Cooking in exile

Some people were born with an instinct for cooking, like my Tita Gigi who can cook just about anything and make it taste SO GOOD (hotdogs! kare-kare! sinigang!), my Auntie Nita with her delightful Hokkien meals (i.e. fried lumpias, sweet & sour pork, and the like), or Turtle, for whom baking is a birthright (we're a fan of her scones, Shepherd's pies, brownies).

Unlike them, I wasn't born clasping a spatula in my hand. In the kitchen, I've always had to exert a little more effort and practice a bit more caution. But I can't be kept away: cooking is everyday magic- you mix different ingredients of various compositions over low/medium/high heat, and, voila, those things fuse and become a plate of something! These days, post-Sem2 deadlines, I find myself poring over cooking blogs like my favorite, Casa Veneracion, and selecting recipes to try. The things I'm planning to make will be nothing fancy. Just simple, healthy stuff.

Sem 2 Meals
One of the best gifts of leaving home and living on my own is that it forced me to cook. No more just imagining how to make recipes work; living alone forced me to move beyond epic cooking failures (the horror of charcoal-ed kropeks) and just try again. This sem, my kitchen experiences have involved figuring out ways to vary cooking a specific ingredient, how to incorporate cupboard items to not let them go to waste, and how to appropriate local products/ choose substitutes.

In the spirit of documenting some cooking milestones of the sem, I made...

1. Chicken adobo -- nothing that will change anyone's world by any means, but edible! Edible and decent enough to tide me through bouts of homesickness.
2. Sinigang -- let me emphasize that Filipino dishes are very intimidating. I remember trying out sinigang in Japan and it was just too bland! Since I didn't want to waste the mixes I brought in KL, I decided to give it another try. It wasn't as hard as I thought, whew. Being able to produce not bad bowls of sinigang and adobo amounts to personal feats to me.
3. Ginataang tilapia w/ chili -- memorable because it taught me the how tos of cooking with gata and chili

4. Curry Chicken, Malaysian-style -- what I will make in the Philippines when I start missing Malaysia (it's bound to happen, it is)
5. Steamed fish, resto-style-- the most important part being, I learned how to make a steamer work. It sounds dumb that I had no clue how to steamer work so thankgod, I learned. Cooking steamed fish is like hitting two goals in one: learning to steam and finding healthier ways of preparing food.
6. Korean pea sprouts-- cooking for one is indeed an approach and pea sprouts are especially appropriate for this purpose.

Cooking is tiring. At some point (the whole of May), I released myself from the burden of prepping meals to have time to read for and write my papers. Now that I'm relatively deadline-free, it's back to the kitchen, folks.

I probably save half the amount I spend when I buy, so that's great for my limited budget. But the most important reason to cook is so I end up like a Murakami character (kidding! haha! his protagonists always cook); the most important thing is that cooking lets me eat healthier. One can only eat the same hawker-plied foods (or fastfoods) a few times in one month.

On to more cooking adventures and going after those kitchen aspirations! =)


"Hello, Mr. Spock"

Some of the things I've been getting a kick out of recently
  • the similarities between programming and linguistics lexicon
  • cryptic crosswords as penalty
  • Dr. Uhura's profession and, well, Spock
  • conversations about faith, the Bible, Christianity which are as easy as they're complex (if you think this part is corny, you can quietly exit the page, no judgment)



Happy birthday, AiyoRach!

Tambay w/ my favorite chick at our favorite Pasig Starbucks

MNL Corporate Woman celebrates another year. Now, I've never known anyone who worked as hard, looked as cute, and drank as much Starbucks Frappe! But the thing about her is, she's always crazyfun even while she has her eyes on the prize -- and she's got her loved ones' backs, always, making sure to share each and every blessing. We're all oh-so-lucky to have her, yes? YES! 

Happy birthday, AiyoRach! I wuv you!

Manila where my monsters hid

After reading (Tita) Angela Stuart-Santiago's commentary on Dan Brown's quip in his latest book about Manila being the "gates of hell" (a logical choice, given the Catholic church's anti-RH stance and the oligarchy that the Philippine government is, as the post says), I remembered how as a kid I would tag along with my Papa to his office in Zacateros, one of the narrow streets that crossed Ongpin. We took the jeepney from Roosevelt to Sta. Cruz, got off at Avenida, and crisscrossed our way through the bakeries, hardwares, electronic stores, etc. until we reached his office. As a 5-year-old, seeing diced hopias made in front of you was a treat you tire of less easily than the diced hopias. Let's not even talk about the smell of chestnuts found everywhere in those streets-- holygee, the taste of chestnuts won't hold a candle to their smell! Then there's the incomprehensible chatter that was probably a mix of Hokkien, Tagalog, Bisaya; told me early on that the world city I inhabited could not be a quiet (or peaceful) one. There were shop keepers (some who my Dad knew), coffee shops (including one which he frequented), noodle houses (wonderful). There were also beggars at the foot of the LRT and barkers in the perimeter of Sta. Cruz church; early exposure to the fact that while Papa and I did not enjoy many luxuries ("middle class" would be pushing it), there were families, men, children with fates worse than us.

