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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Food Find

Yesterday, Jojo, Jules and I were furniture shopping in San Gabriel. In between visits to several local furniture dealers, we had lunch at a Taiwanese restaurant called Lu Din Gee. My brother, who has been there before, was telling us that this place served very good and extremely authentic Chinese food. But the trade off was the place was very typical of Chinese restaurants (aka crowded, noisy, nondescript décor and with rude service). Jojo and I didn’t really mind that since in our minds that’s a small price to pay for good food. The other issue was that the place was really small and since it was a popular place, lines were long and reservations were usually required. We were in luck, though, since when we arrived there was one lone table left.

I would have to say that Jules’ description was correct on all counts – it was crowded, it was noisy, service was bordering on rude, and the food was indeed excellent. Although I would have to give this place a little more credit for actually having some pretty good décor (cherry wood tables and chairs, tasteful Oriental furnishings, and soft piped in music).

We had four dishes for lunch and a rose-infused tea to wash it all down. We started off with a mixed green vegetable dish. The mustard greens were stir fried with garlic and chicken stock along with beans (similar to edamame pods), and long strips of dried tofu (almost like a flat noodle in consistency). The dish was good and really tasted very healthful. The vegetables and beans were very crisp and the tofu strips had an interesting texture.

Our next dish was a stewed pork rib. This was cooked in a clay pot and was very tender and flavorful. It was cooked with a number of Chinese herbs and spices – the only one I recognized was star anise – which I love since it both smells great and gives dishes such an exotic and savory taste.

Next we had a monk fish dish that was breaded with flour, dried coconut, dried chilies and seasoning. It was an interesting dish since there was a definite contrast between the crunch of the coconut batter and the moist and creamy piece of fish inside. This was my favorite dish of the day.

Lastly, we had another clay pot of noodles, pork strips, shrimp, wood ear mushroom, and egg flower. It was slow-cooked so all the distinct tastes really melded well together and the noodles had absorbed all the wonderful flavors of the dish.

For dessert, we debated on ordering mochi balls (which came in red bean or green tea flavors) or konnyaku jelly with fruit. But in the end, we were too stuffed and had to pass. Instead we ordered another pot of tea to end a really good meal.

I have been to many Chinese restaurants in my life -- Manila, Hong Kong and here in the States, plus most Chinatowns in major cities. Some have been so-so, some horrible, and some really good. I’ve even been to my share of “Chinese-American” places and have learned to like this version of Chinese cuisine (PF Changs, China Buffet, and Panda Express to name a few). But, by far, this has got to be my favorite one of all. The place may not be memorable and the service hardly worth mentioning, but it’s all about the food. Believe me, it was definitely worth the hour drive to get there and the hour it took us to get home afterwards.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Welcome Sander!

Yesterday, Jojo and I welcomed the newest member of our family. Since we don’t have kids and neither one of us has pets, our family has grown to include our cars!

After almost 4 years of companionship, Jojo and Silver, his loyal 2001 CRV, parted ways. It was a sad moment for us since Silver served us very well these last few years. She was with us on several out-of-town trips (Las Vegas, San Diego, Sta. Barbara) and made the countless treks to the airport to pick up all our guests. She has carried more than her fair share of balikbayan boxes and has brought to us more than our fair share of pasalubong! Silver was our first 4-door car here in the States. She and Rave (my car) have been our link to the rest of the L.A. world, since without them we would probably not survive.

Silver was the car I was driving when I got my first and only (knock wood!) ticket for doing a California “rolling” stop at a stop sign. (It was 8 am on a Sunday morning and the road was deserted and I still could not talk my way out of that ticket!) She was the car that blew out a rear tire on the 110 freeway on a day when the temperature was a scorching 100-degrees. But despite those memories, I have no ill-feelings towards Silver and truth be told, we will miss her.

Yesterday, we spent a good part of the day in the car lot picking just the right car. We knew we wanted something dependable and with enough space for our many guests. We were leaning towards a CRV since a Pilot was too big and a Civic was too small. There were several CRV’s in the lot – a shiny red one, a cool blue one, a dark grey one, and a gold colored one. I know there were many other features that diffrentiated the CRVs from each other. But since I'm mechanically-challenged, I refer to them by colors only. Anyway, in the end, it really was the color that helped us make up our minds. After negotiating with the dealer and filling up all the necessary paperwork – Jojo and I were the proud owners of a 2006 Gold Colored (actually Desert Sand) CRV!

