Sunday, December 16, 2007

Boycotting Bogchi

To say that I have not written in a while is to understate the obvious. (How do you understate the obvious? Simple. As in the first sentence, you say something that does not need to be said and then you say it in the blandest, most boring way possible using the barest, least evocative terms, thereby pissing people off--at least, those who have enough time to be annoyed by such a simple, innocuous thing as an understatement).

It doesn't mean I have not eaten, or enjoyed eating, in all this time. It means, simply, that I have not found anything to write about since 2 months ago. I could have written about the time a couple of weeks back when I ate champorado (chocolate rice porridge) and fried tilapia while watching Trillanes and company mount Oakwood 2: Not Quite A Siege, Very Much A Blunder at the Manila Pen. But, really, what was there to write about other than it was the first time in a long time that I had eaten this not-so-strange combination? Or that the original combination actually calls for tuyo or daing (dried fish) but simple fried fish worked just as well? Seemed too prosaic, too dull, to write about, and frankly, I've had so much on my plate that I couldn't really muster the needed panache to make champorado and tilapia seem like the most exciting meal since red snapper in marsala sauce with creamy mashed potatoes. I could have written about how I ate it with my heart in my throat, eyes glued to the TV, fearing the worst for my country. But I can only lie so much. The truth was, Oakwood 2 was just another day in my life and that champorado-tilapia combo just another meal.

Alas, I feared I have become, like many Filipinos, apathetic. Which--again with the stating of the obvious--is not good. Definitely something to rail against. So when I read Mareng Winnie Monsod's Inquirer column yesterday (which can be found here...!)... part of me wanted to do something, to respond in my own way, in any way, to the injustice done to the Sumilao Farmers. To share my solidarity in the way that I can. What way, though? What to do, I thought.

Aha! The answer seemed simple enough. I decided to boycott San Miguel CorpoRAPEtion because SMC is the huge-ass company that's basically using the farmers' lands as a piggery. (I urge you to check out the Winnie Monsod column as well as other news articles about this so you can be informed about the DAR rules that have been flouted in this particular case. And, ahem, also so that you can make up your own mind.).

Boycott San Miguel. Seemed pretty simple. It's not like I drink beer so San Miguel Beer, Lite or otherwise, won't even be an issue. We use Datu Puti vinegar at home so the San Mig vinegar's not going to hold a candle there. I drink Nescafe so San Mig coffee's out too. Easy-peasy, right?

Not quite.

The second I told my sister I was planning to boycott San Miguel products, she said, "Di ba ang Purefoods San Miguel?"

Picture me with my lardy ass flat on the floor. I'm no Gandhi. Obviously.

These are the bricks that make up the San Miguel wall I am up against: no more Purefoods corned beef. Purefoods Tender Juicy Hotdogs are out. This Christmas, Purefoods Fiesta Ham won't be an option. No more Purefoods "Ma-Ling" or chorizo de bilbao. And this is just the Purefoods label. Additional research has informed me that SMC also holds the Magnolia, Monterey, Gusto, and Dari-Creme labels, among others.

As you can see, I am a Greek outside the impregnable walls of Troy. This, of course, is just a fancy way of saying I am well and truly f--ked. If you've read enough of this blog, you would know how much I love processed foods. You would also know that I invariably turn to Purefoods for my canned goods cravings. To boycott SMC products is to boycott some of the foods I love to eat. The question is can I do it? Can I give up, even for a time, some of these wants in a show of solidarity?

But when I think about it some more, I realize that maybe I don't need to give up eating canned goods and processed foods. I just have to switch labels, so to speak. The challenge, I suppose, is not so much to destroy the wall but find a way around it or, to be accurate to myth, through it. The challenge is to make my own Trojan horse.

If this boycott is to push through with success, then I must be resourceful and look for viable alternatives to the aforementioned products. Already I have some in mind...

Argentina Gold label Corned Beef -- this is a great alternative to Purefoods corned beef. We actually switched to this already, so I already know that it tastes just like Purefoods corned beef but is several pesos cheaper.

CDO or Swift Hotdogs -- I really have brand loyalty where Tender Juicy hotdogs are concerned, so while I acknowledge that CDO and Swift have their own hotdogs, I think I (and also my sister) would rather just go for CDO's chicken longganisa as an alternative.

Specialty Hams -- maybe for this Christmas, it's about time my family tried something different. I've been thinking about trying those specialty hams like Majestic Ham anyway. Now's probably the best time to do so.

Fat & Thin Chorizo de Bilbao -- if and when I crave chorizo de bilbao, I might as well go for the more authentic tasting.

Arce Dairy -- great ice cream. Mura pa. Buh-bye, Magnolia.

Eden Cheese -- better low-end cheese than Daily Quezo anyway so, again, this shouldn't be a problem.

Wet Market meats -- we buy our meats at the wet markets so we don't have to go Monterey or anything.

Anchor Butter -- this is actually more expensive than Dari Creme and also Star Margarine. It's the same range as Magnolia Gold label. Maybe we don't need to do butter too much? I might just go with our usual which is Simply Canola Oil (the cheapest I've seen so far) for frying, Bertoli Olive Oil every now and then for pastas, and Top Choice Sesame Oil for Asian-style cooking.

Obviously, it's not a comprehensive list. But it makes me feel good about my decision to list things because then I realize I do have options still. And it won't be too hard to boycott SMC.

So yeah, this is what I'm writing about. My own personal boycott for my own personal reasons.

I am fully aware that SMC cares shit-all about what individual consumers such as myself do. I'm also aware that I might be going on the assumption that other corporations are stellar in the way they do business. So what do I do if, say, the makers of Argentina Gold label Corned Beef turn out be just as greedy?

Well, hoss, ah reckon ah bettah corn mah own beef.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Sweet 16th

“Marami-rami rin akong nakain dahil pinilit ko talaga…”

This sentence appears in a journal entry dated May 18, 1994. I wrote it a day after my 16th birthday, perhaps my most memorable birthday to date. (And when I say ‘perhaps,’ I really mean ‘certainly’). It’s a difficult sentence to translate in English. How do you translate marami-rami, for instance? The root word, madami, means ample, plentiful, copious. The word form marami-rami denotes a quantity less than ample but still more than enough and certainly not lacking or scarce. The phrase “marami-rami rin akong nakain,” roughly translated, means “I ate quite a bit too,” while the phrase “dahil pinilit ko talaga” literally means “because I forced it.”

The whole sentence, in English, reads thus: I ate quite a bit too because I forced it. It doesn’t make sense in the way the Tagalog one does. Perhaps a better translation, at least one that approximates the flavor of the original sentence, would be: I was able to eat quite a bit but only because I forced myself.

This, as well as the original, sentence begs the question: Under what circumstances did I have to force myself to eat a lot? Don’t I do it, ie eat a lot, often enough, willingly enough, under no duress, and gladly even? Why did I have to force myself to do it?

The answer is in the story behind the sentence. It is the same story that made my 16th birthday a truly sweet one.

Thirteen years ago, in 1994, I had sore throat on my 16th birthday. It started, like all sore throats do, as just a tickle at the back of my throat. I paid the tickling sensation no mind because it was my birthday and I was spending it with my sisters. Our parents were both in the States at that time, leaving us three kids gloriously alone, joyfully parentless, and ecstatically independent. Our independence showed up in the brilliant gastronomic scheme we had devised for ourselves: breakfast at McDonald’s, lunch at Tokyo-Tokyo, and dinner at Barrio Fiesta. We shunned cooking and any form of food preparation. At least, at the start. Pretty soon, we realized the folly of blowing the budget on burgers, fries, potato balls, ika fry, tempura, all-you-can-eat dinners, and cakes at Sugar House. The weekly remittance was usually gone in a few days and we would have to starve for the rest of the week until the next trip to the ATM.

But back to my birthday. My sisters and I spent it at SM City, the mall we grew up prowling. My first birthday meal consisted of Chicken McNuggets, French Fries, and a Chocolate Shake, which we bought to go from McDonalds. I munched on the nuggets while I laughed at Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It was starting to get difficult to swallow, but I ignored the twinge of pain and polished off my McDonald’s birthday meal.

I don’t remember what we did after the movie. But I remember dinner at Barrio Fiesta. We ordered Bouillabaise, Kare-kare, and Crispy Pata. By this time, my throat was already sore and hurting. Every swallow was hellish labor. Still, I persevered through the meal. I sampled everything. The thick, creamy soup. The oily, nutty ox tripe. The crunchy fried pig thigh that scratched my throat with every swallow. I forced them all down my poor, violated throat. Nothing was going to keep me from enjoying my birthday, not even streptococcus.

I went home with a pleased stomach and an angry throat. By all accounts, I enjoyed myself. I laughed at the movie and concluded, rightly, that Jim Carrey was comic genius. I enjoyed my sisters’ company (as I usually do). And most importantly, I ate well. Really well, in fact, considering I had strep throat.

It was a simple birthday for a simple girl, and I went to bed glad. Sometime in the middle of the night, I woke up to the most excruciating pain in the history of sore throats. My throat was raw and I was burning from my jaw up to my ears. My sisters had to rub me down with a face towel soaked in cold water because I was already running a fever.

It was not a good end to my birthday, and the next day I would question the wisdom of shoving, forcing all that good food down my abused throat.

