Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The new jellybeans

Ronald Reagan made jelly beans the candy du jour, boosted Jelly Belly's company profile and made it a globally consumed item, great for packing in one's balikbayan box. For the Obama generation, I forecast the President-elect's favorite salted caramel chocolates from Fran's chocolates in Seattle, will be the food legacy of his government. New York Times has an article explaining the stages of mass consumption of this somewhat esoteric sweet, but salted caramels are now in Walmart, so it's definitely mass market. I haven't seen it hit Filipino stores yet (when will Starbucks bring over the salted caramel hot chocolate???), but I look forward to seeing it featured. I have had to savor the small bag of salted caramels I bought from the cheese store in the States, but that's only going to last a week or less. I could make it, but..

Sweet and spicy

The blog, Wandering Chopsticks, is a great resource for Vietnamese/Indochinese/Pan-asian recipes and for all her tips and reviews of restaurants in California. Two weeks ago I had read her post on how to make a Laotian pork larb, a spicy sauteed pork with herbs dish served with cabbage or sticky rice. Larb (also spelled larp, laab, laap) is also found in many Thai restaurant menus, and can range from mildly spicy to searingly hot, depending on the intensity of the fish sauce, nuoc mam, used in the mix. Wandering Chopsticks broke down the recipe into three parts: the toasted rice powder, the nuoc mam, and then the larb itself. The individual parts make for a fantastic whole, and I put it all together with some tweaking based on what ingredients I found locally.

There was no problem toasting and grinding the rice, and a half cup of jasmine rice makes enough toasted powder to store for other dishes. I did adjust the nuoc mam by adding bagoong balayan (the intensely fishy fermented sauce) to the mix - a couple of teaspoons of that along with patis (local fish sauce), a dash of sugar, a paste of Thai chillis and garlic, a teaspoon of vinegar, and a squeeze of calamansi - that should suffice to spice up the ground pork! I browned half a kilo of ground pork, drained it in the sink to remove as much of the pork juice, added the nuoc mam to the pork and spooned the meat onto the serving plate. Two tablespoons of the rice powder soaks up some of the moisture remaining in the meat, but also adds a lovely nutty flavor to the dish. Chopped up some thai chillis (yes for extra heat), a light chiffonade of coriander leaves and basil (I searched for mint but was unsuccessful), and a wedge of raw cabbage to scoop the tasty pork salad. This is a favorite for sure. Easy to make, and relatively healthy. For non-pork eaters, use ground turkey or chicken or maybe a seafood of choice.

From heat to sweet, I had to throw together a mango dessert for a party, and was not as well prepared as I should have been. For one, I didn't have the main ingredient! I dashed off to Farmer's Market early on a Saturday morning, grabbed a kilo of mangoes, and a bag of otap biscuits (a local flaky sugary biscuit). Since the dessert needed to be frozen, I was hoping that a few hours would suffice, but had doubts it would be firm enough to serve properly. The recipe I was using came from my friend I, who couldn't be at the party, and I was making the recipe so she'd be there in spirit (and in our tummy, which is a rather odd thing to want, but hey, it's to share our annual gathering with her in some fashion). She normally makes this dessert with crushed graham crackers and cream and condensed milk. I did make changes - first otap vs graham crackers, and the addition of pastillas to the cream. It turned into a tres leches (three milk) dessert - all purpose cream, a can of condensed milk, and mashed up pastillas blended together to make a very thick custard. It's basically a layered dessert, the crushed biscuits, topped with the mangos and then smothered in the custard. Repeat until it's high enough for the container, then stick into a freezer for a few hours. Preferably overnight to firm it up, but in this case, we managed with about 4 hours of freeze. I was pleased how the flaky crushed otaps worked with the sweet mangoes and creaminess of the custard. And the addition of the pastillas does take the dessert a bit over the top, but was totally worth it. Now why hasn't anyone made mango flavored pastillas candies?? It would work I tell you!

With a full tummy, good friends, healthy family members, I look forward to 2009, and put all the challenges of 2008 behind me.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lady luck

My friend Cam and I tried something neither of us had ever done before, we played the lotto. Now, I've bet on the lottery in the US before, it's relatively straight forward, either choose numbers or have the machine do it for you; the other option is a scratch card, typically get three of the same numbers or prizes and that's the prize you win for that card. The local lottery, however, seemed to be a bit more complicated and I had never attempted it. Cam and I figured we'd test our luck for fun, after having a nice long massage over the holidays.

We went to a Lotto office, and saw the long lines and people filling out cards. We hadn't been sure of the choices, but one of Cam's masseuses told us how to play the easiest option, EZ2: choose two numbers and bet P10. She said that December 29 was the festival day of her town, so she asked us to bet 12-29 for her. We got an EZ2 card and started reading the directions. Boy, they sure make the rules a lot more complicated than it seems! We had to read it a few times, ask help from one fellow standing in line and even got directions from the ladies tending to the bets. Yikes!

We filled out an EZ2 card, bet P20, one for the masseuse and one for ourselves. Then we figured we'd go all out and try the Power Lotto! The big daddy of the lottery, if you get all 5 numbers plus another lucky number right, you win P50million! We definitely got a bit confused about that one, had to void a couple of the panels since we thought we were supposed to choose 6 numbers. And then we forgot to choose a lucky number and the ladies had to tell us to choose them before paying. Since the Power Lotto is a bigger pot, we had to pay more for it too. Two sets of numbers cost us P100 or P50 for each bet. Our total layout - P120.

The EZ2 is staged everyday, actually I discovered there's a 2 pm draw and a 9 pm draw! Wow, that's a lot of betting going on, and all for a pot of P4000. The Power Lotto is only drawn every Tuesday, but there are some variable lottos drawn on a daily basis (some require 4 numbers, some 6 numbers, a whoozy choice). Anyway, as of tonight, none of the bets we made came up as the winning set. It was an interesting experience and not too expensive, but I'm not going to be standing in line everyday to bet a tenner or a fifty once a week to try my luck.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Fusion food

Wandering through supermarket aisles may be considered odd by some, but I admit to doing my fair share. I especially enjoy taking tours of supermarkets or drug stores or even hardware stores in countries I travel to for the first time. It can tell you a lot about the local culture, not to mention finding items you are familiar with at home, stocked in a supermarket thousands of miles away; it helps with any homesickness you feel when travelling.

Taking in the wares at Rustan's supermarkets over the holidays I noticed they've added a whole selection of French imports. I perused the packaged foods, noted a lot of coucous and herbs for cooking couscous, chestnut spreads, sea salt from Guerande, Riz d'Or bouillon cubes, and.. wait... El Paso Guacamole??? Er, ok, so it has some french words on it, but when did a product with Tex-mex roots become a French import? I guess since it sat next to the Harisa herbs for couscous, french cuisine is no longer xenophobic, at least not here in Asia.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

PAWS Week 3

10 am to 2:30 pm. Ran with Hazel in La Vista for 30 minutes, noticed she was willing to do a sit a couple of times when the other dogs were not around.
JI gave us instructions on beginning crate training (getting the dog to go into the crate using a treat and clicker), and how to get the dogs to go into a down position (belly down on the ground, as well as all four paws). We were also taught how to use a tug toy.
Finally got Hazel to do sits with the help of treats, but getting her to do a Down was much harder. JI had to show me a scooping/bowling motion to get her used to the idea of going down on her belly. But it's still not a total success. She is getting used to the idea of sitting to get her treat, and when I used the dog bed, she climbed up on the bed, sat, and stayed for a bit before I gave her the release. As for the crate training, we did succeed in having her climb in a few times with the help of the liver treat, but she doesn't like going in her crate when we have to put them in it during the ride back to the shelter. Maybe she knows she won't be able to play? She's trainable, but she is very distracted, she loves new smells, reminds me of a detective, blood-hound puppy!!!

Objective for the week - work on the down, and keep working on the bond with the puppy.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Gullibility or why we never learn from history

"The real mystery in the Madoff story is not how naïve individual investors such as myself would think the investment safe, but how the risks and warning signs could have been ignored by so many financially knowledgeable people, ranging from the adviser who sold me and my sister (and himself) on the investment, to the highly compensated executives who ran the various feeder funds that kept the Madoff ship afloat."

A snippet from an interesting article (Fooled by Ponzi and Madoff) about gullibility, Ponzi schemes, and other forms of fraud by Stephen Greenspan (as he noted down, he is not related to ex-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan), professor and writer on topics such as human gullibility, who fell victim to the recent Madoff scheme.

Written from the perspective of a victim, he breaks down why humans fall prey to these forms of dubious financial transactions. The writer explains that there are four primary factors involved in why people invest - situation, cognition, personality and emotion - and the historical big picture of international scams (other than Ponzi) that feed on human gullibility. Or perhaps we forget basic greed is all part of it.

I had two reactions to reading this article: when I opened my email this morning, I received a message from someone "G.O" who was willing to purchase a piece of jewelry that I posted on a seemingly respectable auction board, G.O. said he'd send the money through his bank, then demanded I send him my bank details (swift code etc). Alarm bells went off and I emailed back that there was no way I would send those details and I was listing him as a spammer. A second email later in the day from a trusted friend warned several of us of a sheep in wolf's clothing; I wrote back that I hadn't picked up any diabolical vibes from the person, but as I read Mr. Greenspan's article I realized that part of it was that I had fallen into the trap of at least two of the factors, specifically situation. We had been introduced by a trusted friend and respected community leader, and the setting was one where we wouldn't suspect the person of any nefarious doings in his past.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Sides

When I hosted my friend S way back in the 1990's for her first visit to the Philippines, she was aghast at how much we used sauces, dousing our foods in ketchup or soy sauce or patis with garlic or chilli. Having lived in China for more than a year by then, she could see the similarities and influences, but she didn't quite understand why there was a need to add a layer of flavor to something.

I think of S at times when having a meal and mixing up a side sauce, usually soy sauce or fish sauce, a paste of garlic or a squeeze of calamansi. When I know something might be a bit on the bland side, a crushed Thai bird-eye chilli always helps. For a simple meal of tofu and rice, I mix sesame oil, ginger and a light soy sauce to keep me from losing interest in what I am eating. I guess a good side sauce is to highlight flavors or textures and to avoid gustatory malcontentment.

Inspired by a recent online recipe for nuoc mam, the Vietnamese fish sauce spiced with chillis and herbs, I ground a paste of garlic and a Thai bird-eye chilli with some salt, added it to a liquid blend of fish bagoong (that uber-pungent fermented soup, which looks less than appetizing in its grey sludge), patis (yes, that's three sources of salt), vinegar, calamansi, and a fresh jalapeno sliced in two. So that makes three salty flavors, two spices, and two souring agents. Oh and don't forget the garlic. I left the blend in the refrigerator overnight and tested it on my dinner of sauteed pork and rice. It's hot, salty but doesn't make my mouth itch, and savoury. This could be addicting.

Monday, December 22, 2008

PAWS Sunday training, weeks 1 and 2

(Am taking part in a Sunday stray dog rehabilitation training, ten weeks of working with rescued dogs at the PAWS shelter. Have had two Sunday sessions and was told to start logging in a diary/journal.)

Week 1, December 14. Worked with two dogs - Makisig and Hermione. Makisig is an adult male, stocky, brown. Pulls like heck and not interested in walking straight, leans a lot. Hermione is about 6 to 8 months old, has some beagle mix I think. She responds to food, but doesn't like to be petted, and has to be on leash at all times. Session covered basic bonding with dog using food and clicker, learned how to use the clicker properly (dog must be facing you when you click, 1.5 secs to give treat. Positive reinforcement). JI gave us top three tips working with dogs - consistency, timing, and one other thing, ack. Especially important with the rescued dogs, to rebuild (or start building) a bond with the dogs, gain level of trust.
Attempted to learn luring to teach dog how to sit. Hermione managed one sit, but no further. Very distracted by everything in the grass, the other dogs. Treat used - hotdogs - should cut them up instead of squishing them out of casing.

Visited Hermione on Wed 7 am before she was fed. We walked around grass lot, used peanut butter on disposable chopstick as treat, but she remained really distracted. No sit again.

Week 2, December 21. Hermione is limping, left rear leg. Poor thing has to be put into the cage again. Took Hazel out, another puppy, 6 months perhaps. She's very energetic, ok with petting and carrying, and has the shortest attention span!!!! Did the run with her, after awhile all she wanted to do was roll around on the leafy sidewalks of the village. During training session, she did a lot better with bonding - cheese snacks. Picked up on her name better too. Had to move to hotdog treats for the sit though. She managed two sits (yay), but no interest in the ball. Is pretty good in the crate, doesn't hate it like the other puppy. She and Gervi not getting along, antagonistic.
Completed lessons - clicker/food, sit. Only did one session on the dog bed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Plane update

Over lunch, friend M asked me "Is this filling up a plane on KLM real?" I shrugged, said I think so. I also mentioned I didn't think people really signed up for it, I might be the only one flying in my plane. Then she told me that she tried to get a "seat" on my plane but was informed it was full. Huh? We tried to make some baseless guesses on how many seats there were in the plane and who I sent invites to, etc. All random nonsense, but today I did check the site, and she was right, the plane, all 99 seats plus mine are full. But to be honest, I only recognized a handful of the names, the rest are all ambiguous "New Passenger" or folks who I wouldn't know from Adam. Hmmm. Do I need a skymarshall???

Ok, KLM, what's the prize for the most clueless flight filler?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eat this

There's a video of a kitten that loves her broccoli. Not so much this older feline. I love my broccoli and cauliflower, but not sure my own cat will take to it.


funny pictures of cats with captions

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quick read

A cousin of mine said she was interested in reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid, and I chimed in that it was a fantastic book, with a rare mention of Manila in it. What I forgot to mention to her, but something she will soon find out, is how quick it is to read. I checked my book log, noting how quickly I finished the book and if there was anything striking about the work. I bought my copy last December while in the US, and it was a book that I read between the overload of food related literature in the first quarter of the year. It also took me 3 hours to read. While it is a relatively slim book, it could have easily been a book that took days to complete if I was bored with it or distracted. The writing does not drag, the characters are not hard to like, and there are no distractions towards the climax of the book.

I also jotted down that the book had a strong similarity to a couple of books I had read in the past, including Iain Pears' The Portrait, and a book by a Hungarian author who I couldn't remember when I made the note (including a reminder to self to find the other book in my bookshelf; as I still can't remember the author or the title of the book, but do remember the style and characters, it is doubly annoying several months after writing myself the note.). All three books are written in the first person narration by the protagonist, speaking to one other person (with a strong directive tone towards that person), narrating a story that they need to know, and you, as the audience, are keen to discover. In all three cases, the protagonist and primary speaker has a revelation through his talk with his sole audience, usually a negative one, and ends in a tragic note in all three novels. The medium can be intense, but what I always wonder when reading this style is how does one person maintain so much talking without needing a break, a regular flow of water and some menthol candy to soothe the throat? I can't imagine going on and on in that vein, charged with completing my mission and maintaining some semblance of composure at the very beginnning without giving away my final position. I know it's fiction, but the style can be a bit unmanageable, especially if you put yourself (like I often do) in the perspective of the main character.

I was interested in reading the book after seeing it mentioned in Jessica Zafra's blog, where she quoted from the part of the book that mentions Manila. She has done literary collections of books that refer to Filipinos and the Philippines, but this was the first time I felt compelled to find a copy of a book after reading so little of it. I am thankful that I did; it was a worthwhile literary find. Her blog has also had several links to short stories lately, the most recent to a short story by Edith Wharton, and a month ago she linked to Shirley Jackson's The Lottery. A week before Ms. Zafra's post I was listening to the New Yorker Fiction podcast which featured The Lottery. It was chilling, twisted, and very well written. I didn't realize that it was part of the literary canon for a certain generation of American school children, and I am not sure if it still is, but I would recommend it to an older high school student or first year college student reading American Literature. The language is clear and brutal, the plot is simple and subversive.

Short stories and books that can be read in a few hours in traffic or while standing in line is a breathe of fresh air, it can rejuvenate you if you're in a reading slump. Not only does it break the monotony of reading certain genres but it also invigorates those mental facilities that need a jolt every now and then. If it forces you to think or feel differently about the way you see life, then it is damn good reading.

Monday, December 15, 2008

News of the day

Models and fashionistas are wary of PETA activists who may splash them with red paint if they wear fur on the catwalk or on their person. Celebrities are constantly battling with papparazzi for in your face photography while out slumming. A few months ago, a president of a university was hit in the face by a pie from an activist student on campus. And yesterday, in his last month of office, President George W. Bush was nearly hit in the face by a pair of shoes, thrown at him by an Iraqi reporter. His father is (in)famously remembered for tossing his cookies at a dinner with the Emperor of Japan, and President Bush junior has had more than his share of verbal mishaps since taking office in 2001, but a quick search online makes him the first President to have footwear thrown at him. The Secret Service may have to demand all reporters wear socks from now on. Kudos to the Iraqi PM who attempted to shield his guest from the second podalic missile.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Mental wanderings

Two years ago, I watched Cherie Gil in the play Doubt; she portrayed Sister Aloysius, the nun who confronts Father Brendan on suspicion of child abuse. The new movie of the play by John Patrick Shanley casts Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius and Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Father Brendan. The movie has already received a groundswell of critical acclaim, both actors were nominated by the Golden Globes a couple of days ago (fellow cast members, Amy Adams and Viola Davis, were also nominated). It is quite possible that Ms. Streep will be nominated again for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, and that will push her list of nominations to 15 nominations (she's won it twice).

My childhood classmate John is probably the biggest fan of Meryl Streep. Along with his continued love of the Ms. Universe pageants, he can list every single movie Meryl has been in, what movies she has been nominated for, and her total fabulousness. I don't know if he has some form of Meryl Streep altar or worse, but every time another Meryl Streep movie is released I know he's over the moon. I am sure that 2008 will be a notable year for him and other Streep followers, what with the release of Mamma Mia earlier this year.

As kids, John and I were already into food. Our favorite place to go was a japanese restaurant (Kamameshi) near our school that served oyster rice. They'd cook steamed rice mixed with oysters (or any other seafood or meat) along with vegatables in a special steamer contraption. I used to tell him to go with his mom to a Binondo oyster dive my dad used to bring me and my family. The specialties of the house were oyster cake (eggs, green onions, bean sprouts, and as many oysters as possible, fried up and plated), and oyster soup, this thick stew, gluey at times (too much corn starch I suppose), but rich with the briney flavors of the oyster. I don't know of anyplace that still serves the oyster soup, but Mann Hann, a small chain that serves Taiwanese style chinese food in several malls does serve oyster cake. I also chanced upon a stall at the Legazpi Market on Sundays that serves a very good oyster cake for P180, full of plump oysters and perfect with a cup of rice. The stall owners take a few minutes to prepare the fresh oysters, and cook the omelette to order. It's not the kind of dish that lasts beyond an hour after cooking, eat it hot and fresh.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Moth

Laughing, giggling, chuckling for no apparent reason in public may brand you by those observing your actions as cause for concern. Drunk? Insane? Contagious? Stand back folks, nothing to see here, yes, I mean you buddy... You are after all, walking or sitting alone, seemingly normal, a few shopping bags in hand, and looking a wee bit weary during the manic Christmas season. If they are observant, they may look for a sign that you are speaking to someone via earpiece; hmm, not from this distance, but wait, it does look like you're listening to something. Must be funny, wish I could share in the joy, where did I leave my umbrella....

You are listening to something and it is funny, it's from the Moth podcast, and Joe Jackson, musician, New Age savant, has been sharing how rock and roll saved his life. Sounds serious enough, but Mr. Jackson is full of silliness tonight. He's been keeping you smiling for at least 10 minutes describing his first gig, playing the piano with a couple of friends at the Drake, a pub/piano bar/marine hangout in Portsmouth (UK). He tells tales of Marty, Frankenstein of the music world, who could piece together bits and pieces of any wind instrument and then some. Or of the skinheads at the Irish Center who threw fag ends and coins at them for playing acoustic jazz. But the real piece de resistance was the toilet humor. At the Drake's ladies toilet, the owners had hung up a large picture of Adam (of A. and Eve fame), with a noticeable flap where the fig leaves normally hang. Lift the flap and find yourself reading a sign that says "A bell just rang in the bar".

The Moth podcasts are a great mix of serious, sublime, ridiculous, awe inspiring. It's story telling at its best. Recorded on stage at the Moth's New York and Los Angeles centers, you never know who is going to be sharing a wee bit of themselves when you get your weekly download. Most of the speakers aren't big name hotshots. These are the people behind the scenes, the non-celebrities, but they have a story to tell and a lot of it is hilarious. For ten to fifteen minutes, stand in someone else's shoes, feel their pain, their glory, their laughter. Just don't lift Adam's flap.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Br-unch

I like breakfast food that works in lieu of any other meal of the day. Take congee for instance. You can eat it when you're sick (my go to sick food of all time), but on nippy days like last week, blustering with a cold front from the north and miserable rain, a bowl of congee is comforting and cosy. Add some toppings of choice and you're good to go. Some days all you want is a zen like approach, tofu, a few slivers of green onion, ginger, with a splash of soy sauce. Some days, it's toss everything from the fridge - pork, century eggs, fish balls, an egg, vegies, bbq chicken, peanuts, bagoong, a pickle. Whatever suits your fancy, for the base - boiled rice - will take it in.

I also love our filipino -logs (tosilog, tapsilog, longsilog, yada yada); meat, egg, and rice. Side of atchara for contrast. You get varities around the country, danggit being a favorite of mine further south in Cebu or Palawan, where the fresh danggit is sublime, crispy, not overly salty, and makes for a change of pace when travelling. I once ordered a bangus with rice and egg in Zamboanga, didn't realize how large the bangus is outside of Manila, found myself face to face with a bangus the size of a platter, it was too much food and difficult to gulp down in haste before my flight took off.

The last few days, I've taken to eating a lot of crispy adobo flakes with egg and garlic rice. Pancake house has a really good version, not so crispy perhaps, but the adobo sulipan is chocful of stewed garlic and tasty meat (a mixture of chicken and pork); I like to mush the garlic and mix it into the already garlicky rice, and douse the meat with hot sauce. And I've discovered that Vanilla Bean, a cafe in Salcedo Village has a good crispy adobo meal, the eggs are softly scrambled, the rice is garlicky but not too oily, and the adobo is quite crunchy, with stringy bits blended in. Not enough garlic but I can appreciate the dish. If VB was open beyond 6 pm, I'd have it for dinner too, but I know I can always depend on Pancake House if I'm feeling the need for garlicky meat and rice after 7 pm.

Monday, December 08, 2008

How much is that doggy in the webcam?

Shiba Inu is one of the few canine breeds first developed in Japan, with a developing interest around the world. The dogs were bred by indigenous Japanese tribes to hunt for boar and small mammals. Their colors range from cream to red to brown and even black, wolf like snouts, and known to be good protectors of their humans. A friend of mine, who has enough furry friends at home to make Cruella de Ville envious, is considering getting one of the dogs, after seeing a documentary about several dogs at a US dog parade. She sent me the link to a puppy cam with live feeds of 6 Shibas: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/shiba-inu-puppy-cam

While they are typical puppies, gamboling, playing, eating, sleeping, I've caught a few sweet moments during the live feed, typically when one puppy has just woken up, finds his or her siblings still sleeping, walks over them and then pillows its head on one of the others tummies, then goes back to sleep. Watching them makes me wish I had another dog for my own tousled head poodle, but one dog is enough right now, especially since she and the master or our domain, ie the cat, are not getting along at all. Seperate domains are all I can provide at the moment, thankfully the dog is bit more mobile, willing to take rides to my parents house at the drop of the hat.

At the recent bookclub reading, we chose The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a modern day retelling of Hamlet with a healthy dose of the Dog Whisperer mixed in. The book has been receiving a lot of strong praise, it then was chosen as an Oprah bookclub selection, but 6 out of the 8 of us who read the book and went to the dinner last week were less than enthusiastic. I had been enthused to read the book after hearing good reviews from other readers, but found myself dragging to get through the book after 100 pages. The parts that needed serious editing tended to be about the dog breeding strategies and the letters between the dog enthusiasts who had their own opinions about what characterized scientific breeding of dogs for specific traits. One of our readers had sincere concerns about the mental and emotional strength of the title character who she described as downright crazy. But then we all had doubts about any of the characters' ability to make the right choices; the mother falling into bed with her recently deceased husband's brother given the animosity between the siblings; the anthropomorphic development of the dogs (some serious mind reading between humans and dogs in this book); plus the ambiguous mystery of how the father died.

The only revelation that came to me during the dinner was that not a lot of people seem to know their basic Shakespeare. Most of us who attend the book club are educated in the western canon, but so many of the attendees didn't know the basic plot or characters of Hamlet, or got characters mixed up with other Shakesperean tragedies. Maybe too many of us take our liberal arts education for granted.

Back to the Shibas, 2 of the puppies waved farewell on cam, one more heads out to its new home in a few hours. At 8-9 weeks old, they are much younger than the Sawtelle dogs were when released to new homes, but that is typical of these days of modern dog adoption. Even though I am new to the Shiba puppy watch, I think they are golden bundles of puppy love.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Conjunction in the sky (there are great big terrible giants in the sky...)

A text from Nena said for me to look up at the moon. I thought it would simply be a larger than normal full moon, and it took me a little over 30 minutes to head outside to see what all the fuss was about. I looked and was taken aback, there was a crescent moon, and two bright lights above it. I knew enough that they weren't stars, but planets. But which ones?? I rushed back to the computer and started googling, I also started to send texts to Nena and friends who might know. I knew the brightest light would be Venus, she normally appears shiny in the heavens, so it was expected. But my initial thought that the second planet was Mercury was wrong. I was more thrilled to find out it was Jupiter! How wonderful! It may be the biggest planet, but I suppose being further away it didn't cast as strong a reflection as the goddess of love.
Looking up at that sight, going back and forth between sky gazing and the living room for answers and furious texts to friends and family (telling the young uns to get up from their butts and look outside), I recall special moments when the evening sky, filled with stars, the occasional shooting star, makes everything else in life seem small and shallow. Last night, with the moon and the planets smiling down on us (those of us closer to the equator and in the southern hemisphere had the blessing of a smiley face; the folks north saw a downturned moon), I couldn't help but feel a rush of positive emotions. Forget wars, economic downturns, man made disasters for a few moments, look up!

Check out KLM - Fill a Plane - Promote your plane

Ugh, KLM needs better macro forms. They have a new promo to win prizes including a trip to Amsterdam. But their blog post format is so boring:

Hi,

I want you to take a look at : KLM - Fill a Plane - Promote your plane



See?

However, the more people who sign up to fly on my plane, the better chances of winning those tickets to Amsterdam! Land of windmills, Van Gogh, tulips, and coffee houses :D

Come fly with me, let's go down to Peru...

Monday, December 01, 2008

(Socky, this is your fault! I'm hooked on Slide!)

Tinkering with Slide, I put some of the landscape photos I took of N. Dakota and Montana. I love the drive through look, so retro :D


Sunday, November 30, 2008

The lechons are full of hot air

Tea on a Sunday morning

In August, I took off for a weekend to visit Butuan, one of the oldest pre-spanish settlements in the country, reknowned among Filipino historians and archeologists, where the Spanish landed and are said to have held the first Catholic mass. In the months prior to the trip, I had seen the reconstructed balanghais, a boat used by our ancestors who must have traversed the Butuan river and the straits heading towards other islands north. I was also lured by Eating Asia's post on the kilawin the authors had at the fish market. There's nothing like salivating at Robyn and Dave's pictures to get an idea of travelling to one of the provincial cities in Mindanao going.

One of the wonderful finds I took back from that trip was the biasyong, a kaffir or makrut lime that has an intensely fragrant, flower-like aroma. Cut into one and inhale for one's life, it will take the blues away. Of course, there are very few of these lovely green fruits in Manila, so I brought back a kilo and divided it among friends. I stuck them in my bottled water, I grated some of the zest, experimented with adding the juice to honey, and considered attempting the kilawin of the south. The latter didn't pan out due to my laziness of sourcing perfectly fresh tuna.

At the recent MM Eyeball in Cebu, MM used a lot of biasyongs for his kilawin, and it reminded me how lovely a fruit it is. A friend travelling to Cagayan de Oro asked if there was anything a few of us would like from the south, and two of us asked if she could try to find the biasyongs. She kindly obliged and brought back several of the limes for us; they are called suka in CDO, but I cut into one and was sure it is one and the same, for who could miss the perfume?

I have a few of the limes left, and thought how to use them best. I tried adding some of the juice when I cooked some bagoong last week, but found it the wrong combination. The astringency of the lime's juice wasn't as strong as calamansi, and the aroma was sort of offputting when paired with the fishiness of the bagoong, the clash was distinctly nauseating.

This morning, I put the kettle on, planning to steep a few teaspoons of a wonderful green tea. As the water roiled and I spooned the tea leaves into my trusty teapot (I've had this pot since 1995, it has kept me company through many a home), I thought why not add some of the lime wedges, see how it fared. A couple of minutes into the brew, I knew it was the perfect pairing. It may be a wee bit gloomy outside, and there may not be much to watch on the telly, but I sit with my teapot, a mug of tea, and think perfumed thoughts.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eat more skin

1.


Marketman promised us lechon, we got lechon. Three of his personal recipe spiced/rubbed/roasted on a spit lechons. Other bloggers have shown the photos of the party, the pigs, the kilawin (ceviche of mackarel), sisig, desserts galore. I know that Joey of 80breakfasts, Socky of Tennis and Conversations, and Lee have all posted their albums. Other than sharing the roasted pig above, the only two shots I'm sharing from my collection are:

1. A crisp white parol floating against the background of the city. White was the background of the party. Crisp, clean, festive.



2. I spied this lovely wooden mortar and pestle in the back of MM's office kitchen. I can imagine he and his crew pounded all the garlic, ginger, spices on it, but what I love is the shape and sturdy look.


Thank you MM/Mrs.MM/The Teen/The Crew!

(PS: I'm tinkering with posting a video from the eyeball and may figure it out before the end of the day. Check this space for one other addition from the event.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Fomalhaut B

The first planet seen outside our own solar system, Fomalhaut B. Fomalhaut means "mouth of the (big) fish", translated from Arabic (fum al'hot). Since my mythological education was greco-roman centric, it's good to learn a new myth from a different religion/culture. Here's a snippet from related stories about the big fish, the star, and the mermaids:

"In Greek mythology, Fomalhaut was associated with the monster Typhon, who is said to lie buried beneath Mt. Etna in Sicily. In Syrian and Canaanite lands it was honored as the symbol of the fish-god Dagon, whose temple at Gaza was destroyed by the Biblical strongman Samson. This temple is believed to have been oriented to the rising of Fomalhaut.

All accounts of this constellation's mythology are disappointingly sketchy. Like Pisces, its mythology has a Middle Eastern setting indicative of Babylonian origin. An ancient constellation, Piscis Austrinus represents the Babylonian fish-god Oannes, who came to Earth to teach humans how to become civilized. According to the brief account of Eratosthenes, the Syrian fertility goddess Derceto (the Greek name for Atargatis) is supposed to have fallen into a lake at Bambyce near the Euphrates river in Syria, and was saved by a large fish. Hyginus says, in repetition of his note on Pisces, that as a result of this the Syrians do not eat fish but rather they worship the images of fish as gods.

Bambyce later became known to the Greeks as Hieropolis (meaning Sacred City), now called Membij. Other classical sources tell us that temples of Atargatis contained fish ponds. The goddess was said to punish those who ate fish by making them ill, but her priests ate fish in a daily ritual.

According to the Greek writer Diodorus Siculus, Derceto deliberately threw herself into a lake at Ascalon in Palestine as a suicide bid in shame for a love affair with a young Syrian, Caystrus, by whom she bore a daughter, Semiramis. Derceto killer her lover and abandoned her child, who was brought up by doves and later became queen of Babylon. In the lake, Derceto was turned into a mermaid, half woman, half fish. So merpeople may also be associated with the constellation Piscis Austrinus."
- Mythology of Star Tales, Ian Ridpath. Universe Books, New York.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pair of thoughts

Old unfinished buildings are finally getting their due: the empty shell of a building along EDSA corner Pasong Tamo extension is going to be turned into apartments, and likewise the same abandoned apartment building next to the Nestle factory along Aurora Blvd has a sign by the wall stating it will be turned into a "landmark" residential building. Instead of building from scratch the developers have to rehabilitate the structures, slap on some paint, and start selling the bejeezus out of them. Will people buy these apartments? What about the former investors whose funds were stuck while the buildings languished into weed gardens? Do they get their money back, first dibs on penthouses, or a mere thanks for helping us pay for the cornerstone cement ten years ago? I'd feel pretty lousy if I knew someone was going to get that apartment I plunked down my life savings on. But I'm projecting.


Carbs! We had another day at Cottage Kitchen over the weekend, and I counted partaking 4 of the 6 kinds of carbs on offer: grits, cornbread, biscuits, dirty rice. I believe the fifth was a potato salad, and someone had hush puppies. No one had a spoonful of the rice that came with the gumbo. Who would? Today, I tried the triple berry fruit bread at Coffee bean and tea leaf; after horrible muffin and scones there some years back, I was not sure I'd order anything other than hot chocolate. But the triple berry was surprisingly moist. And with the addition of dried cranberries, sultanas and a blueberry preserve, the fruitbread was not without flavor. I think the next time I have this for breakfast, I'll pair it with a black tea to offset the sweetness.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday lunch

After a busy Saturday, the best contrast is a very quiet Sunday. I have been planning to make a vegetarian curry using all the materials in my crisper (cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots, peas, okra) and a box of spicy Japanese curry paste. I also needed to add some of the eggs that were probably on its last legs, so those got boiled and added to the pot. A rice cooker full of cooked brown rice and I could have stuck to a high fiber healthy meal. But there's a part of me that needs an added twist, so I took my sole can of corned beef, fried the heck out of it till it was crispy, and mixed it into the brown rice. Eat with a sizeable dollop of the curried vegies Textures - nutty, crispy, creamy, and spicy. Not the prettiest of meals, it's a meal only a sunday luncher could love.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

'08 Election results

Most of my American friends and family members are euphoric over the results of the race for the Presidency yesterday. I received many a happy-happy-joy-joy text from that side of the Pacific.

Other than the big ticket race, there were several interesting propositions under consideration. I was happy to see that both Colorado and S. Dakota voters voted against restrictions to abortion rights, and Washington is now the second state to allow euthanasia. There were other smaller bills, like banning inhumane cages for chickens (tight fit chicken coops?), which I think got passed.

Since I am still enjoying (and posting) my memories of travelling by train, it was interesting to read that California has passed Proposition 1A - High Speed Train. It may seem a tad 20th century, what with bullet trains in Japan, France, and China has the Maglev. But the US has put train travel on the backburner for so long. Now, the first state to pass funding and support for a high speed train gets the go signal. It will be a SF to LA train, estimated to take 2.5 hours, instead of the meandering overnighter that it can sometimes take on Amtrak now. I hope I get to take that train when it's up and running!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Head North




Dawn on the first day of my train trip. Looking out from the Observation Deck, suspecting I'm somewhere in Arizona, and taking fuzzy photos of the arroyos and red rock cliffs.

Speaking of the observation deck, if you're ever on Amtrak and need extra space to just think, read, chat with strangers, read the paper, drink some water or eat chips, eavesdrop on what other people are saying, nap, wonder what to have for lunch/dinner in the dining car, nibble on carrots to stave off hunger, hog the two seater so you can stretch out... anyway, this is what you see outside.



Monday, October 27, 2008

Tres damas quixote de Manila (or bonding over bourdain)

(For Katrina, and Marvin)

This is a true story. I was there, and the two others with me can verify it. Sometimes, it's not about the goal, it's about the road. Ok, enough of the deep philosophy, here's the dirt:

It all began with a text from Socky: "Anthony Bourdain will be with Claude Tayag this Thursday. CT will also bring him to Aling Lucing's to try sisig. Am so tempted to have lunch in pampanga!"

With these fateful words, three fangirls took off on a road trip to Angeles. We had been to Bale Dutung, Mr. Tayag's home bistro, on a memorable food filled day trip in 2007, and we had plans of returning to Angeles for additional restaurant trips, patisserie discoveries (Aurely's Special inverted brazo de mercedes), and general camaraderie. The last time we took off, it was the threesome of Nena, Kat, and Mila. Unfortunately, both Socky and Nena couldn't make it, so with a bit of timely maneuvering on Joey's side, we found ourselves driving on the road north in search of the salt and pepper locks of the celebrated chef/traveller/snarkman.

This was to be Joey's baptism by fire on the road, she had not driven beyond Metro Manila before, her first time to drive the smooth lanes of NLEX. I was sleep deprived from my new job, having not had a decent full 8 hours in over ten days and unlikely to do so that day. Katrina was ready with one of AB's books, not one of his normal food books either! Our plan: go to Bale Dutung, then Susie's in Angeles for food shopping, lunch at Cottage Kitchen, stop off at Coldspoon froyo, and maybe find Aurely's to get those brazo squares.

We got off on a good start, and arrived in Angeles with no problems on the road. Joey soon got into the rhythm of NLEX. We asked for general directions to the subdivision, and arrived in fine fettle. The village guard didn't ask us for ids or anything, even though we thought he might give us a hard time if he was vetted right and told to shoo away annoying paparrazi or fawning fans. When we reached Bale Dutung, we wondered if we had to make up some sort of reason for why we were there; "just passing by", "we're big fans", "please let us wash dishes while he eats" or something like that. We rang the door bell (near the post that had a sign "Maylbaks"), it was opened by one of Claude's guys, and we asked if Mr. Tayag was available. He let us in and we sort of shuffled our feet around waiting for CT. The man himself came down, dressed in a tshirt and shorts and we figured it was time to say what we had to say. Er... "you might not remember us, but we had lunch here last year." Luckily Katrina's instant recognizability (sic) was our in! Yay for not having hair! We said we were in the area and heard that he was hosting you-know-who, and he did confirm it, but to our dismay explained that AB was still in Manila! Gadzooks. His equipment was being fixed or something and he would be running late. They planned to visit Aling Lusing's along the riles, for the original sisig. In any case we knew we couldn't wait around for a glimpse of AB since we all had to be back in Manila by early evening. Sigh. Plus CT did say he couldn't have anyone around, so oh well, would we like his recoms for what to eat in town? Everybody's cafe for real kapampangan food. But we want Anthony!!

Since we knew and psyched ourselves that our chances were slim to none of seeing him and could have been shooed out by CT if he really was already in Bale Dutung, we had a plan B, a day of food in Angeles. But not having slept well in days means the navigator (me) was picking belly lint from my greycells. Spatial abilities fall apart from lack of rest. We took the long route back into town, got lost a couple of times, and finally landed near Friendship Avenue thanks to two security guards and a trike driver. Lunch first, restored our souls and spirits with grub. It was the best two hours of the day! 7 kinds of carbs (grits with cheese, cornbread, biscuits, rice, mashed potatoes, potato salads, and fried dumplings), along with a briney ham hock on pinto beans, collard greens; a hearty gumbo with andouille sausage and chicken, with tons of okra; fried catfish, softdrinks, and an overly banana tasting banana cream pie. We closed the place down; did I mention we went to Cottage Kitchen?

Anyway, down through Fields Avenue, back into the old part of Angeles for a stop at Susie's and Rosings. We knew what we wanted at Susie's - chicharon with tons of laman and their carabao milk halaya. It was not meant to be!! Both items were sold out, although one guy behind the counter raised our hopes when he told Kat to wait while he took a key down from a shelf (how special can it be when it's stored under lock and key?). Oy. I bought boxes of carabao milk caramels from Rosings to soften the blow. It then got worse when we found Aurely's along Macarthur highway, but their special brazo de mercedes squares were also sold out. Teeth gnashing commences here. Homeward Jeeves, er Joey!

There was more to come however!! We hit the highway at 5, and got to Metro Manila by 5:44 pm, then took another hour and a half touring the north and west side of the city (through dusk, traffic, and scary neighborhoods) on our way south because aforementioned navi was braindead. When I saw a road I thought would lead to the right direction, it led us elsewhere. Finally we got to Binondo (168!) and I finally figured out the right turns. Don't ask, it was not a pretty picture. If we were in Amazing Race and AB was our prize at the end of the day, we'd have been told by Phil that we were out of the race.

Consolation prize - lunch at Cottage Kitchen was good enough to satiate our cajun growlings for awhile. Aurely's is still out of reach and, as for Mr. Bourdain, we wish Ian (of Sebastian's ice cream) better luck in crossing paths with him on Sunday (while stalking the buffet at Sofitel). (Follow up: it seemed like everyone else in Manila got to see, touch, take a pic of AB! Ian did see him and got something signed, several bloggers mentioned chance encounters, from airport to hotel to walks around the city.)

Thanks Joey for driving and keeping your cool under pressure. Kat for making us think about how to moderate our lust or men's lust or something lusty, and Mr. Bourdain, you just missed three gorgeous gals who spent an entire day devoted to you!

Monday, October 20, 2008

On a healthier note

I've started a new job and the hours are difficult to adjust to. In this global economic meltdown, a job is a job is a job (and the bills are bills are bills; need one to pay the other).

To help stave off my own financial meltdown, one thing I'm doing is packing my own lunches. Fruit, yogurt, nuts, and a lot of sandwiches. Slapping together two pieces of bread with cheese and ham can get a wee bit boring, so I've been perusing the interweb for tasty lunch options. And I'm also gaining a lot of inspiration from bento websites like Lunch in a Box, Kitchen Cow, etc. These ladies pull together meals that look tasty and pretty.

Last week, I went through my cupboards, emergency stashes (the canned goods in the pantry), and what I knew might not last much longer in my fridge, and decided to pull together a better than tuna salad mix. There isn't any photo to showcase this, but really, what's not to love about lean protein, vegies, and spiciness? Plus I had to fight my feline master away from eating my lunch! This mix should last at least a week if lathered on right.

Not Just Tuna Salad

Three cans of tuna, solid in water
three chopped and deseeded jalapenos
a cup of chopped parsley
a cup of chives or green onions
a can of artichoke hearts (available in most groceries)
a half cup of capers (rinsed)
a cup of black (or green) olives (rinsed)
Two cups of spicy mayonnaise (I used a mayo that had chillis in it, but you could use regular mayo, or half mayo, half cottage cheese)
Black pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients together and mash till blended together. I didn't crush the olives, as they add chunk to your salad. Either dollop a couple of tablespoons into a lettuce cup if you're going low carb, or spread a liberal half cup of it in a crusty baguette. Add tomatoes, or roasted red peppers. Eat, and feel hearty.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Rainy day lunch



Prepare spaghetti in a pot of salted water.
Take chinese sausages, sliced into chunks. Parboil them till tender, add a tablespoon of canola oil and brown. Add rough chopped garlic and two tablespoons of the pasta water. For seasoning, sprinkle cayenne pepper to taste, and italian seasoning (a medley of dried herbs).
When pasta is ready, drain the water, add it to the pan of sausages.
In a small bowl, mix 4 oz of hard cheese, I used manchego, and two eggs at room temperature. Mix till creamy. Take the pasta and sausages off the heat, add to the egg and cheese mixture, and use tongs to mix. The hot pasta will cook the egg mixture. Top with more cheese and chopped parsley before serving.


Chinese sausage + spanish cheese = quintessentially filipino

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cooking is like a woman dressing up

Ferran Adria cooks in a New York apartment for a New York Times reporter, check out the video! I don't think I'd have the faith/strength to fast (as the reporter had to given it was Yom Kippur) if I knew that one of the best chefs in the world was coming over to my home to cook a meal for 6.

Riverbanks





The LA river is the antithesis of what a river could be. It's a concrete gash, looking more like a long sewer, cutting through the least picturesque parts of town, and not exactly tourist friendly. You don't see any options for a promenade, no trees lined up along the banks, and I have rarely seen it actually flowing with water (the only exceptions are when there's been a strong thunderstorm and streets are a wee risky to drive on).


It's a river that evokes gritty urban images, I'm sure it's been filmed in more than its share of movies, and I could be wrong, but it might have been the location of the car race scene in Grease. Ok, not the best example of grit, but that's the only thing that comes to mind!


The banks are littered with graffiti. The concrete slates are prime canvasses for expression. I took these photos on the train, and noticed a few weeks later on my return that some of the work has been whitewashed (city government pouring in money to eradicate petty crime). People may see graffiti as simply hooligan activity, but there is a layer of art. If I had a better shutter finger, I might have been able to take better photos, not to mention telling the train engineer to slow down!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Olvera St.




Across from the Union Station in LA is the center of the city's historical district. LA has history? It may seem like a city without any connection to the past, but LA did not simply spring up from the hills of Hollywood. In the late 1700's 44 families were sent by royal command to settle in the pueblo that is now part of the vast metropolitan sprawl.

Olvera St. is now the location of a Mexican handicraft market, cultural plaza, and connects visitors to a taste of what LA might have been like some centuries ago. It reminds me of the hispanic market in San Antonio, Texas, full of stalls and stores selling woven rugs, ponchos, leathercrafts, dolls, glassworks, sculpture, and food.

It's sleepy on weekday mornings, but on Sunday afternoons, it comes alive with visitors, tourists, and musical events.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The start, Union Station, Los Angeles




The last of the great Union Stations built in the 1930's. The structure is a Spanish-adobe with marvelous interiors. Wood panels, soaring ceilings, spanish tiles.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Thelma and Louise (...not)

My friend P is an outgoing, ex-GSK manager, world traveller, and newly married. In her days in Manila, she was quite the independent woman of means, who drove herself (sometimes without a license or license plates!!!) all over town and around Luzon. She had no fears zooming in and out of the lanes. It was quite the surprise then to see her unable to get onto the freeway here in the US!

She hosted me and another friend for a day of pinoy food, and continued her hosting duties for me through the weekend. She and her husband made sure I got to see their town of Livermore, a northern California city about 40 minutes from Oakland. After a day of church going and quilt gazing (more on that another time), we went off to get ourselves some ice cream and chat away from the heat of Alameda County (searing heat). I gently suggested that we turn right and enter the freeway but she budged. It was soon discovered that she had made an attempt earlier this year but it was a nerve wracking experience, not helped by her husband's presence. Given that she drives a light blue truck, completely antidotal to her very girly outlook in life, it was high time to take the truck on the road. I pointed out that anyone who could drive south superhighway was more than capable of driving some easypeasy freeway, especially on a Sunday!

With some ice cream courage to boost us through the experience, we took to the first exit nearby, I told her to keep her speed steady and not to break at the first sign of a merge; we found a good speed and revved up as we entered the 580, the lack of heavy traffic was a boon to her courage. We took it out for a few miles, exited, and then backtracked to the exit heading south, and found our way back to her main street. Success!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Not sure what day it is

It's not quite jetlag, but my body does feel like the constant travelling over the last week (or maybe more) is pressing down on bits and parts that I've neglected over the last few months (or years, decades even). There was the three day train sprint, transcontinental, which was full of gorgeous scenery, interesting stories from co-train travellers, innumerable people watching (and judging), thinking, musing, and scratching. Ay, three days without a shower is enough to drive me crazy. I don't know how other people manage, but I did have to mentally work hard not to scream out in frustration over the lack of water. My kingdom for a shower!

But the glorious end of that test of endurance lay in the beautiful city of Portland. Perfect weather waited for me at the end of my three days, and while the city's denizens may contradict me, it was magical. Crisp, clean, blue skies, easy on the skin sun. We ate at friend's homes for two nights, otherwise I would have had more restaurant notes. But there's nothing like convivial eating and gathering over a home cooked meal, so no complaints from me. We did have a lovely day of sweets and wines, and the essence of the trip (Powells!) was never going to be skipped over. In this current state of grogginess, I won't attempt to do justice to my short Portland foray (I'll wait till I have a tipple of the lovely wine finds when I'm back!). Maybe I'll follow a friend's suggestion and make word cloud tees out of my love for the city (Erath, Argyle, August Cellar, St. Cupcake, Voodoo Donuts, Butter Bunny...).

I'm back in Sunny California for the rest of my stay. I will reunite with girlfriends who have married and moved here over the weekend, and by next week revisit one of my favorite gardens. There's a great deal of thinking left to do.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Best flowchart out there

Thanks to a link from a friend, I found the Bacon Flowchart! For all my bacon loving friends (and you know who you are), remember wear pants when frying bacon.

Be still my gurgling

My stomach is upset. It gurgles, it roars, it screams. It's upset because it's owner has tried to taste as much of the neighborhood's treats all in one day. And it's not going to take anymore. From pupusas and horchatas, to local chilli, to fish and broccoli, and way too much dairy, add to it some local soul food, my stomach has had to suffer all that the upper end of the body has been tempted with. The eyes have seen and have been tempted by too much on offer. The mouth opens to accept the temptations once they have been purchased and plated, with help by the hand to raise it to the mouth. And as the brain analyzes each taste and tingle, the stomach is forced to process all of it. It's not happy. I send mental apologies to it, and sip on hot water. I promise not to put it through that again (or at least not for a few days).

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On the road

I've arrived in DC and am settling into my friend's guest room, overlooking a lovely park in the northern part of town. On the fringes of Adams Morgan, the weather a crisp and pleasant reminder that fall is on its way, and the full moon pulling out one's inner werewolf.

I've been on the road/tracks for a week, have been to Chicago, Bloomington (Indiana) and now DC. The days have been full of architecture, history, weather, chinese language (more on that another time), and food, just to name a few. I've never spent a lot of time in the mid-west, but can imagine myself spending more time in Chicago if given the chance. Villages within the city make life seem far more intimate; lots of color from all the immigrants that have made the city's history rich and vibrant. A city of spires, both religious and secular. The latter centers around the downtown, where skyscrapers compete for attention, new ones on their way.

My first experience waiting out a tornado warning, as the sirens wailed outside, we sat in the basement of my friend S' house, nibbling on cheese, olives, crackers, and drinking cava. We skyped with her in-laws who said "you should leave that place! how can you live in a town with tornados?", while the baby scampered around, not really caring that a possibly disaster approached. The rest of the weekend was a bit rainy and cloudy, the damage of the approaching hurricane (Ike) which roared through Texas only apparent after I left Bloomington to head back to Chicago. Since Bloomington is a campus town, there was little to do other than to make one's own entertainment. Thankfully, trying to keep up with a two year old is enough to keep all the adults on their toes. We feasted when she slept, and there's nothing like ingenuity to satiate our bellies; not a bad way to spend the time, making aoili for steamed artichokes, tossing together a chinese style fried rice, cobbling together pumpkin risotto, serving a full jewish breakfast of bagels, lox, eggs, and an assortment of drinks, and capping the weekend with a steak, grilling even in the face of stormy weather.

So far in DC, we've dined on Belgian style bistro food and picked up creamy frozen custard. Looking good so far.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Chugging along on the train tracks

Jetlag is over after a 7 hour straight snooze (on the smaller sofa I discovered after waking up curled, fetal position, in my day clothes, horrors!, but pretty comfortable in any case). My friends are about to bid me onwards as I take my first leg of the train trip east, up to Chicago (unless I am swayed by the sight of the Grand Canyon at the stop in Arizona), and after a few days there, to see good friends at Indiana U. Next week will find me in DC, then back on the train west to Portland for donuts and wine and Powell's (my definition of Nirvana). But let's not jump the gun, as it's been a relatively relaxing few days in the city of Angels. Had good meals: Mexican breakfasts (chilaquiles and horchatas), Thai noodles for midnight dinners, Hawaiian breakfasts of pancakes plus portugese sausages, japanese ramen, pizza, and an ube shake with pulled pork at the Oinkster (thanks M and B!). I also treated friends to a whole grilled fish at the San Pedro Port O'Call, watching the seabirds attempt to snatch at the overly buttered garlic breads (or perhaps I should call them loaves since these were not a slice or two of white bread, nope, these were 18 inch mammoth loaves slathered in butter and garlic. Those birds better have their cholesterols checked.).
Thanks to R, I've finally gotten to see Olivera St., and we caught Wicked at the Pantages. Has it only been 4 days?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pardon me, I need to puke

Two back to back news items make me want to scream - the Intramuros Development Administration cut down over 20 full grown trees in a park in Manila. All that's left are stumps, with numbers callously scrawled in red ink. DENR will sue them under RA 933, a Marcos era law that states anyone who is found guilty of cutting down trees in parks and other national spaces can be sent to jail for 6 months. I say that's not enough of a punishment. All of those idiots who are in charge of that office should be made to recycle all the biodegradable garbage in the city of Manila for one year, and plant 100 trees for each stump they left behind. If any of the trees planted die, they'll have to plant 50 more.

