vegetables curled and swirled in a dance party. Mmmm."
From the stories of Lolo (grandpa) in the Philippines eating "smashed fried bananas and sweet rice wrapped in banana leaves" to Cora's excitement when she's allowed to help stir, it's all there: culture, food, and that familial bond that occurs when the two are joined.
Yes, this is a children's book, and I'm 25 years old. But have I mentioned the pictures? The illustrations are done by Kristi Valiant, who adds detail and color and fun to every page. Cora's face is sweet and lovable, and after reading the story, kids will want to head straight into the kitchen and help cook their favorite foods.
I can't help but think of my niece, Mira, standing on a stool and stirring macaroni and cheese, the peas and pasta spilling out of the pan, and that little girl oblivious to everything except for the happy fact that she's with her daddy and they're cooking together. I can't wait to give her this book the next time I see her, and to cook pancit with her for the first time, telling her fun stories of her Lolo and Lola in the Philippines.
There's a pancit recipe included in the book, but if you must have pancit right now (it's OK, I know the feeling), check out my mom's version here.
For more information Cora Cooks Pancit, visit Shen's Books.