Category Archives: Food

Week 34: Cook an egg with solar power

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First, though, I have to explain that I did this more than a month ago. I’ve been under the weather more than usual the past weeks (watch out for a post about that) and that made it difficult to do Supertamad or even come up with the right words. But now I’m back and I want to tell you about this new cooking style I picked up at the peak of summer.

It was already hot when that April day began. I felt as if the sun was just three feet away from our house. By 8 a.m. the garden was already parched; the soil was brown, cracked, and hard. In the backyard, the trees stood still; not a single leaf quivered from a breeze.

Inside the house, we were all sweaty, sticky, irritable, and, in the case of The One Who Spits, covered in neon green pen ink. It was around 10 a.m. when I realized I better think of a diversion before The One Who Spits and The Tactless Child clawed each other’s eyes out.

I remembered an old Archie comic strip where Jughead cooked an egg on the sidewalk on a hot summer day. Perfect. I put a non-stick frying pan on a cement patch in the garden, in the sunlight. No sense wasting a good egg just for entertainment, see. About three hours later, after I’d used up every bit of my patience as a referee, I called a truce. The kids immediately put down their weapons when I announced that we were going to do an experiment.

The Tactless Child cracked the egg over the pan, covered it, and we waited. There was a brief scuffle when The One Who Spits came over with his small yellow umbrella and held it over the pan “because it’s raining.” But he was distracted a few seconds later by a bunch of ants ganging up on a poor writhing worm. We did want to keep Humpty company, but it was just too hot outside. So we escaped indoors where, to keep the spirit of the outdoors, we had a little picnic in the living room. The Tactless Child brought along the kitchen timer which she set every 10 minutes. Each time the timer set off shrilly, she’d ask, “Is it done yet?” I’d trudge out to the egg, check, say, “No,” and The One Who Spits would try to sneak a dried twig into the pan. We did this every 10 minutes for about an hour and a half.

Finally, the egg really was cooked. I must admit, I didn’t think it would work. But the sunny-side-up egg looked like it was ready for breakfast. It wasn’t as firm as those cooked over a flame or electric current, but it still looked safe to eat without fear of salmonella poisoning. Imagine that, the day actually was so hot that we cooked an egg on the ground.

To celebrate a great experiment, I seasoned the egg with salt and said we were going to have it as a snack with bread. But I was wrong there. The Tactless Child said she didn’t want to eat a dirty egg (she didn’t care if it never made contact with the ground or her brother’s garnish of twigs). The One Who Spits took one forkful of the egg then spit it out a second later. To show them I meant what I said, I had to eat some until I realized I’d put in too much salt. In the end, our dog ate the egg after I disguised it under a mound of fish.

I was proud of our little experiment and I had a lot of nerdy fun doing it. But I’m even happier that inside our house, away from the glorious sun, we have a stove where we can cook a perfect egg in five minutes and not an hour and a half.

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Week 31: Eat my way through three countries in five days

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Two weeks ago, The Hub and I flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia to attend a friend’s wedding (which The Hub also shot). On the way, we did a one-night stop-over in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, and then coming home, we stayed for a night in Singapore. Many of the travel books I’ve read have said that eating in these countries is an experience not to be missed. I was already familiar with Singaporean cuisine, but I’d never been to Vietnam or Cambodia. So, adventurous eater that I am, I slid a pack of M&M’s in my hand-carry. I thought it would be my lucky charm; that caressing it in my pocket would ward off any cooked bugs in my meals.

I hardly needed the M&M’s, after all.

In Ho Chi Minh, The Hub and I set off from our hotel bright and early. We were going to Ben Thanh market, a ten-minute walk away. The market is right in the center of Ho Chi Minh and is probably the city’s answer to Manila’s Divisoria, with mounds of souvenirs, jewelry, and clothes. After haggling with persistent salesgirls for a couple of hours, The Hub and I decided it was time to eat.

We wanted to go to a place where the locals ate, too, so we ignored the guide books and asked one of the salesgirls where we could go. She pointed us to the center of Ben Thanh, where there were about 10 food stalls. Unlike in the shopping area, where the crowd was 98-percent tourist, the people clustered around the food stalls were 70-percent Vietnamese. That did it, lunch was here.

We sat at a short white-tiled counter facing a glass partition where, on the other side, we could watch our cooks prepare our meal. They were a couple of elderly women wearing floral aprons. One manned the stove and grill, and the other manned the prep area. On the table in front of them were bowls of fresh vegetables and spices. Over and over, with quick and smooth movements, the sous chef passed her hands over the bowls of ingredients and within seconds, a previously empty white bowl would be overflowing with noodles, vegetables, spring rolls, and anything else her customers asked for. While we sat waiting, an orchestra of aromas flew at us – that served as the appetizer.

