On Typhoons and Thermidor

In 2006, my piece On Typhoons and Thermidor won a runner-up prize at the Doreen Fernandez Food Writing Awards. As a former student of Ma’am Doreen’s, it was particularly touching to me that I wrote a creative food essay that perhaps she would consider good, especially since she had to sit through a godawful three-act play I wrote under her tutelage in 1998.

Reading this New York Times piece on her brought back so many memories. So I’m putting this up in honour of her.

ON TYPHOONS AND THERMIDOR

It is always with much anticipation that I await the arrival of August, traditionally time for typhoons, when monsoon rains pound the city into submission and paint the metropolis a gloomy gray. Not too many allow themselves to see silver linings in the storm clouds; I, however, have always looked forward to cold gusts of wind and sheets of rain, as typhoons inevitably inspire my mother – soul food cook extraordinaire and possessor of warm arms that wrap oh-so-comfortably around shivering shoulders grown numb with cold – to prepare her family specialty, shrimp thermidor.

My father would joke about how it was raining cats and dogs, and how Mom should run outside and collect a couple of felines for homemade siopao, prompting my brother and me to protest his otherwise cruel trains of thought.

While the wind outside rattled our windows and rain hammered angrily against the windowpanes, Mom would gather her boys – John and me – around the kitchen table, wrap a blanket each around us, and prepare the ingredients for this heart- and body-warming dish. Dad lingered in the next room while he finished his crossword puzzle, and in the background played Sinatra, Astrud Gilberto, or Robert Goulet, the family’s having lost interest in the AM radio after the announcement that classes were suspended. Those days were most precious of all; if our family had to have soul food, this was it: hot and flavorful, with a helpful heap of memories to add that extra zing.

Shrimp thermidor is not a traditional Filipino culinary creation, but Mom always made international cuisine an adventure for our family, as most great cooks are wont to do. One can adapt thermidor to suit a variety of tastes, but the heart of the thermidor beats around seafood, usually lobster, shrimp, or prawn, cooked in a béchamel sauce, and flavored with herbs and spices, the usual selections being tarragon, white wine, shallots, and a hint of mustard. Often, the shells of the seafood are left intact – lobster and prawn shells are best – so that, upon cooking, the thermidor can be scooped back into the shells, and make for a delightfully elegant presentation. To do this, however, the thermidor must be temptingly thick, and the thicker and hotter the thermidor, the more hearty and appealing. Legend has it that the French conqueror Napoleon gave it its unusual name, after he first tasted it sometime between July 19 to August 17, during the French Revolutionary calendar‘s eleventh month, Thermidor, which was incidentally, considered the month of heat. During those cold and rainy nights, truly, my mother’s shrimp thermidor lived up to its heritage.

My mother’s version of shrimp thermidor always began with a stack of unshelled large shrimps, about half a kilo’s worth. Mom would remove them from their shells, slice off their tails, then run a knife gently along their backs so they would open – flower, really – upon cooking. Once the shrimps were ready, she would julienne an onion, then melt three-fourths of a cube of butter in a medium saucepan to gently cook the onion slivers to a very light brown. The distinct aroma of buttered onion – annoying to many, heaven to my brother and I – would fill the kitchen, and many fond memories have I of buttered carrots, corn, peas, and onions prepared on many a cold night while
studying, Mom peering over my shoulder to ensure the correctness of my answers.

As soon as the onions were soft and cooked, my mother would put the shrimps into the saucepan, and cook them until they opened, like soft pink flowers, and smelled wonderful. At that point, she would put in a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup, and a canful of water, and bring all of that to a boil. By this time, the kitchen would be filled with laughter, as Dad would come into the room, having finished his puzzle, and run us around the table. Mom would scream, “Tama na, baka mabuhos ang thermidor!” and my father would tickle her incessantly. “Nicholas!” she’d scream.

The piéce de resistance was a whole block of cheese – Eden or Ques-O, my mother didn’t care for Quickmelt – diced and gently added to the mixture. Flavors consisted of light sprinklings of salt, pepper, or tarragon; on certain days, Mom would transform the thermidor into thick and flavorful chowder with the addition of potato cubes. When the shrimp thermidor was ready, my mother would serve it in a large soup bowl, for scooping over hot white rice or steaming pasta, usually colored twists, macaroni, or linguini. The four of us would sit at the dinner table, help ourselves to the piping hot thermidor, and crack jokes about how cats and dogs never really seemed to fall on rainy August days.

