Pots, Pans and the Recipes – Filii’s Kitchen Daily Bread
Houston, TX was the venue of our 7th biennial FILII-NA reunion held last June 5-11, 2019. The choice of the venue was unanimously agreed upon since our host, Fr. Roger – the parish priest, had offered the parish new Life Center for our accommodations. As for any event like this one, food is always one of the main agenda in addition to planned daily activities. Many of you would probably start worrying about your morning breakfast, a snack, or a meal if you have not attended FILII-USA past reunions. Not for this FSDPI chapter – THE CHEF IS IN THE HOUSE!
I have embraced this role as the Chief Cook of FILII-NA as it comes naturally in me. The value of learning and knowing how to cook was methodically instilled in us by our parents since our childhood, to prepare us to ascend to a certain level of responsibility within the kitchen area. Everyone should have a nutritious sense of optimism that with me (Fray Celso) in the house, no one will go hungry. As long as there are pots, pans and ingredients, rest assured there will be food on the table.
Hence, the daily menu planning began with me and with the incumbent prior – Fray Joan Dinopol together with his wife. So, I inked down the daily menus and the quantity tantamount to the number of attendees with a daily 3-meal plan including snacks. The day before the event started, Fray Joan and his wife were busy doing the groceries to ensure they purchase whatever is on the list I provided them. I brought with me several condiments and spices that I purchased from an Asian grocery store in case they are not available in Houston.
Upon my arrival in Houston that evening, I was presented to a commercially designed kitchen of the Life Center. I was impressed and quite beyond my expectation, honestly. I told myself, this is great! Cooking would not be a problem. I went straight to the refrigerator and the pantry to check if I have everything that I need. At this point in time, the work of the Chef has begun.
To be an efficient chef, planning and organization are the pillars of serving meals on time. Waking up as early as 5:00 a.m. had been a 7-day chore for me to make sure that breakfast was ready by 6:30 a.m. As always, the help provided by Filii brothers and their respective wives during food preparation and table setup complemented a better kitchen service to the group.
One of the planned events in this reunion was our special evening presentation – FILII-NA Cowboy Night. When you are in Texas, you cannot escape from embracing a cowboy lifestyle. We were lucky that we were able to invite our friends and relatives who live in nearby areas. Fr. Roger had invited Filipino parishioners to grace our event also. The more family members and friends attending, the merrier indeed.
Dinner preparation could be daunting per se. Nevertheless, if I can feed the entire village, I can feed our friends and relatives in Houston too. By 5:30 p.m. guests started to arrive and the buffet tables were getting full of different trays of dishes brought in by relatives and invited guests. There was so much food for everyone to enjoy along with our entertainment show. Our world does not only revolve in prayers, studies, or work. We also have the talent and showmanship to entertain our guests. The country line-dance that we performed together with our “Filia-wives” was a crowd-pleaser of the night.
The quality and the safety of the food served on the table rely on sanitary conditions, the freshness of the ingredients, and the technique of preparation. As my family would always say, Cooking is an art.
By Fray Celso C. Paguntalan – West Palm Beach, FL
The Rise of the Filiae
“One of the highest honors a woman can hold is that of a wife. She is the most influential woman in her husband’s world.” ~Lisa Jacobsen
What set apart the 7th Filii Biennial Reunion was the noticeable presence of our wives and significant others. For lack of a better name, we call them filiae and sometimes teasingly, “pilyas.”
For those who had no Latin background, “filiae” is the feminine form of the Latin “filii” meaning sons, thus it means, daughters. “Pilya” is a Tagalog word for naughty or mischievous. Seriously though, our wives are far from naughty or mischievous; (I mean most of the time.) Filia and pilya are simply in this context almost homophones.
Alicia, my wife, and your filia drove most of the way from our house in Florida to Houston, Texas. Heavy downpour, lightning, and thunderstorms were our constant companions. After 18 hours on the road, we’ve reached Fr. Roger’s place exhausted yet safe thanks to God’s angels in no small measure.
Prior to the Houston reunion, Alicia had only a vague idea of what was her husband and his former classmates were doing when they get together. Although their first one was held here in Orlando some 15 years ago or so, her experience was limited to being a co-host when the Filii visited us one evening.
In Houston, it was a different story. My wife met her fellow filiae for the first time: Mayette, Judy, Fati, Gloria, Carmel, Juliet, and Gabe. They are the wives of Frays Ted, Dominic, Alex, Albert, Joan, Buddy, and Caesar respectively. The order of their appearance above isn’t according to beauty by the way, in case you’d ask. It’s how I recalled them from memory.
