1.31.2016

candlelight. polenta.

It rained today. It was a quiet Sunday, just me and the girls at home. I lit a candle to try to counteract the gloominess. I had leftovers for breakfast/lunch (which made it not quite brunch, if you know what I mean). My siblings were here last night, and Nyan, with help from me and Ben, made, for the second time in... four years (!!!), Ottolenghi's mushroom and herb polenta. It was even better today than last night -- very good, but not mind-blowingly so, like the very first time we made it. I have a sneaking suspicion it was because we didn't follow the recipe closely (we put in half a cup more polenta than what was called for). We really knew better than to question Ottolenghi, but, alas.

candle on a rainy day mushroom & herb polenta

1.30.2016

randomness: road rage and upper-class squalor

Crazy Saturday morning of lone parent duty, driving the girls around (picking up and dropping off and picking up again and dropping off again) while Imo took Nacho to a soccer game in Riverside. I had a couple of close calls on the road -- well, not really, just entitled white men blasting their horns at Asian woman driver. (We have a reputation, you know. UGH.) The one that just happened, I was stopped at an intersection and this guy on a motorcycle loudly honked his stupid horn as he was crossing and gave me that "What the fuck?" hand gesture because he thought I was going to keep going and hit him. I returned the gesture and yelled I AM STOPPED, ASSHOLE. But my windows were rolled up and only Yumi could hear me. Poor Yumi. But how annoying. Anyway, it doesn't help that I am sleep-deprived and PMSing. I am not usually so foul-tempered on the road.

The reason I am sleep-deprived is that I stayed up much too late last night reading about Grey Gardens and the two eccentric Bouvier Beale women who lived there. I read this and this and this, among a slew of other articles, trying to look for answers. It's so fascinating. It's somewhat unfortunate that we came across the actual documentary only after having seen the "Sandy Passage" episode of Documentary Now! because now I can't look at Big and Little Edie without thinking of Fred Armisen and Bill Hader in drag. (Fred Armisen and Bill Hader are hilarious! I love them so much.) Anyway, I am totally captivated by the story of Grey Gardens because it's like Hoarders and Downton Abbey rolled in one.

1.26.2016

december made

Here are a few things that we made in December to give as presents -- to little cousins for their birthdays, and to family for Christmas.

presents for bubs
Tiny sleeping bags for these Lalaloopsy dolls for Bubs. I made them from fabric scraps, and they open up and all, with contrasting fabric inside.

our handmade gift for isaiah
An apron for Isaiah (whom we fondly call Cooc, because he makes everything Coo coo ca choo!), in keeping with my tradition of sewing little aprons for the kids in our family. (All the cousins have one! Although my kids have long outgrown theirs. Sniff.) I totally cracked myself up with my pun there, by the way.

air plants
And these clay hanging air planters, which the girls and I fashioned out of white air-dry clay and jute string, inspired by these beautiful porcelain ones from Knotwork LA.

air plant

1.25.2016

the light is shifting

and daylight hours are getting just a little bit longer. I'm glad for that.

late winter light bathroom candle

These are pictures of the bathroom, I took them because the light was different, for 4:30pm. That's something about moving to a new place -- discovering where the light falls in each new season. I wonder where the light will fall in the spring. Just one more new season, before it will be a year of living here.

And because these are pictures of the bathroom, and it's wintertime (although it doesn't look it -- especially in contrast to Jonas on the other side of the country right now, winter in SoCal looks almost silly -- but it certainly feels like it, at least to me, girl from the tropics), I am suddenly thinking about this poem by Sharon Olds:

True Love

In the middle of the night, when we get up
after making love, we look at each other in
complete friendship, we know so fully
what the other has been doing. Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down from a mountain,
bound with the tie of the delivery-room,
we wander down the hall to the bathroom, I can
hardly walk, I hobble through the granular
shadowless air, I know where you are
with my eyes closed, we are bound to each other
with huge invisible threads, our sexes
muted, exhausted, crushed, the whole
body a sex -- surely this
is the most blessed time of my life,
our children asleep in their beds, each fate
like a vein of abiding mineral
not discovered yet. I sit
on the toilet in the night, you are somewhere in the room,
I open the window and snow has fallen in a
steep drift, against the pane, I
look up, into it,
a wall of cold crystals, silent
and glistening, I quietly call to you
and you come and hold my hand and I say
I cannot see beyond it. I cannot see beyond it.

I'm pretty sure that I had posted this poem here before. But it must've been in one of those posts that I had accidentally deleted years ago when I was trying to give this blog a facelift. Anyhow, this poem, it still resonates with me.

1.22.2016

standing dinners

A recent thing in our house, the standing dinner, or the kitchen dinner, where I pretty much leave whatever I cooked on the stovetop or the kitchen counter and everyone serves him/herself when convenient. On weeknights recently it's become difficult to have to wait for everyone to sit down together and eat, so I figured I would stop stressing about it, and let people have dinner when they can. It's been working pretty well.

Anyway, I wanted to share a recipe for the baked chicken dish I prepared earlier this week (for a standing dinner). Also, I am writing it here because I am bound to forget, as I do with a number of recipes, which I really should start jotting down! This dish is perfect for a weeknight because you can assemble it in advance (the night before, or earlier in the day), keep it in the fridge, and then simply pop it in the oven. It's ready in 35-45 minutes.

baked chicken with lemon & thyme

Baked Chicken with Lemon and Thyme

5 to 7 pieces chicken thighs (or a large chicken, divided into pieces)
garlic powder
sea salt (I used French grey sea salt which is excellent!)
black pepper
fresh thyme, around 2 tbsp (dried will also do)
zest of one medium lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon (you can use the lemon that you zested)
olive oil
lemon wedges (slice the other half of the lemon that you zested)
1/3 cup white wine (or broth)

Pat dry the chicken thighs, place them in a baking dish (non-reactive glass or ceramic), and season generously with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Add the thyme, lemon zest and lemon juice. Drizzle with olive oil, just enough to coat the meat. Mix by hand to make sure that everything is evenly seasoned. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up in the baking dish, and tuck the lemon wedges in between the pieces. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and marinate in the fridge for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Remove plastic wrap. Drizzle white wine over the chicken. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the chicken is browned and cooked through. You may baste the chicken with the cooking juices in the middle of the baking process.

Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs and serve with rice and a green salad.

baked chicken with lemon & thyme

1.15.2016

#food

I am constantly thinking about food. Not because I am particularly food-obsessed (though I could be) but because the job of feeding this family has fallen primarily, if not solely, on me. (So much for the equal division of labor. Ha!) I am a little bit food-fatigued, to tell you the truth. Luckily, I do like to cook -- that is, cooking is one of those things that I care about doing well, even when it's a chore. (I don't feel the same way about laundry and vacuuming.) I do try my best to not let it become too much of a chore so I try to change things up around here to make the task interesting to me. So even though I get tired, I am at least never bored! Also, I am happy to report that, after all these years of cooking daily for this family, I work with ease and confidence in the kitchen. I didn't always know how to cook, but after being this home's main kusinera for eight hardcore years and counting, I am legit.

beef salpicao pasta with yogurt, peas and chile broiled trout smoked herring, capers, tomatoes & arugula pasta porkchop beef in oyster sauce with mushrooms and broccolini beef rib sinigang

Too legit to quit.

LOL.

It's funny that now that my kids are older, they suddenly care about what's for dinner. "Mommy, what's for dinner?" is a question that simultaneously amuses and exasperates me. I hardly ever plan a menu, which I guess is both a good and a bad thing -- good because it keeps me creative and spontaneous in the kitchen, and bad because it is freaking tiring to have to think about what to cook every freaking day. Luckily, I do get a reprieve at least once a week in the form of (1) eating out, (2) take out food, or (3) instant food.

