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Monday, February 19, 2007

HAPPY LUNAR NEW YEAR

Over the weekend we celebrated the lunar new year with my hubby’s side of the family. Since my hubby’s family is Filipino and traditionally does not celebrate this event, it was up to me to carry on the tradition. I hosted a dinner at our home for about 25 guests. I spent most of Saturday preparing the meal while my hubby was in charge of prepping the house for guests.

I made my mom’s recipe for ma-po tofu (with ground pork, dried mushrooms, and silken tofu); a stirfried chicken dish with (onions, red and green peppers, and a blackbean and chili garlic paste); green beans sautéed with tomatoes and Taiwanese sausages in soy sauce and black vinegar; and a huge bowl of fragrant Jasmine rice. Jojo ordered a special seafood noodle dish (with large pieces of rock cod, shrimps, crab meat, and squid) from our favorite Chinese place since you can’t have a Chinese dinner without noodles, can you? For dessert, I had fresh fruit (baby tangerines and longans) and lychee jelly. I also served a lightly sweetened jasmine iced tea for those who wanted a light and refreshing drink.

I would have taken pictures or would have asked my hubby to take photos of the food at least. But when you are doing double duty as the cook and the host for hungry guests whipping out the camera is at the bottom of the priorities list.

Trust me when I tell you everything was presented very well (I used our all white serving wear) and dressed the dining table in a pale gold tablecloth and with chocolate gold coins and red Chinese party-poppers strewn around). I learned well from my mom that even if the food is good, the presentation heightens the experience! Everyone was very complimentary about our home and the way the table was arranged. I got oohs and aahs when the food came out. There was a lot of good natured teasing like how my hubby hit the jackpot by marrying me. But the best compliment of all, was how everyone really liked the food. – and they weren’t just saying that too. They all filled their plates the first time. Everyone went back for seconds. And most of them even went back for thirds. After dinner, my hubby’s aunt asked me where I learned to cook like this and I proudly gave credit to my mom. My MIL confirmed this by saying my mom was an excellent cook and a great homemaker and that I was following in her footsteps. Such high praise to be even thought of in the same category as my mom!!!

It was well worth the trouble of shopping for the food and spending the afternoon cooking. My MIL and SILs pitched in with the after-dinner clean-up. And the best part was relaxing after dinner with tea and sweets and a houseful of family and friends.

HAPPY YEAR OF THE PIG EVERYONE!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Hearts Day!

Happy Hearts Day to everyone!

Since we did not have a very successful Valentines Day last year ... we lost our dinner reservations, the flowers my hubby ordered and paid way too much for never arrived, and we had to go to 3 different places till we were finally seated for dinner ... we decided that this year we would celebrate early. Jojo and I had a nice brunch last Sunday, exchanged presents, went for a walk afterwards and had dinner with family.

And while we did not go anywhere tonight, I did want to make a special home-cooked meal for my hubby.

This is what we had ...

Roasted tomato and red pepper soup (from Trader Joe's).
It's soup-er good!



A salad with baby spinach leaves, grape tomatoes and candied
almonds. I lightly drizzled it with a warm ginger-based vinigrette.



Seared porkloin marinated in lemon zest, ginger, light terriyaki sauce and fresh ground peppercorn, with a side of steamed baby green peas, and fluffy buttered couscous.



Dinner for two - and since it's a special night I used the fine china and crystal champagne flutes we got at our wedding (even though we only had sparking apple cider) and of course, we got to eat in our "formal" dining table rather than our kitchen counter!


Happy Valentine's Day from us to you! Hope you get to share this special day with a special someone -- and if not, no worries, Valentine's Day is equally special when shared
with family and friends :)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Victory to the Biggest Loser

For the last couple of days, my hubby and I have been making an effort to eat more healthful meals and to do more exercising. It’s been tough since we have such busy schedules and such weak willpower, so there are days when we slip and go back to our usual bad habits. Yesterday, while we were reading in bed, my hubby turns to me with a brilliant idea to help us in our “get healthy” regime. His idea is we would be more motivated to maintain our healthier lifestyle if we had an incentive – something to look out for is we kept at it (a reward of some sort) and something to dread if we slacked off (a punishment, if you will). It totally made sense and so we spent a few minutes coming up with outrageous ideas.

After we came up with our perfect plan, I told Jojo that I would post it on my blog to ensure we kept our ends of the bargain. So here is our perfect plan:

We would both eat healthy and exercise, and after a 5 month period (July 12 to be exact), we would see which one of us lost more weight and body fat.

The "rewards" would be:

If Jojo wins, he gets to buy a Mac computer with all the gizmos and upgrades that his heart desires. (I’ve been opposed to his getting one since he has a perfectly good PC right now).

If I win, I get to choose when and where we will be spending our one-week vacation. I’ve been wanting to either go on a New England fall foliage tour or visit Ohio and Michigan (to tour my mom’s alma matter and the place my parents got married-- Jojo has been hinting at a trip to Orlando instead). For my "victory vacation", I also get to choose staying in bed and breakfasts (which I look forward to – but Jojo thinks is too quaint for his comfort).

The “punishments” are:

If Jojo wins, I can not complain about any Mac-related purchases, about where he installs the Mac, and if he spends a lot of time on it. Also, I have to willingly go with him to the computer fair for a whole day (or more) to scope the best deal possible (and interact with all the IT techies there).

If I win, Jojo can not complain about any of my vacation choices (lodging, attractions, restaurants, and people to see or meet). He has to be a willing travel buddy, smile for all the pictures and not object if I want to go shopping all day. He also agreed to no complaining about early morning and/or late night activities during our vacation.

The rules:

1.) No sabotaging each other’s health regime – for example, since I cook our meals, I can not sneak extra helpings of butter, salt and oil into his food. Nor can he hog the exercise machine by moving it into his office (since I need it in front of the tv).

2.) We have to encourage and be supportive of each other.

And lastly:

3.) No sore losers!

So yesterday, after we celebrated our Valentines Day early with brunch at The Alpine Village, we headed over to Trader Joe’s and stocked up on healthful goodies (see below).

Let the battle begin!


Lots of fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood (calamari and shrimp),
nuts, tofu, pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, green protein juice,
Reddi-egg egg whites, multi-grain bread, and brown rice.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Slumbooks

Yesterday one of my co-workers forwarded me an email version of a slumbook.

For those of you who do not know what a slumbook is, it can only mean two things.
Number 1: You did not attend an all-girl school in the eighties and nineties.
And number 2: You do not know someone who did!

My grade school and high school days are filled with many wonderful memories - one of which was passing around, writing in, and giggling over slumbook entries. My girlfriends will know what I'm talking about!

Remember how we used to pass slumbooks around (everyone had them!), where we would write down our personal information in bright multi-colored, scented pens. We'd list our favorites (from hobbies to movie actors, to boy bands), how we defined love, who our crush was, and then write a dedication to the slumbook owner peppered with all these acronyms (I.T.A.L.Y. - I Trust And Love You; J.A.P.A.N. - Just Always Pray at Night; and my personal favorite T.C.C.I.C. - Take Care Cause I Care!). Hilarious!

In the spirit of those memories - here are my answers to the slumbook email I received. If you guys have the time, please fill your version out and post it in your blog or email me a copy. It's a great way to pass a few minutes and re-live a few good memories.

Name: Joanne
Named after anyone? No
If you were another person, would you be friends with you? Yes, absolutely!
Do you have a journal? No, but I do have a blog.
If you were a crayon, what color would you be? There are days when I feel like I’m a “Red” and other times maybe a “Deep Blue”.

What are you wearing right now? Long sleeved sweatshirt, pajama bottoms, socks (it’s Saturday morning!)
Last thing you ate? Breakfast (coffee and half a red bean bun from JJ Bakery)
Sounds you hear right now? Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa which is on tv right now.
Last Movie you watched? Date Movie – which was hysterical.
Last Book You Read? The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock

Summer or Winter? Winter
Coffee or Tea? Coffee
Paper or Plastic? Paper
Hugs or Kisses? Hugs
Hundred Friends or Five Really Good Ones? I’ll take the five any day!!!

Favorites:
Favorite Hobbies: Reading; Sleeping In; Entertaining; Browsing bookstores, swap meets and farmers markets; Trying new restaurants; Blogging; Traveling; Taking day trips around Southern California; Channel surfing; Internet surfing.
Favorite TV Shows: Talk shows like Ellen De Generes’, Jon Stewart's, Jay Leno's; Food Network shows (Giada De Laurentis, David Irvine and Tyler Florence); HGTV design shows; Sitcoms; Monk; House; and sappy Lifetime movies.
Favorite Food: my mom’s cooking especially her version of Caesar salad; dimsum; pesto pasta; paella; tapas; Indian and Thai curries; tuyo and sinangag; spicy buffalo wings; and freshly made tortilla chips and salsa … (I could go on and on).
Favorite Books: Little Women, Memoirs of a Geisha, Pride and Prejudice, The Joy Luck Club, The Ya-ya Sisterhood Series, Blink, Like Water for Chocolate, Griffin and Sabine, Empress Orchid, The Tipping Point, Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, I'm drawing a blank on the others.
Favorite Songs:
I’m not really a music lover – but I like Broadway classics and most of the music my hubby plays.
Favorite Scent: freshly cut grass, newly fallen rain, laundered sheets fresh from the dryer, and the freshly picked lavenders and lemons from our garden.

Best:
Best Memories: my wedding and honeymoon (Dec. 2004); Disneyland with my whole family (May 2006); Hong-Kong trip with my high school girlfriends – my first trip abroad with just my friends! (Summer 1998? Or was it 1999?); my eighteenth birthday (Jan. 1993); the first time I walked into this house and knew it was home (May 2004).
Best Things To Shop For: shoes & bags, books, jewelry, stuff for our home, and baby clothes!
Best Way to Spend a Perfect Sunday: Sleeping in, Enjoying a leisurely brunch, Long drive to an out of the way farmer’s market, Getting a relaxing massage and having my nails done, Cooking with my hubby, Having friends and family over for dinner, and Relaxing in bed with a good book before calling it a day.
Best Use of a $100.00: Date night with my hubby – dinner, a good movie, and dessert afterwards.
Best Things in Life: A happy family, true friends, being at peace, good food, good health, and having just enough to be comfortable but with room to still want to strive for more.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

An American Tradition

Today is Superbowl Sunday and many of my friends, co-workers and neighbors are glued to watching the 41st Superbowl game where the Colts will be playing the Bears. My hubby and my brother are watching the game right now (the Bears just scored the first touchdown!). We’ve joined many other families lining up at the supermarket this weekend while stocking up on munchies just for this game. I’ve marinated tenderloins for dinner to celebrate the winning team. And I’m prepped to join the guys for the halftime show to enjoy Prince’s performance and am looking forward to watching the awesome tv commercials that are just as important as the game itself.

This weekend we also had a bit of a dilemma with a leaky showerhead in the master’s bathroom. Not just an occasional drip but a steady stream of dripping water. Back home in Manila, I would have told my mom about the problem and she would have found a handyman who wouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg. But given that I now reside in the States, finding a plumber on the same day, during the weekend, that wouldn’t cost as much as our monthly mortgage is next to impossible. And so we did what most people do, my hubby and I went on-line and googled “how to fix a leaky showerhead” – and tried our best to figure it out. So far we have identified shutting off the water pressure, dissolving the lime build up on the showerhead and tightening the screw where the showerhead attaches to the shower nozzle/water pipe as plausible solutions. We’ve considered all three, worked on the plumbing problem and have successfully stopped the dripping – at least for now. Our friend, Santiago, a local handyman will stop by on Monday to make sure the problem is taken care of and doesn’t recur.

I feel so “Americanized” right now. Who would have ever thought I could ever take care of a plumbing problem? But more importantly, who would have ever thought I would be spending a Sunday afternoon watching football?!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Book Finds!

My brother, Jules, gave me a Barnes & Noble giftcard for my birthday - which is really thoughtful since:
#1. I love Barnes and Noble; and
#2. I can get whatever I want.

So tonight, after dinner, my hubby and I spent our evening browsing the bookstore. I am so excited over the books I got. Here they are proudly displayed on my nightstand:

My first choice was a compilation of Jane Austen's books. I recently re-read an old worn out copy of Pride and Prejudice and remembered that I absolutely love the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I am excited to read Ms. Austen's other popular novels (Sense and Sensibility, Emma) as well as her other lesser known books (Persuasion, Mansfield Park, etc).

My second pick was Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. I am looking forward to reading the biography of the man hailed as the "most acclaimed and revered living Nobel laureate". If this book is half as haunting as One Hundred Years of Solitude - it should be well worth it!

Third, I had to get a copy of Nick Bantock's, The Golden Mean, which is the third book in the Griffin and Sabine trilogy. I first read these books in college after a friend introduced me to this intriguing story. Since then I have been a huge fan and have had the books on my wish list for as long as I can remember. My SIL gave me the first book (Griffin & Sabine) for my birthday last year and now I have the third one. I'll be keeping my eyes open for the second book (Sabine's Notebook) now that I have the other two.

Lastly, The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell just because I have heard it is so much like The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown - which I enjoyed as well.

I'm so excited about my new books that I am not sure which one to read first. I actually feel a little bit giddy - like a kid at Christmas who opens up tons of gifts and is not sure which toy to play with first. I've always considered that two my favorite feelings include the excitement of finding a good book and the anticipation of reading that book's first line. Many times I am so excited that I have to deliberately pace myself and force myself to read slowly since when starting a new book I tend to rush through the lines.

I know it may seem weird to some. But to me reading has always been a comfort and a place where I can totally relax. And even if I am way too busy these days with work (and not really sure I have the time to read these wonderful book finds), just having them on my nightstand, waiting to be read, is enough to comfort me.