Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Culinary and Other Adventures in Kalamazoo, Michigan

It's been a while since I wrote my last blog in this site, and I am excited to be back, writing about food, cooking and other adventures once again. My daughter and I have arrived in this small, sylvan mid-Western city on Thursday morning after a 24-hour dash from Denver, Colorado in which we covered more than 1200 miles passing through Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, and part of Indiana.

We arrived at my friend's house in Kalamazoo at around 7:15 in the morning. Dr. Gus Guerrero and his wife, Ann, and their three girls have lived in this beautiful city 160 miles west of Detroit for about 20 years, in a beautiful house that they had built in a leafy, small-scale development just off the I-94, a major West-to-East corridor in Michigan. There are no Asian and Filipino supermarkets close by. Being Angelenos for most of 25 years, and having all those Asian supermarkets within 3 miles of our home in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, it would be difficult for me to prepare my classic Filipino cuisine here as I have done in the past years in California. I tell Gus and Ann that I would love visiting and exploring a city like Kalamazoo, but not live in it.

Last night, after we returned from Lake Michigan, in the small town of South Haven, Ann was braising two large venison steaks that she had marinated with soy sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and left in the fridge overnight. I did not know that Gus, who knew that I love venison, had acquired the meat from a source and asked Ann to make sure that I have an opportunity to savor them. Venison is a luxury in California because deer is harder to bag there than in a heartland state like Michigan, where there is a vibrant hunting tradition and where deer and other wild game are plentiful.

Gus pops open two bottles of Bell's Oberon beer, rated one of the ten best beers in America, and brewed right here in Michigan, and together we saluted life with thin slices of venison and bowls of sotanghon soup with the rest of his family. My daughter, Justine, whose food choices are limited to non-exotic meats, opted instead to finish off a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. The way that the venison was marinated was perfection -- and very familiar because the ingredients are the exact, same ingredients Filipinos use when cooking bistek, minus the caramelized onion rings. There's no gaminess at all in the venison.

I used to get my venison from South Carolina, usually shipped to Glendale, already cured and ready to cook. My older brother, Leo, who had lived in Yemassee, South Carolina for many years, hunted and/or procured venison from his hunting buddies there, and whenever he would have a cache, he sent me more than enough salted venison for me to consume. I gave some away to my venison-eating freinds in Los Angeles. Venison is healthier than beef; it is very lean, like bison meat, and you can cook and eat it in ways that you cook beef. Ann tells me that a friend of theirs never have to buy beef and other meats because they have a constant supply of venison in the freezer. Her friend is a hunter and one of Gus's partners at Physicians Center of Physical Medicine in Portage, MI.

I met Gus, a native of Cagayan de Oro, in the Southern Philippines, in the early 1970s. He was then taking up Medicine at the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest Catholic university in Asia. We had the same passion for the outdoors, and we scaled some of the major peaks in the Philippines, sharing our adventures in words and pictures with magazines of the day. He is a trailblazer in Philippine mountaineering, having been the first Filipino on record to scale the rock face of Mt. Maculot in the province of Batangas. The way he tells it, after running out of drinking water, while dangling some 1000 feet above a lake, he was forced to drink his own urine to alleviate thirst. He wanted to be a forest ranger as a career. His father, helped him make up his mind, and he acquiesed to his dad's admonition that he would be better off with a medical degree.

Gus, with four doctor partners, practices orthopaedic medicine in Kalamazoo. He had finished his residency in a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, and like all foreign doctors, had to move up the ranks through the years. His beautiful home here, a successful practice, three beautiful girls who are leaving Michigan to pursue higher education in other states -- San Diego, California for Amber, Cleveland, Ohio for Lhotse, and Chicago, Illinois for Leslie -- are clear manifestations that my friend has truly made it in America. "Now it's payback time," he tells me while we are touring Kalamazoo College, where Amber had finished her 4-year undergraduate degree.

On Monday, my daughter and I will drive northeast to Toronto, and then view Niagara Falls from the Canadian side. More advertures are in the horizon. Till next time.