Tuesday, December 19, 2006

With whom I will spend my weekend

An email I received today made me smile. Sent by my best friend S, it detailed to a T how she planned to leave the key to her place when I arrive on Friday. Typical of S, it has bullet points, and contigency plans galore. I felt like I was receiving an encrypted code to the biggest military secret!

Likewise, S has also planned out the few days I'll be staying with her: dinner, the ballet, Christmas dinner. Those also came in a second list. Such obsessive detailed emails are not so suprising from her, since I've known her to be like that since the time we lived together in China. I don't know if it's just her Germanic upbringing that makes her like that or if she is just the kind of person who feels unable to live without order. Luckily, I'm not averse to small portions of letting her take care of everything, so long as she doesn't start parcelling out an allowance I should be fine.

S and I won't be spending Xmas alone, we have a guest, A flying in from Texas. S and A were housemates in Texas when S was an exchange student back in high school. S calls A her American sister, while I'm her Filipino sister. I didn't get to meet A during S's wedding last year in Germany, but I've heard a lot about her, and vice versa. We're looking forward to getting to know each other over the few days I'll be with the two of them. It will also be A's first trip to Asia, she'll be travelling through China for a few days between stops at S's place. I'm sure we'll spend enough time preparing her for her trip that she'll be like those kids heading off to summer camp looking like the michelin man, prepared for all contigencies, and bid farewell by teary eyed parents, handkerchief's fluttering adieu. We have maps! guidebooks! words to keep her safe from chinese toilets! menus! antibacterial wipes! bad tummy pills! more maps! A bandaid?

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tis the season for sticky fingers

A little over a month ago, I saw a link on the New York Times Online to a recipe for No-knead Bread, an article by Mark Bittman who writes the Minimalist column for the Times. He featured the recipe made famous by Jim Lahey, a breadmaker in New York City; Sullivan St. Bakery makes great boules of bread, crusty loaves ready for a pairing with a slather of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. Mr. Lahey said that this recipe is so easy, even a 6 year old can make great bread.

After reading the recipe a few times, I decided to try making my own bread. I've made fruit breads before, the no-yeast needed kind, but never a plain loaf of bread. Other bloggers, Joey and Lori, have chronicled their own experiments with bread making in the past; they've acknowledged how restful making bread can be, not to mention the delight in having your own loaf of bread, made by your own hands. Since my right arm is affected by carpal tunnel syndrome, I've avoided too much pressure on my wrist for months, and the no-knead aspect of the Sullivan recipe seemed just right for me. In lieu of kneading, the dough rests for a minimum of 12 hours, preferably 18 hours.

Before I began, I read a lot of the other bloggers writing about their attempts at the bread; most of them were in N. America and Europe. Many of them were successful, several had failed at getting the right kind of flour or using too much water. And the latter was what I was most worried about (ok, second most worried about after what pot to use, see below). I'm not much of a food scientist, but other bloggers have commented that the humidity in the tropics makes a lot of the Martha Stewartesque cooking/baking projects less than ideal. It's also dang hot to be baking, and my kitchen doesn't have airconditioning. So I knew that I had to adjust the water in the recipe.

The basic recipe calls for the ff to be mixed and then left alone for 18 hours: 3 cups flour (all purpose or bread. I used Gold Medal All purpose flour.), yeast, 1 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1 5/8 cups of water. Several of the bloggers who've tested the recipe said that the amount of water was too much, and that the video showed Mr. Sullivan scooping in flour without tamping it down the scoop, which would make it 3 heaping cups of flour, changing the ratio of flour to water from the actual recipe. Well give the guy a break folks, he's been making the bread for ages, so he doesn't have to be exact any longer! I planned to try one attempt sticking to the recipe as written, then planned another using less water.

