Last Friday, two Cordillerans, one lowlander and an American, tired, walking along Halsema National Road after work visits to rural families on health information, education, communication (IEC), decided for a lunch at a restaurant some few kilometers from Atok Municipal Hall.
They opted to treat for themselves once in a lifetime, and ordered beef.
Now, restaurants along Halsema highway are long known for the juicy beef viand these offer to customers. Nobody can dispute this. The recipe of the restaurant owners?
Well, it’s been said, by those who have tasted of the beef, that it’s not in the cooking, really, that gives the sweet- juicy taste of the beef.
They swear it’s the Cordillera mountain environment where cattle are raised that gives the beef its distinct sweet taste. They are right.
Cattle raised along slopes and rolling terrain of the Cordillera mountains gorge themselves daily on green grass as well as other green plants, as their fodder, compared to cattle raised in the lowlands which feed mostly on dried grass or hay.
Agriculturists with whom Ah Kong talked with before, say grazing on lush grassland, cattle take in adequate protein, energy, vitamins and minerals, and the type of plants eaten contribute to excellent forage.
As the companions waited for their order, one of them, Bellam Rutledge,63, the American citizen and sociologist espied a lady broiling a cut of beef over a pile of hot charcoal.
Staring intently at the lady’s chore, Bellam whisperingly muttered, “Oh murder, most foul!”
Bellam’s companions looked towards the lady’s direction. One of the companions, Santi Lubyaas, 56, Cordilleran, asked Bellam, “Murder of what?”
Bellam answered, “Murder of beefsteak! That’s what!” and pointed to the lady cooking the cut of beef.
“See her,” Bellam continued, “she puts a good beefsteak over a slow fire, instead of a hot one. Instead of doing it quick, she broils it slowly for an hour; then it becomes tough as leather. Then she brings it on the table. Now, isn’t that murder of a good beefsteak?”
Aah! The companions understood Bellam’s discomfiture. Apparently, it’s well known most Americans love beefsteak cooked either medium or rare. In rare, the beefsteak is cooked outside but inside, the meat is pink or reddish.
In other words, the beefsteak is half-raw. Well, well, there are Cordillerans and lowlanders, too, who prefer their beefsteak cooked rare – with some blood still in the meat – rather than cooked thoroughly.
Like you say, to each’s delight. As there are those, too, who prefer to eat their meat really raw, like preferring to pop uncooked oysters or jumping salad (uncooked little shrimps) into their mouth. Mebbe they have stomachs that can grind iron grits.
Work visits with families along Halsema highway cultivates gardens of the mind.
Cute Reader! If thou art in the enjoyment of that quiet humor and attentive leisure, that would charm to lie awhile amongst the hillocks or beds of tilled soil along Cordillera’s mountainsides, then it would be more pleasing still, to take a stroll near these gardens and mull over the quaint and curious inscriptions of those who tend to these beds, scarcely legible on the soil.
Inscriptions which are the hallmarks of the “gardinero/gardinera” (vegetable planter) which, under particular circumstances, favor their efforts in raising certain highland vegetables.
There is no hour in which the force and beauty of resemblance are felt with so much power and interest as that which the gardinero/gardinera spends in the garden.
Few tasks are more agreeable than that of comparing what is natural with what is mental.
Possessing such a disposition, a grown person visiting them at work, is as much a student when handling a spade or a pruning knife, as when using a pen or reading a book.
It’s from the gardinero/gardinera’s own idleness, if thorns and briars spring up in the natural garden, instead of flowers, fruits and vegetables.
And it is the same with their intellect, it being their own fault if their minds produce only what is light, trifling and useless, instead of what is elegant, good and useful.
According to their own exertions, they will possess a garden or a wilderness.
If the soil be stony ground, the more diligence and effort will be necessary.
Even if it be good ground, it will soon become a waste unless it receives unremitted attention.
For the gardinero/gardinera truly nurtures the garden of the mind.
For them, much as they grumble, they couldn’t exchange the spark of their genius, which flicker and flare like a falling star, for a whole wilderness of comfort, if it were necessary that they should entertain dull, plodding thoughts, yet make themselves generally useful.
They can, while warming their fingers at the fire of imagination, darn their stockings and patch their clothes with the needles of their wit and humor. Never mind if the humor is on them.
They can heartily take a joke on themselves and spring one on others. Like this one going round the bends of Halsema’s vegetable community:
Their joke, “Nu nasikugan di isay balasang ket gardinero din gapu na, kanan da en ipabalud yu din gardinero; kem nu din nabagnang din gapu nan sikog di balasang, ay, ipabarangay yu din baknang.” (When a woman gets pregnant by a gardinero, jail the gardinero; when a rich man is the cause of a woman’s pregnancy, by the by, settle the case at barangay level)
Gardineros and gardineras can wash their linen and countenance in the waters of Amburayan River, and, sitting on the peak of Mount Pulag, devour imaginary meat of the cloud rat – broiled rare – like the wishes of Bellam and other Cordillerans and lowlanders who want their meat cooked half- raw.
Imaginary, good readers, for Mount Pulag’s famous cloud rat, is government-protected.
But seeing that grousing isn’t profitable, gardinero’s/gardineras can be seen in the witching time of night, sitting on stools, and, oh, how they exclaim, “Ay! Yaket men-is-isem din labi!” (How the night smiles!)
One stares where the gardinero’s/gardineras stare and one sees the stars winking through the curtains of the air, like dotting mammas on their drowsy children, as much as to say hush-a-by-baby to a wearied world.
In the moon’s caring rays, even the crags of Halsema highway shine. Night is the answer of tomorrow, while buried hope pops up revived, and cracks its rosy shins.