Here is a list of my go-to instant meals:

pasta & pasta sauce from a jar (or plain butter & grated parmesan)
frozen meals from Trader Joe's (our favorites are the packaged Indian food: samosas, naan, palak paneer, lamb vindaloo; we also like their chicken shu mai)
rice & furikake & fried egg (and when we're feeling fancy, frozen unagi)
cold soba & soba dipping sauce (also from a jar -- though I do add fresh grated daikon and green onions) & roasted seaweed
grilled cheese sandwiches
microwaveable (i.e. fully-cooked and frozen) chicken wings (usually with leftover rice and mixed salad greens)
IKEA meatballs & gravy
reheated leftovers (we don't have a lot of this; I avoid cooking large amounts of anything because nobody wants to eat adobo for three straight days; I also concede to the fact that having the time to cook every day is a privilege)
spam (with rice, or musubi, if we're feeling fancy)

and instant meals that my kids can make for themselves:

ramen
mac & cheese
cereal with milk (haha)

Anyway, for all those other days when I actually cook, it's helpful to keep a well-stocked fridge and pantry. On our monthly trips to Costco, I get a variety of meat that I can prepare in different ways. These days, I always have in my freezer beef chuck roast (I cube them for stewing, or use whole in a pot roast), pork shoulder or ribs, chicken thighs (bone-in), whole fish (usually trout) or a fish fillet (salmon). To change things up, sometimes I get lamb chops, ribeye steaks, pork belly, shrimp, ground chicken. When we're able to go to the Asian market, then I get to buy even more kinds of fish and seafood: pampano, sole, squid, clams; as well as special cuts of meat such as thin-sliced ribeye and pork belly (for shabu shabu) and beef bones (for nilaga).

sauteeing garlic, onions, chard stems in bacon fat & olive oil making irish-style nilaga. haha.

As for vegetables, I buy them as needed -- but I make sure to always have a bag of fresh greens (spinach and baby kale are especially versatile) and whole carrots, and also frozen veggies like fine green beans and petite peas. It also helps that we get a monthly CSA box delivered to our door! I make a conscious effort to serve a balanced meal all the time, but often, after all the rich dishes I've had to prepare in a week (it's a Filipino household after all -- they want their RICE and ULAM), my body just craves something light and fresh, so I try to have "vegetarian night" every once in a while. Needless to say, our food budget is $$$. Still, it beats having to spend $$$$$ on eating out. Also, I am damn good at not wasting any food. I have mastered the art of using up leftovers and cleaning out the fridge. Thank you very much.

spinach, parmesan, egg white scramble shabu shabu no. 2

Over the years, I've learned certain things and ways of doing things in the kitchen that I now swear by. Here are a few of them:

Vinegar is the ingredient that makes adobo adobo. Use more vinegar than soy sauce. Use vinegar.

And since we're on the topic of adobo, the technique of twice-cooking makes for better adobo. That is, first, simmer the meat in the sauce, and then bake it (in the pot, uncovered) at 450 in the oven until the edges of the meat are beautifully golden brown and crisp.

cooking adobo in my new braiser :)

Twice-cooking is also the way to go for a number of dishes: binagoongan (boil the meat to soften then saute in garlic, onions, lots of tomatoes, bagoong), kaldereta (sear the meat first like you would for beef bourguignon, deglaze the pot with red wine, then stew, using diced tomatoes, not tomato paste!), sisig (thrice-cooking, in this case: boil, saute, crisp in the oven), steak (bake at low heat, rest, then sear on the stove top).

Use fresh garlic. It is worth the small effort to peel and chop or crush fresh garlic for sauteing.

Instead of salt, use patis to season tinola and sinigang.

Use sea salt instead of table salt for seasoning whole meats and fish for baking or roasting or grilling.

Roast your veggies! Carrots, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, fennel, broccoli, squash, artichokes... Season them with salt and pepper and fresh herbs, drizzle with lots of good olive oil, and roast in a very hot oven (or on the stove top in a very hot cast iron pan!) until they are tender and charred/caramelized at the edges.

roasted curried romanesco & cauliflower pan-roasted carrots roasted fennel roasted artichokes

ALWAYS serve veggies.