The second piece made me feel even worse. A Vietnamese fishing boat was caught with what looked like 100 pawikan (sea turtle) carcasses. Full grown adult turtles, they won't be around to grace our reefs. The environmentalist interviewed said he felt bad. I felt sick to my stomach.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Balut diplomacy

At a food event yesterday afternoon, I think there was headway made in making balut less of a fear food! A visitor from S. Asia was treated to a fresh 18 day balut, and she ate most of it! So kudos to her! And to all you folks out there still afeered of the duck egg, I say to you: qvack.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Chote Chitr: City walks, part two

After circumnavigating the outer perimeter of Nang Leong market, I chose my path to my next destination, the well reviewed Thai restuarant, Chote Chitr. Based on reviews, it was a short walk from the Democracy Monument, along Thanon Tanao. My walk led me past the Democracy Monument and along a road that hosted a lot of lottery ticket vendors. Quite curious how they work, which as a non-Thai speaker leaves me with endless questions. Why are they all clustered like that along a three block radius? And why do they sell the tickets at different prices? Or were they the winnings?

Passing the landmark and turning left on Tanao, the street turns into a mix of small commercial offices and a few parks. I started to wonder where the small alley of Phraeng Puthon was located, asked a few store owners and was told to keep going. I did see a sign that pointed more to the left than straight ahead but my gut instinct led me straight down the road until another query to a lady in an old shoe shop showed me I wasn't more than a few meters from my destination.

Chote Chitr's been written up in many online posts and reviewed by food critics. What I found true of all the write ups is the simplicity of the place, which hasn't expanded beyond the 6 or 7 tables it has had for probably a generation or two; the presence of the owner's dogs, two shitzus and a chihuahua (who was the real boss of the place, making sure the younger dogs kept to their side of the restaurant several times); and the food! Instead of going through the menu, the owner, Tim Krachoichuli, asked if I would like to try the daily special, a steamed fish curry in pandan leaves, and suggested the famous banana leaf salad. I was happy to let her choose what I'd have. Both dishes were marvelous! The first bite of the fish curry was intense, a red curry with fish and lemongrass and basil. There were three pandan cups of the curry, with cucumbers and tomato slices to cool the tongue. It wasn't fiery, but flavorful. Yes, I was sweating like mad, but I didn't feel uncomfortable with the heat of the curry. The steamed custards are the perfect portion for one person, but wait, there was the salad coming up!

The banana blossoms salad is more like a stirfry with shrimp, chicken and julienned banana blossoms. Non-asians might wonder what exactly a banana blossom is, but we do use it in all sorts of dishes. Locally we cook it with coconut milk and langka, or add it to kare kare. The dish at CC was cooked with fresh banana blossoms, on the verge of crispy, sauced with spices, and the meat. It tasted fresh and relatively light. As it's one of the restaurant's signature dishes, definitely ask for it when you're there. Ms. Krachoichuli suggested I come back for their crispy noodle dish, and if I'm back in Bangkok, I'll make sure to bring friends there to see if their more attuned Thai taste buds agree with me.

Chote Chitr — 146 Soi Phraeng Phuton, a ten minute walk from the Democracy Monument, Bangkok.
Phone: 66-2-221-408

Friday, August 29, 2008

79 out of 100

There was a recent post and survey on Marketmanila about what kind of eater (carnivore, omnivore, vegatarian, etc) one might be. I'm definitely in the omnivore category, can't foreswear meat or vegie or fruit or chocolate. Really wouldn't be much fun left in living if you have to cut out so much of the temptation in life. On the blog "Very Good Taste", the writer has posted a list of 100 foods all good omnivores should consider eating at least once. This tends to be Euro/N.American-centric, or I just think Asians eat from a wider choice of sources. Anyway, here's the challenge, read instructions below and see what kind of an omnivore you might be!


1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten. (I've italicized and bold the ones I have eaten, but they may still be hard to read.)
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

5. Crocodile
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho

13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart

16. Epoisses - let's be specific, the cheese from Epoisses, not the village itself
17. Black truffle
- shavings count I suppose?
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream

21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans

25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava

30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar - i've had the cognac sans the cigar. Half point?
37. Clotted cream tea - I've had a traditional english tea with clotted cream and scones, but I didn't add the clotted cream to my tea. Yak butter tea, now there's a way out there kind of tea!
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat - hmm, does kalderatang kambing count? It's not a curry, but it is stewed goat.
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin

51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips

61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin - this seemed like the weirdest bit on the list, but as I checked, a lot of our fruits and vegetables are sprayed with a wax made of kaolin, plus medicines we take for indigestion have kaolin.
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini

73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie - I've had a Twinkie and that's all I'm ever going to eat from Hostess.
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict - on one of the blogs that did this list, the writer said they hated eggs ben, I'm the total opposite, I declare my love for the benedict.
83. Pocky

84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare/rabbit - I added the rabbit, but if you're really picky, then only highlight which bunny you've eaten.
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate - hmm, chocolates from Venezuala, I think I've had a bittersweet from Venezuela but can't be sure it was Criollo....
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab

93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

Nang Leong Market: city walks, part one

As a tourist, there are places you must see in a particular country or city. You hit the museums, the parks, the sports stadiums, the restaurants, trek out to a volcano or castle, and for food lovers, the markets. If you've been to a place more than once, you have the opportunity to wander down the less travelled path, and peek into the lives of residents in more detail. If you're lucky, a few befriend you on the way, and allow you insight to better understand the context of their lives.

I've been to Bangkok more than a few times over the last ten years. Good friends who live and work there are reason enough to go visit, plus there's the added attraction of great food, crazy shopping, and the spirituality of the wats. When friends T and L announced that their new baby boy was going to be born in August, a few more friends and I decided to celebrate their new addition with a visit. We knew this might be the last time to catch up while they're in Asia, as they will be back in Eastern Europe for another year.

Other than celebrating the new baby (who manages to sleep through any noise level! Such a sweetheart of a boy.), I knew I'd have a couple of mornings, and most of Monday to ramble. What would I do for those spare moments? I've seen every single wat and shopping mall, plus my fair share of the canals, wet markets, and street food. This time around I wanted to walk into more residential neighborhoods and be a nosy passerby. There were two places in particular that I had on my sightseeing periscope - lunch at Chote Chitr and finding the old market of Nang Leong.

One of my favorite food blogs, Eating Asia, is composed of the talented duo of Robyn and Dave, her writing + his photos = magic! They seem like a great couple with an amazing nose for market foods and adventurous eats. They've helped me find food in Manila! Bangkok is a favorite city of theirs and they have many posts about the city's markets. One of their favorites is Nang Leong, a venerable city market that is hidden away in one of the city's many urban neighborhoods. Built in 1899, it was one of the first markets that was not built on the canals. Over the century, it has remained the center of its neighborhood, but it disappeared from the city's travel literature and maps - don't expect to see any markers for it. Reading Eating Asia's tribute to the market on their blog and in an article on the Wall Street Journal, I decided I had to go in search of the market, spend at least an hour wandering around, and finding me some good eats.

I started out later than I had planned, as breakfast at chez Eugene had to be downed properly. My able host, his nephew, and a good friend all pooled their talents to make a homecooked meal, and I wasn't about to be a disrespectful guest. By the time I tore myself away from the comforts of my home away from home, it was 10 am, and the heat was on high. Mental debate ensued - take a cab or walk to the corner-get a motorbike to take me to the skytrain-take train till Victory Monument-then cab it to the Golden Mount?

One straight taxi ride later, I got off at the Golden Mount, a wat built in the shape of a mountain. It was extremely quiet and unburdened by tourists, and I would have spent more time there if I wasn't aware that I didn't know where the market was and had to do a hide and seek walk. I headed in the direction of the Royal Princess Hotel, which was on the corner of the area I had marked as the market's location. I was tempted to duck into the airconditioned hotel lobby to cool off after the short walk, but I persevered, and started to round the corner along the street. I saw a vegetable truck go into an alley, and figured whither goeth the vegies, there lies the market. My instincts proved correct as the tight road wiggled in and around the market. I soon found myself in the middle of Nang Leong, where no more than twenty vendors sold fresh fruits, vegetables, butchered pork and chicken; the rest of the market was taken over by food stalls, and the perimeter of the market was where family diners (for the lack of a better description) sold great bowls of noodle soups, curries, and all manner of thai food. I stopped inside one of the inner market stalls, and bought myself a plate of noodle salad made out of wide rice noodles, dried shrimps, a stew of chinese mushrooms, pork and tofu in a herby soup, topped with fried garlic, chives, and chilli. I ate my second breakfast at one of the metal tables, giving a smile at the older gentleman sitting diagonal to me. He returned the smile and began to chat me up. He was Dang (possible misspell in the name, but that's the closest phonetic rendition of his name), 65 years of age, and a longterm resident of Nang Leong. A retired civil servant, he proudly showed off the newly built market roof, and pointed to a corner diner for the best curries. He offered to get me a bottled water, but what I needed and bought was a glass of manao or slightly salty lime juice, my favorite refreshment after thai iced tea. We were sometimes joined by the beverage stand owner and his personable dog. The dog follows his owner to the market everyday and keeps watch over the tables. Dang helped me buy a guava as I headed off down the road towards the Democracy Monument, and I left Nang Leong happy with my short communion with Thai life.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Ganache goodness

I was meeting with my cousin and her husband for dinner in Hong Kong last Wednesday, and wandering around before the dinner, I saw with my little eye that there was a La Maison du Chocolat store in Pacific Place. Oh dear. I could feel my credit card's fear as I approached the store.

I was one of less than five customers in the store, and there were more than enough salesladies per customer. The one who served me was a perky young girl who was happy enough to let me consider which of the many choices I wanted to take home. She asked if I was a nut, fruit, praline fan (no fruits or alcohol centers please!). "I'm a nut." Heehee. Seriously though, I wanted something with coffee or a citrus base, so I choice two of the Guiyaquil, two of the Arneguy, and two of the Bresilien. But that was not the end! For I saw the gift boxes, and scooped up two of those containing a selection of ganache, and a dark chocolate bombe (this humongous ball of chocolate with chopped hazelnuts), and a box of Orangettes, dark chocolate dipped orange peel, and (yes, one more!) a box of macarons. There would have been more, so much more temptation in that little store than in many a department store.

After sharing with family and friends, I finally had time tonight to curl up in bed, have two of the ganache squares, and savor the dark chocolate flavors. Two was not enough, life is short, and there are no more to tempt me from inside the refrigerator. My favorite is the coffee ganache, it floods my mouth with dark chocolate, creamy coffee, a perfect match of flavors. No bitterness even with the dark chocolate. It takes me awhile to finish my selection, I can't rush this kind of enjoyment. One square at a time to respect each ganache.


Address: La Maison du Chocolat, 2nd Floor, Pacific Place 1, Hong Kong.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Four scoops

"You brought good weather!" A proclaimed on Saturday, after I woke up to a sunny day in Bangkok. He told me it had been raining and the days were cloudy for several days; I thought it would be a rainy weekend since it had been drizzling hard when I arrived late Friday evening. The sun decided to follow me from Manila, so I didn't have to use the borrowed umbrella, or worry that my shoe choices would be a waste slogging through muddy streets.

However, there's such a thing as too much sun. And today, after never-ending brilliant days, blue skies, intense sun, I just couldn't take it any more. I was hot, tired, and dusty. I had found the market and the small family run restaurant on my list of things to see, I had walked for what seemed like miles even though it looked like six (maybe 7) blocks from one wat or another. My mind needed airconditioning. I flagged down the first taxi that stopped before me, and headed towards the mall.

Down in the gourmet market of Siam Paragon, it's easy enough to find succor from the heat. There's the basic food court on one side, a Japanese food display touting all sorts of goodies, countless international food options that run the gamut of budgets, and further along the main walkway, more restaurants that weren't terribly busy for the late lunchers. I headed straight to Iberry, where I had two scoops, one of the Italian coffee and pistachio. Friend J raves about iberry's black sesame, but I had just had a wonderfully intense black sesame bun which meant that I needed something else to titillate my taste buds. The pistachio won't win awards, but I must say that the intensity of the coffee ice cream was atmospheric! It was like a frozen ball of espresso, with bitterness in the aftertaste and caramel creaminess. It wasn't a great match with the pistachio, however, so if you opt for the italian coffee have something like the vanilla or the chocolate to go with it. The coffee tends to overwhelm any partner, and the pistachio didn't stand up to it.

After a couple of hours and trying to get my courage back up to face the heat outside, I wandered through the supermarket section and saw a gelato stand near the cashiers. Great positioning SP folks! The fruit gelatos were whipped and decorated in their Carmen Miranda-like glory, but I wanted vanilla, and they had a vanilla bean gelato with a lot of black specks. I don't know what ice cream devil was living in my head at the time I placed my order but instead of getting a fruit flavor with the vanilla, I pointed to the white chocolate container and ended up with this white on white cup. The vanilla was quite pleasant by itself, while the white chocolate was one step away from being frosting. I took my time licking each dewy morsel of both flavors, people watching, wondering what duties took the woman sitting to my right to collapse in an intense snooze out in the middle of the food court, and enjoying the cooling colors of the aquarium. The late afternoon glow told me it was time to head back to my friends' apartment, pack, and catch my flight home to Manila.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Stadium fashion

I'm spending a lot of my free time watching the Olympics; if there's ever a reason to quit one's job in August, it's to time it with an Olympics year, so that you can spend hours watching fencing, or synchronized platform diving. It may have been worth spending a wee bit of money to get a season's pass, which would have meant a lot more hours of tv viewing. But then, I'd never get done with all the other sedentary past-times I have planned for my extended vacation.

One online reference I found related to the Olympics is the New York Times video article about the opening ceremonies fashion. I was stuck in an airport at the time of the opening ceremonies, which meant hearing about it second hand from friends over lunch the next day. Seeing close up photos of the teams walking in with a fashion critic giving input helps put some detail on something not too many people think about - what are they wearing when they walk in en masse on that field?

The critic makes a comment about team USA's blazers, that they don't seem well made, and given the location of the games, my first thought was that Ralph Lauren must have had them outsourced in China. I did like the caps they wore, rather jaunty. So many of the large teams chose blazers, and the French team looked quite dapper (no mention of which designer got the job for that outfitting). The Australian team's sports jackets made them look like the watercube arena, perhaps if you have the entire team pose in front of the stadium, they'd be camouflaged.

Today's theme may all be fashion focused, as this article on the Financial Times suggests that pink is not only for girls. I sort of like imagining the Etro dark purple pants, or the extremely tropical look of a lavendar shirt with tangerine linen blazer. Dark suits or earth tones don't have to be the only way of expressing oneself. Live a little. Walk on the fuschia side.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Bullet travel points

1. Checkpoint redundancies: why do we need three people to check that my passport and ticket match? At the other international airport, they only have one check at the main door, while at NAIA 3, you go through three! One at the main door, then right after your luggage is scanned, someone else checks that you have your documents, and just before you pay the departure tax, some man come running after you to check your boarding pass. Yeesh.

2. Cebupac still doesn't know which departure gates to print on the boarding pass. So they tell you to hover around three gates till they inform you around half an hour before the flight departs.

3. Sign on the water fountain: Water unsafe for drinking.

4. Ceiling panels continue to heed gravity and lay bare pipes and lighting fixtures. Pillars are unpainted. Sections remain unfinished, with bare bricks and cement floors open for inspection.

There remains a great deal to be done for NAIA 3, so let's remain positive and look forward to the continued improvements.

Finally, for those of us who aren't rushing around when landing in HK, there are free shuttle buses that take you to specific spots on HK island, assuming you get off on the HK side of the Airport (I'm assuming the Kowloon side has the same service). So with a 20 minute wait at the bay, I got a bus to Causeway Bay, and felt a bit better saving some money. Granted the cost of the MTR would have been $4, so maybe it was false economy. Maybe I should have used some of that spendthrift sense buy bringing an insulated bag instead of buying one at the grocery later that afternoon.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

My kingdom for some cheese

HK done, Cebupac worked out. I'll detail some comments about NAIA 3 and Cebupac later, but for now, let me just say that after not living in HK for ten years, there are more reasons to move there, specifically availability of dairy items from all over the world. When I lived in HK in the late 90's, there were gourmet shops, but they were much smaller in scope, City Super hadn't expanded yet, and the EAT section under Seibu was a lovely respite from the otherwise lackluster groceries.
Now, even the basic grocery has enough cheese and yogurt to excite me, and if you do spend a couple of hours in City Super (I was at both the Times Square and IFC branches - kudos and many thanks to their concierge guys who helped me make sure I could pack my dairy goodies for my flight later that evening), then you will have either 1) want to live in the cheese display (much smaller than the cheese caves at Whole Foods in NY or some of the cheese stores in Europe, but who cares? They have a fantastic array for any Asian country), and/or 2) buy every kind of churned, raw, salted with fleur de sel butters - I saw french, welsh, alpine, italian, belgian, irish, vermont, and german. I wanted every one, but chose only two to bring home. And for friends J and M(squared), I brought home a motherlode of greek yogurt.

Addendum: come to think of it, I was the only person who didn't have a check in bag when we flew in to HK, and probably the only one who checked in an insulated bag full of perishable butter, yogurt and cheese on the way back. Clothes, bah; electronics, who needs em. But give me some milk products and I'm a happy camper.

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies