Tag Archives: cooking

The Trip Part 3: De La Salle University and the Bamboo Organ

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Our trip wasn’t all lounging by the pool and enjoying fine home cooking. Sara and I are more of the museum type of tourists, and Judy was happy to oblige us. Our first outing took us to the Museo De La Salle. The first floor contained artifacts from the Spanish Colonial period, like furniture, Catholic shrines, and dresses (including one worn by the infamous Imelda Marcos). There was also a statue of the University’s patron Saint, John Baptist De La Salle. The second floor was a sight to behold. Our tour guide led us through the servant passages of an immaculate reproduction of 19th Century Spanish Patrician’s house. There are a few heritage houses in BC, but they are nothing like this. Every room was decorated from floor to ceiling with ornate paintings and intricately carved furniture. There was an entire Catholic chapel adjacent to the living room where services, weddings and funerals were all held for the Patrician’s family. There were segregated drawing rooms for both the men and the women (Simon opined that the boys must have sneaked in to see the girls room at some point, and vice versa). The dining room contained these massive fans that were waved by servants in an adjacent room via strings. The kitchen itself was large enough to employ a small army. The most interesting part of the house was the servant passages we were taking the tour through. Unlike the inner chambers, they seemed to get the most natural light of all the rooms. There were sliding doors going to all the rooms in the house so that the Patrician’s family would never see the servants. We were told that if a servant made eye contact with a member of the Patrician’s family or their guests, they would be sacked immediately.

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After lunch we were driven to Las Piñas City and the Church of St. Joseph, which contained the world’s only Bamboo Organ. The cool stone church was a welcome refuge from the tropical sun. One of the organ players was on hand to give us a demonstration. The sound was a lot warmer than a metal organ, and there was this interesting mechanism where air was pumped through a pool of water which made a sound like a flock of calling birds. In the basement of the church there was a small exhibit detailing the history of the organ and the church. The construction of the organ was a laborious process, involving burying large bamboo stalks in sand for long periods of time so they would not get eaten by insects before the organ was finished. The tour guide told us that the organ was only around 200 years old, but we said that was okay because it was still older than our own country. There was also a chronology of the Church’s history, depicting its trials through earthquakes, plagues, and war. It was apparent that the Philippines’ recent history had been quite tumultuous, as we would soon see in our tour of the old city of Intramuros.

The Trip Part 2: Ayala Alabang

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Once Sara and I had adjusted to the time zone a bit, Sara’s Uncle Don took us out for lunch at the Asian Development Bank where he works as a lawyer. The ADB makes their business by helping Asian governments finance public works projects, like dams and bridges. The head office seemed more like a self-sufficient compound than anything else. There was a full-service garage with a gas pump, and the company store shipped in groceries from anywhere in the world for their international team of economic hotshots. The restaurant had a piano player and made quite the fine steak. From there we drove to Don and Judy’s house in the suburb of Ayala Alabang.

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Aside from the Spanish colonial architecture and security checkpoint, Ayala Alabang looked like a pretty normal gated community. There was a church, a community field, a country club, and even a small convenience store. The neighborhood is home to quite a few expatriates, as well as the staff that maintains all the houses. The wages in the Philippines are as such that houses like these will employ cooks, housekeepers, gardeners, or combinations of all three. Don and Judy’s house was no exception. They had a gardener named Nestor, a cook named Natty, and a housekeeper named Anning.

Judy and Sara with Simon, Jonah and Noah respectively.

Judy and Sara with Simon, Jonah and Noah respectively.

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Don and Judy's House

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Guest House

Guest Room

Guest Room

Now, if you know Don and Judy, you may have heard of their three boys, Simon, Noah, and Jonah. They are fraternal triplets and are 10-years-old as of this writing. They are very intelligent and inquisitive. They go through books like nobody’s business, and I think they came up with a plan to buy an iPhone through buying and selling beanie babies after I showed them my own device. Since Judy is trained as a teacher, she home-schools the boys in a small classroom in the second level of their guest house where Sara and I got to stay.

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Channeling my 10-year-old self, I thought it was very cool. Everything was very hands-on. They had charts to count in English, French, Roman and Mayan. For projects they completed relief maps of Africa and clay models of human skin layers. The construction of their tree-house was used to teach geometry. My personal favorite was their comparative novel studies. Simon, Noah and Jonah go through so many books that they were able to follow authors like Gary Paulsen, and made charts of all the similarities and differences between their novels.

