Friday, November 28, 2008

Gift Ideas: Artesana Travel Journals

Follow this link for ordering details.

What these are are travel journals. You know how it is when you travel, and you collect the ephemera like tickets, cafe napkins and the like, and then you take a gazillion of photos. All these with the lofty ambition of creating a scrapbook when you get back. Then you get back and reality bites and you have to make up for your absence by working on a backlog of personal and job tasks. Scrapbooking dreams forgotten relegated to the chest of broken dreams. Well, this is the solution. Bring your journal with you. Paste your mementos and postcards while you're in the airport waiting lounge. Draw sketches. Write down your observations and ooh-ahh musings. All you have to do when you get back is to paste on your photos. Or if you're too lazy to even do that, just save your electronic pics into a cd and store that in the attached envelop. Your memories are saved. You minimize the self harassment. Your ephemera's organized. And you feel like a real scrapbooking and journaling diva.

Click here for ordering details. Read more!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars)

379 Pinatubo Street, Clarkview Subdivision, AngelesCity, Pampanga

Based on one past dining experience at this place, I had high expectations. Obviously from the rating, the expectations were not met. The tuna chowder on the pic was the one saving grace and added one star to the rating. The rest of the meal was underwhelming. The pork sausages had a funky, no-personality taste to it. And the buffalo wings were sad, really sad. My husband ordered chili, and I was envious of his food. To think, I hate chili beans.

It was also irritating to have a lot of the service staff come in late, disheveled, go into the washroom, and emerge with their hair dry and make-up on. It felt like I was watching a waitress vendo machine.

After having said all that, I might give this place another chance when I'm in the mood. Maybe the veterans were just having bad WW2 flashbacks. Read more!

Lemon Grass Vietnamese-Thai Culinary Treasures

Level 1, Ayala Food & Entertainment Center Cebu

Memories of Hanoi dining drive me to be in constant search for authentic Vietnamese food here in the Philippines. Funny that I find some degree of satisfaction in a mall in Cebu. The truth is to enjoy the food, I had to forget the authenticity factor and just accept that the only way I can recapture all that is to get on a plane to Vietnam. With that factor gone, I was free to enjoy the food offered at Lemon Grass and judge them by their own flavors. And in all fairness, I really loved the flavors; the banh xeo is a must-try. The presentation added many points to the dining experience - the rice was fancily wrapped in banana leaf. And the sticky rice and mango ending came very close to my expectations.

I hope they would have a Metro Manila branch soon. Read more!

Abaseria Deli & Cafe

39-B Pres. Roxas St. Villa Aurora, Kasambagan, Cebu City

If I were to open a restaurant, Abaseria would be a one of my models. Homey ambience to go with homecooked meals. Eclectic furniture. Lots of character with a healthy amount of kitsch. You can take the clan with you for family style dining on the long tables; or catch up with a girlfriend in an intimate corner; or, like me, dine alone with a book. Chances are, though, you'll forget about your book because the cafe doubles up as a shop for export quality Cebu-made bling, bags, and home accessories.

I've forgotten what I've ordered. Based on the picture, I seem to remember having wild rice, a lemony adobo sauce on ribs, okra with sesame seeds and nori. Homemade flavors, but with enough twists so they are not quite what manang makes at home.

When you're done eating, you can check out the baubles, sold at very reasonable prices. They were even nice enough to bring me to the nearby factory to buy more. The only thing that kept me from going berserk shopping were the facts that my bags were already jampacked with dangit and chicharon and I was flying off in a couple of hours.
Read more!


Royal Garden Estate, Friendship Circumferential Road, Angeles City, Pampanga

I'm hardput to remember a Valentine's night out with my husband. He'd buy me the best floral arrangement his money could buy and make sure it's delivered where and when there would be the highest concentration of people to witness the delivery. He'd give me some expensive bauble, he'd treat me to a spa treatment even if I didn't need one, just don't make him be out there with those pathetic, soppy couples out celebrating the cheesiest occasion invented by man.

But this year, we had a candlelit dinner at an Italian restaurant. Okay, it was a business meeting with 2 other couples, but still.

Cioccolo serves more than just Italian food though. And most of us had non-italian dishes. We started off with deepfried balut, which to me was the best dish of the night. It was also the only dish that didn't take an hour to be served. Okay, the menu described my order as 10-hour roasted ribs, but I didn't know that was to be taken literally. The dishes eventually arrived, and at least they were good. Or we were just too hungry that even the soles of our havaiannas (yes, casual attire is welcome) would taste scrumptious. The ribs were tender and the barbecue sauce just right. My husband ordered grilled lengua; I've never had grilled lengua before and didn't even know that was done. It was good; made mental note to try that at home.

Cioccolo serves a variety of coffees , including Jamaican coffee, Illy, and alamid (I gasped a little when I saw someone drowning the premium alamid coffee with copious amounts of creamer - you gotta go black!). In this day of roll your eyes up and go to heaven desserts, their Oreo cheesecake was just okay.

Even if the place was huge and the diners many, the place still had that warm, intimate feel; thanks to the well designed lighting and the fine furniture. My seat afforded a view of artfully arranged, gigantic cabbage roses, which surprisingly were fresh and real. If you're ever in the area, this place is worth a try, valentine's day or not.
Read more!


Fields Avenue, Pampanga

Subdelicious sounds like a really bad name for a restaurant. It sounds like the food is just this short of delicious. A totally unfair description of the food. Because the buffalo wings are really good. Something I always look forward to when we go to Pampanga. If we hear of anyone going to that area, we tell them to try out the wings. Even the locals did not know about it, and my husband has invited lots of them to the place. We were one of those happy consumers providing them free word of mouth advertising.

You can order the wings mild, regular, or spicy. Of course, we went for the spicy, which is tempered by the blue cheese cream dip. The restaurant is known more for its hoagies and submarine sandwiches, but I didn't care much about the Philly Cheese Steak Sub; not bad, but I prefer my beef rarer and sliced thicker.

It must be a happening place at night with the billiards and the jukebox. That lunchtime, though, there were just a few of us enjoying the place and the buffalo wings. We were on our last pieces... this after telling my husband that the 20-piece order was too much. And then, my husband accidentally dropped one onto the floor. And this is where the jukebox music suddenly jumps and screeches to a halt and the happy dream scene is over. Because seconds later a mouse runs from under my booth chair and grabs the piece of chicken. Of course, I let out a mini-scream, and just got as far away from that booth as possible. I tried not to make a scene and just waited for the bill to be paid. At this point, I was agonizing, thinking maybe I should just ignore the mickey sighting, and just give them a positive review because I really liked the food, and I didn't want to be nasty, I mean after all Ratatouille has opened the minds of people to rodents touching their fine cuisine. But the nightmare didn't end just then. The manager started asking, more like interrogating my husband about why I was taking pictures. Like this is the first time in history that people have taken pictures in restaurants. I don't want to bore you with the exchange, but I was trying to explain that I was promoting their restaurant so my friends would try them out, but she was mouthing all these obnoxious lines like, "We're all Filipinos here, okay. When QTV and GMA filmed here, they asked permission. We're not stupid; that is a professional camera." I really didn't, and still don't, understand what the fuss was about. It's not as if we can steal their secret recipes by taking photos. We were not doing anything wrong and this woman was blabbing on and on doing more damage to her restaurant than to us. In exasperation and disgust my husband mentioned the mouse, and this woman had the temerity to say with a straight face, "That's normal. All restaurants have rats." Okay, I'm trying not to get upset as I write this so I'll stop the happy reminiscing. Bottom line, I'm going to miss those wings because I'll never ever go to that place of substandard sanitation ever again. I'm not going to stop you from going, though. Just make sure that if you go, you don't drop any food on the floor, sit with your feet on the chair, and be ready with a mayor's permit if you want to take pictures.
Read more!

