Archive for the ‘Vignettes’ Category

SPREADING SOME HUMOR 

It was given to my mum as Christmas present together with other homemade local products. She thinks I am a bit obsessed with it because I wouldn’t stop talking or giggling about it. I was giggling because the name was so unexpected and I kept talking about it because of the image the name projected which was both humorous and slightly off-putting. The label read Oya and a search on Google led to a Facebook page Oya bakes filled with photos of the numerous bazaars she has attended to sell her products – selling for PhilP100 a piece – that came from a “tiny kitchen and made with local ingredients and love”. She has a wide array of preservative-free jams such as pineapple vanilla, piña colada, guava vanilla, and a banana-rum jam called Drunk Monkey. Oya also sells jars of savory products such as bagoong (fermented fish or krill), chili garlic oil, and boneless tuyo (dried, salted fish) in oil. 

What had me in a fit of giggles was the new jam – Butt Monkey. I had to re-read the label twice – it truly said Butt Monkey, a spread composed of banana, lemon juice, butter, brown sugar, and love. Interesting spread! The analogy that came to mind is kopi luwak (or Indonesian civet) which is truly fantastic coffee once you have come to grips with its origin. Both the name, image, and true origin of kopi luwak are far more jaw-dropping than Butt Monkey given the circumstances, so I ventured to try the jam. Butt Monkey is as humorous as it is tasty. Spreading it on toasted bread, the butterscotch jam had this sweet – but not cloying – strong banana taste that did a wonderful dance with the citrusy lemon juice. The balance between sweet and citrusy didn’t leave a heavy feel on the palate that other jams are wont to leave after a few bites. In fact, everything was light yet filling. I still giggled after the last bite.

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MOLO FOR CHRISTMAS 

There is always a traditional dish that graces the table to mark the occasion, say, a birthday or Christmas. Some have lechon or pork barbecue while others have turkey. In my family Christmas means having chicken molo soup. The Yuletide season isn’t complete without my mum’s molo soup despite the plethora of goodies and the all- time favorite pasta and roasted chicken. As my mum put it, “There is something soothing about having chicken soup.”

The dish is typically known as pansit molo or molo soup with the wontons made of ground pork. Being non- pork eaters, my mum uses ground chicken. Buying ground chicken is generally easy despite the fact that it isn’t a favorite choice to make wonton. Hi-Top, a supermarket along Quezon Avenue, usually has it as well as the square molo wrappers you wrap the chicken wonton in. But this year was a shocker – the ground chicken and molo wrappers were out of stock! Fortunately, we were able to buy ground chicken and molo wrappers at the supermarket at Robinsons Magnolia in New Manila. 

From the pot…


…into the bowl for a wonderful Christmas dinner


My part in cooking is making the wonton. I scoop just enough of the mixed ground chicken (it has egg, salt, and pepper) onto the wrapper and press the sides together. The amount of ground chicken should be just right so the wrapper doesn’t rip. Then mum does the rest – boiling the broth, balancing the flavors, adding the spring onions, and dropping the wontons gently into the boiling broth, including the ladling into the bowls reserved for the molo soup. Her ladling is to prevent one family member having more than one to many wontons than the others. The wontons, after all, must be equally divided. 

What dish makes Christmas the way Christmas should be in your family?

DEALING WITH BULLIES 

How do you get bullied? Let me count the ways. One, you get bullied because you speak English. Two, you get bullied because you are not part of a major religion. Three, you get bullied because you are not reed thin.

In high school, three classmates of mine took it upon themselves to ‘chastise’ me for speaking in English. One of them was this boy who was not academically astute that I accidentally bumped into in an empty classroom. I was hoping to sit inside an empty classroom to get away from the din of the school. I entered one unaware he was inside. Out of nowhere, he walked towards me unsteadily – he seemed to have had a tipple somewhere – and remarked, “Why do you speak in English?! What is wrong with you, huh?!” Although he slurred throughout his utterance, his menacing visage and the fact that he towered over me sent my heart pounding loudly that it almost drowned out his voice. Bully number two was a pair of popular and pretty girls in my batch. Yes, pretty, but dumber than a box of rocks. Similarly, they cornered me but in the lockers area and ridiculed me for speaking in English. 

“A Cartoon Thug” image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Religion was another reason for me to be bullied. This time it was by my elementary teacher who was prejudiced towards a child whose parents gave her the choice of faith. She gave off a vibe to the entire class that I was an oddity which my classmates internalized by ostracizing me. It got to a point that none of my classmates would even look at me and would blatantly shield their eyes whenever they saw me. I was alone most of the time, sitting by myself during recess or avoided like a plague in class. The library was my refuge – I lost myself in the books and momentarily forgot about the bullies in my midst.

Last, being fat. We are not talking about being obese, but I wasn’t predisposed to the thin look and certainly no thigh gap. Body shaming was not considered inappropriate – people teased me to my face or behind my back. At gatherings, family members never talked about my scholastic achievements like being a constant dean’s lister or the fact that I made it to the university soccer varsity team. The first line uttered would always be, “Uy, ang taba mo!” (“You’re fat!”) and then the endless comparisons to the thinner cousins. 

“Overweight” image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


How does one deal with such bullies? Admittedly, I was and am still scarred, but I became more tenacious in not being affected by them through the years. I weathered the bullies by parrying their snide remarks. For example, with the language bullies, I had witty retorts along the lines of, say, “It is not my problem if you can’t speak English” and then walking away with a Jedi’s placidity. Alternatively, I simply ignored them. The social stigma of being an agnostic in a secular school has stayed with me to this day, putting me on the defensive mode every time talk centers on religion. Back then, I had wanted to transfer school but my father dissuaded me, saying that it could be worst outside of JASMS. In high school, religion didn’t figure much in the syllabus so I lowered my defenses. There were still the occasional wide-eyed looks thrown my way whenever classmates, teachers, or colleagues would hear about my case, but I remained composed. Like a mantra, I repeated to myself, “Walk away. Faith is a personal issue.” If they dared proselytize, I would cheekily remark, “I am still developing my own religion.” This is still my modus operandi for sanctimonious colleagues and acquaintances who feel the need to preach to me.

For the body shamers, I have learnt to channel their taunts into my workout sessions, using them as the reasons not to miss a session especially when I am feeling lazy to head to the gym. In my youth, I worked out to stop the barbs but not anymore. My workout sessions are for myself to be healthier mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Bullies will never vanish and will always be relentless in their insults. Stooping to their level shouldn’t be an option. One should rise above their derisions because that is the only way to deal with bullies and to stop being a victim.

OF BIRTHDAY CAKES 

I am a big fan of birthday cakes. No matter what my personal trainer says about avoiding cakes because of the empty calories, I indulge during my birthday. After all, birthday cake calories don’t count. Second, a birthday isn’t completely a birthday if there is no birthday cake in sight. The number of lit candles on the cake doesn’t bother me all – so what if I am older than most of my colleagues?

The cake from Estrel’s (formerly Estrella’s) was the traditional birthday cake bought to celebrate anyone’s birthday in the family. It was sacrilegious to buy anything other than the rectangular caramel chiffon cake topped with butter icing flowers. It still is a favorite for birthdays – and weddings – although I only get to have a slice on non-birthday occasions.

Estrel’s caramel chiffon cake can double up as birthday cake and wedding cake


My birthday this year had me blowing out candles three times, each cake with bearing greetings written in three different languages viz. Indonesian, English, and Filipino. I was prepared to quietly celebrate my birthday with a slice of cake and coffee at Starbucks, but some of my students caught wind of my birthday and surprised me in class with a birthday cake. The first one was given after a class with my grade 10 IGCSE students; I was fixing my stuff when they, like a swarm of bees in flight, came towards me. I thought they were going to ask for an extension of the deadline of the research paper. Experience has taught me that they want to talk about the research paper when they approach me collectively – they’re a firm believer in “strength in numbers”. This time I was mistaken. They came bearing a chocolate birthday cake. 

First birthday cake


The second and third cakes came after my birthday and before the start of class so we all had a bit of cake during the lesson. Cake number two – white chocolate cake – was given by my grade 9 students. Meanwhile, cake number three – fruity white chocolate cake – was from my grade 11 Writing Class students. 

Second birthday cake

Third cake

 

I might not have had my slice of Estrel’s cake, but the surprise birthday cakes certainly completed my birthday. Who would have thought that the students you had been berating for being indolent and careless be so sweet and endearing?

THE GHOSTS ARE BACK


She said it was jalan-jalan cantik for me in her e-mail. Learning that I was off to Singapore over the weekend, there was this assumption that it would be a jalan-jalan cantik in the land of food and shopping. I discovered the meaning of that phrase some weeks ago when I met up with friends earlier on. The Indonesian phrase literally translates to ‘pretty walk about’; the not-so literal translation is a good weekend. She was right to a certain degree: my past jaunts to Singapore were indeed jalan-jalan cantik. In February, it was a Chinese New Year weekend holiday with a gal-pal, who had a wonderful time being a first-time tourist to the Garden city while I played her tour guide. The next one was just to get away from it all and chill with another gal-pal who resided in the country. The last one was when we – my Singaporean gal-pal – watched the musical “Wicked” at Marina Bay Sands (I missed it five years ago when it opened in the city).

This brief sojourn didn’t bode well because the ghosts were back. Returning to Singapore got easier through the years or so I thought. I have long accepted the fact that my life in Singapore is a closed chapter, having lived through the pain of seeing my life crumble and later on gaining the strength to rebuild it elsewhere. But these pesky ghosts that I have never bothered (read: reached out to), mostly left alone, seem to have a knack of coming back at, in my perception, inopportune time. (Aside: Has there ever been an opportune time to meet up with people you don’t want to see?)

Some of the ghosts formed an indistinguishable collage of faces shifting from one identity to another until it settled into distinct faces I, obviously, had not forgotten. E was a friend, at least that’s what I thought until I received an e-mail from her – this was 10+ years ago – saying she was ending our friendship because we had different family backgrounds. To this day, I am still haunted by that reason and it guts me inside out particularly whenever I find myself at the nadir of my life. It hurls me back to my elementary days when I was shunned by my grade school teacher and classmates because my parents gave me the right to choose my religion or during my high school days when I was ridiculed and bullied twice in the same day because I spoke English all the time. In fact, my clique and I were summoned to the principal’s office after being reported by the cooking teacher for speaking English all the time! Anyway, E, the e-mail sender, oddly enough, kept sending birthday cards and acted amicable through the years until she finally stopped because she probably cottoned on to the fact that I wasn’t responding.

The other annoying ghosts were Z and C. Both these men betrayed my trust and broke my heart into smithereens, prompting me to question what I did in my before-life to warrant such agonizing, soul-ripping relationships. Z, a mustached Malay version of Philippine crooner Rico J Puno according to some friends of mine, was a smooth player, pledging his heart like Baronet Thomas Sharpe (think of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak) and conveniently forgetting he couldn’t and shouldn’t. Meanwhile, C was this young, glib and charming man who swept me off my feet. The problem was he couldn’t accept my nationality and the age gap. He kept coming back into my life until I decided to severe ties completely.

These triumvirate of ghouls were my unwanted welcoming committee that descended in full force the moment I deplaned and walked towards arrival. They insisted on accompanying me to the train like a rain cloud that pursues those who just cleaned their cars much to my chagrin, too. My feelings towards them were more of annoyance than nostalgia or despondence. They made it clear they didn’t want to be in my life and I wasn’t about to let them back in. I was naive, vacuous, gullible, and fatuous then, but not anymore. I simply refocused – I want it to be jalan-jalan cantik.

GLORIOUS FOOD & MEN

When you’re a single woman and on holiday, two things figure prominently in your holiday: men and food. With the first aspect, it’s not like you’re on the prowl for pulchritudinous males (unless you are), but it’s more like the scenery is all of a sudden beautifully peppered with gorgeous eye-candies that make you light up like a Christmas ornament. The drabness of your former surroundings has magically transformed into a veritable backdrop of vibrant colours, all sparkly and spectacular. And since you’re feeling good and tingly inside, your attention deviates towards exquisite food, the other striking facet of the holiday. I was very fortunate to have experienced both facets in and out of Los Angeles.

Let’s start with Disneyland Anaheim where I stumbled upon Death by Vader, a cup of chocolate upon chocolate – chiffon, syrup, chocolate bar, and ganache – from Galactic Grill in Tomorrow land. The play on words piqued my interest –no one really escapes Darth Vader! The chocolate sensation – killer of hips most certainly cranked up the happy level to another notch while I watched with amusement the young Jedi trainees (children who signed up for Jedi training earlier on) test their mettle against the crème de la crème of Jedis.

