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.


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!

Pike Market Peonies

Pike Market Peonies