Here, the filiae were very much involved in almost everything we did. They were eating, praying, shopping, site-seeing, and sleeping with us. It was as much their own reunion as ours.
On our way home, we took a different route, much farther than our way in. The reason for the additional 8 hours was to visit Fray Joel in Kentucky whose wife (another filia) Nancy was very pregnant then. Both of them were great hosts and they provided us Filipino homemade foods for lunch. They even gave us “pabaon,” (food for the road) – an unmistakable sign of Filipino hospitality.
There are a few other things that I found great in our Houston reunion including the extraordinary involvement of Fr. Roger’s parishioners, the attendance of more brothers, the well-thought-out programs and activities, and above all, the love and brotherhood that only reunions like this bring.
In closing, I venture to say these filiae became an integral part of our reunion in Houston. It will be hard to imagine without them going forward.
P.S. Whatever Fray Ted had in mind about what happened in the private room between Alicia and me in his article below is pure conjecture. I am not saying I didn’t try, though. As far as I could remember, nothing happened. But I have stopped trusting my memory lately. So, I asked Alicia if something in fact happened. She said, “How could we? Our bed’s just separated by a wall from Father Roger’s!” Case closed.
By Fray Peter Nunez
The Dominican Spirit in Perpetuity
Filii attendants to our biennial reunion kept growing since the time this most awaited event started fourteen years ago. Our record thus far peaked at 26 including filiae or in English our significant others. Planned in the course of several months by the incumbent president, fray Joe Dinopol and committee, the 2019 reunion was held in Houston, Texas, from June 5th to 11th – a seven-day affair.
My wife and I arrived on Wednesday morning of June 5th. We were the ones among the early travelers who made it to the venue ahead of others. Fray Earl fetched us from the George Bush Intercontinental Airport. He was driving a mid-size Honda Accord sedan and I could sense he was a bit surprised, more than excited to see us when he saw us pulling two huge luggage, each one maxed up to an acceptable airline weight requirement, plus two carry-ons. It took us a bit of time trying different angles and baggage configurations until we were able to finally fit the two luggage in the trunk really snugly.
I have never been to Houston before, and neither has my wife, and my impression of the place and weather was totally off. I thought we would see more barren land in extreme heat in the month of June. But it was even raining when we arrived and the landscape everywhere is a picture of green, lush, towering palm trees, and vegetation that ends in the horizon or as far as your eyes could see.
Warmly, the filii and filiae who beat us to the venue, frays Mike, Albert, Earl, and Joe, Glo and Carmel, welcomed us. Of course our reverend host Fr. Roger Estorque, the long-standing parish priest and founder of the St. Dominic Church and community, eagerly showed us around the spacious and well equipped Life Center facility that could house a large number of occupants – our first-class accommodation.
Fr. Roger’s unmatched hospitality cascaded down to his staff who gladly helped us settled in comfortably. Frays Celso; fray Dominic and Judy; fray Alex, Fati and mommy; fray Peter and Alicia; fray Cesar Belchez and Gabby; Fr. Adalid; fray Buddy and family; fray Ruben Rellama; and fray Raul Marterior arrived later or the next day. Our first day already saw the majority of attendants showing up early in anticipation of fun-filled days ahead.
The perks of being early birds gave us the advantage to pick the spot where we would want to position our beds. We also got to choose linens, pillows and cases, blankets, and towels. Toiletries and other room supplies are aplenty. Large commercial size refrigerator and freezer are full of perishable food items. Boxes of dry goods and vegetables piling up in one corner of the kitchen. Bottled water, non-alcoholic juices, soft drinks, and beers, likewise. A big barrel filled to the brim containing cube ice and a mixed variety of beers smacked in one place, arm-length away from Filii brothers who converged in a long table, enjoying seemingly endless and protracted conversations, the length of which is fueled and enlivened by either cold beer or hot coffee. The casual recollection of many events recalled from the time we joined the Dominican Order till the present are constant subjects of live conversations, once in a awhile interjected by a chorus of laughter as jokes and funny instances were dug out from memory and shared joyfully among ourselves.
Mayette, myself, fray Albert and Glo positioned our beds on the southern side of the building near the entrance. Fray Celso set up his meters away, perpendicular to ours. Fray Dominic and Judy on the far side opposite us, while fray Joan and Carmel occupied one separate room located near the entrance of the building. It didn’t seem to matter how far away we are from one another. Depending on how deep the night is, we can still hear unison of harmonic sounds in varying pitch coming from all positions – an unmistakable sign of aging from a human body resting comfortably after a long day’s fun.
