Food trips past and present

We didn’t vacation in the Philippines this year. Heck, we wouldn’t have gone back, either, had Binay won. So now it’s near Christmas and Filipino food is making me homesick for the dishes that are difficult to find/eat here. Sometimes the hankering is so strong, I just have to whip it up even though it takes me hours to finish. Or ask  the hubby to cook. Like dinuguan, laing, siopao or fresh lumpia. Sometimes, though, I just stare at photos of the food trips we went on the last time we returned.


Love, love Chow King noodles in the Philippines. We have, however, stopped eating at Chow King outlets in the UAE because their dishes here do not taste the same as those back home. 

 Below was our lunch at Lando and Lorie’s Banay-Banay Eatery, which used to be a turo-turo cafeteria by the side of the national highway going to Manila. I think the last time we ate there was in 2001/2002 when our two older sons were still toddlers and we shopped for groceries in Lipa City’s South Supermarket. Even though it’s been more than ten years, I still remember the freshness of their seaweed salad in vinegar and onion – ah!


We still find it hard to believe that everything above (including drinks and desserts) cost less than 900 pesos!

Today, the restaurant is packed everyday with lines snaking around the tables longer than the lines at McDonald’s or Jollibee’s. At least, that’s what I saw when we visited in August 2014 with our four kids. It was very hard to get a table. It was harder still to catch a waitress’ eye to compute our bill. For the price of our lunch, it was definitely value for money! Sigh. It’s just too bad we had no time to return before flying back to Abu Dhabi.


Sigh! What I would do to eat sisig at Gerry’s Grill again …

We travelled to Bataan twice during our 2014 holiday in the Philippines. The first was to condole with a close friend over the murder of his wife. The second was to mourn said friend’s death less than a week later. Since Bataan is hours and hours away from Batangas City, our home base in the Philippines, we stopped at Gerry’s Grill to eat lunch. And boy! Everything was delicious: the pork bbq, the sisig, the grilled squid, etc … So much so that we simply had to eat at their SM Batangas City branch. Sadly, the quality of the dishes at Gerry’s Grill, SM Batangas City, was not up to par with those at their Bataan branch.


Yum, yum, yum .. I’m getting hungry …

Pining for food native to the Philippines lately, I’ve actually been looking at online recipes for bopis, sisig, goto, batchoy, kilawin, chicken pastel (which I tried cooking for the first time two days ago) and other uniquely Filipino fare. As if I don’t cook Filipino dishes every week, ha, ha!


Filipino sushi: Kilawing Tanige (lunch for October 16, 2016)

To get back, most of the ingredients are not available in our town which is close to the Saudi Arabia-UAE border. But. On December 1, we were in Dubai and went to Satwa to buy pork. And. There they were: pork liver, pork heart, pork legs, pork ears, pork chops, spare ribs, pork blood, minced pork from Brazil, suckling pig for lechon, etc … If Miss Piggy was there, I could just imagine her exclaiming


My eyes were bulging and I’m afraid I got a little carried away at the array of hams, hotdogs, bacons, tocino, etc … The hubby could not believe his eyes when the cashier tallied up our groceries. I reasoned out that we were buying Christmas gifts for family friends plus pork ingredients for our noche buena and New Year’s spread.


What else can you give to friends who (seem to) have everything? These are our Christmas gifts this year … and last year and the year before last …


Happiness is … Purefoods bacon for breakfast! Yeah, I got carried away and bought half a dozen packs of bacon.

Sadly, my budget’s not unlimited. Thus, it’s tiis na lang for the moment with canned bopis and sisig …


If I were in the Philippines, I wouldn’t even consider buying these …


Need I say that it looks better than it tastes?

Which I promptly cooked the next day for breakfast (I offered an alternative to the hubby and kids: beef stew). Of course the taste is a far cry from homemade bopis or bopis ordered in a restaurant. Still, it’s consoling that after spending so much, we got two free Toblerones from the grocery … so what if my kids enjoyed the chocolate better than the canned bopis?