Death by Vader

Death by Vader – glorious chocolate overload in the mouth and hips

Meanwhile, at the western side of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, lunch was a most pleasant surprise on a Fourth of July weekend. After walking around Eagle’s Point, Jeanné and I went to the opposite side of the Grand Canyon for some much needed repast. The place was packed to the rafters with hungry canyon trekker-tourists. Served up canteen style, each guest, who paid extra US$15 to our tour guide Angeline, got a plate of corn on the cob, grilled chicken, salad, corn bread, mashed potato with gravy, and a bottle of cold water. Walking around the Grand Canyon in the dry heat of Arizona does really work up an appetite, but the lunch plate was truly flavourful. The corn was sweet and buttery, and the tender chicken was savoury, be it white or red meat. Adding to the superb dining experience was the breath-taking scenery of the majestic canyon and a tree looming where Jeanné and I sat. It became the watering-hole of the gargantuan crows that zipped and dipped through the clear blue skies of Arizona. Gawking at the crows while nibbling on the corn, I half- expected Maleficent to come swooping down and acquiring newcomers to her crow entourage.

lunch at the Grand Canyon

Lunch with a view at the Grand Canyon (west side)

Back in LA, it was one huge dessert festival. Being passionate about cupcake, it was mandatory to pay homage to Georgetown Cupcakes and its friendly rival, Sprinkles. It had been five years since I last sank my teeth into Georgetown’s iconic cupcake, Red Velvet, so it was like a homecoming for me as I savoured the moist cupcake hugged by smooth cream cheese frosting on my tongue. The lightness of the velvet chiffon cake and non-cloying frosting helped ease my guilt feeling of missing my workout sessions. With Sprinkles, Red Velvet and Black and White cupcakes aside, I tried their cupcake ice cream, or a junior cupcake sandwiching a vanilla ice cream. Delectable!

Mermaid vanilla by Georgetown Cupcakes

Mermaid Vanilla – one of Georgetown’s summer flavours

Red Velvet by Georgetown Cupcake

The iconic Red Velvet by Georgetown

cupcakes by Georgetown

Cupcakes by Georgetown – love in a box

Sprinkles

cupcakes by Sprinkles

The sweet fest continued with a mad dash to Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar on E Union Street in Pasadena one Wednesday night. We were running late but with Mayeth’s adroit driving, we made it before it closed for the night. Seated to the right of the entrance, perusing the menu was one luscious affair as my eyes scanned the page replete with myriad choices. Our palates were eventually treated to a tango of sweetness, zest, and creaminess, as the flute of champagne with a twist of orange fused with the vanilla crème brûleé.  Impressive!

classic champagne with a twist

Classic Champagne with a twist by POP

vanilla creme brulee by Pop Champagne and Dessert BAr

Vanilla crème brûleé and champagne make perfect partners

Speaking of Pasadena, Urth Café, located on the corner of Madison and Colorado, is a fantastic café for pastries, organic drinks and light-to-heavy meals. My instant favourite was the green tea latte that was smooth on the throat, which, shockingly, made a great pair with the café’s chicken soup. Splendid!

green tea latte by Urth Cafe

A cuppa of goodness from Urth Cafe – green tea latte for one

chicken soup _Urth Cafe

Who would have thought that chicken soup and green tea latte can go together?

In terms of breakfast, cheese roll from the famed Cuban pastry store, Porto’s, partnered with Starbucks cappuccino made a great morning meal. Each bite of the flaky croissant-like pastry enveloping the sweetish cream cheese was a bite of heavenly goodness washed down by coffee. It was a perfect balance between butter, sugar, and cheese. Magnificent!

 

cheese roll by Portos

One cheese roll is not enough

There was another breakfast place I managed to visit in North Hollywood except I can’t remember the name of the place. However, I do undoubtedly remember the wonderful man I was with whose choice of breakfast place was right up my alley. Vaguely recalling details, the décor of the place is contemporary: silver commingling with a black and white colour scheme that sort of blended together but not completely, a wide counter where you go to place your order plus a collage of high tables paired with “high chairs” and regular tables. He ordered the salmon benedict lying on a bed of shredded potatoes while I had buttermilk pancakes. My pancakes were good – thin pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and topped with strawberry was a flawless harmony of sweetness and fruity flavour. His salmon benedict?  It exploded in my mouth – the flavours were intense and oh-so good. But on hindsight, I wonder if the explosion was solely due to the food or how I was feeling about the man sitting in front of me. One thing is certain though – the man across the table from me was undeniably breath-taking.

salmon benedict and buttermilk pancake

His salmon benedict and my buttermilk pancakes

Food and a man – singular or both – definitely add pizzazz to your holiday turning the pedestrian into the exceptional and the dull into the exciting. They  certainly made my holiday more than memorable.

DISCONNECTED

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Image courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

She said two things that still linger in my mind. The first thing was about my paternal grandmother.

“Your late grandmother is standing on your right,” she said matter-of-factly while I stared at her stupefied. I slowly looked to my right. My grandmother couldn’t be on my right because she had left us more than two decades ago, and I didn’t say anything to her about my Lola Emma. (Aside: Lola is Filipino for grandmother.) My eyebrow rose, as well as my uneasiness, but she was oblivious to my growing perturbation, and proceeded as if what she said was the most normal thing in the world.

“You don’t have to worry about anything. She is proud of you. Actually, she is smiling right now.”

That last pronouncement stayed my desire to suddenly flee from her office. Our meeting wasn’t by chance. She was referred to me by my flat mate then who had sought her services in sorting out issues in her life. She’s like a life coach, but she’s not exactly a life coach. Her official title is angel reader, a person who is attuned to those celestial beings in every sense of the world. My flat mate suggested I make an appointment with her so I could make sense of the issues complicating my life, i.e. shall I leave my job at that time, what is Charles’ purpose in my life, who shall I call for help – you get the drift.

I had nothing to lose and I was thrilled by the thought of meeting an angel reader in person. I’d never met one; actually, I didn’t know they existed. I didn’t tell her anything except for my name so her opening salvo – about my late grandmother – had me freaked out, but convinced that she was the real deal. Letting the grandmother comment slide off my back, she proceeded to tell me about my recent reincarnation, which were interesting, because I didn’t imagine myself as an acolyte serving in a temple. Then she dropped the second bomb without batting an eyelash.

“Your back has a lot of hooks because you get attached to someone easily. You like forming connections right away. These hooks pull you back, so you can’t move forward,” she said almost stoically while she walked around me.

Hooks on my back? Horrifying. Me too attached? My buoyed spirit took a nosedive. I admit I like meeting people and getting to know them because I like to see the world from their perspective. And, pardon the triteness, isn’t life about making connections, building bridges, and not turning into a recluse? I felt, at that point, like a psychotic, single, brown female.

“Oh,” was my weak reply to her enervating ‘reading’.

“But we can fix that,” she declared, drawing close to me and running her hand up and down my back for several minutes. “Now, they’re gone. Your back is free of the hooks.”

This meeting happened years ago. I am grateful because I was able to sort out the snags in my life and, fortunately, find my bearing. However, the idea of quickly forming connections as vile, bordering on objectionable, lodged itself in my memory bank. Just a week ago, I was toying with the idea of inviting a colleague out to a cup of coffee, but I stopped myself because the slivers of memories were back. That week, when I thought of the coffee date while running on the treadmill, a long buried memory surfaced: it was about a former British colleague whom I gifted with something as a token of appreciation. Perhaps I was naïve or it was a case of cultural clash, but her reaction of annoyance tore me inside out. Her thank you was laced with irritation, and she ended it with a lecture about gifts being unnecessary. I thought we had connected, but I was greatly mistaken. On hindsight, mea culpa: I assumed we were friends. This was followed by another thread of memory of when an e-mail from a friend broke up our friendship simply because she said we couldn’t be friends anymore. So that was how one felt after being sucker punched. At any rate, I always tell myself, when these rankling memories pop up every now and then, it’s all water under the bridge.

These days I remind myself to maintain a distance because I don’t want hooks lodging on my back again. Still, I find myself asking these proverbial questions – why connect in the first place when people can just remain as cordial strangers? What happened to acceptance of flaws and shortcomings? Isn’t a friendship like a non-platonic relationship in which you try and make something work?

Self-diagnosis is never a good thing yet I have declared myself as suffering from pistanthrophobia. Past experiences proved beyond doubt that being disconnected from people is more favourable than connecting with them. A recent falling out with a friend has left me all the more convinced that building bridges is a huge mistake and extremely tiring. At the end of the day, connecting with people is like flagellating oneself as penance for one’s sins.