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Friday, December 28, 2007

Iron Chef - Couples Edition

The last couple of dinners at our place have been really fun. I came up with a contest that we’ve dubbed “Iron Chef - Couples Edition”, where each couple is in charge of making dinner. The contest pits my sisters and I (partnered with our significant others) against each other. Armed with mom’s recipes and our limited but somewhat worthy culinary abilities we did our best. Our mantra has been “passion makes up for skill”. Surprisingly the results have been quite good. For starters the food is well-prepared and delicious (and the presentation has been pretty awesome too). But more than that, it has made dinners something to look forward to and has really tested how well each couple works together and complements each other.

First Night:
Contenders: Joy and Marc
Culinary Theme: East meets West
Dishes: Salpicao (beef tenderloin with lots of garlic), Broccoli with oyster sauce, Nido soup with scallops
Overall comments: Really tasted home-cooked (mom would have been proud!), nice touch – using scallops in the soup, the beef was so tender, and the broccoli cooked well (and not wilted), loved all that garlic!

Second Night:
Contenders: Joanne and Jojo
Culinary Theme: A Little Taste of Italy
Dishes: Spaghetti with meatballs and sundried tomatoes, fresh tomato and cucumber salad with balsamic vinegar and feta cheese, sourdough bread
Overall comments: The salad was so refreshing and light, spaghetti cooked al dente, meatballs were really good, the spaghetti sauce was just right, and the bread was hot and crusty.

Third Night:
Contenders: Jenny and Mark
Culinary Theme: Mexican Fiesta
Dishes: Tostadas with all the fixings – ground turkey, refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cheese, two kinds of taco sauce, avocadoes and sour cream
Overall comments: We can’t believe it’s turkey and “no fat” refried beans (so healthy!), really good and interactive too, the buffet was well presented and all the ingredients for a good tostada were complete.

Results:
After a secret voting process, where all the participants cast their secret ballots, the winners of Iron Chef Couples (Part 1) is …. Couple number 2: my hubby and I! Woohoo!

Winner’s Speech:
We’d like to thank our worthy competitors – good job everyone!!! We’d like to thank our mom (the original Iron Chef) for her guidance and support. We’d like to thank Dad, Jim, Jules, and everyone else who’s reading this blog – even if they really had nothing to do with this contest!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Joys of Sisterhood

I cannot begin to describe how happy I am to have my sisters here with me. I’ve always been close to both of them and despite our age gaps – they are both my “bestest” friends. After they arrived yesterday and we’ve spent just one night re-connecting, I am so thankful I have them both here. I couldn’t take the day off from work and hoped that my sisters would find some way to amuse themselves while I was tied up. They did go shopping with Mark (Atsi’s fiancĂ©) – but the rest of the day they kept pretty busy here at home too.

So many pleasant surprises were waiting for me when I got home. To begin with, it was GREAT coming home to family. Such perfect timing too since tonight Jojo is staying late for their company Xmas party and ordinarily it would have been meant a night home alone for me. Then, I was greeted by a delicious home-cooked dinner. My baby sister, Joy, had made gambas (my mom’s special recipe too) and garlic rice. Super duper yummy! They also prepared herb-roasted chicken and baked lasagna (okay these last two items were store bought and “heated” at home). Mark had also baked a pan of “No Tomorrows” – a dessert that’s so good, people eat them up like there are “no tomorrows”. And yes, it was good – hot out of the oven and full of chocolate-y goodness.

Then I was given the grand tour around the house where my sisters proudly showed off what else they had been busy with. Atsi had cleaned up my kitchen – it was spic and span to the max! So clean, you could probably eat off the floor! Everything was in place (even the dishes I always leave drying in the dishwasher!). So spotless I almost felt like I was in someone else’s home. Next I walked into our room and was proudly shown how Joy fixed up my entire closet (all 4 sections) and my bureau. Not a small feat since it is a large and very disorganized space. Our laundry (both Jojo’s and mine) had been done – and even a laundry basket full of clean clothes, (freshly washed and waiting to be folded) was washed a second time by my over-zealous sisters! Our room is so clean and made-up it’s almost like walking into a hotel suite. Jojo will have the shock of his life when he gets home tonight!

