Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Chef, where are the ggggrrrecipes?!

Writing this on a break from writing tons of ingredients and measurements and procedures and... the secrets of the company. "Sigh". Where else can I write my sighs (and rants and raves) but on this little blog page? On my left forefinger, there's a bloated, water- filled, second- degree burn which I got yesterday from the hot steam of the soup. When you work with high- pressure stoves and the flames are rising up mad, there's no time to call mama- either you cook like a freak warrior or get your veggies burned, or lose your delicate stir- fry sauce. I did the first one and in the process get this... on my left forefinger.
So I spent the whole day- instead of cooking- encoding, editing the restaurant recipes. My burn has been rising a few millimeters at every hour that passes I want to prick it. How many recipes? Entrees? About two hundred? No wonder, this food blog page is already void of food pictures and recipes as any glorious food blog would go precisely because of that. How about uploading our recipes here? Oh...not if don't want to say farewell to my career.

Tomorrow, my deadline with the cooking Jedis. Recipe evaluation.

Monday, June 23, 2008

FIRE IN COCONUT CREAM: A Movie Review (Kailangan Kita a.k.a. "I Need You")

Intensely passionate. This will be a resident in my culinary film library, and, no matter what- will always be one of my favorite food films.

Claudine Barretto is one of the big actresses in the local industry. Pretty, sensuous, accomplished. Aga Muhlach is the face that has launched a thousand tons of oatmeal. And while the faces of his leading ladies – from Lea Salonga to Dayanara Torres- might change, his is a face that is so… so.. Jollibee.

Outside the context of movie technicalities, I enter into the film. With a little inclination on idealist views, I am looking at the Bicolana: the cook, the daughter, the person - who is personified in Lena Duran.

Carl (Aga Muhlach), is a New York- based accomplished celebrity chef with a large ego, who, just because he went to the States, insists that the Grand Canyon is more beautiful than the Mayon Volcano. Then there’s Lena (Claudine Barretto), a frail, magnolia- white Bicolana who is always in the kitchen. Carl comes home ahead of his bride, Lena’s elder sister Chrissy, who is trapped abroad for photo shoots. Carl stays with his fiancee’s family as he is supposed to have a big role in planning the wedding banquet.

The everyday life of the Durans unfold. It reminds me of barrio fiestas. Everyday at every meal, Lena seems to cook around five or so entrees for her parents and big brothers, and the guests who happen to come to their house. Very Filipino. It seems that Lena indeed has no time to put on a bra and brush her hair back not only because there was no one to lend her a hand in the kitchen but because she moves very, very slow. I don’t know what she is thinking while cooking all the time. But seeing her makes me want to tell her – as in Carl’s words- “I want to get you out of here!” – for there she is, an educated pretty lady, courageous enough (or is she) to deal with insurgents, but couldn’t talk to her father diplomatically (a la peace negotiation) what to do with her life. Maybe that is the reason why her father bosses her around because her attitude allows him to. For while her sister is a globe- trotting international model, I don’t know why is she dressed up like a chimay that even her sister’s fiancée mistook for one. She could have phoned Chrissy to give her some of those hand-me- downs, at least she’ll be cooking in a Prada…Also shows that Lena and Chrissy don’t have much of a sisterly bond.

Then there’s also something about Lena’s attitude that is so ironic, and I should agree with Papay when he said that they can live without her, and I think his point is this: if you wanted to serve your family because you love them, then why aren’t you happy doing it? Makes sense. You will also be wondering where have Lena’s self esteem and sense of happiness had gone. For godssake, you're cooking - smile little more!
Lena’s character is also meant to be a principled, passionate, sensuous cook- person as a whole. I was expecting to see that “spirit” in many scenes like when she and Carl were on a cooking duel. French cuisine vs. Filipino. Fancy vs. traditional. Coconut cream vs. canned cream. It was a scene I enjoyed most, admittedly, and I honestly applaud it. But then again, Lena lacks a little fire… that spice. She moves so slow! And even more as the movie played on, it doesn’t show when she grates the coconut. Coconut grating should be done with such physical intensity (or else you’d risk ruining the coconut flesh) and Lena was just too frail to do it- making me want to jump into the screen to do the grating and back to my popcorn afterwards. (Or she could have asked one of her big brothers to do the grating.) And when the drunk Carl tried to kiss her, she didn’t do anything about it. No resistance. Holy molly- it’s your sister’s fiancée- and he’s drunk! I could’ve thrown cold buckets of cold water to wake him up.

