January 16, 2018
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Food and the Philippines: Close to Home

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The typhoon devastation hit home for my extended family in the Philippines. My brother, David and his wife, Elsa, own two homes, one in Otis, Maine and the other in Elsa’s hometown of Tabing on Leyte, Philippines. Many of Elsa’s family, including her 80-year-old parents, still live in Tabing. Last Saturday, a family friend and I visited them in Otis and as we talked, the television, tuned to a station in the Philippines, showed images of the immense devastation and human tragedy caused by the typhoon. Most of the news coverage was coming from Tacloban, where Elsa’s brother and his family live, and the city hardest hit by the storm. Elsa explained that she did not get much sleep as she spent the night staring at the television looking for anything that may reassure her that her family was safe. Their home in Tabing, also was in the direct path of the storm, was made from concrete, so family living in their village made the plan to ride out the storm there.

While we were talking, Elsa was in the nearby kitchen area moving between a cutting board and a big wok on the stove. She is rather famous in the family for her food. I’ve seen my kids devour dozens of Aunt Elsie’s lumpia in minutes and her pandesal is simply know as “Elsie rolls”. Within a few minutes, Elsa placed a huge platter of noodles with shrimp, chicken and vegetables in front of us. I looked at my brother with my expression questioning why she would be cooking and he just shook his head and explained, “that’s just who she is”. From what I have observed, it is also a part of their culture; the importance of family and the gathering of loved ones is always a good reason to start cooking and socializing. As we enjoyed another fabulous Elsie meal, she talked about how she was worried, providing they survived the storm, how they would eat. She explained that she had a pig in the freezer but they would have to eat that soon as there would be no electricity. They explained to us that the major issues would be the destruction of crops and livestock and the relatively unimportance of the smaller villages and outlying areas in the wake of so much destruction to the major population area in Tacloban.

We left them with a hug and the words that we wanted to say but did not know how we could ever fulfill, “let us know how we can help”. By Sunday, they had heard that family and residents in Tabing all survived. It wasn’t until Monday that their niece made her way from the neighboring island of Cebu to find her parents, Elsa’s brother and wife, in Tacloban. Finally the word came that they were safe, however, Elsie’s cousin lost two members of their family and a close friend from Maine who was in Tacloban, is unaccounted for. My brother and his children, here in Maine, started to make phone calls and arrange for a way to get staples to their hometown of Tabing. David called me and explained they could provide 100 people with staples for a week for $600 and that his niece, Porsha, in Cebu would arrange for the purchase of the food and delivering it to Tabing. The plan was put in place but David said they could not sustain the $600 a week on their own so I investigated how to use Facebook to raise funds and set up a page to give our friends an opportunity to help and through their wonderful generosity we have enough money for another week of staples and the donations are continuing.

I am amazed at how technology has shortened the distance between Maine and Tabing. Within hours of the typhoon sweeping over them, pictures and videos appeared on the facebook timelines of David and Elsa’s family. They were able to communicate with at least some family in order to set up a process so they could help. Organizations and communities that mobilize flotillas of medical supplies and foods are essential but it also feels good to know that individuals can mobilize too. The fundraising app I used collects the donations into my personal paypal account and I think giving on the grassroots level to a person and not an organization is a way that technology has allowed us to take a big step backward, socially, when neighbors took care of neighbors. Thank you to my friends and friends of friends who have donated to Help Feed Tabing.

A week later my brother reports that six families are living in his home and, although no lives were lost in Tabing, many residents are still trying to find loved ones near Tacloban, and dealing with the loss of life as well as property.

Because our efforts are focused on delivering shelf staples, and in honor of the amazing cuisine of the Philippines that I have been so lucky to enjoy, please find Elsa’s recipe for pandesal, a sweet and tender roll. Give it a try for your Thanksgiving dinner and reflect on the strength of the human spirit we are seeing in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.

If you would like to help – here are links to the fundraising effort of my family and a link to the Red Cross relief:



1 stick of butter, melted
1 cup milk (whole)
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. salt
3 eggs
10 cups flour, approximately
Fresh breadcrumbs, about 2 cups
2 cups water
2 yeast packages
2 tsp sugar


1. In a medium sized bowl, mix together the water, yeast and 2 tsp. sugar.
2. In a large bowl, combine the butter, milk, 1 cup sugar, salt and eggs.
3. Add the water and yeast mixture and combine well.
4. Add the flour, mix well and knead for about 10 minutes. Put in lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a dishcloth and let rise until double.
5. Punch down dough and add more flour if necessary and you knead well again and shape it into rolls, about 40 pieces, and roll them in the fresh breadcrumbs.
6. Place them on a baking pan lined with wax paper (or lightly greased sheet), cover with a cloth and let rise again to almost double, about 30-60 minutes.
7. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 15 – 20 minutes. Before the bread starts to brown, put them under the broiler to brown just the tops.