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Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Weekend in the Life of Moi

Here’s what a typical weekend looks like for me and my hubby.

Friday night: am on the phone with my mom and dad till about 8 PM. Had a quick dinner at L&L Hawaiian and headed for Home Depot to pick up supplies for our weekend Home Improvement Project. Browsed Borders and got a new book (Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky). My mom and dad have teased that I never go anywhere without buying something – this time I used a gift card – so this purchase does not count! Got home by 11 and watched reruns of SNL before going to bed.

Saturday morning: met up with Jojo’s family for a family trip to the Griffith Park Observatory. The place was super crowded with families and with school kids on fieldtrips. It took a while for all of us to find parking and after the usual picture taking we headed inside. We lined up to purchase tickets for the “Centered in the Universe” show at the Samuel Oschin Planetarium. We find out that kids below 5 years could not see the show – which meant my three nieces (Maddie, Sydney and MJ) could not get in. We debate about who should stay with the kids, but soon discover our debating was for naught since the show was sold out. The next show was at 3:15 PM and we were not planning on hanging around for another 4 hours. Instead we explore the exhibits (like the Hall of the Eye, Hall of the Sky, Edge of Space, etc). Around noon, we decide that we’ve had enough of space exploration and head out for lunch.



All the ladies overlooking the Hollywood sign (can you see it behind us?)


It's the guys turn ... (everyone except for my brother-in-law, Lee, who had to work).


Jojo and Meredith in front of the Observatory.


Overlooking the city of Los Angeles (the view would have been better if it wasn't so foggy!)

Since we all live in the South Bay and are rarely in the LA/Glendale area, we were all excited to have lunch at Max’s (located across the Glendale Galleria). Max is a popular, fast-food fried chicken place in Manila – here in LA they glamorized it up by making it slightly high-end and calling it Max’s of Manila. We drive over and find it packed with people. After we were told there was a 45-60 minute wait, we drive over to Salu-Salo Grill (another Filipino restaurant) nearby. Salu-Salo Grill is actually a nice bright and modern Filipino restaurant (a far cry from the usual turo-turo or cafeteria style Pinoy places). We ordered bilaos (flat, shallow woven baskets) of inihaw (grilled) and prito (fried food). We also had bulalo (bone marrow) soup, lumpia shanghai and crispy chicken for the kids. Lunch was capped off with halo-halo. My brother-in-law, Jojo, surprised us all by treating us to the meal since he recently got his bonus and wanted to share that with everyone.

Saturday afternoon/evening: We went to the Galleria after lunch but found it was a little tough going shopping with the entire family and the kids kept wandering off. After walking around for an hour we headed home. Jojo and I ran errands – picked up dry cleaning, shopped for groceries, re-filled Jojo’s prescription at CVS, and then joined the family for Mass. After mass, we all had dinner at Golden Pheasant (a local Chinese eatery ) - a family favorite. After dinner, we had dessert at my sister-in-law’s place - she had refugiados (cheese strudels) from Porto’s a Cuban bakery.

Sunday: Went shopping for a gift for my sister-in-law (her birthday is next Sunday), picked up some brown rice from Trader Joe’s, and had a late lunch at Chipotle. We headed home to tackle our Home Improvement Project. Today we decided to work on our front door / doorway. Because of the angle of our doorway, the bottom part had warped (since it is exposed to the sunlight and even rain). The top part still maintains it’s dark mahogany color but the bottom is streaked with lighter shades (and is even peeling in some areas). In order to make it even, we need to strip the paint that is on the door, sand it to smoothen the surface, paint it with varnish, wipe off the excess varnish, and paint it with at least two coats of sealant. Sounds easy, right? NOT. Again, I am so not cut for manual labor. Neither is my computer-techie hubby. We first lather on the paint remover. The fumes are nauseating and if it happens to come into contact with any part of you – it stings like hell (really super painful). We had to wear protective glasses and latex gloves. Once we accidentally dropped a huge blob of the paint remover on the glove and actually saw it eat thru the rubber material. By the end of the day, Jojo and I had red marks all over our arms and we were dizzy from the smell. After lathering the paint remover, we let it dry for 10 minutes, then scrape the wood. The paint does not come off. We repeat the lathering, drying and scraping process at least 3 more times. Afterwards, we had to sand the wood with sandpaper to smooth out the surface. It was tiring work and my right arm was pretty sore. We started working before 3 PM and finished two and a half hours later. We decided to call it a day – painting the varnish and sealant will have to wait till next weekend) - since it was still bright outside we washed Sander and Rave. When it got too cold to stay outdoors, we headed inside to do laundry and make dinner.



