the thursday group

Friday, February 24, 2006

Why I am Divorcing the Philippines

Today's latest and pathetic coup attempt to oust GMA is the last nail on the coffin. It has tipped the scales on my personal love-hate relationship with the Philippines. I am divorcing the Philippines. Frankly, I will be happy if I never ever had to go back. There's nothing left for me there anymore. My family and friends can always come over to Hong Kong -- a place where just about everything works. Christmas and New Year's can always be spent on safari and in gorgeous Cape Town in the summer -- a HUGE dream of mine. Like us, most of our friends have been citizens of the world for the last several years, so if not for our parents, Jay and I simply have no reason to go back.

While I still carry a Philippine passport I no longer respect what it stands for. We are run by selfish, short sighted, and inconsiderate people who have no real love for the country. The negative economic implications are enormous -- I am sure our ratings will go down, the peso will depreciate (just as it was going great at 51.99 to 1), real estate prices will plummet, and worse, the poor will fare no better and will probably be worse off. 12% of our country's GDP is from remittances from OFWs -- a sad fact; there aren't enough good jobs out there for our own people. Labor, our biggest export -- not exactly great for the country's image. Visas are asked of us whenever we travel outside of the Asean region as retribution for those who have overstayed their welcome in their host countries. And, to add insult to injury, we've been added onto the terrorist watchlist! In the past, it took anytime from 1 day to 1 week to apply for a Shengen visa to Europe, now it takes 3 whole weeks!

Why does everything have to lead to coup attempts, force and violence? Why can't we be civilized about this? Why can't we just accept and work with the present goverment? Why can't we learn from our past? Why can't we learn to think beyond our selfish needs and instead work towards what's good for the country as whole? Why can't we look and adapt from the model governments of Hong Kong and Singapore? These places have experienced mass emigration, economic ruin, turmoil and violence before way back in the 50's and 60's and yet, they were able to overcome all these.

So many questions, and no answers. I give up. I quit the Philippines.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Mixed Feelings

Last Saturday I was one day delayed.

I am never delayed.

So I panicked. I'm not ready for this. I'm not ready for this. I'm not ready for this.

But if it comes to that, I want a little girl.

Denial- This is impossible! Derrick "Well, Joaquin came as a complete surprise too, you know"

Oh shit (booming in my head over and over)

Selfish thoughts. The flat is too small, I'm not my ideal weight yet, I have job prospects, Journeys to make, Countries to explore, Things to do.

Went out and bought a pregnancy test. Was going crazy waiting for that telltale spot and cramps that always preceded it. Could'nt wait another day, or two.

Scolded Joaquin as he jumped on my belly! There might be a tiny being in there!

The test turned out negative.

I was crushed. Heartbroken. Derrick "I thought you said you weren't ready? Should'nt you be relieved?"
Me "I'm a woman. We are contradictory beings. We are impulsive, and worriers, and maternal and on and on I went"

For all my selfish thoughts, anxieties and feelings of unpreparedness, deep down, in a place I didn't want to explore or acknowledge, there was yearning pala. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Thoughts on fish, arts and crafts, and love

February 14 is becoming more and more of a non-event in the Aquino household as each year passes. Tonight Derrick has an office thing (or is it fling?) so I'm "celebrating" with my son and Yaya Beth.

Joaquin brought home a huge red card for me today, decorated with paper hearts arranged like petals of a flower, with a tiny, grainy picture of him right smack in the middle. Inside is a cut-out of a joyful bear hugging a heart, and a red crayon, held in Joaquin's tiny fists like a prisoner, obviously ran amuck. I know I should be touched, but it was undoubtedtly the handiwork of a teacher's assistant. I can't wait for the time Joaquin becomes nimble-fingered and gets his creative juices gushing; I wonder what poignant display of affection he will bowl me over with.

Tonight I concocted a grilled sole fish platter, using an unusual combination of chopped pistachios and mustard for the crust; cayenne pepper, salt and freshly ground pepper for the fish; and sundried tomatoes, grape tomatoes and diced mangoes blended with olive oil for the salsa.

I was afraid it would turn out sporting a bizarre and sickly yellowish-green crust, while tasting too peppery for its own good.

Luck must have been with me. It looked appetizing enough, and the salsa tempered the spiciness. Served atop grilled red peppers and squash marinated in herbed balsamic vinegar, and accompanied by a cream of tomato seafood soup, it was a simple dinner that I thoroughly enjoyed, all by my lonesome.