In my journal, I would write:

“Marami-rami rin akong nakain dahil pinilit ko talaga…Kaya lang lumala sore throat ko… Ngayon, hilo ako sa antibiotics at kamumumog…” (“I was able to eat quite a bit but only because I forced myself… Except my sore throat has gotten worse… I am now lightheaded from the antibiotics and having to gargle all the time…”)

Pain renders people short sighted, unable to take the long view. In my pain, I would call the whole day a “bad trip.” Thirteen years later, I can actually say it was a good day. The sore throat was just the price I had to pay, the ticket I had to buy for a good trip.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

EGG: A Tribute

It’s been a year—give or take a few days—since I decided to start this blog and inflict any remotely food-related thoughts I had on the 5 people who frequent it. That would be my 2 sisters, my friend, Aly… let me revise… the three people who frequent this blog.

I just realized that I haven’t written anything about my most favorite food in the world, Egg. I have been remiss. This mistake must be corrected. Tribute must be paid, and so it shall.

I love eggs. I love eggs by themselves or with other ingredients in a main dish. I love them fried sunny side up, or scrambled, or as omelet. I love them hard-boiled with a pinch of salt. I used to love them soft-boiled, almost raw and mixed in with rice, or completely raw stirred in with Sarsi or Mirinda True Orange. I love century eggs. Red (duck) eggs, quail eggs. I would love to try ostrich eggs someday.

If health weren’t an issue, I’d eat at least one egg, or one dish made with eggs, everyday for the rest of my life. But since I can’t do that—I want to live longer than 35 years old—I’ll just have to settle for making a happy list of EGGy foods I love. Making a list makes me happy. Eggs make me happy. Making a list about eggs just about gives me a happy:

1. Sausage Scramble at Heaven N’ Eggs. Heaven N’ Eggs is a place everyone should go to get an egg fix. My favorite is the Sausage Scramble, which is actually an omelet (because, as we know, when Filipinos say “scrambled egg,” we mean “omelet” and when we say “omelet,” we actually mean ground pork patties. It’s a crazy country we live in.) filled with chorizo, longganisa bits, and green and red bell peppers. My second favorite is the Macarena Scramble, an omelet filled with ground beef, chorizo bits, corn, and peppers. Both omelets come with a choice of rice or pancakes and fries or hash browns. The last time I ate at HnE, though, I was massively disappointed. They pretty much changed their menu, and not in a good way. Names have been changed because, basically, they cut some necessary ingredients from their main dishes. So the sausage scramble is just longganisa now. And I think the Macarena is gone. And the portions are smaller! Que barbaridad! Needless to say, I have not been back since early this year, I think. I hope HnE has shaped back up since then. I hate restaurants that make their serving sizes smaller. I’d rather pay more for the same amount of food than pay the same price for significantly less. Bad restaurant, bad.

2. Scrambled egg, with sardines, tomatoes, and onions. In Bicol, early this year, during counseling mission. Partnered with amazingly good and greasy Argentina corned beef. People in Bicol know how to cook. My mom also used to cook sardine scramble eggs when I was a kid. But, honestly, the cooking woman in Bicol did it better.

3. Egg Salad Sandwich. Hot pan de sal or crunchy baguette.

4. Century Egg. I had my first taste of what is basically rotten egg in high school. Had a great meal at a Chinese resto with my high school best pal and her family. I never thought something as gross looking could be as delicious.

5. Crab Foo Yong. (Tama ba spelling?)

6. Sunny Side Up, with longganisa, tocino, corned beef, or all 3, on the side.

7. Scrambled, with tinapang fish, or 555 Hot and Spicy Fried Sardines, or Spanish Sardines, or Spanish Style Bangus on the side.

8. Quail Eggs. Hard-boiled, with salt, sold along any street in packs of 5.

9. Hard-boiled chicken egg, with salt.

10. Red egg, with sliced tomatoes. Perfect with pork barbecue at the Beach House in UP. Or with adobo flakes. (This second one is a favorite of Ate My. She orders this at Chocolate Kiss. She cooked this one time at home too. It worked out well for my tongue).

11. Quiche.

12. Kwek-kwek! Hard-boiled quail eggs, dipped in orange batter, and deep-fried. With a sweet-sour-spicy sauce and/or garlic, onion, and chili-infused vinegar. Sold along any street corner.

13. Nido or Bird’s Nest Soup, with Quail Eggs. At any Chinese resto. Or instant, courtesy of Knorr.

14. Instant chicken or beef noodles with egg. Great for when you’re sick or… when you’re not.

15. Egg pie!

16. Egg pie!!

17. Egg pie!!!

18. Sausage McMuffin with Egg. At McDonald’s.

19. Omelet, with diced potatoes and onions. Homemade by my mom.

20. Omelet, with hotdog bits and grated cheese. My own invention. Quick and easy.

3 eggs
2-3 hotdogs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup grated cheese
salt, pepper, garlic powder, herbs to taste
oil for frying

1. Beat eggs. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Fry hotdogs. Set aside.
3. Pour beaten eggs. Season with garlic powder.
4. When eggs are almost cooked, add hotdogs then cheese.
5. Fold omelet if you can. If it breaks, no worries. It’s all good.
6. Sprinkle herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, or chives on top.
7. Serve and enjoy.

21. Liver Spread and Scrambled Egg Pan De Sal. Again, my baby.

4 large pan de sal, sliced to form buns (or 8 pcs sandwich bread)
2 eggs, scrambled
1 small can liver spread (Reno)

1. Optional: Toast pan de sal.
2. Smear a good amount of liver spread on each pan de sal face.
3. Divide scrambled eggs into 4 pieces. Sandwich one between each pan de sal bun.
4. Serve with hot coffee or hot chocolate or Milo.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Eleventh Commandment

I once had a pet duck named Coochie. He came from the province, via the North Luzon Expressway, to live with my family for what I thought was forever.

Forever, as it turned out, only lasted 5 days.

I did not question why a duck would travel four hours to live with people he did not know. And I wonder now, on hindsight, what made me so sure that Coochie was male. I realize that I never had evidence to prove it; his maleness was a fact I took on faith.

I also wonder why, if I believed him to be male, I nonetheless named him Coochie. Did I, in my 6-year-old wisdom, intuit that he was gay? Or was I setting him up for a lifetime of ribbing from other ducks? Naming a male duck Coochie, after all, is like naming a boy Joy. It’s a cruel exercise of power by the Namer over the Named.

Coochie, however, seemed neither aware nor caring of the political implications of gendered nomenclature. In fact, he seemed neither aware nor caring of anyone and anything but himself. Coochie, I remember, was not sweet and approachable like his name made him out to be. Like most ducks, he walked with a girly gait, feathery bottom swinging left and right like a ramp model. But his head was raised a tad too high, his beak a tad too upturned. Coochie was aloof. He had a wall around him like the biblical city, Judah. And I felt like an Assyrian—or was it a Philistine? Anyway, I felt like one of the thousand strong army of Judah haters who wanted to invade it. I wanted to break down Coochie’s wall.

I talked to Coochie a lot seeing as I couldn’t cuddle him. Because, really, how do you cuddle a duck? They’ll be wiggling and waddling all over the place. You’ll have feathers stuck to your clothes. And, frankly, ducks stink. Coochie, God bless him, was like every other duck in that regard. He stunk up the place, specifically the small laundry area of the apartment we lived in at the time.

I felt real affection for Coochie even though he did not seem to feel the same way. I guess I also liked the idea of talking to someone—or in this case, some animal—who I could pretend was listening.

I remember a time during Coochie’s 5-day stay with us, when I was mad at our Yaya, Ate Vilma. I don’t quite remember what I was angry about. I just remember being angry and petty. While she was doing the laundry, I talked to Coochie about her and said some mean things when she was within earshot—which was the whole time. She graciously let it slide, like water off a duck’s back. Coochie, as usual, couldn’t be bothered to care.

Coochie came on a Monday. He went on a Saturday. It was afternoon. I had just woken up from siesta. I went out of my room, down the stairs, only to find Coochie at the bottom. He lay in a small, blue batya. His neck was severed, his blood pooling around him like a ritual bloodletting gone wrong. The culprits, my uncle and cousin, looked up from their slaughtering of my duck and said nothing. No explanations, no reasons for the murder they had just committed.

I screamed and wailed like I had never before and never since in my life. They killed my duck and felt no guilt about it.

As it turned out, Coochie was never meant to be my duck. The five days he stayed with us was the grace period before his execution. They were fattening him up for the next day’s meal. Coochie was Sunday lunch.

It was the first meal I missed.

Twenty-three years later, I still don’t eat duck. It is my speed of light, my one absolute rule:

Thou shall not eat duck.

It is the one thing that keeps me from being a true connoisseur of Chinese food. As we all know, duck figures heavily in Chinese cuisine. Peking duck, grilled duck, fried duck, duck pancakes, duck dumplings, sweet and sour duck.

I never touch any of that. It is out of the question. I can eat balut even though it’s aborted duck fetus. But I won’t ever eat dead adult ducks, out of respect for the dead duck who was never truly mine but sure felt like it.

Sometimes I feel that it’s time to move on, especially when everyone keeps telling me that duck tastes really good, that its meat has more marbling, i.e. fat. Sometimes I think Coochie wouldn’t want me missing out on the quintessential Chinese dish. Maybe he wouldn’t want me suffering through an awkward, tortured conversation like this:

You love Chinese food?
I sure do!
Have you tried Peking duck? It’s awesome.
No, I haven’t.
Oh, come on! I thought you love Chinese food?

