August 29, 2006

Baking with her majesty

I didn't waste any time sending an email to Lori of Dessert Comes First (DCF) when I saw her post inviting her readers to a baking demo. I reserved two slots for Joey and myself and made sure I had nothing planned for the afternoon of Aug. 26. I had already missed her tea party, I wasn't going to miss this one.

I was so excited. Not only because Lori was kind enough to show us how to make three of her favorite and most popular desserts: Cheesecake, Buttermilk Scones and Coconut Creme Brulee, but because the host was Lori herself! A celebrity in her own right, Lori is the authority on all things sweet or yummy and is, as Carlos affectionately calls her, the "dessert queen". Hmm, Lori...queen of the dessert. Has a nice ring to it. :)

Lori, deftly working her torch on the creme brulee

The Julius Maggi Kitchen of the Nestle Center in Rockwell, was already abuzz with fellow sugar enthusiasts and DCF groupies. The kitchen studio was impressive, just like those you see on the Food Network. We were thoughtfully provided with sheets of the coveted recipes, which made it very easy for us to follow as the show went on. Mine were filled with scribblings, mostly notes on the science of baking as taught by Lori. Very useful tidbits of information.

There was also a contest for the audience, questions about DCF and the Nestle Food Club. Those who answered the questions correctly took home goodie bags filled with Nestle products. I tried to win one myself, but carelessly mistook the question "Who can name 2 home bakers featured on the blog" to mean "Who can name 2 home bakers featured in the top 10 best desserts in Manila". That's what happens when your mind is consumed with thoughts of all the dessert you knew you were going to be stuffing yourself with in a few minutes! :)

Lori was a natural both in the kitchen, and in front of a crowd. She not only impressed us with her baking skills (she handled that creme brulee torch like a pro!), and enlightened us with kitchen wisdom, but she also charmed the room with her wit and grace. She was obviously in her element.

The demo could have ended right then and we would have left happy and satisfied. But Lori had kicked it up a notch by inviting her readers to bring their own homemade desserts so we could have a mini tea party after the session. Well, there was nothing mini about it! There was everything from cupcakes and cookies to pies and cakes to crumbles and homemade ice cream. Oh the sheer sinfulness of it all. I gained 10 lbs just by looking at all of it displayed on the counters. (I took the lazy route and brought the Brown Derby of Polly Garilao).

Everything was excellent, and I'm grateful to all those who brought desserts. Tasting each one was like a sweet peek into the warmth and comfort of the baker's home.

Being the sucker that I am for all things crumbly, sweet and cinnamon-y, my knees buckled when I took a bite of the Apple Crisp. I had to steady myself on the counter as I weakly called out for Joey, urging her to try it too. I had to find who made this little piece of heaven. I asked around and when I met her I had to restrain myself from literally pouncing on her, a very sweet lady named Glo.

She said the recipe came from an aunt and I took a chance and asked if I could have the recipe, knowing I would totally understand and respect her wishes if she preferred not to share this well-guarded secret. She caught me off guard when she answered me with "sure!" and started to rattle away the ingredients. I was like "oh wait, wait" and took out a pen and notebook from my purse. She even offered to write it all down for me and! I was overjoyed and I couldn't praise and thank her enough. :) You can expect me to be making this very soon and posting the recipe. This is so good, it needs to be shared.

All in all, it was a most pleasurable and delightful afternoon. We learned baking techniques, made new friends, and sampled lots of homemade desserts. Thank you to Nestle Phils., Inc. for sponsoring the event, and warm congratulations to Lori who was responsible for its success!

August 28, 2006

Cranberry Crumble Bars

On a recent visit to Chef's Nook in Mandaluyong, I bought a bag of dried cranberries. I didn't know yet what I was going to do with it, I just knew I wanted them. I went through my recipes: cranberry glazed breast of turkey (but made with chicken) ?, cranberry fig chutney?, crunchy cranberry buttermilk muffins? Finally, I decided I wanted a crumble or crisp type of dessert. (That is one and the same right, crumble and crisp?)

