In Which One Has a Night-Out with Old Friends…

The college crowd...well, some of us anyway.

The college crowd…well, some of us anyway.

Thanks to social media, it is now much easier to reconnect with old friends – specifically, friends from way, way back.  Such was the case with my old college crowd: Facebook brought the whole kit and caboodle together regardless of distance, busy schedules, and responsibilities.  That in mind, plans were made, schedules set, and we all looked forward to a spanking good time with the madcap girls we’d spent four of the best years of our lives with.

But things happen, really: of a group of sixty-odd, only four of us actually showed up for dinner at Chili’s.  We stared at each other in disbelief and wondered, “What the bloody hell happened to everyone else?”  But, no matter: we had a pretty good dinner and a glorious good time.

Bottomless Tostadas

Bottomless Tostadas

Chili’s is one of those chains that has some pretty consistent food and bev, has helpings suitable for feeding a whole herd, and the sort of ambiance that is conducive to loud chatter and raucous, uninhibited laughter – well before you’ve ordered anything alcoholic.  😉  The food is best described as Tex-Mex: big flavours, serving platters about the size of the state of Texas; pub food with all the knobs turned up to eleven, as it were.

We chose [amazingly] not to order anything alcoholic that evening, seeing how all of us save one were commuting home, and opted for refillable iced tea and house lemonade.  To kick-start the evening, we snagged a bowl of bottomless tostadas – large corn chips, still warm and oh so crispy, served with the tangy house salsa.  As the name suggests, you can get as much as you want; a server will check in from time to time to refill the bowl.  Quite a steal at P 375.00, really, and a convivial way to start the meal.


The Triple Dipper

Also on the menu for the evening: the Triple Dipper, a combination of three appetisers served with three sauces and one’s choice of either fresh carrot sticks or celery stalks.

We opted to bring back memories of the onion rings and calamari we scarfed down as schoolgirls by choosing onion strings with ranch dressing, calamari with chipotle aioli, and Texas cheese poppersjalapeno-infused cheese bites that were crunchy on the outside, gorgeously melting within.  The queso fundido that came with it seemed superfluous, but the play of Monterey Jack, cheddar, and chili-fied mozzarella was neat.

Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad

Boneless Buffalo Chicken Salad

Since we were thinking of keeping things light (!), we had to have a salad.  Us being us, however, we chose the robust and hearty boneless Buffalo chicken salad with its generous strips of spicy-tangy chicken on top of ranch-dressed greens, tortilla slivers, bacon, and pico de gallo.  It was a happy choice and quite satisfying.

Long may this friendship last!

Long may this friendship last!

We talked well into the night: schoolgirl pranks and plays, terrible professors and cheeky schoolmates, the grand slam we carried off with regard to cheerleading and cheer-dancing, past dates, old nemeses, current concerns; our families, partners (in love or in crime, non-existent and otherwise), our respective occupations; our prospects for the future – romantic and otherwise.

When all is said and done, long may this friendship last.  🙂


In Which There are Stories Behind This Year’s Happy Christmas…

Cookies in progress

Cookies in progress

Christmas has always been my busy season.  As a longtime advertising/PR practitioner, Christmas is when those last-minute client projects are bandied about at the agency just when people are already in a Holiday frame of mind and are ready to go on vacation.  As a member of a Church ministry dedicated to the beautification of the sanctuary, it’s the time of year when the ministry elders are busy arranging the greenery for Advent and the magnificent floral arrangements for Christmas proper.  Finally, as a food blogger and home baker, things get super hectic this time of year because of all the baking I do – cakes, cookies, Madeleines, and loaves of bread – for family and friends.

This Christmas, the Christmas of the year when my life took several serious, hairpin-curve turns, was a hell of a lot crazier than most.  I was helping out with a client event that ran from the 19th to the 23rd: wine promotion, wine sampling, wine sales.  That said, I was on my feet on an average of twelve hours a day, packing wine bottles into gift bags, spieling about how fantastic the wine was (it is, by the way) and what shoppers could get with every purchase, coordinating with the team on site or via mobile, and worrying if the talent we’d drafted to do the acoustic entertainment for the event was on his way over.  (He always showed up; he’s a professional, after all.  And he and a fellow artist delivered over 110% with each and every performance.)

Needless to say that I was tired – still tired, as a matter of fact, while I’m writing this post – and my energy was all but gone.  But Christmas is a holiday – a holy day – that demands commitment on the part of those who have so much to give: you give it all you’ve got or you don’t give at all, you mean, sodding beast.  I had Sunday off, so I spent the time at home baking.

Please note that I’ve been baking every weekend for the past several weeks: peanut butter and Toblerone chip cookies and candy-bar blondies for my godmothers and my mother’s best friends, as well as brownies for my department mates and our head-of-agency.  And then I remembered how I promised a friend a loaf of bread for Christmas – and that was where things got hairy.

Yes, I DID roast hazelnuts this year

Yes, I DID roast hazelnuts this year

How do you renew a friendship that ended rather acrimoniously when you were only twenty and didn’t know any better; when you were so hurt and licked your wounds bitterly?  When you swore upon everything holy that, if you never saw each other again, it would be perfect because it would make all the hurt go away?  Believe it or not, it’s a bloody hell of a lot easier than you think.

You talk online: tentatively at first, because you don’t know what frame of mind you’re both in.  Then, when some level of comfort in company is achieved, your conversations run for hours.  Minds are opened again, souls talk to each other; ideas are bandied back and forth and back again.  And you find yourself saying that you make an amazing pane al cioccolato – that magnificently rustic Italian chocolate yeast bread, with hazelnuts, even! – and, oops, you’ve committed yourself into baking for the long haul.


Just out of the oven

And so it went: a batch of cocoa-infused oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies was dolloped onto cookie sheets, baked till the edges were crisp and the middles chewy and melty.  More chocolate chopped, hazelnuts roasted over medium heat and chopped; kneaded into dough and left to rise overnight.

And, when the cookies were carefully bundled into tubs for one’s boss and my sister’s delivery room team at the hospital where she works, loaves were just as carefully moulded by hand, left to prove, and baked.  And wrapped with care.

People ask: “Why spend all that effort on something that will take hours to prepare and but minutes to scarf down?  For that matter, why bother baking for people who – in our opinion – don’t care at all that much for you?”  It would be so easy to give in to the negativity and give up, but I scrapped ‘surrender’ from my mental vocabulary when I finished therapy.  You never give up; your efforts do matter – and the satisfaction you get is all that matters.  Who cares what the Negative Nellies say?

Yes, it does matter.  It matters to the boss with high standards who appreciates your work at the office and how you go the extra mile to help out; a boss who has been a gruff and kind mentor.  It matters to the young nurses who can’t be with their families this season because they’re on duty, helping bring new lives into this world.  It matters to one young artist who has come to Manila for the first time and wasn’t expecting anything save for his talent fee and the fare home.  It matters to a lady, a dear family friend, who had to have hip-replacement surgery just before the Holidays to alleviate the excruciating pain.

It matters to a friend who had been chalked up as lost for good because of a silly, childish infatuation – but has grown up as both man and artist and now dispenses the most sane, solid, sensible advice to a writer who continues to struggle in accepting both herself and her abilities.  More so because he was in a dither over breakfast and – hey, look here! – finds a loaf of bread that comes in handy.

The things we do, the effort we expend doing them…it all matters.  People may not appreciate it, but Someone up there – the One whose birth we celebrate at Christmas – does.  And His approval is all that truly matters.

Happy Christmas, everyone.  🙂


In Which There are Pick-Me-Ups Against Holiday Stress…

Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding

Mango jasmine milk tea with custard pudding

There are big events to handle at the office, gifts to buy and gifts to bake, people to coordinate with, meet-ups to schedule or cancel depending on the situation.  The last few days before the Holidays are a mad, mad time – especially for those of us in the advertising industry.  There are numerous events to handle for clients: end-of-year sales runs/mini-concerts, ads to place before the country shuts down for two weeks of Yuletide cheer, last-minute arrangements and contract renewals.  Believe me when I say that it would be so very easy to buckle under the pressure and burn out.

