Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: Maleficent (2014)

Royalty, nobility, the gentry, and... how quaint! Even the rabble.

I haven't been excited about seeing a movie since Johnny Depp was cast as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland! I have always imagined Angelina Jolie as the perfect actor to portray one of the baddest witches in the Disney princesses' universe... and it became true! She was nothing but excellent in the movie. In fact, all the other characters (even Sleeping Beauty herself) paled in comparison with Maleficent. She was the star of this movie, after all.

The movie is a retelling of the 1959 classic cartoon Sleeping Beauty but from Maleficent's point of view. It was an interesting take since I have never understood why King Stefan and the Queen didn't invite Maleficent to the christening of their daughter, Princess Aurora. The plot details of the live-action movie largely deviated from that of the cartoon; in the end, Maleficent was not the baddest after all. The evil stepmother in Snow White has seized that throne, in my opinion.

The twist in the end was not as surprising as it would have been if I had seen this movie before Brave, and Frozen... both animated movies associated with Disney as well. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Starbucks with a view

To cap our Tagaytay road trip, Tita Ruby, Cindy, Crystal, and I made a stop at the city's newest Starbucks branch... my first time to visit with the sun still up in the sky. I had been here with my parents and my sister one night a few months ago and the parking lot had intimidated me because it was so steep! Anyway, lucky that I wasn't driving this time around. All I had to do was to enjoy the view while sipping my customized drink order.




This Starbucks branch really has one of the best views in the world. I couldn't agree more. :)

Thursday, May 29, 2014

An enchanting afternoon at Sonya's (secret) Garden

One sunny morning, Tita Ruby had lunch with Cindy, Crystal, and me at the famous Sonya's Garden in Tagaytay City. I was enchanted because I had felt like I was entering the tropical version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's secret garden, far from the hustle and bustle of this tourist city. 

Admittedly, I've eaten at restaurants in Tagaytay City featuring better tasting food than Sonya's Garden. However, I think that the star wasn't really the food. 

It was the garden

Just imagine having an idyllic lunch amid waterfalls and fountains gurgling happily in the garden, birds chirping up in the foliage, and brightly colored flowers blooming against the greenery. 







As if those were not enough, there were souvenir shops that feature collectors' items that are reminiscent of the days gone past (aka. furniture and decorations whose styles follow don't follow modern silhouettes).



As we ended our exploration of Sonya's (secret) Garden, we met a Labrador Retriever. Friendly doggie. :)


What a relaxing afternoon! Thank you, Tita Ruby!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Review: The Other Woman (2014)

What's with the preoccupation of television shows and movies with men having commitment issues? First, there's the soap The Legal Wife, of which I've only seen one episode of (in hospital, while visiting my grandma). And then a movie called The Other Woman started showing in cinemas.

Since it's girls' night out and the other options that night were Spiderman and Godzilla, we opted to watch The Other Woman. And that was one crazy movie to watch. Somehow, it reminded me of The First Wives Club (1996) because The Other Woman also has three women as protagonists and both movies feature one strong female character that served as the leader of the group as they took revenge on their husbands (or boyfriend, as in the case of The Other Woman).

The thing is, that's where the similarities stop. See, in The First Wives Club, the protagonists were all accomplished women (college graduates, in fact) abandoned by their husbands for one reason or another. These women took the intelligent, mature, and empowered route in exacting their revenge by getting their ex-husbands to fund a non-profit organization that would support abused women. On the other hand, The Other Woman fell really short because it featured a socially awkward woman and a stereotypically dumb blond alongside a strong lady lawyer. The slapstick revenge plot elicited a smattering of short-lived laughter, true; but in the end, the women proved that they were childish and selfish with all the hits (literally) above the man's belt... not exactly the role models women in real-life situations can look up to. 

Either way, both movies seem to convey the words of English playwright William Congreve (from The Mourning Bride, 1697): 

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned,
Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Celebrating a milestone with friends

My post-doctoral fellowship ended on May 16th. Instead of closing it with a quiet evening, I decided that I wanted to celebrate it since I treat it as a milestone. It's nice too that my fellow kaladkarin friends were planning on a night out in Makati anyway so we just had to arrange the timing. :)

First stop: Bonifacio High Street
Who can resist window shopping on a Friday evening, right? Especially with store displays seemingly luring people in as they walked along High Street like the mannequins in Confessions of a Shopaholic. But a store did manage to entice us from the bee line to dinner: a sports shop! Man was looking for motivation to go running again (aka toys for the running Man) and Matty was looking for dive shoes. I browsed the rash guard collection but I wasn't in the mood (or in the right attire) to try one. Sara and Hedia checked out the selection of bicycles currently on display. 