Sure enough the first attempt was too wet, and nearly impossible to work with. My kitchen probably goes up to 28-29 degrees celcius during the day, while the estimated room temperature in the recipe states to leave the dough in a warm, draftless room of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sorry I'm not about to recalculate that here, but needless to say, my kitchen is way warmer than the average N.American/European one. The humidity soaked in by the dough made the blob look like a wet oatmeal mixture. I added more flour on the workspace, and added more flour to the dough, but by the time I went through all that, the proofing for another 2 hours and then the baking time of 50 minutes, the bread was looking a bit too flat, and had a burnt top alongside a not-quite-cooked interior. Attempt 1: failure.

Attempt 2 had less water and a different yeast. The first time, I only had a packet of active yeast, the red star brand I think. And I dumped the packet's contents in, without measuring. Not a good idea. This time around, I made sure I only had 1/4 teaspoon of the bubble makers, and used the instant yeast as indicated in the recipe. 1.5 cups of water, same flour and salt combination. The dough looked a lot better, after 18 hours it actually looked like dough, not a wet rag imitating dough on a bad day. I folded it over to create a seam, let it rest for 15 minutes and then another fold onto a kitchen towel dusted with flour for the last rise for 2 hours. Plopped it into the pot and 50 minutes later (30 covered, 20 uncovered), I had bread! A perfect crust, and the bottom was cooked this time. Am pleased as punch, and happily filled with freshly made bread this morning. Made with my hands and the luxury of time.

The biggest concern I had making this was the issue with the cooking implements. I don't have an oven, and make do with a turbo broiler. Not too bad when I need to bake brownies, but this was bread. I did more online research and thought it would work. But while reading the bread recipe and other bloggers comments, I was starting to worry a bit more since I didn't have a Le Creuset enamel covered pot, or anything that would fit what was within the parameters stated by the recipe. Then another troll down online recipes gave me a eureka moment. One blogger said that she or he used a crockpot bowl. So I dug out the old crockpot, found a ceramic plate that would withstand the heat - instant enamel pot with lid.

I'll be tinkering a bit with the recipe to see if I can add some olive oil without damaging the texture of the dough. And maybe some walnuts. I heart walnut bread.

12/19 addendum: a third attempt last night was sort of successful. A much longer resting period (24 hours) resulted in a light sourdough flavor, but the crockpot needs to be pre-heated for more than 25 minutes, as the bottoms tend to take forever to cook! I've had nice crusts, with a chewiness to the bread that's perfect for hearty meals.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ho ho ho with a jelly belly and snowy white hair

It's really useful for schools to have a principal/headmaster who looks like Santa. It's double duty. During the holidays, dress him up in a red suit, add a bit more facial hair, and viola! Off he trots to greet parents and kids, plus have him parade later for the staff party.

I read that people who dress up as Santa's in malls and other events have one of the highest levels of stress. They have to deal with recalcitrant kids, annoying parents, long lines, sitting, kids sitting on them, kids whizzing on them, crying, puking, screaming at them, pulling on the beard. Is it any wonder that another image of those part time Santas is them walking into their neighborhood bar after a day's work, drowning their sorrows? Bad Santa indeed.

The craziest request I ever sent to Santa was a pony when I was 5.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Friend M is preparing for the office xmas party, they have planned a 10 minute version of Cats. As I talked to her about it, I remembered listening to the soundtrack of the London cast's version way way back. Songs flooded back to mind, and I could recall some lyrics. My favorite part is not Memory, but the Naming of the Cats. And as the entire play is based on Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and other poems by TS Eliot, I did a Google search and came across the poems online. Here are my favorite bits:

The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
and the last stanza goes

"But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover -
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name."

I sincerely believe this, just try to call a cat and see if they'll listen to you. Honestly. Like banging your head against a brick wall....