Thank goodness, therefore, for both coffee and tea breaks.  Sometimes, all you need is a wee cuppa tea or joe to stiffen up your spine for just a little longer; other times, only something massive, iced, and calorific will do.  For that, Serenitea is a good stand-by.  The mango jasmine milk tea with its rather floral flavour is one such sipper.  The blossomy notes of the jasmine black tea are played up beautifully by the addition of lightly sweetened mango compote.  Add generous dollops of custard pudding and you, dear reader, are all set for a slurp-filled break.

Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner

Sea salt Mocha and a Chocolate Berliner

If you’re hankering for something more substantial with a slightly savoury edge, Hollys Coffee offers its sea-salt mocha.  You get a distinctively chocolatey drink made with good espresso and a shot of Belgian chocolate ganachecreamy-rich, duskily bittersweet, and so moreish.  The sprinkle of sea salt makes the flavours of both chocolate and coffee pop.  Order it hot to enjoy the full benefit of its invigorating smoothness.

So, what do you readers sip or nosh on to stave off the stress?  😉

In Which There is Lunch for the Weary Shopper…

Orange juice for staying perky...

Orange juice for staying perky…

This is what happens when the Christmas rush kicks in: you find yourself scrambling from one mall to another trying to find appropriate presents (or, if you’re like me, the appropriate ingredients for whatever it is you’re planning to give away as presents), you hop aboard public transport, get stuck in two hours of standstill traffic, scramble like a madwoman from store to store, hoist several bulky packages on your person, get stuck in an additional two hours of traffic, manage to get home, and slump to the floor in exhaustion.

Fortunately, in between rushing to and fro, one can fuel up and rest those flagging feet and spirits for a while.  In this case, I was off to my old standby: Tokyo Cafe.

Namban chicken set

Namban chicken set

TC offers a selection of set meal menus that feature a bowl of soup, a small salad, a saucer of pickles, hiyayakko-doufu (cold tofu salad), rice, and a main course.  Throwing in P 60.00 gets you a drink and you can opt for iced or hot coffee or an iced orange juice.  Shown here is the Namban chicken set which features torikatsu (breaded chicken fillets) and ebi furai (deep-fried breaded prawns).  Seriously, it may not be at the top of the class given that the breading was heavy and the soup tepid at best, but it was enough to add a bit of spring back into my step and get my Holiday shopping done.


In Which One’s Hot Chocolate has a Hint of Spice…

Hot chocolate and cinnamon

Hot chocolate and cinnamon

As I am writing today’s post, Typhoon Ruby (International Code Name: Hagupit) is raging throughout the Visayas and even we in Manila have not been spared.  Public storm signal #1 was raised over the National Capital Region last night at 11 PM – and stronger signals remain hoisted over much of the Central Philippines, including the provinces of Samar and Leyte, both of which were ravaged by the devastating Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan last year.

The best course of action is to stay indoors at this point in time and keep one’s self posted with regard to news updates on the radio or on television (if, of course, the power holds out).

Hot chocolate, in my personal opinion, is one of the best ways by which bad news can be made a little easier to deal with.  If you’ve the time to spare or if you’re calmer than most people, you’d make it from scratch: whisking together milk, dark chocolate, and spices over medium heat till that subtle alchemy transforms those ingredients into a soothing drink.  But, if you’re too wired to do any work in the kitchen at the risk of burning yourself – or your house! – then instant mixes are fine.

Goya, that old local stalwart, has the Everyday brand of hot chocolate mixes.  There’s plain hot chocolate, chocolate with marshmallows, and the double chocolate with cinnamon.

If this doesn't hit the spot, nothing will.

If this doesn’t hit the spot, nothing will.

It’s surprisingly rich for an instant mix: dark, smoky, a slightly bitter edge softened somewhat by the nip of cinnamon added to it.  Cold weather comfort, indeed.

In the meantime, we huddle before our televisions or tablets, radios or laptops, and pray that the storm gives up and finally lets our people go.