As I mentioned in an earlier post, we had quite the storm here the other week. The winds snapped some of our bamboo in half, a big tree decided to fall over and rest on our house, and our power went out. Which wasn’t unexpected. We thought it would come back up fairly quickly, but nothing doing. And although we had a generator sitting in the shed, we just couldn’t get it to work.

And when I say “we,” I really mean “not me.”


When night falls and you’re sitting in the dark with only a few candles lit and absolutely no electrical power, you realize how much of your everyday life is dependent on electronics. The initial smugness that you feel when you think, “Ha! My laptop is fully charged, you fool!” instantly dissipates when you realize that the modem, and hence any kind of internet connection, is down. There’s no catching up on chores either, since the vaccuum and the laundry machines run on electricity too. I didn’t lament that part too much.

Undaunted, and refusing to accept that we might be a bit too dependent on the power company, we found ways to entertain ourselves. First, Tim picked up his guitar and started strumming aimlessly. So I picked up mine, intending to maybe launch into a John Denver or Bread song. I don’t know what happened, but we instead ended up playing Yellow Bird, with Tom singing his Caribbean heart out. And, as is always the case when I play Yellow Bird, I threw it into a Jamaica Farewell mashup, which is always fun until you realize you just turned a 3-minute song into an 8-minute medley that just won’t end.

We finally got tired of that, so after 7 minutes, we decided to play word games. Using only names of ingredients, we went around, each one giving a word that starts with the last letter of the previous word. We quickly found out that we really don’t know a lot of ingredients that begin with the letter E. And although I couldn’t tell clearly in the dark, I think I got a few dirty looks when I said “endive.” I don’t know exactly when the game ended, but I think it was right around the time we realized Tom was making words up and insisting, “No, that’s a real fruit/vegetable/seasoning/herb in Trinidad!”

It called to mind the time when I was growing up in the Philippines, where power outages (blackouts and brownouts, as we call them) were at one time fairly regular. Unfazed, we still played games outside, or sat at the piano singing every song that came to mind. Once, on the middle of one of the many failed coups during the late Corazon Aquino’s presidency, we spent an entire evening huddled in the dark in the basement of my uncle’s house, listening to the radio reports of snipers firing at vehicles on the road. As stressful as it was, when we think back on it now, what we mostly remember was my cousin breaking out her baby brother’s toy piano-harmonica hybrid (I have no idea what it’s called) and playing music almost all night long. We pretended it was a saxophone and soon forgot the chaos going on outside.

It’s such an indelible memory that about 15 years ago, when my cousin was going through old boxes of things in their house in Manila, she found the toy and sent it to me here. And I instantly understood the gesture, and the nostalgia behind it. I keep it in our family room, proudly displayed despite all the scratches and the chipped mouthpiece. And I play it still, always instantly transported back to that time as soon as the first note fills the air around me.


These days, when I need something to do idly besides reading, I mostly reach for my iPod and play a game of Scrabble, Kendoku, or Unblock Me. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But after our recent prolonged power outage, I realized that, aside from the supreme joy that it gives me, there’s something else that I get from music that I may have taken for granted before: its power to transform a dark, quiet, sparse space into something glorious, without the need for any source of external power but the one that’s already inside you.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m over the word games. I’m still kinda nerdy like that.

How about you? What would you do if you lost power for 24 or even 48 hours? Or, say you’re in the woods somewhere, in a tent maybe, and no, you can’t plug into your camper’s power source. And it’s too dark to read. (And you’re not allowed to sleep or just do nothing, or else a … a … a bunch of gangster bears will come and harass you. Yep, that’s right. You heard me. Gangster bears.) Do you have any favorite non-electronic games or activities that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! Because, to be honest, I think the guys around here might smother me with a pillow if I suggest another game of ingredient names.


Dino's toy piano-9327


Shortcut Naan

I was going to call this post “How I make naan when I have … none” but decided I’d spare you the obvious pun. It’s one I’ve overused around the house to the point that the boys just roll their eyes at me when I do it.

Then I threaten to go on strike and deprive them of all forms of baked goods, and they instantly start cackling out loud. I swear, sometimes it feels like the roles are reversed around here. Rolling eyes? Cackling? Aren’t those supposed to be in my job description? Continue reading Shortcut Naan

The morning after the storm

This past weekend, I witnessed the most fascinating storm I’ve seen yet outside of the Philippines. It started Friday evening, when the wind suddenly started blowing so strongly that it sounded like there was a freight train chugging along our street. It was so loud, it drowned out the hungry grumblings of my tummy. And that’s saying a lot.

Saturday morning, I woke and was startled by strange movement outside my bedroom window. When my eyes finally managed to focus, I realized it was our bamboo patch flailing wildly in the wind. Sort of the way my hair does when I’m shooting a shampoo commercial. (Okay, it might be a Head and Shoulders commercial, but still.)

Keep in mind that bamboo is very pliable. (Think Jackie Chan in Rush Hour 2: “Don’t worry—Chinese bamboo, very strong!”) If you don’t believe me, here’s a photo of our bamboo patch during one particularly heavy snow and ice storm.


bamboo in winter

See? It bends, but doesn’t break. So the sight of the bamboo swaying violently to and fro was quite a sight. It would bend to the right, almost down to the ground, then whip up and bend to the left, again almost to the ground. I couldn’t believe the force of the winds that were causing our patch of 20- to 30-foot high bamboo to move like strands of fur being blown by a hair dryer.

Then we started hearing loud noises from outside, and a resounding crash that seemed a bit too close for comfort. A rush outside armed with flashlights confirmed what we suspected: a huge tree fell on the side of the house. A quick run upstairs to check for broken windows fortunately came up empty, and since it was dark, there wasn’t much we could do.

The next morning, there was finally enough daylight to assess the damage. This is what I saw from the upstairs window.


2010 wind storm - view from window

Impressed, I headed downstairs to check out the damage. First, I had to get past some debris that was blocking the door leading to the deck.


I couldn’t believe the wind was actually strong enough to snap the bamboo. Snap it! I’ve got to tell Jackie Chan all about it.


2010 wind storm - the deck

Outside, our recycling bins (we’re responsible like that) were thrown clear across the yard and deposited underneath a tree, and there was paper strewn all over the grass (okay, that part wasn’t so responsible).


2010 wind storm - recycling

Oh, and look who was kind enough to help hold up the house.


2010 wind storm - tree on house

I wish I could regale you with the extent of my knowledge of botanical nomenclature, and tell you exactly what kind of tree that is. But I figured if I threw around the name Douglasish firkindathingi, you’d catch on. Sadly, any former mastery of scientific names lasted only long enough to get me through those college exams, and not an hour more than necessary.

As bad as that seemed (the fallen tree, not the demise of my memory of biological classifications), we still were better off than some of our neighbors. For example, this could have happened to us.


2010 wind storm - downed wires

2010 wind storm - snapped pole

To make matters worse, that’s a low-lying area, which means that in addition to those downed wires, they may have to deal with minor flooding as well. And if you ask me, mixing minor flooding with this:


2010 wind storm - downed wires 3

… is far worse than snapped bamboo, paper trash, or even a felled tree leaning against your house. Even if it’s a Toyotus sequoius.

Hope everyone in this area stays safe and dry!

How I relax

It’s Friday! Time to get ready to bid the work week goodbye. (Haha. “Work week.” It almost sounds like I have a normal life, doesn’t it?)

In case you’ve had a hectic week (like I have), and need a bit of help unwinding (like I do), here’s what usually works for me:

First, I close my eyes, grab a nice refreshing glass of iced tea or lemonade, and then imagine that I’m in a place like—actually, wait. I should grab the nice refreshing drink first before closing my eyes. I’m clumsy enough as it is, without attempting to handle breakables with my eyes shut.

Let’s try this again.

Okay, now I’m just going to grab a beer (notice how I tried to slip that change in all nice and subtle-like), take a few sips, then set it on the nightstand for later. Then I lie down and close my eyes, take a few deep, relaxing breaths, and imagine that I’m in a place like this:


Resting in one of these:


Doing nothing but relaxing, until someone brings me this:



Is it working yet? Can you feel all that stress melt away? Is your mouth feeling a bit parched for a cold drink? Are you suddenly remembering the familiar scent of Tropicana suntan lotion?

Sometimes though, reminiscing about tropical vacations just isn’t enough. Some weeks are just that crazy. When that happens, I bring out the iPod and my headphones and pull out the ace up my sleeve that always ALWAYS works. No, it’s not a soothing classical piece, and it isn’t even one of those rock songs that can usually get me going. The ace up my sleeve is a 26-second recording of my niece Bianca when she a baby.


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I’m telling you. For all the years I’ve been listening and re-listening to this, it never ever fails to put a smile on my face and start me giggling.

Which sometimes gets me into trouble, although frankly, it’s completely understandable. Because if I walked in on someone laying in bed with her eyes closed, headphones on, smiling and giggling like crazy, and then spotted the drink on the nightstand? I’d be asking for an explanation, too.


Tiramisu Pancakes

tiramisu pancakes-8891 square 800px

Look at what I done do last week.

The always lovely Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen sent out a tweet some time ago for some suggestions. She had half a cup of mascarpone in her refrigerator and was looking for ideas on what to do with it. I had just put up a post about my basic pancakes when I saw that, so I naturally thought of tiramisu pancakes.

I fiddled around a lot with the recipe in my head. I knew I had to have coffee and chocolate in there. And of course, the cream. Do I add cream to the batter as well? Do I use real coffee or just powdered coffee? Do I go through the trouble of making the zabaglione for the cream?

In the end, it was my son Tim, the pancake connoisseur, who helped me focus. His final say: “I don’t think you should make them too rich. They should still be panckaes, and I want to be able to eat a lot of them.”

Spoken like a true eating machine.

So, after about 4 experimental batches, I finally had the recipe that makes me happy and want to eat pancakes all day. The cream is what really makes it all come together, and I found that it was unnecessary to go through the whole trouble of making the zabaglione. Just some whipping cream and coffee liqueur, and it was good to go. I also added maple flavoring to the glaze and the cream, because although tiramisu doesn’t really have maple syrup in it, these are, after all, pancakes. They’ll miss the maple syrup and might start running off in search of it.

Oh, and you know something? Those nooks and crannies that sometimes show up in the cooked pancakes? They work really well here, because they give you extra space where you can hide more cream. The pancakes taste awesome even when cold, which makes them taste like dessert.

Head on over to TLC, where Steamy Kitchen featured these pancakes on her blog today. And let me tell you something: even though I’ve been making these non-stop for the past four days, looking at them still makes me hungry. (Although, to be honest, that really isn’t saying a lot. A photo of a cup of plain rice makes me hungry too.)

tiramisu pancakes-8870


Tiramisu Pancakes
(Serves about 5 reasonably hungry people)

For the pancakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, slightly rounded, sifted
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a generous pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cups sour cream
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons instant coffee

For the glaze (optional):
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons softened butter
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur

For the cream:
4 oz. mascarpone cheese
1 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons coffee liqueur
2 tablespoons maple syrup


Start by preparing the cream and the glaze. For the cream, beat all ingredients together and whip until you have soft peaks. Set aside in the refrigerator. (Tip: this cream tastes amazing, and is what really makes these pancakes. If you like generous amounts of cream on your pancakes, you might want to make a double portion.) The glaze is optional, but very, very (and I mean very) good. Simply combine the ingredients well. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make sure the cocoa powder is well sifted, so that it will dissolve evenly.

In a separate bowl, combine the milk and sour cream until smooth (it helps to slowly dilute the sour cream with the milk while whisking, which reduces the chances of clumps). Add the instant coffee powder and mix well until dissolved. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing gently until you have a slightly lumpy batter but without any large clumps of flour. If batter is a little runny, add a tablespoon or two of flour. I like to transfer my batter to a measuring cup or something else with a spout, for easier cooking.

Let the batter sit while you preheat your griddle. When griddle is hot, drop batter in portions desired (1/4 cup for regular-sized pancakes) onto the greased griddle. When bubbles come up and edges look cooked, gently flip to cook the other side. Once pancakes are cooked, transfer to a plate. Spread a small amount of the maple glaze over the top of the pancake so it soaks in while still hot. Continue with the remaining batter until done.

To serve, dollop a generous amount of the cream in between layers of pancakes. Top with more cream, and then top with shaved chocolate, or a light dusting of sifted cocoa powder.

Serve with extra cream and/or glaze on the side for dipping. A bonus: these pancakes taste amazing even when cold.



When I grow up

Let’s say we traveled back in time some twenty-odd years (I’m pushing it, but hey, nine is an odd number, right?), and you asked me the classic “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I’ll bet you all the homemade bread you can eat that I would have never answered, “I want to be a girl who writes about the random stuff in her head and in her kitchen—and takes photos of everything.”

(To be honest, growing up with two brothers and a slew of male cousins, I doubt I would have even referred to myself as a “girl.” For the longest time, I really believed I was a boy, like everyone else in the family. Then again, I also remember thinking that I was a baby dragon. Or Wonder Woman.)

When I graduated from high school, I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do. My college major was a stab in the dark. Literally. No, I’m not kidding. I laid the list of majors on my desk, took a pencil, closed my eyes, and randomly … stabbed. And that was how I ended up with my first major: biology. As a testament to the infallibility (not) of the stab method, my succeeding majors were so dissimilar, they were in completely separate areas of study.

Sometimes, I find myself wondering what my life would have been like if I had just stuck to my first major. (Or my third one.) Or what about all the different things I wanted to be when I was much younger? I had dreams of becoming a fighter pilot. A teacher. Nun. Spy. Ninja. I also thought about becoming a jungle guide, mostly because I wanted to have a reason to walk around with a big old jungle knife tied to my belt. Yep. I definitely thought I was a boy.

The other day, I found a mess of old photos that my dad sent me a few years ago. And as I looked through them, I saw myself as a kid doing so many different things that it’s no wonder my career goals were all over the place. My parents gave me such a wealth and variety of experiences, all of which I enjoyed so thoroughly that, as a child, I thought, “I can soooo do this for a living when I grow up, and I’d have so much fun and be the best in the world at it that I’d earn lots and lots of money—then I can give it away to the poor, make them happy, and get someone to name a chocolate bar after me.”

Do keep in mind that I was about eight. Although … I do kinda still want someone to name a chocolate bar after me.

And so I thought I’d start a series of occasional posts where I’ll be sharing all the possible careers I could have chosen, with photographic evidence to back each one up. Because it’s not enough for me to once in a while wonder what could have been had I stuck to pre-med and become a doctor like I originally planned. I think it’s time to step back, look at the big picture, and realize that medicine wasn’t the first career detour of my life.

Because, for all I know, if things had worked out differently, I could have been …


Supergirl. Move over, Wonder Woman. I don’t need no invisible plane no more.

(If you were maybe expecting a series of serious posts, I deeply apologize.)


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