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Every Ounce of Courage: Unveiling a Filipina WWII Heroine's Untold Story
Norm Goldman --  BookPleasures.com Norm Goldman -- BookPleasures.com
Montreal, QC
Friday, September 8, 2023


Bookpleasures.com is honored to interview Elizabeth Ann Besa Quirino, a multifaceted personality with expertise in culinary arts, journalism, and creative storytelling. 

Born in the Philippines and now based in New Jersey, USA, she is a cookbook author, an award-winning journalist, a food writer, a correspondent, and a former college professor and advertising agency copywriter/creative director.

Her name is synonymous with Filipino home cooking, thanks to her popular website, The Quirino Kitchen, where she passionately shares her love for culinary traditions.

In addition to her numerous Plaridel Writing Awards from the Philippine-American Press Club in San Francisco, California, she has also been honored with a Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award, cementing her position as a prominent figure in the realm of food writing. 

Her influence extends beyond borders, as she has been recognized as one of the FWN Filipina Women's Network 100 Most Influential Women of the World.

Her latest literary endeavor, Every Ounce of Courage: A Daughter's Reflections On Her Mother's Bravery, is a moving tribute to her mother, Lulu Reyes Besa, a WWII Filipina heroine and US Medal of Freedom recipient. 

In this book, she masterfully weaves together stories of courage, compassion, family, and recipes, giving readers a taste of history and home.

Beyond her literary pursuits, she is a contributor to Simply Recipes and a correspondent for Positively Filipino, an online magazine. 

Her writing has graced the pages of various publications, from FOOD Magazine by ABS-CBN Inc. to Philadelphia's Quirk Books DIY blog. She exhibited her expertise on television and was featured on Halo-Halo with Kat Iniba

Growing up with early exposure to her parents' farming and agriculturalventure in Tarlac province set the stage for her culinary odyssey. Their childhood home, known as the 'home along the highway,' was a welcoming stopover between Manila and Baguio. 

Lourdes "Lulu" Reyes Besa, her mother, passed on the culinary craft by utilizing freshly harvested produce from her father's backyard and farmland. This family tradition inspired her three cookbooks, including "Instant Filipino Recipes" and "My Mother's Philippine Recipes."

Besides her culinary exploits, she has co-authored a history book and created an original Filipino food art coloring book.

Her membership in the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) and position on the Board of Advisers for the President Elpidio Quirino Foundation have allowed her to forge cultural connections through her travels.

In Asia, she discovers traditional recipes and stories that embody culture, history, and personalities.

Welcome, Betty Ann!

Norm: What inspired you to write Every Ounce of Courage and share your mother's untold stories of heroism?


Betty Ann:  There are very few stories of Filipina heroines during war times, and I did my research – I realized my mother may have been the only Filipina civilian who was awarded this distinction twice.

I wanted to share the unique life story of my mother Lourdes "Lulu" Reyes Besa, a Filipina WWII heroine, who brought aid and saved lives of American and Filipino POWs in prison camps in the Philippines. 

For her bravery, she was awarded the US Medal of Freedom, twice in 1947, by President Harry Truman. 

Norm: How did an unexpected phone call from the American World War II veteran change your perspective on your mother's life?

Betty Ann: The phone call from the American POW one late night in my New Jersey home was jarring and unexpected. I was in shock at first.

After the conversation about how my mother saved his life, it took me a while to process everything. Then I realized this was a sign that it was time to write my mother's story and share it with the world.

Norm: The title of your book, Every Ounce of Courage, is powerful. How did you come up with this title, and what does it represent in your mother's life? 

Betty Ann: My original working title differed from Every Ounce of Courage. The idea for this came to me when I was cooking. I was scraping the last bits of tomato sauce from a can to add to a stew.

I was reminded of the times my mom did the same thing, and scrape every ounce of the canned sauce for whatever it was she was cooking at that moment. 

I realized it was metaphorical for each time my mother Lulu faced a difficulty in life. She scraped every bit of strength she had to face what was ahead of her. 

Norm: Were there any surprising or unexpected discoveries you made about your mother's life that didn't make it into the book but left a lasting impression on you?

Betty Ann: There were a lot of unexpected discoveries during my historical research, especially about my mother's wartime heroism. 

My parents talked little about WWII when my sister and I were growing up in the rural province of Tarlac in the Philippines. 

They were very cryptic about it. I suspect they were trying to be protective and shield us from the horror stories of war.

One of the most staggering discoveries I found was about my mother's entry into the most brutal Japanese-occupied prison camps. 

