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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Bay Area Trip (Day 3)

FRIDAY, Day 3, we woke up to a dark and rainy day in the Bay Area. After picking up our rental from Hertz (we got a Nissan Extera), we debated about what to do that day. Our original plan was to head for the Sonoma and Napa region but with the pouring rain, we did the next best thing. We went to the Napa Valley Factory Stores. I mean what is better than spending a rainy day, shopping in an outlet, on the day after Thanksgiving (biggest sale of the year!).

It was about an hours drive to Napa and when we got to the outlets we started with brunch at the only place to eat – the Food Court. It was not exactly the brunch dreams are made of – but after quick slices of pizza and calzones, we were off to do some shopping!

We went our separate ways and agreed to meet at 2:30 pm by the Food Court. That meant we had about 3 hours. My outlet shopping strategy is usually to just go to the stores I know I like (even if they are located in different areas) and if there is any time left over to backtrack and walk through other stores. I know I waste a lot of time zigzagging across the parking lot to go to different shops, but really this strategy has always worked for me. This time I visit Ann Taylor, Nine West, Liz Claiborne, Coach, and DKNY. (FYI, Napa does not have a huge outlet so it is manageable in 3 hours). I ended up buying a few things for myself and a few things for my sisters back home. But it wasn’t a total shopping spree since the things I really liked were not on sale, the stores that had bigger sales were horribly full, and I kept thinking about the one lowly suitcase I had back in the hotel and how I would have to make everything fit.

At around a quarter to 2, I walk by the Food Court meeting place and of course my dad and hubby are sitting there waiting for us. Very typical of them to be all done with shopping way before our time is up. By around 2:30 we regroup, load up all our packages in the car, and find that the weather has surprisingly cleared, so we head over to the vineyards for wine-tasting.

After driving through the Oakville Grocery, the St. Helena Olive Oil Company and rows and rows of vineyards, we stop at the V. Sattui vineyards in St. Helena. This has always been my favorite vineyard along Highway 29 (Napa’s main road). V. Sattui has picnic grounds, vineyards and wine cellar tours, a deli and cheese shop, and wine tasting rooms. It’s literally a one-stop place for all things Napa. Once inside, my dad and brother head over to the wine tasting room, while mom and I browse the deli and cheese shop. My hubby went walking around the grounds. After about an hour of browsing and sampling, we had a picnic basket filled with goodies and we all headed outdoors towards the picnic grounds.

It turned out to be a beautiful day. Bright (but not too sunny), cool, crisp air, and everything smelling like nature. We sat at a picnic table that overlooked miles and miles of vineyards and all around us were fallen leaves that crunched when you walked on them. There were farmhouses in the horizon and you could see children playing in the gardens beside us. It was truly picturesque. For our picnic we had a loaf of French bread, a really good goat cream cheese with artichokes, a block of Dubliner cheese, duck-liver pate (yum!), and a bottle of white wine. We also had cartons of very garlicky garlic mushrooms, marinated artichoke hearts, huge prawns with a mustard-based dressing, and sausage lasagna from the deli.

It was really a beautiful setting and I could have stayed there all day. But pretty soon, the sun was setting and the cool and crisp air started turning cold. That was our cue to head inside to the shops and of course load up on pasalubong (marinated olives, chocolate caramel apple sauce, lemon aioli vinaigrette, and biscotti) for back home.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bay Area Trip (Day 2)

THURSDAY, DAY 2, was spent with our family friends: Auntie Carrie (who is one of my mom’s best friends and almost like a second mom to us), Uncle Bobby and their daughter Margriet. Also in from LA, were Auntie Carrie’s sister, Auntie Gloria and her family (Uncle Adolfo, Sam and Nico). We all met at Margriet’s lovely apartment on Nob Hill. It was a very beautifully furnished 2-bedroom apartment that became a bit crowded with 12 people in the living room. But it was a comfortable space and of course, nice being with family and friends on Thanksgiving so we didn’t really mind.

Lunch was Spiral Ham and Roasted Turkey with all the trimmings (corn relish, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly) and then for dessert we had champagne, amazingly good lemon squares, three kinds of liquored bundt cake, petit fours and coffee. The food was really good and our hosts were delightfully gracious.