There were also the batang kalye (streetkids) of Zacateros who were my age and who became a sort of barkada. When I was still allowed to play with them, these kids took me to their haunts, streets alleys narrower than that where Papa's office stood, and showed me alleys cracks on the wall where they lived. Oh, I remember trying my first smoke somewhere in Ongpin, my Zacateros barkada and I saw a lit cigarette on the street, picked it up and took turns puffing. I was so proud of myself that afternoon, I hurriedly ran back to Papa and told him what I just did. After that I was only permitted to wave at them. Eventually in shame when they’ll come around to “pick me up” and I wasn’t permitted to go anymore, I just hid at the back part of the office. Now in writing, I kind of wish that my 5 year-old self recognized that what was novel to me was everyday life for them.

Early exposure to middle class guilt and the warfare that exists in the everyday, salamat Manila.

Eventually all those afternoons I insisted on tagging along because I was Papa's buntot and suffered from serious separation anxiety when I'm not with him was soon no longer. One day I just refused to go because I had started having recurring dreams of Sta. Cruz, getting lost in its streets, taken by "bad people" like those in the movies, etc. etc. 

Some 15+ years later and the nostalgia that happened to old Manila by way of food tours and heritage walks and the city morphed into a "cultural adventure". I spent one birthday doing that, out of nostalgia “for a part of Manila I grew up.”

When peering through the lens of culture, it’s so easy to edit the picture. Manila offers those dumplings you cannot have elsewhere in the city, sniff chestnuts oh-so-easily, and have the best bowl of noodles, but also in Manila is where the warfare of the streets is ever alive, persists, persisted, a continuing sad tragic backdrop.

I wonder what the duo Mayor Erap/ VM Isko has planned. Having come from the streets themselves, let's see?

I remember showing Zacateros to Turtle and Elephant a few years ago; I was hoping one of the Zacateros kids will recognize me, give my shoulder a tap and say "kalaro kita dati." No such luck. Middle class peeps, tough is our luck, but luck is tougher for most of these Manila electorate.  


Busy April

Approaching the middle of the month and school/work/rakets have been piling up! Not complaining, not complaining (oh but I sometimes do. I just pray that even when I do complain, I remember to be thankful).

Before I list the highlights, here are 2 poems, for those "different wells within your heart" (Hafiz) and to, this time, loving with all of your intelligence (A. Rich).

Splittings (Adrienne Rich)

My body opens over San Francisco like the day-
light raining down     each pore crying the change of light
I am not with her     I have been waking off and on
all night to that pain     not simply absence but
the presence of the past     destructive
to living here and now     Yet if I could instruct
myself, if we could learn to learn from pain
even as it grasps us     if the mind, the mind that lives
in this body could refuse     to let itself be crushed
in that grasp     it would loosen     Pain would have to stand
off from me and listen     its dark breath still on me
but the mind could begin to speak to pain
and pain would have to answer:

                                                       We are older now
we have met before     these are my hands before your eyes
my figure blotting out     all that is not mine
I am the pain of division     creator of divisions
it is I who blot your lover from you
and not the time-zones nor the miles
It is not separation calls me forth     but I
who am separation     And remember
I have no existence     apart from you

I believe I am choosing something new
not to suffer uselessly     yet still to feel
Does the infant memorize the body of the mother
and create her in absence?     or simply cry
primordial loneliness?     does the bed of the stream
once diverted     mourning     remember wetness?
But we, we live so much in these
configurations of the past     I choose
to separate her     from my past we have not shared
I choose not to suffer uselessly
to detect primordial pain as it stalks toward me
flashing its bleak torch in my eyes     blotting out
her particular being     the details of her love
I will not be divided     from her or from myself
by myths of separation
while her mind and body in Manhattan are more with me
than the smell of eucalyptus coolly burning     on these hills

The world tells me I am its creature
I am raked by eyes     brushed by hands
I want to crawl into her for refuge     lay my head
in the space     between her breast and shoulder
abnegating power for love
as women have done     or hiding
from power in her love     like a man
I refuse these givens     the splitting
between love and action     I am choosing
not to suffer uselessly     and not to use her
I choose to love     this time     for once
with all my intelligence


Some Fill with Each Good Rain (Hafiz)

There are different wells within your heart.
Some fill with each good rain,
Others are far too deep for that.

In one well
You have just a few precious cups of water,

That “love” is literally something of yourself,
It can grow as slow as a diamond
If it is lost.

Your love
Should never be offered to the mouth of a

Only to someone
Who has the valor and daring
To cut pieces of their soul off with a knife

Then weave them into a blanket
To protect you.

There are different wells within us.
Some fill with each good rain,

Others are far, far too deep
For that.



Events that transpired in the Philippines last March was somewhat taxing, soul-wise. There were the events in Lahad Datu, there was the tragic suicide of a UP Manila student. The last one hit pretty hard. If there's one thing the Kristel Tejada tragedy reminded me is this: that activism is still relevant and very necessary. And that we in our middle class chairs owe it to the Kristel Tejadas in the Philippines, of the University of the Philippines, to speak out and guard against unfair administrative policies.  

What Dr. Seuss said:

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not.” (The Lorax) 

Caring is tiring, yes, but if we want things to change there's no other recourse.


cupboard inventory

Love is a grilled cheese sandwich, layered with different kinds of cheeses and butter. It's an exotic Mexican burger (with a name you already forgot) given a Pinoy twist (with pandesal) stuffed with chorizo and beans, an ingredient bought and cooked the first time. There I guess, love makes you dare. 

But also, love is planning the week's meal, a somewhat elaborate go/grow/glow breakfast, that surprise dinner you may/ may not botch up. Love is scrambled eggs, fritata, canned tuna, caramel popcorn. Love is never getting tired of  rinsing rice, at least thrice, and sticking to that 1:2 rice & water ratio.


The aspirational academic article

Certain researchers even when it's academic articles they're writing can impress. Reading such article now. The points are well-organized and the laying down of concepts equally superbly structured. It doesn't try to drown with information. Instead, it builds up its case, piling one clearly stated idea on top of another, and then revealing, at the perfect moment, the argument driven at or connecting the concept on hand to a theory, like a knot, yes, but more accurately like a firm ribbon.

That it keeps the discussion meaty proves that "critical" can be engaging.

Yep, "academic" or "serious" writing doesn't have to be insufferable, filled to the coffers (rhymes with coffin!) with gobbledygookterms.

One day, one day, I shall conquer this Everest. (Everest! Serious kasi eh.)


Roti, kopi, & a spot under the shade

Had a dream this morning that I was back in Ilo-ilo, this time as a student of UP Miagao. I woke up, annoyed and not really wanting to get out of bed. I wanted to sleep the whole day away. I wanted my self back in familiar QC. Just like the last week of August/ first few weeks of September 2012, I craved so much for home, surrounded by my friends, family, and boyfriend. I didn't want to be a foreigner passing through, I wanted a permanent (wonderful) job, I wanted weekends with said people above. 

But there were errands to run. And no, unlike August/ September of last year, this country is not completely foreign anymore. 

Yesterday, Ysa posted this verse, Matthew 7: 7-8,

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

So rather than seriously give in to the strong urge to run back home, I've decided to just storm heaven's gate with some seriously loud knocking and asking, to find the motivation to push through with whatever's left of my course, to receive the courage to once again embrace the unfamiliar and the fortitude to be away. 

Rather than dream Monday off, I finished my errand and, on a whim, got on the train to see the Petronas Towers. Took out some MYR6 (Php75) and bought a kopi-roti (coffee bun) and kopi (coffee) set from RotiBoy (you should try it, fellow stranger). Found an empty bench in the park behind the towers with a full view of the dazzling twin buildings to tell myself you're in Kuala Lumpur now. Be present where you are

While the Petronas doesn't really do anything for me, that park with its tourists, benches, fountains, wading pool, and trees has feels like a refuge I can hide in, a safe place in this city filled with unfamiliarity. I made a pact with myself to visit it more often in my last 4 months here. And yes, the pact also includes just taking in whatever life/ the heavens decide to throw my way.

Sitting in the bench in that park, praying, I've come to realize that the Lord has my back, as He always does.  I, an earthly daughter, am welcome to come to Him, to run to Him. There are lessons to be learned in the coming months. There's a blessing hidden in being on my own, such as learning how to be more balanced and how to manage my time well. The blues are within, nagging at me. But then on the outside are the fountains flirting from across my bench and I just have to see that it's a wonderful warm day to be out and that it's good to be here. The facts are that the roti and kopi combo was a knockout, the sky is clear, friends from Manila/family/boyfriend are virtually present and though it appears I'm alone, it isn't like that really. Game face on once again, Malaysia.