Out of sight but not Offline

Bandwidth exceeded again.  I know, I know.. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore that this happens to me towards the end of the month.  I don’t really care.. by Saturday, my posts will be online again.  And as I said in the beginning, I want to be able to just write, write, write.

Another cool morning– we were below 60 degrees this morning.  Still not “coat weather” — but I left wearing a light sweater and my favorite Paris shawl wrapped around me. 

I left my boys at home — we are counting the days until we finally have Mom here again.  (I am keeping my fingers crossed nothing changes..she is already booked!)

Palengke New York Style

Angel loves Nilaga.  I manage to cook that easily because onions and peppercorns are staples here in the US as well.  I can actually procure patis from the Filipino stores in Woodside, Queens, the Chinese groceries in Flushing or nearby Union Turnpike, and even the neighborhood Keyfood.  (Owing to the huge Asian population, this American grocery chain actually has a few shelves devoted to Asian condiments, including our own Lorin’s Patis, Datu Puti Vinegar among others.)

It’s getting the beef and the bone marrow that’s a litte tricky.  I think I had written here previousy that I regret not having paid attention to our Work Education classes in high school when we were discussing meat cuts — but out of common sense, I discovered the part I liked best for Nilaga was Beef Shin.  Bone marrow is practically given away here at $1 per bag of cut up bones with marrow intact in the Chinese Groceries, or in much smaller cuts at similarly give away prices in Waldbaum’s, my favorite grocery which is comparable to the Unimart I grew up with.

Although access to fresh seafood is very limited (usually confined to the Chinese groceries), you have a choice of frozen or fresh fish or lobster, they will actually clean the fish for you, so I never had to actually gut seafood.  Of course I always inspect them before cooking and I find something they failed to cut out, but whatever it is that’s left is something I can stomach and deal with.  So in that respect, we’re spoiled.  I remember the wet markets back home and I did have occasion to walk through them those few times I went with Mom or when I ventured out on my own when I was preparing a dish I needed specific ingredients for. 

Vegetables are mostly seasonal and you won’t stand a chance of getting sitaw from the regular groceries.  Sayote or Chayote as it is called here is imported and not locally grown.  Squash is readily available, but not always the orange pumpkin variety we use for our favorite sitaw dish.  Staples like onions and potatoes come in different varieties and can be bought in bulk from 3-5 lb. bags.

Pork is also not readily available in the usual cuts except for pork chops and pork loin, and not in the liempo cut we prefer for our various Pinoy dishes.  I have to watch out for ground pork because unlike ground beef which comes in various varieties (from 80-93% lean), it’s not always on the grocery shelves.

So when I want to try and pull off a Filipino dish, I have to be creative.  It’s just one of those things that one must do to adapt when you are far from your country of birth.  Adobo tastes a tad bit different but just as yummy with white wine (even just the cooking kind) instead of using good old vinegar.  Or one can just cook according to what’s available locally.  It can be a challenge. 

How I discovered I could cook

Minutes to noon and I’m finally down to doing my Sunday blogpost.  I just finished whipping up Gene Gonzalez’s marinade recipe for Chicken Barbecue from his Inihaw recipe book, part of a cookbook series he released a couple of years ago. 

I picked up some pineapple juice from the grocery last week and noticed just today that the 6-pack proudly bore the stamp Product of the Philippines.  Call me overly-sentimental but coming across any product that was made or produced from back home really makes me proud — from Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Gap, or this six-pack from Dole.

I somehow found the time to actually prepare something in advance of dinner later — something I have been unable to do the past couple of weeks, much to Alan’s disappointment.  He used to tell me that one of the highlights of his day was coming home to something special on the dining table.  So during the last or penultimate phone conversations we have during the day, it has been his habit to ask me “Anong ulam mamaya?”.  I used to put the effort into researching recipes and I even had a subscription to Food & Wine, the only magazine subcription whose old issues I keep and compile.  (It seems my subscription has ended — time to renew.)

I never really cooked back in Manila.  And there’s that oft-repeated anecdote I have of my mom warning me that my mother-in-law would curse me for not knowing how to.  Fortunately, I discovered I could actually cook once I got here.  It was a matter of survival for Alan and me, and I was spurred on by boredom the first six months I was here.  Unable to work due to my status then, I had no choice but to stay home and wait for Alan to come home each day.

He would sometimes take me to the city to get to know my new home, but we did that once a week only because there was only so much I could do.

I found myself spending afternoons at the Barnes & Noble in the strip mall behind our apartment row.  I would sit down and grab a few magazines, actually copy recipes on a small sheet of paper, then hie off to the Waldbaum’s next door and grab the ingredients.  I had to plan my recipes because I worked off a budget for groceries from Alan’s credit card.  (Something I no longer do because I take care of the groceries now that I work.)  It was also important to plan them because I was only cooking for two.

I shied away from the fancy party recipes but found a lot of simple and small meals for 2-4 people.  I approached my culinary experimentation with the same philosophy I had in law school: anything can be learned if you put your mind to it. 

I acquired the cooking tome The Joy of Cookingsoon after I started working, and besides reading that to find recipes, it proved to be a very good reference as far as herb substitution and basics about the various food groups.  (How best to cook whole fish, fillets, what are the best portions for steak, how to come up with pasta al dente, among others.)  It’s falling apart now and I’m seriously considering getting another copy, but I figured it will always get battered because it’s something I turn to at least once a month for our favorite Steak Diane or Sauteed Chicken in Sherried Mushroom Sauce.  But one of my all-time favorites is Cooking with Nora Dazawhich I even specifically requested my Mom to send me a copy of.

While eating out or taking something out from KFC, the Japanese restaurant in the neighborhood or even from Ihawan, our local Barrio Fiesta type restaurant here in Queens, is always an option — home cooking I know is still the best, not only because you get more bang for the buck so to speak — but more importantly because you know what went into that dish you feed your family.  It’s just that working, taking care of the little tyke and then taking care of dinner can be quite a burden when you only have 2 hours to pull everything together.  So sometimes I end up “recycling” yesterday’s food — steak into fajitas, extra penne or ziti into a garlic pesto pasta side, or shrimp or salmon into omellettes.

I’ve also learned to use cooking helpers like Harry & David’s fancy sauces and concoctions, our favorite of which is their Artichokes Laced with Merlot  which go well like a modified afritada with some sauteed chicken pieces.  (It’s a sauce base which actually comes with real artichokes, olives and tomatoes.)

I usually prepare Angel’s food way ahead so that’s not really a problem.  It’s whipping something up for Alan that can be a challenge.  I’m going to try harder really — it just needs serious planning and like I used to do, a little bit of research to spice things up on the table — literally.



Bracing for another round with the forces of nature

The clouds are overcast here in New York this Friday.  This is but a glimpse of the wrath of nature now heading towards the South, 3,000 miles away.

People are desperately trying to get our parts of Texas reputed to be in the path of Hurricane Rita.  This time people are listening to federal calls for evacuation, but the sense of panic after Hurricane Katrina has paralyzed the efforts of many to obey.  What is even more tragic is that there are some people who are now fleeing Hurricane Rita who had sought refuge in Texas from the ravages of Katrina.  Others who had so generously taken in refugees are now fleeing themselves.

While we are just inconvenienced by bad weather here on the East Coast, we can’t help but wonder how we would fare if the howlers went our way.  I heard from old timers here in New York say that the stronger ones that hit New York hit in the 80s.  It has been a while but that is a reminder that we are not always safe.  We do have our snow storms — Mom even had one or two last year.  (Her first time to see snow, and a real snow storm at that!)

All we can do is hope and pray.  You think that you”ll only see people stuck on the highways fleeing something from their domicile in the movies — it’s playing live on national television right now.


One of those days I'm grateful I'm in New York City

Cross posted on Pinay Mom on Motherhood, etc.

Today was one of the days I’m grateful I’m a New Yorker.  We had to take Angel to have a CT scan due to macrocephaly, or the fact that he has a big head.  It really doesn’t look all that different from most kids, but pediatricians here monitor the circumference of the head of an infant from birth onwards to make sure growth milestones are met and that any deviation from the norm is caught early.  We have a graph that the doctor plots every third-month visit, monitoring his height, weight and head circumference.

While he has displayed no symptoms of any abnormalities whatsoever, the fact that he remains in the 95 percentile growth rate made it prudent for us to consider a non-invasive test to give us a peak into his head.

I made the phone appointment as recommended by my pediatrician, and within one week from the date I called, I received actual correspondence by mail confirming his appointment and giving us instructions in terms of preparing Angel for the procedure.  As he is a 16-month-old we could not expect to hold still even for just 5 minutes, we had to resort to sedation which meant he was to take no more solids after midnight the day before, no more non-clear liquids after 6AM, and totally nothing by mouth by 8AM.  We also received a form to be filled up by our pediatrician who was to do a physical examination of Angel no earlier than 3 days before the date of the CT scan.  (If I were in Manila, I would’ve had to get clearance from my health care provider if the procedure were covered, physically make the appointment at the clinic or center where it is to be done, be ready with cash for any portion of the fee I am to pay for.)

While it was an emotional tug-o-war beginning at 5:30AM when I stopped nursing Angel, then after his last drink of apple juice just before 8AM, everything went smoothly and I am more than happy at the way the hospital staff not only took care of my son, but of his parents’ well being as well.

I think they were more worried about me getting anxious after I saw the nurse and anesthesiologist holding down my son as they made him inhale something to knock him out before they put him under complete sedation — but I assured them I was fine.

Alan was more together than I was, but I think I held out pretty well.  I couldn’t help but worry and hope that they find nothing.  That our assumption that all is well will hold after they see the images of his brain. 

Not only was I grateful I was in one of the most medically advanced cities in the world, but I was grateful I had access to the best medical care — both preventive and curative — for me and my family.  If I were in Manila, even if money was not an issue, the quality of care would be.  I would probably be able to afford the best for my son, but I shudder to think of those who are forced to do without because they are not employed with appropriate health care coverage.

Angel went through it just fine.  He never even seemed to have gotten any weaker with the fasting.  He was up and about as soon as the anesthesia started to wean off, and now he is sleeping soundly on his sofabed, dead tired only because we were up by 5:30AM which is way too early even for an early riser like him.

On My Mind

It’s minutes to midnight and I’m lying here next to Angel.  I wanted to wake him up to feed him a snack but he’s much too groggy.  Must be the cold meds.

It’s been a long day and I’m bracing for another one.  I’m tired but I don’t want to sleep yet.  Maybe I ought to just give it up and let myself drift off to lala land.

Finally finished

It took me forever and a day but I finally (yes, FINALLY!) finished reading Queen Noor’s LEAP OF FAITH.  It took me this long not because I didn’t like the book but because I just haven’t had the time to sit or lie down and read.  Whenever I get the chance to lie down, it is usually with the lights dimmed as I try and lull Angel to sleep.

I liked this book because I believe it offered a fresh perspective on the Middle East, being that Queen Noor is American by birth.  She was born and raised here but had imbibed the values and religion of her beloved husband as she embraced his faith and convictions in the many years they were together.

While you see from the very beginning that it is a noble attempt at perpetuating the memory of the deceased King Hussein, I couldn’t help but marvel at the pervading sense of immortal love between the King and Queen.  You can feel it from the way the book was written, not only in Queen Noor’s words, but in the way she viewed the life she embraced when she became his better half.

This is not a book for the romance novel fans because while it has its share of romantic interludes, much of Queen Noor’s account of her life with King Hussein attempts to be a historic account of the King’s rein with her as consort.  It is not a scholarly piece of work that can be quoted as a factual unbiased account, but it certainly gives us a different viewpoint in the ever dynamic socio-political landscape of Jordan and its neighbors.

A view of New York

I had resisted the urge to upload my own header images for a while because I was told that it contributed to the increased bandwidth usage which caused my website to “disappear” towards the end of the month.

Today I couldn’t resist as I went through some of the older snapshots I’ve kept — particularly this one which is a view from an upper floor of the American Museum of Natural History facing Central Park.  Truly New York!


Feedback: on Kipling's IF

From one of my “blogfriends”, Lani:  It’s really a very inspiring poem.

Inspiring, indeed.  I remember that back then, in my little world, Kipling’s words saw me through some very trying times as people tried to put me down, pit me against others, challenge my integrity, all to make me prove myself worthy of being a cadet officer.

Looking back now I can’t help but feel silly for going through the whole exercise but the truth of the matter is, it was all worth it.  As we would say, nakakapagpatigas ng buto at nakapagpapatibay ng loob.  I guess the humility that I found and the perseverance I kept myself armed with proved to be good lessons I went back to over and over again later on in life, and even today.