Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Let us eat cake

Terrorized by the thought of all the work that needs to get done before Friday, I turn to avoiding it all by checking out what's going on in the great big world. I hear from a friend that okra, one of my favorite vegies, is a great vegie. Has lots of fiber, absorbs bad cholesterol and helps good bacteria (or pro-biotics) in our intestinal tract. I will have to eat more okra, steamed with a bit of calamansi and a splash of patis with a small cup of brown rice. Or in a good pinakbet! Those ilocanos know a good thing.

Then I linked up through Mr. Ed Levine's blog to a list of ice cream sandwiches (calling Ian! Read up the bit about the hazelnut ice cream cookie sandwich!), and saw the link to New York Magazine's best ice cream sandwiches, followed by an article reviewing the new Max Brenner in New York (another case of Manila beating the big apple; we did have Beard Papa before they did), and finally, a list of great dessert lounges in the city. Something to share with a couple of friends who are thinking of a concept for our fair-ish city.

This gave me rhyme and reason to sign up for regular articles from NYMag, mostly for the travel and editorials and restaurant reviews. I care not a whit for the shopping, real estate, and other stuff.

I headed back to my list of blogs and came across a link from one site that led me to this post (first posted on craigslist/new york):

"Wedding Cake

Date: 2005-03-23, 11:12PM EST

So, first of all, congratulations to my good friends who got married last weekend. Congratulations, “mazel tov,” good luck. It was great and I hope you guys are happy forever. That said, I couldn’t help but look around at your wedding and think, “Wow. I don’t want any of this.” But don’t think that your wedding specifically turned me off to weddings. No, we are all now in our late twenties and wedding invitations appear in the mail with almost the same frequency that delivery guys slip take-out menus under my door. And now, having attended and been in a few weddings, I can’t help but think “I don’t want any of it.” I don’t want a country club or a church. I don’t want a hotel ballroom or a big white tent. I don’t want a priest or a rabbi. I don’t want 200 people there who I don’t even know. I don’t want numbered tables. I don’t want to put all of my random “single” friends at one table in the corner of the room, making them feel even more alienated than they already are at a stereotypically “coupled” event. I don’t want bridesmaid drama. I don’t want all of my bridesmaids wearing the same ugly color and the same ugly dress and hating their shoes so much that they curse me behind my back. I don’t think I even want bridesmaids. I don’t want anyone to sign a guestbook where they have to come up with some spontaneous wisdom about love and happiness. I don’t want cute little party favors with the bride’s and groom’s names scripted in gold, proclaiming “our special day.” I don’t want people to figure out their seating arrangements by picking up their party favors, which are also wrapped in pink chiffon. I don’t want a big white dress. I don’t want to have to ask friends and cousins whom I see maybe once a year if their 5-year-old son/daughter whom I don’t even really like can be my ring bearer/flower girl. I don’t want guys in blue shirts and khaki pants measuring each others’ dicks with the phrase, “So, what do you do?” I don’t want bored out of their mind cater waiters and bartenders, who hate weddings in a way that even I will never understand. I don’t want “cocktail hour” and passed hors d’oeuvres and most people only caring about getting buzzed before the open bar ends. I don't want to mail out then sort through 300 invitations to find out who wants steak and who wants salmon. I don’t want to be registered at Crate&Barrel. I don’t want my friends finding that all the cheaper items on my registry are gone and that, like, five of them have to go in on a set of overpriced knives. I don’t think I want a registry at all. I don’t want to have to kiss all of my mother’s friends on the cheek, or, even worse, all of my future mother-in-law’s friends. I don’t want a color “scheme.” I don’t want a creepy DJ or a weird band that does a cover of YMCA. And I don’t want the place turning the lights up at 10:30 telling us it’s time to leave. But I do want cake.

Last night, I attended the wake of the mother of my friend J. Years ago, J opened her house to a few of us who wanted a place to meet each Sunday for chinese painting. We spent a few hours each week striving to reach oriental perfection, I continue to strive, yet fear I will never gain perfection. But it's all in the process of getting there I suppose. Anyway, at the wake, I looked around and the inevitable thought popped into my head: am I prepared to die? Do I have the wherewithal to pay for a decent funeral? Do I have my will set up? Who gets my benches? I'm just about to get a cat, what will happen to her? Will anyone attend the memorial service? What music do I want played?

