Thursday, April 30, 2020

Sharing from the Heart

Marifi and Blueberry Cheesecake
By Mavic H. Mercene

Reading the words of Fr. Kevin O’Neill on the occasion of the Columban’s centenary in 2018 when he said, “As priests, lay missionaries and co-workers coming from different countries around the world, our working together is a witness of what can be for the world,” I wondered and pondered hard how we, the Columban staff, can do our work and share in the gospel joy too.

Let me tell you how Marifi has been sharing God’s mission through food.

Marifi's blueberry Cheesecake
At the Columban Lay Missionaries (CLM) House in Cubao, Quezon City, I have witnessed many lay missionaries come to the house from their work and classes weary and hungry. They would come back to rest their exhausted minds and bodies. Most of all, they would come home to Marifi’s food. Some, while still at the gate, would call out Marifi’s name and ask her what’s for dinner or if they are back early, if there are any leftovers. Kim Sun-Hee looks forward to having grilled tilapia; for John Din it’s fish kinilaw (raw fish cured in a mixture of calamansi juice, ginger, onion, chili, and other seasonings), and for Arlenne Villahermosa it’s paksiw (fish simmered in vinegar). Even lay missionaries assigned overseas have one special dish they always ask Marifi to cook when they come to visit. For the CLT coordinator Vida Hequilan, it’s grilled pork belly marinated in barbeque sauce.

Marifi has delighted Columban lay missionaries, priests, students, staff and guests alike with her rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), vegetable spaghetti, and zucchini and eggplant lasagna, to name but a few, but also with desserts especially cakes and pastries. Her apple walnut shortcake (my favorite) is a must try and so are her blueberry muffins, choco chip cookies and many more. However, it is her blueberry cheesecake which has become a favorite of many and for which she has gained great acclaim. It is a very good conversation piece at the CLM House dining table. Like a most requested song, her blueberry cheesecake was the most requested one in 2019 when all CLM celebrations were held at the Regional House.

Amini and his favorite blueberry cheesecake
How did Marifi discover how to make this cheesecake? Well, this is my claim to fame. In my early years in Manila, a famous bakeshop had blueberry cheesecake and dinuguan (stew made from pork and pig blood) as part of their regular menu. I found these two unusual combinations very comforting, so much so that I would order them twice a month. However, with the acquisition of this bakeshop by a multinational company, only cakes and pastries were kept on the menu and the other products were dropped. Unfortunately, the blueberry cheesecake was also dropped. I was devastated. Several days before my birthday, I could feel my mouth salivating at the thought of blueberry cheesecake. I searched all of Cubao for blueberry cheesecake. I found several but none within the price range of my price-sensitive pocket. So I surfed the internet to find out how to make it. To my no-bake-cake-eat-only self, I found the process way too complicated. So, I asked Marifi if she could indulge me with a blueberry cheesecake for my birthday. She hesitated. I begged her. She hesitated even more. So I begged even harder. Without my knowledge, she browsed her recipe books, checked the internet and, lo and behold, at lunch on my birthday, she surprised me with blueberry cheesecake. It was perfectly soft and creamy, just right for my palate. I thought heaven descended to the CLM kitchen. 

As I write this story, I remember with fondness how, several years ago, now Columban deacon Rev. Aminiasi Ravuwai would always tell me how he loves Marifi’s blueberry cheesecake. He would muse “Ate, I could eat one whole.” I would laugh. Sometimes, when there are events at the CLM House,  we would spoil Amini by giving him the cue before dessert is served so he could be first in line. We would spoil him further by giving him a couple or more slices to take back with him to the formation house afterwards. He would leave with a smile of gratitude.

Marifi Saysay has been working at the CLM House since April 1992. Her first cake creation was apple walnut shortcake, followed by blueberry cheesecake. Marifi was diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2009 but was declared cancer free in 2015.

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