Note 1- I weeded out all the sundried tomatoes from the relish because they tasted out of place. Next time, diced kiwis will figure in this recipe.

Note 2- A dash of lemon or lime, which I didn't have, could've elevated this dish to divine status.

After dinner, I watched Love Actually for the nth time on Star Movies. My favorite story? Colin Firth and his witty, sharp-tongued Portugese cleaning lady. Bumbling and funny, moving and realistic, all at the same time.

"My favorite part of the day is driving you home."

"My saddest part of the day is leaving you".

"You learned English?"..."Yes."

"Why?"..."Just in cases."

Not your usual hot secretary flirts with stolid, secretly repressed boss, adolescent vows undying love for the campus sweetheart, guy feels unrequited love for his best friend's wife, powerful man falls for a most unexpected commoner, office girl nurses a not-so-secret crush on her macho colleague.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Kitchen Sorcery (have within reach, will definitely cook)

My top 30 ingredients in no particular order - excluding the obvious meat, seafood, veggies, salt, pepper, soy sauce, vinegar, patis, oil, butter, egg, flour and pang-gisa trio of tomatoes, onions and garlic

1. wholegrain mustard: adds zing to everything from salad dressings, savory crusts, marinades, sandwiches...
2. hoisin sauce: for an instant Chinese meal, just stir-fry with chicken or pork; use as sauce for diced leftover roast duck wrapped in lettuce leaves; brush on grilled chicken wings
3. shallots: great for wine-based sauces for steaks and grilled items, fry 'em until aromatic and sprinkle on traditional Chinese soups
4. pesto sauce: pasta, name it, pesto makes it remarkably distinct
5. sun-dried tomatoes: fantastic in salads, chili con carne, pasta and sundried tomato oil
6. cottage cheese/feta/mozzarella/fontina/bleu cheese: vegetable gratin, bruschetta, dips galore, with fruits and honey, salad garnish, pinaputok na kesong puti, sublime appetizers (think crostini with roasted garlic, adobo flakes and feta), paired with an excellent bottle of wine
7. peanut butter: licked from a spoon, coating a banana, on bread with a sprinkling of sugar, Oriental dressings, kare-kare, desserts
8. tuna in brine: a dieter's dream! Nicoise salad, tunamelt sandwich, pasta, quesadilla filling , pizza topping
9. red wine/white wine: lends a deep flavor when reduced for sauces, perfect for marinating, flambeing seafood
10. fresh black mushroom: the buttery taste and sensual texture is perfect for salads, mushroom sauces, Chinese cooking and Derrick's favorite- mushroom tempura!
11. Chinese cooking wine: Unbeatable for Chinese stir-fry and braised dishes, steamed fish
12. Balsamic vinegar: I cannot get enough of this. I use it for dressings, as a marinade, and make balsamic reduction for drizzling over foie gras, grilled fish, salad
13. lemon: want zing? zest? flavors to come alive? use lemon
14. extra-virgin olive oil: no explanations needed
15. Fresh Basil: salads, bruschetta, piadina, panini
16. tempura flour/breadcrumbs/panko/cornstarch: for the crispiest, crunchiest deep-fried dishes
17. Lea and Perrins/Knorr seasoning: salpicao, roast chicken, beef steak taste exceptionally marvellous with these enhancers
18. Chicken powder: better than salt; use it to flavor sauces, pasta boiling water, as a spice rub, marinade (lots of msg though)
19. Chicken stock, beef stock, fish stock: made from the real thing, i.e. chicken, veal, fish bones. With these on hand, sauces and soups are done in a snap!
20. Capsicum: grilled, stuffed and baked, sauteed, crunchy sweet goodness in three luscious colors
21. Butternut Squash: good for practically anything, best for Cream of Apple Butternut Squash Soup
22. Bagoong Balayan: pinakbet, monggo, Pinoy Caesar dressing, grilled eggplant, boiled okra, dinegdeng, veggies in coconut milk, all the Ilocano dishes Derrick grew up eating
23. Sesame Oil: a drop here and there makes a big difference , divine aroma
24. Italian trio of capers, olives and anchovies: varying degrees of saltiness captured in each piece, slice, sliver
25. Mexican spices like cumin and chili powder: Derrick has to have tacos, chili con carne, fajitas and nachos with the works at least once a month
26. Chocolate: food for the gods, of the gods
27. Paprika: color, flavor and aroma packed in small bottle, this is my "secret" ingredient for a lot of my recipes
28. Indian spices like coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, turmeric: Derrick is in his "in-love-with-Indian-food-can-eat-it-everyday" phase, especially chicken makhani, which, fortunately, was the bestseller at Hotel Le Soleil, so i try to recreate it as best as I can (Jashan is tops if you're too lazy to make this)
29. Yogurt or Sour Cream: like paprika, a "secret" ingredient, also the star of my favorite tsatziki ( I can eat Greek food everyday), cucumber raita, Hungarian goulash
30. Rum: crepes, chicken wings, drinking while cooking, pineapple glazed with rum syrup, bananas with rum, roast fruits, rum butter cake (can you imagine a more delectable, sinful dessert?)