So, along the lines of the research, I found that Memory is not in the list of Eliot's poems from
OLD POSSUM..., but taken from "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" and "Preludes":

"8Every street lamp that I pass
9Beats like a fatalistic drum,
10And through the spaces of the dark
11Midnight shakes the memory
12As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

Half-past one,
14The street lamp sputtered,
15The street lamp muttered,

50"Regard the moon,
51La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
52She winks a feeble eye,
53She smiles into corners.
54She smoothes the hair of the grass.
55The moon has lost her memory.
56A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
57Her hand twists a paper rose,
58That smells of dust and old Cologne,
59She is alone
60With all the old nocturnal smells
61That cross and cross across her brain."
62The reminiscence comes
63Of sunless dry geraniums
64And dust in crevices,
65Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
66And female smells in shuttered rooms,
67And cigarettes in corridors
68And cocktail smells in bars."
- Rhapsody on a Windy Night

1The winter evening settles down
2With smell of steaks in passageways.
3Six o'clock.
4The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
5And now a gusty shower wraps
6The grimy scraps
7Of withered leaves about your feet
8And newspapers from vacant lots;
9The showers beat
10On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
11And at the corner of the street
12A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
13And then the lighting of the lamps.

14The morning comes to consciousness
15Of faint stale smells of beer
16From the sawdust-trampled street
17With all its muddy feet that press
18To early coffee-stands.

19With the other masquerades
20That time resumes,
21One thinks of all the hands
22That are raising dingy shades
23In a thousand furnished rooms.

24You tossed a blanket from the bed,
25You lay upon your back, and waited;
26You dozed, and watched the night revealing
27The thousand sordid images
28Of which your soul was constituted;
29They flickered against the ceiling.
30And when all the world came back
31And the light crept up between the shutters
32And you heard the sparrows in the gutters,
33You had such a vision of the street
34As the street hardly understands;
35Sitting along the bed's edge, where
36You curled the papers from your hair,
37Or clasped the yellow soles of feet
38In the palms of both soiled hands.

39His soul stretched tight across the skies
40That fade behind a city block,
41Or trampled by insistent feet
42At four and five and six o'clock;
43And short square fingers stuffing pipes,
44And evening newspapers, and eyes
45Assured of certain certainties,
46The conscience of a blackened street
47Impatient to assume the world.

48I am moved by fancies that are curled
49Around these images, and cling:
50The notion of some infinitely gentle
51Infinitely suffering thing.

52Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;
53The worlds revolve like ancient women
54Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

Cats and Phantom... don't make my personal list of favorite musicals of all time, but Cats has an advantage over Phantom - I like cats (chortle), and the songs are poetic. Phantom has always come off as a B-rated gothic horror to me. And don't bring up Sarah Brightman, yoiks.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Health watch Dec 11

Short note to self - get rid of the cakes in the fridge and be at the gym at least 4x this week. Last 5 days have been awful: eating, drinking, not exercising, going to bed at 3 a.m. Didn't help that it rained yesterday. No excuse of course. Am probably 5 lbs heavier today. Oh well. Nutritionist will be grouchy when she sees my log.

Weekend of Tchaikovsky

An invite from A found me sitting surrounded by children at the Aliw Theater last Thursday, watching the Nutcracker for the first time in Manila (I saw it in Hong Kong and in New York several years ago). The Ballet Manila troupe did a good job, Lisa Macuja was as elegant as ever. I saw two flubs that made me wonder if she planned to fire her male dancers but figured it's hard enough to find male dancers around here that she probably will just flog them for good measure. Both times it was near accidents for her, but she has enough poise in her pinky finger to get through them, cheeks frozen in her smile.

If I had a billion US dollars, I'd definitely give Ballet Manila some of the money, primarily to help their set designers with the backdrops. There was a lopsided chandelier, teetering on the edge of falling over the dancers, and the tie-dyed curtains (made to look like, snow? icedrops? something odd and pastel) didn't make me think xmas and wintery at all. The dancers also need new costumes, although the snowdrop tutus looked very pretty and elegant. Of course professional development would be a major investment. Get those ballerinas professionalized so that they don't have to do this part time. Let's finance the Opera company as well. Sigh. So many projects, not enough dough to go around.