The cincher was the fact that a few months ago, Jojo consulted a feng shui guide that stated my lucky car color was white (which worked out fine since I was already driving a white car). Jojo’s lucky car color was gold – which was not so great cause he had Silver. So at the back of his mind, Jojo was really looking for a gold car. While our top criteria was the car’s make, model, mileage per gallon of gas, safety, roominess, and dependability, it was a real bonus that it came in gold too!

It was a bit sad to drive away and see our old car sitting in the lot amidst all the newer models. We can only hope that her new owner will be a little old lady who needs a dependable car to drive her once a week to church.

And so, yes, we got another CRV. I know it does not speak well of our originality. After all, my first car was a 1997 2-door Rav-4, and when I traded her in I got a 4-door 2004 Rav-4. Jojo did the same thing and traded Silver for a Desert Sand CRV that we have now christened, “Sander” (get it SAND-er?). What did I tell you about our complete lack of originality!? But what we lack in originality, we make up for in loyalty. :)

And so today is the beginning of a hopefully long relationship with Sander, which began with a trip to Sunday mass. We look forward to many more safe trips with her in the future!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Our 7th Year Anniversary (as a couple)

Apparently this new job of mine is a lot tougher than I thought, which explains why I have not had a new post in over a week. While I do admit that it is tough and the workload is pretty intense, I must admit that I am really finding the work challenging and really exciting too. I think this job came at just the right time in my life. One, because Jojo and I have not yet been blessed with kids and so I can be guilt-free in my acts of workaholicism. Second, because I am so mentally, professionally, and personally challenged – it’s actually a welcome change from what I used to do. And third, because I absolutely love the commute. I would gladly spend the two hours I am normally stuck in traffic working at my desk and actually be productive.

Anyway, enough about work. The reason I was prompted to blog tonight was to say a special thank you to my hubby. He’s been very patient and very supportive during my first month at my new job. He’s done more than his fair share of housework and listened patiently every night as I rant and rave about work. All I can say is “thank you Ni!”.

But that’s not all. Today is our 7th year anniversary as a couple. Because I’ve been so busy (I know it’s not an excuse), I promised Joj that as my belated gift to him, I would make a special home-cooked meal this weekend. It’s the least I can do since our last few dinners were all hurriedly thrown together or were take-out meals.

Joj, on the other hand, who also has been busy the last few days, still managed to make tonight special. I was greeted with a dozen beautiful long stemmed roses when he arrived home. Not to mention a box of chocolate biscuits. And then for dinner, Jojo took me to Soho Fusion, where the ambience was quite romantic (soft music, dinner by candlelight, nice decor). Dinner started off with Vietnamese pork and shrimp spring rolls with a sweet peanut dipping sauce. They were excellent – the vegetables were so fresh and the little kick you get when biting into fresh basil and mint leaves was really good. For our main course, we shared three small orders. The first was a Ruby Curry which was slightly spicy, but not overpowering where you could no longer taste the sweet coconut milk and savor the pieces of chicken, red and green peppers, basil leaves, and bamboo shoots. We also had the Beef Waterfall, tender slices of grilled rib-eye slightly undercooked but finished off with a marinade of fresh lime juice, Thai spices, and sprinkled liberally with rice powder, which gave it a lovely crunch. The sliced red onions, carrots and parsley on the side were just the right touch. Last but not the least, we had Thai roasted chicken that is similar to rotisserie chicken but more savory with a slight lemony taste. The sauce that came on the side was slightly tangy and sweet and was good too. We both had a serving of heavy, sticky rice – which for me was overdoing it a bit. I think the meal would have been better off with fluffy Jasmine rice instead. But overall, it was a good dinner which left us with no room for dessert.

We just arrived home and while my hubby is tinkering with his computer, I’m waiting for the Monk to air on USA. Perfect way to cap off an already great night!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

One Night as Parents

We are told that we will only truly appreciate our parents when we become parents ourselves. I beg to disagree. On one end, I am sure the sacrifices our parents made will become clearer to us when we have to give up the same things for our kids. But on the other hand, even without having kids of my own, I am amazed and humbled by the altruistic and tolerant acts of all parents. Most especially the ones I’ve known way before they became parents!