That’s not all. My shoes were dusted and have been arranged in their proper racks. The floors have been swept, the counters wiped clean and everything is in the right place. It just keeps getting better … they even bought a new Xmas mantle for my buffet table. It is truly AMAZING! My very own pre-Xmas miracle. Even without all this, I think my sisters are the BEST, but after all this, I am pretty sure anyone would agree too.


Here are pictures as proof: (Mom - your crash course in home economics clearly were a success!)

Home-cooked dinner (from top to bottom: garlic fried rice, gambas, baked lasagna, roast chicken).


My closet.


My bureau.


My shoe racks.


My new Xmas mantle.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mini Reviews

I. PIZZERIA MOZZA

Before my parents left, we had lunch at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, located on the corner of Highland and Melrose. We stopped by for a late lunch and were lucky enough to be seated right away despite not having made reservations. It was a Thursday afternoon but the place was full and it was shortly after we were seated at the bar that we noticed the lines of walk-ins grew longer by the minute.

Mozza is an intimate, medium-sized restaurant done in neutral but warm colors and decorated in a casual yet refined way. It is a far cry from traditional Italian restaurants that are dimly lit and decorated with empty chianti bottles and red and white checkered tablecloths stained with pizza sauce while attentive Italian waiters hover over you. But one thing they do have in common is Mozza is a bustling place (the noise level was definitely high) and with a pizza bar (and a woodfire stove) in plain view.

We started off with a salad, the tricolore with parmigiano reggiano & anchovy dressing. It was nice and light – the sweet fresh greens, the bitter radicchio, and the slightly salty dressing were a nice balance. We were served long, crunchy breadsticks to nibble on while we waited for our main course. My dad had the Thursday special – fennel sausages, with garlic fried potatoes and sautĂ©ed rapini (a bitter spinach-like vegetable). It was very good. My mom really liked her Pizza Bianca with three types of white cheese (fontina, mozarella and one that escapes my mind) topped with fresh sage leaves. But I think I was the one who enjoyed my meal the most. I had the Salumi salami pizza with mozzarella, tomato and Fresno chilies. I had ordered it because I loved the salami we had at Mario Batali’s dad’s deli, Salumi, in Seattle and our server told me it was from the same place. He was right – the salami was less salty than many American-variety salamis I’ve had before and was great with the tart tomatoes, salty cheese and spicy chilies. But the best part was the crust. It was light, crispy, airy and chewy all at the same time. A little piece of pizza heaven! I later wrote in the restaurant’s comment card that it was possibly the best pizza I have ever had in my life.

There is much hype about Mozza, being Mario’s first LA restaurant and all. But the hype is worth it! I would gladly drive all the way to LA, brave the traffic, pay $10.00 for valet parking, wait in line, and sit at the bar just to have that pizza!


II. ENCHANTED

The first night after my parents left, Jojo took me to watch a movie to get our minds off feeling a little bit lonely. We went to the Del Amo AMC and decided to watch “Enchanted”. I picked the movie because it seemed like a nice, light, no-need-to-think-about–the-plot kind of movie while Jojo agreed because nothing better was playing. We settled in not expecting too much. While the movie did live up to our expectations about being nice and light, it exceeded our expectations about being not “too much”.

The movie is a mix of animation and real-life actors. It is a story of how an animated princess named Giselle was banished to the real world of New York by the evil Queen Nerissa. Giselle was sent to New York to keep her from marrying Prince Edward (Nerissa’s stepson) to keep Giselle from taking Nerissa’s throne. In New York, Giselle’s “Disney Princess Persona”, complete with breaking into song and dance, doing household chores with the help of animals (including city rats!), and her almost-childlike belief in true love and happy ever afters, create chaos and mayhem in the life of the staid and cynical divorce lawyer played by Patrick Dempsey. Of course in the end and in true Disney fashion, there is true love and a happy ever after, but with drama and plot twists throughout.

Enchanted is a charming movie, nicely done and manages to hold the audience's attention as it cleverly blurs the fine line between fantasy and reality. It has its moments of true greatness and a strong cast of characters. Amy Adams, in particular who plays Giselle, is a breakout star. I thought she was marvelous and really brought the iconic image of a Disney Princess alive. James Marsden, as Prince Edward, was a joy to watch as well. Disney’s “Enchanted” truly lives up to its name.


III. THE STREET OF A THOUSAND BLOSSOMS

The last few days I’ve been reading Gail Tsukiyama’s novel “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms”. It is an exquisite and heartwarming story of two brothers, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto, set in Japan before, during and after World War II. The brothers’ lives are vastly different - one climbs the ladder to becoming a yokozuna (grand champion of sumo) – strong, tough, resilient. While the other becomes a master mask maker for the Noh theater – artistic, quiet, sensitive. Their lives are shaped by their obochan and ojichan (the grandparents that took them in when they were orphaned as young children), their individual paths of destiny, the women they love and the struggles and triumphs they face.

This is the first book of Tsukiyama’s that I have read but I like her storytelling style. She takes her time in telling the saga of the Matsumoto brothers – a story that spans over 30 years. Her style is deliberate, precise and never seems rushed. The story is very descriptive and you can almost feel that you are amidst the exciting sumo tournaments and in the dramatic setting of Noh theater. Tsukiyama brings to life the beauty and artistry of Japanese culture.

The characters are well-defined despite their complexities. The story highlights the men as strong and dominant while the women soft and resilient as they live in a time where traditional and modern Japan collide. The narration focuses on finding one’s place in this world amidst the backdrop of one’s love for family, filial piety, love for country and pride in culture.

Probably not the best book I’ve read this year but one that I would highly recommend to someone who has the time and who thinks that a cold, rainy day means snuggling in bed with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

See You Soon

Last night I took my parents to the airport where they would be catching a plane back to Manila. It's hard to believe that 4 weeks have passed already. I promised myself that I wouldn't be sad about their leaving since I know I will be seeing them again really soon. After all they would be back next year for sure for my sister's wedding. And not only that, Jojo and I are planning to visit to Manila the first half of next year as well. I tried to convince myself that their leaving was for the best after all I was starting to feel guilty since during the latter part of their stay here, I had to go back to work and couldn't take too much time off. My mom spent those days ferociously cleaning the house from top to bottom and cooking up a storm while my dad was getting somewhat restless at home and would while away the time taking walks to local stores running errands for my mom. This was not the kind of "vacation" I wanted them to have so I tried to tell myself that their leaving would be better in the long run. I was very close to convincing myself ... but just as they had to enter the walkway that would take them to the boarding gates, I couldn't help but cry and wish I could beg my folks to take me with them or better yet to stay just a little bit longer.

It was hard to drive home from the airport by myself (my mellow-dramatic mood was heightened by the heavy downpour and the gray skies across LA). I tried to think of happy thoughts and focus on the positive but it was tough. When I got home, I was glad that Jojo was back from work since it would have been unbearable to be home alone at that time. It's so weird to come home and to see all the stuff my folks have left - which made me sad all over again. I know this sounds so overly dramatic but it's true. This morning, I woke up half expecting to find my dad sitting in the family room ready to greet me "good morning" and my mom bustling in the kitchen making breakfast. Instead the room was cold and empty. I was kind of glad I had to go to the office (on a Saturday!) just to get out of the house.

I guess some things never change. I can be all of 32 years, I've lived away from home for almost 7 years, have a successful career, have a family and home of my own, and have a busy and active life - but deep inside I am still very much attached to my mom and dad. The last few days were a pleasant reminder of how well my parents take care of us and in some ways how we in turn take care of them. It's so easy to get used to it and so hard to adjust once they have to leave for home. My dad says that saying good-bye is part of life since without good-bye's there can never be a chance to meet again. But in my mind, I'd rather say "see you soon" than end by saying "good-bye".

To Father-Bear and Ju-delicious, thank you so much for coming to stay with us. Thank you for making this your second home. Thank you, mom, for all the home-cooked meals (and all the food you left behind), for making our home look better and more livable (I will do my best and keep it as clean as you left it ... but I can't make any promises!). Thanks for taking care of all the little details we overlook and making sure we have all that we need. Thank you, dad, for your lively stories and funny jokes that always brighten my day. Thanks for everything you have bought for us, all the meals you treated us out too, and your very generous Xmas present. Thank you both for reminding me once again how lucky I am to have parents like you. The last 4 weeks were so special to me and even if seeing you leave was tough, I would never trade your visit for the world!

Yes, I am still a little sad that you have left but happy to know we'll be together again soon and for now I am consoled by the fact that in 10 days Atsi and Joy will be here and that is definitely something to look forward to!