The next night, I met up with friends V and C at the main CCP hall for a christmas concert. I didn't know that resident musical director Castillo was not going to conduct. This year, former musical director Ruggieri was back at the baton. I usually see him conducting at the Pen xmas concert, so there was a bit of disappointment since Castillo's more modern, a bit of a renegade. However, I sat and enjoyed the atmosphere, surrounded by Leandro Locsin's modern floating architecture, and the luxury of good music. The first half was taken from several of Tchaikovsky's operas and ballets, Eugene Onegin and the Sleeping Beauty suite (I could hear several people singing along). The second half was filled with christmas carols and a strangely out of place Filipino song that was played like we were in a '70's disco lounge. I zoned out and mentally ticked off my chores for the weekend.

The final Tchaikovsky note came last night, watching the BBC documentary on up and coming violinist Niccola Bennedetti (spelling?). At 18, she's got the chops, the virtuoso, and is smouldering and sexy. She makes listening and attending violin concertos far more visually appealing. However, she is still a musician. One of the pieces she rehearsed and performed during the docu was a Tchaikovsky concerto, one of his harder pieces. I believe she recorded it for one of her albums.

I have the urge to go and play the 1812 ... boom!

Many faces on the highway

Since Milenyo, the billboards along EDSA have become the rallying cry of politics, urban developers and general noise makers. Take them down, keep them up, ugly warts of advertising, necessary marketing strategy, etc, etc. One billboard, near the Guadalupe intersection is remarkable for it's size and for some of the ads they've had up there.

The last three ads have definitely spiced up my morning ride. The first one that really made me wonder about the state of education in this country was the Myra E ad with Dawn Zulueta espousing some moisturizer. The logo was grammatically mangled and had a prepositional phrase that drove me insane each time I glanced upon it. Can't even remember what it was, must have repressed it from my memory.

The second was the Manny Pacquio ad, sponsored by Nike. Set up right before his third fight with Morales, it had Pacman in a victory pose (perhaps foreshadowing or hedging their bets); but what made it a bit questionable in taste was the distinct bloody look of the ad. Ok, so boxing is a blood sport, but it looked like he was awash with blood - his own or that of his opponent. My friend M said if they had used Morales it would have been cuter since he's got a nicer face. Er, I don't think the idea was to make it look cute anyway.

Now, the Belo ad. Several of her clients and the doctor herself stand in a photo spread taken from the Vanity Fair spreads. Dressed to the nines, espousing holiday cheer, their faces looking polished, primped, bodies tight. Yet, it's one of the saddest, glummest holiday ads I've ever seen. Not one of them looks particularly happy or in the holiday mood. They're all pouting. Ara Mina is dressed to look like she's going to her senior prom (another pink dress that doesn't cut it). Albert Martinez is sickly orange. But the topper for me is the strangely alien looking Pops Fernandez, reclining on the chaise. I didn't recognize her and it only dawned on me who she was this morning after seeing the ad several times. She's changed, not for the better. And she reminds me of the alien on the cartoon "American Dad". Her eyes have either become closer together or something about the angle of the photo seen from below that makes them look cross-eyed. One of her least attractive photos. And she, too, doesn't dare crack a smile. Oh, yes, I forgot, they all probably took their Botox shots the day of the shoot.

Hey, MMDA, when are the billboards coming down????

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In lieu of decor

Moving to my new place last year, I chose not to decorate during the holidays. I maintain the same attitude this year. No tree, tinsel, lights, fake reindeer and snow will clutter up my domain. I have enough clutter (plus a cat who is liable to chew on the lights and leave me sans furry companion, but a very bad odor that'll stick to the walls if I know my destiny).