Still I cook

A blogger I follow has beaten me to a review of Jonas Jonasson’s Hitman Anders. So. I will just post about the meals I have been preparing for the past month.


Chopped and cooked these veggies for our breakfast yesterday


Finally fried the last of the bacons we bought in Germany last August


Don’t they look tempting?

Truth is, I have been detesting my role as cook. If there’s one hat that I want to fling away, it’s the chef’s. With my kids now in vacay mode, being chained to the kitchen preparing meals has started to grate on my nerves. I dunno. Could it be related to that midlife event starting with the letter M? Maybe. Maybe not.


When imagination is far away and the health-conscious kids are demanding vegetables, there’s always Knorr soup to the rescue! Yep, I sometimes use soup mixes with MSG even though the hubby’s system cannot tolerate it – just to make veggies palatable to yours truly (the older kids have no problem). Except for the pechay leaves, you can’t see what I tossed in this photo but look below …


That’s sea bass fried in onions and oyster sauce. It’s the second time we ate sea bass (knowingly, duh!) First time was when I bought it unknowingly at the fish market and tossed it into a sinigang soup to make a quickie dinner.

Someday, I swear, I’ll compose verses along the likes of Maya Angelou’s famous poem. Right now, though, I can’t. Because. Still I cook.


Those quail eggs came from our backyard farm. This dish, btw, was finished in one sitting.


The hubby got sick this November so I prepared tinola – aka as chicken soup – several times this month.



I’m so thankful that my kids eat veggies plainly cooked. These were not steamed – they were simply tossed into the Saladmaster and taken out when its vapo-valve system “chimes” to signal that the food is cooked.


Before I slacked off (and before the hubby got sick) earlier this month: apple-carrot juiced in the Vitamix (on the left), coriander salad, carrot and cucumber sticks, fried tofu and lamb chops cooked in the pressure cooker


The lamb chops inside the pressure cooker, they smelled divine!


And now for dessert … or diet fare


Felt lazy to come up with blueberry cheesecake (why does it get eaten so quickly?) and so I just mixed these with the yogurt and jam above instead of buying those small fruit-flavored yogurts in the grocery. Thanks to Jamie Oliver for this one!


The end result (and the yogurt was already two weeks expired!)


While we were eating …


My daughter made the crust while I prepared the filling. The blueberries, which were bought at Lulu, came from Peru.

So. I rarely invite folks for dinner nowadays. There’s simply too much cooking to be done for the boys. Period.

But. There we were, the hubby asking our visitors to taste his bread (he’s been experimenting with all sorts of bread recipes and flour) and me biting my tongue from saying that it will be hard for anyone in our town to replicate it because the flour is one that is not available in Lulu (methinks it’s spelt but am not sure – have to Google translate first).


“What do you use to knead dough?”

Twas a good thing they asked. Because. The hubby pointed to my pink Kitchen Aid which I’d used for the first time since it arrived several months ago to make blueberry cheesecake. Which at the moment was inside the freezer and which I promptly brought out.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I muttered “Not this time!”


Because I can’t count anymore the number of times that I’ve forgotten to bring out a dish for visitors. There was the time, maybe ten years ago, when my friends had a feast cutting up the four chicken left roasting in the oven which I only recalled when they took their leave. Then there’s the baked potato and bacon casserole that I only took out of the oven after the guests to our anniversary party had gone. The cole slaw in the fridge that I only remembered when I took out the chocolate mousse desert that our guests had brought and which I sent home with them during a despedida dinner.

It comes with age, yes? Being forgetful, that is.

In any case, I did not forget to take photos in remembrance of a despedida dinner in honor of a couple soon to part – the husband is going home after he was made redundant during the first wave of retrenchments a few months ago while the wife will stay on with her job at a utilities firm. It was definitely a night to remember as we talked about parenting, being a Christian, expat life and raising third-culture kids.


How to prepare a healthy dinner when one is under time pressure? Fry salmon and cook veggies in the Saladmaster!  I swear, having the Saladmaster enables me to cook on the fly while cleaning the house for visitors.


The bacon bits are chicken, not pork, so it’s healthier. Ha, ha, truth is – pork is not readily available here and getting replacements that taste like pork is hit and miss. These chicken bacon do taste like the real thing. 


Blueberry cheesecake, anyone? I’ll throw in coffee and conversation …



This week I’m reading

6Well, it’s here. Hitman Anders, I mean. But. Jonas Jonasson’s third novel was not what I dug into tonight. Nah. That distinction went to a book that I’d been desperately wanting to get my hands on since early this year: Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible.

Billed as a modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the novel is a whopping 500+ pages and received mixed reviews over at Amazon. That, in itself, says nothing for an author’s ability to craft a compelling story that will thrill a reader because, as we all know, there are Jane Austen purists and then there are Jane Austen fans who do not mind watching Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (my kids found it enjoyable, btw).


These, plus Hitman Anders, are my birthday gifts to myself

So, here’s my verdict: it kept me reading till the last page. All in all, it was an enjoyable and delicious romp of a comedy. Though, to be honest, as one reviewer commented on Amazon, there were certain elements that turned me off. I mean, it was too modern for my taste with Lydia marrying a transgender (and Liz mouthing cliches like “Ham and Lydia are living their truth.” Bleh!) and Liz and Darcy copulating in hate sex fashion (who indulges in hate sex repeatedly, eh?)

Still, there was enough wit towards the end which made me LOL before closing the book. Though to be sure, Jane Austen is probably turning in her grave at how contemporary her story, er, heroine has become. Personally, I felt that Liz came off as a loser (c’mon, hankering and waiting for a guy for years at a time when so many dating apps exist … move on, girl !!!) minus the sparkling joie de vivre that must have captivated Austen’s Darcy. Also: Sittenfield took familial dysfunctionality to new heights with a reality-TV-star Bingley, pregnancy-obsessed Jane, shopping-addicted Mrs. Bennet and a bowling-mad Mary. In any case, the scenes I enjoyed the most were the confrontation scenes between Liz and Caroline Bingley which I’d love to do in real life. Sigh.


Ordered along with my birthday books, these are follow-ups to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers which I read during our vacation in August. These are actually gifts to my 16-year-old son on his birthday but of course, I will read them first!

Anyway, here’s to another delightful evening with Barbara Pym whose wit mimics that of Jane Austen such that Philip Larkin wrote of her: “I’d rather read a new Barbara Pym than a new Jane Austen.” After Crampton Hodnet, I just know Jane and Prudence will be another blissful time-travel to another world where decency and propriety rule. Cake, anyone?


Waiting for Hitman Anders

I seldom post about the books I buy online because, well, because they remain mostly unread. Heck, I try to read them at once after they arrive but life happens … a friend leaves or an acquaintance whom you’ve been meaning to invite for dinner suddenly dies, you see? So. Before I know it, they’re piled up on my bedside bookcase. And. I’ve forgotten the story.


Jonas Jonasson is probably the only living writer whose books I totally own. Since he’s written only three so far, they’re quite easy to collect, ha, ha. Atm (that’s tweetspeak for at the moment btw), I’m getting quite excited at his third, Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, which is said to be on its way to yours truly if an email from Book Depository is to be believed. When will it be in my hands? I don’t know. But the pleasure of waiting for books to arrive is …. indescribable.


My only collection of books by a single writer is below. Sometimes I feel nostalgic and want to read them just to wallow in the past because reading them brings to mind the lost innocence of my youth and the circumstances when I first read them. But. They’re not here.


If books were people, I guess there’d be more tears in the world.


September musings


Pizza made with leftover bread is always a welcome snack!

If someone were to ask me on my deathbed what my most significant achievement was, my reply would simply be: I cooked. Day in, day out.

That I managed to keep the hubby married to complicated moi for more than 20 years does not even come close. That I managed to have a trim waist (or so my friends say) after giving birth to four kids –without maintaining an exercise regimen, mind you! – is not even on the list. Cooking, however, is on a different level.


The first time I cooked chilli con carne, I forgot that I had a Knorr seasoning packet! For once, my kids love this dish even though it’s only now that I introduced it to our table …

It’s an activity that I never prepared for prior to marriage. And. Somehow, 20 years do not even seem like an adequate period of time to be called an expert. I mean, there’s still so much more to learn! I’m not joking, huh … You’d think that by now it’ll be easy peasy for someone who’s been doing it for more than 20 years. But.

I tell you: It. Does Not. Get Easy. With Age.


This was quite easy to prepare because the fish came from a can of Spanish sardines. All I had to do was saute the vegetables and pour in the fish and tada!

It’s a daily task that, somehow, gets more difficult as the years go by because, well, because my family has gone on the healthy living bandwagon minus any encouragement from yours truly. Yep. My husband and two older boys are now so, so disgustingly into meatless days and veggies all the time that sometimes I wonder what past sin I am being punished for.


I truly cannot recall when or what the circumstances behind this dish are. My days have actually been quite restful because the meat in our meals come from the sausages we brought back from Europe (had to buy a new luggage to accomodate all the foodstuff we bought!) but there’s pork here so it must have been leftover pork that was recycled.

Their rippling muscles may make any sports-minded or hulk-admiring female gasp but to me, the food, er, meal provider, all they do is remind me that I’ve got to redouble my efforts to cook healthy dishes.

Anyway. Here are the dishes that I’ve managed to come up these past few weeks without – get this! – resorting to take-outs or delivery since the first week of August.


Who doesn’t love kangkong with bagoong (shrimp paste)??? The kangkong leaves came from our backyard garden. 

It was a painful decision but I determined that foregoing take-outs and food delivery would result in savings of around Dh500/month, reasoning that such an amount would save us Dh6000/year. This September, we actually saved around Dh700. Whether that will hold true till September 2017 remains to be seen.


Hmmm. This reminds me that I also cooked, er, baked several rolls of embotido earlier this week. What housewife doesn’t like embotido? They save you the hassle of cooking for a day or two. And – they’re so easy to make: just mix up ground pork, pickle relish, carrots, raisins, seasoning and you’re all set for a relaxing day the next day. 

Meanwhile, I’m off to post another status update on FB along the likes of the “Nagmahal, nag-blah, blah, blah ….” meme. It’s not likely to garner many likes (my friends being less than ten) but it’s a truth (though not universally acknowledged) that a woman’s journey to the great beyond usually follows the route of “nagmahal, nagpakasal, nagluto …. hanggang namatay.”


Boiled 1-1/2 kilo of pasta this morning for my sons’ baon to school. I just love pasta dishes because they’re so easy to make. All you have to do is cut up the veggies while the pasta is boiling, not forgetting to put in the broccoli a minute before you drain the pasta. Then, mix them all up. The seasoning here came from the olive oil that came with the sun-dried tomatoes. 

July cooking (how to get your kids to eat more veggies)


The Bible never said Paul planted pineapples in Philippi … wonder how much a kilo of pineapples cost back home? (Dh 1 = Php 12.82)

Well, it’s nearing the end of another month of  … cooking – what else? And. Late night despedida get-togethers that stretch into the wee hours of the morn. Not being a party person, it got to the point where I truly wondered how much more could my body take. Anyway, we (the bod and my mind, that is) are  back to our usual sked (except for the coffee drinking on Friday nights which the hubby is protesting against, ha, ha) because frankly, getting near to the half-century mark has not been fun. What that means is that yesterday, on the 126th anniversary of Van Gogh’s suicide, one of my closest friends flew home for good. Coincidence? I sure don’t know … but July 29 is now forever marked in my memory.


July brought an abundance of mangoes courtesy of our gardener Jakat

Seasons come and seasons go and this season of having children at home promises to be over in several years’ time that even though July was such a busy month, I tried to muster enough energy to give nourishing food at the table. I am so thankful we did not go home this year because with the two elder boys at home for their school holidays, we are having more family meals. Below are the meals I cooked for the vedy, vedy hot July of 2016 (parusa ang maligo – the water temperature is above 40C!)


Pancit remains a non-favorite at our house (well, I started cooking it only after 20 years of marriage) but it provides a lovely excuse for inundating my children’s digestive system with roughage/fiber otherwise known as vegetables 

I’ve been wanting to post about how I get my kids to eat veggies but somehow never get around to it. Hopefully, the pics tell my story ….


This is left-over salmon (yeah, I like cooking in big batches instead of tingi-tingi). To make it more palatable for the next meal, I added a bit of soup … okay, I thinned down a sauce to make it more watery, er, soupy …


… then sprinkled veggies on top after turning off the heat. Doesn’t it look appetizing?

Because I tend to cook large amounts of food, I recycle food a lot. The challenge is in getting kids to eat the same food again so for me this becomes a perfect time to insert veggies …


I usually cook a kilo or two of steak so that there’s meat on hand for veggie dishes after I’ve served steak as the main dish. Here, I am recycling once again (steak that is served as steak usually is not cut up into small strips)


These are expensive back home so habang can-afford pa eh sige-sige tayo, he, he …


After sauteing and adding Knorr garlic sauce (which I again watered down into soup), adding veggies turns it into another dish! What’s more, the prep time has been halved because the meat is already cooked!

Of course it’s not only when I recycle that we eat veggies.


Adding Knorr garlic sauce (not watered down this time) and a sprinkle of green onions to fried salmon gives it a non-traditional flavor


Chopped up cucumber is a perennial favorite of mine – so easy to prepare, ha, ha … Plus, it gives me time to prepare a juice of cucumber, celery and ginger so there are good enzymes from raw veggies in our tummies

Pancit is not the only dish I cooked for the first time after being married for 20 years. I’ve been looking at the banana flowers for the longest time but refrained from cooking buying them because the hubby kept on telling me that they’re magulang na, in other words – too mature.


Finally could not resist my hankering for kilawin/adobong puso-ng-saging


It was as yummy as I dreamed it to  be (syempre! I even watched a YouTube video before making my first attempt)

Of course old-time favorites figured in the menu, not least because they’re easy to prepare.


Even though they taste it often enough, shrimp has not become a favorite with my kids – maybe because they have no idea how expensive it is back home? or maybe because they’re tired of it? In any case, shrimp dishes in our home always contain a veggie of some sort. 

Hey, much as I want to be a vegetarian, it’s hard to do so when you’re homeschooling and feeding a family of six that includes two male teenagers with suction cups in their stomachs. So here’s another meat dish with veggies that we ate in July.


Anyway, here are my rules for getting kids to eat veggies:

  1. Cut them up into smaller chunks when including them in meat dishes
  2. Serve them often (as salads or on their own)
  3. Juice them.
  4. Put them in soups.
  5. Put them in meat dishes.
  6. If you’re going to serve a vegetable dish such as ginisang ampalaya or chop suey, never ever offer an alternative.

Salads like this don’t need an expensive vinaigrette – why should you make those food processing companies richer when you can make your own? We just use olive oil (sold cheaply here), lemon and salt pepper to taste. Sometimes, we just eat them plain

The easiest way to get children to eat vegetables, of course, is to delay the introduction of sugary food and drinks until their preschool years. This is easier said than done but believe me, I’ve seen children who are not used to chips, donuts, ice-cream and other snacks readily available in the city get excited over and devour a merienda of plain yam or cassava (I can’t remember which), otherwise known as kamote. 


Veggies in Campbell’s soup

Finally, never underestimate the power of modeling. If you don’t eat vegetables, chances are your kids will not acquire a taste for vegetables. So. Eat up. And give the impression that you’re excited to do so in the name of health. Just remember: talking about its benefits won’t work if your children never see you eating vegetables and enjoying their taste. Still. If all else fails, chop up some veggies …


When chopping up veggies becomes a lifestyle, you can do so in a matter of minutes!


…. cook some bacon …


… buy some white sauce …


… and mix them into spaghetti pasta …


What kid can resist bacon?

Maybe white sauce is an acquired taste … it’s actually only now that the hubby likes spaghetti in white sauce aka carbonara and then again I’m not sure if that’s an answered prayer. In any case, July 2016 for us is most memorable for … tada! PAN DE SAL