Monday, February 06, 2006


Yes, the noisy, sucking sound we all make when

-we shove food (usually Chinese, i.e. congee, noodles with soup, stir-fry noodles) down our mouths using a chopstick or Chinese spoon
-we chomp noisily "chomp-slurp-burp-ahhhh" as we try to assuage our hunger karpintero-style (patay-gutom in other words)
-we drink thick liquids (think milkshakes, slurpee, Zagu) from a too-small straw

Every sunday my mom makes congee "poor family style". No fancy pork with thousand-year egg, certainly no fish fillet or cubes of congealed blood. What she prepares consists of plain lugaw (as in rice cooked in plentiful water, not broth), sometimes flavored with camote cubes, pickled cucumber (with a sour, sharp crunch), pork floss (not the unappealing stringy ones), and garlic-sauteed pork with black beans (the one in the small yellow can, Narcissus or Gulong brand) which my father would eat with some poached tofu. A fancier version would mean additional fried lapu-lapu in tausi sauce OR ground pork and pickled turnip omelette OR century egg with soya sauce.

My father the storyteller would regale us with tales about poor families in China partaking of this meal everyday. The homely porridge was tasteless but piping hot and filling, perfect for the cold Northern weather. Whatever rootcrop they had was boiled and eaten along with it. Better times called for fish or pork. Whether he was spinning a darn good yarn as part of our breakfast entertainment, recounting the pitiful story of his ancestors, or reminding us that feasting on gourmet food is a privilege we should be grateful for, our sunday poor man's lugaw took on a different dimension. It became not only plain old breakfast, but my father's ultimate comfort meal; a way to cleanse our bodies and rid us of the oily, unhealthy grub we've had all week; a time to converse and listen; a shared hiSTORY, if you will; and a chilhood memory.

Papa always slurped his lugaw, using chopsticks with the bowl brought up to his chin and slightly tilted towards his mouth. Though at first I thought it rude, I now slurp my own lugaw (which I make here in HK whenever I'm homesick) maybe even louder than he does.

Speaking of slurping, when we were billeted in Shama Causeway Bay last October, Joaquin and I would frequent a noodle shop just down the street. Shy mentioned that this place is known for its noodle and wonton. Chee Kei is always full, and the line snaking past the corner of Russell Street is a testament to its popularity. There are only about 10 tables inside, and oftentimes Joaquin and I had to share ours with slurping strangers. Their shrimp wonton noodle soup is a delightful concoction of heady broth, thin wonton wrappers folded around large, fresh shimps, and firm, al dente thin egg noodles (even better than that old HK insitution, Mak's noodles). The pork wonton, beef brisket and beef tendon choices are similarly satisfying . Once I tried a dry noodle topped with spicy pork (a specialty), served with broth on the side. As always, the noodles were firm and plentiful, the generous slivers of pork were tender and mixed with a spicy sauce that was piquant and full of hot, sweetish flavor. I wanted to lick the sauce off the plate, but the slurping strangers were eyeing me with suspicion. Each table had a condiment tray with the ubiquitous soya sauce, Chinese black vinegar, chili-garlic sauce, and, to my surprise and delight, a small bowl of pinkish-white pickled ginger (very thinly-sliced and crunchy). Our visits there (and the fresh wonton I would take home and fry for Derrick) were undoutedbly the highlight of our otherwise boring CWB stay. The only dish I didn't care for was the briny, bitter, slimy raw clams (they were so tiny and indistinguishable) that was served with the equally unappetizing fried fishballs. I think they undercooked the fishballs that time.