I don’t eat duck. I had a pet duck once. He died a horrible, violent death. No one told me he was Sunday lunch. They let me name him. NAME him! Only to kill him and offer him to me as FOOD! Like I would eat my pet! Who in their right mind would EAT their PET?!
Uh… I guess… no one…

That’s right. No one… Anyway… I don’t eat duck.

Other times, I think Coochie—wherever he is—could care less. He never cared before, why should he care now? It’s almost enough to make me want to reach out and spear a piece of duck on my fork and bring it to my open, waiting, salivating, mouth.

Coochie never asked for my respect. He never demanded it. He never even tried to earn it. But he had it anyway. He still does.

Thou shall not eat duck. It’s my eleventh commandment.

Thank God I never had a pet pig.

Friday, July 13, 2007


… from my usual preoccupation with food and eating to pay tribute to a man. I am not at all given to honoring men. The only man I have ever honored is my father. No other man has been special enough to merit the affections of my heart and the attentions of my pen.

But that changes, if only for today. Today I honor another man.

He went by the name Fredegusto David. F.G. for fashionably short. Sir David, we called him. He taught us, his students, at the Department of Psychology in the University of the Philippines – Diliman. He was short, bald, and handsome, looking like a quirky cross between the Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns and Sting. He had a love for words and a propensity to sound like a dictionary. He studied English Literature in undergrad and was a poet. One of his poems hangs, framed, on one of the walls of the Department Office. And one of his last major peeves, it seemed, was the war in Iraq. How a young, upstart regime can wage war against and ruin a great, ancient civilization was beyond him.

Yesterday, Sir David had a stroke. Today, he is gone.

I mark it in the calendar of my mind: 13 July 2007, Friday.

If you believe in superstition, you would say that today is certainly an unlucky day. But if you studied statistics under Sir David, even if you did believe in superstition, you would have to say that the unluckiness of today is not certain, because nothing ever is. You would say that we can never make statements of certainty. We can only make statements of probability. So you say that today is an unlucky day, the unluckiness of which you can be reasonably certain within a 0.01 margin of error. After all, to demand more than 99% surety is to exercise hubris. Or to be an Atenean, as Sir F.G. used to say, making jocose reference to our brothers and sisters in that Jesuit institution in Katipunan Avenue.

To be an Atenean meant to invoke faith as the wall against which surety rests, a heinous crime in a field that fancies itself a science.

Today, against everything that F.G. tried to teach me in my undergraduate biopsychology class and my graduate statistics classes, against his assertions that “the only universal constant is c2, the speed of light”, but in honest, heartfelt tribute to him, I say… I am only 99% certain that today is an unlucky day, especially for his kin, his friends, and his colleagues and students at the UP-Diliman Department of Psychology. But I am 100% sure, the surest I can ever be, that it is a sad day, for me and everyone else who was ever taught by this man.

I gladly and willingly invoke faith. It is the wall against which our sadness rests.

I do not honor this man because he was a great man. I only knew him as my teacher, after all, and therefore, cannot make such global judgments.

I honor him because he was a man who taught. A man who had a desire to teach more than what was covered by the syllabus. A man who seemed to take it so personally when his students flunked his exams. A man who still went to class even when he was so obviously sick that the class ended up getting canceled anyway and his students had to take him home.

He was a man who taught. For this alone, I pay tribute.

Monday, July 09, 2007


… when you cross a good thing with another good thing? Well, sometimes you get a bad thing, an awful thing, what puritans would call a disgusting abomination, an unpredicted and unpredictable freak that makes the Punnett Square look like a useless heuristic. Like the animals in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Or the Cockadoodle. This is why our parents always tell us, “Don’t mess with a good thing.” Actually, my parents have never told me this. But someone’s parents must have said this at one time or another.

The point is this: sometimes it’s not good to mess with a good thing, or two good things.


Sometimes, though, when you cross a good thing with another good thing, you get a brilliant thing, a wonderful explosion of goodness, something marvelously unpredicted—like all serendipities—but predictably marvelous. A thing of wonder that makes you write awful prose in tribute to it.

Last month, my sister brought home from her month-long honeymoon in Estados Unidos a big jar of roasted almonds and a pack of Kraft caramel candies. Roasted almonds are a good thing. They’re crunchy, and nutty, and salty. They make you thirsty like the proverbial man in the desert, crawling across the sand, croaking out, “agua… agua…” Then when the water comes, it’s so good as it goes down your parched throat. (I’m pretty sure this is a scene from Sesame Street).

Kraft caramel candies are a wonderful thing. And not just because I have a sweet tooth the size of Regine Velasquez’s fake molars, but because they stick to your teeth and gums and it takes a lot of chewing and mashing to get them off, and when you swallow, you feel your throat muscles working, clenching and unclenching, to get that sticky thing through your esophagus and down to your stomach. And you don’t feel guilty about basically eating sugar (literally!) because your mouth, your jaw, your throat, your whole face feels like you just worked out at the face gym, if there’s such a place. It’s wonderful! Awesome! A gift from God, courtesy of Kraft.

You don’t need to know what I was doing or not doing when this bit of cross-pollination occurred. All you need to know is that I was working my facial muscles, working out the caramel in my mouth, when I spotted the big jar of roasted almonds. I looked at it as I chewed. And I thought, in the spirit of experimentation and curiosity and Frankenstein’s monster, what the hell…

I took another caramel candy and popped it in my mouth. Then I took a couple of roasted almonds and popped them in my mouth. Then, I chewed…

And, suddenly, angels were singing in the background. And I saw Moses sitting at the right hand of God. He was eating caramel candies and roasted almonds too!

I was in heaven. (Forgive the Judaeo-Christian bias. I would have said I was in Nirvana, but since Nirvana is an “undifferentiated and undefined state of bliss,” attempting to differentiate and define it would have been missing the point. And I do so hate to miss the point.).

Heaven only lasted as long as it took me to chew and swallow this new sweet-salty confection I had invented. In about five seconds I was back on earth, specifically my living room, armed with new, celestial knowledge, another mini-epiphany to add to my ever-growing list.

Caramel candies and roasted almonds are a great pair. The crunch of the almonds cuts through the sticky caramel, and the salt somehow makes the caramel sweeter. You don’t lose one flavor over the other. You can still taste both, only at the same time. So you’re chewing and your tongue makes clicking noises against the roof of your mouth. But now you also hear the crunch, and you taste the nuttiness. It’s a marriage between equals. It is well-defined bliss.

I’ve decided to give my invention a name like those one-named celebrity pairings. I’m thinking of calling them Caramonds. Or Almamels. Hmm… I think Caramonds sounds nicer.

Caramonds. They’re a good thing.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Hammered Crab Omelet

My mom brought home a big bag of fish and crustaceans that we had to scramble to clean, cook, and give away to folksies who like seafood. Well, technically, the fish were from a fresh water fishpond, not the sea—which is salt water, fyi. And technically, it was my dad who did the scrambling and the cleaning. He boiled some huge crabs. I took one, and because we didn’t have one of those… what do you call them? Those pliers-like things that you crack crabs with? Anyway, we didn’t have one of those, so I took the hammer from my dad’s toolbox and pounded away at the poor crab, and harvested the meat and fat. And made crabmeat omelet. And named the recipe Hammered Crab Omelet. And thought, people might think I dunked the crab in a vat of beer to get it drunk so I could have my way with it, as it were. And shrugged because it’s a nice image anyway. And thought, what the hell does “as it were” mean? And digressed so far away from the beaten path that it took me ages to get back on track. And used 2 effin’ clichés and mixed metaphors in a single sentence. And made some adjustments to the recipe to make it, in future, tastier. And finally posted said revised recipe in this blog…

Meat and fat from one humongous crab (don’t know how that translates to pounds or kilos)
2 large green/red bell peppers, diced
2 medium-sized tomatoes
juice of 5-6 calamansi (or lemon)
garlic and onion to sauté
salt, pepper, spices (like basil, garlic powder, chili pepper flakes or hot sauce), to taste
mustard, to taste
4-5 eggs
oil and butter for frying

1. Mix crabmeat/fat, bell peppers, tomatoes, calamansi juice, and seasonings.
2. Beat the eggs (ever so slightly, my dear. Ever so slightly). Season with salt.
3. Pour a small amount of oil in a semi-hot pan (canola, for less guilt founded on self-delusion) and add a pat of butter.
4. Saute garlic and onion. Add crab mixture. Saute for a few minutes then set aside.
5. In same pan, pour beaten eggs. When the eggs are almost set, return crab mixture to pan. Fold egg over the meat.
6. Slide onto a serving dish.
7. Enjoy.

… And stopped writing.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bochog, 29

Two days ago, I entered my 29th year as a breathing, eating, living specimen of female humanity. (I share my birthday with Dennis Hopper, Bob Saget, and Jordan Knight of the New Kids On The Block. Or NKOTB—when they tried to stage a comeback in 1992, releasing the wannabe OG single, “Dirty Dawg,” which not many people got but which I liked ‘cause it was Donnie Wahlberg being resident bad boy… I like to know these things).

Anyway… In celebration thereof, I present, in random order...

Bogchi, 29
(29 Eats)

1. Breaded Porkchop. With gravy, rice, and bean sprouts. At CASAA, UP-Diliman.
2. Quikiam. Authentic Chinese. With spicy sweet sauce. At a food fair my parents brought me to when I was a kid.
3. Green Tea and Sesame Seed Ice Cream. At Teriyaki Boy.
4. Lumpiang Shanghai. Best with Nido with Quail Eggs Soup. At Chopstick Restaurant, Cubao, when I was a kid and the waiters/waitresses all told me to come back and eat some more. I did come back, several times, and I ate. More and more. The Chopstix restaurant in Cubao today is not the same restaurant. It’s a poor replacement.
5. Chicken Macaroni Sopas. With hotdog bits, carrots, green peas, raisins, and yellowed with a block of margarine. Homemade, by my mom.
6. Dayap Chiffon Cake. At Chocolate Kiss.
7. Leche flan.
8. Salted Fried Squid. At North Park.
9. Pork BBQ. Great with itlog na pula (duck egg), misua soup, and of course, 1 and ½ rice. At Beach House, UP-Diliman.
10. Pancit Malabon. In Malabon.
11. HFIK. Hotdogs fried in ketchup.
12. Quarter Pounder. With Twister fries. At McDonald’s. McDonald’s should make Twister fries a regular part of their menu. I should petition McDonald’s. I probably won’t, though. Have lots of nothing to do.
13. KFC Chicken. Original.
14. Carbonara. At Napoli’s / A Veneto.
15. Halo-Halo. Minimalist, just 3 ingredients. At Razon’s.
16. Lechon Wrap. With hoisin-mayo sauce. My sister’s wedding.
17. Zeb-Zeb. Cheesy puffed corn. In Malabon.
18. Isaw. Pig and chicken entrails. Grilled, charred, dunked in vinegar sauce. At UP, near SC and also near Balay Kalinaw.
19. Root beer float. At A&W. The only thing that keeps A&W, ahem, afloat.
20. Chicken and/or Seafood Crepe. With some kind of white garlic cheese sauce and a siding of veggies. Best with Maggi Savor. At Full House in Katipunan, during the late 90s when I was a dorky college student. Full House has been replaced by The Old Spaghetti House, which I’ve not been to. After all these years, I still long for Full House, with its nursery school ambience, Maggi Savor on every table (or was it Knorr Seasoning? I can’t remember.), and profiteroles in cups. Sweet.
21. Sisig. Chopped pig face (ears and cheeks), sautéed until crispy, seasoned with Knorr Seasoning, calamansi juice, and hot sauce. At Gerri’s Grill. At Congo’s, too, for sisig with mayonnaise. Monterey’s for instant sisig.
22. Ika Fry and Potato Balls. At Tokyo-Tokyo.
23. Yakisoba. Instant Japanese style cup noodles. Nissin’s.
24. Apple flavored wine.
25. Fresh orange juice.
26. Green mango with alamang (shrimp paste).
27. All meat pizza.
28. Longganisa, longganisa, longganisa.
29. Chilli dog. Smokey’s. There’s one in Ortigas, which is great ‘cause I thought Smokey’s had ceased operations. What a beautiful surprise! Will be in Ortigas on Monday. Might drop by Smokey’s, see if the hotdogs are still, in the words of future inmate Paris, HOT.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Sunday Morning Mom

My mother was up early that Sunday morning cooking food for 30 people. She had celebrated her birthday a few days earlier, so the pastor of the small church she and my father were attending called in a request for her to cook lunch for the post-service fellowship. Apparently, that was the pastor’s idea of a birthday gift—a strange one--but mother did not seem to mind.

When I woke up, she was well into cooking the first of two viands on her menu, giniling, or ground pork, potatoes, carrots, and raisins stewed in a proudly Filipino combination of 1 part tomato sauce, 10 parts ketchup. The pot was already simmering and the sauce was beginning to thicken as I made my way downstairs, still sleepy but determined to offer my mother some help.

I had been strangely anxious about her latest project. For some unexplained reason, I did not feel that my mother was up to the task. Two nights before, I had badgered her about the lack of a menu. I could see in her eyes that she wasn’t bothered by it, and that alarmed me. Cooking for 30 potentially judgmental Baptists wasn’t adding a wrinkle to her remarkably smooth 50-something face. She assured me that she already had a simple menu planned: giniling, which she was going to cook, and chicken lollipops, ordered from her caterer friend.

The fact that she was going to cook only one viand eased my discomfort somewhat. Until the next day when she announced that her friend was out of town. It meant my mother was going to have to wing the chicken wings.

That was why I was up earlier than usual that morning, ready to be the wind beneath her wings. But my mother was already flying high all by herself. She had everything under control; there was no need for wind. The robust, meaty smell that greeted my nose as I went into the kitchen told me the giniling was going to be a hit. The chicken wings were already breaded and waiting for the oil to heat, and the rice was already cooked white and fluffy. All I had to do was make the sawsawan (dipping sauce) for the chicken, which I did with much gladness and no small amount of relief.

An hour later, the wings were fried and arranged on a large serving dish. There was even an extra plateful. My mother had cooked as if a great famine was going to sweep across the land. She had pulled through. Without breaking into much of a sweat, she was able to cook enough food for 30 Baptists, with something extra for her family.

So instead of helping my mother, what I did was become a kid again, sitting in the kitchen, greasing up my mouth and fingers with my mom’s crispy, crunchy chicken lollipops. All the while, I gushed to my sister about what a culinary genius our mom was. “She didn’t need my help,” I crowed. “She did it all by herself.” I sounded not unlike mothers who are seeing their babies walk unaided for the first time.

Later, I would find out from my father that the Baptists also loved the food. All judgments were positive, all comments glowing.

As I sat at the table, licking my chicken-flavored fingers, chicken bones littering the space in front of me, I wondered why I ever doubted my mother’s skill and panache. It’s not like cooking for 30 Baptists was the hardest thing she ever did in her life. Yet, somehow, I had forgotten the various feats of parenting she had performed to raise three willful, independent, slightly smart and, therefore, considerably condescending daughters. This was my mother who, among other things, taught us the difference between the “p” and the “f” sounds (a difficulty for many Filipinos), cooked the best chicken macaroni sopas, and even made ham and tocino (candied pork) herself instead of buying them at the market.

When I was younger, such doubts would never have entered my mind. My heart would have told my mind to believe and my mind would have done so. But I am not as young as I used to be. I carry inside me almost three decades’ worth of questions and the illusion that at least some of these have answers. The thing with asking questions, though, is that it requires an admission of the temporality of suppositions. What we believe today flies in the face of what we held true yesterday. Certainty is a ship with holes trying, nevertheless, to stay afloat in a sea of ambiguity.

It is not that I know more than I did when I was younger. It is that I doubt more and, therefore, believe less. In the case of my mother, it had been a long time since I took her word without checking with other sources. Like all children, I started out believing firmly that there wasn’t much she couldn’t do. Not that I thought she was perfect, but I never thought she was imperfect. Her imperfections existed, yes, but they did so outside of my mind and, therefore, they never crossed it. The end result was the same: my mother, as with all mothers, might as well have been perfect. Her word always seemed final.

But like all children, I got older and started to grow my own mind. The illusion of maternal perfection gradually dissolved to reveal my mother as just another flawed human like myself, and her word as just another hypothesis to be tested.

There are times when I wonder how it must be like to be a mother. (I am not one, and I probably won’t be for a while.) What I imagine is that motherhood is an exercise in heartbreak. Human development proceeds from a state of relative ignorance and innocence to one of (at least, ostensible) knowledge and awareness. It is the gradual replacement of wonder with unbelief, awe with indifference. The heart thrives on people’s ability to be pleased. We begin our lives with this ability but we lose it steadily as we learn more, know more. Knowledge is power, the power to be fastidious. And the fastidious mind breaks hearts.

To be a mother, then, is to be the object of opinions that are bound to change. The evolution of Mother, from the child’s changing perspective, is from one who can do no wrong to one who can do no right. From supreme repository of all worldly knowledge to hack who knows nothing about Me and the Stuff I Am Going Through. Motherhood, I realize, is an inevitable fall from grace.

And yet, watching my mother work her culinary magic that Sunday, I also realize that evolution does not preclude reverting to earlier ways of seeing and believing—at least for a while. Maybe magic exists outside of the natural imperative to grow up and to mature. Maybe the fastidious mind can still open itself up a little—and be pleased, after all.

That Sunday morning, I saw my mother again through younger, easily pleased eyes. That Sunday morning, my mom could do no wrong. She did everything crispy, crunchy perfect. Just like she used to, when I believed more and doubted less, when my knowledge of her was still pure, untainted by my knowledge of anything else.

(Published in the Youngblood Column of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 12 May 2007 issue, with the title "Perfect Mom".)

Monday, May 07, 2007

ABOUT A BOY, Part Deux

I once met a boy named Reynaldo, who ate his snot, in that juvenile purgatory we call grade school. We were classmates for two years, in Grades 1 and 2, and got along famously. He was sweet and non-threatening, so fat that to call him chubby would have been lying. He was cute and we were friends. Our friendship was based on two very important things, food and love, these two things rumored to be, at times, interchangeable. We both loved food, and we both loved Zierlyn.

Zierlyn was my best friend in elementary school. We met in first grade and were inseparable. We were in the same section, after all. That is, until fifth grade. Then she transferred to a different section and, I guess, we were not that difficult to separate, after all. But while we were together, we were the best of friends. No matter that she was too quiet, too demure, too not funny. No matter that I think she lied about her dad owning a Mercedes. None of that mattered. I loved her, with a whimsical kind of love, the kind that wraps its recipient in fancy, making her seem more than she actually is, more interesting, more alive. It was a grade school, we’ll be best friends forever, kind of love.

Reynaldo loved Zierlyn in a different way, whimsical too but different. They weren’t best friends. They weren’t even regular friends. Reynaldo was mere classmate to Zierlyn, a random, could-be-anyone classmate. But none of that mattered. To Reynaldo, Zierlyn was purpose, specific and localized in his heart.

Reynaldo had a plan, and I was part of that plan. I may have planted the seeds of it in his mind for my own selfish gastronomic interests, but my memory’s not to clear on that one anymore. The mind, after all, chooses to forget, chooses what to forget, keeps for itself memories that make us seem better than we ever were and discards those that show us up to be everyday occurrences instead of the extraordinary phenomena we all wish we were.

The plan was to woo Zierlyn with food, specifically gelatin cups. I was to be the bridge. My job description was specific: deliver the gelatin cups to Zierlyn and put in a good word about Reynaldo. I worked on commission, getting for myself one for every gelatin cup I passed on to Zierlyn. (It was a sweet deal, and I wonder now what happened to me. Because, clearly, I had what it takes to do sales and make money when I was a kid. I was a greasy, sleazy, balding salesman with a sweep-over. Oh, how times have changed).

This went on for several months, Reynaldo shyly handing over the food, me passing Zierlyn’s gelatin while I slurped mine, Zierlyn shyly taking it and saying thank you. But I never put in a good word for Reynaldo. It was obvious that Zierlyn didn’t have any kind of crush on him, and maybe I didn’t have the heart to tell him to quit hope. It’s the cruelest thing one can do to another, to take away one’s hope. Or maybe I just didn’t want my supply of JellyAce to stop. I don’t remember, and I don’t know who to blame for these huge gaps in my memory.

One thing I remember well, though… one image my mind won’t let me un-remember is of Reynaldo standing over a trashcan during recess with a finger up his nose, digging like a crazed prospector of gold. It is disgustingly crystal in my head: Reynaldo pulling out his finger full of snot, rolling and balling it around, then popping it into his mouth faster than you could say… nothing. Because witnessing something like that leaves you with nothing to say and nowhere to look but at him, chewing.

I was a shy child but loud when I felt I needed to be. This was a time for loudness. So I announced Reynaldo’s act to everyone within earshot, and that included Zierlyn.

Yuck!!! Reynaldo ate his booger!!! I shrieked, and I think they heard me in Timbuktu, but I’m not too sure.

Reynaldo denied it, disowned the act he had just so gleefully committed, and denied it so vehemently that the others knew. He did it. Truth is in Denial.

Everyone had a laugh. I don’t remember if Reynaldo felt humiliated or if he suffered years of teasing because I told on him. Zierlyn and Reynaldo never got together. I don’t think it was because of my horrid announcement. My outing of Reynaldo’s gastronomic fetish was entirely separate from Zierlyn’s inability to develop a crush on him. Still, I sometimes feel guilty about taking all those gelatin cups and giving back nothing in return. That’s not good, equitable friendship in my book. Reynaldo could sue me for breach of contract and he would win. After all, instead of putting in a good word for him to Zierlyn, I put him on the spot and made him a possible object of ridicule.

This was not a shining moment for me.

I think now of Reynaldo, and I cringe. Eating unearned gelatin cups is worse than eating snot.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Definition of S.I.N.

Sin is… slices of lechon (roast pig) in a hoisin-mayonnaise sauce, with one celery leaf to lessen the guilt a bit, all wrapped in soft pita, tied with a green onion stalk...

Last Saturday, 28th of April, my sister and now brother-in-law got married on their 10th anniversary as a couple. It was a simple affair—short, solemn, sweet. The reception was modern, forgoing the usual trite traditions like the bouquet and garter toss and couple’s dance. Instead, it was a night of music and words, songs and poetry, sweet tribute and sour wit..

The best thing about my sister and bro-in-law’s wedding was not the gowns—although the bride was radiant in ecru and, if I may brag, my other sister and I were hopelessly cute in our funky gray-blue and magenta dresses. (The designer, Mitzi Quilendrino, is all about the quirky, and it worked out really well. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find our photos in wedding magazines. In fact, I’d be surprised if we didn’t). It was not the brilliant hosting I did, at turns innocent and scathing. (Obviously, I don’t suffer from that illness called modesty and obviously, I’m my own publicist). Or the brilliant sarcasm that spewed forth from my mother’s mouth… “Levi, you are very fortunate to now be a member of our family… My daughter will love you even if you are unlovable…”

No, the best thing about last Saturday’s wedding was the food prepared by Kaye Cunanan. Below are various definitions of S.I.N…

Salmon Blinis: coin-sized pita circles topped with slivers of smoked salmon on a bed of wasabi mayo and garnished with herbs
Lechon Wrap: slices of Cebu Lechon (roast pig) in a hoisin-mayo sauce and celery leaves wrapped in soft pita

Pan-seared fois gras, scallops, and mandarin orange segments on a bed of fresh greens, drizzled with balsamic dressing

White Rice with herbs and nuts
Carrot Rice: buttered white rice with flecks of carrots

Main Course
Grilled Tiger Prawns, served with roasted vegetables
Red Snapper baked in smooth, creamy sauce and mashed potatoes, topped with almond slivers
Osso Buco: braised beef shank with soft, melting bone marrow, aka Swiss bulalo

Fresh yoghurt drizzled with honey and sprinkled with chopped nuts
Tangy Orange Sorbet

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

2 Pastas and A Pizza Pan De Sal

Spicy Sardine Vegeroni

Praise the Lord, Hallelujah, for 555! I recently discovered 555’s Hot and Spicy Fried Sardines. It’s like Spanish style sardines but with tomato sauce in it. Because it’s fried, there’s none of the tinny aftertaste that you usually get with regular sardines in tomato sauce. Plus, good heavens, it’s profanely cheap (only 14 pesos for a small can)! So, because I like putting different things in my pasta (especially if they cost me virtually nil), I had to try this with my San Remo vegeroni. The result won’t win any gourmet awards, but it’s tasty enough for everyday meals.

1 small can 555 Hot and Spicy Fried Sardines (or any brand of fried sardines in oil)
3 medium tomatoes, 1 green, 2 ripe, diced
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 pat of butter
Salt, pepper, basil to taste
200 grams pasta (I use San Remo vegeroni spirals)

1. Cook pasta according to instructions.
2. Melt butter in pan. Sautee garlic, onion, and tomatoes. Add a bit of oil from sardines. Season with salt, pepper, and basil.
3. Add the sardines. Simmer for a few minutes.
4. Place pasta in bowl. Add sardines. Toss.
5. Sprinkle with parmesan or Italian blend cheese.
6. Enjoy.

Tuna Longganisa Macaroni

I cooked this pasta dish a couple of years ago when all I had in my freezer was some Monterey Lucban Longganisa and in my cupboard, a tin of Century Hot and Spicy Tuna and about 300 grams of macaroni. Vigan longganisa works just as great as both sausages are garlicky and spicy. I’ve also tried using sweet sausages but I prefer spicy, local longganisa in my pasta. Italian sausage can also be an awesome substitute, but it’s rather pricey.

4 pieces spicy longganisa (Lucban or Vigan)
1 small can Hot and Spicy Tuna
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1 pat of butter
Salt, pepper to taste
Basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, optional
300 grams macaroni

1. Cook pasta according to instructions.
2. Remove sausages from casing. Break up the meat as it fries in the pan.
3. Remove meat from pan. Add butter to the lard left in pan. Sautee garlic and onion.
4. Return sausage. Add tuna. Season with salt, pepper, and favorite herbs.
5. Place pasta in a bowl. Add sausage and tuna mixture. Toss.
6. No need for cheese. Just enjoy. But, of course, if you still want to put cheese on it, be my guest. I’m an easy person to convince. Most times.

Tuna Pizza Pan De Sal

I created this from a can of Del Monte Spaghetti Meat Sauce and a can of Century Hot and Spicy Tuna (can you tell I love the stuff?).

1 small can hot and spicy tuna
1 small can (250 g) spaghetti meat sauce (Italian Style spaghetti sauce is a good substitute)
salt, pepper, garlic powder, basil, and other herbs, to taste
quickmelt or cheddar cheese
pan de sal

1. Combine tuna, spaghetti sauce, and spices.
2. Spread mixture onto pan de sal halves. Top with grated cheese.
3. Toast for 4-5 mins, or until cheese has melted.
4. Serve and enjoy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Coffee, Tea, and Me

I’m making my morning cup of coffee—it goes well with my peanut butter and guava jelly pan de sal (Filipino bread)—when it occurs to me that I’ve drank more caffeine this year than I ever have in my life. I’ve never been a coffee or tea person. My taste in breakfast beverages has always leaned towards the “she’s a growing girl” kind of drink, that is to say, milk, Milo (a local, less expensive, chocolate malt drink), and “imported”, pricier Swiss Miss for special occasions like… Wednesdays. Because weekdays are special occasions too. (That is a great slogan. Or a one-liner in a greeting card. Attention: Hallmark.).

I pause in stirring and feel a vague sense of apprehension, the kind that signals that I am on the verge of a realization, the significance of which may be far-reaching but, heretofore, unknown.

Yes, I think. I am, indeed, having a sort of epiphany as I have, quite clearly, turned temporarily British. Forgive me.

I begin to wonder when it was that I started ingesting unusually large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis. The tea drinking, I’m certain, started last year, around the time my liver went to war with my well-being. (In brief: I had been hospitalized and prescribed antibiotics that set off an allergic reaction in the form of gas. The gas in my stomach kept recurring for months until, 2 gastroenterologists and an ultra sound later, we discovered the culprit: I had a fatty liver).

To detonate the hot air bombs inside me, I had taken to drinking my mom’s Chinese medicinal tea—bitter, potent stuff that helped me feel and look less like a Buddha inviting everyone to rub her tummy for good luck.

And while I’ve occasionally enjoyed a cup of coffee, I’ve never done so on an almost daily basis. Until I discovered a simple formula for making chocolate taste even more like chocolate and that is to mix a bit of coffee in it. So, I’ve taken to drinking Swiss Miss and coffee, even writing a haiku or two about it.

It has reached the point where any given day would find me having a coffee (with or without chocolate) in the morning and tea at night, both in the service of my sensitive stomach and my profligate tongue.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think. It may not even be, shall we say, a big deal. Except… it kind of is, for me. And I wonder again as I resume stirring.

I’m pretty sure what irks me about the incessant caffeine ingestion is the glowing sign on the marquee announcing the fact of my adulthood and grown-up-ness.

I suppose, at almost 29, I should have at least been ready for it. But I think I’ve always been a bit of a Peter Pan, wanting to remain forever young, wanting an excuse to keep throwing tantrums, talking in a ridiculously high-pitched voice, laughing at the most inane things, and avoiding terrible grown-up things to do like earn a regular salary, get out of school, pay taxes, and the like.

It pains me somewhat that I’m not a growing girl anymore. I am, in truth and fact, a grown woman, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. Or, at least, I hope you wouldn’t. I’m vain enough to hope that you think I can’t be more than 23, 25, tops.

People often watch out for signs of aging in their faces. Are my eyelids starting to droop? Am I forming crow’s feet? Are the laugh lines getting deeper? Is my skin turning splotchy?

I find the signs of my personal march towards death in the changes in my drinking habits. I’ve always associated, albeit unknowingly, coffee and tea with old folks. The image in my mind is of an old man, his back stooped so low he is half the height he once was, slouching at a table, cataract eyes staring uselessly, a cup of dark coffee in hand. He takes a drink, his grip shaky and firm, as if the coffee burning his tongue and the cup around which gnarled fingers are wrapped are the only things keeping his body somewhat erect, somewhat animate, barely alive, As if the minute he lets go of the coffee, his body would then slump to the ground in a way only the dead can do.

The image itself is not particularly terrifying to me. I’ve always been able to imagine being dead. What I can’t imagine is the middle, the vast grey unknown between the end and its beginning.

When I was a kid, a literal kid and not the over-grown one I sometimes am these days, I used to suffer from a great sense of deprivation because I was never allowed to drink as much Sustagen (a powdered energy drink for kids that comes in 2 variants: vanilla and chocolate) as I wanted. My parents were far from selfish. But Sustagen was a bit pricey and we didn’t have much when we were growing up. That meant that chocolate-flavored health drinks were reserved for my thin, ostensibly undernourished eldest sister. Since I was bigger, my parents concluded (probably rightly) that I did not really need help in the nutrition department.

So the stuff my sister didn’t relish taking, I wanted to guzzle. I envied her not only the Sustagen but also the Cetrin, a sweet, orange-flavored syrup, and the Scott’s Emulsion, a white, viscous fluid. God forgive me, I think I may even have resented her taking cod liver oil.

My perspective on such things has changed a lot. I don’t feel deprived anymore, mainly because I’ve lost the taste for awful-flavored vitamins (although, I must admit to maintaining a fondness for Sustagen). It also helps that I can now afford to buy my own chocolate-flavored drinks, although I still pilfer from my dad’s stash of Swiss Miss.

I take a sip of my coffee. It is now cold. I hate the taste of cold coffee, but I don’t heat it up. I drink it, thinking, wanting to believe, that I don’t need it to enervate me just yet.

I make a note to self: buy Swiss Miss. I realize the check from my last job isn’t ready. I amend note to self: buy Milo.

(Also published in IndieBloggers)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

About A Boy

I once met a boy named Louie, who stole my brownie, in that childhood hell we call pre-school. I was 5 years old and it was my first time to attend formal school. In those days, pre-school was merely an option; kids weren’t required to go through kinder or prep before entering the elementary level. Not like today, when kids have to labor and maneuver their way through First Step, Kinder 1, Kinder 2, and Prep just to prepare for Grade 1. It’s first grade, for chrissakes. What the hell is there to prepare for? Is there a pre-alphabet to the alphabet, or a make-believe set of real numbers to the actual, real set of real numbers? What do these kids do in kinder? In my day, early childhood education consisted of old Sampaguita and LVN movies in the afternoon courtesy of Channel 9.

But back to pre-school, and Louie, who stole my brownie. My parents had decided to enroll me in a small pre-school that styled itself a Montessori one. It was, I remember, a serious school. I don’t remember much playing. What sticks to my mind, instead, are the math lessons. At prep level, our teachers thought we were cognitively mature enough to handle the inverse applications of addition-subtraction and multiplication-division. I guess our teachers weren’t cognitively mature enough to fully understand Montessori’s concept of sensitive periods, but I don’t like to criticize.

I remember only 2 people I met in that place. One of them was Sunshine, who had curly hair and who always wore frilly, girlish, party dresses when everyone else wore shirts and shorts. She was the Paris Hilton of our set, and she befuddled my childhood mind. Once, I asked her why she always wore Sunday dresses. She said it was because it was her birthday that day, and every other day, in fact. According to her mom, everyday was Sunshine’s birthday. But that’s impossible, I said. If everyday was your birthday, you’d be 1000 years old by now.

Sunshine didn’t like me all that much.

And then there was Louie. While I have an image of Sunshine in my head, the same cannot be said for Louie. Louie is a named but faceless memory to me. It doesn’t matter what he looks like, see. Only that he stole my brownie. Or, more accurately, ate half of it.

I was a shy child, given to making observations without due regard for tact, yes, but shy nonetheless. Louie knew this. I think he was the devil appearing to me as an ugly, little bastard. Or it could just be residual anger talking. Anyway, Louie had taken to teasing me. I tried to ignore him. Until the day he touched my food.

It was recess, and I had just gone to the girl’s lavatory. I returned to my table to find half of my brownie gone. Just gone. I looked around in confusion; I didn’t remember eating my brownie. I had taken it out of the lunchbox but I hadn’t taken a bite out of it yet. Or had I? The kids at my table were laughing. Louie ate your brownie, they said. I was furious, enraged, livid. I was homicidal, suicidal, mad as Miriam Defensor Santiago. And, most of all, I was hurt. In my world, no one stole no one’s brownie. No one snacked on no one else’s snack.

Louie didn’t even bother denying it. I guess he couldn’t talk because his mouth was full of brownie. He just looked at me, smug, daring me to do something about it. I marched up to my teacher and told her, Louie ate my brownie. Thereafter, Teacher told Louie not to eat my brownie anymore. Which is, really, the stupidest thing anyone can say in this situation. He’s already eaten it! Of course, he’s not going to eat it anymore. To be fair, she did say afterwards that it’s not good to eat other people’s food without asking if you can have some. But they remained empty words to me. My brownie was already half-gone, and we all know half-gone is as good as gone.

You know that first bite, when your teeth first sink into a piece? It could be a cut of meat, or a chunk of bread, or a melting sliver of chocolate confection. You remember that anticipation that thickens your saliva, curls your tongue, flares your nostrils, and makes your taste buds stand erect? Louie took that away from me. He didn’t just eat half of my brownie. He stole a first bite from me.

Some things cannot, must not, be forgiven.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I'm Not A Purefoods Chicken Nugget...

But, being a true 90s kid, I sang along to this hit commercial jingle. I remember this song now because, well, my sister asked me if I still remember the words to it. I did. So, we sang. And that reminded me how much I loved that song. It was a true anthem as commercial jingles go, that and the Nano-Nano* song. But while the Nano-Nano song was pure J-pop, senseless and effervescent, the Chicken Nuggets song derived its ethos from… grunge. Yes, grunge. As in Smells Like Teenage Spirit, Jeremy (spoke in class today—those who grew up to this song know that you can’t say the title without plunging into the whole chorus. You can’t just say, “My favorite Pearl Jam song is Jeremy.” You say, “My favorite Pearl Jam song is Jeremy… spoke in cla-a-ass toda-aayy!!!” you end up bellowing like Eddie Vedder. Try it.), Spoonman, and Would. Ah, grunge. The movement I never really followed, being still hung up on 80s metal and loving Britpop, until Jerry Cantrell, Alice In Chains guitarist and my personal rock god, caught my fancy.

But back to the theory, that the Chicken Nuggets jingle reflected grunge philosophy. This is, admittedly, a controversial statement. Well, assuming, of course, that enough people who: 1) are 90s kids; and 2) loved grunge; and 3) know this song; 4) will actually read this post; 5) have enough time to form an opinion about commercial jingles vis-à-vis movements in rock music; and 6) be inclined to do so. Whew! I seem to have made a whole load of assumptions there. If this were a dissertation, I’d probably flunk defense.

Anyway, to study the Nuggets-Grunge connection, consider these words…

It's not easy to be a nugget
You look like all nuggets do
They don’t know what really matters is what’s inside of you
I’m a Purefoods Chicken Nugget
More chicken under my shell
A chunky, juicy, chicken delight
In every nugget bite.

The line, “I’m a Purefoods Chicken Nugget,” is a defiant assertion of identity and individuality, kind of like “I’m the man in a box” (AIC, 1990). The first three lines are angst-filled, an existential lament for the sorry fact of form superseding substance (check out the video for Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun), with reference to a disembodied force, They, that demands conformity and shuns uniqueness. Uniqueness, you may recall, was something all grungers either aspired to or already fancied themselves as having. To be set apart, to exist outside the mainstream… and sell millions doing so. The last four lines, at first glance, seem too cheerful and optimistic, too self-assured to be grunge. But I prefer to see them as a credible exercise in irony and tongue-in-cheek humor. What’s grunge about that, you ask? Was Kurt Cobain ever tongue-in-cheek? Were Alice in Chains ever light-hearted? Did Eddie Vedder ever laugh? Yes, yes, and… hmm… maybe not. For tongue-in-cheek Nirvana, check out In Bloom. For light-hearted AIC, there’s an audio file out there of Jerry Cantrell and Sean Kinney doing a brilliant rendition of Disco Inferno. They laugh at the end of it. As for Eddie Vedder laughing… Ah, I confess I’m not quite sure. Not that I’m an expert on the guy. All I remember about him was watching PJ receive an MTV award and, in lieu of a thank you speech, Eddie ranting about how phony awards are. So forgive me if I think the guy’s way too serious.

That’s the theory. It’s not much. It probably won’t stand up to rigorous hypothesis-testing. Oh, let’s face it. It won’t even get past first reading. No one’s going to award me a Doctor of Arts or a Ph.D. for this one.

Hmm, maybe a Master’s.

* Nano, nano, nano, nano…
Oh, Nano-Nano, you make me happy

I really love what you do to me
Sweet, sour, and salty
Nano-nano, nananano,

Monday, February 19, 2007

Chicken Candy

I'm running out of ways to cook chicken. Since we only prepare a pork dish once a week, the rest of the week sees us eating fish and chicken alternately. It can get pretty boring, especially if the chicken you eat is always adobo or afritada or chicken curry or bbq or fried. Even the chicken and potatoes recipe has gotten a tad old. Last week, we tried to cook the chicken the same slow-cook way as the chicken and potatoes recipe. But instead of herb oil, we used the following marinade:

250 ml Clara Ole bbq sauce
1/2 cup mustard
1 tomato, diced
1 small onion, diced
basil, garlic powder, pepper to taste
water to thin (if too thick)

This marinade made the chicken sweet, candy sweet, underlaid by tart (due to the mustard). The dish, because of the sweetness, got mixed reviews. My sisters enjoyed the sweet chicken but Daya did not. I swear that girl can't be pleased. She makes up her own mind, thank you.

Hindi ko gusto, 'te.

You don't say.

Well, that's what we love about her. She's adelantada like the rest of the family. It occurs to me that she, like the whole family, is just like this Chicken Candy recipe. Sweet and tart.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Tawilis at Terry's

Last Sunday, Ate My treated me, Ditchie, and Kuya Levi (bro-in-law to be) to dinner at Terry’s Selection Gourmet Store at The Podium. Dinner was nice. This sentence, by the way, is my first understatement for 2007. I plan to make more understatements as the year progresses. It’s all part of my new year’s bid to be droll, fastidious, and ironic because that’s the closest I’ll ever get to being British. Bugger.

Anyway, last Sunday’s dinner was breaded, butterflied, fried tawilis and gambas in garlicky olive oil that we ate with crispy slices of flattened bread. And, because one can never have too much carbo, we also had some silky potatoes with peppers and bits of Spanish sausage. Like I said, dinner was nice. My stomach loved everything. The fried tawilis, with balsamic vinegar for dipping, was a precious discovery, much like Magellan’s discovery of our islands for Spain’s King Philip. Shrimps are always a good thing, even better when they’re shelled and de-veined for no-fuss eating, and best when they’re drowning in a sea of olive oil with about 5,000 garlic cloves and 1,000 siling labuyo. My liver made its protest known a bit later in the evening but I’d gladly live the rest of my life burping like a wee babe just so my tummy can have these gorgeous gastronomic moments.

And the potatoes? Well, I love potatoes. Any way I can eat them is fine by me. I like them fried, boiled and mashed, baked, slathered with mayonnaise, or like last Sunday, sautéed with tomatoes, peppers, and red sausage. It was home food from a home I’ve never been in, of a friend I haven’t met. That last statement didn’t make any sense, did it? That’s another one of my new year’s resolutions, to be glib, and smooth, and suave, because that’s the closest I’ll ever get to being Spanish. Merde.

The menu is in Spanish and I don’t quite remember the actual names of the food I ate. I just remember textures and emotions. We didn’t stay long enough for me to browse through the stacks of gourmet items so I can’t say anything about the store itself, except that it looked like what I imagined Lawson’s store to be. What is Lawson’s store, you ask? Well, it’s the general goods store described in one of Ate My’s historical romance novels, this one set in early 1900s America, around the time of the San Francisco earthquake. I enjoyed reading that book. It was cheesy and sweet, like Pom-Poms and Chiz Curls. Anyway, Terry’s Selection looks like that, only newer and more modern. So I guess it’s retro Lawson’s. Whatever.

The verdict, as if it weren’t obvious, is 4 fishballs and a kwek-kwek* for Terry’s Selection Gourmet Store.

*Rating System:

4 fishballs and a kwek-kwek – Excellent! I could eat this forever!
4 fishballs, no kwek-kwek – V.G.!
3 fishballs – Good.
2 fishballs – Fair. Pwede na.
1 Fishball – Poor. Laman tiyan ka lang.
No Fishball, no kwek-kwek – Pwe! I’d rather go hungry for the rest of my life!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Playing Favorites

I like lists, like most people… with issues. I make To Do lists even when I have nothing in particular to do. I like to list books I want to read, restaurants I want to dine in, movies I want to watch. I list the things I am thankful for as well as areas that I need to make improvements in. In 2003, I made an Areas for Improvement list and one item in that list read: Be more assertive. Not assertive enough.

Four years after I wrote it, I’m still laughing my substantial behind off thinking about it. Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t possibly be more assertive. That item should have read: Be less assertive. Not everyone’s out to get you. Most people don’t give a rodent’s derriere about the horrible things you’re going through. Get over yourself, schmuckette.

I still don’t know why I ever thought I needed to assert myself more. I couldn’t be less api than if I donned greasy, cut-up rags, smeared dirt on my face, and pretended to be a vagrant at the overpass in Philcoa. (A stout vagrant? Have you ever seen such a sight, Nigel? No, can’t say that I have, Miss.). But I digress. Like I always do. I like tangents. I especially like going off them. If there’s a tangent to go off on, I’m there.

The point, however, is lists, i.e. that I like to make them. One kind of list I like to make is a favorites list. It’s a heady feeling wracking your brain for—to paraphrase that early 90s rap/dance group, C&C Music Factory—things that make you go, “Uh-uhmm!” It gives me great joy and I’d rather do this than… work. Frankly.

So, without further ado, these are a few of my favorite things…


1) longganisa (especially Vigan, Lukban, and hamonado)
2) tocino (the pinker, the better!)
3) hotdogs
4) corned beef
5) French toast
6) Pancakes
7) Pan de sal with palaman, either chiz whiz pimiento or nutella or Reno
8) Fried eggs
9) Omelets
10) Garlic fried rice
11) Post raisin and nut bran flakes
12) Swiss Miss (great with a bit of coffee. I wrote a haiku about this. It goes:

Tamis at pait
Masarap pagsamahin—
Swiss Miss and coffee.)

13) Milo (as in #12, great with coffee)
14) Danggit
15) Tinapang Salinas
16) Spanish sardines
17) VMC Spanish style bangus
18) Champorado with tuyo or bulad
19) Hash browns
20) Chocolate-e
21) Fresh orange juice (straight from the bottle. Beri, Beri Good!)
22) Peanut butter and jelly sandwich
23) Reno liver spread (kailangan ulitin. It cannot be emphasized more.)
24) Day-old pizza
25) Leftovers from last night’s dinner

My Favorite MEATS:

1) cold cuts (pepperoni, lyoners, etc.)
2) Italian sausage
3) Hungarian sausage
4) Vigan and Lukban longganisa
5) Tocino
6) Hotdogs
7) Spam / maling
8) Ham
9) Bacon
10) Chorizo de bilbao
11) Corned beef
12) Chicken longganisa
13) Chicken hotdogs
14) Beef franks
15) KFC original recipe chicken
16) Max’s fried chicken
17) Balat ng lechon
18) Lechon kawali
19) Liempo sa Andok’s
20) Chicken nuggets
21) Vienna sausage
22) Meat loaf / beef loaf
23) Hamburger patties
24) Pork chops (lalo na breaded)
25) Siomai at dumplings
26) Meatballs

My Favorite DESSERTS:

1) Dayap Chiffon Cake (at Chocolate Kiss)
2) Bread Pudding (at Circles Resto buffet and EDSA Shangri-La’s breakfast buffet)
3) Leche flan (anytime, anywhere. Kahit butas-butas yan, papatusin ko.)
4) Halo-halo in Razon’s
5) Halo-halo ingredients, like: sweet beans, nata de coco, and kaong
6) Brazo de Mercedes and the Yang to its Yin, Canonigo
7) Sapin-sapin, specifically the white biko-like layer
8) Birthday cake. The ones with marshmallow icing, sweet and sticky.
9) Green Tea and Sesame Seed ice cream (at Teriyaki Boy)
10) Macapuno
11) Inipit

(Note: Actually, I’m not really a dessert person. Hence, the brevity of this list.).

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Note on Gata

Just got back from a counseling mission in Daraga, Albay, where the people--many of them, anyway--remain optimistic and passionate. Albay is a place of myth and its people, firm believers in the power of story. Camalig, the town we were in, lies at the foot of Mayon. It's difficult to describe Mayon without sounding like a press release from the Department of Tourism. The phrase that immediately came to mind when I got my first look at that voluptuous volcano is "magandang mabagsik." Later in the day, I would talk to a woman who had a similar perspective. Mayon, she said, takes her beauty from the lives of the people she kills. Mayon, like Albay, like its people, is both beautiful and fierce. Unrelenting, feral, passionate.

But this isn't a note on Mayon, as gorgeous as that bit of rock and molten lava is. This is a note on the other thing that makes Albay famous: gata. I'm not a big fan of coco milk. It scares me, to be honest. I never know how my stomach will take it. Gata, after all, is not for the faint of heart and queasy of tummy. It's quite like Mayon, I think, in that it caresses your tongue and palate beautifully, sensually, then crash lands into your tummy and explodes out of—ahem, you get the point.

Anyway, when in Bicol, one must have Bicol Express—which, for the ignorami amongst us (or is it ignoramuses? For that matter, is the plural of hippopotamus hippopotami or hippopotamuses? Both, or neither? Questions, questions. Too many questions, never enough answers.), is pork cooked in gata. Not exactly health food heaven but what the hey. So had Bicol Express I did. Partnered it with Laing, in fact. Definition: Laing – gabi leaves in, tadah!, gata.

Will state the obvious now: tummy very happy. Full of air but very happy.

Gata, gata,
Everywhere gata.
In the air,
on my tongue;
in my tummy,
out my bum.

I Thank You.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Chicken and Potatoes

My dad brought a cool titanium pot when he came home from the States. It's a pretty thing, and functional too. It takes only a small flame to heat it up so menos gastos sa gas. My dad claims food cooked in it tastes better too. But that's my dad, the infomercial believer, talking. I still think it's the chef factor (but, of course).

Anyway, in my quest to discover healthy but tasty dishes for my poor, bloated tummy, I experimented with a chicken and potatoes recipe that turned out great. Now, I know I always say that the recipes I create in my humble kitchen are awesome. But that's only because it's true, they are awesome. And as an amateur cook, I'm pretty skilled. (And modest too!).

So, again, here's another recipe from the ever expanding menu of Bogchi ni Bochog. Again, amounts are arbitrary. Cooking is an art, not a science. Or, it's an inexact science. Depends on the perspective you take regarding the methodological distinctions between art and science (but that's neither here nor there).


1 chicken, whole or cut into parts
1 cup olive oil
2 medium-sized heads of garlic, minced
1 medium head of garlic, in cloves
1 medium onion, halved
3 medium tomatoes, halved
juice of 4 calamansi
dry basil, crushed pepper flakes, chili powder, salt, pepper, and other spices (all to taste)
6 medium potatoes, quartered

For the gravy: butter, cornstarch, chicken stock, salt and pepper

1. Mix 3/4 of the olive oil, calamansi juice, minced garlic, and all spices. Marinade chicken in the mixture for at least an hour.
2. Coat bottom of pot with the remaining olive oil. Put the chicken along with the potatoes, garlic cloves, onion halves, and tomato halves. (When using whole chicken, stuff the garlic cloves, onions, and tomatoes into the chicken cavity. Place the potatoes along the sides of the pot, surrounding the chicken).
3. Put pot on low heat. Cook for 40 minutes.
4. After cooking, transfer the chicken (which by this time is flaky, the meat falling off the bones) and potatoes onto a serving bowl or dish.
5. To make the chicken stock, get the aromatic veggies along with bones and meat that have stuck to the bottom of the pot and put them in another pot. Pour 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper.
6. To make the gravy, add 2 pats of butter and some cornstarch to the drippings in the pot where the chicken and potatoes cooked. Add the chicken stock and stir. Season with salt and pepper.

A note about the gravy: Uh... it's not healthy. It actually defeats the whole purpose of not frying the chicken and letting the fat and drippings run out. But then, one cannot reasonably expect gravy which, by definition, is made from drippings, to be healthy. Right? So, for health buffs, the chicken and potatoes taste good enough. The gravy is an option. A very heavenly option that spells the difference between joy and ecstasy.

Friday, January 12, 2007

The Devil Is Right, After All

Two guesses who's got a fat liver. Yep, me! Not so whee!, though, because having a fat liver--the technical term being fatty liver, duh--means I really have to lose weight by going low fat (gasp!) and low carb (agh! my heart! oh, my heart!).

In a previous post, I ranted about Doctor Devil in A White Coat telling me to lose weight as if that was the only explanation for my recurring kabag. (Gah! I've said it before, I'll say it again, kabag sucks. It's the biggest bitch ever. It's a monkey on my back, or more appropriately, a gorilla in my tummy.). Well, I went to another doctor who ordered an ultra sound, which I had last Saturday. Thank the Lord, no stones! Everything normal, everything pretty healthy. Except for that "impression" of a "fatty liver," according to the ultrasonologist. So Doc Number 2 said the only treatment for that is to change my diet and lose weight because having a fatty liver makes me more prone to acid reflux and awful gas in my lovely tummy.

Sucks to be me right now. Sucks to be me.

I am hating, loathing, writing it but... those Devils in White Coats are on to something. The kabag takes so much from me and the only way to manage it is to manage my eating habits. I can't believe I'm writing about managing food. Even as I write, my mind screams, food isn't to be managed! It is to be eaten, consumed, nay, devoured! As devils devour the souls of the wicked!

I'm doing well, so far, keeping to a less rice/pasta/pork diet. Taking it a day at a time works well. If you happen upon this blog and this particular post and you have a low carb and/or low fat recipe to share, I'd love to get those. I'm stocking up on spices and tuna (in brine. Sigh.) and brown rice and wheat bread. I've even created a tuna tomato spread that doesn't taste all that healthy... but is, honest!

I must fight that niggling sense of having sold out to the hippie-dippie health buffs. I am still me. I will not be signing up for pilates lessons anytime soon. But I will be having a salad next time I eat out. I suspect I will try to enjoy the salad even as I miss carbonara. And when the missing becomes too great, I probably will have carbonara one of these days (hopefully, just a single serving of it).

I am still me because, low on carbs or high on it, I still like to create issues out of what to other folks is really nothing. A diet isn't just a diet. There's a reason it's spelled D-I-E-t.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Post Mortem on Purefoods Christmas Ham

What's wrong with Purefoods' hams? That's all I can say. Well, obviously, that's not all I can and will say. In fact, I just said more. The point is, Purefoods' hams suck. Bad. My sisters and I have noticed that for the past two christmases at least, the hams we've been buying and consuming for noche buena/media noche--oh, who am I kidding? We open them, slice them up, and eat them the minute we buy them. As in right after paying, straight out of the grocery bag, and not even out of Shopwise yet... Anyway, the hams have not been up to par.

Let me preface such a criticism with a brief discussion of the Salvador Sisters' Criteria for Good Christmas Ham. First, the marbling in the meat. Any Christmas ham worth its salt must have a good proportion of fat to meat so that every slice has a nice white streak of marble at one end. Second, the sweetness factor. Great Christmas hams have a nice, thick, melting film of sugary sauce that lends a hint of sweetness to every fried slice. Sometimes, ham makers go overboard with the sweetness and sometimes, they scrimp on it. Neither is good enough for anyone, except maybe for Jesus (and that's only because everything and everyone is good enough, even precious, to him, even vile sinnahs such as yoself! Ruh-pent! Ruh-pent!).

Now, it's pretty obvious that I'm a big fan of Purefoods products, from their hotdogs to their corned beefs to their chorizo de bilbaos to their luncheon meats. And yes, we've been eating Purefoods Christmas ham every Christmas for a long time now. And for a long time, it's been good. But this Christmas, and the one before, the hams have lost a little of its charm. The fat's still there, which is obviously a good thing. But the sauce isn't as thick and syrupy as it used to be. Before, it was like candied pork. Now, it's just like regular Dak's ham with a little bit of sweet sauce to make you remember and miss how good and sweet it was before.

Still, we'll probably have Purefoods Christmas ham again next Christmas. Heck, we'd have it in the middle of the year if they sold it in June. We don't even think about going Swift's. But maybe now is a good time to think about exploring other options. Maybe we've been missing out on a whole load of goodies just 'cause we don't like Swift's corned beef. Hmm, it's definitely something to think about for the new year. Along with other important things like world peace, of course.