Fr. Roger Estorque lives in a bungalow adjacent to the Life Center. In his three-bedroom house, Fr. Roger was joined by Fr. Adalid who occupied one of the rooms, and by his classmates fray Mike, fray Earl, fray Ruben, and fray Peter and Alicia, while the rest of us are conveniently accommodated, dormitory-style, in the parish’s life center. Wherever Fr. Adalid stays fray Ruben accompanies him as the two make up an inseparable duo as father and son. Thoroughly private, fray Peter and Alicia took possession of one of the rooms parallel to the living room, while right outside frays Mike and Earl each took a large couch in the living room. The next morning fray Peter and Alicia woke up like babies coming out of the crib. They were late for breakfast. We didn’t really know what transpired during the night until the couple shared testimonials of some mysterious movements and sounds they heard during the quiet hours of the night. Perhaps the couple just wanted to parry out stories of other noises that frays Mike and Earl might have heard, to dispel gossip right off the bat. Whatever the truth was, let’s leave it sacred to the couple. Proverbially, whatever happens in Houston, stays in Houston. And I agree with no reservation.
On Wednesday afternoon after lunch, Fr. Roger, fray Mike, fray Joan and myself hopped in Fr. Roger’s SUV to buy seafood at the Kemah pier. Fray Earl stayed back on standby to pick up arriving Filii brothers later that day. The rain poured in heavily on our way to the pier, alarmingly raising the level of water inches above the ground. Fr. Roger calmed us with the assurance that it was a common weather occurrence and that the water will subside some time soon. We returned with a heavy load of fresh tiger shrimps, salmon, crayfish, and lobster. There was no more guessing what we had for dinner that night, as I could not be more obvious of the majority’s dish preference when seafood is plentifully available.
Thursday, June 6th, marked our first scheduled event. We departed in one big group. Everyone picked his own spot in a 12-seater van driven by fray Joan, off to Deuseen park, some 30 minutes drive away from the parish. The others who could not be accommodated in the van drove separately in private cars. We arrived in the park before eleven in the morning and picked the shed located close to the lake. We set up tables and benches, unloaded coolers, baskets, and piles of disposable aluminum trays wrapped individually, all containing varieties of food mostly cooked and leftovers from last night, and fruits and desserts. Fray Albert and I started a fire using discarded pages of newspapers and cartons in a permanently erected barbecue grill. It took a while for damp charcoal to catch fire but once it did the burning spread and we cooked marinated pork chops and fish.
We planned to do some physical fun activities in the park but the sun was biting hard so we had to abandon our plan in favor of staying shaded most of the time. We enjoyed continued bonding and sharing stories while constantly sipping liquid and gradually depleting our food provision. We left the park around 3ish in the afternoon.
In the evening Filii brothers led by fray Celso managed to blast away some of their favorite tunes with our videoke system. But towards midnight we all decided to retire as we were all exhausted from the day’s event. Besides, we wanted to leave early in the morning for the anticipated long trips to a number of itineraries.
The next morning we skipped having breakfast in the center. We left the center wearing our reunion t-shirts for the first time. Fr. Adalid officiated the celebration of the Holy Eucharist at fray Earl’s residence located some 45 miles away, and breakfast was served following the conclusion of the holy mass. During the mass, fray Joan provided guitar accompaniment as everyone else sang liturgical hymns. At the end of the celebration, we all stood up and sang “Amang Santo Domingo” in harmonious unison, honoring our father St. Dominic. Our breakfast was traditionally Filipino, prepared by Earl’s sister, brother-in-law, and mom. I ate a lot of tuyo, dilis, and fried eggs as they are my favorite, and I have not seen eaten for quite a while.
We left for San Antonio and spent a good amount of time touring the historically famous Alamo. The size of the tourist area is not that humungous but several pictorial stops in every nook and cranny slowed us down and before we realized we already spent a good couple of hours in the Alamo. From Alamo, we moved on to our next itinerary – The River Center Mall in San Marcos. Then later that day we took the narrated riverboat cruise on the Riverwalk San Antonio.
Saturday, June 8th, was one of the highlights days of our 7-day reunion. The day began with a concelebrated mass officiated by Fr. Rey Adalid and Fr. Roger Estorque. The Filii sang through the whole Mass sometimes jointly with the local church choir. Our culminating song, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” which we sang in dual voice was applauded.
After breakfast we held our Filii meeting presided by our NA president, fray Joan Dinopol. Fr. Roger led the invocation prayer and fray Mike Plana gave a unifying address citing the success of the strategic planning meeting in the Philippines.
