I was getting worried we hadn’t spotted my mom. The plane landed over an hour ago and the crowd of well wishers waiting at the gate had started to slip away. It was my mom’s first transpacific flight all by herself and I was nervous that she would get lost or she would have a difficult time going through Immigration. I knew I was too foolish to worry. How could she get lost? We put her on a direct flight from Manila to San Francisco so she wouldn’t have to deal with the confusing connections in Seoul or Narita but, for some reason, stubborn what ifs cluttered my mind.

I was worried, too, about Dennis and my mom. Would they get along? They met two years before when my mom and my sister visited and Dennis tagged along as I toured them around the city. My mom only had generous words for him and I was so touched when he gave her a small parting gift — a Swarovski snowflake crystal. Take a look at this snowflake and remember how cold it is here in San Francisco when it gets so hot in Manila, Dennis told her before we said our goodbyes. But Dennis and I didn’t live together back then. My mom would be spending a lot of time with him in our apartment since he worked from home. I was too anxious that they would drive each other crazy.

But, once again, all my worries proved pointless. Before long, a kind Filipino gentleman ushered my mom out of the gate in a wheelchair, which my sisters arranged so she wouldn’t have to take the long walk from the plane through Immigration and baggage claim. Old folks in wheelchairs were the first ones to board but were the last ones to deplane, she told us. She raved about how helpful the people were and how friendly the Officer was at the Immigration desk. She was so happy to see us both and so happy that she made the very long trip to California in one piece.

My mom and Dennis (and Stanford, too) got along exceptionally well. We cooked and we ate. We ate a lot. We shopped a lot. We walked around the city. We drove along the coast. We visited the vineyards and the mountains. It was a lovely visit.

This weekend, my mom’s taking the same flight from Manila to San Francisco to spend the next several weeks with us. I must admit that I’m harboring the same worries I had the last time she was here. I know, I worry about everything. It’s what I do. But I am more excited than I am worried this time around. Excited to spend more time with her to catch up on things. Excited to have her try my coconut jam, my rice cakes, my caldereta and drop biscuits, and my chicken afritada. The very first thing my mom made the morning after she flew in the last time she visited was chicken afritada. With barely a few hours of sleep and a suitcase filled with pasalubong still unpacked, she ravaged through my pantry and made chicken afritada. Chicken braised in rich tomato and fish sauce, ladled over steamed rice never tasted so good.


Chicken Afritada Recipe, makes six servings

2 pounds bone-in chicken legs and thighs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 small onion, sliced into eight pieces
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 bay leaves
15 marble or fingerling potatoes, roasted
1 small red bell pepper, sliced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or stainless pan over medium high heat. Brown chicken on all sides. Transfer the chicken to a plate as they finish browning.

Saute garlic and onions until fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes. Place the chicken back in the pot or pan. Add chicken stock, tomato sauce, fish sauce, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil then transfer the pot or pan to the oven. Braise the chicken until they are cooked through, about 45 minutes to an hour.  Baste the chicken with the sauce every now and then while it is braising.  In the last ten minutes, add the roasted potatoes and red bell pepper. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Cooking Notes:

1. I like using marble or fingerling potatoes. They are the perfect bite-size. Roast them with oil, salt, and pepper at 400 degrees F until they are cooked through, 20 to 30 minutes. When using large potatoes like large Yukon Gold, have them quartered into bite-size pieces.

2. Browning and baking the chicken in a pot or pan uncovered gives it a nice color. Chicken afritada can also be cooked on the stove over medium to low heat.

3. Pork like pork loin or pork butt can be used instead of chicken to make afritada.


Chicken Afritada