So here's my ode to Funeral Cake.

Dear Mrs. J, sorry to hear you had to go. You bought us the real brushes for our painting class all the way in some dinky Shanghai shop. And you were always generous with the glasses of juice and corn chips. I hope you find the sanctuary from life ever after whereever you are now. Your family is sad to see you go, and they have brought us here to celebrate your life. All these people, all these kids, all these flowers. And it makes me think how I don't want any of it. I am not ready to die just yet, as my will isn't prepared and the living room is a mess. But when I go, I want a cremation, and then the ashes are going straight out to sea. No memorial, no flowers, no mass cards. Any money left over from my savings, I want my friends to spend on the best meal possible, enjoy a fantastic dinner, sing their favorite songs, and go on living. And have cake. Ice cream cake. The best of both worlds.

Monday, August 28, 2006


The world is shrinking. Migration flows have brought cultures together in a way unforeseen a few centuries back. What would the great colonizers of yore think if they could see the way things are now? Would they have been able to imagine the blending we encounter on a daily basis? Would the cities of today seem like Babel of biblical times? Or more like Sodom and Gomorrah?

One great change is having access in this semi-backwater of Asia to a variety of cuisine. All of our overseas contract workers not only go forth to save our economy on a daily basis, but they marry, have kids, bring their spouses and mixed breed offspring back, not to mention lots and lots of balikbayan boxes. While we haven't seen too many interesting Nigerian or Ethiopian restaurants open up (and we still haven't set up a really amazing Moroccan or Afghan restaurant), there are more italian restaurants and greek restaurants, most of them byproducts of the OFW economic development.

In other better, greater blogs, there have been reviews of other greek restaurants like Mati and Minos (or is it Mynos?). I've had good meals at both, usually eating lamb, yogurt, and seeking dolmades that don't taste like they've been pickled in brine. A couple of months ago I saw a sign that heralded a new mall based Greek restaurant, Cyma in the Shangri-la Plaza. Till today I haven't had a chance to try it. As I was eating solo, I had a limited taste of the menu and will reserve my opinion till I can go with other diners as more mouths means more dishes to try out.

One gimmick that Cyma has going for it, (and what Manila based restaurant doesn't need a gimmick?) is flambed cheese. In greek cuisine, this may be a sheep cheese or feta, doused in some ouzo, allowed to burn blue and bright and then sprinkled with lemon and parsley. Cyma has the pyrokinetics and the waiters are required to say Oopa! when they light the dish up. The two occasions I heard them go through this made me wonder if they knew what they were getting themselves into. For it was noticeable to me at least, that the waiters sounded either frightened for their lives (maybe they've singed more than a few eyebrows by now) or they were worried someone was going to ask them what Oopa meant. And they wouldn't be able to say anything. Is this going to be a trend? Will Gumbo's shouting waiters and Cyma's charred ones be the new wave in customer service?

Uncontrolled chaos theory

Part of the job includes visiting schools all over the metro. Most of the schools that allow us to visit are usually private, catholic, and single sex. I won't go into any debate over my choice between co-ed or single sex, but the last 6 years of doing the job means I've seen some interesting set-ups. Dealing with students of a certain age also means getting used to a really high decibel level. As in, How the heck do they stand all this noise? level. I remember going to one of the better all girls' schools in Ortigas last year and feeling overwhelmed by the noise in their canteen. It was like a bunch of howling harpies attacking their prey, and being really pissed over the carnage. Noise over noise; not something I want to go through again.

Today, I had to pop in to set up a booth at one of the new international schools. Seems to me that there are a lot of pretenders to the throne of "international school" these days, not that it's a bad thing. I am an IS Manila alum, and I would (if I could afford it) send all my nieces and nephews there. The kind of people you meet and deal with and grow up with at an IS will develop great character. Or not. But most of the time, the people I grew up with turned out to be wonderful people and the other fellow IS students around the world all seem to be great examples of how forcing nationalities who would normally want to kill each other together in a learning environment fosters understanding and dialogue. Not to mention teaching one another what the difference between samosas and kimchi is at a young age. I wouldn't be the foodie I am now if I hadn't been to IS. Ah, all the bake sales of my youth...

Anyway, so there I was at this new international school, and I was interested to see their new digs. The directions given seemed pretty straightforward and I sort of knew where it was, but what they failed to mention was that by taking the overpass on C5, I'd end up missing the main entrance and would have to detour back to Ortigas Avenue and take the underpass; a detour of 20 minutes tacked on to the travel time. So, I was not in the best of moods by the time I dragged myself out of the cab with boxes of materials. Then I walked in. And wished to all that is holy that I could leave the boxes and walk out. It made me think of the one of the levels of Purgatory, care of the imagination of Dante Alighieri himself. Noise, people walking in and out, children running down pretty steep stairs, the tile bouncing the sound off the walls, and even the receptionist seemed pretty frazelled at 9 a.m. I managed to explain to her that I had to set up a booth, and asked to call the contact at the guidance office. After some time (too much), said contact made it to the reception area and walked me to the corridor where the booths were to be set up for display. Being next to the dining hall, I dodged sticky bits of paper (ketchup? mustard?) and hoped no one slips on a daily basis. I managed to pass out some materials for the next hour and a half, without making much of a dent in the noise. On Thursday I have to be back to talk to some of the students I passed out materials to. Am better prepared to deal with traffic, and will bring earplugs.


Thumb: recovered. Meds worked like a charm
Dive: ok, but wasn't mentally in the mood. Too much going on up in the headspace to enjoy the zen of the ocean
Food: too much chicken. Grilled mostly
Weather: rain, rain, go away. I mean it!!!!
Cat outlook: going with the calico, have to back away from getting two.
Emotional outlook: September is going to be a bitch of a month. Breathe.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thumbs up

The prehensile thumb allows human beings to attempt fine motor skills, and evolved from our forerunner Homo Habilis. It consists of three bones, and its movement is controlled by 8 muscles (4 in the hand, 4 in the forearm).

Yesterday, it began with a tenderness in the joint, then spread to a sore feeling all throughout the finger, and ended with pain whenever I moved the digit. Thinking it was a sprain, I've attempted to immobilize it, but was not as successful as I hoped. Each time I needed to type or pick up items or merely tug at something, I could feel a twinge in the hand and sometimes through the forearm (which taught me that those 4 muscles in the forearm are definitely attached to my thumb). A doctor friend of mine has told me to take painkillers and have it x-rayed today. It may need to be splintered for a few days to a few weeks.

I've had to be extra careful holding anything in my left hand, and even putting on clothes (struggled with the bra snap and buttons) is ridiculously painful. And being overly imaginative, I have begun to imagine what it would be like if it needs to be amputated. Of course, it's more likely to be wrapped up for a few weeks, and then will need regular exercise to get it back to normal speed.

A few hours later from writing the above: I've come back from the doctor and blood tests and xrays. The doctor says it is not a sprain and that it's some infection. He's asked me about insect bites, but I can't remember any recent nibble. I've spent P3000 for medication that is supposed to stop it and turn my thumb back to normal, one hopes. So far, the pain is less than it was, but the swelling is still noticeable.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Want you raw

While meditating on milk names (see entry below), I began recounting another list that came up way way back. I was a crisis line counselor, answering crazed Los Angelenos calls for help, usually the midnight to 6 am shift until I learned that the love of my life was doing the Saturday afternoon shift. No, I didn't stalk him, but he was my mentor and suggested we do the shift together; he was easy on the eyes, and had the sexiest voice.

One Christmas, the hotline threw a party for the volunteers and one of the new recruits said to my mentor "I think you're so sexy, I want to have raw sex with you." No, she wasn't drunk. Since Mentor and I were mentally in sync he turned to me and said "Raw?" whereupon (being a sarcastic bitch) I responded with a nod and said "Not braised, baked, toasted, or sauteed." We proceeded to laugh in front of her.

Got Milk?

I was listening to a tidbit on the radio this morning and heard that there is a group of male strippers going under the group name "Milk Boys" with each guy using names like Nido and Milo. Not knowing the other names, I started thinking of possible aliases for the other boytoys: Alpine, Carnation, Harvey's Fresh, Magnolia, Nestle, 2%, evap, condensada, non-fat, Vitasoy (for the lactose intolerant).

I am lactose intolerant, and that means the inability to process the enzyme - lactase - in my digestive tract. Ok, not the complete inability, but it does mean that beyond an average of 250 ml of milk, or any dairy product, I get pretty gassy (or worse). What to do when one loves milk? Ice cream? Pizza, even? There are lactaid pills and other means of avoiding embarrassing moments. But a lot of times, it means downing my milk after I get home, or being extra careful eating those dairy products. Or knowing where the bathroom is and positioning oneself close by.

Another enzyme I, and about half of all Asians, lack is the low-Km aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) isoenzyme, which causes the flushing (or the tomato face syndrome) when drinking wine, beer, or alcoholic beverages in general. Less than a glass and I know my face is taking on a flush that isn't the fault of the sun. By the end of a night of wine and cheese, I'm usually red, feeling like my heart beat should be visible to all and sundry, and not quite energetic. If I don't nurse the drinks properly, one glass of wine followed by 2 glasses of water, I'll start feeling the throbbing temple headache, which usually lasts long enough to destroy any desire to continue eating, drinking or smiling. So, in my 30+ years, I haven't gotten stonking drunk. I can maintain my memory of all the times I've drunk more than my share of the grape and variants, but none of them ever end with passing out, tossing my cookies, or being a total idiot. Sigh. Can't even be an angry or depressed drunk.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Supermarket Sunday

Saturdays are usually the day I hit the markets for groceries, however I opted to do some shopping yesterday instead. Having heard so much of the new spice story from Joey of 80 Breakfasts, I popped in and found a lovely nook full of the aromatic splendor of spices. After perusing the shelves I decided on a gift of brown sugar encrusted cinnamon sticks, a jar of dried peppers, and a whole vanilla bean, to be given to a special food friend.

Entering the side of Market! Market! I was looking for the pastel kiosk. Those lovely yema filled buns from Cagayan de Oro is one good reason to take yourself out of your typical route and go to Market!2, as it's cheaper than flying to CDO. However, I couldn't find it! Horrors. So ended up buying three bags of honey crisp banana chips, and was tempted with some mildly spicy dilis, which I eventually walked away from.

The center of the mall was taken over by some concert, and the noise gave me an immediate headache. I understand encouraging public assembly in a friendly fashion, but we're surrounded by noise pollution on a daily basis. This was aggravated assault!

However, my plans weren't fulfilled yet, so I went down to the basement of the Metro Department Store to peruse the shelves of the the supermarket. When I lived overseas, I picked up the habit of going to supermarkets and grocery stores to de-stress. You look through the stacks, learn about the eating habits of people and pick up some interesting finds. And for half an hour or so, whatever's bugging you and any stress you feel goes away. Retail therapy but sometimes more for a brainstorm than to assuage a need.

As it's not a conveniently located supermarket, I don't get to go to the Metro market that often, but find it to be very convenient if I have certain things I can't find in the other supermarkets (a good selection of jalapeno peppers and salad dressings just to name a few!). Yesterday I found myself debating over whether to get the 14 oz bag of dried blueberries or a smaller 3 oz bag. I opted for the bigger bag as it was better savings and I can always have more berries in my oatmeal and salads. I also picked up my favorite Thai dried durian chips. They are buttery and have none of the strong durian smell.

As I was strolling towards the register, a bag to my left caught my eye, then made me stop and spend a few minutes to be absolutely sure I was seeing what I was seeing. Green Tea it said, but it was a bag of Lay's Potato chips. Then I realized it was a line of "international flavored" chips: French Chicken, Italian Red Meat, Swiss Cheese, Hokkaido Chilled Crab, Lemon and the aforementioned Green Tea. I tried to take a phone cam shot but it wasn't going to come out right. So I just bought a small bag to taste. Later that evening I popped a chip in and pronounced it - mislabeled! It may have an aroma of green tea, but the flavor was more like nori than tea. They should just say Seaweed or Nori flavored chips.

For penance, it was soup and vegetables, no dessert that evening.


Philip Larkin - This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

(Thanks to Liam for sending this to me. Thanks to Mr. Larkin for saying it.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Test thyself

Thanks to Robyn (Girl who ate everything) she directed her faithful readers to the Ed Levine's rorschach test (as my attempts to put hyperlinks fail constantly, I'm not going to even try. Just go to Robyns page, or Ed Levine's). Here are my results:

1) Haggen Dazs or Ben & Jerry's? Haagen Dazs. Classic flavors, not too many add ons to distract you. My favorite or one of my favorite comfort foods is a pint of HD vanilla ice cream.
2) Skippy or Jif? I usually get Skippy, it’s available in the supermarkets in Manila.
3) Bagel or Bialy? Bagels
4) Whipped or Regular Cream Cheese? Regular. Whipped tastes too light.
5) Relish or Sauerkraut on your hot dogs? Sauerkraut if I have to have anything on the hotdog. I’d just put mustard.
6) Milk or Dark Chocolate? DARK!!!!
7) Salted or Sweet Butter? Sweet, although for cooking, I only use unsalted.
8) Pastrami or Corned Beef on a Deli Sandwich? Pastrami and a load of it, not a sliver as you'd find in some so called delis here (you know who you are!)
9) French Fries or Onion Rings? Fries
10) Espresso, Regular Coffee or Latte? Latte (got to get my calcium)
11) Crispy or Pliant Bacon? Crispy (why would anyone want limp bacon?)
12) White or Dark Meat (on either chicken or turkey)? Dark

No analysis necessary.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Stuff I pick up online

The start of the day begins with email (three addresses to check), checking what has been sent to me for updating, attending to parents, students, and whoever else. Along the way, I find information online and here are some things that I just thought I'd share:

From article titled: Femme Mentale, San Francisco Chronicle (August 6, 2006)
Research shows that the female brain naturally releases oxytocin after a 20-second hug. The embrace bonds the huggers and triggers the brain's trust circuits. So Brizendine advises, don't let a guy hug you unless you plan to trust him.

"And if you do," she said, "make sure it lasts 20 seconds."

(what about hugging a stuffed toy? how would you trust something inanimate?)

On the Chronicle of Higher Education I learned that the Gates Foundation is upping it's grant for Gates Millenium Scholarship by another $58 million for graduate studies in Public Health. About time too, the initial $1 billion dollars allocated for undergrad and grad studies had specific areas linked to the scientific program areas for the graduate fields (no restrictions for the undergraduate sector). But as the Gates Foundation is heavily invested in public health concerns around the world, it seemed odd that they'd miss out on this sector. Someone finally woke up.

Unfortunately for the students graduating from their MBAs this year, they had better get their job offers firmed up asap as the H1B 20,000 exemption for graduate students has been reached for 2007. That means they will have to apply for the 2008 cap and that will also probably max out soon. That bit of news was taken from the US Dept of State's website.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


I will soon be expanding my family. Mika is back at my parent's place, she's too old to bring over. But being without companionship is one of the empty points of living alone. And I have always been fond of four legged critters, feline or canine. Given my work schedule and abilities to train said animals, I prefer to stick to the feline. Not having my own furball to call my own of late has made it harder to find solace.

Thinking long and hard about it, it's clear that I'll be adopting from the PAWS shelter in Quezon City. I've volunteered there before and I've helped out some. And as no one has dropped off their cats for my care since I was 13, I figure it's time to help out two cats who may not have a home yet. It won't happen till after the end of August as I have to buy equipment like feeding bowls, make sure there aren't any danger spots for two boisterous animals, and double check that I can afford to have them. Food costs, vet bills, and I do want some cute toys for them to play with.

I'll be looking for a calico and a black cat. As much as I love Siamese and Abbysinians, there's no way I can afford a pure breed. Long haired cats are sweet too, but I can only handle the shedding of a short haired housecat.

I've printed out the adoption forms and will check the shelter soon for two possibilities. Will have them sleep on a new blanket so that they won't seem too scared when they get over to their new home. I'll be sure they're neutered, have their shots and are willing to live together.

But what about names? I've thought of possibilities and the ones that come to mind are Mati and Gabriel; today I hit on Kiwi for one of them. Maybe call one after my favorite football player ('varro). Just like any new baby, sometimes the names will only come to me when I have the cat.

Monday, August 07, 2006

War and Peace addendum

I was in Fully Booked yesterday and by chance saw the new Anthony Briggs translation of War and Peace. Soft bound Penguin edition. With my discount card, I got it for P225.00. A steal and yes, I will do a side by side reading with my Edmonds copy!

Nom de plume

A few years ago, one of my favorite articles about Filipinos was written by a resident Brit who wrote about Filipino names. He noted all the different variations of names given to children (all starting with the same letter, baby-ish names, bell names - ding dong, ding ding, ting, etc, and the pun-nish names). I enjoy sharing that essay with new travellers to Manila, since so many of my colleagues don't quite know how to deal with a Ma. Carmen Luisita Charmaine Pe Lopez. They don't know what the Ma. stands for, or whether the first name is Carmen or Carmen Luisita. Plus they get emails from people with email domain names like "" or "" and it just scares the beejezus out of them.

Nicknames are so much a part of our culture, I don't know when the idea began. Was it a spanish or american cultural habit that was passed on to us? All I know is we all had one, sometimes several. One of my childhood friends who has her own blog recently posted that a comment I had made (or I assume it to be my comment) made some people suspicious that she had a spammer since I was using her old nickname, one we used when we were kids. No one in the US knows her by that name. Even when I call her up and ask for her, her husband thinks I'm some kind of telemarketer! Luckily she recognizes that it's me, and hasn't told me NOT to use that nickname of hers.

I used to bristle when family members would use my nickname in front of strangers and non-family folk. It was, for me, a very personal and private name, only to be used by family and childhood friends. Even now, I'd feel a bit of an affront if someone simply copied my parents and called me by my nickname if I hadn't given them approval to use it. Likewise, family members using my regular name sounds odd. My sister in the US does that and it seems weird to hear her use my name.

When I turned 14, I shortened my first name, using a derivative that was easier to pronounce. The worst part of having a Spanish sounding name while living in an English speaking world was during college when the fellow calling us up for our graduation march had to ask how to pronounce the name. I had to write it up phonetically "Me lah gros - short "o", he still mangled it.

And then the middle name, one given to me by my father, that never felt right. It sits on my birth certificate, my passport, but never spoken. The few times it has to be shared, it seems to stare at me unwanted and forgotten. It doesn't even have any meaning. It's a feminized diminutive form of another name. And so it just seems like a throw away name.

The last new name I received was in China, when my dad taught me what my chinese name was, but which I assume to be a "sounds like" form of my nickname. He gave me some song and dance about how he chose it from great chinese leaders names and all such stuff. But I still got strange looks from my teachers since it's the least feminine name they'd ever heard of in China. Sigh. That's what I get for asking my dad to give me my chinese name. I hadn't learned from when he gave me my middle name.

I'm just thankful I wasn't nicknamed Ding Dong.

Friday, August 04, 2006


One of those blogs that linked to another blog taught me this morning that reading a book on the London Metro can be one way of meeting someone. HOWEVER, keep in mind the ff:

- guys still look at the girls' looks before checking out the book
- the more "macho" the writer, the more chances of getting picked up
- Dan Brown, Da Vinci Code, and any chickflit is a definite turn off, except for those who think that discriminating against someone who reads said author and books is a turn off. Better yet, just chuck it out the window and show that you have cojones
- girls like guys who show their feminine side in their lit choices, but still prefer men who are cute and can read
- it's debatable whether or not to read War and Peace in a subway/train ride. Some say it's a good sign, the others say it's just for show.

Not to toot my own horn, but I have read W&P, three times (never on a metro/subway/train. I read Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy over a month of riding the trains in China and got carpal tunnel and upper back pain lifting that monster around; delightful and would read it again, but not while travelling. Okay, back to today's segue). Once, in a seemingly weird bit of family urban legends, it is said that I read it when I was a kid, because I was watching the tv mini-series and wanted to know who the heck the characters were. I don't remember reading the book then, I doubt I remember reading anything when I was a kid, but my dad remembers me trailing the book around the house and rambling on about Natasha and Pierre.

Second time, 8th grade. We had a gorgon for an english lit teacher, Ms. Geronimo. She gave herself a brand new set of tires for christmas one year; she was also fond of sending the entire class to wait outside as punishment if we got out of hand. But I do have fond memories of her and that english class. We all had to read 10 books in the year, and make massive book reports on them. Since I had already planned to do W&P for one of my books, I had to plan it out and do shorter, easier stuff the rest of the year. And it took me awhile to get through the entire volume this time (shorter attention span perhaps? After all MTV had just begun invading our tellies). But I remember reading through the scenes of war and thinking, damn this is bloody good. And I still didn't like war fiction. Got an A on the report. Heck for effort, I deserved an A+.

