Monday, April 30, 2007

Tragic fairy tales

Last Friday night, a bunch of boys and I went to watch a fairy tale. After the movie, we walked out and they all moaned in some form or another "I thought we were going to see a kid's story!" "That was so depressing!" "I need chocolate!" Ok, that last one was me.

(Hopefully, if you're reading this, you'll have seen Pan's Labyrinth. If you haven't, skip or expect spoilers.)

The movie deals with a young girl, Ophelia. living through the early days of Franco's Spain. She and her pregnant mother set off to meet with Captain Vidal, her mother's second husband, who is tracking anti-government rebels. The Captain has set up camp with the government troops in a remote mountainous area, taking over an abandoned mill, surrounded by thick forests where the rebels have found safety. The Captain is the embodiment of psychopathic evil, cold, inhumane, the "wicked witch" character. The mother barely registers, she's weakened by her pregnancy, but also can't stand up for herself or her daughter in the face of the Captain. A stronger female character is Mercedes, the housekeeper at the mill, who secretly helps the rebels, one of whom is very important to her. She hums the lullaby/theme song of the movie, an elegy to Ophelia in the end.

Twisted into the human world, lies a fantasy/fairy world, settled into the forest and within the maze where a faun and his fairy friends live. An interesting linguistic question that came up was why did the title translate into Pan's Labyrinth? We had to remind the guy asking that Pan is a faun, half man, half beast (usually goat, ram or horse). The faun in the movie was the link to Ofelia's fairy tale world, where she is told that she carries the soul of a long, lost princess. She must fulfill 3 tasks in order to return to her real parents. The faun "smells of earth" "is the mountains, the trees, the earth" (quotes from the movie), and he holds fort at the last portal where the Princess' essence can still return to her lost kingdom. He appears and disappears bearing tools for Ofelia to use during her tasks, a magical book, magical stones to retrieve a golden key from a disgusting immense toad, a chalk to use when she needs to find a door, and a mandrake root. He dictates when she needs to get her tasks done, but also turns against her when she disobeys him.

The guys I watched the film with weren't all that keen on the film, probably because they never read the old fairy tales, including the medieval versions of the Grimm and Andersen fairy tales. They were expecting a kid's story, or a Disney tale, not a full blown violent life and death story. They weren't expecting the tragic end. It was a disturbing film for them because they were prepared for light hearted adventure and had to deal with murder, cruelty, abandonment, sorrow. I was saddened but had been ready to enjoy the story. I enjoy the dark fairy tales, where we encounter suffering, hardship, sacrifice for some greater good or for the quest of a greater glory. These are the stories we've been reading for centuries.

breakfast for one

Take two coffee buns (I bought mine fresh at Kopi Mum at SM Megamall, and promptly flattened them), spread a thin layer of mangosteen jam between them. Cut up in bites. Choose some fruit, like ripened mangos and a kiwi or two. Slice, cut up into chunks and serve. Great with fresh coffee or dark tea (none of that flavored tea either.).

Friday, April 27, 2007

It's the end of the week

....A long week at that. One punctuated by a great deal of night time grazing. Think herds of buffalo tasting the grass at the new dining pasture. With occasional stops at traditional, kimono clad watering holes. And hot chocolate.

I'll get to the food later, first I just have to get a few comments off my chest and head, and shake the mental cobwebs. Michael Pollan's written an new article about food, the Farm Bill (a US agricultural policy statement with alarmingly important influence), and how we shop/eat/feed. Makes you think all road lead to Rome, or in this case the behind the scenes agri-lobby in Washington. Read it and go support your local organic farmer.

Mommy wars in school. TERRIFYING. Work for an organization like this, see the worst of human behavior, never want to propagate your gene pool again. The rhetorical statement "Can anyone be so stupid? (or insane)" isn't so absurd after all when faced with the kind of attitudes one sees at times.

Exercise has been the lowest priority of mine over the last couple of months. A new personal manifesto, return to a regularly scheduled walk. My jiggly bits are starting to have twins.

Ok, so here's this week's menu:
1. Tuesday night at Sugi: salmon sashimi, onigiri (with bonito), cold tofu, a bite of the softshell crab sushi. Shared 3 bottles of hot sake. Pre-dinner cocktails of a overly spicy bloody mary at the Shangri-la Makati. Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (could have used a third to help us eat the food, share the drinks, and maintain conversation interest)

2. Wednesday night at Premium Wine Exchange and a quick shopping run at Market!Market (with a cookie drop off in Serendra). Tasted spanish wines at the wine bar, most of them were not to my liking however. High acid content, and one wine had no nose. Sniffed long and hard, but couldn't get a sense of anything in that glass. One did have a great nose and made my palate tingle with anticipation, only to grimace in it's vinegary after taste.
I had to do a surreptitious cookie drop off, hoping the red-cheek effect from the wine tasting had passed, felt a bit wired for some strange no-caffeine reason. Chugged a bottle of milk tea hand in hand with juggling bags of highly unnutritious sweet and savory things (egg tarts, walnut pies, pork bbq sticks). Then just as I thought I was finished spending money for the night, I spy a new kiosk, O-bun, baked or toasted siopao from Naga. Tried one, but found it fell short of expectations. Too much dough, and not very tasty dough at that, more like a pasty dough one might expect of fake food displays at a Japanese restaurant. If one eats fake food made of starchy paste.

3. Thursday lunch at Terry's (Segundo Piso)
Shared a vegetarian omelette, tried a manchego chorizo fried dumpling, a couple of tempura-ed (sic) fish (tawilis), and hot chocolate with fried bread. At the deli, bought Century Choice Tuna, wild blueberry reserves, and was piqued by the boxed chocolate tablea - Sison's of Pangasinan.
Food review: the omelette or pattata was what I like about spanish frittatas. A pillow of egg with not so hidden layers of potato and whatever else they add in there. Heavy, hearty, but done exactly as I like it. Would like to have it with a spicy salsa instead of the aoili. The fried dumpling was swimming in oil, and the flavors were not a match; felt heavy on the mouth and in the gullet. The tawilis were interesting in a very native, fishy way. I prefer marinated sardines fillets, or a grilled sardine instead.
The hot chocolate was thick, creamy, and perfect on its own. The fried bread needed a dash more cinnamon or a dollop of blood orange marmalade to counter its starchy, fried mouth feel.

4. and Thursday dinner at Chelsea.
With a zillion comments and reviews stirring in my head from friends who had gone, my expectations were quite low. Yes, it's on soft launch, and yes, they're still getting themselves prepared. No excuses. You open for business, be ready for your customers, stop changing the price/quantity stated on the menu at the last minute by verbal apology. Concept - good. Implementation - below par. Soft launches should be a mind-blowing, mermaid siren calling, lollapalooza-like, make you want to come back, tell your friends how amazing it is and share the love event. Did not want to be annoyed by the sub-par service, nor by wishy washy menu pricing: they say 6 cheeses for P895 only to come back (after you've chosen which cheeses) to say that the new policy is 5 cheeses for the same price. Ticks me off. I don't like being ticked off at dinner. And why am I paying P400 for a large bone with some meat on it, a brown wine sauce, tabbouleh and roasted vegetables, that calls itself a tagine? I'll go back in a year to see if it's finally got its sea-legs.

Pre-dinner hot chocolate fix at Xocolat in Serendra, a quiet, cosy, and pleasant place for creamy hot chocolate with a tempting display of cookies and cakes. I like it more than the other cafes for the fact that I was the only one there and the chairs were comfortable. But perhaps I should have had tea instead. I had had hot chocolate as dessert for lunch, so two hits of cocoa in a row seemed to create a funny rumble in my tummy that night. The drink of emperors and my tummy didn't co-exist happily yesterday.

Top it all off with end of the schoolyear parties, graduation parties, farewell lunches for departing faculty and staff, and another set of parties for something I'm not even remotely sure about. Too much. I'm socialized out. I will probably spend the weekend in semi-isolation just to detox. The Farm anyone?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Chocolate chip cookie Friday

The school PTA holds a mid-morning (diet destructive) bake sale every Friday, three tables laden with home-made goodies, mostly the sweet and fatty kind. The buffet is held out in the reception area, no further than 20 feet from my office, the smells waft throughout the administration offices, tempting ever so gently, and we heed the call, pulling out our wallets and coin purses to buy a cookie, a brownie, maybe a piece of bread slathered with cheese and butter, or for hungrier stomachs a square of macaroni and cheese. One of the PTA moms seems to have a direct line into the Krispy Kreme folks, as we find ourselves laden with boxes of KK every Friday.

Last Friday, feeling the hint of a fever on the horizon, I treat myself to a trio of chocolate chip cookies. They're not from scratch, but they have that homemade feel, full of butter, way too sugary, and loaded with chips. Give me a glass of cold milk and I'm a happy camper.

Later in the afternoon, the grade 3 class organizes a thank you party for the staff. Amidst the musical chairs game and riddle competition, the kids kept pressing food on us, made mostly by moms, yayas, or bought from the canteen. The one thing they made by themselves was a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I give them an A for effort and the ability to keep all the cookies in one shape and size. However, those were some of the hardest cookies I've ever had to gnaw on. Too much flour? Not enough butter? I decline on further attempts to bring home a bunch (not unless they could coat them with catnip for the pleasure of my feline).

I think of the best CC cookies in the past year and the ones that come to mind are the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies brought to the Marketman Eyeball in November (Gourdo's 2006), and the chocolate chip cookies of Roshan's, tasted at the dessert party of Lori (The Living Room May 2006). Hockey pucks of cookies, hefty, dense, but moist, flavorful - definitely butter, but not extremely sweet. And of course good quality chocolate chips. It makes the mouthfeel happy with sweetness and joy.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The binge

"...He held up an empty nacho container.

"'What's my time?" he asked.

"'About two minutes," I said.

Then he let out a tremendous belch.

"'Oh God," he said. "It burns!'"

In the years I lived in Los Angeles, I rarely went out to the ballpark to watch a game. I dragged my poor defenseless mother to watch a football (soccer) game once at the Olympic Stadium, where she really got into the celebration, while I bitched that the players weren't even the best of the two leagues they were hosting. I also promptly got us lost trying to exit from the parking lot, and she continued to suffer while I navigated through South Central towards the Valley (two chinky eyed females driving a red Camry through S. Central a year before the Rodney King riots...). A year later, I was chauffering my dad up and down Malibu, suffering from not so subtle hints, like "I know this nice, Chinese boy, good mainland family, communist party leader, blah blah blah..."

I had been told during those days that it was not about sitting for hours watching a baseball game that's worth the trip, but eating Dodger Stadium dogs and drinking gallons of soda, especially if you were just paying for the cheap seats. Now the cheap seats have turned into an all-you-eat buffet of hotdogs, nachos, popcorn and soda. Neal Pollack writes about the experience in Slate, and that tidbit above only serves to highlight what might be the underlying health problem with American eating today. Packaged, chemically inspired food, lots of it, and eat fast. When did humans become more like cars, filled up with chemicals, and paying the least to get the most?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Food and writing

One a favorite blog, a recent post related the interview of a noted food writer and editor. She comments that prospective food writers must elicit all 5 senses, not merely that of taste.

While a great deal of food writing revolves around cookbooks, travel books (with a focus on food and travel), or blogs and magazines that are food-centric, there are many books, literary in scope which call to the food lover in all of us. Sometimes, it is only the reference to a sweet or savory that reminds us of a writer (Proust would be the most famous of that lot). Growing up, a memorable passage in a semi-autobiographical series about a Yorkshire vet was reading how he managed to down a plate of lard placed in front of him by friendly farmers by partnering each forkful with pickled vegetables.

On a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, a writer came up with his favorite references to food in literature. I agree that Like Water for Chocolate has to be there. But what of Chocolat? I remember my salivary glands going into overdrive while reading that book (it was on a plane going to the US and being deprived of a decent meal may have made it worse).

In the New Yorker, a more in depth essay about food and writing is worth a long leisurely read for lines like:

"Cooking is to our literature what sex was to the writing of the sixties and seventies, the thing worth stopping the story for to share, so to speak, with the reader."

The writer details the four kinds of literary food writing: that used as mere furniture in a piece, the form that takes a social or symbolic reference to the characters, the obsessed reference to food and sharing of it with readers, and finally, food as part of the essence of the book, if not a main character. And he also relates his attempts to recreate dishes portrayed in literature, like the bouillabaisse in McEwan's "Saturday". I've read of similar attempts, having dinners inspired by food from the Bible, or a Shakesperean buffet. I have yet to attempt a recreation from a favorite book.

"The that we find in modern literature ...represents, rather than actually reproduces, our mental life—a modelled illusion, rather than a snapshot of the thing."

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A quick check on the news and travel thoughts

Front page of the PDI has a cover story on two specially trained dogs who sniff out pirated DVDs, brought in by the government agency to help eradicate movie copyright piracy. The dogs were brought to the three malls known to sell pirated DVDs. And yes, they sniffed out the fake dvds. Everyone and his brother know that the vendors in those malls sell fake dvds. You don't need two trained dogs to do so. Go to suspected warehouses, or stand by the docks sniffing at the container vans, and search out the shipments of fake dvds. Don't go to the end point where you know they are going to be! PR BS, argh.

HK Airlines is now flying Clark to HK for US$20 (roundtrip; add taxes, probably paying $50 rt). Sooo tempting. Flights have to be made by the end of June.

Cebu Pacific is again offering the P1 fare, and a friend said that they've added Taiwan to their list of destinations. The application for a visa to Taiwan seems too laborious, as tedious as that of the US. I'm not sure if low cost fares are enough incentive for me to go.

Travel ads touting 5 day trips to Shanghai for $99. ???? What, are you expected to swim there? It says 4 nights in a 4 star hotel, so one hopes there are full, western toilets, not a hole in the ground toilet. I didn't believe it, but more than one travel company was offering the same rate. What's the catch?

Wines from Frescobaldi, Dinner by Chef Gene

Frescobaldi at Cafe Ysabel
April 16, 2007


Crab Ice Cream with Leek Foam and Vanilla Salt
Arugula Salad

Salt Crusted Fish
Fennel Butter Sauce


Roast Suckling Pig
Gnocchi in Pomodoro Sauce
Guava Confit

Grilled Venison Medallions
Fire Grilled Tomatoes, tossed Peas
Risotto of Wild Mushrooms & Saffron
Roasted Chestnut Puree
Caramelized Onions in Puff

Parmesan and Honey Figs

Dulci's Trio
Cassatta Siciliana
Tartufo Gelato
Mele al Forno

Black Olive Truffles

Giuseppe Pariani was the special guest last night at Cafe Ysabel, he was invited by Future Trade to discuss the importation of Frescobaldi wines. I was at the dinner through the invitation of a friend who consults with Future Trade; in turn, I was able to invite another friend to take part in the dinner.

Mr. Pariani, representing the wine producer Frescobaldi, gave us a great deal of insight into the wines we had at the dinner: Pomino Bianco 2004, Nippozano Riserva
Chinati Rufina 2003, and two vintages of the famous Montesodi Chianti Rufina, a 2001 and a 2004. We learned the history of the grapes, some historical family intrigues, and how the grapes are affected by the soil (terroir as the french have labeled it). Chef Gonzalez lent his expert advice on what to expect as we tasted the wines with our meal, how the notes might change, creaminess to enhance flavors, or the acidity to cut the sweetness.