After lunch, Uncle Adolfo and Uncle Bobby took us on parts of the 49-mile scenic drive around the city. It was a great way for my dad to see the sights that make SF distinct -- the Coit Tower, Union Square, Transamerican Building, Golden Gate park, North Beach, Chinatown, The Cliff House, Palace of Fine Arts, SF City Hall, Lombard Street, and rows and rows of lovely Victorian style homes.

Back at Margriet’s place, we took a walk to a nearby park (across Grace Cathedral) which was really nice. Uncle Bobby told us this was where he walked every morning amidst old men and women doing tai chi. After our walk, we rested for a while back in the apartment.

Later on we went to dinner at the House of Prime Rib on Van Ness. It is a place well known for, well, prime rib. In fact, it is so well known, half of San Francisco was there that night. In spite of Margriet’s making reservations months ago, we had a long wait for our tables. But it turned out to be just as well, since we were slowly building up an appetite. House of Prime Rib is almost a replica of Lawry’s Prime Rib (ambience and food wise). And since we all thoroughly enjoy Lawry’s, things were looking up. Dinner started with the house salad – again chilled and served the same way, we had our prime rib dinners (cut and cooked to our specifications), Yorkshire pudding, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes, au jus gravy, and of course, whipped horseradish! For dessert, there was raspberry sorbet, crème brulee or fresh strawberries. And for entertainment, we had a very vivacious server that provided us with quite a show. The evening was every bit as good as expected and my only complaint is I couldn’t take my leftovers back to the hotel!

Bay Area Trip (Day 1)

WEDNESDAY, DAY 1 of our Bay Area Thanksgiving adventure started with a 5:30 am trip to LAX. Anticipating huge crowds because of the holidays, we (my mom, dad, hubby, brother and I) were extra early for our 8:30 flight. Security at the airport, although heightened, was not irritatingly horrid, and we were in the boarding area with almost 2 hours to spare. This is very typical of me – being extra early and waiting a long time in the airport. I have a friend (you know who you are) who insists on getting to the airport 15 minutes before his flight. Not me - I would find that way too stressful.

We arrived at the Oakland Airport and checked into our rooms at the Park Plaza Hotel. After settling in, we took the BART to San Francisco and hopped on the Powell-Mason line cable car and headed for Fisherman’s Wharf. Since this was my dad’s first trip to the Bay Area – we wanted to do all the touristy stuff. We were off to a good start – I seriously think only actual tourists would pay $5.00 per person for the one-way cable car ride!

Fisherman’s Wharf was exactly the same as the last time I’ve been there almost 4 years ago. We walked along the Fisherman’s Grotto with their steaming pots of Dungeness crab and strolled along Pier 39’s array of restaurants. For lunch, we decided on a little diner-like place called Chowders where we had clam chowder in sourdough breadbowls, fried calamari, clam strips and zucchini. After lunch, we did a little shopping along the small shops on the Pier that sell those kitschy and silly souvenirs that I absolutely love to browse through. My hubby bought me a baby pink windbreaker (which came in handy during the Bay Cruise we took later on), my mom and I found some adorable crystal Xmas ornaments, and we bought Ghirardelli sugar-free (you can’t tell they are) chocolate turtles.

Then came our hour-long Bay Cruise on the Blue and Gold Fleet. We sat at the very top of the ship – three stories high. It proved to be a VERY COLD AND WINDY cruise (this is the part where the windbreaker came in very handy). Throughout the hour there were several seagulls that kept flying almost on top of us – the rest of the passengers found this really amazing and kept oohing and aahing. I was too worried they would poop on our heads so I kept my jacket hood on. The cruise took us around Alcatraz, Sausalito, Tiburon, the shoreline of SF, the Golden Gate bridge and the Bay bridge. Perfect way to see the Bay.

