Packed Lunches

“I don’t know what it is about food your mother makes for you, especially when it’s something that anyone can make – pancakes, meat loaf, tuna salad – but it carries a certain taste of memory.” -Mitch Albom

I bake a lot. True. Cooking, though, is something we have reserved for Mom to do. Whether it’s my inherent dislike for touching raw meat and fish or just the worry that I will make a disaster in the kitchen, I do not know why I am not yet inclined to explore cooking as much as I explore baking. Or maybe because my Mom always behaves like a food critic when we go out to eat so I am afraid she will not find my cooking to her liking. It’s weird because I let her taste the stuff I bake too. It’s just that I am a bit more adventurous at baking than she is.

Mommy was always hands-on despite being on-the-go. I remember back when she used to work, even if we had help at home, she made it a point to wake up early to prepare our baon (packed meal) for school. She did this everyday even after she was forced to retire when I was fifteen. And even when my sister and I started working already, Mom still prepared our food to bring to work.

Weird, right? Well, in the Philippines, one is not required to move out at age of eighteen. Those who can afford to work in the main business districts of the country without having to move out and rent their own place would find this pretty normal. There’s not much pressure to be on your own here. I guess it’s part of our being a close-knit family type of society that has to do with it.

Having been retired for more than ten years, I bet Mom’s bored at home. Recently though, she’s taken up drawing and coloring. At work, I would sometimes find my phone with message alerts from Mom, sending me a pic of her latest artwork. It’s cute, really. Sometimes though, I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that roles seem to reverse as one gets older. I used to be the one showing her my drawings as a kid. Now, she’s showing me hers.

Another hobby she discovered lately is food art or something about bento making. She saved her pension money to buy herself the tools to make lunches cute. For quite some time though, I wondered why nothing was coming out of all her purchases. Until one day, I discovered my rice smiling at me.

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Normally, I would see the food she was preparing while having my breakfast. I was not able to on the day she made this. She even managed to give it a blush! My office mate saw it and almost choked on his drink because he found the face funny in a good way. He told me it’s a good thing that my mom has something making her busy or striking her interest.

Of course, rice would not be good on its own. I had some meat and egg on the side as well.

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How she managed to make the heart, I do not know. All I know is that I found it adorable even if I felt like a first grade kid. Imagine if bento making was a thing already when I was a kid. I bet I would be the envy of my classmates!

Motivated by my happiness over my cute meal, she exceeded herself the following day. Oh what fun she must have had while making this!

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I realized how lucky I still am to have my Mom around. And overly protective might she be, I am lucky that there’s someone who still eagerly takes care of me and cooks good food for me. Despite not having a perfect relationship with her and having had lots of fight with her, she’s still always there for me and my sister.

She’s engrossed with drawing again and I recently got her a box of oil pastels. There’s been no cute packed meals lately. I am sure though that when it strikes her again, she would make more adorable designs.

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Just Baked: I Want to Marry You Cookies

They say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I’m not quite sure about that and currently, there’s no man whose heart I wish to worm my way through. All I know is that when I saw my cousin post about these cookies that she baked, I just knew I had to try making it too!

Well, that was three years ago, back in April 2015. She found the recipe from The Café Sucre Farine blog. However, instead of pecans, she wanted her fiancé to try them with hazelnuts. I am not sure why but maybe because he was more partial to hazelnuts than pecans? Judging by her post too, it seems as if he got to try it already before. Whatever! All I know is that they did get married. And, whether this cookie was one of the reasons he married her, I shall never know because my cousin is a pretty awesome woman anyway.

Okay, so back to the cookies. A little more research and I found out that this recipe was from Melissa Stadler. She entered the recipe in a contest by The Cooking Channel and eventually, she found herself filming for a segment for a show called, The Perfect 3, where she won the cookie category! Anyway, you can find her recipe and her story in her blog, Modern Honey. The original recipe though, unlike the one my cousin found, did not contain any nuts and called for less white chocolate chips.

Well, speaking of nuts, I didn’t have pecans or hazelnuts. I did have a small bottle of cashews though and I figured it should work. And, thanks to the gift certificates our boss gave out for a job well done a few months back, I was able to buy all other ingredients I would need without spending a dime! Ah, I love my employer! I did tweak a little bit though, depending on what was available in the supermarket where I went.

Oh! They smelled heavenly while they were in the oven!

Because I was making two batches of these, some trays of dough had more chilling time that the others. I found that those that chilled longer did not spread and brown as much as those that had less time in the fridge. Chilling does make a difference!

So, how did they taste? They were fantastic! Despite the amount of sugar and the chocolate chips in the recipe, they were not overly sweet. In fact, they were just right! Since I baked them longer than the minimum, I got cookies that were on the crispy side. Not hard like Chips Ahoy cookies but still with a crunch. Just how I liked my cookies!

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I do not wonder anymore why they are called I Want to Marry You Cookies! They were perfect! They also went great with a mug of milk!

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So, to give back to my team at work, I decided to bring most of the cookies I made to work for my colleagues to try. I hope they like these cookies as much as I did!


Ingredients
  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 ¼ cups dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup old fashioned oats 
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup roughly chopped cashew nuts

Instructions

  1. Melt the butter until golden brown in color, then add all the sugars. Combine well and allow to chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
  2. After chilling, add the egg plus extra egg yolk and vanilla and mix well.
  3. Add the flour, oats, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Mix just enough until there’s no trace of unmixed dry ingredients.
  4. Add in the chocolate chips and nuts. Mix well to evenly distribute.
  5. Using a small ice cream/cookie scoop, scoop the dough onto the baking sheets lined with parchment/baking paper, making sure to leave an inch or two between each cookie.
  6. Allow to chill for around 30 minutes.
  7. Pre-heat the oven at 325˚F.
  8. Take out the cookies from the fridge and bake them for up to 12 to 18 minutes or until fully baked.
  9. Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To Grandpa With Love

Dear Abuelito,

Last Friday, you would have celebrated your 107th birthday. I wonder if you celebrate birthdays in heaven.

I do not have much memories with you. Mom did say you used to pass by the house and visit me as a baby. Turns out, you still drove a car at 80. I feel so good about knowing you used to spend time just to look at me sleep. I wonder if you carried me a lot because I happened to love being carried as a baby and as a toddler.

I do have a picture of you holding me. I looked so small in the arms that had fought battles and wrote books and letters fighting for war veterans. I will not sugarcoat things. You have had blood on your hands, fighting for the land and for the people you have sworn to protect with your life. But, look at how gentle your hands and arms were as you carried me. I guess even the mightiest heroes have gentleness in them too.

I remember visiting you in Fort Bonifacio from time to time. You were this huge man who, even at over 80, still demanded respect when he stood. Eventually though, you were always in bed. How many times were you in and out of the hospital? Ah. Even the strongest fall. But, I wish you were stronger for a little longer.

The last memory I had of you, I accidentally stepped on your swollen toes when I went near you to kiss you. You cried out of pain and I ran a high fever afterwards because of fright. I still regret being clumsy to this day. I would have wanted a much nicer last memory with you. But, you showed me how strong you roared. I wonder how much stronger you did when you were in the battlefield and barking orders. I guess you can take a soldier out of a war, but you can’t take the soldier out of the man.

Let’s admit it, Abuelito. You are no perfect man. You left a lot of broken hearts in your trail and Abuelita’s was one of them. I never really understood that side of you. I never ever will. Sometimes, I wish I could ask you why you were the way you were.

Despite your flaws, I always looked for parts of me that mirrored parts of you. That’s how much I looked up to you. I find that I have your nose and your left dimple. Maybe the shape of your face too and the wide forehead. But, that’s pretty much it. It’s my sister who got the twinkle in your eyes–the one I have always wished I got as well.

Mom said you were a little knock-kneed like me and that we walked the same. If you only knew how much I got teased in school for that. But, it’s okay. I eventually learned to accept parts of me that I was born with and could not do anything about. I am sure the way you walked just added to your charm. I just hope your knees did not give you a difficult time during the war though.

Mom also said I got my generosity from you, recalling that your house was like an extension of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. There were those who paid for your legal services in the form of animals and food. And along the way, you made some really good friends. One of them even had the marble cross for your grave made just for you.

I was told that when soldiers retire, they get promoted one level. You retired as a general but wanted your cross to bear colonel instead. Mom said it’s because you believe that you did so much more as a colonel. Your humility made me respect you even more.

I really wish you got to stick around for much longer. I would have loved having a grandpa. I lost the other one when I was five. I lost you when I was eight. I missed out on a lot.

I would have loved showing you all of my accomplishments and showering you with hugs. I would have loved listening to your stories, regardless if they were about the war you fought in or your battles in court. I would have loved you so much.

I wish I were as courageous as you. I wish I could demand even only a tenth of the respect you could when you were alive. Your strong personality seems to have all gone to my sister. Hahaha…

I miss you so much, Abuelito. You have not visited me in my dreams for a while now. I hope you’re still watching over us.

One day, I will see you again. I hope not too soon though because I still have a lot of things I want to do. But, when that day comes, you and I will have an awfully good time.

Hugs and kisses,

Monique

Perfect Timing

Life operates not on our timing. It operates on God’s. What may seem like a denial might actually just be a delay. So, be patient and keep the faith.

August 7th, Tuesday. I had a 12 PM yoga class to attend and by 11:25 AM, I was still far from the studio, there being heavy traffic. It wasn’t raining when I left my house but midway through my trip, the sky started being covered with heavy, gray clouds. I started worrying then that I was not going to get to class on time.

A few minutes more, heavy rain started pouring. I was already thinking where to be dropped off so I won’t be soaking wet and damage my new yoga mat in the process. You see, to get to my drop-off point, the driver will have to take a long road and find a U-turn slot. If it weren’t raining, I could have just gotten down at the bank across the yoga studio and cross the street.

I started praying so hard for the rain to stop to allow me to get inside the studio without much fuss. The driver gladly offered to take another route so he can drop me at the entrance. As we neared the usual route to the studio, the rain poured even more heavily. I started feeling annoyed and was already thinking of how not to get my gym bag and yoga mat soaked because I only had a small foldable umbrella with me.

After the traffic light turned green, the driver drove past the street he was supposed to turn left to in order to find a way to not have to take the very long U-turn I was talking about. I had my umbrella out already. But, in a matter one minute, just in time for me to get out of the car, the rain stopped. From heavy downpour to nothing in an instant. Not even a drizzle!

I felt so ashamed that I got pissed off thinking my prayer wasn’t answered just because the rain did not stop at the exact moment I wanted it to. I did not realize that there was still time to allow the rain to pour before I had to go down the car. I felt like a brat who threw a tantrum for nothing because I really was pissed!

I was also humbled by that experience. From time to time I still insist on what timing I want, forgetting all the other times God amazed me with how perfect His timing was. He knows when to give what we want or when not to give it at all because it isn’t what we need.

Acts 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.

Back on the Mat

“Yoga is a dance between control and surrender — between pushing and letting go — and when to push and to let go becomes part of the creative process, part of the open-ended exploration of your well-being.” -Joel Kramer

Around this time last year, I made up my mind to quit my previous job. It was a difficult decision because I have come to love my teammates and the work allowed me to travel to places around the country that I never thought to go to. I learned a lot from meeting new people and trying out new experiences with friends, old and new. But deep inside, I was not happy. I was longing for more.