Home Improvement Project

Sunday evening: after dinner Jojo is watching tv and I’m working on my blog, but before bed we have a mountain of laundry to sort, iron, and put away. Sigh. Just another typical weekend.



Our guest bedroom doubles as our laundry-sorting center. Here's Jojo getting started on the laundry.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Favorites from Back Home

While on the subject of food from back home, these are some of the dishes that I also miss:

Crab sotanghun (glass noodles) - both my mom's version and the one served at Sun Moon Garden in the basement level of Shoppesville in Greenhills. Is that place still open?

Tai-ma's (my paternal great grandmother) fresh Chinese lumpia (a variety of cooked veggies wrapped in a thin tortilla-like wrapper) with all the trimmings and her special Chinese-style adobo (pork stewed in soy sauce and vinegar - her version is sweeter than the usual). We didn't mind squeezing into her tiny dining room/living room and eating in shifts just to enjoy her home cooking.

Chicken Inasal (local roasted chicken) served with special sukang sinamak (spicy vinegar) - the best one I've had was in a Chicken Bacolod restaurant across Ateneo - even better than the one I had while visiting Bacolod.

Gua-ma's (my maternal grandmother) dinuguan (pork blood stew) since she makes it using pork meat (and not pork innards like the ones we can find here).

Digman's halo-halo, (local dessert with different kinds of beans, sweetened fruit, topped with shaved ice and milk). There was a Digman's in the Greenhills Shopping Center and we'd go there after classes on Fridays. My order was always had extra pinipig (toasted rice).

Sizzling sisig, (unsavory pork parts chopped up, fried to a crisp and served on a hot plate), from Dencio's in Katipunan. We would douse the sisig in calamansi juice and hot sauce - so good it made it worth hanging out in an open-air beer garden.

Philippine mangoes both the green (unripe) and the yellow (ripe) kind. I remember my grandmother's neighbor in San Lorenzo had a huge mango tree and we would ask the maids to pick a us green mangoes which we would enjoy dipped in soy sauce and sugar.

Other local fruits: mangosteen, atis, rambutan, sineguelas, kamias, langka, and aratiles (Our neighbor had an aratiles tree and I would always grab a handful on my way home from school). Not a big fan of chicos, starapple and lanzones (but Jojo has been dreaming of these too).

Pandan chicken and bagoong (shrimp paste) fried rice from Thai restaurants back home (most notably Sukhothai). Are these Filipino-Thai creations? Cause I can never find these on the menus of Thai restaurants here.

Cha misua (fried noodles with shredded chicken and pork, shrimps, fish balls, shitake mushrooms, green onions, shallots and hard boiled eggs). Manang Mercy, our cook, would make this for breakfast every time someone at home celebrated a birthday.

Lapids chicharon (pork cracklings) already infused with vinegar. I remember fondly the Lapid's stall in Unimart.

My mom's Bicol Express, a dish made with siling labuyo (fingerling chili peppers), pork and coconut milk. It is so hot that your mouth is on fire with every bite and you are sweating throughout the meal ... but it is so worth it.

Calamansi (a local lemon) and dalandan (a local orange) juice - totally different from lemonade and orange juice.

Auntie Scarlet's melt-in-your mouth ensaymada (brioche). I've tried many versions of this but hers is in a league of their own. So good with brewed coffee.

Street food: fried fishballs (dipped in spicy sauce and vinegar), roasted corn on a stick brushed with margarine, banana-cue (fried bananas coated with caramelized sugar), kropek (fish crackers with spicy vinegar), taho (tofu with syrup and tapioca balls), mangang hilaw wth bagoong (green mangoes with shrimp paste), boiled peanuts, and "dirty" ice cream with flavors such as ube (purple yam), macapuno (young coconut), and keso (cheese). I used to work along Ayala Ave. and every afternoon my co-workers and I would buy our merienda (afternoon snack) from vendors pushing carts with these treats.

This list is making me hungry. I guess it's partly a blessing that I can't find these dishes here since I am trying to lose weight for my sister's wedding and having easy access to these favorites wouldn't be a good idea anyway!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Perfect Paella

One of the things I've been craving since I left Manila is a well-prepared paella. Paella is a hearty rice dish that originates from Spain. It is similar to Chinese fried rice, Cajun jambalaya, and Italian risottos - where it is a one-dish meal with a variety of ingredients. What makes paella different is its use of a very expensive and rare ingredient called saffron which gives the dish a lovely almost golden, bright mustard color. My favorite paella places back home include Mario's and Dona Nena's. My mom also made two really good versions: the traditional Paella Valencia - using ingredients like prawns, chorizo, chicken, pork, red peppers, and peas, and the Paella Negra using calamari and squid ink with lots of toasted garlic. I'm on the fence between which version I like better.

Since moving to the States, I have yet to find good paella. Back when I lived in Berkeley, my good friend (Miguel who was from Spain) took us to downtown San Francisco to watch flamenco dancers at a place that also served paella. I can't recall the name of the place - only that it served huge jugs of sangria and paella in individual ceramic containers. While the flamenco dancing was good and the sweet sangria free-flowing, my order of Paella Valencia was sadly mediocre. Here in Los Angeles, despite a huge variety of ethnic cuisine, there are only a handful of authentic Spanish restaurants. Some of which do not even serve paella. We've tried Cuban, Peruvian, and El Salvadorean restaurants too - and while they have their own versions they didn't really come close to what I was looking for.

Every time my mom comes to visit, I ask her to make paella - but the dish is not that easy to prepare. First the ingredients must be complete, the cooking process takes time and you need to have the right equipment - specifically a paellera (a wide, shallow ceramic or metal pan). You need to cook using the paellera to achieve that layer of crispy caramelized rice at the bottom of the pan (which is actually my favorite part).

Anyway, over the weekend (as suggested by Jojo's boss), we visited La Espanola (a small Spanish speciality shop located in a nondescript warehouse on a partially hidden side street in Harbor City). You really had to know it was there since this is not a place you could stumble across by chance. We live 2 minutes away and never even knew it was there. La Espanola is owned by the Faraone family and started as a small grocery store where Spaniards could find delicacies from back home. They are known for having a good selection of Spanish hams, sausages and cheeses. The store itself is small with a deli counter stocked with meat and cheese on one side and shelves that contain wines, canned goods, cookies, chocolates, bottled olives and spices on the other. Only on Saturdays, the store makes paella which you need to pre-order (otherwise they run out by noon). They make three varieties of paella but it is the house special (Paella Valencia) that draws large crowds.

Each order is good for one person and costs $8.50 plus tax. We ordered two. The orders are fairly large depending on how hungry you are and how much you like paella. We got home, followed the heating instructions and enjoyed probably the best paella we have ever had in our lives. The rice was so flavorful and almost creamy. I usually like my rice dry and this dish had the consistency of risotto - but it worked for me! It also had large chunks of pork and chicken, three kinds of Spanish sausage, prawns, mussels, squid rings, roasted red peppers, green beans, peas and pale white beans (sort of like butter beans). The meat was so tender, the seafood very fresh, the sausages each distinctly flavored, and the spices were just right. It was so good. Jojo and I ate the paella straight from the pot while standing around our kitchen counter. Our only conversation throughout the meal was about how good the paella was and how we both wanted to go back for more. It was almost worth the 7-year wait. If you are in the South Bay area and are in the mood for a good paella you definitely need to check out La Espanola.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Home Maintenance

I'm finding out the hard way that it's a lot of work maintaining a house. A couple of weeks ago we had a bathroom makeover that initially started as simply replacing our sink/vanity as its wood base had warped. In the end, we had to replace both sinks, marble countertop, faucets, plumbing and cabinets. Two weekends ago, we had a major problem with our kitchen sink and had to call Roto-Rooter to unclog our drainage. This last weekend, we had to have the faucets in our guest bathroom re-fitted with new washers (to stop a leaking problem) and had to replace the sink's drain plug. We've also been slowly working on removing the tile in our garage (a really tough, back-aching process) since we are planning on re-doing the entire garage floor and building floor-to-ceiling cabinets on two sides of the garage.

The list of things to do around the house keeps growing. Our kitchen faucet is leaking, our fridge's water filter need to be replaced, the lighting unit in the guest bathroom needs to be changed so do the shower door decals, the front door and stoop needs to be re-varnished, the air filter screens in all three bathrooms need to be replaced, our water softener needs to be installed, the kitchen counter tiles need to be re-grouted, the living room walls need to be repainted, the house needs to be tested for termites, the window screens in the living room need to be replaced, the list goes on and on.

Of course along with keeping the household running is making sure everything is in place. While I handle the cooking, Jojo is in-charge of laundry and car maintenance. We have a gardener that works on the front and back yard and we split the cleaning chores down the middle. Now we don't have a huge house and with just two people living here, it would seem that maintaining the house should be a breeze. It is NOT. Every night we do the dishes (but there always seems to be a cup or spoon left in the sink). Every night we go through the mail (and yet our mail basket is still filled with unopened envelopes). Every night we try to put things away (but there's always something that's not in its place). Every weekend I sweep, swiffer, and mop (and every weekend the amount of dust, dirt and grime is just incredible). Every weekend Jojo mops the bathrooms and scrubs the tubs (yet there is always icky stuff stuck to the sponge each time he does it). Every weekend we do the wash, scrub the counters, load the dishwasher, put the laundry away (and still there is always stray pieces lying here and there). Every weekend we have a list of things we need for the house (whether it is groceries, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, paper towels, etc, etc). We change the sheets, vacuum the rugs, dust the shelves, and clear the kitchen cupboards and fridge every two weeks. We wash our rugs, fix our garage, wash our windows, rearrange our closets, and air our pillows / mattresses every month. We have a schedule so that everything gets done. But it seems even with a system, the list of things still left to do remains endless.

I always took these things for granted. Growing up our home was always spic and span, where everything was working well. My mom was a really meticulous homemaker and she and our helpers really made sure everything was clean and ready to use. I recall waking up in the mornings and leaving clothes strewn around my room, my cosmetics and accessories all over the bathroom counter,shoes and bags under the bed. I would return home with everything made up and in place. I could get a fresh supply of towels, sheets, toothpaste, shampoo or anything else I needed from well-stocked closets. The rugs would not only be vacuumed but shampooed and the floors not only swept but waxed. Dirty clothes would be hand-washed, ironed and put away in the closets. Meals were always ready on time and there was no need to do the dishes when you were done. My mom always knew who to call to repair leaky faucets, clogged drains and broken appliances - and it didn't cost an arm and a leg to get it done either. Our home was even better than 5-star-hotel housekeeping. That's a really big part of what I miss about living with my parents back in Manila. Life was easier and so much more convenient. Of course things are different now that I live abroad and have a home of my own. But even with all the wonderful things I've come to experience here in the States, for everything in my present life that I have and am thankful for, and for all the wonderful conveniences I am truly blessed to be receiving ... I still have to admit that nothing beats the convenience of life back home.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Daylight Saving Time

Yesterday we had to spring our clocks forward an hour because of daylight saving time. You would think that moving time forward by one hour would not make a huge difference. But it does! Especially when it means losing one hour of my precious weekend. After a grueling 5-day workweek, I look forward to my weekends – all 48 hours of it (not counting Friday night). A 47-hour weekend just does not cut it and makes me feel slightly short-changed. Why don’t they ever schedule switching to and from daylight saving time during the workweek? Say Monday morning? It would be great to come in at 9:00 AM and then find that it is actually already 10:00 AM and we get to skip our weekly staff meeting. (Although we would then to be stuck with an extra hour at work when we turn back time in October).

Last night, we went to bed at around 11:00 but my mind kept telling me it was only 10:00. My mind likes to screw with me that way. So even if I put in a full day and was actually tired, my brain kept me up based on that 1-hour technicality. It was so frustrating. I tried reading, watching TV, praying, deep breathing, nothing worked. And of course the more restless you are, the more your mind races, the more you panic about being awake, the harder it becomes to fall asleep. Finally after tossing and turning and fighting off the urge to take a sleeping pill, I caved and took a Sonata. I finally dozed off around 1:00 (technically midnight). Of course waking up this morning was another story. Monday mornings are always tough but when the alarm went off at 6:45, it was especially torturous since my mind was screaming “it’s only 5:45 in the morning”. I was pretty out of it this morning, which is the case when I get less than 8 hours of sleep, plus I was slightly groggy cause of the sleeping pill. This jet-lagged feeling was definitely not a great way to start the week.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pinkberry - a new favorite!

We were planning to have lunch at Il Toscano today. I’ve heard rave reviews about the place and was looking forward to trying their famed Pasta Negra (pasta with squid ink sauce). I’ve been craving Pasta Negra for the last 7 years (ever since I’ve left Manila that’s been 1 dish I have yet to find in any menu!). Another reason we wanted to try Il Toscano was because I wanted to see if this would be a good place for my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Jojo, Jules and I were there shortly past 12 but were disappointed to find that the place did not open for Sunday lunch. Instead we headed over to the reliable El Pollo Inca for Peruvian food. Normally one of my favorites, today’s meal seemed a bit salty and oily.

Feeling slightly unsatisfied, I suggested we try Pinkberry ( a frozen yogurt place that my friends have been raving about). Pinkberry opened a store in West Hollywood (as well as several others) and it has been so popular that the LA Times has dubbed it “the taste that launched 1,000 parking tickets”, since people have been lining up and down the street for their yogurt fix. Pinkberry is so popular it has developed a loyal cult-like following and is so addictive that it has been termed “Crackberry”. What’s even better is it’s a treat that is low-fat and low-sugar – actually finding a healthy indulgence in this high-calorie world is definitely worth lining up for!

The Pinkberry store in Rolling Hills (we sat outside the store and enjoyed people-watching just as much as our desserts).

The Rolling Hills Estates store we went to was sparsely furnished and had a very modern but aesthetically pleasing green and blue hued design (pretty standard for all stores). You walk up to the counter and order one of three flavors (original, green tea or coffee) and choose from an array of toppings (fruits, nuts, chocolate chips, cereals, mocha, coconut, carob chips, and granola). They also come in three sizes (small, medium and large). We all had the medium combo (which comes with three toppings).

(My medium combo - original yogurt with raspberries, blueberries and almond slivers).

We sat by the open air plaza to enjoy. IT WAS AWESOME. Now I understand what the craze is all about. I fell in love with it at first bite – the yoghurt is tangy but with sweet aftertaste – and because of the combination of tastes it is very delightful and refreshing. Its consistency is a bit stiff and not as creamy as ice cream (but the texture is very similar). And my topping choices (tart raspberries, sweet blueberries and crunchy almonds totally complemented the yogurt). I could totally understand people’s fixation because as soon as we got home I ws craving another cup!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Guakong

These days I am quite concerned about the health of my grandfather. Guakong is in his early ninties and up till recently has been surprisingly strong, alert and independent. A couple of months ago, he was re-diagnosed with cancer (something he has kept at bay for several years now) and because of his advanced age, extensive chemotherapy did not seem like a viable option. Instead he has been on medication and has been receiving intensive doses of TLC from his round-the-clock nurses, caregivers, maids and family. In the beginning he seemed to be responding well - was in no pain, maintained his alertness, and could move around on his own. It helps that my guakong is a very health-conscious person (loves fruits and vegetables, is up to date on all the latest health trends, stays away from all things "bad" - drinking, smoking, gambling, staying up late, and eating salty, fatty and sugary food). Guakong is also a very well-educated and cultured man - his opera and classical music collection is extensive, he has books with topics ranging from China's political history to horticulture, and his gardens have always been awe-inspiring as he grafted and grew his own orchids and plants. I have also always found him very knowledgeable in so many topics and he has always been the family proponent when it comes to further education.

A couple of days ago, my guakong was diagnosed with pneumonia which has resulted in him being confined to the hospital. I've heard from my parents and sister that he is so weak and frail these days. He has no appetite for anything - not even his favorite fruits and soups. Because he is cooped up in the hospital (and wants to go home), he has been short-tempered and easily irritated. I really feel terrible knowing he is going through a tough time. And of course when someone we love is suffering, the rest of us are very much affected too. I can only imagine what my mom, my aunts and uncles, my guama and everyone else around him are going through. I am sure they must be worried, tired and anxious too. I myself am worried about guakong and I feel quite helpless being away from home as well. Not that I could really do much if I were back home but at the very least I would take time out be with him in the hospital and indulge him with his favorite shark's fin soup as often as he wants it. I am hoping Jojo and I can go home soon so we can see him and spend some time with him too. I know my guakong will get through this and I pray that he will do so without pain, stress and too much difficulty. Take care and be well, guakong - we love you and are praying for you. My prayers and thoughts are with you and the rest of the family as well.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Airborne

I feel cheated! I've been such a huge proponent of taking Airborne to fight off the cold and flu virus. I got my hubby and the rest of my family started on taking Airborne. I've sold the idea to friends and colleagues at work. And I buy a huge supply every time we're at Costco. Today, I came across this article:

Airborne settles lawsuit for $23.3 million

Here are some excerpts from the article:

Airborne - the herbal supplement company that once claimed to help fight off colds - will pay $23.3 million to settle a class-action lawsuit brought against the company for false advertising, according to one of the groups that joined the suit.

"There's no credible evidence that what's in Airborne can prevent colds or protect you from a germy environment," said CSPI Senior nutritionist David Schardt. "Airborne is basically on overpriced, run-of-the-mill vitamin pill that's been cleverly, but deceptively, marketed."

Customers interested in more information about how to recieve a refund should log onto www.airbornehealthsettlement.com.