Nevertheless, the movie will keep you really going with a lot of surprises along the way. A confession of a priest. A father-and- son bonding (which I had no idea what happened afterwards). Liza Lorena, mamay, is the most beautiful woman in the film. Classic. And Johnny Delgado, papay, is the most natural – with that look of the eye, the throaty command, seems like he isn’t acting at all. Hats off!

Ergo, the scriptwriter /moviemaker are really some genius- they were able to stir a reaction like this from an ordinary movie viewer, plus the “buray ni ina!” occasional screech of Lena’s brothers which I haven’t heard in a long time. I couldn’t stop giggling.

I like the way the movie regarded Bicolano food. I haven’t seen yet any local movie that got into the “soul” of the food. But then with the soul, the spiciness of the laing, the fire of the Mayo Volcano, the versatility of the coconut cream, the wind in the fields, the happiness of the Bicolano dance- all must come together in the person’s package: Passionate. Loving. Free. Happy. Formless. Contented.

Watch the film to see if the characters ended up like that.

Ok, the rating. I have no other comment on the movie except that I was just too saturated with the drama. The kitchen was great, transported me into the familiar kitchens we had when I was growing up… the dried taro leaves, the clay pots, the coconuts. I should give it 95% - for despite the emotions, I was highly entertained. Besides, I like food movies so that’s a big plus. I like the love scene, too (eat your heart out, Titanic!) one of the best I have seen , local or foreign, the cinematography, music.
The other 5% went into the fact that again, my real life is already full of drama which makes me- not much of a big drama fan anymore- much less at situations where it is caused by excess baggage.
Support the local Filipino film industry. Visit

Monday, June 16, 2008

You Tasty Tricky Little Mollusks…

Fifteen minutes to closing time. Last call at the kitchen. Then as we were about to sum up what seemed to be a great day, a customer returned a plateful of snails. “Waiter! My snails are blah- blah- blah…” WTF! I will not write here the details of that incident, rather, I’d choose to write about the snails in the wild wilderness.

(After thirty- two minutes pause).

I’ll be the first to admit that I know very little about preparing great snails. I am quite familiar about that snail with parsley and garlic butter and snail- stuffed tomatoes… But to get way too friendly with the snails and knock at their stubborn doors to please purge as much dirt as they can, that I am not genius at.

Perhaps these salivating little creatures are playing their joke (read: revenge) on me. For when we were kids, there were plenty of snails in our backyard. Succulent, fleshy, phlegmatic animals as large as my child’s fists that grew in the rice fields. When the field water was starting to subside, I would start picking them one by one. Their tongue- like little bodies were out of their shell- the antennae (that held their eyes!), moving about, or sometimes feeding, and I, the giant bully predator would disturb that small, peaceful existence. I would touch those little antennae and the poor snail would pull back into its shell, and seeing this reaction, a menacing grin would cross my face. I would place my forefinger into that opening to keep the slug from shutting up, but it pulled back anyway, sticky saliva and all. And they did shut themselves up- all coiled into that hard shell. I would knock at the shell, but the snail wouldn’t pay attention anyway. Then they’d lay eggs in the muddy walls of the rice paddies, and with a stick, the young Food Huntress would poke on these snail eggs and I was guilty of my first massacre.

Now years later- as if my destiny with snails isn’t fulfilled yet, we meet again! And in the kitchen at that! How could these helpless little mollusks pose a danger to my career?

In our kitchen we use live snails, not canned. And to prepare live snails, here’s a tip from the Balthazar Cookbook:

“In a shallow baking dish or pan, soak the snails in lukewarm water for 10 minutes. Discard any snails that haven’t begun to emerge from their shells. Moisten the rim of a large bowl and then press the rim into a plate to coat. Place the snails in the bowl and cover with water and 1 teaspoon of salt. The snails will emerge from their shells. Proceed with cooking the snails in Court Bouillon as directed by the recipe.”

Warning: Depending on the source, the taste of snails vary. If you are not prepared to experience the natural essence of snails (they feed on dead things, carry sands, crawl on mud, etc.) and if you do have a pre- programmed expectation of taste, then know that even the best restaurant can’t satisfy you. Keep an open mind.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Feng Shui, Chinese Dinners and the Engagement Ring

If it hadn’t been for Fly Girl 01, I wouldn’t be writing this very moment. I wouldn’t have a blog page in the first place. Because last year, sensing that I was moping over a bad heart break (or boredom), she dragged me by the hair and smashed my face on the keyboard – “Get over that dork and open a web diary!” Ok, that’s an exaggeration- my sister won’t do that. What she did was fix my page, install widgets… and treat me to free cappuccinos. Don’t get fooled by her flying suits and kickass adventures. Fly Girl has a marshmallow heart and candy- sweet girly-ness like Rainbowbrite. If people’s personalities were desserts, she’d be like Krispy Kreme’s best- selling melt-in-your mouth donut or a caramel sundae.

And to return the favor… I didn’t frankly know what to do, except to be grateful. Grateful for everything as if someone has feng- shuied you, or pre- arranged your life way before you were born: you were given great siblings. You were like two peas in a pod, and until you were ten years old you had the same haircut, same knapsacks, and the same clothes cut from the same fabric.
You travel together.

You eat from the same plate.

And there at the dinner table are where our differences most evident. Fly Girl can’t do without a fork and a knife while I had been a little used to chopsticks. She asks me why I like Chinese dinners because she would never eat buchi or ma-chang, and would prefer bloody steak over peking duck.

She once confessed to see the Chinese as mysterious and a little creepy. She said she’s more comfortable walking around the streets of Jolo than Chinatown; and while I am genuinely fascinated by Zhang Yimou films and Jet Li’s wushu, she likes Paris Hilton and the Desperate Housewives. She’d rather see the Grand Canyon than the Great Wall. Or the White House over the Forbidden City. She’s among the gun people, I’m among the knife people. And when our uniforms are hung side by side at home, anyone could immediately see what the other is doing: chopper flyer, onion chopper. She reads helicopter manuals, I sleep with cookbooks. I’m fat, she’s not. Let's leave it right there...

Highly logical and inclined into the scientific method of doing things, my sister is a non- believer of feng shui and white magic. I am a believer of anything – take belief away from me and I’ll be no less than a squashed fruitfly. So at the start of the Year of the Rat, I was listening to feng shui gurus on TV who said that if you want to meet the love of your life, place a peony flower on the southwest of your house. I didn’t have a peony flower, and at this point, I wouldn’t want to see the love of my life yet (nope, am not in the proper mindset). But according to feng shui, though, like the Rabbits, this is the perfect year for the Sheep to bump into their soul mates- if soul mates ever exist. I am a Sheep, alright, and I do bump into people. But… soul mates? What soul mates?

Anyway, for all my badness and stupidities, I still feel more comfortable to see others becoming happy first before I do. My life rule #9, before I get hitched (or even meet that true love- whoever the hell he is), I want my older sisters to go first. A good virtue of hunters is to park their spears sometimes and lie back and wait patiently.

Behind her back, I experimented the feng shui guru’s advise on my sister who isn’t into things Chinese nor believes that the universe has a certain harmonious orderliness. I proceeded anyway- what have I got to lose?

I placed Fly Girl's picture at the southwest of our house with a… not a peony- but a pink pony (my sister is born in the Year of the Horse) last January. I was visualizing her to be that “pink pony”- all flushed with love. I said, (though coupled with a strong belief), I just wanted to see if it works. The theory is that, if Fly Girl falls in love this year- or finds her mate- then without a doubt, feng shui makes sense. It doesn’t matter if she believes in it. What matters is that, it is true that the universe has certain harmonious order and whether we like it or not, it works on our lives in mysterious ways.

Well, did she meet the love of her life? Scroll below.

What does the ring on Fly Girl's finger tell you?

Don't ask me if feng shui works, I'm no expert. But while I can make you a good wok- fragrant stir- fry, ask the Chinese what feng shui does for them.