A large cast iron skillet and an enameled cast iron dutch oven are excellent cooking tools. You can use them on the stove top, in the oven, on the grill. They retain heat so well and are therefore perfect for searing and slow cooking.

Growing your own herbs is a worthwhile undertaking.

Try that strange new vegetable/fruit in the CSA box or at the farmers market. Experiment with alternative ingredients (especially when what is called for isn't readily available).

But never question Ottolenghi.

1.01.2016

holiday wrap-up 2015

As usual, just like that, the holidays are over! Well, technically, not quite yet, because today is New Year's Day, and the TV is on with the replay broadcast of this morning's Rose Parade (though no one is watching), but to me, they feel over. I am looking forward to taking down the tree and purging stuff to donate to the Salvation Army. I am looking forward to the rest of the year: more photography work (hopefully), Asha's performance in the 5th grade musical (she has been working so hard!), going to see Wicked, trips out of town, competitive gymnastics season and the girls completely healing from their injuries.

Except for the days leading up to Christmas Eve, winter break has been quiet, if not lazy. After the tree-decorating and the gift-making and gift-wrapping and all the Noche Buena preparations (we hosted a party this year), there wasn't much to do but stay at home and lounge around in our pajamas. Actually, we didn't feel much like doing anything. It's been very cold here, with temperatures dropping to the mid 30's. I don't know why our family's energy levels were low this holiday season -- we couldn't even get ourselves to throw a New Year's Eve party like we've done the past few years, with costumes and dancing. Anyway, I think we managed with the minimum merry-making requirements.

decorating the treedecorating the tree wrapping presents setting up dancingcheese table rib roast isaiah, ben, imodinner table l, pj, a, d, j, j, c chocolate cake & berries nacho opens a presenta present for baby bear too daddy helps asha a present from yumi to kuya nachoa drum lesson from tito don asha yumi nacho & imo 2016

Onwards, 2016!

12.23.2015

zion

It was our longest road trip so far, spanning four states: California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah. I had never seen a canyon before in my life. It was so beautiful. I was completely unprepared for it. I couldn't stop taking pictures, even though I knew my pictures wouldn't give justice to all that beauty.

zion zion canyon virgin river yellow maple leaves dusted with snow

We saw deer (a lot of deer), wild turkeys (lucky ones that escaped Thanksgiving haha), bison.

buck waiting to cross the road bison (aka american buffalo)

We also ate bison. The bison burger at Zion Mountain Ranch was delicious. I am still thinking about it.

my half of a bison burger

It was so cold, sometimes temperatures would drop below freezing.

ice frozen vegetation night sky from the deck

The deck would be covered in frost at night, but it was cozy inside the cabin. It was an awesome cabin. It fit all of us!

warm(ish) inside "studying" in the great room at cheers ulit *Let me just mention here that Utah is Mormon country. We didn't know that it was illegal to bring in alcohol. Ack. Also, there was this white girl at the Zion Park Visitor Center who started conversing with us in Tagalog. She said she did her missionary work in the Philippines and was there for 18 months. 18 frikkin months and she could speak Tagalog. I brought her over to talk to Nacho so that she could put him to shame. We should've taken a video.

We were always congregating in the kitchen. There was always delicious food -- relyenong bangus, adobo, kilawing puso ng saging, atchara, champorado, tuyo, pansit, longganisa, tocino, pinangat -- we had that house smelling like a Filipino home in no time! We celebrated Thanksgiving, and also Lea's and Mom's birthdays.

singing happy birthday blowing out the candle

There was lots of playtime indoors --

more slidingcracking herself up playing story cubes with tita dada & ate asha crazy eights

And outdoors --

the girls playing with snow (actually, ice) yoga/karate/gorilla poses

Our extended-family vacations are always kind of crazy, but we have the best time! (Props to Baloo, Irving, and Lea, who organized everything! Whew.)

family! photo taken by tito ben