The Hub and I had spring rolls, mounds of herbs, rice noodles, barbecue (guess who had that under her noodles and spring rolls), and more vegetables. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, and judging by the way he just sniffed up his bowl, it was The Hub’s, too.

By late that afternoon, The Hub and I were in Siem Reap. Immediately, we were swept up into the itinerary of the bride and groom, who were perfect hosts. We had dinner at a restaurant named Pyongyang (seriously) and watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat (worthy of another post).

We were left to ourselves the day after the wedding. So to set the mood right, we headed to the Old Market – a charming block-and-a-half of stalls selling tourist trinkets, clothes, books, and antiques. There’s also plastic kitchenware (which you will swear look exactly like the ones in Manila) and shoes. In the middle of the market, right next to the closet-sized hairdressers’ stalls, is the wet market.

Exploring all these, The Hub and I discovered a charming side street that was lined with cozy restaurants. And in the midst of these was a small place that gave free popcorn as appetizer. Needless to say, The Hub and I ate here. They served really good Amok (a traditional Cambodian way of cooking coconut sauce into fish or chicken, recommended by my friend The Scholar) – the fish and chicken came wrapped in banana leaves and swam in vegetables and thick white sauce. The place was a perfect fusion of worlds – the walls were covered with posters advertising Cambodian liquor, a concert, and travel tours. Then on another wall, the TV was on HBO, and we had lunch to Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider’s antics.

Later on, after watching the sunset on the tip of another temple, Bakheng, which sits on a hilltop, The Hub and I made our way to Pub Street. This isn’t really the name of the street, which leads to the Old Market, but it might as well be with all the bars and restaurants on it. At night, Siem Reap lights up and the tourists weary from walking the temples all day get their second wind. Local restaurateurs line up a wide sidewalk with tables and a portable kitchen. For a dollar and fifty each, The Hub and I had heaping plates of fried rice, chicken, and more vegetables. This wasn’t where locals ate – we sat among fellow tourists – but it was closer to the real deal, I guess, than a restaurant where tourist buses brought their clients to.

Two days later, we were in Singapore to visit my brother’s family and, owing to the city state’s significantly higher standard of living, we celebrated by having lunch in Ikea. We craved Swedish food in Singapore. It was more due to multi-tasking than anything (and not having enough time to do the street food) – I had to satisfy my Ikea fix and The Hub needed to replenish his stash of lingonberries. The meatballs were the same as I remembered them, and the cold cod fish I had was a pleasantly crunchy surprise.

In one of our shelves at home now sits a book on Cambodian cooking. Hope springs eternal.

Week 28: Dinner Without TV

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I thought it would be so simple to start imposing the no-TV-during-dinner rule. The goal was to eventually ease out the need or want for TV during meals. The first obstacle was explaining it to the kids.

“But why do we have to turn off the TV?” The Tactless Child asked.

“So we can talk about our day,” I said.

“We can talk about it now so later when we eat, we don’t need to talk anymore,” she said.

I figured if I responded to that, I’d talk myself into a corner. So I tried it another way.

“We need to focus on eating and not on watching when we eat dinner,” I said.

“But I can eat and watch at the same time,” The Tactless Child said. “I think that’s why God didn’t put my eyes inside my mouth.”

Decades ago, she would probably have been made to kneel on a plate of salt for that, but I was actually filled with pride. Gosh, my six-year-old can talk circles around her mother.

The One Who Spits didn’t need reason. “Turn off! Turn off!” he said when he noticed that we were sitting at the table for dinner and the TV was not on. (He has yet to understand opposites.)

After a ten-minute discussion with The Tactless Child, I came to about a hair-width of turning the TV back on. But I stood my ground and finally got the two seated and quiet.

Thanks to the wonderful ability of kids to adapt, we actually did have a conversation over dinner. One of the things we talked about was how The Tactless Child wanted a pet puppy and a pet kitten.

“When you’re older and can take care of them yourself,” I told her.

She said, “How about we get them now and I’ll watch you take care of them so when I’m older I’ll know what to do?”

The One Who Spits amused himself by announcing “Made otot!” to no one in particular every time he passed gas. Had The Hub been at dinner then, this would have merited a discussion. But I was too caught up watching for The Tactless Child’s vocal maneuverings that I couldn’t scold gas announcements at the same time.

The other obstacle was keeping the kids in their seats. Without the TV keeping them riveted, they felt restless, I think. The Tactless Child kept getting up and showing me dance moves. And When he reached his five-minute limit for sitting still, The One Who Spits took to jumping in his high chair.

Despite all that, both kids finished their dinner without the noisy distraction of the TV. I now understand, to a point, why some parents who subscribe to the Waldorf method of education drape curtains over their TV sets to discourage their kids from watching any TV. I’m not sure if we’ll get to that point (and I’m not sure if I want to). But I’ve found a good and healthy challenge in TV-less mealtimes.

It is stressful, sure – we’ve been doing this for a week and, until now, dinner every day is preceded by 10 minutes of lawyering by The Tactless Child. On the other hand, The One Who Spits, who has considerably less vocabulary, has adjusted, more or less. He now accepts that dinner time is no-TV time. He has stuck to his gas announcements routine, though. I hope that by the time Week 52 rolls around, we’ll have nailed TV-less breakfast and TV-less lunch as well.

Week 22: Try a new restaurant

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One Saturday, The Hub and I found ourselves at dusk on the way to Angono, Rizal, where neither of us has been. We were going to do a feature on Balaw-Balaw restaurant for a travel magazine – he was going to take the photos, I was going to write the story. Our expectations of the food, based on (what else?) the Internet, were high enough so that we just had a half-lunch to make space for dinner. But first, we had to get to the restaurant.

My concept of Angono was vague, at best. It was “out there,” as far as I was concerned. And so I spent two hours on Google Maps, zooming in and zooming out of streets and barangays, trying to find something familiar. Finally, I was able to put together some sketchy directions and we were off.

On Google Maps, the directions made perfect sense. Translated to my barely legible scribbling, though, we had to make several U-turns and stop to ask for directions many times (I love how The Hub is so in touch with his feminine side). The directions weren’t always helpful (“Dumiretso lang kayo. Sa gawi doon, kumanan kayo. Tapos kaliwa naman sa banda doon.”) and we missed several landmarks but we finally, obviously, found Balaw-Balaw.

From what we read on travel blogs, we knew we weren’t headed to a fine dining restaurant. It helped a lot that The Hub and I kept our expectations open. Because this place was definitely different from the rest. For starters, two huge busts of people we didn’t know guarded the entrance. Over it hung a twinkling Christmas lantern that, according to one of the waiters, had been there for the past five years. The beams over the dining area were covered with masks of higantes.  (Every November, Angono celebrates the feast of St. Clement with a parade of Higantes, papier mache replicas of huge people which are three times taller than the normal person. Angono’s identity is tied to this fiesta.)

Beyond this dining area was an art gallery. And above this gallery was a room full of sculptures done by Perdigon Vocalan, the late artist who put Angono on the map with his art and who opened Balaw-Balaw with his wife almost 30 years ago. In his room of sculptures, there were lifesize statues of Jesus and his disciples sitting at a table, presumably to partake of the last supper. There were also gigantic busts of more strangers. I scuttled out of that room about 10 seconds after I entered it. To a more artistic eye, however, the room would have been a treasure trove.

Over the years, Balaw-balaw has become famous for its menu, which is adventurous, to say the least. They do serve normal food, like adobo. But they also serve Uok (larva of beetle), Nilasing na palaka (frogs marinated in wine), sinabawang balot (fertilized duck egg cooked bulalo style), binusang hantik sa bawang, kamaro (crickets from rice fields), Soup No. 5 (butt and balls of cow), and, for diners partial to some crunch, there was the variant Sizzling Butt and Balls.

I wasn’t sure if The Hub was considering Soup No. 5 or its sizzling variant but I definitely was not looking forward to the frogs marinated in wine (I pictured them alive and swimming in a vat half-filled with wine). I didn’t mind the Uok or even the Binusang Hantik because I could just pretend I was eating strange-looking peanuts. Anyway, my inner turmoil didn’t matter because we were having dinner with the friendly owner, Luzvimin Vocalan, and she had pre-ordered our food for us.

We were served Sinabawang Balut, among other nicer-sounding dishes. I think on Week 3 in this blog, I tried to eat an entire balut but didn’t because of a philosophical discussion I had with The Tactless Child about unborn ducklings. So with the bowl full of floating balut in front of me this time, I told myself, this is my big chance!

I began with the yellow part, the easy part. I looked over at The Hub and he was shoveling everything into his mouth at lightning speed. I figured I’d have to eat faster, too, before both The Hub and our host finish and notice how I’m just pushing around the dead duckling’s feet and beak and feathers in my bowl. First in were the clump of feathers and what looked like the back. It was at this moment, while I was chewing furiously and trying very hard not to vomit on the table, that our host answered a question I had asked about Angono artists. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done – attempting to look intelligent while keeping bile and duckling bits from coming up my throat. It took three more spoonfuls to finish my sinabawang balut. But, hurrah, I finally did it!

I’m itching to go back and try the other items on their menu. But I’d still stay away from the frogs.

Balaw-balaw Specialty Restaurant is at 16 Don Justo St., Dona Justa Village, Angono, Rizal. (There’s no need to make reservations, but if you still want to, call them at (02) 651.0110.)

Week 3: Eat (half a) Balut

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I have never been gastronomically adventurous. About eight years ago, I tried to challenge this by joining a press junket to Paete, Laguna to sample dishes at a restuarant known for serving food out of the ordinary. For lunch, I had, among other things, frogs’ legs, a snake, and snails. Perhaps from the stress of digesting all that exotic stuff, I went home and was sick for a week.

Since then, I have stuck to safer food – cornflakes with condensed milk have never let me down. Between The Hub and I, though, it is I who likes to mix up the menu. Ordering at restaurants, The Hub is as predictable as a calendar. The Hooligan gets that from him. The T-Rex eats anything but leaves. He gets that from his nickname.

But I digress. Tonight, desperate for a Week-3 task, I bought balut (a fertilized duck egg carrying a nearly developed embryo). The last time I ate one was when I was pregnant with the T-Rex and was ravenous 24/7. But even then, I only went as far as eating the yellow part. No duckling fetuses for me, thank you. Tonight, I told mysef, would be different. I would eat it all, down to the webbed feet.

As I was getting ready to tap one egg on the table to make a small opening at the pointed end (through which I would suck out the juice), The Hooligan asked me what I was doing.

About to eat the balut, I said.

But what about the baby duck inside, she asked.

I’ll eat that, too, I said.

But you’ll hurt it, she said.

I didn’t know how to explain to her without giving her nightmares that the baby duck was already cooked. And that people eat cooked dead baby ducks all the time.

Let’s just wait for it to hatch, she told me.

Without getting into a discussion of the food chain, I decided to wait until The Hooligan was asleep before I devoured the egg.

Now, she’s asleep and the bowl of balut is on my desk, winking at me as I type. As before, I’ve sucked the juice and eaten the yellow part with no problem. And again, I just can’t get myself to eat the embryo. It grosses me out, it does. But I would’ve gotten over that and gobbled the duck whole, if only to get the damn thing over with. It’s The Hooligan that’s making me hesitate. What would she think tomorrow morning when she jumps out of bed to check if the eggs have hatched only to find out that last night, her evil old mother ate them all?

I will wait, instead, until The Hooligan is a teenager, jaded by facebook, Hollywood, and the Philippine government, before I eat another balut in front of her. Until then, I will have to content myself with a half-baked Week 3.

Kitchen Katastrophe

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Once upon a time, I stepped into our kitchen and opened the freezer. I peered at the petrified hunks of meat inside, deciding on which one would be easiest to cook. I picked the pork. Lunch would be adobo. Boil the pork in vinegar and soy sauce with chunks of garlic and pieces of laurel leaves floating around. How hard could it be, I thought.

Very, it turned out.

I didn’t know if I was supposed to boil the pork chunks in water first and then let them simmer in vinegar and soy sauce (or if it were those ingredients I was supposed to use in the first place). But I figured, the vinegar and soy sauce mixture would also boil anyway, so I plunked the meat straight into that, put the flame on high, and covered the pot. Ten minutes later, a scorched smell wafted from the pot. Alarmed, I flipped off the lid. The liquid had dried up! I scraped the meat off the bottom of the pot and poured more vinegar and soy sauce over the chunks. It must have been too much this time because soon, I heard  a hiss and the liquid came bubbling out from under the lid, putting out the flame on the stove. By then, the meat had started to shrivel up. So I scraped off the scorched parts and nuked the chunks in the microwave until everything looked cooked (it didn’t dawn on me at the time to actually taste what I was cooking). Then I snuck the meat back on the stove with the damn vinegar and soy sauce mixture over very low fire.

The disastrous lunch was masked by my family’s diplomacy. The Hub served himself two pieces of my “adobo” and then discreetly buried them under a mountain of salad and brown rice. The Hooligan took one look at lunch and said, “No sex.” (She was just learning to talk then. She meant, “No, thanks.”) The most direct critique I got came from our househelp. Eating my leftover “adobo” a few days later, she told me, “Parang kumakain ako ng manggang hilaw.” (She doesn’t work for us anymore.)

Since then, when I had no choice but to produce a meal myself (except when I make pesto pasta, which is really just blending leaves and olive oil), I went the tried-and-tested route: cross the street to order inasal.

So on week 5, I’m going to cook a dish that will be scrumptious and will bring my “adobo” days to an end. I don’t know what that dish will be yet, though. Any suggestions?