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Natty, Sara and Anning

I must say Sara and I never ate as well during the whole trip as we had when Natty was cooking. For dinner there was food like stuffed peppers, chicken stir-fry wrapped in banana leaves, and curried beef. Breakfast included waffles, french toast, bacon and eggs. Sara and I should e-mail them for some recipes. However, I doubt we’ll ever get the presentation right!

Christmas Crush


I think I identify more with the Grinch now than I ever did as a kid. The live-action movie’s mushy backstory had nothing to do with it. The Grinch, I found, is a gestalt of our love/hate relationship with the Holiday season. Sure we sing along when the voice of Tony the Tiger belts out “You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch”, but on some level we all root for him. While he does take all of the Whos’ stuff, he also steals all of the fire-hazard Christmas trees, all of the fruit-cakes, and all of the “Jingle-cats” CDs. In the same way that Godzilla found legions of fans by destroying crowded transit systems and soul-destroying sales offices, the Grinch entertains us by battling the Christmas monster every year.

Most Christmas stories deal with that conflict between crass commercialism and the true meaning of Christmas. If that meaning is “peace on earth and good will to men”, why haven’t we dispensed with the whole rowdiness aspect of Christmas? We’ve tried several times over the centuries, but it just hasn’t stuck. How can we progress as a species if we spend our money on inflatable snowman displays? Then again, why are we defining progress as a lack of inflatable snowman displays?

This year, Sara and I have been involved in no less than 5 Christmas related live shows either through our church or Sara’s school. On December 20th, we braved bad sushi and stifling crowds to go shopping in Metrotown mall. Why would two seemingly sane people go through with all of this? Is it because we owe some money to a perversely festive loan shark? Not a chance. There is a high that comes from all this Christmas rigmarole. “Peace on earth and good will to men” may seem like a simple concept, but it’s meaningless if it is not expressed. We all have a primal need to express ourselves at some point in our lives. Christmas allows us to do that by putting our best foot forward. People attempt things with decorations, cooking, and singing that they would never do at any other time of the year. We need the hustle and bustle to communicate with our fellow humans in the strongest terms possible: “Peace on earth and good will to men”

Bonus:
Every year Sara’s school has a contest to rewrite Christmas carols. Sara’s class won this year, so without further ado, here’s “I Want An A+ On My Report Card”

And also, we have last year’s Holiday hit featuring Sara’s maiden name, “Miss Antak the Tiny Teacher”

Cooking


Nothing defines you as an adult quite like your ability to cook. You not only have the ability to feed yourself, but it shows you have the potential to cook for others, perhaps a family. No matter how much of human labor is replaced by automatic gadgets we are still able to justify our existence with a decent home-cooked meal.

However, for all the romance and honour surrounding cooking, it still takes time, practice, and many minutes fanning the smoke alarm. It’s true that not enough people cook for dinner. We’re dependent on processed and fast foods because when we’re worn out and tired at the end of the day, we just don’t have the energy to fire up the stand-up mixer and whip up some Thai chicken pizza. And I can say from experience that if you don’t have good knives, it really knocks the wind out of any culinary venture. On top of that, we have to worry about where our food comes from, whether it’s grown in a way that won’t leave us starving in a few decades. Nonetheless, the economy of leftovers, the decency of locally grown food and the feeling of a full stomach outweigh the consequences of having your diet designed by Kraft Foods.

I think the best way to make the transition off of processed foods is to make a compromise. One of the staples around our house is Japanese Curry. The sauce mix itself is full of fat, chemicals, and probably comes directly off of a plane from Japan. However, the recipe calls for any of vegetable and meat that you wish. It’s a simple meal that creates a base line for other more complex dishes.

Japanese Curry
1 Carrot
1 potato (or 1/2 a sweet potato)
1 medium onion
1 pound of meat (pork, chicken, beef)
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 cups of water
1 box of Japanese Curry Sauce mix (we use Glico)

Fry the meat in a saucepan, then remove from heat. Fry the chopped onions until clear, then add meat and other vegetables. Add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Turn down the element to medium-low and let the mixture simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add the curry cubes. Stir and let stand for a few minutes. Makes 4 servings.