She smuggled in malaria medicine and had the help of the clergy, who could say mass in the prison camps. 

Later on, all these priests who helped her were rounded up, imprisoned and tortured – their captors wanted the priests to reveal who was smuggling in the prohibited medicines. 

But none of the priests gave up my mother's name. They suffered the excruciating pain so that Lulu Reyes could continue bringing aid to POWs.

Norm: Every Ounce of Courage touches on family, faith, and resilience. How do you think your mother's story can inspire readers in today's world?

Betty Ann: In this memoir, I narrated our family's stories, focusing on my mother's heroism during WWII, her bravery and how she led a life of faith, compassion and love after the war.

I also wove in food stories and the recipes my mother taught me she had learned from her own mama. 

Throughout the process of writing, what clearly emerged was my mother Lulu's trait of seeing the good in other people – even in those who hurt her. I hope these stories of kindness and love can uplift the reader.

Norm: What were the most significant life lessons you learned from your mother's experiences and the stories you discovered?

Betty Ann: The bulk of my writing this book was during the pandemic, when we were on lockdown.

I had the gift of time to review what I had researched through the years, to sift through old letters, old photos, news clippings, and cook heirloom family recipes.

I began to compare the challenges of the present day global pandemic against the horrors of WWII during my mother's time.

I started to wonder how my mother and father (had they still been alive) would have reacted to what COVID-19 was doing to the world. Life for us had come to a full stop.

Everything was uncertain. Death was at every door. This was our Pearl Harbor, this was our own WWII, and we had no control.

Taking the cue from what my mother would have done, and as cliché as it sounds, I counted my blessings and was grateful for everyday that my husband and I, and our sons, woke up healthy and were alive. 

We tapped on our own resilience, strength, faith and hope every single day to face whatever was ahead. My mother Lulu would have done the same, and this is what her life story taught me.

Norm: Your book includes recipes your mother loved to make. How do these recipes connect to the broader narrative of your family's life during and after the war?

Betty Ann: While writing my mother's story, I sifted through her old recipes, which dated back to her own mother and grandmother. I had time during lockdown to cook these family classics again and again.

Cooking was also my coping mechanism. The rituals of preparation gave me time to think and process what I was writing. In each of the chapters, I tied in family stories with food memories.

Each dish triggered a story or an experience I had with my mother while we cooked together.

The aromas of the food I cooked were powerful enough to remind me of conversations I had with my mom when we were in the kitchen, at the dinner table, or even harvesting the vegetables and fruits my father grew in our backyard.

Every memory and story was tied to a dish, or an ingredient. 

Norm: Can you share a memorable recipe or culinary story from the book that holds a special place in your heart?

Betty Ann: One of my fondest childhood memories in the kitchen was when we made Mango Jam during the summer, from the mangoes my father grew in our farm's orchard.

I devoted an entire chapter to the what we did with the mangoes.  As I mentioned in Chapter 15, "My dearest memory of childhood summers is making mango jam with my mother. As she would so often say, it is a labor of love.

 Aside from fully ripened fruit, the most important ingredient is patience. "

Norm: Where can our readers learn more about you and Every Ounce of Courage?

Betty Ann: My memoir Every Ounce of Courage is available in paperback and eBook format on Amazon, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble online website, and other major bookstores worldwide. 

If readers want to learn about classic Filipino home cooking, I share recipes almost every week on MY WEB SITE

I am a recipe developer for Simply Recipes, where you'll find how I transform traditional Filipino cooking to everyday dishes. 

And I'm a correspondent for Positively Filipino online magazine where I feature stories on food, culture, history and personalities. 

I'm often on social media and you'll find me on my platforms on Facebook, Instagram, X (Twitter), Threads, Pinterest, Tiktok.

Norm: What is next for Elizabeth Ann Besa Quirino?

Betty Ann: I am always writing and creating something, whether it's an essay, a watercolor painting, or a new recipe. I keep writing whenever I can, -- paragraphs, essays, stories, until I realize I have another book in the making. 

Norm: As we wrap up this interview, and as a tribute to your mother, what message or lessons do you hope readers will take away from Every Ounce of Courage?

Betty Ann: My mother always said :

"The best ingredient is love. Everything starts with love."

Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your endeavors






 Norm Goldman of Bookpleasures.com

News Media Interview Contact
Name: Norm Goldman
Title: Book Reviewer
Group: bookpleasures.com
Dateline: Montreal, QC Canada
Direct Phone: 514-486-8018
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