Patpat's Kansi

8809 Sampalo St. near cor. Kamagong St. Makati City

You've just had your annual medical checkup. Blood pressure good. Everything else unremarkable. It's now time to live a little and clog those arteries with a flavorful dose of 100% cholesterol goodness. Behind the Metrobank branch at Kamagong (diagonally across Suzukin) is this no-a/c but breezy set up frequented by the office lunch crowd. There's not a lot in the menu. The no-fun sissies who love giving you guilt trips order the boneless bangus (125 pesos), the health-conscious opt for kansi laman (95 pesos) and the carpe diemers go for the piece de resistance, the kansi bulalo (80 pesos). Seize the day, and your aorta, with about 4 lovely tablespoonfuls of marrow slush guaranteed to expedite your entry to heaven, physically and metaphysically. Bring that googled article from the mayo clinic that says coca cola can corrode metail; if it can do that then it can melt all that fat. Down the coke with lipitor bites. Eat this while you're young. Or when you're old enough and too far gone to say it's too late to start eating healthy. Read more!


45 Mercer St # A
New York, NY 10013
(212) 343-9012

I'm going to rave, and no one can stop me. I was a fan of Cendrillon even before I got there by virtue of the book published by its owners and chefs, Romy Dorotan and Amy Besa. Memories of Philippine Kitchens is a beautiful book because of the stories and Neil Oshima's pictures. When I found out that lunch at the Cendrillon was part of my relatives' itinerary, I was ecstatic. Of course, being all that excited heightened the danger of the high expectations not being matched by the actual dining experience. I've heard mixed reviews, the bad ones mostly from Filipinos. Well, I don't know what those bad reviewers ordered, but I was happy, happy, happy with everything about

the restaurant. The location was fabulous, with chic shops lining Mercer Street. (The Gourmet Garage some steps away, one of Heath Ledger's stops on his last day alive, is a toys r' us for domestic divas like me. The olive selection (with taste test) rivals Zabar's.) The interiors - - global with strong Filipino touches. The food! The food! Filipino fusion without trying too hard to be fusion, and trying too hard to be Filipino. Amazing, sublime twists on the lumpia and the ukoy.

As soon as I get the chance, I'm going to go back.
Read more!

Bistro Filipino Chef Laudico

Ground Level Net 2 Bldg, 3rd Ave. Bonifacio Global City

A fine restaurant. Great interiors. A good example of Filipino fusion. We got the sampler dinner - 7 courses, 12 dishes, all paced out just right so that your stomach can adjust to the next course. Notable were the shitake soup and the tuna ceviche.

What kept it from getting five stars is that the food was somewhat overflavored. Too saucy. I mean, wagyu beef does not need much help except for the subtlest of flavors, but Chef Laudico's rendition had it smothered in red sauce; it tasted just like your lola's kaldereta. Good, but you just want to scrape the sauce all off to taste how wagyu really tastes.

Check out our photos of our Christmas Eve dinner:

Note: I gave this 4 stars after our Christmas dinner, but after another dinner last June, I'm promoting this to 5 stars. The dinner was exceptional. Loved the shitake mushroom puree, the blue cheese mashed potato, the duck patotim, the adobo overload! Read more!


2277 Chino Roces Ave. Makati City

Little Tokyo is a wonderful surprise in an area better known (or notorious) for pirated DVDs. It's nice to walk around the courtyard to choose the Japanese restaurant that will be to your liking and within your budget. Tucked away in there are a number of Japanese restaurants all frequented by Japanese expats, so you know they're good and authentic. But if budget's not an issue, then you don't even need to enter the courtyard. Fronting the deeveedee deeveedee den is Seryna. Ambience is cozy, with a low ceiling and interesting decor of rich wood and slate. The food's excellent. I've never met a sashimi I didn't like so it's a given that their sashimi platters would be delightful. The sukiyaki uses fresh top-grade ingredients. The uni (sea urchin) tempura is melt-in-your mouth, eyeballs-roll-up good. Service is tops! The server even discouraged us from ordering a second order of Sukiyaki unless we're sure we could finish the generous serving of the first one. She said she didn't want to see good food go to waste. The only negative point is the unisex washroom. It's quite clean, but I have a personal aversion to unisex restrooms. But that's just me. Overall, this is one of the city's best Japanese restaurants. I'm going back for the uni! Read more!

BLUE LIKE JAZZ by Donald Miller

“I don’t think you can explain how Christian faith works either. It is a mystery. And I love this about Christian spirituality. It cannot be explained, and yet it is beautiful and true. It is something you feel, and it comes from the soul.”

I wish I had read this book sooner in my Christian walk. It would have spared me so much guilt and anxiety for thinking the way I thought, feeling the way I felt, as somebody who was still working out how this faith thing works out.

“The goofy thing about Christian Faith is that you believe it and don’t believe it at the same time. It isn’t unlike having an imaginary friend. I believe in Jesus; I believe He is the Son of God, but every time I sit down and explain this to somebody I feel like a palm reader, like somebody who works at a circus or a kid who is always making things up or somebody at a Star Trek convention who hasn’t figured out the show isn’t real.”

Blue Like Jazz is the coolest Christian book I’ve read; and it didn’t have to use edgy fonts; skate and surf jargon; and Bono to make it cool. It’s not religious. It’s not fire and brimstone. It is not hard sell. Not like how I could be when trying to “sell” the idea of my faith, as if I were selling Amway. I want to be like Miller’s friend, Nadine.

“The thing I loved about Nadine was that I never felt like she was selling anything. She would talk about God as if she knew Him, as if she had talked to Him on the phone that day. She was never ashamed, which is the thing with some Christians I had encountered. They felt like they had to sell God, as if He were soap or a vacuum cleaner, and it’s like they really weren’t listening to me; they didn’t care, they just wanted me to buy their product… To Nadine, God was a being with which she interacted, and even more, Nadine believed that God likes her. I thought that was beautiful. And more than that, her faith was a spiritual thing that produced a humanitarianism that was convincing.”

Miller is not a theologian so this book offers no dissection of the faith or deep biblical analysis. What it has to say about the Word is just a description of Miller’s own experience:

“I would lie on my bedroom floor, reading my Bible, going at the words for hours, all of them strong like arms wrapped tightly around my chest. It seems as though the words were alive with minds and motions of their own, as though God were crawling thoughts inside my head for guidance, comfort, and strength… The truths of the Bible were magic, like messages from heaven, like enchanting codes that offered power over life, a sort of power that turned sorrow to joy, hardship to challenge, and trial to opportunity… I seemed to have been provided answers to questions I had yet to ask, questions that God sensed or had even instilled in the lower reaches of my soul.”

This book has the feel of Catcher in the Rye when it talks about weird Christians with their bigotry, their parroted slogans, God infomercials, and Democrat-bashing ways that incite anger among and outside the church. He offers alternatives to these attitudes: First to pray that God shows you a church filled with people who share your interests and values, then to go to the church God shows you, and then not to hold grudges against any other churches because God loves those churches almost as much as He loves yours. In other words, Miller endorses God’s message of loving others, taking God as our model of love.

“To be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously.”

Miller talks about life, purpose, persecution, salvation, Savior:

“I know a little of why there is blood in my body, pumping life into my limbs and thoughts into my brain. I am wanted by God. He is wanting to preserve me, to guide me through the darkness of the shadow of death, up into the highlands of His presence and afterlife. I understand that I am temporary, in this shell of a thing on this dirt of an earth. I am being tempted by Satan, we are all being tempted by Satan, but I am preserved to tell those who do not know about our Savior and Redeemer. This is why Paul had no question. This is why he could be beaten one day, imprisoned the next, and released only to be beaten again and never ask God why. He understood the earth was fallen. He understood the rules of Rome could not save mankind, that mankind could not save itself; rather it must be rescued.”

Of evangelism:

“I could feel God’s love for him. I loved the fact that it wasn’t my responsibility to change somebody, that it was God’s, that my part was just to communicate love and approval.”

Of God’s love:

“Jesus didn’t love me out of principle; He didn’t just love me because it was the right thing to do. Rather, there was something inside me that caused Him to love me.”

But with this caveat:

“God’s love will never change us if we don’t accept it.”