Our bill always rang up to HKD60-120. Not bad. The five minute walk to the place was part of its appeal, aside from the better-than-ok chow and light-on-the-pocket prices. Once I tried frying fish (Joaquin's all-time fave) in Shama and the "hidden and silent" fire alarm necessitated a frantic phone call from the manager, who rushed up to our place, opened all the windows, cautioned me about frying, and very politely and discreetly tried to "fish" (no pun intended heehee) for more info (What was I cooking? Did I burn anything? Was the stove too hot? Did I know how to adjust the knob?). It drove me crazy. And this is what made us leave the smoky confines of our room to check out Chee Kei.

Back in Canada I couldn't fry fish too. The alarm went off more than once, in its unique shrill, ear-splitting manner, and as my Tito, mother-in-law and Derrick tried in vain to fan the alarm and disconnect it, I had to deal with my semi-fried fish, oil splatter and disappointed son. No noodle shop 5 minutes away to soothe our nerves and my son's grumbly tummy. All we had were good ol' Mickey D's, Church's Chicken, Wendy's, Applybee's Ribs, Me and Ed's Pizza Place, Panago Pizza (really scrumptious, if only I could afford the franchise), Arby's, KFC... we had to make do with burgers and fries (not on my list of favorite foods to eat when in a bad mood, or any mood, for that matter, unless it's gourmet burger and crispy onion strings/rings).

Panago Pizza, now that is one Canadian resto I truly miss. Anchovies, shrimps, sun-dried tomatoes, 5-cheese, all the wonderful pizza toppings you can't find at your local Pizza Hut. The Real Canadian Superstore Deli also makes a mean take-home pizza. Thin-crust, smothered with pepperoni, blanketed with mozzarella, 8 slices of genuine pizza goodness for all of CAD 6.00 (HKD 40). None of the frozen boxes in Great or Wellcome can beat that. Come to think of it, not even the HKD45 personal pizza in O cafe or Wildfire comes close.

Speaking of Pizza (and Pasta), we tried Casa Nostra on Caine Road last Sunday. Out of curiosity, out of pity (it wasn't a SOHO staple, but looked quaint enough), out of hunger, and a hankering for Italian. Should've known we were in for a big disappointment when I read the lunch specials (fish frittata, or fish omelette the waitress had the temerity to announce, thereby rendering it mediocre; pepperoni pasta; rib-eye with fried egg, EGG???!!!!). Had carbonara (again, the specialty. i love ordering specialties. if they suck, then rest assured everything else on the menu will, too), which, while not fantastic, was better than average. A good-sized portion of fettucine was tossed with traditional egg, butter and bacon sauce. Very rich. Bolognese (CIBO rules!, need i say more?). Scampi with lemon sauce (faint, faint lemon taste, overcooked smallish shrimp). Noodles were al dente, which is a plus, but everything needed a dash of salt, pepper and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese to make them close to palatable. Never again.

Back to my humble lugaw and wonton noodles. slurp, slurp!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Why EVE was born

EVE is the acronym for the Epiphany Vocal Ensemble, a group of DB residents who happened to attend the choir-less 6 pm mass on Saturday evenings--on a not-so-regular basis. Think "thinking Catholic" Lilith Fair types. We were quite happy going to church whenever we felt like, until:

. . . Member A needed an outlet for the following: (1) her anger and resentment towards people who lump all Filipino women into the "low-life" box, because Master Yoda says (hahaha), Fear is the path of the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering; and (2) an inexplicable creative surge.

. . . Member B wanted something to do besides work. An understatement.

. . . Member C wanted to be part of a group that harmonises, both musically and, erm, in other ways, too.

. . . Member D's 9-month-old daughter was recently hospitalised.

. . . Member L needed an activity to remind her about her ailing mother, and that she needs to pray.

. . . Member R has survived Stage 3 cancer.

. . . and Member V needed something else to do in Discovery Bay on weekends besides sleep.

For one hour on Saturdays, we find peace. :)

"When the universe opens up and presents...a gift, I grab it.
...Cast me gently into morning, for the night has been unkind."

- Sarah McLachlan, intro of and selected lyrics from "Answer," Afterglow Live CD/DVD