As an avid recipe and cookbook collector, I was intrigued when Frog Michaels approached me at the school café with her hot-off-the-press cookbook, A Helping Hand: Delicious Recipes in English & Tagalog. I had briefly met Frog at an event so when I read the name on the cover, I immediately remembered her because you really don’t forget a person named Frog. I had then gone home with her business card and looked up her fantastic blog, changmoh.com and was an instant fan.
That was about a year ago and she has not wasted any time, publishing her first cookbook, A Helping Hand, just last month. While the cookbook is filled with great, practical recipes for the home, what sets it apart is the fact that it is published in both English and Tagalog. Meant as a resource for your family and your Filipino helper (Bahasa is in the pipeline), it takes you through the basics, like poaching an egg (still a technique that I haven’t perfected) to light lunches, simple suppers, manageable dinners and a section for kids’ meals and desserts.
A Helping Hand contains over 80 recipes, both Western and Asian, with a splash of Singaporean flavour. It covers sauces and dressings, dips and family favourites. Then there are the explanations for kitchen essentials, pictorial ingredients list and my favourite, the boxes of tips that are found throughout the book. Everything is in English with a Tagalog translation. So when you are faced with a helper who may be unfamiliar with Western techniques and ingredients, this book is the absolute perfect gift for them and, as a result, your family too.
Seasoned cooks (both English and Tagalog-speaking) will also get much out of this translation. Western terminology like “braise”, “broil”, “blanch” (the list goes on) can be somewhat mysterious, even for me. A Helping Hand is written in plain English. Rather than using “cheffy” terms, this cookbook is rather descriptive, including details like removing baking paper from the base of a cake after it’s cooked and before serving.
Frog spent three years working on the cookbook. Already an accomplished columnist, writer and blogger, Frog’s progression into the world of cookbook publishing involved a steep learning curve. Instead of just being the writer, Frog now found herself involved in every facet of production from recipe trialling and selection, photography, editing and even final press checks.
Almost all of the recipes are Frog’s own, including the Chilli Chicken on page 153, which she concocted herself here in Singapore. Some are family classics that had never been written down – until now – but ones which she “just knew and grew up on”. There are recipes credited to dear friends (Louise’s Nut-Free Pesto and Sophie’s Moroccan Lamb for instance) as well as Nonya heritage family recipes from her husband’s side, sourced from hand written notes by her grandmother-in-law that have been passed down from as many as four generations.
The amount of work that has been done is spectacular. Each recipe was test-cooked and written down in English (this was because Frog had to be sure that all 86 recipes tasted just right). Once the first test was done, the English recipe went on to be translated and explained in Tagalog. When we say “explained”, we mean that you won’t find a direct translation. If you buy the book, you’ll see that the Tagalog recipes are much longer than their English counterparts because the Western terms and techniques are explained and described in detail so there is no confusion about what is needed.
Most authors might say that is enough, but Frog didn’t stop there. Each recipe was then given, in Tagalog only (no English text or pictures were provided) to a Tagalog-speaking helper. They followed the recipe according to the Tagalog translation, cooking the dish as written. This process was repeated as many times as it took to get that particular dish perfect.
Photography, as well, was quite a task. Working with Carolyn Strover, a friend and Singapore-based photographer of German/English decent who grew up in Japan, each dish was painstakingly cooked, styled and shot, resulting in a cookbook that captures the essence of each recipe in pictorial form.
Authors do not usually get involved in this side of things, but Frog is a roll-up-your-sleeves kinda gal and she loved the whole experience: “don’t get me wrong, it was exhausting work, especially in this heat. I can certainly vouch for the fact that all the food shown is real food – our American pancakes are not drizzled with diesel – it’s maple syrup from Cold Storage!”
Frog’s cookbook, ‘A Helping Hand: Delicious Recipes in English & Tagalog’ now sits proudly atop my kitchen bench. I love that I can pick a recipe from it and give it to my helper, with no need for any explanation. From basics, to what I am sure will become our family favourites as well, A Helping Hand is the first of its kind and I certainly hope there will be more to come.
You can buy your copy of A Helping Hand: Delicious Recipes in English & Tagalog online or via one of the many outlets which carry it, visit www.helpinghandseries.com for online orders and a full list of stockists which include, Kinokuniya (all outlets), Books Actually, Tango Mango, Da Paolo Gastronomia (Cluny Court & Paragon), The Butcher (all outlets), The Attaby Collective pop up upstairs at 76 Haji Lane…and many more.
As a plus, a donation from each sale will be made to the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME), a society and a charity dedicated to upholding the rights of migrant workers in Singapore.