What makes the season for me is Christmas music. Carols, the christmas concerts, even hearing the occasional Jingle Bells inside the mall, awakens the spirit inside me. I'm attending two concerts at the CCP and the Peninsula. Both will be full of classical carols, western and filipino. Two years ago, I remember attending the CCP/Philippine Philharmonic concert, and have gone to two Peninsula concerts in the same number of years. The former can be very freewheeling, especially if the conductor decides to broaden our horizons to new sources of Christmas songs. He threw in S. American carols the last time. While the Peninsula is a tried and true formula. Traditional carols, mostly western, with a couple of Filipino songs, a modern piece, then the Hallelujah Chorus at the end to top it off. The tree glitters in the background, the smell of nutmeg and butter and richness all around. I usually have to get to the Pen around 3 p.m for a decent table along the mezzanine, as all the tables in the lobby are packed. By then, I'm full of seasonal joy and goodwill, and a definite pushover when faced with my nephew and nieces' puppy dog looks for something for their proverbial stockings.

This year, I have an escape plan....

Books of the same feather

I'm reading THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO RAIN: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel by Alexander McCall Smith, the third in the series on the life of a fortysomething single philosopher and editor of the Ethical Times. Unlike his other series on Mme. Ramotswe, which are termed mysteries, but tend to be gentle fables with a hint of a dead body now and then, the Isabel Dalhousie books are wordier, abstract, and border on the didactic. There was one "murder" at the beginning of the series, but the last book (FRIENDS, LOVERS, CHOCOLATE) and this one tends to philosophical and romantic constructs. What I enjoy about these two is the development of Isabel's emotional connection with Jamie, the younger man and former boyfriend of Isabel's niece, Cat. Isabel sees the 14 year age difference as a major obstacle, offering Jamie a gentle, dignified friendship, with a large dose of philosophy (that is her job after all). In Attitude to Rain, Jamie's feelings towards Isabel progress in a direction romantics would approve of, although it does lead to ethically or is it morally? questionable actions on the part of the two.

However, McCall Smith doesn't divert too much between the Isabel Dalhousie books and those of his more famous Mme. Ramotswe mysteries (also known as the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series). Both have female protagonists, more or less in charge of their own lives and with a general sense of fiscal independence. They're both analytical women, single, but with a past bad relationship (Precious Ramotswe was abused by her husband, and in one volume is revisited by her ex; Isabel recalls on occasion her relationship with an emotionally abusive partner). There are subordinate characters, usually female as well. And the male objects of affection are gentlemen, with their own emotional baggage, but nothing to deter the female leads from another lease on life. The author also seems to find that women in their forties a lot more interesting than younger ages. And is it just a coincidence that both roles have fond memories of their fathers, Precious more so than Isabel?

Both series are enjoyable without being too mentally taxing. I can imagine a growth in interest in visiting Botswana and Scotland by his fans, seeking signs of inspiration for the characters.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Prestige has nothing on our bees

When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. What do you do when a swarm of bees builds a hive?

At 1 p.m. today, and it would have to be a Monday, one of the managers pointed out that there was a beehive along the overhang of our school driveway. With little ones running around, we cordoned off the area, not that the barriers stopped the inquisitive minds from standing within ten feet of the hive and the bees. A few more pilyo kids (brats?) gave us all instructions on how to remove the hive, attack the queen, reduce it to dust. We gravely told them that we are leaving the extermination to the experts.

Around 3, as I was walking down the hall, I noticed that the hive was looking a tad ratty. Frayed at the edge of the dome, and looking like it was holding on for dear life. My initial thought was that the rain had disintegrated the bits, but couldn't for the life of me figure out why the other bees weren't protecting the hive. As I stood there to watch, it slowly unravelled. Little by little, the edges disappeared until the entire hive was gone. Poof! I'd never seen anything like it before and it was a magical moment.

The guards tracked some of the bees to the backyard and the exterminators were directed there later. But for a few hours, we had our own honey pot that magically appeared and disappeared.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies