Fourth of July in the time of Corona

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe Fourth of July holiday is one of the most celebrated holidays across religions and states and ethnic and moral persuasions in the US. We literally stop everyday life preparing for and celebrating freedom. It is an excuse to party and go on vacation and just have a good time. Not this year.

With most of the country seeing a surge in cases and deaths, there is not much to celebrate. Here in New York, I’d like to think we’ve been through the worst of it, but I say that with a bit of trepidation knowing the heavy hand of a resurgence can hit us anytime.

After months of working from home, I’ve learned to ease up and start working towards “normalizing”. But what exactly is that during this time when we are living life in such a different atmosphere?

For the first time in many years, the Macy’s Fourth of July Fireworks display was cancelled. Many New Yorkers, and many Americans in general, contented themselves with local fireworks displays from home or the neighborhood. Nothing quite like the fireworks show of New Year’s Eve back in the Philippines, but loud and celebratory in a different kind of way. It was like America was saying we will celebrate freedom, corona virus or no corona virus — but know we cannot celebrate like we used to.

The subject of Freedom itself is being stretched in all directions in recent months. It’s like a renewed consciousness among a very diverse people who are reacquainting themselves with the notions of race and authority — in very varied ways. I will not get into that here. It is still a very raw subject matter, and I don’t feel I am in a place where I can discuss this for now. In time.

We in New York still feel the threat of the virus very strongly. And I am grateful for that, because I know we’re moving towards getting back to a semblance of normalcy, but with an abundance of caution. I am grateful to be given the option to work from home. I am also grateful that wearing masks is now mandated by stores and other establishments. It has sunk into our consciousness as part of the social norm. If you don’t wear a mask, you risk the ire of other New Yorkers who do, and you will be denied entry into all establishments that require it. That makes it more acceptable to go out and live everyday with less fear, but not without it.

I think fear is a good thing. It makes us take that extra step to ensure that we do not unduly expose ourselves to the risk of infection. The virus is very real and still ravaging parts of the country and the world as a whole. It has penetrated our every day lives in such a pervasive way, that we are rethinking how we go about business and life, in general, with sweeping strokes.

On Friday, my sixteen year old son asked permission to join a group of friends for a Fourth of July gathering where they had fireworks. It was in the neighborhood, and he asked for a just a few hours. My first impulse was to say no. But we have had to be cooped up the last couple of weeks, and I know he wants to see his friends. I have allowed him to go biking or play hoops with a small group of 3 friends from way back. I have instructed him not to go into anyone’s house, and to be sure he wears his mask. All of this is on an honor system, and I’ve reinforced the fact that he has to abide by the rules.

My ex husband has even driven him to a park to meet with three classmates from high school, giving them a few hours to hang out and then driving him back home.

As summer has arrived, my ex and I have agreed to limit these social interactions to one a week. So back to the party.

I immediately communicated my reservations to the ex, but also told him I don’t really want to have my son feeling like he was being deprived of the opportunity to enjoy the summer. With reservations, I told his Dad that maybe we should consider it. My son had name-dropped one of his childhood friends who was going, and I thought I would speak with the mom, whom I knew, just to set parameters. But I didn’t know the host.

I woke up the next morning with a very heavy heart and a resolve to not allow the boy to go. How can you maintain social distancing in a Fourth of July party? It was in a home, not in the park. Parties and such gatherings have been known to become breeding grounds for super spreading, which has led to many infections in other places. I just wasn’t ready to take the chance.

Fortunately for me, the ex felt the same way. For all our differences, parenting is one of the things we still usually agreed upon. We decided not to let him go.

Breaking the news to the boy wasn’t as easy, as he immediately responded with an emotional “Why?”. I tried to explain my reservations, and told him his father and I had agreed with no argument. We felt strongly about it and it wasn’t a risk we were willing to take. These are unusual times. On anormal Fourth of July, we would not think twice about letting him go, but we are far from normal.

He made no pains to hide the fact that he was deeply disappointed. But that was that.

I don’t want to be part of the problem — many people have gathered and broken social distancing rules. It makes me feel frustrated about the fact that relaxing the social distancing norms seem to be so widespread among those who feel they can, because they are being careful. In my mind, no matter how careful you may think you are being, the fact that you are increasing your exposure to infection is diluting your caution.

I still feel uneasy when I encounter people who aren’t wearing a mask, as I walk past them wearing mine. I have resorted to finding alternative walking routes with less traffic, giving up the path in the park during popular times when many joggers and other visitors forego the required mask. I know it’s an open air environment, but that does not mean the absence of the possibility of infection.

The local grocery requires masks and gloves now, and I felt bad that I went in earlier after my walk without the gloves. (Reminder to self: shove a pair in my pockets tomorrow.). I do walk with a small bottle of sanitizer which I either tuck in my leggings pocket or hold with my phone during my usual walk about. Signs are plastered to maintain distancing. Even the neighborhood bagel shops had social distancing in the lines that formed outside. This is the new normal.

So even as we celebrated a different way, we celebrated. We celebrated freedom, even with the constraints of our new normal. Happy Fourth, America!

A walk in the park

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I have always been the laziest person when it comes to exercise. I used to joke that you’d have to pay me to get me to exert effort one way or the other. The thing is, I’ve been trying to find ways and means to stay fit — both mentally and physically — and staying in my safe corner and not doing anything beyond moving about in my small apartment was not going to cut it.

Panic hit me when I realized I was putting on weight with all the baking and cooking and inactivity. I used to clock a decent amount of steps even if it was short of the modest goal of 10,000. I have usually weighed this much only after coming back from a trip from Manila, because of all the delicious food that I couldn’t resist gobbling up.

The diet has always been in the plan, but I knew that if I were to make it work faster and more efficiently, I had to get off my butt and do something about it.

On Monday, I willed myself to don a decent attire to walk. Just walk. I grabbed my phone and tied my hair, put on my mask and off I went. I live in a relatively quiet residential neighborhood where the air is fresh and the streets and sidewalks are clean. There is even a stretch of green in a park just a block away from me.

My first outing saw me walking the long way to the neighborhood grocery. I gave myself a half hour as I did it before dinner, and the clouds were threatening up high. It was nice to actually find myself having the energy and the courage to walk out in public without a determined effort to accomplish any specific task. For the past few weeks, I would only venture out to do the groceries, the laundry, and last week, to get my hair cut.

It felt good. It was pleasantly cool, but by the time I made it to the grocery, my heartbeat was definitely elevated and I felt a light sweat forming on my back. That made me proud. I actually did it! I exercised! I made it to the grocery just in time as it started to drizzle. I picked up some ingredients for a diet soup I wanted to try out, then I walked briskly back before it rained hard.

The next day, I ended work at a decent hour and quickly changed again and walked out the door, this time determined to go to the park a block away.

Walking in the park
I found a starting point and counted how many steps it took me to go around the path surrounding the field in the middle. There was a decent crowd of others walking either leisurely or jogging / running around. There were some who were walking their dogs, or accompanying children who were biking or having their time in the playground.
Walking in the park
The path around the field was not level which made for some elevation at certain parts — I walked.. determined to keep going as far as I could — and I made it to three rounds. I had the Handmaid’s Tale on Audible keeping me company. I don’t know why I decided I wouldn’t listen to music — that I would instead listen to the book that was in my queue. It was me, myself and I, wrapped up with walking the path and listening to what was on my phone.

As I felt my legs starting to feel the strain, I left the park and I decided to walk further on to a grocery on the other side of the neighborhood to pick up some fruit and non fat milk, and then I walked back home.

Neighbors I met along the way thought I had gone to work since I was lugging a shopping bag. I proudly told them I had been to the park and had just stopped by the grocery on my way home.

I made it to my second day with an hour’s walk. I surprised myself with that accomplishment.

Today, I decided I would try to go in the morning, taking advantage of the fact that I’ve been waking up just after 6am of late because of the earlier sunrise. It took me a while to drag myself out of bed, but I changed and walked out with purpose and headed to the park again. My legs were still achy — but I figured the best way to get rid of the strain was to keep going. More pain! After one round, though, I decided I would combine the routes of the last two days and headed back the long way, looping through several blocks I had not walked previously.

I listened to some podcasts as I had finished the audio book, making a mental note to download my next “read”. I am not really a podcast person, but listening to two episodes of something I picked up from The New York Times, I think I’m going to start exploring more. I am quite late to the game, I know..

The park had a haze and smelled of crisp grass and morning dew. You could hear the birds in the stillness, with a few stragglers here and there making their way around the park like me. I was alone, but not alone.

I liked that.
Walking in the park
The park benches beckoned, but I couldn’t give in or I would end up sitting there until my time was up, and I wouldn’t have accomplished anything except stare at all that greenery with no steps clocked.

The mask, I have to admit, makes it a little harder to exert effort. But I couldn’t take it off. There were people huffing and puffing ahead of me or heading towards me, and I couldn’t risk it. Plus, the norm nowadays is to give those without masks “the look” — and I would be the last one to invite that air of disdain — so I comply. I actually managed to do it!

Almost an hour this time, as I had to be conscious of making it back home before 9am, so I can log in and begin the day’s work. I thought I deserved a treat and headed to the neighborhood Starbucks. Nitro Cold Brew in hand, I walked home. (All of 70 calories!)

My legs are a bit sore.. but I think I’m feeling better. And what’s more, I feel great. I actually did three days straight — and I’m hoping I keep this up in the next few days.

I like how I know that I’m doing something good for my body, but more so for my mental health. I am “opening up” to the world at my own pace, in my own way. We cope in different ways. This is how I do it — with a walk in the park.

Adobo Saturday

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Despite promising myself I would write this morning, it’s almost 6pm and now is the only time I finally did. No, I haven’t been slaving away doing chores, although I have a had a productive day. I actually have three posts drafted in the last couple of days, but I don’t think any of them are ready to be posted.

The last hour or so has been split between preparing tonight’s adobo dinner and reading up on the news. I am actually proud of myself for fixing my bedroom window and adding some additional buffer against the intense sunlight that peeks through it in the morning. I also went through my ribbon and notions stash and fixed them neatly. I plan to cut a swatch of the contents of each box and paste them outside so I don’t have to open each box to find out what’s in each of them. That will have to wait for later. I have done enough today.

I went over a heap of magazines that I had always intended to read, but they piled up without me fulfilling that promise to myself. So I sat down and set a quota of 5 that I would keep, and the rest are in a pile that I will tie up and bundle to throw in the recycling bin later. I think I have made much progress now that I am able to throw out bundles of magazines. They are way past their time — much like an expiration date in my head. I tell myself that I will never have the time to go through all of them, and they are piling up. I must destash!

It’s a rainy Saturday in my neck of the woods. Nice bedroom weather. I would’ve napped had I not gotten so into fixing that corner of my room. I turned my Audible on and listened to “The Handmaid’s Tale” as I went through my stuff. Later, I lay in bed and read.

No baking or sewing for me today. Maybe later. I’m still debating with myself about opening a bottle of Chardonnay. Should I? I remind myself I’m out of cheese, but the bottle chilling in the fridge might go well with the adobo later.

I have tried to muster the courage to start eating more purposely going forward, as the weighing scale has tipped upwards. (In short, I’m trying to start dieting again.). I’ve even started getting the supplies I need to actually begin the first phase of my usual Dukan Diet. Maybe I just have to stop baking and cooking — and yet, I grabbed some tripe and ox feet from the meat section yesterday in the hopes of cooking some Callos during the week.

I guess we shall see.

Meanwhile, the adobo is done and ready, but the boy isn’t ready to eat yet. I had long ago given up eating rice, but this is one meal you cannot have without. There goes the diet.. well, I haven’t really started mine yet, but I’m getting there.

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Hair, etc.

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New York City is abuzz with the much-anticipated move to Phase II of the reopening, meaning restaurants will now be allowed to do indoor dining, retail stores can now open for actual shopping, and salons and barbershops can open. Yay! I am relieved and almost giggly excited about this.

See, before the pandemic hit New York full steam, I was planning a trip home to Manila to celebrate my Mom’s 85th birthday. For the last two years or so, I have cut my hair once every 3-4 months only. When I’m in Manila, I actually get a haircut there, and I’ve found a hairstylist that I have gone to twice and had planned to get an appointment with this time around as well. Alas, the breakout of the virus in most Asia ports, and the threat of self-quarantining upon return, made me decide to cancel the trip.

So instead, I had made up my mind to have my hairstylist and friend Kelly Park, do my hair as she has the last 14 years or so. I was about to send her a message to make an appointment when the shelter in place order came down from the Governor. And that was that.

My hairstylist, Kelly ParkWhile I do have a couple of reliable hairstylists in different salons, Kelly has been a favorite, so much so that when she left the salon where we found her at, we looked high and low until I found her. She was a Korean and a Christian, and it so happened that the neighborhood nail salon I go to was owned by a nice Korean lady who decorated her salon with religious verses. From out of the blue, one time, I just thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask if she might perhaps know Kelly from Church. Kelly used to tell me that she would do the hair of her co-congregants for presentations, so I knew that her community knew her as a hairstylist. Well, what do you know… Grace from the nail salon knew her and gave me her phone number. She was also a customer and proudly showed me her bob. That was maybe 8 or so years ago, and two salons after, I have her on my contact list.

Today, I thought I’d get a foot in the door and ask for an appointment. I have always loved the way Kelly did my hair, whether or not it was the old short bob like before, or the way she trimmed my hair now that I wear it past my shoulders, and between her Korean English and my attempts at a clear explanation with visual aids, we have had a happy partnership all these years. She and Angelo have a history together as well — with pictures of the two of them when he was 4 or 5, and recently when we went to her to have Angelo’s hair processed. She was so shocked to see how the little boy was little no more.

She told me that the reopening wasn’t 100% sure but asked for my preferred times. I told her I would gladly take time off to go to her. And I will!

Something so routine is now something we long for. Planning for it like a special date and looking forward to it with anticipation. It’s not just seeing her, but actually being able to do something that we haven’t been able to the last 12 weeks. It gives new meaning to the saying that you really don’t know what you have until you lose it. Well, we got it back.. so time to enjoy it and use it!

I can easily have four inches cut off and I really wouldn’t look that much different from my usual style. After years of shunning the short hairstyle I wore for 14 years or so, I am actually seriously thinking of going back.. or not. Maybe I’ll do something halfway.. a little shorter than my usual hairstyle but longer than the one I sported way back when. Or maybe I will just leave it to Kelly to decide.

I am so looking forward to sitting in that chair, PPE and all — and without the customary hug like we used to share. It would be great to see her again. And yes, I will Uber with the windows open, mask on, hand sanitizer ready.

Baby steps to going back to what used to be, even if what we go back to isn’t going to be the same life we lived before the virus took us over.

Life goes on. Yes, even if the Mayor is threatening that we aren’t sure about Phase II happening on Monday. He sounds like the principal threatening the student population with sanctions if we don’t behave and earn the perks. I don’t want to taint this post with the negative — although I am aware of the things that are holding him back. We shall wait and see. And I can’t wait to see Kelly and get that much needed trim. Soon!

Monday Musings: Another week at home

Monday musings in paper and inkIt’s been a rather productive past couple of days. I’ve written here, and I’ve been busy doing other things — baking, sewing, and destashing. I am trying to do more of the latter but have been minimally successful. Still, I think I’m doing pretty much better these days. I’d hate to think that I’m getting used to working from home and sheltering in place, but it is a relief to feel a sense of being settled.

Here’s a slew of blurbs to sort out my thoughts this Monday, as my week kicks off.

Time to take the weighing scale a little seriously. I must confess that I’ve been pretty bad in this department. I weigh myself every day and like I said before, I know what pushes my weight up and yet I still indulge. Ice cream is the main culprit! I have finished what I have and have sworn it off.. Of course, all the baking of banana bread and bread pudding doesn’t help at all. I am trying to do without the rice from here on. I successfully “evaded” it last night when I opted to eat a different dinner from theadobo that the boy requested for. I tell myself it’s time to get ready for the eventual return to office — even if the date is not yet clear as of today. I know it’s looming on the horizon — soon.

Another black life lost. Last Friday, a regrettable incident took place in Atlanta where a man’s life was snuffed out by gunfire from a police officer. Rayshard Brooks fell asleep on the wheel while in line for a Wendy’s drive through. Police assistance was requested. Police came. What started out as a regular conversation followed by a failed sobriety test, a chase, failed taser shots and gun shots rang out. Then Rayshard fell. He died in the hospital.

I am no stranger to such random disregard for life — but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept. I am sad for all the parties concerned that this had to happen. Sadder still that it only stokes the fire of dissent from the thousands out in the streets chanting “Black Lives Matter!”. It is ironic that this happens just as the whole country is waking up to the stark reality that racism has no good side to it. For a country that prides itself as being the greatest country on earth, the stain of racism in as many years as it has existed stains the United States and magnifies how it is so fractured at its roots.

I am outraged that time and again, lives are lost with such wanton disregard for its sanctity. The discussion goes on. And the anger simmers.

It feels like quite a disconnect after I wrote those three paragraphs up there. I think I’ll stop here today, and write another day when the emotions are not as raw.

Black lives — ALL LIVES — matter.

Banana Pancake Saturday

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It’s sunny and a cool 68F outside. I’m seriously debating doing the laundry today, but I prefer slow Saturdays — one of only two days when I can wake up whenever I want to. Still, I was roused at 7:30am. It must be the bright sun outside my window, peering through the almost black out but not quite black out curtains. I stayed in bed. Then a call from Manila came — I begged off. I wanted to enjoy more of the morning in bed, just staying under the sheets.

I eventually walked to the kitchen at around 10am or so. I suddenly remembered I had a new batch of bananas arrive with Monday’s grocery delivery. These days, I order them to make them overripe for the next loaf of banana bread. Bad news from the scales notwithstanding, I decided to make banana pancakes for breakfast. The banana bread can wait until later.

I do the complete mix like most everyone else, but I usually jazz it up with Parmesan cheese when I feel like making Pancake House-pretend cheese pancakes. Or I would sandwich slices of Kraft Caramel in between regular pancakes. For banana pancakes, I use the following ratio:

  • 2 portions pancake mix
  • 2 portions water
  • 1 portion banana

For this batch, since it was breakfast for one (the boy sticks to cereal and milk or pretzels when it’s too late in the day), my “portion” was 1/3 cup. So I did

  • 2/3 cup pancake mix
  • diluted with 2/3 cup water,
  • then added 1/3 cup mashed bananas (which is approximately 2/3rds of a good size banana or all of a small one)

Using 1/3 cup batter, I came up with 4 pancakes.

Banana pancakes Saturday

I don’t know about you, but I’m nuts about Banana Nutella Pancakes. I try to sneak in a sliver or two of butter between the first pair of pancakes, then dress up the top pancake with some delicious Nutella. Can’t do without the chopped almonds on top!

Banana pancakes Saturday

For some reason, I love pecans with my banana bread, but almonds for the pancakes. Maybe it’s the texture of the bread or medium the banana is mixed in with.. Others would add whipped cream, but I prefer my pancakes slathered with heavy cream. Sinfully delicious!

Banana pancakes Saturday

I didn’t even put any syrup anymore because the Nutella took care of that, and if you ate this with more banana as pictured, the ripe slices will add enough sweetness. But that’s just me.

Banana pancakes Saturday

Breakfasts like this are a weekend luxury. Back when I was commuting to work in the city, breakfast meant coffee — and an occasional treat of a slice of banana bread or a bread pudding muffin. (Hence, the quest to make both while sheltering in place.). But the fancy pancakes on weekends was a treat I looked forward to these days when I am allowed some “Me” time.

It’s almost noon and the boy is still asleep. No surprise there. And wonder of wonders, I’m about to publish my second post of the day.

I have two boxes to assemble heading home. Then there’s the sewing and hopefully some jewelry making. I am ready to take a stab at stringing this fancy labradorite necklace I had bought stones for a year ago. Not that I can wear them anywhere right now — but crafting has always been a very good form of relaxation for me.

Here’s to a quiet and relaxing weekend for everyone.. try some banana pancakes when you can.

Banana pancakes Saturday

Family dinner

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I used to rush home with dinner on my mind. What I served my son usually depended on how early or late I got home. 7:30 meant a regular meal, but anywhere after or closer to 8pm meant ordering out for the food to get there either before I arrive or as I walk in the door.

For the past few weeks, dinner while,sheltering in place has been a memorable time of bonding for my son and I. We sit together and choose a show we both like and watch as we eat dinner together. We used to eat in the living room, but mostly him eating as I sat to rest or prepare my dinner separately.

We used to order out for ribs, but I thought I’d give it a try a couple of weeks back. It was quite a success and I.m doing a second round today.

It wasn’t so much the recipe that I looked for but rather the method to cook the ribs in the oven, and I found this very helpful method reading “Easy, Fall-off-the-bone Oven Baked Ribs recipe”

Fall off the bone I’ve baked ribs

  • I like that this recipe taught me how to prepare the ribs by taking off the membrane at the back of the bones. I easily peeled it off from the corner of one end and gave it a tug towards the other end. This will make for a really tender rib by rib piece. You can cook the whole rack or cut it into two or three chunks.
  • The ribs will shed a lot of juice and fat while cooking, so use a deep pan. I made the mistake of using a cookie sheet covered with foil, and while the sheet held all the juice, I didn’t realize how much because it was covered with foil. Some of the juice ended up spilling into the oven as I pulled it out to remove the foil and put on the barbecue sauce.
  • After seasoning generously with salt and pepper, I let it cook in the oven for three hours, cooking covered with aluminum foil at 275F.
  • After taking the ribs out, I slathered both sides generously with my choice of barbecue sauce and broiled it on low for 30 minutes. I kept things simple and used the old reliable barbecue sauce from the grocery. Works well for my boy. There are a ton of recipes for dry rubs and barbecue sauces out there to try, but the picky eater prefers it simpler.

I plan our meals on a day to day basis based on a list of his preferred dishes, still asking him for his preference when he wakes up around noon. His repertoire has grown by half and any addition to the old reliables is a welcome alternative. He probably finds it weird that I watch him eat with gusto, but it flatters me no end to see him savoring each bite. His seal of approval at the end of the meal with a thank you and a simple “That was a good dinner, Mom,” makes all the effort worth it. I am heartened that even if I offer to order out, he prefers I cook him dinner instead.

This is one of the gifts of sheltering in place that I’ve come to appreciate despite all the other things that go with it. Being able to have the luxury of preparing long-cooking meals while working from home has been a plus. The regular meals, I cook after I shut down the laptop and rest a bit. I don’t miss the commute going home when I would usually be too tired that I would nap on the bus. Special meals no longer need to be reserved for the weekend.

We’ve pretty much settled into our routine, although I would prefer he woke up by noon. These days, I let him sleep as late as he wants. School will be over soon and he won’t have to go through the attendance and sign on routine of online learning. But the meals will continue… even when we go back to the routine of me rushing home from working in the city.

He makes his rice on the cooker and sets the table. I’m trying to train him to share in the meal preparation which is part of the whole routine of the family dinner. He chooses a show we will both watch only together, over the meal. It stops when dinner ends, to be continued the next time we sit down together. That, too, is a continuing conversation. We laugh and talk as we eat — sometimes I ask him for spoilers which he won’t give. He tells me to wait and see.

That’s our family dinner in the time of corona. The sheltering in place has given us a new routine — something we will continue as we move forward to whatever as close to normal we can get.

In my kitchen: Bread Pudding

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When I was a child, my mom used to dabble into baking and she made this delectable bread pudding. It was old bread and condensed milk and raisins — and I still remember how I enjoyed every slice whenever she got the chance to make it. That wasn’t often because she ran the family business. So those few items she did get the chance to spend time baking became happy memories of pudding and chocolate cake and upside down cake. Yum!

As I had shared here way back when, I never really knew I could cook until I landed here in New York. I would try baking occasionally, and while I had a lot of fun doing it and I was successful and quite happy with what came out of my oven most times, it took a lot of effort. Worse, the calories flashed like neon signs in front of my eyes.

Calories notwithstanding, this new staycation and work from home situation has given me a renewed vigor and interest in baking. I have always been a reluctant baker. I bought a mixer when my niece was here in 2018, and it remained in its box, unopened until March of this year. THAT reluctant.

On the whole, I had decided four to six weeks into this sheltering in place deal to make the most of the situation and be more forgiving of what I ate and how much of it I did. I even indulged in brewed coffee for the first few weeks until I gave it up, realizing it wasn’t helping with the difficulty drifting off to sleep at night. Even when we were in the office, I would grab a cup occasionally, but never after 12nn.

I still try to watch what I eat and know what triggers the uptick in my weighing scale, but I am trying to pace myself with the dieting. I know when it is futile to pretend when I am eating meals with my son, and trying out new dishes in the kitchen. Sometimes, I even end up eating a dish for days because they don’t pass the standards of the other person here at home. (I continue to try to offer new dishes to help provide variations to his meal repertoire.)

I’m a novice baker at best. That notwithstanding, I have always prided myself in being good with following instructions. These days, I try to minimize any adjustments in what is specified — and as much as possible, don’t substitute ingredients. Well, save for the bread. When I started eating bread again in March, I saved the ends of the loaf in the fridge, collecting them through the weeks with the very intention of making bread pudding. The first two recipes I tried used that old bread, and for the third, I followed the request to use challah bread. (Pronounced Ha-la).

Since these aren’t my recipes, I’m providing links here to the recipes I used, with a short review and a photo of my own pudding.

The first one I tried was this recipe for Simple Bread Pudding from the New York Times. I sliced my bread and came up with the six cups required. That really isn’t a lot of bread after cutting them into 1 inch cubes, and I was left with half my stash. Although most recipes discourage using whole wheat bread because of its lower absorption rate, half the bread in this pudding was whole wheat and I enjoyed it all the same.

Bread Pudding

Ingredients: Milk, bread, unsalted butter, salt, vanilla extract, sugar, eggs

Basic as can be, but as good a pudding as you can pull together. This is one recipe that you can alter to spice up with fruit later, sweeten it with sauce, or tweak the spices one way or the other. This is a good starter recipe if you’ve never made bread pudding, and it doesn’t require a whole lot of bread or ingredients.

For the second recipe, I decided to try allrecipe.com’s Bread Pudding II. (Yes, it had the “II’ and not just because it was my second recipe.). Still using my sliced bread, I altered the recipe a bit to use up all the bread I had. The recipe called for only 6 slices of day old bread, but that was clearly more than what the custard could soak. I adjusted the butter (recipe called for 2 and I used 3) and would’ve adjusted the raisins if I could for next time to just half. I used half a cup in was just a bit too much, even if I love raisins. I kept the ratio of the sugar to the eggs and milk as is, because I didn’t want to fiddle with the taste.

Bread Pudding

Ingredients: day old bread, butter, raisins, egg, milk, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract

This was a much sweeter custard which suits me just fine, because I have quite the sweet tooth. The assembly method also differed in that the butter was drizzled over the bread before the custard mix, and I could actually taste it in the portions it hit after the pudding was baked. The custard was poured into the pan instead of being mixed in, and you could just press the bread deep into the liquid with a fork. The raisin was drizzled on top, instead of mixed in, and the custard was sweet enough without it, but good with half the recommended portion.

I liked having this pudding with some heavy cream poured on top which might be too much for some, but it balanced out the sweetness beautifully.

For my third pan, I went to my fallback food recipe site these days, delish.com, and tried this Best-ever Bread Pudding recipe.

Bread puddiing

Ingredients: challah bread, egg, vanilla extract, nutmeg, kosher salt, whole milk, heavy cream, raisins

Yes, it was the best ever! I used challah bread as specified and did two separate mini ramekins just to test how it would crisp the edges that touched the dish. (I like parts of the pudding toasted, but not the entire top.). I tend to judge the pudding by the general taste instead of the texture and this was a good sweetness without overpowering your tastebuds. This recipe also, notably, did not use butter or cinnamon. It did use more milk and added cream which pumps it up with a lot of dairy. Of course, the challah bread which soaked in the custard mixture for 10 minutes did wonders for the entire pudding, and I loved the balance of bread, cream and sugar with every bite.

Of the three, this was the densest and came to a packed consistency. Easily my fave of all, inwould drift to this one– given that I would have the challah bread. It takes around 12 cups of sliced up bread to make up the challah loaf, so you will need more than the usual. Don’t be daunted by what seems to be a whole lot of bread, as the amount of liquid in the custard will give the bread a good soak reducing its bulk.

Having tried these 3 recipes, I will probably stick to one of the three if I make bread pudding a fourth time. I highly recommend hem all, with special mention going to the Best Ever Bread Pudding for those who want a really sweet version of the dish — this one hits the spot!

This is just one of the projects I have embarked on while sheltering in place. I’ve been more adventurous, striving to learn new things, even when confined to home. We have to learn to make the most of our situation and be grateful for what we can still do, despite all the restrictions and precaution against doing the things we were used to.

Three bread pudding recipes put to the test and counting.

100 Days

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AIt seems like it has been longer, but today, we marked 100 days sheltering in place as the Corona virus besieged us. And today, this 100th day, the same city that it brought to its knees reopened on its first phase to a slow return to work.

I look at those 100 days as a “gestation” or “incubation period where we New Yorkers were retrained and molded into a Corona virus weary city. I have never washed my hands so many times in a day — and I’ve sort of become an expert in sewing curves and top stitching after trying out several mask patterns. (Still a work in progress..)

I am less afraid to walk out the door now, but I’m not quite there yet where I can say I’ll go out tomorrow after doing errands today. I know that not everyone shares my sense of caution, which is why I remain vigilant.

Tomorrow, I’m backing my third bread pudding — trying out yet another recipe. When my bananas ripen, I will make my 4th loaf of banana bread. I’m trying to pull the brakes on the wanton disregard for calorie intake — and I admit I have quite a couple of pounds I can do without. But like our reopening, I’d like to take it one day at a time.

I’m trying not to get too stressed out by prospect of returning to work. I keep telling myself that while I welcome the chance to go back, I am not dying to do that — literally and figuratively. I still can’t sleep well. It takes a determined effort to drift off, even when my body is crying for sleep. But I have managed. I shouldn’t be complaining — my son and I have been luckier than most.

Sure, I have been cooking more, but I have always enjoyed watching my son enjoying a home cooked meal. It still warms my heart that even pre-Covid, he preferred my cooking to ordering out. He would normally relent only to give me a break from cooking during those days when I was too tired or running late to muster a decent meal in time. We have even taken to eating dinner together in the dining room, watching a favorite show together.

100 days and so many lives lost. I’m praying that the numbers don’t go up again.

I’ve gone back to art journaling — and today, for the first time, i wasn’t sewing masks. I was actually working on a pair of lounge shorts. They appear to be too big for me, but I’m happily finishing the project to send to my sister if it turns out too wonky to wear. And then I’ll make one in the right size.

I’m hoping to work on other sewing projects and finish my masks in the process. I think I’ve settled on a workable solution to the ties, and to date, I’ve tried a half dozen finished masks and have been tweaking them based on how they performed.

I’m still trying to figure out how I will make the labradorite cabochons I’ve been collecting into a statement necklace. I want to create some pieces soon — both for me and hopefully, the shop as well.

You’d think that life is just as it was. But it isn’t. I’ve done well staying home 2-3 weeks at a time. I’m trying to make that every 1-2 weeks now… baby steps.

I’m reading more on current events. I’ve even subscribed to the New York Times online.

Going out, though, has conjured a whole new set of routines. Where I used to be able to go out with just my wallet, the keys and my phone, these days I wear a crossbody bag with my money, disposable gloves, sanitizer and phone go. I don’t bring a purse, and I don’t bring my entire wallet. I no longer have to worry about make up — maybe save for a touch of eyeliner. I still put on the sunblock, of course.

I cross the street to walk away from people who I see have not heeded the call to wear face coverings outside. Where we used to give smokers the look, those mean looks are now reserved for those who refuse to listen and show their compliance.

It’s a new world out there. We

I am grateful to have survived the last 100 days. I hope that I will continue to be safe in the next 100 days, along with my son. I’m hopeful for a better 100 days, even if I know it’s a long and hard climb for all of us. We will adapt and we will cope and we will learn.

Life goes on.

In the midst of it all

1D194D4D-0EE0-4B49-8BBD-46396D693D4AThe past couple of days have been very emotional for everyone. Although our emotions may run in different directions and come from varied perspectives, it is undeniable that we have all been moved. We are in pain. We are angry. We are grieving.

As a person of color who migrated to the United States 20 years ago, the concept of discrimination is very real for me. I was not born here, and when you see me in the very diverse crowds of New York City, you know by sight that I am one of “the others”. I am one in a sea of immigrants that make up this great country. The color of my skin and my hair, and the shape of my eyes and my nose tell you that I’m not your typical American. I identify as Filipino. When people ask me where I’m from, I instinctively say the Philippines. Because that’s where I came from and that’s who I am.

No matter how progressive this part of the country is, you know that you continue to be viewed through a different lens. Sometimes favorably, sometimes not. But your color makes people see you a certain way — even among us who are of color.

New York City has been in the middle of some very violent expressions of anger and grief. What makes it worse is that there are many who have sought to take advantage of this collective grief and indignation, and used it as a smokescreen — literally — to commit acts of vandalism and criminality.

This is indeed, a sad time for my home city. As a New Yorker, it breaks my heart to see New Yorkers hurting fellow New Yorkers.

While you may think that the bigger brands and establishments can bear to suffer the loss of their wares and the destruction of their physical stores, we forget that there are New Yorkers who man those stores and actually look forward to returning to their regular jobs in the not so distant future. There were smaller establishments who were operating on a very thin lifeline and are now further burdened by the need to rebuild and restock. Deli stores, souvenir shops, name brand stores — beyond the shattered glass and the lost inventory, this whole period of violence has cast a pall on the job prospects of those who were hoping to cling to their employment there.

I watched some of the footage of these looting sprees and found myself suddenly gripped with fear as I saw throngs of people forcing doors open, breaking glass, peeling away the wooden barricades. Then there was anger as the frenzy began and they stormed the stores and came out with their own haul. One deli store owner stood by his door giving away water just so the looters would not ransack his store like they did the others who were open in the midst of the violence. One guy went into a computer and electronics store and came out with a MacBook in a box, and got chased by two others who grabbed it from him despite his efforts to protect his “haul”. One of the guys started attacking him while another ran off with his boxed Mac. I am sorry, but I can’t even be sad for the guy who lost his loot. I am, however, sad for the three of them who fought like barbarians over the stolen goods.

Friends and family have been asking how my son and I are doing. We are far from the fray, and this is another instance when I’m grateful that I’m working from home, and not forced to commute to the city to earn my paycheck. But even if I’m not in the heart of the violence, it is felt all around us with the constant reminders of a curfew in a city that used to be touted as the “City that never sleeps”.

I feel the outrage in the death of George Floyd and can understand the emotions that run deep. It was a senseless act showing a lack and even an absence of compassion. I grieve him, too. I understand the cause that the protesters are fighting for — but the message has been heard loud and clear all over the world. Even when we protest peacefully, if we defy orders to go home when the curfew has ensued, the civil disobedience we commit can detract from the message and the cause we are fighting for.

Other groups have been taking advantage of the anger and the grief. It is suspected that some of the violence instigated by supposed protestors are actually the doing of groups who want to sow further violence and discord. More people are getting hurt. Cooler heads need to intervene. The voices of reason need to make themselves heard.

And for the last few days, the issue that has beset us for the last almost 100 days of stay-at-home/sheltering-in-place has taken a backseat. I look at the sea of people in all the places where the protests have been taking place and I am afraid at the spike I anticipate we will see in infections in the next 10-12 days. All those lives lost to the disease, and here we are tempting fate again, brazenly daring the disease to come and overtake us anew.

Ten days ago, I was getting ready for the ultimate return to office — and it didn’t matter that I didn’t know when that would actually take place. With a Phase 1 reopening slated for this coming Monday, the delineated two week gap per phase, and knowing that I would likely be returning in Phase 3, I don’t think I will be called back earlier than mid-or late July. Possibly even later. Still, I feel a need to get ready for that day when I would have to wade through the commute and enter the building via a transportation hub were thousands of people walk through on any given day.

At the back of my head, I was also trying to prepare for a possible second wave. Disposable face masks are available again, and there are the very expensive bottles of hand sanitizer on some store shelves. Alcohol and disinfectant spray or wipes continue to be a prime commodity that continue to be unavailable, so I am trying to just have some in stock so that I am ready if they disappear from the shelves again.

I know that our battle with the disease is far from over. We have just managed to catch up with it with the social distancing and the sheltering in place. We managed to prevent people from congregating and giving the virus a Petrie dish to fester in.

Until the last couple of days.

I want to see people going back to work again, and the economy taking a deep breath that will somehow revive it even at the slowest of paces. I want to go back to something close to normal — because I know we will never go back to the way we used to do things before we were all sent home to slow the spread of disease. But I do not want to return to the daily report of hundreds of people dying and losing their battle with the on Covid. That is one place I don’t think any of us would want to go back to.

So I keep my fingers crossed that the protests happening in our midst will not be an ember that will light up a fire that we will battle to put out later on. We have barely recovered from the battle we are yet to wrap up. What happens if we get into that kind of a race against this disease again?

I don’t have a solution to the problems that face us regarding race. I think it has sparked a new stream of dialogue that will hopefully help us flesh out the pain and the struggle — and maybe bring us to a better place. Eventually. This is one problem that, like Covid, will take time to solve. One problem at a time, they say. No matter how unrelated these two issues may be, they beset us and besiege us. We need to fight each one as if there were two attackers threatening our lives on two sides. We cannot forget the one that took thousands of lives in the very recent past, while we fight for the lives that continue to be lost because of the color of their skin.

I’m afraid all I can do is keep my fingers crossed. That, in itself, is sad, and almost makes me feel helpless, because that only means there is really nothing I can do either way, except see how things play out in the weeks to come.