Saturday, September 30, 2006

Avoiding the light

For sometime I've been meaning to write a bit about the fascinating and natural discovery right outside my front door. I have a tree growing out front and it gives my rooms a pleasant shade; sometimes I see birds building a nest, flitting from branch to the window sill.

During the last few months, the dampness round the base of the tree began to look a bit spotted. And I realized that there were mushrooms growing. Call me crazy for feeling thrilled at having mushrooms but it's not often that you see "wild" mushrooms at your feet. A part of me wonders if there might be a truffle buried under the pavement!

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pandora's box

Have you opened the box recently? Come up with your own playlist. So far, I've been listening to a lot of vocal jazz and folk songs.

Shake, rattle, rain

Milenyo is a pretty strong typhoon, the first signal no. 3 typhoon over Metro Manila that really felt like a danger to life and limb. I'm sitting here at my desk at work, asking myself why am I not home?

Advantages to being at the office however include internet access, electricity, water, and access to food in nearby shops and restaurants. This will only turn ugly if we're stuck for days without a change of clothes. But otherwise this is not bad.

Post-storm addendum: the worst of sorts is over, but the lack of electricity makes it unpleasant to stay at home. A friend says the lights won't go back on til Monday. Paseo de Roxas is littered with trees and branches, makes you wonder why the Mayor who loves to litter the area during one of his anti-government rallies can't get his act together and round up some of his garbage cartel buddies to clean up the streets.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seething, Roiling

Women are characterized as more emotional than men. Likewise, Asians are stereotyped as passive, non-emotive (vs Caucasians or Latinos). Given those odds, I should be relatively emotional, given my double x chromosomes, but nothing compared to my friends in Brazil.

This last weekend and the first days of the week then have been a test of my collective calm. On each day, I've had moments when I truly needed a punching bag, or at least a pillow to scream into. Friends have aggravated me, ex-bf's have shown up unexpectedly, and vendors I deal with at work seem to think that customer service is an urban myth. Days like these make me wonder why we don't have a regular list of therapists who we can go to for an hour of pure venting. It would be useful, healthy for us to talk to total strangers who can't share what we are talking to them about. Friends don't always work because sometimes you want to be illogical and you don't want to be interrupted or be given an answer to your questions (a lot of them these days seem to be rhetorical anyway). Someone who will simply say Uhuh, and mmmm a lot whenever you ask why? Because that's what I need, a blank slate, an animate punching bag who will just take it and then when I'm done, say I'll see you next week.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

do it yourself food tour

Fans of Anton's blog (Our awesome planet) know that he's done a series of Pampanga food tours. And the pics do make you want to lick the computer screen (don't you wish there was a virtual taste bud on the computer that would evoke the essence of a picture? Sort of a scratch and sniff, except it would be a lick and taste. Anyway...).
As I've tried and failed to attend the tour once before, I had mentioned to a few foodie friends (foodistas? food-aholics? gourmands?) that we should join or do our own. Ian the ice cream man did just that today and he said he was truly satisfied with his first outing.
Since I've got a "free weekend" before I begin my new job, I'm going to go to Pampanga, and Ian's already agreed to go with me. Who else is interested? We can follow Anton's route or try new things. It's set for October 14, Saturday. Sign up!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

30 day notice

I filed my resignation today, and it went well. Boss lady was affected and she said I'd be missed, but that she was happy for me. So that's all good, right? But it does leave me with less than 3.5 weeks to get through the transition. Paperwork, filing more papers, getting rid of rubbish (papers again). And moving my fish tank! That will be the biggest problem! Plus, what to leave behind? The plants, some books, and a whole load of paper.

I'll miss my 10/F view of the parking lot and the building next door, and my nice 17 inch flatscreen monitor. I'll miss having an office so close to the saturday market that I can dump my purchases in the fridge while I shop for more non-essentials. I'll miss being close to friends for lunch.

I'll miss going to Hanoi this December for a workshop, and the possible trip to Minneapolis next May for our annual conference.

I'll miss the friends I've made all over the world, who I only get to see once a year sometimes, but who've made my life a better, wiser, happier one.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

New Years' through the year and gazing at moons

This Friday is the start of the Jewish New Year, and I've been invited to attend the Rosh Hashanah celebration at a friend's home. I will bring honey, as it is customary to dip apples or bread in honey to encourage sweet things in one's life. It is also touching to think that the friend and his family wish to have us over to his house as it means that they hope to continue the friendship through the next year.

New Year holidays, whether the Jan 1, or subsequent cultural/religious ones, are a rebirth. However, the Jan. 1 event seems to have turned into a debauched mix of drunken loutery and list making. For the last few years, I've been more attuned to the Chinese new year celebration; this year was quite memorable as I joined a walking tour of Binondo, dodging the antics of lion dance troupes and firecrackers.

This Saturday will be my third new year celebration in 2006, and the only one with a religious bent to it. A bit nervous of making a booboo during the festivity, but luckily the friend is not too orthodox, and I'm not bringing anything that requires a rabbi's seal of approval.

By the end of the month and in early October, the Chinese community will celebrate the autumn mooncake festival. I saw a display of hopia and mooncakes at Rockwell over the weekend, panicked a bit thinking it was last weekend, but was told the date was in October. Unlike most afficionados, I dislike the salted egg inside the mooncakes. I prefer my share to be egg free, or the ones with nuts for texture. Sometimes I find the one with a mix of bean and sunflower seeds, which isn't too sweet on the tongue plus has a crunch. Mooncake is usually so dense and sweet that a quarter slice is all I can take, even with the strongest oolong to go with it. Yunnan coffee might be a better pairing, but haven't found any of the kind in Manila.

The traditional Southern Chinese game to play during the festival is the dice game, where rolling the right combination of dice may win you the daddy of all beancakes (it looks like a deep dish pizza). In some places, when adults (with moolah) play, the ultimate prize is a trip, sometimes cash. I'll be inviting some friends to play a few rounds, but no fancy prizes, just the humble bean biscuits we love.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Don't judge a cheese by it's state of iciness

J had a stash of cheese (ill gotten gains perhaps) that he promised to use for dinner last Friday. When I pulled it from the fridge, it was a frozen block of 5 cheeses. Unappetizing to say the least. However, he, a veritable magician, baked them for under 10 minutes, added some plump raisins, and a drizzle of truffle oil. Each bite was different, a mystery revealed (blue! gouda! parmesan!).

The paella, however, which was a lovely picture of saffron rice and healthy vegetables, turned out to be too salty, as if the broth was rushed. And I had more than a few bites of underdone rice. I added some bottled squid to the leftovers, and later on, chicken. 4 bottles of wine helped to keep the dinner guests happy.

Jump the cat, Spanish film festival, and Nah

Gabi is eating well, pooping too much as well. Good god, she's sucking in her kibble like a refugee. I'm experimenting on her litter box, bought a new container, trying new clumping odor absorbers. And the new Lysol Naturair or Naturpure air cleaner works!!! Better than regular Lysol.

For those planning on habla-ing espanol in October, check out the upcoming Spanish film festival schedule, beginning Oct 3 at Greenbelt 3. P50 a movie. Looking forward to a few good films to wile away the month.

Good friend J (my unofficial sounding board and voice of conscience) tells me I should be perkier, girl-ier. Not to naysay offers when they come my way. Too tired though last friday to be "perky" (what am I? a blonde cheerleader?). So yes, I just said "Nah."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Move, change, learn

My heartrate is a bit faster, my thoughts are running in circles. Change is taking place. After 6 years, I face a new future. Nothing ever stays the same, and it will be a place to learn new things. I like learning something new. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Come down the stairs

The cat is now in my hands, and she's adjusting. It takes awhile for cats to resettle in a new place. At least a couple of days to a week to get used to new smells, new sounds, not be scared of the new person.
However, what I find amusing is her dislike of the stairs. She won't go down. At most a step, if she can see me then a few more. But she'll avoid descending the entire flight, and has yet to sniff around the lower floor.
She sounds like a bird, chirping instead of meowing. Plus she has a bell on her collar, so it's easy to find her as she runs to the landing to greet me.

Addendum: Sept 14 - whoohoo, looks like she's gotten over her phobia, ran up and down several times, her bell collar jingling like mad.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Cheese club 2

I would like to be a cheesemaker. If I could, I'd have a herd of goats, and make chevre. But I know that the life is pretty darn hard. Wake up at the crack of dawn, make sure your goats don't go off wandering, getting eaten by, um, wolves? or whatever eats goats in these parts, feed them properly (if you want the same kind of flavor as you'd find in France, you may have to get lavendar infused hay or something crazy like that. No basic damo would be good enough.). So chances are slim that I won't be bleating along till my dying day. I'll just eat the final product.

Last night, headed off to the cheese club as guest of good friend Genny, along with J and G. Wines were average to below average, so I just had a rose, one measly glass. For the rest of the evening, I tried a variety of cheeses, including a camembert infused cheddar, a 42 month aged gouda (a favorite), a brie mieux with truffles, the locally made goat's milk feta which was dipped in olive oil, a jelly like (extremely fresh) goat cheese made from Davao, Pyrenees sheep cheese, a rather greenish gorgonzola (it had a pale green cast, and no, the lighting was not the reason for it), a runny stilton, and a quesong puti used for raclette. J monopolized one of the raclette grills and made up a few variations (4 cheese melt and a 6 cheese melt, the latter he nicknamed SS*). We munched on our bread and cheese, laughed at G's antics with the ladies, and people watched. There was one lady in particular who reminded me of why I don't want to consider plastic surgery. I'm sure she thought herself the bees knees, but her face was so pulled upward and forward, likewise her bosom. She reeked of silicone. I soon lost my appetite for grilled cheese.

*Sex Substitute (imho, not quite)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

They're big, they're back

A week or two ago, the news of butanding (whale shark) sightings near the shores of Albay or Sorsogon raised hopes that our marine life was improving. This happened during the height of all the Guimaras mess. As many as 9 butandings were seen surfacing regularly, and the local government made sure the fishermen didn't scare them, stress them out or fish them.

Today, I read on the WWF website that manta rays were seen in Mabini, Batangas, a 20 year gap since the last sighting in the area. How wonderful! Of the big fish, butandings and mantas are two of my favorite. I had my first eye to eye experiences with both 2 years ago in Tubbataha and will never forget seeing the first whale shark swim by, no more than an arm length away, close enough to see the eye swivel to take a gander at us, agape at their size and grandeur. The mammoth manta we saw soon after was just as amazing, but further down the trench, and later in the trip, had the pleasure of a feeding manta near our boat.

News of their return, albeit too early to tell if it is a sign of good things to come, is heartwarming. Makes me happy to be a certified diver.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Cooking club

Another blog find, I came across Maria's blog about her cooking club and took the time to join her and her clubmates last night. I've visited Indonesia, had Indonesian friends, wasn't it time to learn how to cook some of the favorite dishes? The first few times the club has met up, they've cooked beef rendang, and seafood, last night's theme was chicken: sate with gado-gado and a beautifully yellow tumeric rice. 8 other foodies helping out makes any meal came to life a lot faster than if you do it by yourself. 16 hands helping peel, cut, fry, boil, mix, blend, all the while paying attention to Maria's instructions and her helper, Nympha's suggestions.

Gado-gado is a simple enough dish to put together. Parboil several kinds of vegetables, we had on hand carrots, sayote, string beans, kangkong and cabbage. Small potatoes were also boiled for added texture and to decorate the plate. Boiled eggs and golden fried tofu topped the large platter of vegetables. A very healthy cooked salad is what I realized it was all about. The peanut sauce was made by cooking ground peanuts, fresh coconut milk, garlic, onions, chilli sauce, and for flavoring she added the kecap manis, or sweet soy sauce. Seeing how the dish is created from scratch (we didn't even use canned coconut milk, but squeezed the milk from grated coconut) added to our collective appetites.

The other dish I enjoyed was the yellow rice. Normally, the java rice you may find in local restaurants taste like the rice was cooked in palm oil or oil that was colored with achuete or a yellow dye. Not this dish. We combined fresh coconut milk, pounded a good chunk of galangal and lemongrass, mixed in the juice of half a lemon and cooked the jasmine rice in this aromatic blend. Oh, and don't forget a tablespoon of tumeric for that beautiful yellow color. Nympha taught us that if you cook the rice in coconut milk, it's a lot heavier than cooking it in water, so balance the fluid to rice mix appropriately. Otherwise you get a rice pudding! After cooking the first batch, we snuck a few of the cracklings on the bottom of the rice cooker. It tasted like suman.

But once all the cooking was done, the best part is always the chitchat, and getting to know people. There was A, who owns a local bakery, and G, who previously worked in the kitchens of the Makati Shangri-la but now does home based catering, plus expats in the neighborhood and friends of Maria. Lovely bunch, looking forward to another dinner with them all.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Nosing out Noisettes

Hark back to your childhood, and imagine a scene where you're at a party, and someone gives you a container of mixed nuts. Roasted, toasted, salted. Which nuts did you eat first? I always zoomed in on the almonds first, then the peanuts. I left behind the walnuts and hazelnuts and cashews as I wasn't too keen on their particular tastes at the age of 7 or 8.

Maturing, I learned to enjoy the richer flavors of the walnuts (I even spent one christmas season repetitiously slamming my dorm room door in China as we had two pounds of unshelled walnuts to use up in a pesto), and cashews came on board when I found a good source locally. Hazelnuts, however, were a distant third choice of the three for many years. I even avoided chocolate hazelnut combinations, as I still do with chocolate and coconut. Something about the hazelnut aftertaste that didn't sit well with me.

That was until I fell in love with a great and simple product called Nutella. I chanced upon it through a friend of Italian origins who would make us Nutella grilled sandwiches in college. It wasn't available much while I was living in China, but recovered my stride in HK. There are variations on the chocolate/hazelnut spread, but Nutella is the best of the lot as far as I'm concerned. A gourmand friend who imports all sorts of items overseas gave me a taste of homemade nutella from Spain, but it didn't spread as easily as commercial nutella, taste was great though.

I did come across a blog (Su Good Eats) who posted a recipe of homemade nutella. I can't believe that I first read that post close to the end of last year, now that I think about it. It made me crave my own homemade version, and the grandiose ideas I had flowed onward and upward till I could see myself drowning in a vat of chocolate and hazelnut. First, of course, was sourcing the nuts. Locally the choices were a bit limiting. A friend visiting from Los Angeles was willing to bring me some; he even brought more than I had expected. Second, the chocolate. Through all the blogs and some footwork, I found good quality chocolate that would make my homemade spread divine.

But it all came to a halt when my food processor died on me. I tried to get it started again, but the manufacturer explained that the engine wasn't in shape, i.e., I had myself a lemon. Trying to finegrind the nuts, a mere handful for the test batch, proved too much for the inept machine. I postponed my dreams till after I bought a Kitchenaid or Cuisinart food processor in the US in May/June, but after some unforeseen circumstances, I came home empty handed, and my 4 lbs of noisettes lay untouched in my freezer.

In between all this, I had met through the blogworld, ice cream man extraordinaire Ian, of Sebastian's Ice Cream. I've apologized to Ian for the fact that everyone I've spoken to about him now recall him as "the Ice Cream Man!" I can even see the caps when they say it. But he is a lovely human being doing a wonderful service to the local community by making artisinal ice cream. He and his partners are making their customers very happy. And we look forward to bigger, brighter things from their venture. Back to my hazelnuts situation, it was fast approaching a year since I had gotten the nuts and I would look at them sadly, wondering when I'd finally get to make the nutella or do something with them. Then would promptly forget their existence.

Then the perfect opportunity arose: a couple of friends were leaving for a new life abroad, plus one of them was having his birthday at the same time, so I called Ian, and set it in motion. He'd get my hazelnut loot and make us a flavor. Since he had already experimented with Nutella, and had a nutella flavor available, it wasn't too difficult to incorporate the elements together. Initially all I had in mind was adding the roasted and crushed hazelnuts into dark chocolate, but Ian had better things in mind. For the pre-celebration taste test, he laid before me three options: a white hazelnut paste in cream, the dark chocolate with hazelnuts, and then the piece de resistance - nutella ice cream with nutella swirl and loads of crushed hazelnuts. On the first spoonful, I knew, it was inevitable, but the third choice was the one. We had found our gold nugget.

Last Saturday, we launched the hazelnut heaven at our friendly shindig. After the surprise birthday cheers, and celebrating our friends' new lives, we brought forth the ice cream. I had requested that the dark chocolate with hazelnuts be included, so we had two flavors to choose from. I couldn't resist having a choice scoop of the nutella and hazelnut flavor, while the others combined the dark chocolate and the nutella together. What else is there to say? Ice cream makes us happy. But what better than to discover a new twist on a relatively recent favorite.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Blogggrls brekkie book meet

Sorry to fellow bloggers for that title, but I couldn't resist the alliteration. A few of us who meet up every so often decided to hie off to a breakfast and book fair morning. Due to unforeseen circumstances, I missed the breakfast (MOA), but got to the bookfair over at the World Trade Center. "Making it a habit" is the theme of this year's fair. Well, it's too much of a habit for me, but a lesser vice I suppose (although buying too many books just for the sake of it must fall under avarice).

What did I buy? 1. The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco, 2. A Year at the Races by Jane Smiley, and 3. Hide this French Book, a Berlitz publication. Nena bought the Hide this Spanish Book, so we should be fully prepared to talk like sailors the next time a trip to Spain and France come around.

Friday, September 01, 2006

On the wings of a dove

A shadow caught my eye. What I thought was an odd bird that might be trying to escape the skyscrapers in this part of town was a piece of green paper, floating on an updraft, and dancing on the whim of the breeze. It rose, dipped, fluttered a side dance, brushed the side of a building, and even seemed to dither on the corner of one as if it couldn't decide whether to turn right or not.

Beauty in the afternoon.

Tale of two cookies

After Cyma last Monday, I picked up two cookies at Sugarhouse before returning to Makati. Not available in all Sugarhouse outlets, the Trail Mix cookie and Oatmeal Raisin cookie are sizeable hockey pucks of dessert. The former is packed with raisins, chocolate chips, and whole peanuts, which overwhelm the cookie dough at times. If one likes a simple cookie, this would not be an appropriate choice. But on days or moments when you need texture, girth, and dimension in a simple package, I highly recommend it. The peanuts add a crunch, the chocolate chips a dark note, while the raisins are just there to add that joyful bit of fruit.

The oatmeal raisin was decent, but has yet to dislodge my favorite oatmeal raisin in town, which used to be the cookie at Au Bon Pain (defunct bread and bakery). That cookie had a crisp underbelly vis a vis the chewiness of the oatmeal butter batter (say butter batter three times fast!). The Sugarhouse o/r peanut is good, you can taste the oatmeal nuttiness, and there are enough raisins that you don't feel robbed. It's not too sweet for my taste buds.

I'd rate the Trail Mix cookie a 4 out of 5 cookies, while the oatmeal raisin gets 3 out of 5. The perfect cookie? Well, haven't met it yet.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies