Monday, December 31, 2007

chocolate love

I had gone to the Ferry Building while in San Francisco a week back, bought several bars of chocolate from the Scharfenberger store. I had plans of making chocolate truffles, but never got to use my stash. Instead I ended up buying some good 60% cacao chocolate from Ghirardelli, heavy cream from Trader Joe's along with some cocoa for dusting last night. As I rolled out the ganache into non-round baubles of chocolate truffles, my fingers softening from handling the cream, I enjoyed the cold weather; no need to refrigerate the ganache much in this temperature. The byline of a popular candy came to mind "melts in your mouth, not in your hands," although the homemade truffles barely made it to a plate, they were melting in the mouths of friends and family impatiently waiting for their share. No chance to even take a photo! Oh well.

Tonight, not wanting to slave over the stove, we opened a box of See's Old Fashioned chocolate candies, the nuts and chews variety. There is a surfeit of choice for chocolate candies in the US, high and low end alike. But our family loves the See's. It's always a consistently high quality product without having to pay through the nose. My mom's favorite is the english toffee, my sister and I also love the almond royales. My dad, diabetic that he is, is now infamous among family member for inhaling two boxes of chocolates. Any combination of nut and chew and chocolates work for me, just no liquers please.

I'm saving the precious Scharfenberger for home. May not be able to make the truffles unless I fashion a polar environment in my tropical kitchen. But they won't be wasted!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Sin city

Second week of my vacation, I've flown up to SF from LA, and am now spending a couple of days in Vegas, yes, Sin City itself. But in the winter, all sinning is probably put aside for staying warm inside the hotels and casinos. It's effing cold, people! I feel like a fashionable Michelin man/woman/person. I have to wear at least 4 layers and I still feel like a popsicle when I make my way back to the hotel.

So far, my only "sinful" activity has been brunch at Bouchon at the Venetian. Mimosa, eggs au gratin, and a pain de chocolat with coffee. Tourists may come to Vegas for the gambling, I'm here for the food! Nearly every major chef has a restaurant here: Daniel Bouloud, Joel Robuchon, Mario, Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, the guy from Aureole has a branch here too.... If only I had a thousand dollars and a week to eat at each place.

The main show I went to see was Spamalot, the Monty Python musical. Take MP and the Holy Grail, add new songs, twist some things around for the Vegas setting and you have an hour and 45 minutes of enjoyable, slapstick, sing-along laughter. My tummy hurts, not to mention the pain from smiling for so long. Pure silliness with the Knights of Ni, the killer rabbit, knights who can't figure out what their grail quest is, and a lot of Terry Gilliam's great animation from the movie. Worth every penny and frozen toes getting to the Wynn Casino/Hotel for the show!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

9:25, 12/22/07

A moment of quiet in an otherwise busy, stressful, harried, jetlagged week. I sit in the corner office of my aunt's home in very chilly San Francisco, high on top of a hill, where on a clear morning like today's, you could see the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge as you drive down the road.

I spend a quick morning at the Ferry Building, buying cheese and chocolates (some to give away, the rest to share with loved ones, and a tidbit or two for myself), resting at Lili's for a bowl of rich butternut squash soup and half a sandwich, ham and fontina cheese, drizzled with truffle oil in a lovely chewy ciabatta. I shared a table with a mother and daughter team who were in the middle of shopping as well, and their dad and other daughter soon joined in bringing a rich and cheesy mac/cheese from Eat, the deli down the market. As we noshed, I found out the family was from Philly, taking a break from the weather (although for this tropical gal, this was still too cold for my blood). The girls were well-mannered and enjoyed each bite of their sandwich and the chips, saying they were the best they ever had.

Carolers from a local school sang beautifully from the mezzanine, warming the cockles of the shoppers' hearts. We stood, craning our necks to watch, or stood close by, near the Scharffenberger chocolate store to listen, applaud after each song, blocking a lot of the walkway, but no one was annoyed. It was a good way to offset the overloaded Christmas buying rush, listening to songs of joy, songs of faith, songs of cheer.

Walking down Market, I take a rather long detour down California, through Chinatown, and then down to Union Square, where I find myself in between some of the nation's behemoth stores: Macy's (ever faithful), the newly opened Barney's, Bloomingdales (which shares the Westside Emporium with Nordstrom's), and Neiman Marcus. But I don't even attempt to join the flood, my goal is the small alley called Maiden Lane, where I know the London Sole shop is found. I will not complain about shoe prices in Manila again, since a pair of ballerina flats (in the cutest of designs, but still! $250 for a pair???) costs too much. But I am swayed by one that is rugged enough for Manila walking, the treads being made of rubber tire treads, so the saleslady says it won't ever wear out.... I should have told her that I just had the tires of my dad's car changed, so I think rubber tires do wear out. Nevertheless, my shopping budget is severely limited and I still have to buy other essentials. And I'm meeting my best friend T at the SF Museum of Modern Art in 10 minutes!!!

After a detour for other essentials at Ross, I walk through the Yerba Buena park and enter the MOMA. T and I have been friends since we were in elementary school, have gone through highs and lows and life changes of all kinds. A cousin recently said to her that she's like an adopted daughter of my family. We visit several other stores, looking for gifts for friends and family, chatting away endlessly, catching up and updating one another on work, life, love, etc. We are also trying to decide where to have dinner, since we share a lifelong goal of always eating well. After a bit of debating the merits of cuisines in the city, we are recommended by her friend to a Persian restaurant in the outskirts of North Beach. Maykadah Persian Cuisine, on Grant and Green Sts, is a warm, inviting restaurant, with a perfect menu - it doesn't overwhelm you, you can see what they are good at, and there are enough choices for the carnivore or vegetarian. We had been told that the filet mignon kebab was a good choice and we also tried the eggplant (a lighter version of baba ghanoush), a lamb with red lentils stew, and a large dish of yogurt. I also ordered the "dough", which is their yogurt drink, unsweetened with ground dried mint in it. Service is quick, but not forced, and they also serve a free set of mint with radishes, a square of feta and butter to whet your appetite. We were truly satiated by the good food.

Being in the Little Italy of the city, we weren't deterred by our full tummies not to have dessert. Gelato stores at every block convince you to come in and have something, even if it's freezing cold outside. T sticks with her tried and true combination of chocolate and hazelnut, while I want to try the eggnog with the lemon cream. While the lemon was perfect, the eggnog was soon a tiresome flavor on the tongue, not to mention it was rather hard for a gelato, not as creamy as I would have liked. Across the street, we peered into the italian bakery selling rows of custard filled baked goods, hemming and hawing over buying a canolli or not; eventually I just photographed it for a mental keepsake.

From my memories of trips to San Francisco years ago, Decembers were always foggy, and rather scary to drive at night. But today was a beautiful day, sunny with clear skies, and the drives to and from my aunt's hilltop home meant beautiful scenery throughout. I look down from the car onto the star-like streets lit up with Christmas lights, and I am content.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fear factor

A friend and I share the same gripe: why do they always use the balut for reality shows featuring the Philippines, particularly for "challenge" events? The poor balut. It gets no respect. Well I for one hereby state my love for the ugly duckling. Yes, it's not the prettiest thing in the world to open up a shell and see a half-formed duck embryo staring at you, especially if the beak is there, feathers... ok, you get the drift. But it's a tasty thing. And if you are lucky enough to have parents who do eat balut and train you from babyhood to eat it, enjoy it, beat your breast like a champion after (hahahahaha, no, seriously, no chest beating, just some tummy rubbing after eating too many of them when you could down more than 3, not to mention groaning for the comfort of your bed), well then you, my friend, are one of us. Baluteaters.

Revel in a hot, large gray egg, particularly those from the balut capital, Pateros in Rizal, not too far from Metro Manila. They look like young charcoal balls, an ivory grey color, very luxe when it's in suede and covering yon Louis Quince chair or Chippendale (not the dancing, tux-bow wearing kind).

Look for the round end, tap on it's hard shell till a crack helps you unpeel a hole, enough to check for soup. Yes, verily I say! It's got soup! For these eggs are boiled, and some crazy chemistry takes place and we've got soup in the egg. Sip soup gently, add some salt (less than a pinch, between a dash and a whisper), sip some more. No gulping, it's hot remember?

After most of the soup is gone, peel back a few more millimeters of the shell, see if you've got the white or the yolk. Add some vinegar with chilli peppers soaking it, or more salt, whatever takes your fancy. If you are a dainty eater, take thee a fork or a spoon and nibble on some of the yummy fatty boiled yolk. Poke fork tines through to see how big of a duck you've got in there and if you're squeamish, poke fast and mix yolk with the duckling and it won't be so bad. Really.

Otherwise, eat each section with care, I like to eat the yolk first, with a drizzle of vinegar and salt. Then I add more vinegar and gulp down the duckling like an oyster. It does feel like an oyster, a boiled oyster. Hmmm, maybe I should try adding some caviar the next time... Ok, then the last bit, some people don't eat it at all, the hard white dome that probably is some placenta thingy. I nibble on it, and while waiting for my dad to finish his balut, I sometimes finish the entire white stuff. It has no flavor, it's mainly a dense ball of nibbliness.

Finish off with any leftover soup at the bottom of the shell if you didn't do the job right in the beginning.

Give yourself a few minutes to feel the effects of all that cholesterol in your system and take it slow while you think of having another duckiness. Drink some hot water or a shot of gin to cleanse the system, then go for the next egg.


Friday, December 14, 2007

In one day

... Saturday, Dec. 15, to be exact, you can:

1. go to the Salcedo market to buy bagnet, sukang iloko, and an abel blanket at the first Ilocos fair (in tandem with the regular Saturday market);

2. get a tattoo at the Dutdutan Tattoo Expo, PTTC, corner of Roxas Boulevard and Buendia.

3. have lunch with friends at Angel's Corner in Greenhills (or debate whether to go all the way to Banawe for crab at Fook Yuen)

4. Sit in on the Why Not 2.0 Forum at Fort Bonifacio

5. Do last minute shopping at the pinoy goods expo in front of Makati Shangri-la Hotel.

6. Dash back to Katipunan for dinner with friends at In-Yo.

7. Or stay home, have the house cleaned, trash thrown, cat groomed, and catch up on sleep.

Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Movie trivia quiz - What's the connection between The Golden Compass and Elizabeth (whose sequel The Golden Age is now showing in Manila)?

While you wrack your trivia brain cells on that, here are my reasons for being thrilled with the upcoming movie season and with an upcoming trip:

- having just watched Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises (with two fellow Viggo-philes at that), I'm hoping he'll finally get noticed for his acting. Yes, he plays his typical laconic self, but there's understated humor interspersed with all the violence and degradation, and we 3 groupies all agreed that when this dvd comes out, we are going to be using the freeze frame option on our dvd players a lot!!!

- Daniel Day Lewis is back in a new film since Gangs of New York (has it really been 5 years since that movie came out?). "There will be Blood" is the Paul Anderson directed piece based on Upton Sinclair's "Oil!", reviews online are positive, the movie's already getting award's buzz, but I'm there just for DDL. The man can do no wrong, at least not on screen. Guilty pleasure is watching him run around in Last of the Mohicans; my favorite scene is his dialogue with Madeleine Stowe's character watching the stars. He's got this craggy profile that makes my knees go into jellylike spasms, wugawugawuga.

And as I will be in the land of Lala soon, I am so looking forward to movies! fresh out of the box! oscar worthy! Cineplexes here I come! Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp! No Country for Old Men with Bardem! Diving Bell and the Butterfly! ! ! !

(Answer to the trivia: Daniel Craig. He stars in Golden Compass, and had a teensy role in the first Elizabeth with Cate Blanchett as John Blanchard, the assassin. Thanks to Jessica Zafra's blog entry for pointing out the reference to his scene, dark, hooded, walking through the mist for her royal blood.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

In the bone

A childhood memory: rainy day, possibly a typhoon, called out from playing in my room to have lunch with the family, dash out to the dining room to make sure my brother doesn't usurp my seat on the right hand side by my father's chair, attempt to get the cat down from the dining table, resume sitting while the meal is set before us all. It's soup, but not just any soup, a bulalo, with lots of meat and vegetables, ginger bobbing in the broth, cooked long and slow till the meat falls from the bone. My goal however, is not the meat, but what's inside the bone. Marrow. Soft, jelly, tasty, soupy, succulent, rich, makes my tummy happy marrow. I hope that one of the portions with the bone will be for me, and I send up a second hope out there that the bone I get will have a good chunk of marrow I can scoop out with the flat of the knife. My plans for that rich jiggling blop is to top it on my steaming bowl of rice, add some broth, and eat it simply. As we got older, my brother and sister stopped or just resolved not to clog their arteries with it, but my dad and I continue to enjoy a good rich bulalo with the marrow as our proverbial cherry on top.

As I've gotten older, I've also learned how wonderful roasted marrow is, and with a sprinkle of fleur de sel, some hearty bread, what a meal it is! Locally, there are a few places to get your marrow fix (Cibo used to have it), and if you have a super duper urge for it, I say go to Je Suis Gourmand for one heck of a marrow plate. A month ago, 2 friends and I went over to appease our marrow urges. K and I ordered one each, and were blown away by the size of the serving. This is no crosscut of bone with perhaps a teaspoon, if you're lucky a tablespoon, of gooey yumminess. This was a femur! A leg bone, cut down the shaft, roasted and served with both halves on display. Each long crevice shimmies with marrow crying out to be eaten. (All food lovers see their food as crying to be eaten!) We gratefully acquiesced to their wishes. Dabble a bit or a chunk on your toast and chomp your way to pure joy. There's enough to feed two or three nibblers, but K and I are no pansy eaters. We finish our bones, mop up the juices and roar with womanly pride. Rowr. I bet our friend wished he had ordered the marrow! K outdid us all that night by having the foie after the marrow; while I was happy with my arugula salad. But I did have two kinds of ice cream for dessert!

Je Suis Gourmand
G/f, Net One Center Bldg
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
Ph: 815-8801/02

Monday, December 10, 2007

Damn tonsils

This is the worst week to be sick, specifically sore throat sick. Can't swallow, can't taste. Add to that the neverending flow of goodies, sweets, savories deposited on my desk practically each hour. I've been propositioned with brownies, blueberry cheesecake, suman with latik, a cupcake, and birthday cake with orange-glo spaghetti (the pinoy kind with hotdogs!). So unfair!

die bunny die

A quick run to the bookstore this weekend and found something I never thought would be available here: The Bunny Suicides by A. Riley (ok, just the 2008 calendar, but still!). For those uninitiated to the morbid antics of Mr. Riley's wabbits, he draws cartoons solely depicting suicidal options of bland looking rabbits. Rabbits may be cool and collected on the outside, but inside they are a seething, angsty, insecure bunch. At least Riley's are. And they have figured out that man's new-fangled technology can be used to self-destruct.

If you're interested in buying the Suicidal Bunny books, they are available online, or check out a short clip on youtube to get your first dose of killer bunny humor.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Home away from home

I'm writing this on an early Sunday morning, 4:30 am to be exact, in Xiamen, China. This is my third home, where I spent 2 years of my life, where I learned another language, made friends, tried new adventures, and learned a lot about myself.

Xiamen is the largest city in Fujian province, on the southeastern coast of China. It's right across the Taiwan strait, and has a significant economic role in the region, not to mention being the direct source of many overseas Filipino-chinese families. It is not the capital of the province (Fuzhou has that distinction), but in this small corner of the chinese world, this is the place to be for business, education, and pleasure.

The two years I lived here were mainly spent in Xiamen University or Xiada, over by the then new foreign student dorm, Cai Qing Jie Lou, right across from the overseas chinese language school. We'd have class from 8 to 2 everyday, learning grammar, culture, and trying to learn the 4 tones used in speaking putonghua or mandarin chinese. We also struggled to write the characters, some 3000 of the basic ones, too many others to fully absorb. I was one of the longer residents, and saw many a roommate through my stay on the 7th floor. My primary room was #713, had canadian, japanese and german roommates. J and S are still good friends to this day, and we keep in touch by email or visits when we chance upon one another throughout life.

Since leaving in 1996, I've come back only once before; I could see the imminent changes on the city then, and now am fully amazed at how much I don't recognize in this little town that could. The airport works, the road network is expansive, most of the pokey little villages near the beach are gone to make way for the new apartment developments or a highway; there are 4 major international hotels, many more independent ones that look modern and welcoming. No more fears of questionable toilets that looked like the source of evil, carpets that look alive, or pisspots by the door.

There's a bit more global interaction now, a scatter of Italian restaurants, a german supermarket, and for the pinoys, a SM. Within that mall, Walmart has one of two outlets. Many bars and clubs are jointly owned by expats and chinese partners, and it's not unusual to find a good choice in any general store of items that we once hoarded from visits to HK (toilet paper no longer feels like it was reused from students' notebooks).

In the three days I've been visiting, friends and I toured a couple of regular sites for all Xiamen visitors to see: Gulangyu island and the temple of Nanputuo. We hiked trails, took the cable car to an aviary, were thrilled with the display of cactus in the botanical gardens, and giggled at silly english signs. As for our food choices, we'd save a bit by having breakfast at our friend's apt. followed by a late lunch/early dinner at some of the local eateries, then cruise the night life till the wee hours of the morning. That's sort of why I'm writing this at 4 am. While I have great student budget memories of cheap eats around town, we tried a few other things including an all you can eat hotpot place, a theme restaurant based around what they'd have served during the Cultural revolution (with waitresses dressed in throwback army wear), and a 24 hour hawker place for soup and roasted chicken bits. My fellow travellers were not able to stand hot and spicy food, so our one foray into sichuan cuisine was sort of half-hearted. I was all set to cry, sweat and sniffle my way through the dishes as I love a spicy meal. But not alone. One wants companionship through culinary suffering! Ah well, I got one dish that only I could have, the rest were all milder, albeit tasty.

The weather has been perfect, the main part of autumn is in full gear. I've been able to use a few sweaters and my coat, and wish I could bring home a week's worth of the cold temperature to save up for next summer in Manila. This is the perfect time to hike around Xiamen's sites, and drink large bottles of beer with your spicy soup. For the cost of US$0.30 you can have a liter of beer! Cheaper than water, and safer at times, given this is China.

The weekend's been a nice short holiday from all the hullabaloo in Manila. I'm glad I have a friends who have moved here, to visit again soon, and to revisit that part of me that is of this land. I don't think it's the place to go for everyone, but it's a charming spot, and if you see me having a plate of steamed jiaozi (pork and vegetable dumplings), you'll know I'm feeling nostalgic for my youth in China.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies