Friday, January 30, 2015

Lola's baaaaack! :)

The reason why my parents suddenly flew to the Philippines soon after my vacation with them ended was because my paternal grandma, Lola Bats, fell seriously ill. She was in hospital for several days, with a few stints at the intensive care unit even. It's worrisome because Lola is at such an advanced age that she's really fragile. A bug that people my age can easily recover from could lead to a difficult time in the hospital for her.

Here's the thing, though, and I am very happy to report: my grandma successfully bounced back, yet again! She's well on the road to recovery... and hopefully it will be an easy trip to her 100th birthday from here on out. Just 14 months to go!

Everyone in my family could sigh in relief now. Lola's out of the woods. 
A photo posted by Rochie Cuevas (@rochiecuevas) on

Sunday, January 25, 2015

golfing around


Daddy and I found a golf set for left-handed girls! And when he went home in January, he bought it for me. The first time I was able to use the set was when we went to the Fernando Airbase in Lipa, Batangas with Biboy and Ninong Romy.

I really felt that I was struggling with myself. See, I've learned how to swing right-handed golf clubs. I've hit a few balls in the driving range with my dad for several years, albeit intermittently; however, I found it challenging to correct my swing since I'm left-handed. I since stopped practising in the meantime as Daddy agreed it would be best if I got my own proper clubs. So during our most recent trip to the driving range, muscle memory for swinging using the right-handed stance kept trying to surface while I was learning left-handed swings. It must have been a funny sight. I was really fighting with myself!

Ninong Romy, after seeing a few good swings from me, recommended that I join them on an 18-hole round of golf. Fortunately, Daddy and Biboy vetoed the suggestion. They said I wasn't in any condition to do so. And how right they were: for each hole, I was supposed to drive the ball about 100–200m from the tee towards the hole. The best I could do that day? 50m... Therefore, if I were to play, a par 4 hole would take me about 20 swings to finish (at best). I would end the game the next day!!

And so I tagged along with them, walking that fine Sunday afternoon at the golf course, learning the proper etiquette (and forgetting many of the rules on being QUIET) and feeling the comeback of foot pain after the long walk... I was limping by the time we were on the 10th hole!

It was a good afternoon with them, golf and after-golf pig out. Can't wait to get my clubs to another driving range for another round of ball-hitting.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

family road trip!

Have car; will travel.

Yep, just give us a weekend with no concrete plans and you'll find us driving on the highway to wherever the road would take us. That's how my family was back in the day (e.g., we drove to Imus, Cavite to see the Christmas lights on the road when my mom saw it featured in the news). And I'm happy to find out that that same sense of adventure is still there.

With my brother and my father as drivers, we took the scenic drive from the Bay Area to the Central Coast. Our aim was to reach the Hearst Castle; however, if we didn't reach it, it's fine because the journey is just as important than the destination. I was itching to take photos but it's difficult to do so in a moving car and I was seated in the middle, away from the windows, most of the time. 

We stopped to take in the view of this lighthouse on top of a hill.

Thankfully, we made a lot of pitstops along the route because there were many viewpoints for picture-taking! We even saw what looked like whales swimming to the south, the same direction that we were taking. They were too small to see properly though, so we didn't know for sure what kind/s of whales we were watching.

We stopped for lunch on a cliff overlooking the sea... and did we see whales?
I've read, somewhere, that at this time of the year, elephant seals should be seen in large numbers on the shore. I didn't know if we'd see one in this trip but I was hoping that we'd see some wildlife (aside from the whales). At first, we just saw two pups playing in the water, secluded by the thick foliage of trees... that was before lunch. As the afternoon drew to a close, however, the road we were on  started hugging the coastline... and there I saw the seals. There were a LOT! In fact, they'd come in such big numbers that people had parked their cars, took out their cameras, and photographed them. Good thing is that there's a fence. People weren't supposed to get close enough to touch the elephant seals. After all, these are still wild animals and can attack people if they are perceived as threats.