So I settled on a cranberry crumble bar recipe I had which I got from the Home Baking Association some time ago. I've always enjoyed tarty desserts, especially those made with lemons ! And lime. (read: key lime pie!) So here's what I made and the recipe for it.

Cranberry Crumble Bars

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup water
2 cups fresh cranberries (I used dried)
1 tbsp grated orange peel
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400°F

Prepare cranberry filling; mix sugar, orange juice, and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in cranberryies, orange peel and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stir occasionally until thickened. Set aside to cool.

Mix brown sugar and butter in a medium bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients until crumbly.

Press half of the crumbly mixtures in an ungreased rectangular parn, 13 x 9 x 2. Spread with filling and top with remaining crumbly mixture. Press lightly. Bake about 20 minutes or until light brown. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Tastewise, they were great! But I think the overall aesthetics could have been improved a bit. Maybe by adding a tad more butter, or perhaps syrup to bind the oats together a bit more. The first bar I sliced crumbled to pieces. But as I let it cool a little longer, they were a firmer and easier to handle.

My favorite way of eating the bars was a la mode. Warmed in the toaster oven and topped with vanilla ice cream. I've always loved the combination of warm cookies/crumbles/cakes and ice cream. :)

August 22, 2006

Things to eat before you die

Today while visiting Traveler's Lunchbox, one of my favorite blogs, I saw that Melissa had just launched a new and exciting project: a global food guide of sorts. Together with food bloggers worldwide, she sought to come up with the definitive list of food everyone should try at least once before they die.

This was inspired by an article by the BBC of the 50 things you should eat before you die. Of course I had to click over to that article and see what exactly I was missing out on, according to the British. I've tried everything on that list except: Moreton Bay Bugs, alligator, kangaroo, guinea pig, barramundi, reindeer, Australian meat pie, and Haggis. Ok, I could live without trying any of that.

Being that this project involved 2 of the 3 things on my pleasure trinity (travel+books+food), I had to join. Those who want to contribute, must list only 5 food items. Of course this was terribly difficult considering how much I loved food. So I decided to go ahead and list things straight off the top off my head without giving it too much thought. So here goes:

1. Brie de Meaux - I love cheese, the stinkier the better. When I was living in London, I would spend many weekends over at my cousin's house in Wimbledon. It was there that I was first introduced to Brie de Meaux, and it was love at first bite. She then took me to the French deli in her neighborhood where she would buy this cheese of kings, so I could by my own hunks to take home with me. We love to warm it just a little bit before having it with crackers or crusty bread, or even just on its own.

2. Baklava - When I was younger, my dad would bring home boxes of baklava from the middle east whenever he came home from business trips. This was then continued by my sisters who worked as flight attendants. I was a happy camper, always looking foward to their arrivals, excited to see them as well as sink my teeth into those pastries with syrup sliding down my chin.

When I moved to London, right around the corner from my apartment was a little Persian convenience store which to my delight (and to the dismay of whatever diet I was planning to be on) had walls lined with shelves of freshly baked baklava in all shapes and sizes! Needless to say, I became fast friends with the proprietors. :)

3. A Philippine mango - You have not had a real mango until you've had a Philippine mango. It is absolutely the best fruit in the world! I never realized just how wonderful it was until I tried mangoes from other places and they don't come close. I found them to be too fibrous, not as sweet, and just well, not the same! The flesh of the Philippine mango is super soft, succulent and so so sweet and refreshing when ripe. Sometimes I buy them by the basket from a good friend who owns a mango farm just one and a half hours south of Manila. (thank you wanderlustsha for the lovely picture and post)

4. Feijoada - I recently posted about my love of beans and this has to be one of my favorites. I have only had it once at a graduation party hosted by two of my Brazilian friends. It is the Brazilian equivalent of soul food, made with black beans, pork and sausages. Unfortunately I haven't had it since, leaving me longing for this hearty stew. I saved some recipes which I intend to attempt trying someday. Wish me luck!

5. Fig's fritter with Gorgonzola cheese served with serrano ham from The Green Tangerine in Hanoi - On a recent trip to Hanoi, I ordered this from the menu of The Green Tangerine as it quite literally jumped out at me. It contained figs, gorgonzola and serrano ham, how could I resist?! It was to die for! Since discovering such a delight, I've been on a mission to find other ways of marrying these 2 magical ingredients (fig and gorgonzola). If anyone reading this has recipes to share, I will be most grateful! :)

So there you have it. If you haven't tried some of the items on my short list, I urge you to do so soon. You'll see that you're doing yourself a big favor.

Melissa, thank you for thinking up a fun project for us lovers of food. I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone else comes up with.

So what's on your list? Go over to Melissa's site and share them with us. :)

Birthday surprise for a very special girl

A couple of weeks ago, we had dinner at Cookbook Kitchen*, the cafe across my sister's house. For over a year we took this place for granted although we would hear good things about it. Anton's recent post finally prompted us to try it out a couple of weeks ago. And what a pleasant experience that turned out to be! The food was delicious, the place cozy, and the service impeccable. (I was mulling over the menu and casually commented to my cousin how I would have loved a chicken version of the Pork Steak with Honey Mustard Sauce - reminiscent of Outback's Alice Springs Chicken which I love. Christy, the friendly and most efficient server overheard this and offered to change it for me. Now that's service!) :)

I was with my nieces and nephews which gave me an excuse to order almost all the desserts on the menu: the strawberry shortcake overload, Kittin's scarlet cake, the lemon poppy seed cake, and of course a chocolate cake. We were in sweet dessert heaven! My favorite had to be the scarlet cake which is a red velvet cake frosted with cream cheese and lightly dusted with cocoa powder.

Seeing that her kids were enjoying this all so much, my sister decided to hold her daughter Bea's upcoming 6th birthday party there. But because she had already told Bea that she was celebrating her birthday in school with her classmates and some spaghetti and cake, she thought to make her party in Cookbook Kitchen a surprise.

A genius of an idea! I don't know why more people don't do this. We always have surprise parties among friends, but I realized how much easier it is to pull off a surprise party for kids. For one, they are less suspicious so chances of success increase big time. It was also so much fun involving all the other kids, as they were only too eager and excited to keep it all a secret and do their part. Even the grandparents were giddy with excitement and anticipation.

Eliza, CBK's owner, helped make the party the success it was. She set up the buffet table with her specialties such as the Parmesan Crusted White Fish, Pasta Pomodoro, Mixed Greens with Honey Mustard, Chicken with Sesame Remoulade (I'm on a mission to copy this sauce!) , slices of her delicious cakes and placed plates of Parmesan Fries on the tables. She allowed us to come in early to decorate her cafe with balloons, crepe paper on the ceilings and scattered stars on the tables. She wouldn't even allow us to pick up the mess when the party was over.

Needless to say, Bea was surprised. The look on her face was priceless! First there was surprise on her face, which then beamed with a mixture of embarassment and glee. She ran around greeting all her cousins and friends, laughing and exclaiming, "Papa joked me!". It made my heart smile to see her so happy. She's such a sweet kid. :)

*Cookbook Kitchen is at 8 Socorro Fernandez St. (parallel to Shaw Blvd. behind Nissan) Mandaluyong Metro Manila; tel. (02) 724-3595

August 16, 2006

A very wet picnic at the la mesa eco park

Last Sunday, a bunch of us went to check out the La Mesa Eco Park. Despite the forecast of rain and thunderstorms, and being the stubborn people we can be, we packed our picnic baskets and filled our coolers and off we went. I can't remember the last time I went on a picnic, so I was determined to make this happen.

Just as we feared it was muddy and wet. We couldn't use the rain-drenched picnic tables so we were left no choice but to lay out our blanket on the ground of one of the covered pavillions. I had packed some pineapples, grapes, chicken and tuna sandwiches, gruyere and gouda cheese and OJ. Joey brought spicy sausages and to-die-for nutella cupcakes while Jerrie brought KFC and ingredients for s'mores.

The kids were so busy running around and exploring that they had forgotten about roasting marshmallows for the s'mores. So we did this instead back at home that evening using the Iwatani portable stove. I think everyone should do this with their kids at least once. It is such a nice bonding experience. Of course it would be so much nicer done at a campfire surrounded by nature, rather than in your porch :) but still fun!.

The La Mesa Eco Park was a very nice surprise. It is a 33 hectare park by the La Mesa Dam with amenities such as mountain bike trails, a fishing pond, boating lagoon, saltwater swimming pool, orchidarium, and camp sites. Thankfully, while we were in the park the rain slowed to a slight drizzle. So the kids still got to fish, torment the ducks, explore the trails, and row around the lagoon.

As soon as you drive through the gates of the park, you are immediately greeted by lush greenery, a variety of flora and fauna under a canopy of trees, the cheerful chirping sounds of birds and other insects and a sense of serenity one can only feel in places like a rainforest such as this one. I couldn't believe I was still in Metro Manila.

I heard a nasty rumor that there are plans to develop housing projects on this piece of paradise. (Brings to mind the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell). I hope this never happens. It is the only sanctuary we have in the city of this sort. An escape from the concrete jungle which everyone needs once in a while.

The park is open everyday from 8 am to 5 pm. There is an entrance fee of P50 for non-QC residents, which does not include use of amenities. The fastest way to get there is via Commonwealth Ave. past Ever Gotesco and Batasan Pambansa. Once you pass the Fairview Market on your left, keep your eye out for the entrance to East Fariview Subdivision on your right where you will enter via Winston St. Once there, follow the signs.

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August 11, 2006


taken by a very proud Tita Chris :-) 6/06
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August 7, 2006

A little bit backpacker, a little bit flashpacker

While I am not (yet) comfortable sleeping in a hostel room with strangers, I am not beyond sharing a toilet/shower with them provided it is pretty decent and clean. I just don't know if I would be able to sleep. I would probably have my bag chained to my wrist, hugging it close to my chest, and have one eye open all night. How sad is that? I'm so jaded! But then I've never slept in a room with strangers in a strange country before, so maybe I am underestimating myself.

And though I love throwing caution to the wind and sampling street food , I also like to shell out a bit of money to have at least one meal in a nice restaurant. I like to visit museums, but I prefer doing things that will have me interacting with the locals. I like flying to my destination, but I also like moseying along a dirt road on a non-airconditioned bus if it means I see more of the countryside and how the locals live.

No, I have not done the 6-month hippie trail from India to Southeast Asia. But I envy those who have, or can. I simply cannot imagine leaving my job for that long, not yet at least. I still need the security of knowing I will have my space in the cube farm when I come home.

And though I set out to travel on a shoe string budget, I have been known to do a bit of shopping for local crafts. I don't want to go home regretting that I didn't get that buddha head or that beautiful painting by a starving local artist.

The two most common stereotypes associated with people who roam are the tourist and the traveller/backpacker. But there is also a third, lesser known type: the flashpacker. But just because you use your Lonely Planet guidebook as a pillow, sporting a 7-day stubble and a 10 gallon pack or you take packaged tours in airconditioned coaches staying in places with porters to handle your matching LV luggage doesn't mean you are one or the other. I believe it is a frame of mind, with each person's sense of adventure unique to him/her. There is no right or wrong way to travel if it is done with a respect for local culture and a thirst for discovery and adventure.

Speaking of packaged tours. As convenient as they are or seem to be, I detest them and will only submit myself to one if left with no other choice. I prefer not to follow a strict schedule and don't like to be limited with my time and experience in one place. I prefer to have my own rough itinerary which leaves me open to surprises and flexible to spontaneity. Experiences from that sort are usually the most memorable.

So what category do I fall under? I like to think that I am a flashpacker who can backpack.

10 Key Signs of a Flashpacker:

1. When you say you have the travel bug, you don't mean Delhi belly - you mean an around-the-world ticket and cash to spend.
2. Faced with the option of a 27-hour budget bus trip across Guatemala or a $250 flight, you fly.
3. The only person you share a bedroom with is your partner.
4. You earn a salary, not wages. Instead of part-time bartending, your CV features awards and achievements and runs to three pages.
5. Poverty is not a great opportunity to don a sarong, live like the locals and find inner peace, but something to be eradicated.
6. You don't spend all day emailing friends to tell how you hitch-hiked to Paris and saved $12. You're shopping on the Champs Elysees.
7. You remember when jeans sat around your waist, Belinda Carlisle was cool and Patrick Swayze was hot. You're probably a 30-something.
8. Shoestring travel means forgoing the spa treatment in Tokyo.
9. Wine comes in a bottle, not a $2 cask, and drunkenness is an indulgence, not a goal.
10. You have a keen eye for media hype, recognise this is all a joke and would cut off your own arm and eat it rather than actually call yourself a flashpacker. (see, I'm not ALL flashpacker)

So which type of traveller are you most like? This quiz might help you:

1 The bus doesn’t turn up and you’re trapped in an unfamiliar town. Do you ...
a) check your Lonely Planet guidebook to see if any local hostels will accept friendship bracelets as payment
b) rant at your travel operator, then draw up a list of people to sue
c) walk your Mastercard straight to the front desk of the nearest Hilton

2 You’re thinking of doing some trekking on your trip, but that means getting the right footwear ...
a) those army surplus boots you wore for the Duke of Edinbugh award will be fine
b) if you really do have to schlep from the hotel to the bar, your pink strappy sandals will take the strain
c) the new Extreme Arctic Trekking Sandals might be £115, but you can’t compromise on these things

3 You’ve just arrived in town, which restaurant catches your eye?
a) the one playing Basement Jaxx and offering all-you-can-eat banana pancakes
b) anywhere the tour guide takes you. I’ll have the menu in English, please
c) it’s a 20-minute cab ride away, but they say it serves the best snake soup on earth.

4 You bought it last holiday, it’s cluttering up the spare room ...
a) a didgeridoo — would you like to hear me play it?
b) a straw donkey — somehow, the irony rubbed off on the flight home
c) the deed to your 20 acres of protected equatorial rainforest

5 Most of your dinner-party travel stories start like this ...
a) “We started on the local beers, then something with no label on the bottle ...”
b) “We found it on the internet, 14 nights for the price of seven ...”
c) “We were actually the first white people the tribe had ever met ...”

Now check your answers ...
Mostly As: see you at the full-moon party — you’re pure backpacker.
Mostly Bs: there’s no shame in taking it easy — you’re all suitcase.
Mostly Cs: welcome to the new club, you’re most definitely a Flashpacker.

( I answered 2 As, 2 Cs, and 1 B, in case you were wondering :-) )

August 2, 2006

The Invitation

Exactly 4 years ago (it reads '8/02' beside my signature on the first page), I stumbled upon a little treasure of a book while browsing the shelves of Waterstones. I think it was the author's name that caught my attention at first or maybe the verses written on the cover. When I read the poem on the first 2 pages, which provides the framework for the book of the same title, I was hooked. I almost read the entire paperback right there without paying for it.

Here is the poem in its entirety. I will let it inspire you as it did me:

The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for
and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon...
I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us to be careful
be realistic
remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty every day.
And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest meto know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be doneto feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire
with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself
and if you truly like the company you keep
in the empty moments.