Don says of our love for God:

“I think the most important thing that happens within Christian spirituality is when a person falls in love with Jesus.”

Of faith:
“My belief in Jesus does not seem rational or scientific, and yet there was nothing I could do to separate myself from this belief.”

Why Jazz?

“Christian spirituality is like jazz music. I think loving Jesus is something you feel. I think it is something very difficult to get on paper. But it is no less real, no less meaningful, no less beautiful. The first generation out of slavery invented jazz music. And that is the closest thing to Christian spirituality. A music birthed out of freedom.”

Miller talks about a decision that the human heart needs to make. It’s a decision that would determine how the rest of one’s story turns out. I think this book, in the hands of somebody with an open mind and ready heart, can help people make that decision.

“Your life is not your own, but you have been bought with a price.”
Read more!

STYLE by Kate Spade

For the holy week, I had planned to read something that was not required reading. Nothing that was remotely related to my line of work. Nothing that everybody else was reading that I had to read so as not to feel out of place in dinner conversations. Nothing life-changing, mind-boggling, or gut-wrenching. In other words, I was in serious need of fluff.

And fluff was had.

Simon & Schuster’s Style, by designer cum author kate spade, is the perfect no-brainer book to decompress after one of the most stressful months of my 40-year life. No IQ cells were disturbed in the delightful process of reading. No brows knit. No thoughts provoked. No worldviews challenged. No words looked up at And there were pretty pictures too!

Reading all 109 pages of this book felt like those ditzy gab-fests with girlfriends talking about feminine products, childhood crushes, and favorite Oprah episodes.

Kate writes about her style influences – Diana Vreeland, Bjork; Jane Austen, Dr. Seuss; Picasso, Andy Warhol; movies like Annie Hall, The Royal Tenenbaums. She doesn’t really try to teach anyone about style, since she (and husband Andy; and language masters Strunk and White) thinks that style is achieved by affecting none. So, instead, she just shares her own style – what she packs for a trip to Mexico or Kansas; her favorite colors, and with what she pairs them with; what she wears to work, to play, to a party, in winter, spring; her favorite accessories. The last chapter shares practical tips for organizing closets and caring for clothes and jewelry.

People don’t normally believe it when I say I’m not into brands. Yet it’s true. I’m no fashion victim, wanting to have the latest must-have brands. I’m not going to spend one month’s salary (or my husband’s salary) for a monogrammed Louis Vuitton. Jimmy Choos won’t exactly make me squeal with delight if the fit is bad on my farmer-proportioned feet and the styling does not make me feel, “me.” I’ll be equally happy with a tiangge-find no-brand plastic tote as with a Coach original. Okay, that’s not true. But what I’m trying to say is the brand is not the main thing. Brands, to me, are merely clues to good buys. They just make shopping a bit easier as they lead me to stores where I can find certain types of items at the required level of quality.

I’m no brand junkie, yet, I have this healthy obsession with Kate Spade. She is, to a degree, my style icon. I like what she represents – a lifestyle of enjoying what is beautiful, expressive, distinct, stylish.

Kate’s style is far from mine. She does not wear t-shirts; I live in them. She can wear yellow; the only time I wore yellow was to our high school reunion and only because that was the theme. Kate’s favorite fonts are baskerville and futura; mine is trebuchet. She likes full skirts; I have child-bearing hips that forever preclude such items from my wardrobe. But this book inspires me to define my own style. Not by plagiarizing other people’s style, but by opening myself to the world around me – to books, movies, art, travel, people that move me.

After reading this book, I conclude that sometimes, fluff is good for the soul.

P.S. Thanks, Sana, for giving me this book.
Read more!

SLEEPLESS IN MANILA, Funny Essays, etc., on Insomnia by Insomniacs

Edited by Cristina Pantajo Hidalgo

I stupidly thought I could check out the new bookstore in Galleria – Bestsellers by National Book Store – without giving in to the shopping monster in me. Then I saw this book. On insomnia by insomniacs. Of course, I had to have it.

The back cover says that 10-15% of the world’s population have severe chronic insomnia, and an additional 25-30% have transient or occasional insomnia. I don’t know which category I belong to. Doesn’t matter. The book is about me. I can’t sleep when I’m supposed to sleep, meaning at night on the bed. Though if you put me in any moving vehicle – car, bus, train, boat, calesa, I can sleep in a matter of seconds. In planes, I can even sleep before take-off. Maybe I was deprived of motherly baby-rocking; but I digress too much.

I am halfway through the book. Not the best time to write a review on it. But I’ve had it happen often enough. I would be reading a book and I would nurture the ambition of posting a review on it. Then when I’m done reading I put the book close to the computer so I’ll remember to write the review. Then tinginingnginingngining… that’s the sound effect to represent a long time lapse, the cinematic ellipse… 6 months later I have to clear the book(s) away from the computer table to give me elbow space. By then, I would have forgotten what about the book I wanted to share with the world wide who-cares. Countless book reviews have jumped from my to-do list to my forget-it-it-will-never-get-done-you-pathetic-procrastinator-you list. Again, I digress.

Most of the essays, poems, factoids, short stories in the collection were probably written during the dreaded insomniac hours. Except for the piece written by Vince Groyon, whose name is on my top ten list of reasons why I am too insecure to write for a living. He says insomniac writing produces for him “jumbled, incoherent mass of words that just gets folded away deep in the pages of a notebook.” I can relate. My insomniac hours enable me to copiously produce PowerPoint slides so I can conduct corporate training for a living. But rarely do they help me write anything of show-off value.

The piece I can relate to the most is the one I finished minutes ago. Alex Almario contemplates on doing away with the useless bed. The floor would serve a better purpose for pacing back and forth. I cannot do that, of course, because getting rid of the bed would mean divorce from my husband. Besides, when I do get to sleep I enjoy deep, long ones. But I get exactly what he means.

In Alex’s hours of restlessness, all his insecurities turn up and decide to hold a convention in his head. I know that feeling of random, uncontrollable ideas deciding to hold powwows in my head. It’s not always about insecurities though. Sometimes I obsess visualizing my dream house and the pantone color swatches, various pieces of furniture, facades of Frank Lloyd Wright houses just march in and out of my brain. Or I play out in my head all the things I have to do that overwhelm me. All the big pending projects. I try to break them down into manageable chunks like they teach you how to do in time management classes, but then I do such a good job of breaking them down into little pieces and then the many details overwhelm me and I can’t sleep. Sometimes the thoughts are similar to rudderless, 25-year-old Alex’s musings: what will I do with the rest of my life; is it pointless to dream; how can I impress my classmates in the next high school reunion; when will I ever wear size 6 jeans again?

Aha, now I get why my book reviews never get written. I don’t know squat about book reviews. This piece is turning out to be an indulgent, all-about-me blog entry. It’s noontime. I had 9 hours of sleep. I don’t have an excuse for this drivel.

Let me just end with Alex’s last 2 paragraphs, which struck a chord in me:

“I’ve been trying too hard to fight this problem, to no avail. The logical next step is to quit fighting it. Embracing this sleeping disorder is a very new-age, self-help-guru thing to do. When life gives you a lemon… (all together now, in a dorky, math-club-president voice) make lemonade! Those who can sleep have no time for greatness. While they’re wasting away hours of their lives buried under their pillows, I will be wide-eyed and restless making history. I will write the Great Filipino Novel. I will find the cure for cancer. I will find an alternative energy source. I will figure out the meaning of life.

‘I really need to get some sleep.”
Read more!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Rest From the Moving,

I have been busy transferring reviews from my multiply site. And now, I just want to rest a bit and say something from the present.

A blog visitor led me to the sites of scrapbookers here at blogspot and elsewhere. And I was amazed at the talent of Pinay scrapbookers. That was something I tried to get into many years ago. Bought the books and scissors and bag, the whole shebang, but so far I've produced very little. The only time I get to complete a project is when it has to be used for a special event and usually the thing goes to somebody else, which means I have nothing to show for it.

My top 3 excuses:
- No working space
- No time
- Expensive photo printing costs

Real reasons:
- Procrastination
- Laziness
- Fear of the mess
- Fear of coming up with ugly stuff
- Expensive photo printing costs

But the creative journaling workshop got me in the mood. And that may be a slow start to eventually get into something bigger like scrapbooking. I need to conquer my fears too. And I will. And I need to solve my procrastination habit. I will. Tomorrow.

Read more!


Maga Center, Paseo de Magallanes and Fort

We enter a crowded resto. We sit on the no-nonsense chairs, more comfortable than aesthetic, around an old skool formicaesque table. We almost do not have to look at the menu, as our orders will be the no-brainer, "the usual." For me, it is binagoongang liempo. For my husband, the crispy beef ribs. We add a tall glass of maiz con hielo that reminds me of summers when my mom would hoard cans of creme style corn and our yayas would work out their bicep muscles churning crushed ice on demand. All time favorites. No surprises. No nouveau twists. No pretensions. In an ambiance that does not require prettying up. Just food that tells you that there are places you can run to when you want the world to be familiar, simple, and real.

Now, THAT is comfort food!
Read more!


Unit 1512 Forbeswood Heights, Rizal Drive corner Burgos Circle, Fort Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

If your restaurant or culinary repertoire has no clear, cohesive concept, do not be tempted to label it as comfort food. You will just give yourself a standard that will be too difficult to meet. You're setting yourself up for failure if you take on the responsibility to relax frazzled nerves, mend broken psyches, and warm up cold hearts. Your adobo has to taste exactly like how Lola Pacing or Yaya Sabel cooked it. And you better have blizzard-consistency champorado with a can of Alaska evaporated milk by the side so I can use the milk to write my name on the porridge.

From the outside, in the dining spaces done in posh but generic zen, to the ultra uncomfortable chairs, there is nothing about Basilio's that says, Come to mama and have some comfort food. What clues you in on the all-too-subtle concept is the 500-page essay on the menu that describes comfort food as "not fusion," no pretensions, but with just a little twist from the usual. Okay, that confuses, not comforts me.

Then you look at the dishes on the list and you think, these look like fusion, but you're not sure exactly what categories and cultures are being fused.

So anyway, never mind the concept. Let's just eat.

I like the bite size foccacia bread. The butter was delicious, reminding me of a Geneva breakfast where I tasted the freshest, best butter I've ever had. My husband shattered the mystery and delusions of exotic when he pointed out one of the butter packets marked by a price sticker from Price Mart.

Then, appetizers. Always searching the best buffalo wings in the metro, we ordered the wings. (Sorry, I didn't take notes so I won't be using the official menu names.) Don't believe the menu photo; the real servings are more generous. It was underwhelmingly okay. Not bad. Mildly spicy. Effective in staving hunger pangs as we waited for our friend to arrive. The blue cheese dressing was in portion controlled quantity though, but you can always request for more.

I ordered what the waiter referred to as the bestseller - the beef and mushroom pot pie. Imagining that a comfort food rendition of this dish would have thick, gooey, creamy beef stew inside. And the dish comes and it looks fabulous, with the pastry top crust nicely puffed up ala souffle. The fun ends there because inside, the sauce was rather sad and thin - imagine a can of Campbell soup diluted with 3 cans of water. The best thing going for it was it was steaming hot, leaving a burn that numbed my tongue for 3 days. Generous on the mushroom, which I loved, but hello, where's the beef? Isn't it that the rule of first mention is that in a dish called beef and mushroom, there should be more beef than mushroom? Okay, I made up that rule, but the price seemed to warrant more cow carcass than fungi, no matter how good tasthing the fungus variety is.

My friend's 50 or was it 30-clove garlic chicken is comfortingly tasty, but it was just a couple of notches above SM's rotisserie chicken. Okay, 3 notches. At twice the price.

My husband's comfort food was fish and chips. Not very memorable, except that it was too oily.

I hesitated to order the macaroni and cheese, another bestseller, because I just had baked mac at a workshop catered by the BSP canteen, and I would hate it if the cafeteria edition is better than this 300+peso version. But I couldn't resist so we ordered it, center served it, and shared it among the 3 of us. Now, that was good macaroni and cheese. Most mac & cheese versions use fake cheese of the quickmelt family, but this had sharp cheddar and it was several notches above the cafeteria variety. No regrets ordering this.

The saving grace of the meal was the dessert. The molten chocolate cake was exquisite - dark and just the right balance of sweet and bitter. Delish!

All in all, not a bad meal. None of the dishes were awful, with the molten chocolate cake and the mac & cheese as winners. But any little comfort derived from the food was immediately wiped out by the bill -- when we subtract the price of the bottle of merlot, there was still more than 2 grand to settle among the 3 of us. Gosh, I needed comforting after that.

Read more!



I thought I would never get to eat at Abe's. For some reason, every attempt to eat there has always been thwarted by uncontrollable circumstances, by difficulty to reserve, or by being outvoted for other resto choices.

What rice shortage? Abe lets you forget about the food crisis as servers go around with pretty native wicker baskets lined with banana leaves as they serve all you can eat rice for everyone. The height of summer noon, however, is not the most conducive for carbo-loading. What is perfect for a hot, steamy day is the lato salad in a light vinaigrette topped with salted egg. Perfectly refreshing. The squid tactics is just as scrumptious as I remember it back in the Bistro Lorenzo days. Tender squid in a light batter sprinkled with a spicy sweet sauce. The crispy tadyang is good, but nothing we could not replicate at home.

It took all these months, or years, for me to finally check out one of Serendra's more popular restaurant. Pretty good food. I really wanted to give it a 3.5 stars, but the lato salad helped me round it up to a 4.
Read more!

Reyes Barbecue

I almost dismissed this ubiquitous restaurant because I thought it was owned by the same people who ran the just as ubiquitous Reyes beauty parlors of 35 peso haircut fame. It was a good thing that my friend, Raymund, corrected my silly impression and invited me to lunch there. I've been back many times since.

Franchisers, it seems, have the liberty not to offer the full menu. The King's Court branch did not have the butterscotch banana, and The Fort's did not serve the salmon belly because the owner found it too fatty. Both of these dishes are good. The banana dessert may taste almost like the ordinary banana cue, but if you close your eyes and focus your energies on your tastebuds, you will sense the hint of butterscotch and a somewhat creme bruleeish quality to it. The Julia Vargas branch carries the whole range, and even offers you the option of slowly baking inside their lukewarm air-conditioned area, or being grilled in their inuman semi-open air section.

Of course, all the branches have to serve the pork and chicken barbecue, served with peanut sauce, java rice, and achara. If that sounds and tastes to you strangely like Aristocrat's, that's because the Reyeses aristocracy rules this resto chain. Good, lip-smacking barbecue, even if you skip like I do the condiments. Other satisfying choices are the tuna belly and the grilled squid, albeit it being smallish.
Read more!



In the location, location, location slogan for resto success, Zao hit the jackpot being beside Conti's since it is the most convenient detour for Conti's spillover.

I do believe, however, that it can stand on its own merits.

It was 9PM and our last meal was many hours ago, so my brain and my stomach were too hungry to wade through the menu. So in typical Icebreaker thick-faced fashion, I just asked the people on the table beside us what was good to eat. And they highly recommended the short ribs and the spring rolls. Thank you, people on other table, we had a good meal.

The seafood spring roll is the best item among our orders. Mainly because it was the only one that vaguely reminded me of Vietnamese cuisine. My bro in law said it tasted like fresh Oishi prawn crackers, but he means that in a good way. If you run out of leaves for rolling, the waiter will gladly refill.

The ribs were succulent, good to the bone, juicy, fight-for-the last piece goodness with that lovely carcinogenic charcoal flavor. But there was nothing that suggested Vietnamese gustatory delight about it. Nothing that my husband, the backyard grill king, cannot do.

If squids would ever become endangered, my sister would be one of the prime culprits. So, we had to order the calamari-type dish. At best, it was okay.

And of course, I had to have cafe da - cold Vietnamese drip coffee with condensed milk. Yum!

So, if you're looking for Vietnam in a bowl, Hanoi in a plate, Saigon this is probably not the best place to go. But if you're looking for flavorful, filling meal, friendly service, with a not-too-pricey bill, when you're famished and Conti's is full, or even when it's not, come to Zao's.
Read more!

Oyster Boy

Cuisine: Seafood

Snazzy interiors. Unique takes on oysters. These are the top 2 reasons for trying Oyster Boy. The menu gives a dizzying array of interesting ways to do oyster. Unfortunately, they didn't offer a sampler platter, so we had to make excruciatingly tough choices. We settled on a Japanese palate theme and ordered the Fresh Oyster with Wasabi Cocktail Sauce (150 pesos for 6 pieces/275p for 12) -- it's the bomb with the wasabi hitting the g-spot of your nostrils. The Oyster Tempura is great too. These two do not erase freshly blanched oysters as my no. 1 favorite version, but they are interestingly fresh, delicious takes. Love them. Match them with lato salad, a counterpoint of buffalo wings (like I said, my husband is compelled to try every wing in the city). The oyster cake is pretty good, but not if you're expecting it to match Singapore hawker standards. Read more!

LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel

I'm not being trite when I say this book is fabulous. Life of Pi is a fable - the story of a Bengal tiger, a mean hyena ugly without redemption, a feisty orangutan, a short-lived zebra, and the most dangerous animal of all - a 16 year old human. All of them hungry.

The author was hungry when he wrote the tale and he attempted to nourish himself and his readers with lessons in faith, survival, animal instinct and human emotions. 227 days in a 26 foot boat with the barest of supplies, the fiercest of animals, overcoming the most challenging circumstances, Piscine Patel, Pi, learned not just to survive but to find good in bad, hope where there seems to be none.

Where the story falls short is in its bodacious promise to change the way we believe in God. It's just too fantastic to be taken as a challenge or affirmation of beliefs. But maybe that's just me - I didn't buy the spiritual undertones of Lord of the Rings either.

At best, it is an entertaining gem crafted by a skilled, albeit sometimes gimmicky, storyteller with a fearless imagination. If you do not take this too seriously, if you can enjoy the occasional humor, if you just appreciate this for what it is - a fantastic piece of fiction, then it is worth the read. Don't look for anything faith shaking, life-changing, or mind-altering.
Read more!

THE READING GROUP by Elizabeth Noble

Still high after attending a reading group meeting for the first time, I felt drawn to buy the book. (It doesn’t take much to convince me to buy, believe me.)

Everything about the book screams chick lit – the tagline above the title (where the books end, the stories begin), the blurb (This is a real female-bonding novel in the very best sense; it’s witty and immediately engaging. – Glamour UK.), and the teal cover with the charming graphic. Well, it is chick lit; not always a bad thing. It is Desperate Housewives meets Hallmark Channel, the British version. 5 women, the usual suspects with the usual womanly problems – the philandering husband, the perfect but too-perfect husband, children, not being able to have children, divorce, marital boredom, you know the usual. Okay, the perfect husband is not the usual, but you know what I mean.

The Wisteria Lane women meet for gin rummy, but Harriet, Nicole, Polly, Susan, and Clare meet every month to discuss a book they take turns choosing. 12 chapters. 12 books to be discussed in 12 months. In January relative strangers meet to discuss Nora Ephron’s Heartburn. By December, when they discuss Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, their friendships have grown deeper. The book review meetings are not necessarily the highlight of this novel; rather they serve as a backdrop for the narration of these women’s lives, which interestingly enough, move parallel to the plots of the books they review.

As a housewife, sometimes desperate, and as a woman, I can certainly relate to their emotional issues. I especially like Harriet, who is far from the Nigella Lawson vision of perfection, whose all-purpose cure for every problem is chocolate, who has a husband whose heart of service can sometimes be a trigger for emotions of guilt and inadequacy. I feel Clare’s aching for a child. I root for Polly as she overcomes life’s mistakes and takes second chances.

Except for a few slight surprises, the book is utterly predictable. At the end, each character finds resolution. That is usually the case for most novels, but in this book, the endings are a bit too neatly, too conveniently wrapped up, and not all that convincing.

Good, light reading for my girl-alone-on-a-holiday jaunt. But not quite meaty enough as a reading group choice.
Read more!

LIVING TO TELL THE TALE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Mention the name Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and the term magical realism is soon to follow. One would imagine then that his autobiography would employ that style. Even the title, Living to Tell the Tale conjures spellbinding narration heavy on mystical language, with the line between fact and fiction blurred. But such is the not the case.

For his autobiography, Marquez relied on his journalistic skills - acquired through his early years as a paid writer - to recount the events, people, and places, the 5 Ws of his life. More real, than magical. More reportage than editorial. Facts more than fiction. Probably why some reviewers found this book boring with its seemingly endless inventory of places –- Aracataca, Baranquilla, Bogota, Cartagena, Sucre; and people –- family members, teachers, classmates, co-writers, political figures, lovers, mentors, tormentors, and dozens and dozens of people named Guillermo, figuring in events that may or may not contribute to the whole narrative.

You will be awed at the painstakingly detailed accounts. He did not mention if he kept a journal or if he just pulled all these memories from his head. If it’s the latter, then he has an astonishing, functioning memory bank. These are not an old man's ramblings, tinted with sentimentality. These are vivid, well-preserved memories of a man who lived an amazing life and lived to tell the tale in amazing detail.

This is not to say that this work is devoid of magic. The magic comes from the clarity of writing, this from a man who acknowledges that his style is convoluted and ethereal. Good writing so clear and fresh you can imagine traveling the Cienaga swamps, and looking at his old house in Aracataca with a mix of pain and nostalgia. You’re there living Marquez’s life as a student at the colegio and the liceo, experiencing Colombia’s tumultuous politics. You feel his desperation, living on the edge of poverty, finding shelter in parks, brothels, cafes, wherever his measly pesos can buy him a bed, hammock, or chair to lie on. You feel his hunger pangs as he starves his body while his mind is being enriched by his interactions with intellectuals and the most fascinating personalities.

The magic is not contrived, not produced by hypnotic literary manipulation. Yet it’s literature that enchants, sparks the imagination of the reader. With matter-of-fact writing, Marquez recounts a life, the telling of which requires the telling of two previous generations’ tales. A life markedly influenced by an eccentric family, the daily challenge of survival, a culture of poetry. A life accented with drama, romance, crime, passion. Reading it, you can almost see the movie adaptation, almost feel the dusty heat, and hear the soundtrack, which will be marvelous because Marquez’ life is filled with music, because he loves music almost as much as he loves writing.

His writing. His writing about his writing. That’s what I loved best about this book. To discover that he has an inferiority complex about his spelling. To know who influenced him in his writing – Borges, Neruda, Woolfe, Faulkner, among many others. He talks about his aversion to adverbs ending in –mente, and having two proximate words that rhyme. He talks about the life stories that inspired his written stories. Love in the Time of Cholera, for example, was based on his parents’ forbidden relationship. It is surprising, and it makes this writing legend seem very human, to know that his natural bashfulness extends to his writing, that he is afraid to write and afraid to share what he has written. On page 393 (Vintage edition), he says “that the terror of writing can be as intolerable as the terror of not writing.”

Except for a flashback or two, the story follows a mostly linear, chronological account from his birth in 1927 to some point in the late 50s when he proposed to his wife through a letter. The book closes without saying whether his proposal is accepted or not. A cliffhanger of sorts, leaving the readers hanging on, anticipating the next installation. Dear Lord, I hope Gabriel Garcia Marquez lives on and on so he can continue to tell his tale. Read more!

New Bombay Canteen

The Columns, Buendia Makati with branches at dela Costa, Makati and Wilson, San Juan.

After a meeting at RCBC Tower, (digression: somebody ought to give a Lifetime Achievement Award to the designer of RCBC's parking spaces for the Worst Parking Design Ever.) I was all set to cross over to McDonald's but I turned around and saw the New Bombay signage beckoning me. Like a subject hypnotized, I walked over to Columns across Buendia. The first time I dined at New Bombay, it was still called New Bombay Canteen and it was in a hole in the wall of Citiland in Buendia. And the last time was in its branch in Dela Costa St. This spiffy, new version is much more posh than the canteen I knew. And I noticed the prices are also higher. I realized that dining alone, it would not be the cheap meal I was hoping to have so I tried to order a maximum of 3 dishes even though I wanted to try different appetizers. I ordered the butter naan (P60 for 2 huge pieces), flatbread delicately coated with butter, but so flavorful you can eat it alone, the malai kofta -- rolled, mashed potato with cottage cheese gravy(P160), and the chicken curry (P140).

So the question is: is it as good as I remember it to be? And the answer is: Yes! Yes! Yes! Maybe even better. I remember loving the naan, and this time, I love it even more, I think I'm going to develop a new addiction. Forgive me if I throw all objectivity and literary restraint out the window, but this review will be full of superlatives, and some moans thrown in. Because that was how I felt in the restaurant. I wasn't particularly hungry so this is not a case of being famished so everything tastes good. It was just really good. My eyes were rolling and my head was shaking with disbelief that it was just so darn good.

Back in my old life, I had this phrase, mapapamura ka sa sarap. When I would rave about something and couldn't find the right term to express my ecstasy, I would rely on expletives to articulate my emotions. The food was so good I had to strain really hard to stop myself from swearing. So good that the restaurant should have a sign that says, it is a crime to eat here alone. So good that because I was dining alone, I just had to call a number of my friends to tell them the food was so good. So good the only reason I didn't finish the servings good for two is that the server was looking at me funny, so I took the leftovers home. So good I forgot to order the dessert, gulabjamun. So good, I can't wait to go back. So good while I was driving home, I called a friend to tell him the food was soooo good.

Did I tell you the food was good?

And for those who are reading this saying, I hate Indian food. Well, good. That means there's more for us who love it.
Read more!

Lime 88, Streetfood with a Twist

160 San Rafel St. Mandaluyong City, just off Boni Ave.

Coming into the garage slash open air dining area, we see a funkified 60s era A-type house. Sitting down on our monobloc chairs, we glimpsed through the window grills a beige quilted and studded bar reminiscent of Tony Ferrer movies. Music blared from the blasted speakers. Natural air-conditioning is provided by the Mandaluyong atmosphere. It was shabby, not quite chic.

The place gave us the vibe of an usapang lasing inception:

- Pare, ang sarap ng crispy tenga ng lola mo.
- Yeah, dude, ibenta natin 'to.
- I know, let's put up a restaurant.
tinininnininin.... (time lapse sound effect)
a month and a trip to dti later, a restobar is born.

So based on aesthetics alone, the expectations have been lowered. The laminated menu showed a collection that liberally stretched the theme street food. It also contained a line that says, "Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last." Hmmm, cheesy. We were also skeptical that there was a chef manning the kitchen. Like I said, our expectations were low.

Turns out that our initial judgments were unfair. There really was a chef in the kitchen, if the quality of food is an indication. The winning dish was the salt and peppered crispy tenga, (PhP110) deep fried to perfection, crispy but not too much that it is dried and burned. And the mango salad that went with it was tangy and quite different from the usual salad.

We made sure we ordered the street food themed dishes. The quail egg tempura, (P70) fortunately, did not have that food coloring rich tukneneng orange shade. Of course, cholesterol-laden eggs are always good, but what made it better was the accompanying sauces - the sinamak vinegar and the soy mirin glaze.

Our main dish was the street style barbecue platter (P180), which combined various chicken parts like the ass, kidney, intestine (isaw), and blood (betamax). Though, I am not particularly averse to visceral meats, I wasn't expecting much from this dish. Again, I was wrong. Each item from the sampler was flavorful, owing again to the chef's expertise. Of course, I've always been a fan of chicken ass, but I was afraid I wouldn't like the betamax and the kidney. The kidney actually tasted like liver, only tougher. And the betamax also tasted like kidney, only softer. The peanut sauce was the twist that made the platter a good order.

Considering that we were famished when we got there (it was friday and we had tried unsuccessfully getting into a couple of restos without reservations before moving to lime.) and that we did not have rice, we got pretty stuffed and had to bring home a doggy bag. Even though we were stuffed, we still asked about dessert but they did not have the scramble we wanted. A sign that we had to stop eating because we've had our fill. A pretty good fill. Next time we come back, they better have the scramble.
Read more!


"You take delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours."

I have heard of the term literary masturbation a few times before but I never really understood it until I read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Maybe this is what people refer to when they say “writing for writing’s sake.”

Beautiful, melodic prose. Wonderful weaving of words. A melee of metaphysical metaphors. Dizzying, dazzling details. Vivid imagery. Descriptions beyond the ordinary man’s ability to describe. Magical. Moving. But sadly, all these leaving me scratching my head thinking, what the fafaya is this guy talking about? Reading it, I had the feeling that someone somewhere is enjoying all these. But I’m not part of the fun. Hence, now I get what literary masturbation looks and uhm, feels like.

"The city that they speak of has much of what it needed to exist, whereas the city that exists on it site, exists less."

In this novel, if you could call it that, the very thin and loose plot revolves around the conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Some exchanges are amusing. Silly, even. But mostly, it is about the cities. About the most fantastic ways anyone can ever describe cities.

The invisible cities Calvino talks about is really just one city: Venice. But he describes Venice in the most interesting, peculiar, perplexing of ways. He never calls Venice Venice. Instead he assigns dozens of exotic names. Each name presents a different aspect of the city. He describes the city through its architecture and structures; through its culture; its inhabitants – dead, alive, imaginary, human or otherwise; through objects, mundane or extraordinary; through its daily activities of commerce and human drama; through nature and its elements; through demarcation lines distinct or blurred; through dreams; through entrances and exits; through myths; through events; through seasons; through its pathways. If there is a way of describing a city, Calvino has used it.

"Not the labile mists of memory nor the dry transperence, but the charring of burned lives that forms a scab on the city, the sponge swollen with vital matter that no longer flows. the jam of past, present, future that blocks existence calcified in the illusion of movement: this is what you would feel at the end of your journey."

Eventually, I warmed up to the story by the sheer beauty of language. By the time I got to the end, I felt like I had traveled a thousand miles, but still scratching my head with an ending as vague and confounding as the whole story itself. I still didn’t get it, but it sure was an amazing ride. To paraphrase a line from the book, "I regret having to leave the city when I barely graze it with my glance."
Read more!

BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley

In the brave new world that Huxley describes, human beings are decanted out of test tubes and demijohns that go through an assembly line in a place called a hatchery. From embryo to adulthood, people are divided by castes.

In our reading group that discussed Brave New World, there were divisions as well. The Alpha intellectuals, the Epsilon shallows, the in-betweens, the undecideds, and the posers (posing as shallows, not intellectuals). We were divided into sci-fi fans, and those who would never pick up this book in normal circumstances. Those who loved the book, those who hated it, and one who “luved it so much.” The optimists versus the pessimists. Those who read the book, and those who scanned spark notes the night before.

The reactions to the book and the ideas it sparked ran a very wide gamut. We certainly didn’t agree on much, but we agreed it was a great choice in inciting impassioned debate. The book is a minefield of topics for discussions on science, free will, religion, gods in lower case g, happiness, Malthusian economy, media propaganda, determinism, feminism, capitalism, consumerism, individualism and many other isms. Noses bled.

As for me, I bought the book early this year only because someone recommended it. And well, uhm, it was on sale, which is usually a good enough reason to buy anything. It was destined to stay in my TBR pile ever after. Until it was chosen as June’s reading group book. (That’s what you get when you force a molecular biologist to moderate.) So I had no choice but to actually read it. I almost thought I would not be able to get through the convoluted foreword written many years after the original novel was published. I suspect that the foreword was just a way for the author to say, “hey, my writing has improved.”

If you look at the novel as a literary piece, then you’ll be disappointed at the sophomoric writing and the one-dimensional characters. But if you lower your expectations and see it as an amusing satire on man’s burning desire to play God and control the world, then it is not all that bad. As one of the reading group members said, “I’ve read worse.”

To be fair, the book made me think, especially close to the end when Mustapha Mond explained a lot about the brave new world and the rationale for the way its creators made it to be. And the discussions that followed illuminated to me not so much what others think of the world, but what I want the world to be. But that’s for another discussion. Maybe over soma, er coffee.
Read more!

Luk Foo Cantonese Kitchen

Cuisine: Chinese
Location: Usually beside a Pure Gold Supermarket. Branches at Paranaque, Las Pinas, Commonwealth, Mabalacat, E. Rodriguez Quezon City

This is not a default choice for me. Chinese food usually is not. But chinese food gives my husband comfort, especially when there's dimsum.

In this visit, however, we skipped the dimsum and went for the basics. Just too lazy to cook.

The steamed fish with garlic, eggplant, and noodles is a complete meal in itself. Tasty. We supplemented that with sauteed spinach with garlic.

Warning: no signs claiming that they don't use MSG. So, assume this is Aji-No-Moto laden. Read more!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov

I can't remember when I read Lolita for the first time. I reread it this week in preparation for reading Reading Lolita in Tehran, our reading group's book for December. And it was like reading it for the first time. I realized I was not ready to read it then; I guess I just couldn't get over the disgusting theme of pedophilia to even appreciate the writing.

With a mind now more open to art's jarring function and less insecure about my moral foundations, I discovered an exceedingly well-written book. Something that made my heart ache. It was while reading Milan Kundera's The Unberable Lightness of Being that I first felt this dull ache in my heart. This ache I baptized writer's envy. It comes from sadly realizing that I could never in this lifetime write that exquisitely, that skillfully. I felt the ache again while reading Lolita. Violent envy. Envy of writing so good that it enables the reader to overcome distaste for or indifference about a topic.

Lolita is the fictional autobiography of Humbert Humbert. It is written with such wit and intelligence and tenderness and romance that immediately you get on his side. You hate to admit but you like this sick, old man. You understand why he likes pubescent girls, what childhood deprivation has caused his adult depravity. You see the world from the view of a man who feels cheated by culture and law for their narrow rules against child love, something he considers natural and borne out of a pure desire to have what he was not able to have many years ago.

And then at some point, in between HH's lines, you hear Nabokov's sardonic voice, and you understand that intelligent and gentle as HH may be, he has serious delusions. Delusions about his sincere intentions, about his being attractive, about how Lolita was also in love with him.

The novel has many delicious parts of scaringly beautiful writing. In the text after the novel, Nabokov lists down some of these scenes that he calls "the nerves of the novel... the secret points...the subliminal co-ordinates."

One of my favorite parts is Lolita's and Humber Humbert's road trip around Nabokov's invented America. I can almost hear the soundtrack in this video montage of travels that start with "a series of wiggles and whorls in New England" through highways and motels, countryside, tilled plains, sagebrush patches, mountain ranges, deserts, picnic grounds, and roadside facilities. The travel writer wannabe in me hurts in envy.

One of the first publishers approached by Nabokov rejected the book because it has no good characters in it. It truly doesn't. HH, despite his self characterization, his self justification, is really a sick, filthy, despicable, old man; I was totally revolted by his desire to impregnate Lolita so she could produce a litter of nymphets who shall provide him with a lifetime supply of carnal pleasure. Lolita has her own dysfunctions as well. I can see a younger Juliette Lewis playing her. And I detest Juliette Lewis. Although I would really be interested to read Lolita's side of the story.

I have to say that of the books I've read, this has one of the best endings ever. As HH dwells on the life he lived with Lolita, he shushes his self-defending stream of thought, quiets the humorous narration, and seems to see the pain he has caused his step-daughter. No, he does not turn into a maudlin, death-row-repentant crying-out-for-the-forgiveness-of-his-sins sap, but he sees some of his illusions if not shattered, at least slightly provoked. Very subtly, he acknowledges his shame and despair, his brutality. Ah, when Lolita was crying, she was not just being petulant, she had strong reason to be depressed.

This poignant scene of rumination is juxtaposed with the bizarre, almost-slapstick, comedic account of HH's jousts with Cue. Nabokov does bittersweet funny very well.

I am in complete awe of his writing. I'm glad he learned to write in English so he does not have to share the glory with a translator.

Nabokov says in his notes that he has no objective of moralizing. It's just a story. Borne out of inspiration and combination. So, we should not take it as a defense of a pedophilia as well. It's just a story. A well-written story. If one were to take lessons from this book, it would be to be alert to what goes on in the mind of elderly men, of uncles who touch with too much familiarity, who turn on the charm for little kids a tad too much.

Read more!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Created to Create

I know, I know, this is my 2 hundred millionth post for the day. What's gotten into me? Well, I need to empty my pc of photos and so I am pressured to blog about those photos now. Plus, I'm going on a 2-day internet withdrawal rehab in Batangas so I need to get these posted. I promise this is the last one for the day.

I just really want to talk about the Creative Spiritual Journaling Workshop that I attended last Saturday. I almost passed up on this one, since I didn't really think that half a day would be enough to get me creative, much less spiritual. I am glad I changed my mind.

The workshop was conducted by trainer Mae Legaspi and Patsy Paterno, the Pa in Papemelroti. Mae shared some background information on journaling, focusing on its benefits. I admit I was taking mental notes because I dream of someday offering workshops to help others discover the joy of journaling. Writing about the events of my life has enriched the experiences, and reading about them years after has shown me how much I have grown up and discovered about myself. But the journaling I'm used to is more about writing. This workshop showed how I can take my journaling to a higher, more creative, more powerful level.

I love Patsy's joy and passion as she enthusiastically described how this activity can be a joint creative process between God and journaler. How this is more than just doing art or mere journaling, but it is really a way to hear His message loudly and clearly, and to capture and remember these messages.

Even if you're not there for the spiritual stuff, there was still much to learn about journaling and about creative and practical journaling techniques. And Patsy is not into buying expensive materials. She showed us how to use ordinary stuff like clear tape from divisoria, magazine clippings, and other scrap materials to collage and create artful pages. Some of the samples she showed were astoundingly beautiful. And it does not take a da Vinci to create similar pages.

But I think what I inspired and elated me most was the way that this workshop has recharged my hunger for the Word. Lately, I have been struggling to keep up the passion I used to have to read His Word. I've been distracted by shiny objects and worldly pursuits. And this afternoon
revealed to me that reading His Word need not be a drudgery. It is a blessing. And adding art into it makes it fun and creative.

After the workshop I found myself again eager to get into the Word and excited to hear in my heart God's leading. I have yet to start doing the creative journaling, but I feel the juices coming. I've taken my Prang watercolor off its dusty storage, and I know I'm going to discover more about myself, my thoughts, my dreams, my creativity, my life, and my God.

Read more!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ton Shing Wa

Washington St. Makati City

Pictures at:

No, that's not really the name of the place. I'm not even sure it has a name. That's what my husband and I call this not-even-a-hole-in-the-wall "sidewalk cafe" along Washington St. in Makati, very close to the corner of Pasay Road. It's where my husband takes me to remove any vestige of colegiala in me.

When my friend Tisha and I went there last week, I was surprised to see that the place did not escape the clutches of inflation. What used to be a 35 peso meal of lechon kawali (see glorious, golden, crispy crackled skin in picture), rice, and broth is now 55 pesos. Gasp. It's 45 pesos without the rice and soup. And it's one of the best, most delicious ways to spend your 55 bucks. Unless of course, Booksale repeats their 5peso book promos. But back to the food.

The tokwa't baboy (P50) can put to shame other finer dining places. Sarap! I also liked the pares (P45) that Tisha ordered.

For germophobes like me, there is a fear factor element to dining here, but hey, we only live (and get amoebiasis) once. Plus parking is not a problem; in fact, you can eat inches away from where your car is parked.
Read more!


Westgate Center, Alabang

Sisterly bonding in a restaurant we're trying for the first time. Nice way to start the afternoon.

Pretty good looking restaurant. Rockstar parking right in front of it. Loved the floor tiles. And now, let's talk about the food.

First, they serve free vegetable atsara (in picture). My sister and I are not big on pickles so we didn't really eat much of it. But I tried it, and if I were a pickle person, I think I would have liked it.

The Lumpia Mais (P150) was hands-down my favorite among the dishes served. Corn, shrimps, and onion wrapped in rice paper, deep friend, and served with a lovely sweet-sour-spicy chili dip. It was served as an appetizer though we had it with the rest of the meal. But I can see this working as a merienda dish as well.

The Bamboo Rice (P145) was delicious when hot, but was too filling and too flavorful (with shrimp and chicken) to go with all the other flavor-rich dishes. We had enough for left-overs.

The menu's quite extensive so it was really hard to make a final choice among the meat and seafood dishes. We were tempted to order more, but we resisted. It was a good thing we focused on the Spareribs Adobo (P365) which was served with steamed white rice. Yes, more rice! The 3 pieces of spare ribs deceived me into thinking we could finish this. But again, the serving's too generous for 2 females with small appetites (snicker).

The gising-gising is a great looking vegetable dish of minced kangkong stalks in coconut cream. It looked spicy but was actually yawningly boring.

No space for desserts and had bags of leftovers to take home. My sister and I rated the food at 3.5, but the homey ambiance and the attentive and friendly service upped their score to a 4.

More pictures here:

Read more!

Solomon's Guest House

1025 C. Ayala St. corner Arellano St., Malate, Manila (near De La Salle - CSB Angelo King Building)

My friend Alvin told me about this resto, where College of St. Benilde Hotel and Restaurant students take their practicum. When I googled it, I was led to Awesome Planet's site where I found not just a review of the place but a heatedexchange of comments. Some students did not understand the concept of constructive criticism.

A few weeks back, I was at DLSU-Manila and so I decided to give this controversial place a try. I took a semi-long, mega-sunny, ultra-hot walk to the place. 3 pedestrian directions, a nice glowing tan, and 8.25 gallons of sweat later, I, Mc-steaming, got there. I was never that happy for the invention of air-conditioning.

Big tables are squeezed into a cozy room and the place seemed to be packed. I was afraid that since I was dining alone, they'd ask me to move to the outdoor tables. The al fresco option had zero appeal to me. I was so glad they let me have one of the big round tables inside.

I heard that the resto theme changes every year, and this year's batch 14 was offering international cuisine, which is a fancy and quite misleading way of saying that they don't really have a theme.

The Mushroom and Asparagus Soup (P40) was delicious in a Campbellesque kind of way. But I had no issues with that. Campbell soup is comfort food for me. The asparagus flavor was too subtle though for my tastebuds to capture it, if it's there at all. I was sipping my soup leisurely because I really wanted to stay in that airconditioned oasis for a long time before I stepped out into the Sahara again. But the server (a student doing practicum) seemed to be in a rush to serve the food and she served the entree even before I was halfway through my soup. That was a bummer because that meant my main dish was cooling down before I was ready to eat it.

The Roast Beef in Mushroom Sauce at P95 was well-priced. And the price was the only thing going for it. Because it was tough and chewy, and I couldn't believe that was sirloin. Sure, the price was on the low side, but I've tried good, tender local sirloin before.

The other sour note to my Solomon dining experience was the kitchen noise. The kitchen was partially open, and over the usual cooking and chopping noises, the students were also very noisy carousing and joking around. Not pleasant.

The only saving grace is the Tiramisu (P65). Though this was not the best I've had and I had to follow up before it was served, I found it was pretty good.

I understand that this is ran by chefs in training so maybe we have to give them a little latitude. But I'll wait for batch 15 before I come back.

Summary: Long hot walk, cozy place, a menu with no personality, amateurish service, low prices, tough meat, and a dessert to save the day.

Read more!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pepper Lunch

Rockwell, Makati

I loved:
-my husband's Pepper Rice (loved the pepper flavor)
-my Shimofuri Pepper Steak (just the right tenderness) P570 ala carte, P645 with rice and drink
-instructional videos

I liked the:
-steak sauces - I like the garlic soy sauce more than the honey brown sauce, but they're both good.
-bright interiors
-helpful service
-bean sprouts and carrots with my dish

I didn't like the:

-salmon - it wasn't bad, but it was ordinary and on the dry side (P275 ala carte, P312 plus drink)
-way we smelled after the meal
-sticker shock given the fastfood ambience, but given the quality of the steak, it's forgivable

I super loved:
-Daniel Craig, whom my eyes feasted on after dinner. Nothing to do with Pepper Lunch, but he was the most scrumptious thing on that night's menu. Argh, how can white jeans look so good on a guy?
Read more!

Monday, November 17, 2008


Building D, San Miguel by the Bay, Mall of Asia

I've been egging hubbalicious to take me to Hooters. I have fond memories of their chicken wings that I had in the US. Finally, one night after picking me up from DLSU, he took me there.

A lot of good things going for the place. Ample parking space on a weeknight. Spacious restaurant; and we got a booth. Pretty fast service. And the addictively delicious Fried Pickles (P200). The onion dip that goes with it was also good.

Of course, we had to have the wings. (P800 for 20 pcs.) My husband has tried the flavor categorized as hot, and he said it wasn't hot at all, so we ordered the hottest, the 911. Good tasting wings. Hot and spicy, but not too hot to handle. In fact, the first bite wasn't hot at all, but as you have more and more wings, the insides of your mouth just start feeling the bite. I can't remember if they matched the US version, but I thought they were pretty good. The only turn off was that the blue cheese dip and celery sticks (P95) were not part of the price, had to be ordered separately, and were not extraordinarily good.

The resto's major weakness is the presentation of food; very poor. The wings were served in ugly brown plastic plates that did nothing to make the wings look good. The oysters (P295 for 6 sorry pieces) looked sad and lost in a huge platter of ice, and tasted even sadder.

I wish I could say that the feminist in me was upset about the objectification of women by having scantily clad servers. But I have students who go to school with much less cloth on them. So, I just shut up and enjoyed my wings.
Read more!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


If I were to write a novel or an autobiography, I would want to write like Eggers does. 98% sap free. With both his parents dying of cancer weeks apart and having to give up the freedom of youth to take care of his younger brother Toph, it would have been easy and justified to write a sentimental piece filled with maudlin musings. Instead, Eggers writes with such profound and honest humor.

Maybe the title puts you off. It is audacious. It is cocky. But know that it is said with tongue in cheek. At some point, in fact, Eggers even calls the book stupid.

Is it sollipsistic? Hell, yeah. How can it not be? It is an autobiography after all. With the tragic events of his life, a healthy amount of self absorption is necessary to excavate suppressed feelings and purge himself of his demons. This book is Eggers' cathartic way of sorting through the dirty, rotten emotions of grieving so he can move on and get on with the dirty but fulfilling tasks of taking care of his brother, a responsibility so prematurely and suddenly thrust upon him.

Is it sad? Yes. Poignant. Heartbreaking. But Eggers does not have time to mope. He deals with his losses with braggadocio, hilarity, and sometimes the most absurd form of pain-denial. His love for Toph manifests through his unspoken fears of how he might turn out to be because his dysfunctional upbringing "...would cause him to feel unwanted and alone, leading to the warping of his fragile psyche, then to experimentation with inhalants, to the joining of some River's Edge gang, too much flannel and too little remorse, the cutting of his own tats, the drinking of lamb's blood, the inevitable initiation-fulfilling murder of me and Beth in our sleep" or he might "grow up to sell crack or sing in a harmonizing pop group from Florida."

Is it funny? Very. And intelligent. And moving. And sardonic. Angry. Too many cuss words to be for general patronage. Sometimes silly. Sometimes inspiring. Sincere. Powerful. Staggering. Genius.
Read more!