Two weekends ago, my hubby and I babysat my two nieces while their parents went to a wedding. We did not mind at all since we’ve always been extra fond of these kids. The first hour was spent at home making them popcorn, eating Oreo cookies and watching Nick Jr. They were perfect little angels then. But once the t.v. was turned off and after their folks left, it was doubly hard to keep them entertained. Since it was a nice day, we took them to a local fair and thought this would be a perfect way to keep them entertained. After all, there were rides, games, food, music, balloons -- it was kid-perfect! It took about 2 minutes for my older niece (Meredith) to decide she wanted to go on the Spinning Teacups ride. Because I have motion sickness, my hubby would have to be her riding companion. He reluctantly got in line with all the little girls and their mommies who were lining up to ride bright pink and yellow teacups. I took my younger niece (Maddie), who was too small to get on the rides, for a walk. Little did I know that the fact that she could not ride the Teacups would launch her into “full-fledged crying” mode. It was mind-blowing how much energy a little 2 year old could have when throwing a fit. I did my best to not panic and to point out all the fun and interesting sights to calm her down – desperately trying to divert her attention elsewhere. It also took a lot of willpower to ignore all the pitying looks I got from other parents who knew a temper tantrum when they saw one. But what was even worse was the condescending looks from those who were not parents – looks that seemed to be saying “that won’t happen to me when I have kids”. All I can say is, “we’ll see about that!”.

After the Teacups ride, Meredith wanted to go on the bigger thrill rides. Since she is 3 and couldn’t get on the rollercoaster, we now had two kids whose attentions we had to divert. We led them (half carried them) over to a game booth where the object of the game was to throw plastic balls towards jars filled with water. If the ball landed in a jar, you won a real live goldfish. If the ball landed outside the jar (which was about 99% of the time), you ended up with squat. We spent about $10.00 on 50 balls and not even one of them grazed the rim of a jar. Of course, it did not help that my nieces were throwing balls at random – some of which did not even land on the table where the jars were on! After we were out of balls, my nieces decided they wanted a goldfish whether we had won one or not. Rather than spend another hundred dollars on balls that would not have landed anywhere near a jar, I did the next best thing any desperate adult would do – I begged the carnival lady to sell me a goldfish! Yes, I sadly admit it -- I caved in and bought a carnival prize.

After another hour at the carnival, where we played even more games and did not win even more prizes, we decided enough was enough. We then took them to every parents’ refuge -- the play place at McDonalds. All I can say is thank god for Happy Meals and the little toys that come with them. They kept my nieces entertained for all of 4.5 minutes – long enough for my hubby and I to wolf down McChicken sandwiches. We spent a few more minutes playing in the playground and a lot more minutes begging the kids to call it a day and go home. Between that and figuring out the intricacies of infant carseats, we got home alive.

But, the night was not over. Once at home, we had to look for an appropriate jar for the fish, then we had to feed the fish, and then we had to find them something else to do. All this while one of my nieces had to poo-poo and my hubby had the pleasure of changing a diaper. It’s pathetic but I’m too chicken to do it myself. I know I’ll have to learn some day when I have my own kids – but I’m hoping that by then someone will have invented a machine that can change a soiled nappy! (Wishful thinking!).

After both little girls snuggled into our bed and I let them play with my jewelry box – it was adorable how they oohed and aahed over the “treasures in the treasure chest”. Shortly after, I lulled them with fairy tale stories that I made up as I went along until I could see their eyes getting heavy with sleep. Maddie was asleep almost instantly, but Meredith wanted to talk bit more before drifting off. Almost absentmindedly she said “Ninang (which means “godmother”, which is what I am to her) you’re my best friend”. After that, their folks came to pick them up and take them home. It was a long day and some parts of it were pretty tough. But being called my niece’s best friend – it really made the whole day worth it.

And so, yes, I truly have a new found respect for all the parents out there (especially my own!). It’s definitely not an easy job and there is definitely a lot of sacrificing that comes with the job. Yes, there are tough times, and there are tantrums and of course, there are the dirty diapers. Don't even get me started on pregnancy and labor pains! And yet, I can’t wait to have my turn some day! :)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Back to normal

The last few days have been very busy ones for my hubby, brother and myself. Proof of that is the fact that our usually well-stocked fridge and cupboards were dangerously close to becoming empty.

Last Friday night, Jojo and I decided to stay in. I tried to put a quick meal together. What I came up with was a package of frozen french fries, a can of Hormel Beanless Chili, and a package of pre-sliced Swiss cheese. I baked everything together in a casserole and we had a homemade version of chili-cheese fries. And for dessert, we had some week-old grapes that were still sweet but quite wrinkly -- almost close to turning into raisins. Not exactly a healthful or gourmet meal.

Our medicine supply was running low. Jojo came down with a cold and we had enough cold medicine to last him for just one day. We were out of Emergen-C and Airborne and had to settle for regular Vitamin C. Even our cleaning closet was quite bare. We had several bottles of cleaning solutions that were either too old to use or had about a quarter of an inch of liquid left. We were running low on gardening solutions and had enough turtle wax for one more car wash. There was only half a paper towel roll left and we were down to our last tube of toothpaste. It was definitely time to go shopping.

So this weekend our goal was to stock up. We’ve become the quintessential American shoppers who buy in bulk because there is just no time to make several stops to the store anymore. Throughout the weekend, in between the usual weekend stuff, we’ve shopped at Walmart, Walgreens, Trader Joe’s, Home Depot and the supermarket. Our fridge (front and back) is packed, our food cupboards are full, our garage is complete with car cleaning and gardening supplies, and our medicine cabinet is well stocked. My parents can rest easy that we will no longer be consuming fast food dinners and will no longer be living in a less than clean home. :)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How do you know you married the right person?

My friend sent me a beautiful email recently. The email was an essay that began with a question, “How do you know you married the right person?”. I think that all of us married people, no matter what state our marriage is in, have asked ourselves that question at some point in our married life.

Even I, although happily married and still enjoying the bliss of our honeymoon high, am guilty of having thought about it and even discussing it with my hubby. I mean honestly, how do you know you married the right person? How do you know you made the right choice?

The essay answers the question quite simply. Here's the explanation in my own words and with ny added insights.

Every relationship is a cycle. It starts with falling in love. The term “falling in love” implies a spontaneous and natural feeling. You don’t plan it, you can’t get ready for it, and there’s no anticipating it. Unexpectedly and often times uncontrollably, you simply get swept off your feet.

By that very notion, falling in love is quick, easy and almost magical. It can happen to anyone. And it’s the time when things are most exciting. You look forward to phone calls, getting little notes in your email, holding hands. Everything is nice and sweet and romantic. We all know that the most thrilling part of any romantic relationship is the beginning of one.

But as with all things – the romantic gestures, the phone calls, the notes in your mailbox, they become routine and ordinary. The "oohs" and "aahs" become “not agains” or “not nows”. The little things that you used to find endearing are now the very things that drive you mad. It’s easy to fall in love -- but staying in love is another matter altogether! Staying “in love” requires work and effort. It requires patience and understanding. And all that just takes the fun out of it!

This is the stage where most people find fulfillment outside their marriage. Not necessarily a third party – although it has happened – but maybe other diversions like work, and golf, and shopping … And the more you seek fulfillment elsewhere (and get it) the further you drift away from your spouse. Some couples separate, some stay together “for the kids”, some become numb and indifferent.

Many of us think that “if only I found the right person, things would have been different”. But here’s a shocker. There is no RIGHT person. The key to a successful marriage is NOT in finding the right person, but rather it is learning to love and working at keeping the love with the person you have found. (yes, that same person you married years ago!).

Why should that concept surprise us? Think about it - all our lives we are taught that good things come to those who work hard. That in order to be happy and succeed we need to prepare and exert the effort. Why should it be any different when it comes to making a marriage successful?

We should not delude ourselves into believing that there is everlasting love and we live happily ever after – love does not last on its own. It lasts when you work hard at making it last. And since all marriages are partnerships, the only way to know if you have found the right person is if you have found a partner who is willing to work just as hard as you are at making things last.

Bottomline? Love happens but staying in love is made to happen. :)