A wonderful meal with highlights including the tender salted fish, the perfectly grilled venison (rare and juicy), the tartuffo, the black olive truffles, and the general sense of well-being after an amazing meal with interesting conversation from a group that enjoys excellent food and wine. Frescobaldi will probably be easier for me to remember now that I've had an evening learning more about the grapes and region they are cultivated in, reading the literature, relating the flavor of the wines to the food. I think I understand the meaning of an austere grape, one that is masochistic, and offers a subtle platform of enjoyment. One small step towards understanding the wine.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Dings, bangs, cuts

I am mortal, hear me whimper, see me bleed, feel me flinch.

Sailing looks (!) like an elegant sport, sails afurl, the boat moving without any gas motor along a course defined by the team or a coach. Actually manning a boat seems to be a totally different animal. For the last few Sundays, I've been teetering on board a small one man dinghy, attempting to find beauty in sailing. There are moments of sheer fun, catching the wind at the right angle, sailing briskly along. And to balance it off, there are the .. shall I call them Batman TV series moments? The ones that go Wham! Bam! Swoosh!

On my first outing, I capsized. In Manila Bay. Blech! Yurk!
Add to that at least 3 bonks on the head when forgetting to duck while the sail changed direction. Pow!

On my second day out in the water, I first had to get the rig up properly, which nearly found me without a right hand. I let go of the rope when releasing the sail and wham! a metal clasp hit my hand, leaving me bruised, and worried over a small cut (tetanus!!!). I also asked for one of the older coaches so I didn't feel so insecure out there, but that still didn't stop me from being beaned on the noggin once.

While holding my course, I saw one of the more experienced sailors, rigging, jibbing, tacking, taking it on by herself. That's what I needed to remind me what I am aiming for, control on the water, just me and my dinghy.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Egg salad flavors

How to feed a host of people with 12 eggs:

Boil the eggs for 5 to 7 minutes. After a dunk in a cold ice bath, shell them and place in a big bowl. Take a pastry cutter and press into the boiled eggs, creating an instant egg hash. Cut up the eggs until they're as fine as you want the basic egg salad to be, then fold in a cup of good quality mayonnaise. Salt and pepper to taste. I will usually lessen the mayo and salt to avoid overseasoning. Keep in mind you're creating a buffet of flavors for the basic salad.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Have on hand a selection of ingredients to add to the salad. For example, I laid out small bowls of spiced mayonnaise (one with wasabi, one with chilli sauce), tarragon mustard, paprika (the paste form from Hungary), crumbled blue cheese, grated parmesan, ground red and green peppercorns, diced celery/green onions/jalapenos/cucumbers (a green salad to add to the white salad), tomatoes, black olives, marinated sun dried tomatoes, and some lettuce so that people on a low carb diet may use it instead of bread (think burrito). I also had a platter of biscuits, toast, and bread. If you want to show off some of the new salts available in the market, get some Himalayan pink salt, or the black salt from Bali, along with sea salt from Bretagne. And for those who like it, serve a dipping bowl of truffle oil.

Serve and feed at least 10 people. The fun is all in their ability to make interesting combinations of food. Have a backup batch of egg salad as folks tend to try something and tell their friend, "try this!" only to find they can't remember how they came up with it. Merriment ensues.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Dangerous guests

My mother was a travelwhore, she doesn't mind my calling her that since she's in her 80's and finds it amusing that the "younger" generation seem to use words like slut, whore, bitch with so much candor. My mother used to teach us all the proper definitions of curse words, it was important that when we'd curse, we cursed with knowledge. She made my brother do an entire week's worth of research on 'fuck', so much so that to this day he rarely uses it. Says he only wanted to when it was illicit, but not when one's mother tells him to use it so long as he knows what he's saying.

She'd drag the entire family around the country with her, especially on our summer holidays. We'd pack the station wagon (we had a green - then it turned red - Datsun station wagon), and head off on some trip loaded with clothes, WetOnes, and sick bags for long drives to Sorsogon or Ilocos. The only times we'd fly or take the ferry was when we'd go with her to Mindanao.

We had our share of disastrous holidays with her, but the one that I remembered last night was the time my sister wrought havoc on the hotel bathroom in Legaspi, making it impossible to use, flooding the floor, and to make things worse, my dad came down with some horrible fever, requiring us to stay for a few days more (with the broken, unusable toilet). My brother and I would escape into town, to get as close to Mayon volcano as possible, then reluctantly return to the hotel hoping that the hellish trip was over and we could drive home (possibly to deal with car sickness along the way).

The reason I remembered this bathroom fiasco was finding myself locked in the Peninsula bathroom, near Nielsen's at midnight. I had arrived a few minutes after midnight, and went to use the facilities, only to find myself unable to get out. The poor bathroom attendant tried her best to jiggle the handle open, but both of us were faced with the truth: we were locked in. I called the hotel management who sent over the hotel "engineers", who began jiggling the handle without much success. The door knob was jammed and that little metal tongue wouldn't budge from its nest. We suggested removing the door from its hinges, but there wasn't a way for them to do it from the other side. Eventually, they began to throw themselves (or a hammer, or something really heavy) against the thick wooden door. I found the approach a bit primitive, and noisy; it took them awhile to finally break the door down, the plate falling off at the same time. Management and service staff were quite apologetic, not that they could have foreseen that the door would do something so inhospitable as stubbornly lock while a guest was using the toilet. I suppose if I had been more hysterical (my friend T suggested I remained calm and mellow because of all the wine I had drunk through the day) I could have gotten some discount for the inconvenience. But my only desire at the time was to get out of the bathroom!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Mortal sin

I spy with my nitpicky eye a typo, more like a paragraphical error, in a menu at a local cafe. Two new items have the exact description listed even though one has a prosciutto topping and the other, chorizo. As I decide on my order (I decide on a vegetarian version - yes, as J said recently, veggies fear me), I point out the error to the waiter, saying to him in Tagalog that the menu needs to be fixed. While I doubt I'm the only one who's noticed this, and I also doubt the ability of the waiter to take action regarding this matter, I am taken aback, no, shocked in my foodie gut, to hear him say (also in Tagalog) "It's ok maam, they're the same thing anyway." Prosciutto and chorizo are the same? In what dimension have they turned into the same?!

No, there was no minor atomic explosion at this sacrilegious (or is egregious?) blather. I merely raise an eyebrow, and tell him that no, prosciutto is not, repeat not, chorizo. And that he better tell the management to fix the menu typo.

However, I do text a friend of the owner to share in the horror of his waiterly sins. She's the one who responded with the subject heading of the day. An email to request proper training of staff in the porcine sausage/ham terminology is on its way.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Frozen dinners

Heat, 32 degrees celcius, i'm a regular puddle of sweat. It's not a pretty sight, and I'm not a happy camper.

I'd love to just hide out in my bedroom with the ac on full blast, but that'll kill the electric bill and add to the ozone hole.

My short term resolution then is to eat cool. Salads, light stuff that doesn't sit low on the tummy. And healthy, right?

HA! Easier said than done. Last two nights, I've fallen off the wagon, and eaten, well, sort of not so healthy stuff. I bought the groceries, stocked up on vegies and fruits. But I couldn't muster up the energy to lift a knife. So I did the next best thing, opened up the freezer, pulled out a pint of HD Vanilla and ate it up. That was my only meal of the day.

Tonight, i had an avocado dish waiting for me, but my attention went towards the frozen bowl of grapes instead. Cold, icy spheres of sweet red seedless grapes. Placed the bowl in direct line with the rotating electric fan, and that added a cool breeze towards me. Edible ac.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies