Monday, December 19, 2016

The Times They Are A-Changing

Yes, they are … to borrow the words of Bob Dylan.  And it is disconcerting. Even frightening.  What will it be like for my children and their children? It feels like the world, as we know it, is falling apart.  And it can not be stopped.
But should it be?
Change can mean many things.   The dictionary certainly has several to offer  :  replacing one thing with another; to make or become different; an alteration, a deviation, a variation… the list goes on depending on its usage. 
In this particular case, I like to remain hopeful and cast my vote for adjustment.  Because it is needed.   And it is time.
In our middle class suburban homes, driving our German or Japanese car, watching CNN, sipping Australian wine as we share tapas with friends, planning our next holiday somewhere in the world that is not in conflict, we forget that there are millions upon millions of people whose homes are in ruins; who have to walk for miles and wait in line for hours to get fresh water; for whom a holiday would be a day without the sound of gunfire.
It is time to wake up and open our eyes to the other truth.  The world, as we know it, is just a fraction of the world as others know it. Painful though it may be, change has to happen.
The question is how?
There lies the burden.  Because the task is given to mere mortals.  Men and women with feet of clay who have their own vision of what the world should be, shaped into their man-made image and likeness. A self-appointed few who have the power to steer our planet according to their own belief, their own ideology.   
But what about those who do not share the same principle or who have their own version of what it should be?  Is it time for despair?
Perhaps, I am in denial. But I like to think these changing times can be a time of hope.  Hope that the decision makers all over the world can see beyond their own motives, their own countries, their singular need for power. 
Because change can also lead to a time of enlightenment.  To see beyond one’s own borders, real or imagined.  To break down walls, not build them.   To pick up the pieces and create a Legoland of possibilities .
Yes, the times they are a-changing.
So let us brace our selves.   Getting there will not be easy.  Nor will it be predictable.    But hopefully, after we have weathered the storm, there will be a time of peace and renewal.  Much like the tiny buds and pale green leaves on barren trees that hold the promise of spring.  Then all will be right with our world again.

When I think of comfort food, I think of piping hot, creamy soup.  The kind that goes down ever so smoothly and travels all the way down to the tip of my toes!  This tomato-paprika soup is one those stormy, winter wonders.
Tomato-Paprika Cream Soup
1 kg. fresh tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped into small pieces
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 big onion, sliced
1 garlic, chopped
1 big red paprika, can be roasted for more flavor
1 tin peeled  tomatoes
2 tbsp. tomato paste
2 liters chicken broth or 2 liters water plus 2 chicken bouillon
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. smoked paprika powder
1 tsp. sugar, salt & pepper to taste
¼ - ½  cup cream
1 tbsp. butter  (optional)
Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil.  Add the fresh tomatoes, then the canned tomatoes, the paprika and tomato paste.  Mix well. Put in the bay leaf, smoked paprika, sugar, salt and pepper.  Let this cook for about 30 minutes or till the tomatoes are tender.
Remove the bay leaf.    Turn off the heat.  Take a hand blender and puree the tomato mixture. 
Pour the broth or water and bouillon onto the mix.  Let this boil and simmer for a few minutes.  Adjust the seasoning by adding more salt, pepper or a bit more sugar. Slowly add the cream.  Mix thoroughly.  Lastly, add the butter for a creamier taste.
Garnish with one or more of the following : extra cream, crème fraiche, croutons, chives, basilicum, crumbled bacon bits.  
This recipe is good for at least 10 people.  It can also be frozen and kept for another cold day.  
Extra tip : Since I make a fresh chicken broth, I also use the chicken bits as a garnish.  And, in order not to waste the vegetables used in the chicken broth, I add the carrots in the broth to the tomatoes and blend it in with the rest of the ingredients. I think the carrots add a natural sweetness.  Also, if you want a tangier version, squeeze a bit of fresh lemon before serving!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Post Trip
We set off on the last weekend of July for our much-awaited road trip.  What I did not take into account when planning our trial run for our retirement-dream-scheme is the fact that the last weekend of July leads to the first week of August. (duuh!)  And this year, it was not only Black Saturday, it was Black Friday and Sunday as well.   Yes, that dreaded Black Saturday when nearly all of France goes on the road heading for the sea, the mountains, neighboring countries …
So, there we were – a pair of senior citizens driving along the major highways crossing France and Spain bumper to bumper with cars laden with kids, pulling caravans, trailer, bikes and other worldly goods. The heat, the traffic, the disappointment nearly turned our idyllic plans into mush. 
It took more than our insulated Nespresso coffee mugs, old Filipino love songs and Sting’s greatest hits to keep the enthusiasm going.  It meant gathering 45 years of memories to fill up the hours of travel ennui. 
But the best part of traveling is getting to where you are going.   
Today, as we settle into the routine of our daily lives, the outstanding memories 
are not the hours spent in the car.  
In my mind’s photograph album, I see us with an old friend in Pontevedra 
wandering through the ancient cobble-stoned alleys sampling the local flavors and colors.  
 I remember the exhaustion as we climbed up and down the hills of Porto trying to find 
a must-eat-in restaurant only to find it had moved to yet another part of town and 
then stumbling into a cozy, neighborhood restaurante de peixe serving a delicious 
catch of the day!  I can still recall the excitement of rediscovering  Salamanca with Louis.   
 And, on the last day of our road trip, silently sipping a glass of  Bordeaux whilst 
watching the sun set over endless hills of grape-bearing vines. 
When friends ask me : how was your holiday?  My initial reaction is always a bit of a pause and then … tiring.  And so it was. 
Do we have any regrets? No.
Would we do it differently next time?   Yes!
Have we learned any thing from our 5,500 km-in-11-days road trip? 
Surely, something we have always known but seem to forget : take the time … even for dress rehearsals.  Who knows if you will go that way again?  Sometimes there are no second chances, only once-in-a lifetimes.

 A visit to any country or any where else for that matter, is never complete without a memorable meal.  This time, it was a dish which we saw in practically every menu in Porto - in fast food restaurants as well as the fine dining variety.  
It is called Francesinha and as always, I tried to recreate it as soon as we got home.  This is my version.


      To make the sandwich :
·      2 slices of white bread
·      1 slice of ham
·      3 slices of cheese
·      1 slice of  mortadella or  grilled chicken sausage 
·      1 slice of leftover beef steak or pork chop 
(even some of the meatloaf from the night before!  Use whatever you find in the fridge and see which combination you like best  

To make the sauce : This is good for more than 1 sandwich
·      2 tbsp. butter
·      1 garlic, chopped
·      1 onion, chopped and  2 tbsp tomato paste
·      1/4 cup port or brandy
·      1 tbsp cornstarch diluted in ¼ cup milk
·      ¼ tsp. chili powder or more according to taste
·       salt (if needed)

Putting it together :
First prepare  the sauce
Saute the garlic and the onions.  Add the tomato paste.  Mix well.  Pour in the brandy or port.  Allow the liquid to evaporate.  Then pour in the bouillon or chicken soup. Let it cook for a few minutes.  Season with chili powder or with more salt according to your taste. Thicken with the cornstarch diluted in milk. 
The sauce can be made in advance and kept for a couple of days in the fridge.

 Make the Sandwich
Put a slice of bread on a plate ( a wide soup bowl is best).
Layer the various meat slices on it.
Place the other piece of bread on top.
Cover the sandwich with the cheese slices making sure that there is not much bread showing.

Finishing Touch
For a more melted-cheese effect, you can put the sandwich under the grill till it is golden brown.
And then pour the warmed up sauce over it just before serving.
Or - you can also simply pour the piping hot sauce over the sandwich.  The heat will melt the cheese and envelop it just as you see in the picture above.

Serve with a fresh mixed green salad.  This sandwich is a meal!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Road Trip
Most girls dream about their wedding day.  The picture perfect scenario of white lace and promises in an idyllic country setting surrounded by happy, noisy, beautifully-clad family and good friends.
I never really dreamt of my wedding day.  I was more worried about IF and WHO I would marry.  At 16, it seemed like I was going to become an old maid.  At 18, I thought, maybe not.  At 19, I met Louis and I figured - this must be the one!! 
Two years later, we got married and within 2 weeks, we were off on our road trip.  And I mean that literally. For the last 42 years, we have gone by car, boat, plane and train to many countries.  Living in some, visiting many.  Taking with us our household and our 2 children.
The trip has taken me to many places I never thought I would ever reach as I read those Mills and Boon novels pining for the tall dark stranger who would sweep me off my feet.   (The tall blond man who finally did is not too bad either!) I have become so much richer in spirit and I would not trade any of the experiences, both good and not-so, for a simpler life.
But we do get older.  And life no longer is that frenetic race to achieve, to have, to own.  I look around our home and look at all our accumulated purchases through the years and think …  yes, what were we thinking?  Crystal glasses, sterling silver water pitcher, dinner service for 30 ??   For the children, we thought then.  Except, they don’t seem to either want or need them. 
This summer, 2 years before my official retirement and with Louis partially retired, we have decided to go on another road trip.  This time, one which we have mapped out ourselves.  Hoping there won’t be too many surprises along the away, covering some of the places we have set down on our bucket list. 
It is our trial run for the day when both of us no longer have to jump out of bed at the sound of the alarm clock and get ready for work.  It is for the time when we shall both be home – ALL day, every day.
Whew!  The thought alone is a bit daunting. When do I have my ME time?  I have managed this so well with him working on the days that I don’t.  Allowing me to have the girls over for long, chatty (wine-y) lunches or just to indulge myself on a Netflix mini series.
Yes, this summer is dress rehearsal time.  Just the 2 of us on the road, with lots of snacks and some of our favorite CDs tucked into the little box between the front seats right beside the double coffee mug compartment. Our bags are nearly packed and we’re ready to go….  I’ll keep you posted. 

Every Filipino family has a favorite Adobo recipe.  This one is not my mother's.  It is Marina's, a dear friend I met in Singapore during the first years of our marital journey.  Since then, I  have made  adobo our own.  It is the main dish for nearly all our first time dinner guests; the dish my kids  ask for if they have not been home for awhile; the dish  I take on long weekend cottage getaways. (I must apologize.  Filipinas do not do camping very well).  The leftovers make a great sandwich or tortilla wrap for the trip back home.

Marina’s Adobo

1 kg. whole chicken,  cut into serving portions (or just wings, thighs, legs)
1 kg. pork belly, cut into  2 inch slices
Marinate for at least an hour or overnight, in a mixture of :
¼ cup  dark or light Chinese or Filipino soy sauce (not Kikkoman) 
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup water
3 cloves garlic, 1 tbsp. peppercorns, 1 tbsp. salt – crushed in a blender or pounded by hand
2-3 bay leaves
To cook : Brown the chicken & pork pieces in a bit of oil. Set aside.
Return the meat into a heavy-bottomed pot, pour the marinade over the meat. Let it boil and then simmer till tender.  Do not add water.  While simmering, the liquid from the meat and the marinade will create a delicious gravy.
Since the pork takes longer to cook, take the chicken out first so that they do not become too soft.  Return the chicken to the mixture once the pork is cooked to your liking.  Taste the sauce, add more salt or vinegar accordingly.
The Adobo can be refrigerated for several days.  Or frozen and then defrosted when you have company. 
Accompaniments :
Simple : Sliced tomatoes and red onions, tossed in olive oil and a bit of salt
Interesting :  Korean Cucumber Salad :
1 cucumber, cut in half, skin on,  seeds removed and sliced in julienne strips
10 surimi or crab sticks, sliced in julienne strips
2 spring onions, sliced fine
Toss in the following dressing :
 Combine - 2 tbsp. corn oil, 1 tsp. vinegar,  ¼ tsp. Kikkoman or Korean soy sauce, ¼ tsp. sesame oil.  Add salt, chili powder, sugar  and  pepper according to your taste.
Sprinkle the top with freshly toasted sesame seeds.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Moments of Joy
In a breaking news world, events perhaps become bigger than themselves. Every single angle is examined, discussed, theorized and debated.  Leading to even more theories and debate.  The truth lost somewhere between all the exchange.
But the suicide bombings in Paris and in Brussels are real.  The threat to life as we know it here in Europe and throughout the world palpable.  Inevitable.
It is easy enough to get lost in a spiral of depression.  And that feeling of futility.
And yet life needs to go on.  Dinner must be made, the clothes washed, the beddings changed, the children put to bed, the garden prepared for the coming of spring, birthdays celebrated. There is nothing like routine to keep one going.
And then there are those moments of joy. 
In my mind’s eye I see them as candles in the dark. Burning one at a time. As soon as one starts to flicker, another one comes up bright.   Never leaving one in total darkness.
Those moments can be flitting like the glimpse of a field of sunflowers from a fast moving train.  Or they can be constant and comforting like that feeling of safety within my Rosary group or even alone in the chapel surrounded by dozens of votive candles.  They can be moments of abandon as in my keep-fit class when the music takes over and the day’s agenda dissolves in the rhythm of the dance.  They can be tangible like the memories captured in my phone of a beautiful sunset, my grandson’s first day at school or that delicious cocktail I have to make again at home.  Countless memories that I can relive stored in a gadget I carry every where I go.   Reminding me of the happy, funny, significant and often, just-because moments in my life.  Moments I can attach to faces, places and things.
Yes, there is trouble in our world.  There always has been.  And I suppose always will be.   But we will survive, triumph even! For in spite of it all, there will always be moments of joy.  

Nearly 30 years ago, Cristina, my Swedish neighbor and friend in Dusseldorf shared this recipe with me.  It has since become our traditional family birthday cake.  It has a crunchy top and a melt-in-the-mouth richness inside, much like discovering joy in the darkness.
 When made according to the original recipe, it is like a big chocolate cookie.    ( Another friend calls it the Cookie Cake).  Double the ingredients and it becomes an irresistible  better-than-brownies cake. 
You can top it with slivered almonds or chopped walnuts, or as in this case … with birthday candles!
I normally serve it with some fresh fruit and whipped cream on the side.

Cristina’s Chocolate Cake

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla sugar
4 tbsp good cocoa powder
½ cup flour
½ cup melted butter
100 gm nuts (optional)

Mix all the ingredients with an electric mixer only until blended.  Be careful not to overbeat!  Pour onto a wax paper lined round or rectangular tin.
If using nuts, lightly butter the paper and then press the nuts into it.  Por the mixture over it.
Bake at 350° F/200°C for 30 minutes. Remove and let it cool.  Invert the cake over a plate to serve.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

   How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?


You meet them every where.  The ones with the battle scars.  From a relationship gone wrong, a job lost and never regained, the death of a beloved, those traumatic childhood memories that never seem to go away.  The causes are many and varied.  Some wear these scars with pride.  Like medals of honour.  Some carry them like a yoke, shoulders heavy with the burden, unable or unwilling to be consoled.  Still some others bear them like a coat of armour.  Steeled against pain, even against joy.  Unforgiving.
The deepest cuts are the ones made by the people on whom one has invested a lot of time and caring on.  Childhood friends, colleagues at work, acquaintances made through the course of living, family… wounds of the heart.
I know I am one of the battle scarred. I like to think that I wear the lesions with dignity and pride.  Grateful not only for having survived but also for the lessons each of those experiences have taught me.
 Each of us carries a mended heart.   My heart has been broken and mended so many times, I wonder if it can take any more.  But it can. 
For in my world, there is nothing perfect.  Certainly not me.  In my world, there is very good, good, ok, so-so, just about right and lots of try-again-next-time. Perfection like Never-land is so confining.  When there is no room for error, where can one go?
I am certain that along the road of my nearly 64 years, I too have caused pain to some one else.  I know that I would never do this on purpose.   But it happens in spite of my ever-guilty Catholic heart and years of trying to be the “good girl”.  
 Then there are those incidents I call my devil-made-me-do-it moments, when I have had to take a stand and refuse to be another casualty. (Albeit, the act itself sometimes hurts more than just taking the beating.)
How does one mend a broken heart? 
With love.  Of one’s self, helped along with the love of the people who matter most.  I like to think that my battle-scarred heart lives on because I have not given up.  I still open myself to new experiences and friendships, while I  allow the old ones to mature and become part of who I am.  Imperfect.  Yet not impenetrable.

 Here's a hearty meal for a family dinner which can be doubled and tripled for a big Sunday lunch or a festive  buffet!

                    Creamy Enchilada

8 flour or corn tortillas

The Filling :

3 tbsp. butter

1 big onion, chopped

2 chicken breasts, boiled and shredded (leftover chicken is fine too!)

1 cup salsa (store bought or homemade)

1 pack cream cheese

1 tbsp. cumin powder

1/2 cup grated cheese

The Topping :

1 cup (or less) leftover chicken-cream mix
½ cup salsa

1 pack cream cheese

½ cup water or chicken broth
To make the filling : 

Saute the onions in butter till soft.  Stir in the chicken.  Pour in 1 cup salsa.  Mix well. Add the cream cheese and cumin.  Season with more salt or chili powder according to your taste. Remove from heat and add ½ cup grated cheese. 
Set aside about a cup of chicken mixture.

In a separate pan, heat the tortillas till they are soft. 

Butter or oil the bottom of an oven-proof dish. 

Place about 3 tbsps chicken mix in each tortilla and roll.  Lay them in the baking dish and cover with the following topping. 

To make the topping :

Mix and heat through : 1 cup chicken-cream mixture, salsa, cream cheese, and water or chicken broth. Add more water or broth if the mixture is too thick. Taste and add salt or spices according to your taste. Pour over the tortillas. 

Sprinkle cheese generously on top and bake for about 30 minutes in 200 C/350 F or until golden brown.

Serve with a salad and a cold beer or a glass of wine!

This can be made a day ahead and baked just before serving or it can be frozen and baked when needed.