Elephant seals on the shore
Aside from the elephant seals, raptors also made their appearance, as well as sea birds. Then, alongside the road, we'd passed by several herds of cattle and of horses. I was already half-expecting to encounter a bear but this area wasn't the right place to be in for bears. One animal I kept missing, maybe because of the season, was the squirrel. Not one nut-loving fuzzy-tailed creature in sight. 

Maybe they knew I was coming. 

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Golden Gate Bridge at night

After the peaceful afternoon walking in the woods, Ate Maddie and I headed back to the city. We drove in just in time to catch San Francisco's rush hour traffic jam. This actually gave me the opportunity to tick another thing off my bucket list: to see the Golden Bridge at night.

I've always thought that this red bridge was called "golden" because of gold rush that had swept over much of California in the old days. But no; it's named after the Golden Gate Strait, which connects the San Francisco Bay with the Pacific Ocean. John Fremont originally named the strait "Chrysopylae", which, while reading a historical article about San Francisco in the Concord Public Library, actually reminded me of the movie 300, which featured a fictional account of the Battle of Thermopylae.


Anyway, the spot Ate Maddie and I climbed was worth going to despite the bitter cold wind. Look at that view! We were in the Marin headlands, close to Battery Spencer, when I took this shot. By the time we had finished admiring the view, I had caught the sniffles and had really chilled hands. Where were my gloves when I needed them?!?

Friday, January 16, 2015

12 restaurants to try in the Bay Area (my 2014–2015 edition)

Special thanks to my brother, Biboy, my sister-in-law, Barbara, Mommy, Daddy, my aunts, uncles, and cousins for making sure that I got to try as much of the good food that the Bay Area has to offer as possible. My last visit was one for the books because I gained a sense of the diversity of the cuisine choices there. Without further ado and in no particular order:

This is my absolute favourite among the restaurants Biboy and I have visited. Peruvian rotisserie chicken... it's better than Andok's, Señor Pedro, and Baliwag's rotisserie chicken because the flavours go beyond the usual lemongrass. The chicken was so rich in complex tastes and aromas plus it was so tender. There, I was also introduced to Inca Blu's mango lemonade and to Pisco Sour. Biboy said that Limon has got to be one of San Francisco's best-kept secrets. I couldn't help but agree.

Burmese Kitchen (Oakland)
My brother is always spot on in choosing restaurants where I'd enjoy eating. One lunch time, he and Barbara made me try, for the first time in my life, Burmese cuisine (albeit the Bay Area version). Burmese Kitchen is a gem. The most memorable food for me there was the la phat thok tea leaf salad because I've never eaten tea leaves before. It reminded me of the Greek dolmas because of the leaves' texture and taste; weird, probably, but that's what I associated the tea leaf salad with. Aside from that, it would take some time for me to forget pairing the meal with coconut rice... it felt like eating dessert for lunch. It's delicious but I need to get used to it.

La Sen Bistro (Concord)
I've never taken my dad to be a fan of French-Vietnamese fusion cuisine so it was a big surprise when he thought up of having dinner at La Sen. The restaurant definitely had a friendly, welcoming charm despite the seemingly formal dining atmosphere. And the food was great. I tried the salmon with the saffron sauce and vegetables... it was so delicious!

Tomales Bay Oyster Co. (Marshall)
I didn't believe that I'd see the day when my Mom was actually enjoying eating in a picnic... and munching on raw oysters, no less! Another good recommendation from Biboy, I might add; worth the long drive definitely. So, the thing is, we had to buy the oysters by the bag at this hut and then we'd be using fire in a barbecue grill to open up the shells. Daddy and Biboy started burning charcoals but somehow, I ended up keeping the embers burning. Must be a leftover skill from all the Girl Scout camping trips I'd made in grade school and high school. Barbara and Mommy took care of the other food and the drinks; I thought: now this is the ultimate family outing!

Three Brothers from China (Pleasant Hill)
My first ever New Year's Eve dinner in a restaurant. Mommy, Daddy, and I were out of the house the whole day, I think, which was why we didn't cook anymore. In Three Brothers, we tried the shellfish special for the day, a first also for my parents who don't normally look at the daily specials. It's definitely good. No wonder my parents always eat there. 

Chili Garden (Milpitas)
If there's one thing I learned early in exploring, it is this: the restaurant must be good if people line up to eat there. Then there's this other lesson I learned from being in Divisoria a lot as a kid: if Chinese customers are flocking a Chinese restaurant in a foreign country, then the food there must be really good. Apparently, Biboy got those ideas too because he brought us to Chili Garden, the Chinese restaurant whose vibe felt closest to our Chinese cuisine dining experiences in the Philippines. The food was so tasty! I liked the spicy pork spare ribs a lot! 

Saigon Bistro (Concord)
Of course, Daddy and Biboy would recommend the sandwiches because this is what the restaurant is famous for. And the sandwiches they ordered were so good! However, what's a girl to do in a Vietnamese restaurant but eat pho ga, right? I had only good experiences associated with pho in Hanoi, in Manila, and in Calamba that I just had to try Saigon Bistro's version. No surprises... the pho was yummy!

Kevin's Noodle House (Concord)
When I first ate here, Mommy and Daddy referred to the restaurant as if they knew Kevin. It wasn't surprising because the place looked like a typical neighbourhood canteen: white tiles all over the place, white tables, glass panes dividing the kitchen area from the dining area. Unsophisticated, if I may say so myself. I was surprised with I visited this time because the vibe became more upscale! Definite improvements, possibly to capture a more diverse audience. The pho ga was still superb but the feel inside was a bit warmer with the wooden floor finish and the new tables.

Champa Garden (Oakland)
Another first, again with my favourite only brother. He wanted me to try Lao food; even if I've studied Lao rice varieties in graduate school, I've never eaten Lao food before. So, we went to Champa Garden to try it out. It turns out that the Oakland version sounded very much like a series of Thai dishes. No complaints here. I've absolutely loved the spring rolls and the papaya salad! Also, I felt right at home because the vibe was similar to a Thai restaurant I used to frequent in Sydney called Thai Times Nine.

Shimizu Sushi (Oakland)
This restaurant features the perfect example of how ethnic cuisines are adapted to palates in the Bay Area: it is Shimizu Sushi where I first encountered "In & Out", a spicy roll containing salmon, jalapeño and cucumber. Yes, instead of wasabi, I got to dip it in Tabasco. Absolutely delicious. When I go to a Japanese restaurant in the Philippines, I'll check if there's a local version of this so that I can go beyond my usual Philadelphia roll (seafood allergies tend to limit the variations that I can have on my maki rolls). Thank you, Tito Donnie, for the lunch!
Ate Maddie and I had lunch in this Sicilian trattoria before we went "hiking" in Muir Woods. One of the friendly owners, Norine, was warning us that the serving portions of the food in her restaurant was big and we might not be able to finish if we ordered a lot. And so I ended up ordering a lettuce salad with pan-seared salmon, which was indeed huge but was very tasty. We also ordered the cannoli to get a taste of Sicily. It was delicious! Good thing we were famished; otherwise, we'd end up ordering more than we can eat!

After my dining experience in Bangkok, I think that the flavours of Thai cuisine (in restaurants outside Thailand) have been mellowed down to cater to the tastes of the locals. I absolutely love the tom yum because it's the closest dish to sinigang that I have tried so far. And the dessert absolutely blew me away. It was sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and mixed with ripe mangoes. How good is that! Lunch was made even better because I had it with Tita Babie, Joycelyn, and Biboy.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

I flew all the way to China to eat Korean food

I've had layovers at a total of three Chinese airports, the latest one being Shanghai's Pu Dong Airport (over the holidays). Unlike Hong Kong's airport, where there's a wide selection of food choices, the Shanghai airport's restaurant options (at least where I was in between flights) were few. I opted to eat Korean food because the restaurant had the nicest presentation among the restos I passed by.

The chili tofu soup had enough kick in it to keep me warm in the wintry conditions of Shanghai. It was delicious! However, since I'm used to having a lot of kimchi, maize, yellow sweet potato, and other side dishes in Korean restos in the Philippines, I got a bit surprised that there's none of those here... Maybe, the side dishes are just a Filipino adaptation. Or is something I'd typically see in Korea. 