Australian Veef is a win!

Last night, Nicola and I tried Fenn Foods‘ Australian Veef.

This is a vegan burger patty that promises great texture and heaps of umami.

Well, guess what? We were BLOWN AWAY. My twelve-year-old is a little picky with her food but she liked the idea of trying a vegan burger. I airfried the patties to reduce fat content, but the burger stayed relatively moist. The texture of the burger was pretty close to beef, but what won both of us over was the flavour of the patty. It was spot on. As I try to introduce my little girl to more vegetarian options, this one was a clear winner. Yay!

Glad for saviors

Over the past few weeks, I’ve struggled with several work-related tasks that were assigned to me because the person who’d previously done them was no longer affiliated with the company.

When assigned these tasks, the first objective obviously is to try to secure information that will help me complete this tasks. But a few of them are simply beyond my ken. Today was one such task, when a particular client requested pfx files for his SSL certificate. (Sounds Green to you? Yeah, me too.)

After several attempts to try to figure it out, I shouted for help on Facebook, and one friend helped me through it. We were able to make it happen, and I now have a method to help me replicate it should another request for it come through in the future.

I was very, very grateful for Jakob’s help, and relieved that this was yet another task I was able to knock out of the ballpark. It’s a great feeling.

What a blessing to know we have people who can come to our rescue when we need it. Fewer things remind us of how blessed we are than when friends come to our rescue in times of deep need.

Yay for the ‘Sagip Saka Law’!

Just learned that President Duterte signed the “Sagip Saka Act” into law last month. All I can say is, “Wow.”

The impact of this law is potentially massive, because it provides farmers and fisherman assistance in skills development, wider access to financing in the form of credit grants and crop insurance, and access to improved technologies for research and development.

The big-ticket items here are 1) education/training, 2) government support towards modernisation; and 3) credit guarantees on uncollateralised loans, implying our kababayans won’t necessarily have to give up livelihood or property just to pay back the loans.

It also provides tax incentives and exemptions to encourage assistance for farmers and fisherfolk. YAAAAS.

The law also creates the Farmers and Fisherfolk Enterprise Development Council to ensure the proper implementation of the program. It is tremendously encouraging because these men and women form the backbone of our ability to feed the nation, and we need to sow back–pun intended–into their lives so they can continue to do their great and noble work.

I will give the man credit when it’s due. Great big thanks to President Duterte, to the fine men and women of the Department of Agriculture, and to principal author Sen Kiko Pangilinan. Masigabong palapakan.

Rape is never funny, Mr President

All my life, I’ve worked hard to fine-tune my own brand of comedy. It’s still a work very much in progress: puns, real-life stories, and musical parodies make up the cheap laughs I offer.

But to me, what isn’t funny are jokes aimed to make light of the distress and trauma experienced by others.

Like rape.

If we knew the horror of rape,
how deeply it wounds,
how shamelessly it scars on the outside,
and leaves inner trauma that takes forever to heal,
how it replaces one’s joy with fear or anger,
how it changes one’s life forever,
we would not find rape jokes funny,
nor support those who dare tell them.

We must NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER let the telling of rape jokes become something acceptable.

We must voice our displeasure, for the sake of our mothers, our wives, our sisters, and our daughters, and for that matter, for the sake of any of our fathers, our husbands, our brothers, and our sons, for rape knows no gender and does not discriminate against anyone.

Speak up and do not let our nation’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, or any of his apologists including Salvador Panelo and Oscar Albayalde, brainwash the nation and our nation’s protectors, this graduating batch of the PMA, into normalising rape jokes and undermining the worth and value of our fellow Filipinos.

I don’t care if this is calculated. I don’t care if this plays into his playbook. I don’t care if this is intended to draw our attention away from some other underhanded plan. We cannot let this become our reality, our new normal.

Duterte may be president, but he does not speak for me, and if he does not speak for you as well, I challenge you to say so. Write your congressmen, tell your families, do not be quiet.

We are men and women of the Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient Seas, known for our warm smiles, our hospitality, our integrity, and our love for family. Over and over, this man threatens to ruin the reputation of our proud nation.

And that is not funny.

Step out of your bubble!

The Congress website poll on same-sex marriage is just a poll; it doesn’t influence policy in any shape or form. We’re just faceless voters in an online abyss.

People who want to really make their opinion known on this can contact their congressmen to voice their concerns. That’s what they’re there for, and if you feel passionately about a particular issue, you can try to reach out to their office and schedule time, or write a letter.

If you doubt you’ll get their attention, you can try to post it online; you never know if someone you know knows someone he knows, and somehow you get connected.

I just think that the time to play it safe politically has passed. So many are unhappy with the results of the elections, but few are willing to get out and do the legwork needed to get their chosen leaders elected, or hold the actual elected accountable.

If we want change, we need to also step out of our bubbles and do something… offline. My two cents. No need for a poll on that.

Quick update

The other day, I received an email reminding me that my domain was up for renewal. This is the thirteenth year that I will be renewing this domain.

I realise that it’s been a while since my last blog entry, and I have to tell you that I’m a bit overwhelmed by the immensity of it all.

When I first started the blog, it really began as a journal of sorts. I was connecting to a lot of Christians in the blogosphere, and I was forming online friendships that proved valuable, a few of which continue even to this day.

However, at some point, I shifted that direction, and moved into Christian music reviews. It became easier to produce content, but it also became less personal. Last year, I shifted it yet again to lifestyle (to include recipes and whatnot), and with that shift, came even more pressure because I felt I had to photograph and document everything.

It became less joyful to maintain the blog.

With the advent of social media, it also became easier to produce content and put it up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, because we could see immediate reactions and results.

How far technology has come, yet how mind-numbingly slow this site has developed. And in the thirteen or so years that the blog has been up, I’ve had two kids, both of whom are now teenagers, and my priorities have shifted. 

I think the reality is, over the past ten years, I was so deeply connected to online channels that the lines between online and offline became blurry. I was in constant pursuit of Likes and Shares. This pursuit of validation, whether it was producing funny parodies, posting puns, or trying to become Instafamous (which I never became, LOL), consumed me.

It took almost a year in another country for God to change my heart and my priorities. I have three lessons that I’ve learned in my time here in Canberra.

Lesson 1 is family is important. In my time here, I’ve learned to appreciate Caths, Nathan, and Nicki even more. We were literally all we had here. I found the less time I spent online, the more time I had to spend with them, and there were so many things we could do together here.

Lesson 2 is friends are important. On my social media accounts, I have almost 5,000 “friends,” and more than 4,000 followers. But most of them are friends of friends of friends, and my blog has been woefully ignored as a result.

Finally, Lesson 3 is the world is beautiful. Yes, Canberra is beautiful, and I honestly would not mind growing old here. But it took me almost a year to realise that there is beauty no matter where I am, and my constant pursuit of Likes and Shares was stopping me from appreciating the beauty of the world around me. The offline. The “real world.”

So, with this post, I just want you to know that 1) I’m alive, 2) I’m living, and 3) I think it’s time to bring the blog back to its original purpose. I’m done with chasing fame; I’m done with the pursuit of “hits.”

I just want to be me, and if you like what you see, you’re welcome to stay. Thank you for reading, thank you for listening, and thank you for being with me all this time.

Here’s to a new season.

Giving a Valentine’s gift? Here, take notes!

In just a week, the world will be celebrating Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re giving gifts–my top love language–or celebrating with a date–quality time, my second-least love language, LOL–there are many opportunities to honour the one you love.

Donut let this opportunity pass you by!

It’s a berry good idea!

I like puns, obviously, and if you’re at a loss for words, Shari’s Berries has produced these printable love notes that you can attach to a gift, or leave as a sweet pick-me-up in the middle of your day.

Check out all the printables here; I’m sure you’ll get a cake out of ’em!

Disclaimer: I have received no remuneration of any kind from Shari’s Berries for posting this. I just thought it’s a lovely and funny thing to share. Cheers!