In Which We Talk About the Food that Feeds the Fire for Writing…

Steakhouse burger.  Fries.  A soda.  STAT!

Steakhouse burger. Fries. A soda. STAT!

I’ve been writing professionally since the age of seventeen during my freshman year at uni when I got a gig writing spiels for EDTV 36, the distance education channel that was, at the time, operating from my alma mater, The Philippine Women’s University – Manila.  Since then, I’ve had a somewhat checkered career in advertising, public relations, and that murky field known as corporate research and white-paper writing.  But what I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was in high school is write stories and novels – and that is something that I’ve finally been doing of late.

People ask me if writers follow any special diets during their most creative periods.  Speaking as a twenty-year veteran of the field, however, I regret to say that no writer I know personally (myself included) follows a diet.  In fact, for most of us, the crunch and grind of writing makes us lose our appetites.  It is after the writing is done – say, you’ve handed the white-paper over to the boss, you’ve turned over the draft to the creative team, or you’ve gone and emailed/mailed your manuscript to a publisher – that we can eat and the food we pounce upon isn’t always the healthy sort.  In fact, nine times out of ten, a writer who has put down his or her pen will most likely go out for comfort food.

In my case, it almost always involves a burger run.  Almost as soon as my email program tells me that the document’s been sent out, I find myself bolting to the nearest burger joint for a sarnie-soda-and-fries fix.  Burger King is my heavyweight go-to-joint in most cases: the Angus Steakhouse Burger has both heft and beefy oomph to it – and Lord only knows how I need all that protein and all those amino acids to replenish my spent brain cells.  The fact that it has crunchy fried onions wodged in between the beef patty and the veg adds to its appeal.  Fries on the side?  Yes, please!  There is just something about salty, crunchy, sometimes soggy, fried potato sticks that I find rejuvenating for some odd reason.

On really bad days, however, I end up at Jollibee where I order the Ultimate Burger Steak – a 1/3 pound beef patty on garlic rice served with a mound of crunchy fries, a fried egg, and generous lashings of mushroom gravy.  Think of it as poutine on steroids, really.  I find it a comforting meal on days when people are being ornery and nothing seems to be going right.

Salted caramel, potatoes, vanilla soft serve...

Salted caramel, potatoes, vanilla soft serve…

And there are the days when my mind doesn’t seem to work and I find myself worrying if I can finish whatever it is I’m writing or if I even make it to my deadlines.  Those are the days when I have to stop and take deep, fortifying breaths; the days when I find that either coffee or hot chocolate is my only friend in the world and I just want to quit the human race.  These are my sundae and fries days, the times when I withdraw from the rest of humanity to try and get my thoughts and words back in sync.

Thank God that salted caramel sundaes are now available at my local McDonald’s!  The combination of sweet caramel made punchy by a sharp hit of salt over smooth vanilla ice cream is a real treat and soothes frazzled nerves like few other foods can.  Dipping the fries in this ambrosial slurry is a must; the bland, starchy flavor of the potato works so beautifully with the vanilla and caramel.  Yes, I know it’s very bad for the hips and the rest of me, but it gets things done!

Oh, how it truly gets things done!

Yes, I run the risk of becoming plumper than the proverbial partridge, but it helps me get things done – and then some.  And as I write an ending for my current project, I know that this particular end is but a herald for a new story to be told…

 

In Which Holiday Baking Doubles as Quiet Time…

Butter, sugar, peanut butter, chocolate - looks like a plan...

Butter, sugar, peanut butter, chocolate – looks like a plan…

For most people, the act of baking for the Holidays is a seriously stressful and wearying experience.  For me, however, I consider it quiet time for myself; a period of peace and introspection, a time when my hands can be busy while my mind rests for a bit.

It is, to be honest, an interesting time for me.  For starters: I finally quit my job.  I made the conscious decision to start afresh and to renew a tired body and an even wearier mind before setting out to do better things with my life.  The past twelve months were weird, to say the very least; I could not seem to psych myself into becoming enthusiastic about the things I did for work.  I kept getting sick: bouts of what seemed like the flu, then the flu itself, and stomach troubles.  I was a tenser-than-a-coiled-spring mess who found herself trying to fathom what to do next.

Despite a short, depressing spell when I considered giving up writing for good, I have continued to write.  I was able to post a few short stories online this year and the tragedy of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan got captured in verse.  My current novel-in-progress, The Rebirth of Meras, continues to spin out, albeit slowly of late.  But the story goes on and I keep writing and building it up.  Perhaps, next year, I’ll be plucky enough to see it published.  It may not earn me a pretty penny, but it’ll help build the foundations for a proper writing career.

And, of course, I have my cooking and baking to keep me relatively sane.  Though I was sort of out of it during my last few weeks at work, cooking and baking have anchored me and enabled me to regain a certain degree of focus.  I’m now considering trying new recipes and writing a proper cookbook – an endeavor that some may consider silly or even stupid, but I consider it a worthwhile challenge.  Everyone else can go bury their heads in the sand!

A finished cookie box for friends...

A finished cookie box for friends…

As Christmas looms on nigh, I have again settled myself in the kitchen.  Creaming butter, whisking batters, kneading dough into submission for scrumptious cookies and brownies to be given to friends and family – it’s all very therapeutic for me.

I can only hope that this Season brings a clearer sense of reason into my life and that the coming year holds a promise of better things to come.

Merry Christmas, everyone.  🙂

In Which the Blogger Gives a Brit Classic a South American Accent…

Rancher's Pie with tomato gravy

Rancher’s Pie with tomato gravy

Considering how I was born and raised in the tropics, hot weather has never agreed with me.  Cold days, however, put a smile on my face and a spring in my step.  Contrary to prevailing medical wisdom, I have less depressive episodes in cold weather and my spirits start to sink when the temperature rises.  I have a tendency to write more in cold weather and I am much calmer, more balanced when Siberian breezes blow into the country.

That said, it isn’t surprising that I like cooking cold-weather food.  I know it sounds weird, but I take great pleasure out of baking cakes and breads and cooking such things as hearty roasts, stews, and braises.  Last night’s dinner was no exception: a little spin on that classic dish shepherd’s pie.

Stewed mince at the bottom, fluffy and creamy two-veg mash on top

Stewed mince at the bottom, fluffy and creamy two-veg mash on top

My version is called Rancher’s Pie as it involves a mix of beef and pork mince.  It is a variation that takes on a Spanish-Filipino classic called picadillo, a soup-stew that features mince sauteed with onions and garlic before being cooked down with tomato sauce, broth, raisins, carrots, and potatoes.  At our house, this particular dish is served over mounds of hot, fluffy rice just out of the cooker and doused with lashings of Knorr Liquid Seasoning.  It is a rich, rather oily dish that is totally comforting when eaten on either a cold night or on a weeknight after a particularly harrowing day at the office.

For this dish, I paired the picadillo with a veg-filled version of Paris mash.  This spin on mashed potatoes calls for mixing a whisked egg along with the milk/cream and butter.  The end result is a richer, more substantial mash.  Mine also has the virtue of having cauliflower and garlic along with the spuds for a more flavorful mash.  I also tossed on some grated Edam cheese over the top before baking, adding yet another layer of scrumptiousness.

Instead of adding all of the picadillo to the bottom of the pie, I chose to strain off the sauce before putting the stewed mince into the cake tin I used for baking.  This savory liquid got reduced and thickened a bit with some cornstarch to make a particularly moreish gravy.

Even the leftovers were delicious!

Even the leftovers were delicious!

I can’t exactly give you the recipe for this particular wintry meal as I’m still giving it a few tweaks.  But let me assure you that it was a hearty treat that warmed us all up on a cold evening.  Oh, and the leftovers went down a treat for breakfast the next day.  😀

In Which There are Books and Things for the Well-read Foodie…

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Just some of my cookbooks and food mags…

When I was much younger, people often found it funny how I kept borrowing cookbooks from the school library or zeroed in on the recipes section of my mother’s and aunts’ magazines.  In light of my less-than-stellar grades in Home Economics, they found it ridiculous, even ludicrous, that I should opt to read books about food and cookery.  It also helped cement my reputation as the “village idiot” in school, seeing how most of the girls were eschewing food in favor of Kate Moss-esque figures and bulimia nervosa.

Nowadays, though, with food blogging being one of those “chic things to do” for the in-crowd, the same girls who heckled me for reading cookbooks instead of, say, those Sweet Dreams paperbacks that were so popular at the time now fancy themselves well-schooled with regard to food and cooking.  All I can say about this is, “What do you know about food?!  All you read are local food mags; you don’t buy the books, you don’t read the right magazines!”  And, thus, the outcast turns the tables and becomes the snob…

Do you read "Gastronomica" and "Saveur"?  Hell, you probably don't even KNOW what they are!

Do you read “Gastronomica” and “Saveur”? Hell, you probably don’t even KNOW what they are!

Call me a culinary elitist, call me a snob even: I won’t deny it.  Because I love to read and I love food, I actually take the time to hunt down books and magazines that some people think are rather obscure, possibly unheard of in this part of the world – and this despite global exposure via the internet.

But, as in any field, reading actually helps broaden one’s horizons and shows that there is a world out there beyond Philippine shores and the nerve-wracking world of Top Chef on Yank cable telly.  That said, I feel particularly blessed at being given a penchant for tracking down pre-loved tomes and magazine back issues whenever I can’t find new copies or releases at the more upscale bookshops.  It is a hobby I ascribed to one of my characters in my current novel-in-progress:

When I got home later that day, I went up to my room and looked over the bookshelves that lined one of the walls.  For all that I didn’t have a social life and I rarely ever spent my money on clothes and shoes and nights on the town like most women my age, books and kitchen things were my biggest expenditures.

The books in my room were a mix of cookbooks, food-centric biographies, and food-centric travelogues.  Even my magazines revolved around food and cooking; it was a passion I had from the cradle.

Some had been bought at the best bookstores both here and abroad, others were gifts from relatives…  Most, however, had been lucky finds at second-hand bookshops, pre-loved tomes and periodicals that found a home with me.

Some people who collect cookbooks don’t actually cook; indeed, some just leaf through them, fantasizing about how wonderful the dishes in the photos tasted.  Not me: I pored through every single one, trying out recipes, making notes about ingredients and instructions, substituting one thing for another.

...and still more books.

…and still more books.

Here are a few of my favorite picks:

Magazines

  • Donna Hay – The Aussie kitchen queen beats Yankee Martha hollow with her super-simple and totally scrumptious recipes and tips for making one’s table a true feast for all the senses.
  • BBC Good Food – UK – Amazing recipes, cooking tips, and insights on food-related social issues such as the decline in the number of farmers providing wholesome food.  It often features surprisingly easy-to-do recipes from Britain’s best chefs, including a Masterclass section presented by the Scots Hellion himself, Gordon Ramsay.
  • Saveur – Helmed by Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland, this US mag is perfect for armchair travelers as it takes readers on a culinary tour to various parts of the world, imparting knowledge about local food customs as well as recipes.
  • Gastronomica – This is the “thinking foodie”‘s magazine with beautifully researched articles on food culture, issues, and personalities.  Gastronomica also features tasteful, artistic photo essays focused on specific ingredients, putting them in a different light.
  • Jamie – Jamie Oliver’s eponymously named magazine promises to make you a better cook.  I’ve not tried all of the recipes, but it’s fun to read and gives a foreign lass like me a good look into modern Brit gastronomy both in and out of the home.

Authors/Books

  • Nigella Lawson – Nigella pretty much speaks to the voluptuous glutton that I am.  She writes like a gloriously greedy sort with her vivid, lip-smacking descriptions of dishes old and new.  Her first book, How to Eat, doesn’t have any pictures, but with the way she describes the food, who needs ’em?
  • Anthony Bourdain – Tony B. rocks with his bad-arse/no holds barred/somewhat angsty way of describing life in the kitchen (Kitchen Confidential), the search for the perfect meal (A Cook’s Tour), and living life the way he wants to and not the way the world demands (No Reservations).  As exciting his travels are to watch on television, Bourdain really hits the spot with his frank, no-nonsense prose and wry sense of humor.
  • Cooking for Mr. Latte by Amanda Hesser / Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl – The thing about foodie autobiographies is that they are so much more delectable to read than most – and in more ways than one.  Hesser’s account of her food-driven courtship and eventual marriage is punctuated by recipes that run from the almost stupidly basic to the most gloriously complicated; it’s the sort of book that can give you ideas for any number of dinner parties.  Reichl, on the other hand, speaks poignantly about change in a story that spans over twenty years from her first gig as a restaurant critic to her divorce and remarriage and to the long-awaited birth of her son, all of which are marked with unusual dishes that are as spicy and as vivid as the events themselves.

So, why settle for the local when you can go global?  All it takes is a simple turning of pages to expand your horizons.

In Which Sybaritic Diversions Turns SEVEN…!

Remember this cake from August 2010?

How time flies!  I seriously can’t believe it’s been seven years since I started writing Sybaritic Diversions!

When this blog started in 2005, I never expected it to last for quite a bit as I only meant to write it for kicks.  Over time, as my cooking and baking skills improved, this blog became a way for me to share recipes with other people as well as a way by which to recommend restaurants and various products making their way onto supermarket shelves.

I confess, alas, that I’ve not been writing as much as I’d like to over the past few weeks.  People who have emailed me to complain tend to forget that I do have a day-job and, yes, I do have a life outside of my blog.  I may not have much in the way of a social life (besides, at 35, I daresay I’m too old to hobnob with people at parties – plus, excuse the term, but those whores who populate the local club scene make me retch with their excessive drinking, loose morals, and adherence to diets that leave them looking totally skeletal), but I’ve projects at work, novels in progress, and I’ve been active at my local parish of late.

Still, writing about the joy of food and cooking remains a passion of mine – and it’s something I intend to keep on doing for quite a bit.

What, oh what, will I be giving away…?

Incidentally…  Keep reading SybDive because I will be holding my first ever blog giveaway at this end of this month!  ;D