Thursday, May 29, 2008

Music therapy

I caught Prairie Home Companion on tv last Tuesday; Robert Altman's last film, starring M. Streep, K. Kline, W. Harrelson, L. Lohan, L. Tomlin, and PHC's founder himself G. Keillor. When it was released, I didn't get to see it on the big screen, it's a movie that lends itself well to the cosiness of the small screen. It's a movie about the making of the radio show of the same name, which is broadcast on public radio in the US, with a plot twist. The radio show as I remember it during my college days was sometimes hokey, but always entertaining. Puns, gentle literary humor, music, storytelling, all performed live in front of an audience one hears on air through their applause. Mr. Keillor's voice projects as the tranquil embodiment of the Midwest, very trustworthy in its bass grumble.

While the story was somewhat forgettable, I enjoyed listening to the folk songs performed by the actors. Didn't realize that it was Woody Harrelson until I heard him speak, he seemed shorter than I thought, and paired very well as Dusty to John C. Reilly's Lefty, two cowboys twanging their guitars and singing about all sorts of silliness (cowboy toilet humor). Ms. Streep has shown off her singing chops in previous films, so it comes as no surprise that she warbles as well as she does. She and her sister, played by Ms. Tomlin (her alto harmonizing against Streep's soprano), sing songs in dedication to their mother.

A few weeks back, I recall listening to a podcast about a musical ethnographer in the US who recorded a lot of folk music and ditties throughout the eastern seaboard and the south. He played samples of it through the presentation, and the voices were untrained but charming. Short spurts of it are enough to enjoy, listening to the words, the backyard noises, the underlying melodies. A lot of these songs will probably end up disappearing without the help of academic recordings, or shows like Prairie Home Companion.

Last month, the school I work for hosted a student music camp, and one particular workshop and concert dealt with tribal music, the facilitator (whose name I can't recall) is a dedicated Filipina ethnographist who has studied indigenous music around the country, hoping to save some of it before it all dies out. She taught the students about the links between music, the self, and storytelling without a lot of big instruments or fancy add ons. It was magical for the students to work with basic tools and sounds and learn how to make music through their own sense of rhythm. The students raved about the eye opening themes they picked up from her; I thought how wonderful it would be if their parents could have joined them in that eureka moment.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


Japanese snacks are usually rather cute and pink and cuddly and saccharine. This is the opposite. Grrr, eat me and feel my roar.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Puppies help the medicine go down

The last few months have been a trial on the family, particularly parent, front. Both my parents are getting on in age, and their physical bodies break down a lot more often than they'd like. Good thing that they don't get sick at the same time, otherwise my siblings and I'd be up the creek!

Recently, it was my mother's turn, and she had a long hospital stay which showed just how difficult a patient she is. Ornery my mom, especially when the doctor tells her to stay and she doesn't want to. After being released from the cold, institutional arms of her flower filled hospital suite, it's been like pulling teeth to get her to go for her blood tests every other week followed by a doctor's visit. Mini-tantrums, lots of phone calls, loads of drama just to get her there and back. Even my dad, who has had his fair share of hospital visits and doctors' consultations, can't understand why she has to go through this process each time. Last night, he told me in an aside "Your mama, so tigas ulo (hardheaded)!" pointing to his head like he was trying to crack a hammer on it.

This week's issue was that she didn't like the tone of my dad's caretaker who has been helping my mom with her test schedules and doctor visits. My mom cancelled her doctor's appointment and test, decided to go off with the grandkids on a shopping spree. My sister and I texted one another in frustration, wondering if she was just making it difficult for a reason or was it some kind of dementia or maybe fear of what the follow up had to say. Probably a bit of everything.

Backtrack a bit to a week ago, I had chosen to get a new pet, a puppy of ten weeks, to join me and my feline taskmaster at home. Me, my cat, my dog, full house! A furry, cinnamony brown puppy with soulful eyes and sweet disposition, whose main occupation is to find a warm spot on my lap and sleep like a cinnamon roll. I began to hatch a plan. I would bring the puppy to my mom, see if the furry bundle of joy could make her a bit more reasonable then attack with a logical (if not insightful dialogue to make her see reason). Good friend M was also facing a similar situation that same night with her aunt, who depends on her for support during medical crisis. So with M's "good luck with the dog plan" ringing on my cellphone, I brought dog, and two tasty gifts (a pan of raisin bread and jumbo pastillas de leche) to court my mother.

I first gave her the food, since it's not just a man's heart that needs feeding. Once she was looking peppier from the sight of the pastillas de leche, I brought in the main act. Bingo. In less than 10 minutes, my mom had succumbed to not just the dog but to my request for the test and doctor's visit. Where grandkids and pleas that fell on deaf ears failed, the dog won the day. Completely worth all the puppy potty training and vaccine shots and swarovski studded dog collar!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Ay, I couldn't resist. Ate my marang last night, with gusto of course. Broke open the rind, and ate the tidbits over my kitchen sink while the cat and the new puppy sniffed at each other around my feet.

However, it wasn't the only malodorous item on my dinner plate. I wrote a couple of years ago about a cheese dish I had in Germany called "obatza" (also spelled obatzda, obatzer). It was introduced to me at my first authentic Munich beerhall (Hofbrauhaus if I'm not mistaken), along with my first platter of white sausage, and a hefty stein of beer. From the outset, obatza looks like a mushy, orange plop. For pinoys, think cheese pimiento spread. However, it's not just a mash of shredded cheddar, mayo and red peppers. The recipe I was given was to take some brie or camembert, cream it with butter, add paprika for the color and serve it with thinly sliced red onions and some german pretzels.

Last Sunday, lunch with friends at a local deli found me checking out the deli offerings behind the counter, and what do I spy with my almond shaped eyes? A container of orangy mash with a sign "Obatzer, P190/100g". Holy cow. So I check with the deli man first, what cheese did they use with this? Brie, he says. The flavor is a bit more pungent than I remember, but it is obatza. I bought a small container and finally opened it last night. Since I also bought a good loaf of sourdough, I tore a chunk of the bread and spread a thin line of the cheese on it. Wow. Talk about stonk! This made me wonder if the durian had lost its crown as the king of smelliness. But the taste was lovely, albeit dangerous to hypertensives - way too salty. It must be due to the addition of pickles, since the other additives like the caraway seeds couldn't make it so salty. I would probably add more butter to this to reduce the saltiness if I ever buy it again.

Eating this meal, sharing stomach space with the western cheese smells mixed with eastern indigenous fruit carrying it's own smell, made me wonder what someone from Germany would think of the marang, and how an Asian would consider the obatza. I know of folks from both sides who'd point to each offending item and say "how could you eat that?", "it smells of dirty socks", "it stinks". I felt like I was bridging a multi-cultural gap last night, a bit of cultural fusion running through me. I waved aside the virtual naysayers and screwed up noses, and fed some of the cheese to my cat. She bolted.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fruit of the south

On the first day of my trip to Zamboanga, we were squashed like sardines in a van taking in the sights. Many of the other fellow van-mates had not been back to Zamboanga in a long time, although they were born in the city. All of us were there to help a friend celebrate her daughter's debut, plus get a chance to relax in the newly retitled "Latin City of Asia" (I'm starting to collect these names of places I go; remember what Dumaguete's title is?).

We were through with the tour of downtown, and had just bought some yakan weave near the military camp. On our way back, we passed a wet market and one of the ladies asked to stop. She had spied marang for sale and wanted to share the taste with everyone.

Marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus) reminds me of three fruis - durian, langka, and atis. The fruit and it's tree are from the same family as the langka or jackfruit, but some people mistake it for a durian as the fruit has a similar squat shape. The smell of the marang can also be a bit pungent, but its less painful to the nose, and less likely to be as offputting (putrid) as the durian. Instead of spikey thorn like protrusions (as with the durian), the marang sports a shell of soft spines, observe those spines carefully as they indicate when the fruit is ready to eat. They turn color and look a bit more hollow when the fruit is ripe. Pull back the spines and squeeze the rind back for an opening then pull apart to get to the white globes within. That's when the fruit reminds me of an atis. Each tidbit of fruit meat surrounds a small seed. Eating a langka reminds me of eating atis, sucking off the sweet fruit and spitting out the seeds. This does not make for tight-assed, prissy eating, people. It's got to be eaten on a tropical island, wearing beach wear, right after a meal of fish or grilled meat and rice, a tall glass of water near by, and friends around gossiping about the latest nonsense. Use your fingers! Don't let that fork go near the fruit. Pluck a piece or two at a time, feel the custardy meat envelope your palate, lick the taste off your fingers. Spit the seed out. Repeat. After awhile, if it's just you and a couple of friends, you might feel like your tummies are full of eggy, creamy dessert. But it's fruit! Good for ya! One marang is enough to feed at least 4 people, or one hungry person when it's all I'm having for lunch.

We had the marang over in Zambo (P50 a kilo at the market) for our dessert after lunch, and most of us loved each and every tidbit.

I went to fruit market to buy some oranges and found a vendor with two marangs, rather puny but looking like they were on their way to ripeness. It was priced at P90 a kilo, but given how rarely I find it in Manila, I bought one right away. It's now ripening in my kitchen, and this morning I woke up, walked to the bathroom and was hit in the nose by the smell of something I couldn't define. Meaty. Smokey. Anyway, after trying to figure out what was putrifying downstairs, I realized it was just my marang. Waiting for the day (tomorrow? please make it tomorrow) when I can break it open and eat it, globule by sweet globule.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Bleak house

After a rather melodramatic rendition of Madame Bovary, the relatively new cable channel Velvet is broadcasting Charles Dickens BLEAK HOUSE, the 2006 Masterpiece Theater/PBS production. Written in the mold of a thriller, probably one of the first in its genre, the plot revolves around who inherits the fortune left behind rather problematically by one Jarndyce, unfortunately with two wills, and a legal system all a-ready to jump on the circumstances. As is now, the lawyers are the only ones to gain. The many strengths of the production lie in its well-adapted screenplay, the surplus of strong acting (Gillian Anderson of the X-Files alongside the British character actors, and enough of them to confuse a new viewer), and appropriately Victorian setting. If you like legal dramas, Law and Order and their ilk, catch Bleak House while it's being shown every Thursday evening. And no, there are no subtitles!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Stark sparks (spoilers)

At the start of his one week trip and before we left for Mindanao, R and I went to Mall of Asia to watch Ironman and the first set of the World Pyro Olympics. As I had never read an Ironman comic before, the story was quite novel, but reminiscent of many a Marvel comic. There's the genius hero with not a few characteristic failings (inability to show his feelings for the girl, loss of parental guidance - do all action heros have to be orphans?, incapacity to see the bad guy when he's right in front of them), lots of action sequences like flying, fast cars, fight scenes, bad guys who won't die, Oscar-winning actresses who have to take a job because better scripts aren't readily available. Robert Downey Jr. is the not as sensitive as he should be hero, who seems to be the pinnacle of capital greed, until life jolts him into realizing what money can't buy (except he still can't tell the girl how he feels, merely parries it into how much she means to him in a very vague, non-committal kind of way, plus would you mind getting killed for me and my attempt to save the world?). Gwyneth plays the girl friday with a freudian name, and another oscar winner, Jeff Bridges, shares shiney head space with the not so subtle typecast Middle Eastern villain. Bald men should boycott all Marvel comic movies. Lex Luther, and now two villains in this movie. Evil geniuses or just needy of Rogaine?

Ironman, aka Tony Sparks, is less broody than Batman/Bruce Wayne, although both are uberbillionaires with playboy reps. Mr. Downey plays the facetious title character with some feyness thrown in, and tight body shirts to show off the pecs and the glowing nuclear heart. Again, as a newbie to Ironman, does the character have to start its engines looking like Chaplin about to waddle? Or is that just a reminder that Downey played Chaplin?

Overall, the story wasn't as emotionally enthralling as the Spiderman or X-men series. Perhaps the writing needs to up the emo quotient the next time around.

As for the World Pyro, I really enjoyed the German team's spectacle, with its symmetry that succeeded without boring the audience, a textural approach to the display, and drama! Sadly the Chinese show, which opened the night, was nice, but had no punch. Wouldn't it have been nice to see an Olympics ring display? Or am I too literal minded?

Pink + babies

There are years when several friends and relatives are all marching down the aisle, there are others when it seems it's all about babies, and then years when it seems everyone I know has a death in the family. Over the last two days, I have received consecutive emails from girlfriends about pregnancies. One is having her second child, and will return to Asia from her posting in Europe just to give birth. Her first pregnancy had its rough moments, and I can only surmise that she's returning due to similar health concerns. That reminds me of the relatively recent birth of the second son of a good friend. She, too, returned to the Philippines to give birth, as she had a difficult pregnancy. There's comfort in working with the same doctor and medical specialists that kept you and the baby safe the first time around.

The second friend who told me today of her future baby is my soul sister S, whose wedding I attended in Germany. She and her husband are in Beijing and as their work plans have been unsettled so far, it is not sure where they will be when the baby is born. I would love to see her before or after she gives birth, but it may be too difficult to plan right now. Time will tell, and I can always avail of the low airfares to see both ladies while they are within the continent.

Nothing to do with babies, except for the color being highly symbolic of girl babies, but I was able to sink my toes (slightly pink in their own way) in the pink sand of Santa Cruz island off the mainland of Zamboanga. After years of visiting Zambo, I had my first visit to Sta Cruz with friends over the weekend. The sand is more salmon color than rose, the source due to crushed red coral mixed in with the beige sand. We also got to walk to the mangroves on the other side of the island (facing Basilan), where we frightened the bright red tiny crabs into their dens. The mangrove islets are awash with the red shellfish, and from afar, it looks like the muddy mounds have red dots, then they move and you realize those aren't flora. Since Zamboanga is better known for its curacha, another crablike creature, we avoided trying to nap the baby shellfish and tucked into several servings of the curacha instead, doused in not so red Alavar sauce. More of an orange hue if I may say so.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Of sandwiches and lost food

Two interesting food articles on New York Times call to mind some thoughts. The first is about sandwiches creating buzz (that sausage sandwich makes me want to grill the hungarian links I have in the refrigerator), and the second is about food losing ground, with their own champion attempting to save them from extinction. Would it be possible to set up a restaurant that only serves one kind of sandwich per day, with a rotation of styles ranging from a simple grilled cheese to a cuban to a banh mi to a hotdog to a basic burger or a simple cucumber sandwich served with teas? I think it might be rather fun, but probably not too profitable. A forum for creativity perhaps, buying fresh bread everyday, a few choice ingredients and putting together whatever strikes your fancy that day. A Sandwich a Day.

As for lost food, it reminds me of a discussion I had with food friend T over lunch. I brought her to the okonomiyaki restaurant in Little Tokyo, and we chatted about food (we're both with a local food society so it sort of makes sense or perhaps we're just obsessed). She asked me about my favorite childhood fruits and foods (typically Filipino foods that might be hard to find these days), and as we chatted nostalgically, suggested that I start surveying people about their childhood meals and put together a book. Hmmm, I think she has far more faith in my abilities than I do. Plus there are bloggers out there doing just that and in a way I wouldn't have time or means to (Marketman for one).

Friday, May 02, 2008


Major Bono confluences over the last 24 hours - first with the U2 IMAX experience, then buying the soundtrack to Across the Universe. I knew he sang two songs on the album, "I am the Walrus" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", am enjoying singing along to the first (hence the title of this post).

On other domestic fronts, I was reading about the Shakers and their food, and came across a simple Shaker Lemon Pie recipe, with less than 10 ingredients to it. Macerated sliced lemons are mixed with eggs and layered into a easy to make pie crust. Bake and serve. I plan to do that this weekend with the best vanilla ice cream I can buy. That will serve as the dessert to a baked chicken plus potatoes and peas in cream, the latter another Shaker recipe. Dessert first (right Lori?)!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies