Hattie Mae came to into my home here in Laua-an and filled it with love. Even though she was probably at someones casino, or filling her Christmas/Thanksgiving cake rush, it felt as though this joyous woman with salt and pepper hair was right beside me. She was watching my hands as I mixed the 3 cups of sugar, 3 cups of flour, 3 sticks of butter, eggs, lemon extract and 7-Up soft drink.
Unlike most Filipino households, there was an oven at my disposal. However, the oven was not as simple as turning a nob to my desired temperature. There was no digital display showing the rising temperature and releasing a “ping” once it has reached the preset degree setting. A petroleum gas tank needed to be turned on and the fire lit manually. After the oven was lit I still did not know what setting to use. The only options on the dial were low and high. I am sure the manufacturers knew that I would be using the stove and not understand what to do. They so graciously included a conversion sheet to explain how to reach the desired temperature. However, the highest temperature listed was 275 degrees and the cake needed to be baked at 350. ( I later found out that these temperatures were in Celsius.)
Even with my lack of knowledge with the metric system I worked with the highest temperature I could achieve and would adjust the baking time accordingly. However, problems continued to arise. For whatever reason, the fire would not stay lit. Rustom had to relight the oven multiple times. I was becoming nervous because while the oven was hot, Rustom had to strike a match, reach his hand in the small oven between the hot metal racks and light the oven range. After it was lit once again, I went to take a shower and checked the oven when I was finished. This time I noticed a strange light. There was a bright flickering of yellow light coming from behind the stove. Inside the oven the flames had disappeared. I then noticed the flames had transferred to the back of the stove, on the outside. It looked as if two candlesticks were burning between the wall and the stove. Rustom came quickly, put out the fire and that was the end of our efforts with the oven.
I was sure that this cake experiment was over, that I would have to discard of the wasted batter, however, my host mother (Nanay Lau) interjected. From the little Kinaray-a. I could understand I gathered that next door at her son’s house was some sort of solution. I waited for clear instructions and a short time later the “solution” arrived. It was a microwave oven that looked fairly new. I have come to learn that Filipinos are very resourceful and creative at getting things done against obstacles. Therefore, I did not question them, I just waited for an explanation on how we would get this cake to bake in this microwave. Then I had a realization. Please take a look below and tell me what is wrong with this picture:
A few minutes later, without so much as a word, Nanay Lau and Rustom removed the cake from the kitchen and took it to the “Dirty Kitchen” Apparently, they had a plan and I just waited for it to reveal itself to me. They started heating up the coal to heat their version of a dutch oven. When the pot was ready, we had to get the cake pan inside the pot. This was not an easy task. If we tipped it, it was sure to spill. If we dropped it in, it was sure to splatter. I turned my head briefly to look for some utensil that could assist us. When I looked back, Rustom had placed the pan inside the pot with his bare hands. After looking at him quizzically, I remembered that he had been consuming “liquid courage” earlier which made him almost invincible to the extreme heat he had been in contact with this evening. With all the difficult parts over, now we wait. What was suppose to be a hour and 15 minutes of baking turned into three hours. Midnight rolled around and the cake was finally dry without wet batter sticking to the twig. At this time I did not care that it was not the golden brown color I was use to. We removed it from the dutch oven, wrapped it, and left it to cool and stiffen.