The third reading took place not too long ago. I had returned from HK, needed distraction, found an online bookgroup reading big fat classics and saw they had scheduled W&P for a three month run. Nice, easy reading, with lots of input from people all over. I must admit I enjoyed the chit chat more than reading the book again, but it was enjoyable to go over Tolstoy one more time. He writes clear, brilliant passages. It's a humanistic book. Really. Sometimes you want to just grab the characters by the shoulders and shake them out of their stupid actions, especially if you're like me who would like to physically shake someone to see if their head rolls back and forth like a doll. But I found that I enjoy the scenes describing the battles more than the discussions of the farm equity, serfdom, and "peaceful" set ups. I still don't like war fiction or non-fiction, or perhaps I tell myself I don't but am truly bloodthirsty.

There's a new edition and translation of W&P out, and I noted it on Torn and Frayed's blog. My copy of the new translation hasn't arrived yet, but I saw it was available at Powerbooks. My fantasy is to do a side by side comparison of the translations, just to see which one I like the best. Fantasy as it may take me forever to do so, and there's so much to do that a comparative reading analysis seems to be the ultimate in leisure these days. Wallowing in words.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fog and fennel fairy dust

Goat cheese is tart, crumbly, spreadable, perfect on a green salad, toasted on a steak, smothered in honey, envelopes a walnut with ease, a favorite companion to white wine, and one of my favorite kinds of cheese.

My sister, Carol, gave me my first taste of goat cheese. I was in college, and one holiday, I drove up to San Francisco to spend a couple of days with her. She bought some walnut bread, goat cheese and wine to share with friends in Berkeley. Thinking back, they were such bohemians, working in blue collar or entry level corporate work by day, then at night they'd tour the musical halls to play classic or jazz pieces for a pittance. They slept on hard (rock hard) beds, bookcases filled to the brim with philosophical tomes. And ate left wing, liberal food like goat cheese and free range eggs. With plonk no less. Although it was probably $2 plonk given their economic status at the time. For a 20-21 year old like me, it was sheer heaven. Entry into a more sophisticated lifestyle, with intense discussions about the meaning of life. Yada yada yada. But what has remained through the years hasn't been the intense loyalty to esoteric germanic philosophers (how do you spell Kierkegaard? or Schopenhauer? aiyayay), or crazed monotone fusion music. It's been my love for the chevre.

My first initiation to the cheese was smashing the white pillows of french goat cheese into a garlic rubbed salad bowl, blended into the olive oil and lemon drizzled salad, frisee and arugula when we had a bit more money to spend. Otherwise it was your plain romaine, made luxe with its accoutrements.

I learned how to incorporate the white crumbles into omelettes, mixed into tarts, eaten with a simple nut and honey, or when I get really lazy, tostado (toasted) in the oven over bread. Ok, I admit, most of the time, it's usually the latter.

Last night, I joined fellow cheese disciples and ate a whole lot of cheese. Imagine my joy at finding a whole set of different goat cheeses including what I believe to be the ultimate in American goat cheeses: Humboldt Fog. A lovely thick cut of cheese, halved by ash, and with a light ash rind. It's a creamier chevre, and the ash doesn't leave any bad after taste. Truly a magnificent piece of cheesemaking. The other cheese I discovered last night was called Purple Haze, a goat cheese (quite young and tart) dusted with fennel and lavendar. The fennel clouded the normally acid flavors of the cheese, perfuming the palate with a nutty afterglow.

What bliss to pair both the fog and fennel chevres with the lovely Fume Blanc we had from Robert Mondavi's Private Stock, 2004. Life is good.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Duck, shark, what have you

With all the rain, and another typhoon on the way, someone told me we were all turning into ducks. Waddle waddle. Not quite my choice of semi-amphibious mutation. Were we given the choice of an animal to change into during the rainy season, I'd go for the sharks, just like my favorite underwater photo that I use for my IM avatar.

Of all the sharks I've had the honor of seeing in real life, my favorite remains the thresher shark, with it's elegant tail and undulating silver figure. An elegant master of its domain. Sinuous.

During the last Tubbataha trip, we had a very close encounter with a large toothy shark, which our dive instructor initially thought to be a bull shark. But the other DI said no bull sharks live out this far in the Pacific, so after some debate, we agreed it was a sizeable silver tip. It took some interest in our meanderings along the wall, but it decided that we weren't it's type of prey. However, it was definitely more curious than the poor grey tip reef sharks that kept swimming away when we came close. They must feel put upon by all the divers bothering them in their repose. Very stressful for them.

From watergirl to Sharkgirl!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies