Archive of ‘food’ category

“friends forever…”

The Philippines, according to Wikipedia, is said to observe the longest Christmas season in the world.

This is true. Malls put up Christmas trees and play carols as early as September. Homes are festooned with lights in November. I was aghast to learn that a cousin in the US bought her tree only a week ago; I had ours up and flashing by November 3, right after hundas or the local Dia del Muerte observances.

By the first week of December, restaurants and bars are fully booked for the seemingly endless rounds of parties. For the average employed Filipino adult, there are at least two that one can count on being invited to – the office party and the barkada get-together. The entire month is one big party, and everyone’s invited!

Work and office planning is hardly done around this time – “Magpa-Pasko na (Christmas is coming), you should’ve done that in October or November,” is something heard frequently. Most activities are postponed. “After Christmas na ‘yan, ha.” Work slows. Shopping speeds up. Stores are full of people, pockets bulging with their thirteenth-month pay and bonuses, eager to spend it all on gifts for family and friends. Employers nod indulgently as employees take two-hour lunches and return laden with shopping bags. They themselves leave early for corporate holiday affairs, golf tournaments in Baguio, and out-of-the-country vacations.

With pressure easing  on all sides, a sense of relaxation pervades. This makes the holidays a perfect time for renewing friendships. Last Friday, I met up with one of my best friends, Adelle Chua, opinion editor of Manila Standard-Today, where I am a horseracing columnist. We see each other perhaps three to four times a  year. We eat, catch up on the latest, eat, share feminist philosophies, eat. We did all our eating at the Racks’ in El Pueblo (Ortigas), where the succulent and tender sweet baby back ribs and side dishes keep us coming back for more.

After dinner, we went for dessert and coffee next door, to San Francisco Coffee Co. Die-hard Starbucks habitues, we were thinking of walking to the one at Emerald Avenue. But SFCC had an interesting sign – “Free WiFi.” We swung the glass doors open and walked in.

Not that we were able to try out the wi-fi. A delicious smell of syrup and coffee wafted us into our seats. Comfortably ensconced with coffee in mugs and an oatmeal bar in front of us, we chatted the night away. We must have covered a dozen topics, ranging from parents and parenting, DNA testing, and religion to fountain pens, the effects of aging on interpersonal relationships, and inner-spring mattresses.

Adelle and I are both writers. Bound by our common love of language, we deplored the declining standards of grammar, spelling, and technical proficiency. We drowned our sorrows over the fall of belles lettres in large mugs of our favorite brew.

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I love San Francisco Coffee’s Raspberry Mocha. The best talaga, ever!

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This is a nice, quiet place with very good coffee and pleasant, accommodating baristas who let us stay a little past closing and said not a word, letting us leave when we were ready. I wish they had more branches around the city.

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After Adelle and I exchanged goodbyes and promises to meet again soon, I trekked to Metrowalk for another reunion – this time with batchmates from the Ateneo de Manila University Regis MBA program. The invitation came from Atty. Natus Rodriguez, Atty. Noel de Leon, and Major Edmar de la Torre. How could I say no to two lawyers and a cop?

The venue was Aruba, a trendy bar-cum-dance club part-owned by Natus. It’s a terrific place that plays ’80s music, both live and canned.  The crowd is upscale. Meaning they can headbang and respect personal space at the same time.

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Natus ordered our party of ten his favorite drink. I forget what it’s called, but it’s served in shot glasses. A brown fluid lurks at the bottom while a milky liquid floats on top. Then it’s set on fire. Straws are handed round, the drink is sucked up, everyone applauds. It goes straight to your brain.

This time around, there isn’t much conversation, what with the loud music, dancing, and flaming drinks. Yet just seeing each other there was enough. Communication was achieved, the message being, “I cared enough to invite you/ I cared enough to come. We’re still friends.” We whisper into each other’s ears, catch up a bit, exchange phone numbers, find out how we can help each other.

But don’t wait until the holidays to refresh your relationships with your friends. Just like a plant, friendships can wither and die if not fed often with communication. Stay in touch. Make that your New Year’s resolution.

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bedside reading

Whenever I’m asked, “What are you reading now?”, I’m sometimes hard pressed to answer. I do read one book at time, but there’s always a stack or two of volumes beside my bed,  some of which I’ve read, the others newly acquired and next in line for reading.

My tastes are eclectic. There are marketing and business books, holdovers from my MBA days – Marketing Gurus, all the Franklin Covey books. Lately I’m into memoirs – Matthew Polly’s hilarious American Shaolin, A. J. Jacob’s tongue-in-cheek The Year of Living Biblically, Laura Shaine Cunningham’s poignant and brave A Place in the Country.

Near the top, where I can easily reach them, are the latest thoroughbred catalogues from Australia’s Magic Millions and Keeneland in Kentucky. Keeneland’s November 2008 sale catalogues are the more interesting. It is a set of eight thick books, the information on weanlings and other bloodstock printed on thin paper. I open to the Index to Sires and roll their names in my mouth like candy – Cryptoclearance, Langfuhr, Star de Naskra.

Somewhere in those stacks are the latest edition of Strunk and White, my style manual ever since it was introduced to me in my freshman English class at the University of the Philippines; a Dummies guide to Adobe InDesign for print publication layouting; and three volumes of the Plaridel journal, the academic publication of the UP College of Mass Communication.

And at the bottom of the shorter pile is Julie Morgenstern’s Organizing from the Inside-Out – probably not the best place for it to be, if I want it to be of any help.

Any house I live in will be filled with books. It’s almost a psychological given; a house is not a home for me unless there are many books in it, spilling from shelves, stacked against the wall, piled on the coffee table.

My love for books stems from childhood. My mother raised me on science fiction and fantasy. This is a woman who kept her Lord of the Rings trilogy on the shelf below the TV set in her room, while all the other books were kept in the living room. This was back in the early ’80s, before fantasy became fashionable and when all of Tolkien’s books were out of print. Her copies, which she bought as a teenager at Lopue’s and China Rose in Bacolod City, were printed in the ’60s, before “acid-free” was heard of, and the pages were yellowed and crumbled at a touch. The spines were battered and mended many times with tape, which had also discolored to a color like weak tea.

In the tall wicker bookshelves in the sala she kept cookbooks. One of them was a ’50s hardbound Betty Crocker cookbook from her nanny who migrated to the United States. I have it now, and treat it as an heirloom. Others were cookbooks from the ’70s; those were filled with recipes for fondue, which seemed to me to be highly impractical since you needed a fondue burner.

That didn’t faze my mother. She improvised with a miniature saucepan on the stove. We gathered in the kitchen, dipping cubes of Kraft cheddar cheese in beaten egg, then breadcrumbs, then plunging them in hot oil till toasty brown.

Also on the shelves were my stepfather’s encyclopedias and his mother’s collection of children’s “two-in-one” hardbound classics. For instance, one side was Grimm’s Fairy Tales; flip the book and you got Hans Christian Andersen’s stories. My mother also had a good collection of adult classics – Aldous Huxley, Jonathan Swift, Charles Dickens, the Brontes. I wore out Bullfinch’s Mythology, though I later lost that particular copy.

My mother also possessed nearly all the Edgar Rice Burroughs books – my favorites being the Tarzan series (no, there wasn’t a “Cheeta” in the books) and the Mars series. The latter starred skimpily-clad Martian princess Dejah Thoris, who was constantly being saved by her husband, the manly Earthling John Carter, from predatory villains and robots controlled by evil scientists.

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Fanart depiction of Barsoom (Mars); in the center, Dejah Thoris and John Carter face a myriad perils

Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” stories were also well-represented. H. Rider Haggard and his endless yarns of hunter Allan Quatermain’s adventures in lost cities in Africa? Check. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells classics? Yes, there too, as well as L. Frank Baum’s “Oz” books, many of them with the original John R. Neill art nouveau illustrations.

Neill’s drawings of Ozma’s hair – confined at the forehead by a thin diadem, tresses curling in whiplash tendrils – and her gauzy draperies, floating cloudlike around her slim body – captured my young imagination, representing an aesthetic that was otherworldly and unreachable. To this day, it is one of my favorite genres of art.

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A Neill watercolor of Dorothy, Glinda, and Ozma of Oz.

Knowing of my insatiable – and indiscriminate – appetite for books, my mother kept those she felt inappropriate for my age in her closet, which we children never opened. When I was in college, she brought the books down, the ban lifted. One of them was Stephen King’s Dark Forces, a collection of horror and SF works by various writers. My mother probably didn’t object to the storylines but rather to King’s salty language.