When we got back to dry land, we leisurely walked towards Ghirardelli Square, stopping by several sidewalk stores along the way. There were places selling really inexpensive faux leather and suede jackets ($29.99 for a suede jacket!). Of course, quite frustratingly - there is no way to convince my hubby to wear something “fake” and “off the street”. I was trying to look for a place that sold bags (which is the one thing I can not have enough of!) but I couldn’t find anything interesting. We finally reached the Square and had dinner at The Mandarin (which serves North Hunan style food). Actually I was planning on having pommes frites for dinner and had looked up a place called Fritz’s Fries. But it turns out half the dining places at the Square have closed (since as I learned later on, the city is planning on tearing the Square down and constructing condominiums in its place). I found that sad since I really like the ambience of Ghirardelli Square.

Back to dinner, after being in the cold for so long, we ordered bowls of hot and sour soup, chow mein style noodles, shrimp mu shu and yin-yang lobster. The restaurant had really small portions which was good since we were really there to have ice cream at the Ghirardelli Soda Fountain. Between the 5 of us, we had the banana split, the very berry sundae, and the brownie sundae. Super duper good! Definitely the highlight of the day. Our last stop before heading back to the hotel was the chocolate shop where I bought pasalubong for people at work and back home.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Second Weekend (w/ the parentals) Part 3

I’m seriously falling behind on updating this blog. I have yet to post last Sunday’s recap and already have tons to post about our Thanksgiving trip to the Bay Area. So, to catch up, I’m posting a mini recap of last Sunday (Nov. 20). Bay Area trip recap to follow.

I have to give credit to my mom again for last Sunday’s brunch. She woke up bright and early to prepare my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE FOOD OF ALL TIME. Sinangag (garlic fried rice); tuyo (dried herring) marinated in olive oil, garlic and vinegar; fresh chopped tomatoes; and scrambled eggs. YUM! Just writing about it is actually making my mouth water. Ever since I was a kid, this has been my favorite meal. Every time we play the “what if” game and I’m asked “what if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have three kinds of food to live on for a year, what would you bring?”, my answer would always be “sinangag, tuyo, and eggs”.

After breakfast we went to mass, ran errands, and went shopping most of the afternoon. Came home to pick up my hubby and brother and had an early dinner at Manna (a Korean BBQ place right in the middle of Koreatown). It is one of those places where you cook your meat on a tabletop grill in the center of the table. The slices of chicken, pork, beef and marinated short ribs were served with a light salad of fresh greens and a host of Korean side dishes (kimchee, pickled cucumber, rice paper wrappers, glass noodles, jicama, and others). Really good food but not such a great idea when you are off to the theater after the meal. We seriously all smelled like Korean BBQ on our way to the Ahmanson Theater in downtown LA.

My generous boss got us tickets to see “The Drowsy Chaperone”. The incredibly funny play starts with a homely character simply known as “Man in Chair” who walks the audience thru his favorite 1920’s musical entitled “The Drowsy Chaperone”. “Man in Chair” interjects throughout the musical his funny comments and hilarious side notes. The fictional musical is made up of a host of quirky and entertaining characters: a glamorous actress about to get married and give up her career, her dashing and vain husband to be who does a great tap dance sequence to calm his cold feet. In addition there’s her manager/producer; his bimbo starlet, Kitty; a duo of gangsters posing as bakers; Adolfo, the Latin lothario – who are all trying to stop the wedding from happening. Then there's the eager best man, the drowsy chaperone (who is actually more drunk than drowsy), the stiff English butler, and the ditzy wedding hostess – who are all doing their best to see the wedding go as planned. The show ends with a triple wedding and Trix the Aviatrix flying everyone off to Jamaica.

It is a very high-spirited, hilarious and light-hearted musical comedy. We found ourselves laughing in our seats throughout the almost 2-hour long show. I was impressed with the whole cast’s performance and truly thrilled to have seen the show (previewing here in LA), before it makes its way to Broadway where many predict it will run for many, many seasons. Two thumbs up and a great way to end the weekend.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Second Weekend (w/ the parentals) Part 2

Saturday started with brunch at home. My mom laid out quite a spread: brewed coffee, juice, toasted baguettes, beef Kielbasa, and different kinds of cheese (Stilton, Asiago, Manchego, and a kind of goat cheese). Now I am by no means a cheese connoisseur (am perfectly happy with cheddar cheese on crackers, parmesan on spaghetti, and mozarella on my pizza - that's about it), I nevertheless tried a piece of each one. Did not really enjoy them the way my mom and brother did. Am still a long way to go before I can be called a cheese aficionado - didn't even appreciate the Stilton which my mom claims is known as the "Queen of All Cheese".

After brunch we whiled away the time trying to decide what to do. Some of our options included shopping at the Charles Wilson Park Farmers Market or spending the day at the Roadium Flea Market in Redondo Beach. I am quite sure my parents would enjoy both activities. However, Saturday turned out to be very sunny and quite warm (unusual for this time of year here in LA). For most folks around here that would mean basking under the sun in beaches, parks, or outdoor amusement parks. Not my family. We are a very heat-wary and sun-averse bunch of people. So we did the next best thing that still involved shopping, we headed over to Circuit City to buy electronic stuff.

Over at Circuit City, we certainly made our salesperson’s day by purchasing 2 sets of dual-line cordless phones (for back home), a digital camera (for my mom), a video camera (for my brother), and a CD player (for my dad). If that weren’t enough, Steve (our salesperson) sold us a bunch of other stuff like memory cards, batteries, camera and video cases, etc, etc. I wandered around after about an hour of listening to his sales pitch since I was definitely getting an information overload! In my opinion, there are two sides to the salespeople over at Circuit City. On one hand, the good thing about them is “they are very aggressive, quite knowledgeable, and will really pull out all the bells and whistles to convince you to buy every add-on known to man for your purchase”. On the other hand, the bad thing about them is “they are very aggressive, quite knowledgeable, and will really pull out all the bells and whistles to convince you to buy every add-on known to man for your purchase”. Enough said.

After stopping by the house and watching my brother, dad, and hubby test the electronic gadgets, our next stop was the Redondo Beach Pier where we had a great time walking along the Boardwalk and enjoying the weather (which had thankfully cooled down). We got the chance to see a really magnificent sunset and then again acted all “touristy” by posing for as many pictures (of the same view) as we could. Our next dilemma was where to have dinner. After a long, careful deliberation and a lot of debating, my mom made the executive decision and we ended up at the Pacific Fish Company. The restaurant is pretty non-descript, just rows of wooden tables and chairs, with no art or paintings on the walls. Instead there are mirror panels and windows that look out to the sea. The staff is mostly Asian and quite curt and abrupt. Like many Asian eateries, the noise level was quite high and the lighting was fluorescent bright. Ambience-wise this place was nothing to brag about. But the food, well, that is another story.

We placed our orders at the counter and waited a few minutes for our table to be prepared. We were then showed to the back of the room, next to an open window. The first to arrive were our drink orders: Cokes, TsingTao beer and hot tea. A few minutes later our appetizers arrived. We ordered fried scallops (still juicy and tender on the inside) and calamari rings (also tender and lightly seasoned). My hubby had a seafood combo plate with battered fish, fried shrimp and oysters (the oysters were a bit fishy tasting though). Next we had a steaming pot of fish head stew with shrimps, tofu and mushrooms, flavored with Korean red-bean paste. It was really good especially since the weather had gotten quite cool. The soup was spicy with a kick but it balanced out well with the fish and vegetables. Last to arrive (but certainly worth the wait) was a platter of steamed Dungeness crabs. Our server brought over our crabs, removed the main shell and quartered them before placing the platter in the center of the table. Armed with plastic bibs around our necks, paper strewn across the table, and wooden mallets in our hands, we (except my hubby who is allergic to crabs) had a delectable crab feast. The crab was so full of meat, very fresh, and really, really good. You could choose to dip your crab in melted butter, vinegar, or chili sauce. Although I found it better to just enjoy the crab without any dipping sauce at all. Twenty minutes later, all we had in front of us were crab shells, empty plates, and full tummies. Aaaahhh.

We walked off our seafood dinner by the beach. The nice thing about Redondo Beach is that it is well-lighted and there are a number of joggers, bikers and families enjoying the place even at night. It was great walking along the water, feeling the cool sand against my feet and hearing the waves coming ashore. Of course, half an hour later my dad had a hankering for dessert, and so we all walked back to the ice cream stands by the Pier and shared a dish of strawberry shortcake and a couple of frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and nuts. The perfect way to end the day.

Sunday is coming up ...

Monday, November 21, 2005

Second Weekend (w/ the parentals) Part 1

I would have posted pictures of last weekend’s activities but my parents brought the camera to Las Vegas where they spent 4 wonderful days sampling different restaurants, watching shows (Mamma Mia, Lance Burton's, and Cirque du Soleil's "O"), walking the strip, and gambling the night away (well not really, for those who know my parents it's more like a few dollars at the slots every night).

I’ll try to post a few pictures from last weekend and from our activities this weekend when I get home. Incidentally, this post is brought to you straight from my lunch break at work.

Our second weekend together started with my hubby and brother bringing my folks over to my office on Friday. They came bearing gifts (pili nut pies) for everyone at the office. That meant everyone naturally had to stop working and start socializing with my folks and of course sampling the really “hard-to-eat-just-one-piece” pies. Incidentally we did not know what the English translation of the Philippine pili nut is and none of my American co-workers had ever tasted anything like this (please e-mail me if you have any idea so we can get to the bottom of this mind boggler.)

After about an hour of chit-chat, my folks, brother and I left to have lunch at Pinks (my hubby had to work). Pinks Hotdogs on La Brea is a Los Angeles city institution and so I thought it would be great to spend our day in LA with lunch at the famous restaurant (well not so much a “restaurant” as it is really just a “stand” with a sitting area in the parking lot behind it). My dad had the Chicago spicy polish dog (which was really spicy!), my mom had the pastrami reuben dog (Side note: my mom is the only person I know who can eat a hotdog balanced on a tiny bun, loaded with a gazillion toppings, and not spill anything or get anything on her face!), my brother had the chili cheese dog (a classic), while I had the Rosie O’Donnell dog (chopped tomatoes, sweet onions, sauerkraut, and chili). The hotdogs were good but what I really liked was the creamy coleslaw and the crispy, flavored fries.

Our next stop was to visit some family friends to pick up some things and to drop off pasalubong (gifts from back home), which as it turns out we left in my hubby’s car (we had taken my car for lunch). So after exchanging small talk I had to promise that I would be back next week to bring their pasalubong. We then stopped by The Grove on Third. Did a little clothes shopping, home accessories shopping (for my mom), stopped by Banana Rep and Bath & Body Works, and then headed for the Farmer’s Market next door where we loaded up on andouille sausages, French-style baguettes, and different kinds of fresh cheese.

We then met with my hubby and arrived half an hour early for our dinner reservation at Lawry’s Prime Rib on La Cienega. While waiting for our table we got into a conversation with a fellow Filipina who was both irritatingly talkative (she kept butting in on our conversation) and yet strangely funny at the same time (her comments were outrageous!). And even if we were waiting to have dinner, we just had to sample the complimentary appetizers: thick-cut, home-style potato chips (yum!) and meatballs in tomato sauce (good but on the salty side). Finally we sat down to a super scrumptious and mouthwatering dinner of prime rib. I really like Lawry’s not just for the food but the whole ambience of the place. I find it to be filled with such an old-world charm. I also like their servers and staff who are all extremely gracious. Our server that night was a beautiful lady named Ms. Gosk. We ordered glasses of Merlot and Riesling (which is my new favorite dinner wine – served chilled, it is slightly sweet, fruity, and very refreshing). After a while, the prime rib cart came around and we ordered different cuts of prime rib. Mom and I had the Lawry’s cut, dad had the Diamond Jim Brady cut, while my brother and hubby (who were either very, very hungry or feeling quite macho) ordered the Beef Bowl cut (also known as the “half-a-cow” cut!!!).

The Prime Rib dinners (as if they were not large enough) come with Yorkshire pudding (sounds better than it tastes, if you ask me), mashed potatoes with au jus gravy, and whipped horseradish (which I love). You also get your choice of creamed corn, creamed spinach, a baked potato or steamed asparagus. I have to say, Lawry's does not have a huge menu but the few things they do serve, they really do exceptionally well. The prime rib literally melts in your mouth and each bite is tender and flavorful (with or without gravy). Dinner was very, very good but was really too much for us. We had to box up most of our steaks. We did leave room for the Dessert Sampler though - and am I glad that we did! The sampler included a tart lemon-like pudding on a butter-cookie cup, a miniature ramekin of crème brulee, a mini sundae with nuts and hot fudge, a tiny raspberry truffle with whipped cream, and a small slice of flourless chocolate cake. Again, all I can say is “Yum!”.

This is only Friday and I still have Saturday and Sunday to go. Unfortunately I have a meeting in half an hour that I need to prepare for. So the rest of the weekend's activities will follow soon …

Monday, November 14, 2005

First Weekend (w/ the parentals)

Our first weekend with the parentals was awesome. We kicked it off with a shopping spree at Kohl’s on Friday afternoon (believe me when I say, shopping with my parents = A SUPER GOOD TIME) and an outdoor dinner of burritos and margaritas at Chipotle Grill. Chipotle has got to be my favorite Mexican fastfood place. Their carnitas (shredded pork) and barbacoa (shredded beef) are both extremely tender and flavorful as a result of being braised for hours with a variety of Mexican spices. My only gripe is the place does not come with a salsa bar. I love freshly made salsa and the tiny cup-sized servings they provide are never enough.

We spent the rest of the evening sitting outdoors and talking about everything and nothing. It was probably in the low 50’s but we didn’t mind the cold air. In fact, my parents relish the cold weather (we are folks that come from the Philippine tropics after all!). Actually we chose to eat in Chipotle because there was outdoor seating. My poor hubby on the other hand (who hates the cold) was bundled up in his corduroy pants, bulky jacket, and bonnet the whole time.

On Saturday we headed for brunch at a West Hollywood place called The Griddle Café (right next door to the Director’s Guild of America building). The café itself was basically a hole-in-the-wall joint, which we would have driven right by, if not for the long line of people crowding its front door. We waited about 20 minutes before we got in and another twenty minutes before our food came. But it was worth it. The Griddle Café is known for its breakfast selection and we were not disappointed. We ordered coffee and mimosas and a selection of pancakes and omelets. Mom had the blueberry pancakes, my brother tried the Sow Your Oats pancakes (cinnamon and oats), my hubby went with the banana-rama pancakes, dad had the Hoagie omelet with hash browns, while I tried the Chicago omelet with turkey sausage.

I have to point out two things here. First, we were not disappointed, the food was GREAT. Second, the food portions were GINORMOUS! The pancakes were about the size of dinner plates and thicker than most pancakes I’ve had before. There were three huge pancakes per order (so our table of 5 people had 9 GINORMOUS pancakes) - all served with butter and a side of maple syrup. Not to mention two HUGE omelets and a side order of turkey sausages. We were sitting there surrounded by plates of food and refillable coffee. Finishing that meal was a lost cause. My mom, brother and hubby gamely tried to eat their pancakes using different techniques (mom - one layer at a time starting at the top, my brother – doing triple layers all at once, and my hubby – just hacking away at the center) but even after 20 minutes of eating, those pancake stacks did not seem to be shrinking. We had to call it a meal and carted off the leftovers in 4 Styrofoam boxes.

Our next stop was The Getty Center off the 405 freeway. Now I am by no means an art connoisseur and don’t do very well in museums and art galleries, so the first few pavilions we went to were for the most part quite boring for me. There were a few Greek/Roman bronze sculptures that caught my eye and I did like the European glass art display. Although I walked very quickly through the paintings by Titian and the Painted Prayers display. However there were two things that I really appreciated at The Getty. The first was the European paintings by the masters (Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir, Degas, etc). It was a bit awe-inspiring to sit back in one of the settees and be in the same room as these timeless and priceless works of art. The second thing I enjoyed was the architecture and the gardens of the center. The simplicity of the building design truly added to the grandeur of the place. Also, the gardens and water maze was really serenely picturesque. Being the “touristy bunch” that we are, we could not resist doing the prerequisite photo shoots by the trams, gardens and fountains. (Pics to be posted soon, I hope!). I also particularly loved learning Getty Center and J. Paul Getty trivia from the brochures and the audio-visual presentation in computer kiosks around the center. For example, did you know there are 3,200 doors at The Getty Center?

After The Getty, we took a long and scenic drive to Naples Island in Long Beach. (The operative words are “long and scenic”, which can be loosely translated as “we got lost”). It was dark when we finally arrived and so we cruised by the Belmont Shore shops and boutiques but missed on seeing the gondolas and gondoliers. Our point of destination was the Naples Rib Company, which is in fact the premier place for barbecued ribs! We had a super wonderful dinner of sparkling white wine, ribs (baby back ribs, beef ribs, St. Louis style ribs), corn bread and Caesar salad – we also tried the roasted artichokes with three dipping sauces (hollandaise was my favorite). This time we did things right and ordered three dinner combos and shared the food. There was plenty to go around but we didn’t feel like complete gluttons from overeating afterwards. A quick trip to the supermarket rounded out our day.

Sunday was more relaxing, we woke up late and had a wonderful breakfast my mom made. Freshly brewed coffee, Bruschetta (fresh tomatoes and basil, slightly sweet balsamic vinegar, and fresh mozzarella cheese on toasted French bread), mushrooms sautéed in garlic and light cream, and smoked salmon with a mayo/mustard/dill/caper dressing. Yes, believe it or not, that was our “home-made” breakfast that my mom just managed to whip up, spur of the moment. (Is she a culinary goddess or what!!!).

After breakfast we got ready to go to mass and then over to my BIL/SIL’s place to meet the rest of my in-laws for a late lunch. This time we had Chinese take out food (roast chicken, stir-fried beef and vegetables, sweet and sour pork, and birthday style noodles). We spent a good part of the afternoon there just talking and enjoying the company. We left since my brother had to hit the books (for an exam on Tuesday) and my folks wanted to take a walk around our neighborhood. My hubby and I took that as a sign to do laundry and catch up on our reading. About 2 hours later, my dad calls and asks me to pick them up. Not surprisingly, they ended up shopping and had too many bags to carry home.

Dinner was just another of my mom’s random creations. How she managed to make this dinner after being out all day I still can’t figure out! We had a tender and juicy roast porkloin (marinated with garlic, olive oil, and lots of thyme), a cheesy baked cauliflower casserole, and my mom’s Caesar salad made with her secret (to die for!) dressing. And for dessert, we had some of the leftover pancakes from The Griddle Café (something tells me we will be having those pancakes for a very long time!).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Parentals are Coming!

Finally … my parents are arriving tomorrow. I am so excited. I’ve had this date circled in red since June! They are arriving via Philippine Airlines tomorrow night. My hubby, brother and I are going to pick them up at the airport.

It’s been almost a year since I’ve last seen my folks (the last time they were here was for our wedding / honeymoon last December). That's almost 12 months ago, so you can just imagine why I am all worked up about their visit and have been planning stuff to do so that they’ll enjoy their 3-week stay.

Lucky for me my parents are very easy going and not high maintenance at all. My dad is a classic foodie and enjoys a good meal so I’ve been on the lookout for new and interesting places to eat. My mom, on the other hand, is a bonafide shopping queen so I’ve scouted flea markets, farmers’ markets and kitschy shops galore (and let’s not forget the malls, Costco, and factory outlets near and far). Look out for all the balikbayan boxes she’ll be shipping home!

My brother and I have also put together lists of interesting local activities that we both think my parents would enjoy. Live symphony music at the Hollywood Bowl, a day trip to The Getty Center, King Tut exhibit at LACMA, an evening at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, watching CATS at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, and more. I’ve also planned a 4-day trip to Las Vegas for them (my dad’s first time in Sin City!) and a Thanksgiving trip (for all of us) to the Bay Area with family and friends. It'll be great!

And not to mention the best part about the next three weeks. Home cooked meals ... Clean clothes ... Shopping trips ... my dad working with us on our finances ... my dad's jokes ... my mom's TLC ... parental advice on just about everything I can think of to ask ... bonding ... having more family and friends over ... and just coming home to mom and dad! :)

It’s too bad my two sisters and my other brother (who are back in Manila) won’t be with us this time. It’s always fun when the 7 J’s get together. Back home, my friends have christened my family as the “Philippine version of the Brady Bunch” and I guess I would have to agree with that. I mean, sure, we've had our off days and naturally there have been disagreements and fighting and bickering. But for the most part, we manage to have a good time together and enjoy each other's company even if all of us have quite different interests and tastes.

Anyway, stay tuned for more updates on my parents’ visit.

P.S. The weekend was pretty much spent cleaning the house and getting things ready for their arrival. I am sure those of you who live away from your parents know what I am talking about when I say we had to make sure the house “parent-ready and parent-worthy”! :)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Happy Birthday Atsi!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my Atsi Jen!

I hope you have a wonderful birthday and a fabulous year ahead. A year that is filled with love, blessings, success, good health and happiness. Everything that you truly deserve. Even if I’m way over here and you are way over there, I am sending you happy thoughts and a great big hug.

To my “big” sister who was my very first friend and the reason why I learned sign language even before I could speak. (People actually thought I was deaf too!). We shared a room when we were young (although your side was always so much neater!), and clothes (when I could still fit into yours) and Barbie dolls (mine always seemed to get lost) and ballet lessons (remember Mrs. Bichara?) and funny little pet names for each other (there are too many to mention).

But more than that we shared secrets and dreams and a very special bond that only sisters can have. Thank you for believing in me, for forgiving me for my faults, for soothing away my hurts, and for being a wonderful sister and friend.

I rarely say this but I admire you for your courage and perseverance in achieving all that you have attained. I admire you for your patience in dealing with everything that comes your way. I admire you for being beautiful both inside and out. But most of all I admire you for your kindness and selflessness, always looking out for us instead of yourself.

I wish you knew how much you mean to me and that I am here for you always.
Love you!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Me? Adventurous? Risk-taker? - NOT.

Last Saturday was my SIL’s baby shower and it was a really nice time to get together and celebrate the upcoming birth of a baby girl. There was good food, great company, fun games and a host of adorable baby gifts. While I don’t have kids myself, I can already see myself shopping for baby girl outfits. They are just too cute for words!

After all the merriment and festivities, the family (minus the guests who had left by that time) sat down to cap off the evening with a DVD showing of “Land of the Dead”. Totally inappropriate for the mood of the day, but I guess, highly appropriate for the upcoming Halloween celebration. So there we were, gathered in my SIL’s living room watching super enhanced zombies walking thru land and water on a rampage to hack, devour and mutilate as many humans as they possibly can in two hours.

I can’t get over how gory and violent this movie was – or most movies are for that matter. Of course based on the title of this film, one does not expect great dialogue and cinematographic genius. But the film was just too graphically disgusting for words. I sat thru the first half of the movie with my hands over my eyes for the most part. After about forty-five minutes of blood, mutilation, gore, and zombies eating human guts, I finally found myself too disgusted to even finish the rest of the film. It was that bad. I walked over to the next room and watched “The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh” with my nieces. Much better.

I know a lot of people enjoy horror movies. Something about the thrill of watching in suspense, or the realm of fantasy that it touches on, or maybe just the idea that one can walk away unscathed by such violence. Whatever. But for the life of me, I cannot in good faith pay good money to have myself scared silly.

Safe to say, I abhor horror movies. Violent movies I can tolerate IF and ONLY IF the plot absolutely calls for it (which in most cases it does not). I do not enjoy thrill rides in amusement parks (again the concept of my not wanting to pay good money to have my insides turned upside down applies). I do not enjoy extreme sports (skydiving, bungee jumping, paragliding, not my idea of having a good time). I cannot imagine getting tattoos or body piercings (mainly because they involve needles). I also do not like rap and heavy metal music (they literally hurt my ears). I don’t like the odds of gambling (and really enjoy weekend trips to Las Vegas for the food and the shows). And despite my love for reality television, I will never be a contestant on Fear Factor.

I have no qualms admitting all that. Nor do I discriminate against people who enjoy the things that I don’t. It’s just that my idea of fun is more laid-back and certainly more conservative that most. "Adventurous", "daring" and "wild" are very rarely words used to describe me. I guess I have been known to lean more towards the traditional side. I take calculated risks and will follow my intuition only after making sure I’ve got my bases covered. I think that for the most part it has worked out well for me when I’m not so impulsive, but there are times I know that I’ve got to cut lose and learn to throw caution to the wind, and be less … well … prudent. I’ve been working on that and sometimes I find myself getting pretty good at it … especially when it involves shopping and ordering food! :)