Our Birthday Strawberry Shortcake by Marisa Dobson

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Marisa’s Memory

My little brother and I are born on the same day, six years apart. It was (and is) the best birthday present I’ve ever received! Since our Dad is a chef (now chef instructor), our birthday traditions centered a good deal around our favorite foods. We were allowed to dictate the family meals for the day. Banned sugary cereals and silver dollar pancakes for breakfast, tender ribs and mac & cheese, bulgogi on the tabletop propane grill with bowls of white Kokuho Rose rice, cream of crab soup, sushi, apple strudel, Kahlua trifle — all these were on regular birthday rotation. We were “gourmet babies,” as my Dad says. On our 12th and 6th birthday, we celebrated by going to an O’s game and stuffed ourselves with hot dogs, Old Bay fries, and ice cream. The O’s won that day. Fast forward to last year, when we continued the tradition by having a glorious kamayan spread in our backyard in Baltimore! (Thank you, my darling Jamie.)

Our birthday is in April, right when the first berries of the season start making an appearance. I have a very clear memory of shopping in a rural Food Lion with my Mom and being totally taken in by the display of pre-made Yellow Sponge Cake Dessert Cups, Reddi Wip, and quart containers of unnaturally giant strawberries. I remember begging my Mom to buy the whole setup for my birthday, but my organic-gardening, vitamin-pushing Mom was not about that life. As a kid regularly denied Oreos, there was something sinfully alluring about those perfectly uniform yellow cups. (I also remember she did give in and buy them for me one time, and they were pretty awful.)

Instead, we were treated to homemade strawberry shortcakes! Mom, the designated baker in the family, would make the crumbly shortcake biscuits. Dad would throw the metal beaters and bowl into the freezer for a few moments, before whipping heavy cream with fine white sugar and a dash of vanilla. The slightly unripe, early strawberries would be soft and limp from sitting in sugar for a few hours, a natural red syrup forming at the bottom of the bowl. Every time our birthday nears, I start to crave this simple dessert.

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I am decidedly not a baker (as I mentioned here in Bmore Art). At a family dinner this week, it took all my willpower not to ask Mom for a few tips before embarking on this! I resisted, and I’m sorry to say, the biscuits were a disaster. My guess is I added way too much butter, and I now know the oven temperature was way too low. The biscuits were raw in the middle but too brown on the bottom to continue baking, tasting a little too much of baking powder and not even a hint of sweetness (I added 1/2 cup of confectioners sugar? Maybe I should’ve used regular sugar??). There will be no recipe to follow this week, as I didn’t want anyone out there in internet-land to mistakenly recreate these. Frowny face.

I managed to not screw up the whipped cream, however! I might’ve improved on that a little with this fragrant Penzey’s Mexican Vanilla. I also decided to add a bit of lemon zest to my macerated strawberries, which I will definitely be doing in the future. And let’s be real folks, anything with a big dollop of freshly made whipped cream is going to be delicious. After the first couple of disappointed and angsty bites, I started to genuinely enjoy it and I cleaned the whole plate. I mean, how could I not? The remainder of the failed biscuits are now going to be reincarnated as croutons. Nothing that a good olive oil and sea salt can’t fix.

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Jamie’s review

I first tried strawberry shortcake when I was a vegan about seven years ago. If I recall correctly, the filling was a strawberry-infused cream and not the macerated strawberries like Marisa produced. I couldn’t enjoy this shortcake since I am sadly allergic to strawberries. Boo. I, nevertheless, enjoyed my rendition of blackberry short cake. Thanks for accommodating me, Marisa.

The biscuit wasn’t worth the calories but it didn’t bother me that it wasn’t fully baked. I have no reference. I’ll gladly take some fruit, whipped cream, and simple carbs anytime.

This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.

Lola's Kare Kare by Marisa Dobson

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Jamie’s Memory

My lola cooked effortlessly and with authority. She passed away in 2013. I rarely ever saw her since I was growing up “in the States” but now and then she would come stay with us for two to three months at a time. My memories of her are few and far between, but I remember her being most comfortable in the kusinà. She was a dominant figure when she cooked in her Parañaque kitchen but was somehow timid in my parents’ home in California. I was too young and ignorant to care about my culture then. Significantly, this post was inspired by a very short and foggy memory I have of my lola preparing the ingredients and garnishes for kare kare. The kitchen in my mind was dark but she was illuminated by the golden light of the exhaust hood as she ground peanuts in the mortar and pestle. I don’t even remember eating the meal. What matters to me now was that the moment was ours alone. When I asked my brother about his fondest memory of her, the first thing he said was “I remember I was her favorite.” [eye roll] “She always wanted to make sure I was fed because that was one of the few ways she knew how to express her love.”

The kare kare I know in my tastebuds is from my mother. The box of Mochiko sweet rice powder and half-full jar of Skippy or Jif meant kare kare for dinner. I never tried making my favorite dish when I lived with my parents. It wasn’t until I was in my master’s program in NYC when I called my mother and asked her for her recipe. I longed for the ulam of home. I was a vegan then (!) so I couldn’t use the oxtail meat broth as a base. All I really had was the layer of peanut butter. I can’t even recall what my thickening agent was. Even though it was missing a lot of essential ingredients— oxtail, tripe, and most importantly, bagoóng— I was delighted to eat it. Eating warm rice with the sabaw is my favorite part. My mom would subo this holy offering to me as I sat on her lap as a young child.

Since my grad school days, I’ve probably made kare kare four other times and I’ve gotten more comfortable each time. I still struggle with the sabaw because I have yet to recreate the right calibration of sweetness and thickness. I spent almost an hour doing this as I tried to come close to what I thought was the right consistency and flavor. Obviously I could’ve just added sugar but now that I write this, I reckon the sweet rice flour helped with rounding out the flavor. I used cornstarch for this recipe below but I’ll make sure to buy Mochiko next time.

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Marisa’s review

We did not grow up eating oxtail in my family and I envy all of you who did. Since I’ve been with Jamie, I’ve been trying to make up for lost time! Of all the Filipino dishes I’ve grown to love, kare kare is right up there with nilaga, pancit, and mango cake in terms of crave-ability. One of the interesting things about Filipino cuisine versus others is there is less of an agreement on the ideal version of certain dishes. Every Filipino makes adobo, but since there are 7000+ islands, there are at least 7000 versions of the dish. It makes it exceptionally challenging to recreate recipes and certain tightly-held flavor combinations, as the internet, restaurants and cookbooks all put forth different versions.

This version resulted in an intensely flavorful and meltingly tender beef. The whole house was filled with glorious smells for hours. The eggplant soaked up all the sauce, but was still toothsome. The bok choy provided crunch and lightened up the dish, though the green beans were a bit rubbery. Part of me sees kare kare as a bit of a bagoóng delivery device, and my favorite thing to do is to flake off a bit of beef, spoon it up with saucey rice, a bit of bok choy and a swipe of bagoóng -- and then you put that whole riot of flavor in your mouth at once. You get the zing of fermented saltiness, the slick of fat on your lips, and the earthy sweetness of the peanuts. You repeat that a dozen more times until the frenzy is over, and then you add another scant half cup of rice into your bowl to soak up any remnants of sauce. Kare kare is definitely part of the reason I’m marrying this woman. Try it out on someone you love today…!

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Lola’s Kare Kare

2 lbs of oxtail (I bought this from Great Wall Supermarket and salted an hour before cooking)

3 Japanese eggplants, cut on the bias

1 bunch of baby bok choy, steamed

1 bunch of sitaw (Snake beans), cut into two-inch pieces and steamed

5 tbsp of smooth peanut butter

6 tbsp of cornstarch

¼ cup of achuete seeds, for coloring

Garnish with bagoóng and ground peanuts

Serve with rice


Fill up large pot or dutch oven with salted water. Leave at least two inches of space at the top. Boil water, add oxtail. Boil uncovered for two hours or so until meat is fork tender. This can be done the night or two before. When it cools, you can scrape off some of the fat from the surface. Stock should be reduced by half. Reserve stock and set oxtail aside.


The reserve stock is used to make sabaw. Reheat stock until simmering. Add cornstarch slurry (follow package instructions) and stir until nectar-like consistency is achieved.


Add approximately four cups of water to temper saltiness.


Add peanut butter to the sabaw. Stir until dissolved. Taste the sabaw and add more peanut butter to taste. Use an immersion blender to create a smoother consistency. (Lola or my mother didn’t have this in their kitchens.) Sabaw comes together in about 30-45 minutes with light simmering.


Steep achuete seeds in hot water for 10 minutes. Strain. Add strained orange-reddish liquid to sabaw.


Steam bok choy and sitaw for about 7 minutes in a bamboo steamer with separate compartments. I did this separately from the oxtail so the water from the vegetables wouldn’t dilute the sabaw. Set aside when finished.


Add oxtail and eggplant into sabaw. Cook for 15 minutes on medium-high heat to allow flavors to meld. Then add steamed vegetables and toss.


Serve with warm rice. Garnish with bagoóng and peanuts to taste.


This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph.

Special thanks to my brother, who was visiting us for the week. He helped taste test and hand model. Mahal kita, kuya. -JS

Obahchan’s Spaghetti & Meat Sauce by Marisa Dobson

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Marisa’s Memory

My Japanese grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2015. She’d always been an industrious woman, constantly running errands for a friend or attending another community meeting. She started to miss those meetings. And then suddenly, the notepad she kept by the phone metastasized into scribbled tear sheets all over her house. 

One of the quirks of this illness is that because she can’t converse about her day, she shares much more detail about times of her life that she can remember. My grandmother was never one to talk about herself or her feelings, so it feels like a surprising gift. It was in one of those conversations that she shared what it was like for her at the Air Force military bases where she lived with my grandfather in the late 60s and 70s. As she waded into assimilation in America, she was instructed how to keep house and cook a short list of dishes — including a spaghetti & meat sauce.

Bizarrely, this is the dish I most closely associate with my Obahchan. Even though I also learned how to use chopsticks, fold dumplings, properly store nori and other Japanese customs from her, it was this dish (and her simple tossed salad) that was requested and served most often at her house when I was growing up. Yes, Kraft Parmesan was always on the table.

Today, it isn’t safe for her to be around burners. She’s still a tremendous eater (you would be shocked at how much this tiny woman can put away!) but now it’s our turn to cook for her. We wanted to start off this Memory Kitchen Series with a loving tribute to Obahchan, as she continues to teach us the importance of shared meals with family and friends.

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This Memory Kitchen Series is a creative collaboration between Marisa & Jamie. Each month, one of us will cook a recipe entirely from memory (no long phone calls to Mom, no recipe cards, no cookbooks, no Googling!) and the other will review the dish. The recipe that follows is exactly what’s pictured (all photos by Jamie Sumague, of course!). We have no idea how it will turn out when we start, so expect a few disasters along with the occasional triumph. 

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Jamie’s Review

Spaghetti and meat sauce was a regular dish in my Filipino-American household as I was growing up so this dish is familiar to me. It’s exactly what I needed on a snowy Sunday afternoon. The slight sweetness of the sauce is similar to my parents' take on the Italian American classic except ours was doctored up with ketchup and sugar. I’m shamelessly overjoyed we had an excuse to buy Kraft parmesan from the can. It reminds me fondly of my father who showered his spaghetti plate with cheesy delight. I enjoyed everything about this dish from eating to packing it up. You better believe I was using the leftover garlic bread to sop up the oily red sauce of comfort. 


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Spaghetti & Meat Sauce

1 1/2 cup of fennel, chopped

2-3 medium onions, chopped

4 carrots, chopped

5-6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon of kosher salt

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

2 lbs of ground beef

750 g box of Pomi Strained Tomatoes

2 cups of beef broth

1 tbsp of Worcestershire sauce

1 tbsp of sugar

1 tbsp of soy sauce

Salt & pepper, to taste
16 oz box of dried spaghetti, prepared per pkg instructions

Heat a large cast-iron pot. Add the olive oil.

Cook chopped fennel, onions, and carrots on medium-high heat for 10 mins.

Add the garlic to the fennel mire poix, stir and cook for 5 minutes.

Add ground beef when the moisture of the mire poix is just about gone and slightly sticking to the bottom. Turn heat up to high and cook for about 10 minutes so fats can reduce.

Add strained tomatoes & beef broth, and turn heat down to medium-low. Bring to simmer and partially cover. Simmer for approximately 2 hours. Salt & pepper to taste.

Boil water for pasta (salt heavily!). Bake your garlic bread while the pasta is cooking. Assemble tossed salad. Pile pasta, top with meat sauce. Enjoy with salad, garlic bread, and a container of Kraft Parmesan for extra assimilating flavor.