Monday, June 21, 2010

The evolution of The Center’s dirty stove

A cooking-assistant mother tends to a Filipino dish while a nice flame burns out of the junk oil drum dirty stove. This was the very first stove used by The Center to cook meals for the children under its care.

A volunteer mother stirs the steaming dish being cooked on a three-rock dirty stove, to complement the oil drum cooker.

Sagembo, Co-Founder and Co-President of The Center, checking the dish being cooked using a makeshift timber stove. A 30-liter pot in which a special soup was cooked on the same stove almost toppled after the timber stove burned out, without the cooking assistant noticing it.

The newly-installed cement block stoves, which proved to be more stable and efficient in making fire. – All pictures by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ

A Friend of Tembari Children

FIRST, it was a crude, tall stove fashioned out of a junk oil drum, which is quite common among homes in settlements and villages.

This was when The Center’s volunteer mothers were only cooking kaukau, food garden veggies and tinned fish for the kids four-days-in-a-week feeding, which used to be Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

And that the volunteers assigned to cook lunch were only using small pots. Those days in December 2009, there were only 78 kids under The Center’s care. Now we have more than 80 and the number is growing.

When I joined The Center on Christmas Eve 2009 and referred to myself not a volunteer but as A Friend of Tembari Children, my first self-imposed task is to cook a special dish for the kids – a favorite Filipino dish macaroni soup which was fitting for the day being December 24, a Saturday.

(My second self-imposed tasked is to look for people who would give the children funding, food, facilities and vital materials that would help The Center run the daycare-orphanage facility efficiently and thus, deliver the services to the kids effectively.)

My first self-imposed tasked actually started what I now call “special Saturday feeding” because I cooked special dish from Filipino recipes, and whose ingredients were being sponsored by friends and individuals.

When I cooked this macaroni dish, I used that makeshift cooking stove which was the junk oil drum stove.

The following Saturday, New Year’s Eve, I cooked another favorite Filipino dish called “arroz caldo” – rice soup with lots of chicken meat, cube carrots and green peas --- and required a second dirty stove to cook another dish while doing the rice-soup (arroz caldo)

This second stove was fashioned from three medium-size rocks that huddled close together in a triangular form, on top of which sat the second cooking pot to handle another Filipino dish.

So on that day, we cooked the Saturday lunch for the kids using two dirty stoves – the oil drum stove and the three-rock stove.

Realizing that my Saturday cooking could make a difference in the diet of the children, I decided to look for sponsors – people who paid for the ingredients of those special lunch meals.

I was not happy with the rock stove because one of the three stones whose shapes were irregular could just topple, and tumble to the ground my 25-litter pot boiling with a nice soup.

So, just very recently, I told my cooking assistants to look for two pieces of thick timber with rectangular size. I told them this could replace the rock stove.

These two pieces of wood appeared stable as they sat firm and flat on the ground. However, as the cooking progress, the flame tended to burn into the wood stove until it became firewood in itself.

I saw this thing happened while the timber stove burnt out with no one from my cooking assistant noticing it.

The 25-liter pot of soup could have collapsed to the ground if not for the timely action of one of the volunteers who happened by the kitchen area.

He immediately lifted the whole pot and carefully sat it on the ground just next to the burned out timber stove.

Sometime ago, Filipino expatriate Albert Rocero of Coral Investment, donated a set of LPG cooking stove to help us prepare our dishes more efficiently.

He had seen our pictures as we struggled with our cooking using the makeshift stoves.

However, the two-burner stove was only designed for smaller pots. I tried to cook 10kgs of rice in a 30-liter pot but it had not boiled even after almost an hour.

So these days, we just use the LPG stove when we have to cook in small pots.

Last week, I requested Hayward Sagembo, the TCC Co-Founder and Director, to find me four pieces of cement (hollow) blocks and why. I told him.

Hollow cement block stoves are very common in the Philippines, especially when a dirty stove is needed to be set up in the backyard with all that haste.

Last Saturday, I got two new sets of dirty stove – each cooker using a pair of two cement blocks. They complemented well the junk oil drum stove in which used to cook 10kg or rice.

My hollow cement block dirty cookers sit firmly on the ground. Even if an earthquake rumbled across PNG, my giant pots boiling with nice dishes for the kids’ lunch would happily sit on, prettily unshaken.

As my latest Filipino dish – “paksiw na isda” (reef fish cooked in vinegar, ginger roots and garlic) – was boiling atop my hollow cement block dirty stove, I could not help but admire the wild flame cooking it, thanks to firewood donated by Sarco Timberyard, and how the sweet-sour flavor my dish tasted in my palate.

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