In any case, it was just more grist for my mill, along with her more spinechilling H. P. Lovecraft books. The cover of one was horrifying - a worm snaked through the empty eye-socket of a half-decayed skull which bore clumps of matted hair and rodent-like teeth. I averted my eyes from that awful artwork whenever I opened that book to read about the Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep.

At the mere thought of that macabre painting, an involuntary shudder shakes my frame as chills riff up and down my spine. Uncannily, this is my exact same reaction when my eyes or fingers travel over the few old college mathematics and physics textbooks unexpurgated from my shelves. Cthulhu ftaghn!

My father was yet another heavy reader, but his tastes ran more to W. Somerset Maugham, John O’ Hara, Norman Mailer, Sholom Aleichem, Truman Capote, biographies. Pops lived in California for five years in the ’80s, and while there wrote me excitedly when he began Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,  Dee Brown’s novel on native American history. He wasn’t into science fiction; the most that he got into that genre was Ray Bradbury – I Sing the Body Electric, Something Wicked This Way Comes.

I usually finish what I start. The exception is one book that I bought at a secondhand bookstall in Morayta in the late ’80s, set aside because its dense language put me to sleep although its ideas were interesting; a paradox in its rules of engagement. It was Marshall McLuhan’s 1964 work Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. This groundbreaking book had a profound impact on mass communication and media studies. As a mass comm major, I felt duty bound to read it. It’s one of the books by my bed. Sometimes I feel I keep it around not so much because I plan to finish reading it, but as a talisman to keep me focused on the particular discipline that is my life’s work.

Let me see – it’s in the taller stack, under the used copy of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast that I found a couple of years ago at Booksale for P45. It’s the second in the “Titus Groan” trilogy. I got the first book in the late ’80s, also at Morayta, deep in the University Belt in the heart of Manila. I’m still looking to complete the set. Perhaps twenty years from now, in another serendipitous moment, I’ll stumble upon a copy of Titus Alone and I will add it, yet another block in the tower of books by my bed.

People come into my house, find piles of books stacked chest-high against the walls and two- or three-deep in bookcases, and ask, “Have you read all those?” The answer is, yes, except for that darn McLuhan.

And often, “Why do you like reading so much?” and at that I am rendered inarticulate. It is difficult to explain to people who do not read, who do not relish the sensation of eyes tracking words across a page to be immersed in a story, momentarily losing touch of reality.

My own habit of reading is a result of childhood influence and a desire to escape. I lose myself in forests of words and in thickets of concepts, drown in rivers of language, wander through time and space. The volumes by my bed embody different worlds where I may go freely, through the simple expedient of cracking open a book and reading.

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a latte and a cinnamon bun

Good morning! What are you having for breakfast? I’m having a latte and cinnamon bun. My latte is actually a blend of Starbucks Kape Vinta brewed in a french press, with half a cup of water and a tumblerful of this creamy milk.

With the melamine-in-Chinese-milk scandal still very much in the headlines, my children and I were at first apprehensive about the safety of our favorite brand of milk. We drink liters of this stuff, and I figure if there were melamine in it we’d have keeled over long ago. We use skim with cereal and for cooking, but for drinking from a glass, nothing beats the taste of full cream.

No affiliation or anything like that, it’s just one of my favorite things. Along with the cinnamon bun.

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let them eat – cupcakes!

It was a serendipitous walk around the basement of PowerPlant Mall that led us to a cheerful little stall all ablaze in pink. Called “The Sweet Life by Ange”, this home-based bakery purveys cupcakes; “Sweet Surrender”, their variation of Brazo de Mercedes with French vanilla ice cream; and cheesecake cookies.

The adventure into their take on the sweet life begins with the adorable packaging. The box combines my favorite color -pink – with complements of ivory and chocolate.

When you open the box, a delectable sight greets your eyes – a dozen cupcakes, generously iced with artistic swirls, cherries, candy hearts, or chocolate beans perched atop.

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“Couture Cupcakes”. Top, L-R: Marie Antoinette (vanilla cupcake with Tequila Rose Buttercream), Chanel (moist chocolate cupcake with Valrhona Buttercream). Below, L-R: Satine (red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting), Sugar Daddy (moist chocolate cupcake with Bailey’s Buttercream).

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Their sampler box of 12 mini cupcakes is dressed with a pink bow.

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Twelve bite-sized chunks of cake tempt and delight.

“The Sweet Life by Ange” will be at Rockwell during the “Bakers’ Dozen” sale, every weekend until December.

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food and fountain pens, a perfect combination!

Filipino fountain pen collectors gathered to celebrate pens, ink, and a fellow collector’s birthday at the second meeting of the Fountain Pen Network-Philippines (FPN-P) chapter last Saturday (August 23) at the home of stockbroker/musician Jay Ignacio.

Multi-talented birthday celebrant Jay, who is also a chef specializing in Italian cuisine, whipped up a delectable feast for fellow FPN-P members: grilled chicken salad, Italian meatloaf with creamy mushroom sauce, vegetarian penne (“Eh kasi nga naman ‘pen’ meet ito,” said Jay), and appetizers of cold cuts and chunks of parmigiano meant to be eaten with orange marmalade.

The piece de resistance was the magnificent “Nakaya Rose” cake and matching cupcakes, commissioned by Jay’s family from a bakeshop specializing in bespoke pastry.

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No, the pens were not edible. But they were very very pretty and we all wished they were real.

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The inspiration for the cakes came from these print ads in a pen magazine (photos by Ayee Ignacio)

It might have been Butch Palma, who lived in the US for over two decades, who said that penmeets in the US get along fine with just doughnuts and coffee. We all looked at each other and shrugged. In the Filipino culture, all gatherings are marked by an abundance of food. You can no more have a meeting without food than you can have a penmeet without – er – pens.

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Penfriends (L-R) Butch Dalisay, Caloy Abad Santos, Jay Ignacio, Chito Limson, Butch Palma, and Leigh Reyes

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Leigh shows Chito how to smoothen a scratchy nib with Micromesh

Butch P., who has around 400 pens in his collection, has made a hobby of pen restoration, as has Leigh. Together they made a terrrific tag team – Butch P. to align the tines of nibs, Leigh to smoothen them – for their impromptu fountain pen “lying-in” (not quite a hospital or a clinic). In just a few minutes, they massaged a recalcitrant Recife of Butch D.’s into smooth-as-silk condition.

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Pens and inks were the stars of the party. Towards the bottom of the image are big guns such as Arita, Montegrappa, Pelikan, and Visconti. The two gray pen trays in the upper part of the image show Butch P.’s “for sale” pens – among them lovely vintage Sheaffer Snorkels, Balances, and Triumphs, all of which he has fully restored and rendered functional. At the very top, the red felt-lined wooden box stows some of Butch D.’s Pelikans.

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The bright orange ink on the left is “Majestic Orange” from Noodler’s Singapore line. Dubbed “bulletproof and eternal” , it will not wash away from paper nor can it be removed with bleach or other chemical means including airplane degreasers. The paper will disintegrate first. Yes, it’s that tough.

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Leigh’s bottle of “evil” Noodler’s Baystate Blue – it stains horribly, yet has such a vibrant, eye-popping color. Bravely, Caloy filled a pen with this potent potion.

Like collectors of every stripe, we talked about our obsessions for five enjoyable hours that quickly passed. Pens exchanged hands and were dipped in the inks that we shared with each other – Noodler’s Singapore line was well represented with Spirit of Bamboo, Majestic Orange, Vanda Miss Joaquim, and Singapore Sling.

Also on hand to try were Leigh’s Noodler’s Baystate Blue and Jay’s “vanilla” black Parker Quink, which Leigh used to lubricate the pens for smoothening. My favorite was the Diamine Cerise from Leigh, a happy cheerful hue that satisfies my craving for pink ink. With our nibs soaked in rainbows, we executed swirls and flourishes in copperplate and chicken scratch, as the fancy took us.

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Leigh’s calligraphy. This is what FPs can do, in well-trained and artistic hands. The line variations are possible only with semi-flex and flexible nibs, usually stubs and italics. (Photo by Butch Dalisay)

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My pens (L-R): late 20′s hard rubber ringtop, ’30s celluloid Wahl-Eversharp, mid-’30s Sheaffer Ebonized Pearl Junior, ’30s Welsharp mini, mid-’30s Sheaffer Black-and-Pearl petite, ’70s Pilot 77, 1944 Parker Vacumatic, ’30s Wearever, ’30s Sheaffer Balance Jet Black Lady, ’30s Sheaffer Balance Golden Brown Striated standard size, ’30s Sheaffer Balance Jet Black Lady (photo by Butch Dalisay)

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starbucks’s latest

Fresh from Starbucks’s kitchens are new desserts and drinks. Say hello to the Strawberry Lamington and Pomegranate Peach Juice Frappucino:

Raspberry Mocha Frap (my signature drink), sample of the Pomegranate Peach Juice Frap with Tazo Tea, Strawberry Lamington

A Lamington is a cube of sponge cake or butter cake, coated with icing (traditionally chocolate) and rolled in dessicated coconut. It was first concocted in Australia in honor of Charles Cochrane-Baillie, 2nd Baron Lamington, who served as Governor-General of Queensland from 1896 to 1901. The strawberry variety is said to be more common in New Zealand.

The Pomegranate Peach drink infused with Tazo Tea is, as advertised, tart and refreshing – a pleasant change from the usual coffee and milk.

Starbucks De La Rosa (Makati) serves these up with a smile and a cheery “hi”.

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starbucks de la rosa

With one of my favorite branches in Makati City, Starbucks Rufino cor. Legaspi, shut for renovation, I had to find another in the area which is near the church I attend (Union Church of Manila), and the Philippine Racing Commission which I visit weekly.

Here’s Starbucks De La Rosa to the rescue!

The baristas are warm and friendly, and don’t seem to mind my taking pictures. On my second visit, they had my drink down pat (Double Grande Raspberry Mocha Frapuccino Light Blended, one Splenda).

I spent a pleasant half-hour here early Monday morning (May 19), breakfasting on a Caesar Salad. It’s one of the places that’s got good vibrations. Not too commercial, not too packed, everything still one-on-one and quite relaxing.

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brownies and ice cream: perfect combination!

With the heat of summer threatening to melt the skin off your bones, anything cool is a respite and to be eagerly embraced. Ice cream is tops on the list.

Shakey’s, famous for thin and crunchy pizzas, offers this Brownie Ala Mode treat.

Surprisingly – it is g0o0d. The Sta. Ana, Manila branch serves the brownie base warm and the ice cream almost frozen. The brownie cake is marbled, about nine inches in diameter and huge, meant for sharing.

Value for money plus great flavor and presentation – Shakey’s has a winner here!

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sunday lunch at max’s

Max’s at Greenbelt 1 beckoned to us for lunch last Sunday. As usual, a christening celebration was being held in the backroom, while the front dining area was crammed. Max’s, a Filipino classic established in the ’50s, is a favorite for family celebrations.

On the wall, a photomural shows the menu and prices of over forty years ago.

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While it calls itself “the house that fried chicken built”, Max’s has added other dishes to its repertoire, constantly re-inventing itself over the years.

Alex, Ik, and I shared half a chicken, pasta carbonara with garlic bread, and lumpiang shanghai with sweet-and-sour sauce.

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Dessert was leche flan in a pool of golden syrup, and halo-halo with everything on it.

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Ube ice cream sprinkled with pinipig crowns the halo-halo; chunks of flan, ube jam, plaintain banana, with other sweet preserves add to the medley of flavors that speak of a Filipino summer.

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tanabe: turning japanese

A birthday, at any age, is always special and must be celebrated. So for Oyet’s 44th, we tried out Tanabe, a Japanese restaurant at Mall of Asia.

The place is decorated in restful grays and tans. The ten-page menu is crammed with all sorts of delectables. Try the Beef Mini-Gyudon; it’s tender and sweet. It comes with a salad, tofu, and miso soup.

Also highly recommended are the Vegetable Spring Rolls, the Ebi Tempura, Tamago Maki, and the Salmon Sashimi, so fresh and succulent. The California Maki is particularly good; the sushi chef had a liberal hand with the roe. The rice rolls filled with mango, kani, and cucumber, which can be dry at chain establishments, are juicy at Tanabe and are a visual treat, plated on a turquoise dish.

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The evening was made especially memorable by staff Neri and Rose, who, upon learning what we were celebrating, came out of the kitchen at the end of our meal bearing plates of sliced watermelon and pineapple, and singing “Happy Birthday”. Thanks to restaurateur Tony de Ubago for a wonderful dinner and a magical evening, now a part of our family memories.

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