After the meeting, fray Celso called everyone to the dance floor to rehearse a western dance number for an evening performance. The dance steps seemed easy to follow especially when our instructor knows how to teach effectively, employing a casual no-pressure technique. I thought we all nailed it.
The Western Dance Night was a social evening for St. Dominic Parish families and parishioners. They came in bunches, each family bringing a dish, drinks, or dessert. Everyone was dressed in western attire, hats, boots, scarves, leather vest, and gun holsters dangling off their belts. Fr. Roger is the central figure who started this event with the objective of bringing parishioners together as one close-knit family. “The spirit of togetherness and caring for one another is integral to building a strong community”, explained Fr. Roger.
The food was flowing in abundantly, a token of communal generosity among St. Dominic parishioners. Three long tables were reserved for food and they were overflowing with diverse dishes. Fr. Roger called everyone’s attention and prayed the grace before meal. People then grabbed their plates and lined up towards the food tables. Some kids took a beeline towards the desserts table, as cakes, fruits, and many other sweet concoctions are much-preferred over lechon, burritos, oxtail sinigang, kare-kare, pork barbecue, and menudo.
The night’s program has begun as the audience were either digesting their food intake or in the middle of their second plate. Mayette officiated the Henyo game to the audience delight, then music was turned on to lure couples to western dance bouts. The culmination number has finally arrived as filii and filiae were called to the dance floor to assume their position. Donning cowboy hats and boots, long-sleeved checkered shirts, leather belts, and blue jeans, the filii and filiae could never be more ready to perform. Fray Celso signaled the jockey to play “Cotton Eye Joe” the song he picked to sync our steps along with the music’s beat and melody. The Filii’s dance portion is where I stopped to articulate this article. I was giddy catching up with the rest of us and on occasion I lost sight of fray Celso sending me off-track, totally losing my natural swings and sways. The audience level of applause or lack thereof would attest to and validate our performance. One could easily sense if recognition is given out of respect, courtesy, or favor. Americans are educated audience and they knew when to react with applause to encourage and boost performers’ confidence and not to embarrass them. No matter how our performance turned out to be, fray Celso deserved all the credits as he worked hard to produce a number that would entertain.
Sunday, June the 9th, was another drive-away day to NASA space center museum in Houston and to Moody vintage cars and houses in Galveston. Nasa museum is nestled in the middle of a 250,000 square foot educational entertainment complex. Exhibits, attractions and hands-on activities would take at least 3 hours to complete. Some of us opted to go shopping as they have already been to NASA. But for us who have not been there yet, found attraction and education in the form of space gears, full-scale shuttle replica, and astronaut models floating indoor. After we ate lunch at the center’s cafeteria, we left the complex and headed out to take a group photo against the backdrop of the space shuttle.
It took us about 40 minutes to get to Galveston. Around mid-afternoon, the sun was bearing down on us with intense heat. So we chose to stay indoors most of the time, touring old wooden houses and taking pictures of the well preserved vintage cars, mostly remnants of the 50s. In the end, everyone was just too happy to finally get in the air-conditioned van as we decided to leave and head back to the center. It was a quiet trip back as everybody fell asleep the moment we rolled away. It was an exhausting day, but eventful regardless, as the sun sucked the energy out of us. The fun and enjoyment we experienced that day was worth all the effort and outweighed whatever little discomfort we had with the weather.
Our last itinerary on Monday, June 10th, was rather different in terms of nature expectation and the like. We were going to woodlands but it didn’t stop there to signify nature. The destination combines two words that read “Woodlands Mall” and you don’t need to stretch your imagination to manage expectations. Two hours or so in the air-conditioned mall traversing through lines of popular branded stores have given us respite and it culminated in a food court where everybody was drawn to by mere coincidence. Perhaps it wasn’t by coincidence but by our common desire to bond and enjoy lunch together in a relaxed setting.
The Waterway Pictorial was our last event following the Woodlands Mall. We braved the glaring sun and scorching heat to get lots of shots taken against backdrops of man-made waterfalls, river, arching bridge and manicured gardens.
Our last night together was a culmination of our brotherly love, a celebration of the many things we have in common — things that bind us, that connect us, that Dominican spirit in us that brought us together as ever as one. The next day reality has splintered each one of us back into our own individual world, into our families. As we bid goodbye to one another we know it was just a formality for deep in our hearts our separation would not break the Dominican spirit we steadfastly hold on to, and on to perpetuity.
By Fray Ted Fullona