I enjoyed eating here a lot that I decided I'd go back on my return trip... after the New Year.



Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The tallest things I've ever seen

Ate Maddie brought me to Muir Woods, home of some of the oldest and tallest organisms I've ever seen. Trees, of course! California redwoods, to be specific. I was expecting to see bears, deer, squirrels, and other wild animals, but I guess these were not around due to the number of people milling about.

No worries... the trees were so fascinating that soon enough, I forgot all about the animals! Imagine being in the presence of a tree that must have been living there since Biblical times. I couldn't get my head around that concept yet. Also, the foliage was so thick that the temperature inside the park was actually lower than outside. And it was darker inside too.


It was quite a challenge to take pictures during our trip. I totally gave up on using my SLR because I was using the kit lens but what was needed inside was either a wide-angle or a fish-eye lens. Since I didn't have any of these lenses on me, I contented myself with taking pictures of the foliage from below. Many of my pictures, therefore, reminded me of Twilight and of The Blair Witch Project. The forest, after all, really was quite dark.


Good thing my phone has the panorama setting for picture-taking. I've never tried taking a vertical panorama (yes, weird, I know) picture before. This was the perfect opportunity to try it. Actually, the resulting picture wasn't so bad! It's able to show how tall those trees really were, relative to the people walking under the canopy.


Thank you, Ate Maddie, for showing me around Muir Woods! It's so much fun walking under trees again. It's been a while since I've been in a forest. :)

Monday, January 5, 2015

Which fish do I eat then?

Biboy, Joycelyn, Tita Babie, and I were walking along the Martinez marina when we came across this health bulletin about fish consumption for women and children. It's well-intentioned; it is! But reading it from a different perspective could strike a chord for men most likely at the peak of their health (their 20s to 40s) and for women who are approaching their late 40s.

Or maybe it's just because English is a second language for me... But this bulletin board appeared to be saying that kids and women aged 18—45 have to be extra careful with the fish that they eat; older women, and men 18 years and older, can eat whatever fish they like.

As for me, my seafood allergies limit my fish choices. The fish included in the bulletin might induce allergic reactions in me so I avoid them anyway. No biggie.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

bird-watching at Lake Merritt

After a very delicious Burmese meal in Oakland, my Oakland adventure with Biboy and Barbara continued on with a trip to Lake Merritt. This body of water appears to be a bird paradise because when we were there. So many of these birds were lounging by the water's edge, hunting in different parts of the lake, and/or just paddling to and fro with the other birds. And it's not just about one species; there were different types and species of birds (although I call most of them ducks). The lake must have a lot of fish to attract a lot of birds (which I assume eat the fish). 

It was a clear and sunshiny day. Perfect opportunity to take pictures of these birds. If ever I find myself in my very own Big Year, at least I can say that I've seen quite a few birds in one location. a lot more to see, surely, since the year is relatively young.

Thank you, Biboy and Barbara, for bringing me out there!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Welcome to the (secret) rose garden!

Biboy and Barbara took me to one of the most peaceful parts oaf Oakland: the rose garden. I felt like I landed in Wonderland! I almost expected the White Rabbit to pop up out of nowhere, frazzled, as usual, because he's late; the card soldiers who were painting the roses red; the flamingoes that were used as croquet mallets for the hedgehog croquet balls; and of course, the Queen of Hearts

The walk, however, made me change my mind. Because it's still winter, the flower beds were bare. Twigs abound in the garden as if it were an abandoned part of the city! Only the hardiest of roses were in bloom; the rest were hibernating. Those that were in bloom, however, were so pretty. I could just imagine how fragrant and how colourful this place will be once all the flowers are in bloom! So yes, my mind's changed. We weren't in the Queen's Garden. We were in Mary Lennox's secret garden; a place where wheelchair-bound kids get to walk, where previously aloof fathers bond with their sons, and where kids with wild imaginations are rajahs at night by a bonfire. Yes, once spring is in, the Oakland rose garden will thrive and bloom, just like the garden in the novel.