Second stop: Geisha 
I absolutely love Japanese food. I'm not the type who knows the difference between modern and traditional Japanese cuisine though. Hence, I've always wondered what 'modern Japanese cuisine' means. Whatever, the salmon rolls at Geisha were delicious! I just had to stay clear of all the other stuff I'm allergic to.

Third stop: 71 Gramercy
Yes, the group was back! The view from the top was as beautiful as ever. Again, I didn't take a photo from up there because I was afraid that my mobile phone might slip off and fall (trust the clumsy girl with the gadgetry, right?). I don't know if I'll ever tire of seeing the lights dotting the coast of Manila Bay from that vantage point.


Thanks Sara, Hedia, Man, and Matty for that awesome evening! That's what I call ending my post-doctoral fellowship on a high (as in 71-floors high) note!

Monday, May 26, 2014

another GQNC-centric party?!?

Well, not exactly. It's more of a thank you party dedicated to the members of the rice sensory evaluation panel who had eagerly and actively participated in rice tasting for the past two years and who had been instrumental in at least three research studies I was involved in as post-doc fellow. 


And this time, there was no rice to be had!

Many of the members of the panel are from GQNC. The ones who are from different departments were either en route to a conference the day this party was held or dropped by after this photo was taken. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

last hurrah with the GQNC barkada

May 16th was my last weekday at the Grain Quality and Nutrition Center (as post-doctoral fellow). That week was such an emotionally difficult time for me because there were a lot of things to let go, to clean up, to pass on. As I was hauling my things into the car on my last day, I realized that the things I was bringing home from my entire stay in that lab could be thrown in into two 50-liter dry boxes, one 10-liter plastic bag, and a cloth shopping bag. 

However, the camaraderie that I have developed with the people in GQNC and the personal growth I've gone through with them all those years... these are intangible and priceless. They will not fit into any container.

While some good things have to end, I also recognize that it's time to move on to new adventures. But before those happened, a number of us from GQNC opted to take a few minutes of downtime in the afternoon to have group photos taken. The photo below happens to be my favorite shot because I was still included in it, sort of. They are the people who saw and supported me as I fumbled with my first field experiments, dealt with leadership issues, and went on the road with me to see waterfalls.


And then the whole lab (sans my current supervisor and some of the technicians) took me out for my last dinner with them as fellow. We ate to our hearts' content (because the food was all healthy) at the Herb Republic. 


There were no video messages, no photo slideshows, no phone patches... a marked difference from the other celebrations we used to have. But they did have speeches. It was very heartwarming to hear kind words from Vito, Tita Lily, Tita Dory, and Roslen. Words that helped me realize that in my little way, I contributed to helping form the GQNC team that now is.

And they were successful in making me tear up when it was my turn to speak. After all, they taught me many of the things I know about rice quality. I could operate most of the instruments because they kindly took the time to teach me. Some of us even made a deal that there won't be anyone left behind (in Filipino: walang iwanan). That was nine years ago, back when I was a graduate student... and I turned out to be the one to break that promise.

So, on my last day, there were no good-byes. At least not yet. 

I will not say farewell until it's definite that my road with them has reached a dead end and that I have to take a new one. For now, I'm treating this current block as a stop sign.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Happy birthday, Val! :)

When is the best time to get someone to try something new? For some reason, the answer was during the guy's birthday. Perfect way to celebrate an important milestone, yes?

In Val's case, we ended up at the Republ1k Wake Park in Nuvali for some midweek dose of wakeboarding, read: we wanted to become confident with the wakeboard with the bindings, not the beginners' ones, in the water... albeit the use of overhead cables. Val, on the other hand, wanted to try this sport out.

It was a fun night, with Zia being the most adventurous of the lot. We were able to get some practice time in what I tagged as the children's pool. This, of course, was in preparation for the open seas, wakeboarding behind a boat.

After wakeboarding in Nuvali


After wakeboarding, we were all famished. So off we went for carbo-loading, as Kor put it, at Starbucks. Since our group came in four cars (Val came later and Zia came from Manila; Matty and I drove our cars to Nuvali), I felt like I was in The Italian Job. But since I was the lead car driver in a four-car convoy going to Starbucks, I couldn't say I was driving the Charlize Theron car. *sigh*

This is one of things I'd miss as I move on... I'm sure. I'm so glad I was still able to join them. Oddly enough, this night-out never felt like good-bye even though I might not be with them anymore any day soon. Maybe it's true: there's no such thing as good-bye among friends.

Happy birthday, Val!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Dinner at Isdaan

I ended up eating with Val, Flaminia, Mai, and Sonya one night at Isdaan, one of the restos in Bay, Laguna. The restaurant resembles a theme park almost... It reminds me of Disneyland's Adventureland because of the tribal theme welcoming us at the entrance and the presence of statues that appear to be adopted from various tourist spots in Asia.

We toured the place first before finding a spot to have dinner, which was unfortunate. Most of the tables that Val pointed as having great views of the restaurant were closed off to diners due to the late hour. Also, the servers' energies were all flagging. They made several mistakes during the dinner service and looked like they didn't want to do anything but to rest or go home. 

Sonya and Flaminia had a tough time with the food because the vegetables served were not up to their standards: adobong kangkong had pork in it, 'vegetarian' dishes had fish paste mixed with them and there's no on-the-side option (according to the fatigued server), and many of the food we ordered were no longer available. The one vegetable dish that we were able to order didn't look appetizing at all. Tsk.
Despite the bad service, we had a relatively good time. We ended up laughing at the dinner bloopers. If dinner was any worse, I'm sure one of us would've thrown a plate onto the wall to vent pent-up anger.





Friday, May 9, 2014

a morning in Sabrina's Kitchen

I love watching cooking shows. My Sunday mornings back in the day were dedicated to watching the Chinese lady cook with her wok on RPN-9. I had no idea what was going on because she spoke only in Chinese and the show had Chinese subtitles! I also looked out for the weekly episodes of "Wok With Yan" that used to air right before "MacGyver", still on RPN-9. On the local front, I am always looking forward to Sharwin Tee's "Curiosity Got the Chef" because of the food and the cool and colorful gadgets (just can't get enough of that red fridge!).

And then there's Sabrina's Kitchen. I watch it because she makes cooking look easy for people who are clueless in the kitchen (like me before I went to culinary school!). Sabrina Artadi makes cooking and hosting a meal for friends look fun too! Her show's vibe, for me, is a mix of Nigella Bites (Nigella Lawson), The Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten), and Everyday Italian (Giada De Laurentiis). Very homey; very artistic.

Isn't it obvious that my telly is switched on to the Lifestyle Network for significant amounts of time? :)

So guess how excited I was when she dropped by the lab months ago to discuss heirloom rice and to explore how this could be used in her show. Of course she just had to taste the colored rice that I had prepared specially for the initial visit! A few weeks later, she came back with her crew to shoot two episodes focusing on heirloom rice. I dropped in a few times before lunch because (1) I get a kick at seeing a cooking show from the production/technical crew's vantage point (yeah, nerd); (2) I was on call in case there were questions about cooking and eating quality aspects of rice; and finally (3) Sabrina pulled me, Sharlene, and Gladys to taste the food at the end of the episode. I'm not kidding! 

The food she cooked on camera was so delicious that it left me speechless. I normally can describe food adequately but I only mustered one word while eating the meal she had prepared: 'yummy!' -- I totally zoned out! Hello, blooper reel! 

As if spending a few minutes that morning with a celebrity chef wasn't a good enough way to end the week, in came Basti, Sabrina's brother! His band, Wolfgang, is one of the most famous Pinoy rock bands ever... and he was on campus! Basti's visit just made the event feel more like a family gathering rather than a shoot (in my view, at least).

Taking a break after the morning shoot. :)

Later in the morning, I just had to have a souvenir photo taken under the tree by the NCBL Building. It's not everyday that I end up being flanked by two stars, after all. There's a second musician in the picture, of course. It looked like Matty (who's into jazz) and Basti were in deep conversation about music by the time the morning shoot packed up. Gladys and I were surrounded by artists. What a morning!

That's what happened when I stuck around (albeit intermittently) in Sabrina's Kitchen!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

zumba!!

Mai invited me to join the weekday Zumba classes she attends. Intrigued at what Zumba really is like, I took the plunge on Monday despite the sore muscles I had gained during my attempts at wakeboarding. 

Mai was right, Zumba classes are 60-minute loads of fun! I felt like I was back to street jazz classes because some of the steps were similar. My first class reminded me of cheerdance rehearsals I had participated in many years ago. And there were elements of ballroom dancing that brought back memories of high school PE.

Before I get so excited with this new fitness regimen, I have to remember to take care of my injured knee and foot. I wouldn't want to land back in hospital because of my attempt to stay fit and healthy. That would be ironic multiplied by three. Therefore, I should remember to do this high-impact exercise in moderation... if I'll remember at all.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

behind-the-scenes of the first lunch I cooked for friends.

Several weeks ago...

I was assigned to bring in picnic food. Because cooking is a hobby of mine, Matty was imagining that I'd bring something really nice. Alas, it was short notice and I was only able to bring donuts. Sorry! Anyway, I told him that it takes around five hours for me to prep a picnic meal that would pass his no-adobo-no-sinigang specifications and does not involve sandwiches. The five-hour period is from shopping to mise-en-place to cooking to cooling the food down to packing the food and to cleaning up the kitchen. So next time I'd be assigned to bring in the food, I should be told a day in advance... Or an evening in advance.

Last Thursday...

It was a holiday and there was nothing for me to do at home. I wanted to try baking chocolate crinkles but I didn't have the right chocolate. I chanced upon Santi's when I drove to Sta Rosa and it had just what I was looking for: discs of chocolate milk couverture! That made me so happy that when I got home, I started prepping cookies right away!

first batch of chocolate crinkles

Last Friday...

Looked like the guy remembered. I was told that evening that the trip to Caliraya was a go and I was to cook a picnic lunch for six people. So off to the grocery I went to buy ingredients. I didn't have a recipe book with me at that time so I decided to cook what I've tried before; at least with those dishes I'd know what ingredients to buy. I threw in some wheat bread and lots of water in my shopping cart as well, just in case nobody else brought any food and we'd be in a place with no restaurants. 

When I got home, I started to prep right away because the cooked food needed to cool down before they'd be placed in the fridge. Thank goodness for my trusty chef's knife and my favorite cutting board... Chopping veggies and meat was a breeze, even with the smaller cuts (i.e., brunoise for the garlic and the onions). I was chef and steward at the same time, so while something was simmering, I was washing pots and pans... Or whisking the salad dressing. Yes, the dressing was made from scratch. :) 

Everything was ready five hours after I bought the picnic lunch ingredients.

Bright and early last Saturday...

I just realized how much stuff I was bringing in when I started loading them in my car's trunk! A shopping bag with spoons and forks, plates, tissue paper, and cups; a cooler with bottles of water, a bag of ice, bottled iced tea, and lunch; plus my box of chocolate cookies. I just missed loading my tent (no more space in the trunk) and a picnic mat (I don't have one). My kite, my tripod, and my Frisbee were placed inside the trunk along with my gym bag containing my camera gear and my swimming gear. Basically, I looked like I was about to go on a week-long vacation rather than a day trip to the lake. It took two guys to help me load the food into Val's car. Yeah, that's how prepared I was this time around.

On the way to Caliraya, I described lunch to Sonya, Mai, and Matty (who's driving his car), telling them to wait until they've tasted the meal before they pronounced judgment on my cooking. Val, Zia, Sylvestre, and Alpha (in Val's car) had no idea at all what lunch would be. 

Saturday lunch...

I was going for contrasts in tastes and textures for lunch, which is why the menu included:
     - Risotto with parmesan cheese and shiitake mushrooms
     - Beef and cucumber salad (the dressing included beef jus, chilis, and calamansi)
     - Chocolate crinkles, for dessert
     - Lemon iced tea and water

Weird combination, I know, but here's the thing: the tanginess of the salad dressing countered the milky nature of the parmesan cheese; the crunch of the cucumber was there as contrast to the smoothness of the risotto; the umami of the beef complemented the earthy tones of the mushroom. 

Oh my goodness, I've just become as fussy as a real chef! 

Unfortunately for me, I couldn't serve the lunch hot because the microbiologist in me was more concerned with my friends' tummies not getting sick than the food's serving temperature while in the great outdoors.

Over lunch, I was happy that my friends appreciated the food that I prepped for them. Good job, audience! Thank you, thank you! 

I have to learn how to cook more meals for future picnics! Let me see what I can do with fish fillets...

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

on Caliraya Lake

Yey, my wish of being on Lake Caliraya became true! The added bonus: it was a beautiful day; perfect for taking lots of landscape photos. The challenge: 
  1. My DSLR is NOT waterproof or protected in any manner against the water. 
  2. I was sitting on the bow (front) of the boat, which has a seat facing the stern (back). This meant that I had to be a bit of a contortionist to get the right and stable position for taking photos.  
  3. The ride was bumpy, leading to excess camera shake, a lot of spray, and a lot of missed shots. 

These issues really didn't matter because I ended up with a great view of the lake (at boat level) and some of my photos turned out pretty well. The lake was just beautiful.












Getting dunked, later, into the lake several times wasn't in the plan but that was part of the fun as well.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Watersports 101

This is me, channeling my inner Po. Yes, there is a level zero, Master Shifu.

---

Can you swim well?
I can swim to survive on the deep end but not to compete at any level. 

Are you sporty?
I run at a slow pace. Does that count?

Have you used skateboards or have you done sports that involve gliding?
No. I used to rollerblade and I've been on the ice skating rink a few times. Never on a surfboard, a wakeboard, or a skateboard.

Are you regular or goofy?
I foresee being pushed a fourth time to establish whether I'm regular or goofy.

---

I was with friends at the Caliraya Lake to learn how to wakeboard from Master Shifu himself, Matty.  After being giving instructions on how to get our feet into the wakeboard's shoes and then to stand on the board while in the water (many of which, I realize, depends on gut feel... just like riding a bike), we were sent into the water one at a time.

I was not successful on this first attempt because I kept doing something wrong as I started standing on the water... I kept falling head first into the lake (while stuck on the wakeboard). Then, there was a point when I got detached from the wakeboard itself! I also fell twice into the lake on sharp turns while riding the Kick Flip (hanging on to dear life, more like it). It is no Pool of Sacred Tears, thank goodness! However, I did drink too much of the Caliraya Lake water. 

Anyway, in between turns at the Kick Flip (the yellow inflatable mattress) and at the wakeboard, I grabbed the opportunity to take photos (as always, when I'm idle). 



Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Black Pig

Since my mom and my dad visit me and my sister every other year, we siblings have a year to try out different restaurant where we could bring them when they're in town. One of my most recent finds (thank you, email thread!) is The Black Pig Charcuterie, Bar, and Restaurant. It's in Alabang, close to home, for a change!

I was alone for dinner at The Black Pig, one Saturday evening, so I ended up at the bar, people-watching while waiting for my food. The (first and) last time I had eaten on the bar was when Marion and Patrice brought me to a tapas bar in Sydney about nine years ago. Anyway, at The Black Pig, the advantage of my perch was that I could talk with the person behind the bar... And he turned out to be Anton Garriz, one of the owners! I also got to chat with Steve MacDonald, also one of the owners, about the restaurant soon after. Funny that I've gotten the nerve to introduce myself to these business people ever since I finished culinary school. Before, I'd just sit down at a corner and eat.

Speaking of which, the food...

My curiosity was piqued by the heirloom tomato salad that the restaurant was serving that night. Thanks to the likes of Daisy Tam, Ige Ramos, and Amy Besa, I am now keen to learn about the food I order: the story behind it and it's cultural connection. That is why the world 'heirloom' triggered me to ask. After listening to what the waiters and the owners shared, I gleaned that heirloom tomatoes were delicious, so I ordered it. What came out was one of the artfully prepared salads I've ever eaten!


Since this was my first visit to The Black Pig, I wanted to veer away from my favorite risotto and venture towards the house nonseafood specialty: the pig. So I ordered the oven-baked local pork belly and bone marrow. I am not really a big pork eater (yes, even the lechon Cebu and the Kalua pig failed to make me a fan) but the pork belly (together with the veggies and the sauces) was so soft and juicy that it just might... it wasn't even salty!


Aside from the salad and the entree, I also had a chance to try out the breads (reminded me of Aubergine), the pate choix, and the butterscotch pieces that were being distributed to the diners. All yummy!

That was one interesting dinner! I want to go back again!!!