In the meantime, since it's winter, I'd deal with what's here and be content with my imagined version of this garden. :)


Friday, January 2, 2015

Hello, snow!!

I have a short to-do list when I go on vacation so that I'm sure that I complete everything in the list. In 2014, I was determined to see snow for the first time ever. My (Christmas) wish was granted when Biboy and Barbara brought me to the mountains of Sierra Nevada for some snowboarding. 

Hello, Sierra Nevada!! Hello, snow!!

Here's the thing though: I didn't know what I was expecting so I was dressed rather inappropriately. No, I wasn't wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and running shoes. I had four layers of t-shirts under my jacket; however, I was wearing denim pants. It wasn't waterproof. I didn't think that snow melts into water and could be very cold. I knew, in the back of my head, that I was supposed to wear waterproof pants but I still didn't... Oh well... Blooper #1 right there!

Me and my snowboard for the day

One more thing I didn't think about immediately: the grade of the slope! This was my first time to snowboard and I didn't know how steep the surface was... AND I didn't know how to maneuver the board! Talk about being prepared, right? And yes, I'm quite intimidated by heights (who knew?!?). But it's too late to back out as we were facing the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.

In wakeboarding, the fastest way to stop is to let go of the rope (this idea only got absorbed after I "bodysurfed" my way from Point A to Point B in Nuvali). In snowboarding, I learned rather quickly, that I could easily stop by putting weight on my heels and landing on my butt. A very useful tool indeed since there were many people on the bunny slopes. It goes without saying that I've landed quite painfully a few times to avoid hitting people and trees. At one point, I even tumbled down the hill; thanks to my helmet, I didn't even feel the impact. I just realised what was happening when I saw the snowboard and my legs flying above my head and snow spraying onto my face.

Yes, I got a taste of snow. Just like in wakeboarding, in which I've gulped my good share of seawater and lake water.

 

                                  The bunny slopes at the Boreal Mountain ski resort


But despite the falls, the painful bums, and the potential embarrassment of being Jill rolling down the hill, I had fun!! Biboy and Barbara did too. Next time, I'll try more carving and moving from side to side using heels and toes.

All smiles after our tumble down the hill
Snowboarding day was a great day. Certainly one for the books. Looks like I'm looking forward to my next snow adventure!

Thanks again, Biboy and Barbara! I enjoyed my first encounter with snow immensely. :)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Chicago

What better way to end a year than spending time with good food, good friends, and a good show, right?

In mid- December, I watched Chicago: The Musical with Claire, Trina, Renee, and Sara at the Solaire Theatre. The trip started off with some creative thinking. See, I totally forgot the my car wasn't allowed to traverse the city that day (due to a traffic reduction scheme). I, luckily, chose a city route that was exempted from the traffic scheme purely because I had wanted to avoid the traffic jams on the main route. The pitstop was the hotel where the three girls were sleeping over so I parked my car there. I didn't press my luck anymore by driving to Solaire because I might get flagged down on the road sections where the traffic scheme was enforced. 

At Solaire, we were met by posters about Chicago, such as this one:


It appeared that we were all dressed for the show's color motif, black and white! Unfortunately, Sara wasn't seated near us and wasn't in the picture.


We were seated so high up the theatre that I felt I could touch the ceiling! It was a good spot to be in to see the whole scene but wasn't ideal if one wanted to be at eye level with the stage.


Chicago was a great musical. I particularly liked the variety in the musical repertoire. There's tango and all. that. jaaaaaaaaaazzzzzz! But best of all, I enjoyed the interactions between the musicians and the cast... I've never seen that in the musicals I've seen previously. It made the musicians feel like an integral part of the show, not just a means to get the story along.

As we walked out of the theatre and into the lobby, I couldn't help but imitate how the performers walked... especially since I was wearing these black pumps. And I can honestly say that these performers made the walk easy and fluid. I almost fell over twisted feet just trying to do it over an extended time!