With all stress I was under with the 90 days I had left with my previous employer, my good friend, Joan, led us to discovering GuavaPass. It’s a subscription-based service that gives you access to a community of fitness studios, allowing you “passes” to a wide range of fitness activities. At the time we learned of it, there was a promo to avail 4 classes for only ₱499 instead of ₱1,399. We opted to try yoga but it had to be from four different studios.

I enjoyed yoga even if I was far from being as flexible as I was when I still 15 and did dance classes (I could split and cartwheel back then). Yoga felt like my kind of exercise because it forces me to learn how to breathe properly. For an asthmatic, it was a good workout for my lungs as well.

I loved it so much, I bought a set of gear for it.

But a wrist injury and a resignation later, I had to stop yoga for a bit. I am pretty sure I did not injure my wrist at yoga but there was a small swelling in my left inner wrist. So, I found my hand in a splint that the doctor had me wear for a month. I would cheer myself up by pretending laser beams shot out of it, aiming at my friends at work and pretending to blast them one at a time (work drove me crazy that way).

I wanted to be back earlier but I sprained my ankle badly last March. Damn, I am injury-prone.

With new members joining our team, my network was also expanding. Thanks to our new colleague, Rina, I got to enroll and get a 30-day unlimited package with Bliss Yoga. It is conveniently located where I work and the schedule pretty much works for me. I now have to reason to get back on the mat. I have missed yoga terribly and being on a yoga mat again excited me.

What have I noticed now that I am back to doing yoga?

  1. My wrists still hurt when I exert effort for certain poses and when I struggle to keep myself from slipping. The yoga mat I bought was made from PVC material and it meant being slippery until such time it’s been used enough that it starts giving traction. So, I got myself a new TPE yoga mat. It’s not slippery from the start and is more environmental friendly. Got mine at ₱895 from Planet Sports in Glorietta. I am currently looking for yoga gloves to prevent slipping even more.
  2. I still hold my breath in when I focus on a certain pose. I have that bad habit of forgetting to breathe when focusing on a physical activity. That’s why I run out of breath when climbing the stairs or jogging/running. My officemate once teased me, “Monmon, nagpapapayat ka, hindi nagpapahukay puntod (roughly translates to “you’re trying to lose weight, not preparing to go to your grave”).
  3. My left knee has not completely healed. Remember when I sprained my ankle? When I lost my balance, I landed on my left knee which had a rather large bruise that took weeks to go away. Turns out, it still hurts to this day even with the bruise gone. I must have bruised my bone in the process. So, I’ll go back to my doctor to have it checked.
  4. I still take mini breaks. One of the things we are taught in yoga classes is to always listen to our body. If we feel we can push further, we are encouraged to do so. But, if a pose feels compromising, we are free to modify or to not do it at all. We are taught to respect ourselves by acknowledging our limits and accepting the extent of our abilities at a certain point in time.
  5. I forget all my problems when I am on the mat. Maybe it’s because I’m more focused on surviving the class than anything else, haha! But, a good one hour of yoga allows me to quiet my thoughts and focus on myself. I also find that I am better able to focus on work afterwards.
  • Through more practice, I know I can become stronger and more flexible. I cannot expect to be already as good at it as those who have been practicing for years. One push and one stretch at a time, I’ll get there.

My DIY Solid Shampoo Experience

“If your hair is done properly and you have on good shoes, you can get away with anything.” – Iris Apfel

I was fourteen when I was finally allowed to grow my hair past the tops of my shoulder. Prior to that, I had to fight to keep from going to the hairdresser. It meant hours of crying, throwing a tantrum, and hugging the banister of our staircase. Dad insisted on having our hair cut because he felt long hair meant using up more shampoo. Using up more shampoo meant buying it more frequently. By the time I was fourteen, Dad probably realized my hair grew so fast, it was more expensive to keep going to the hairdresser than to just buy shampoo.

I loved having long hair and would always delay trips to the salon, waiting until I saw signs of my hair needing a cut. Luckily, I was born with straight hair that did not require much maintainance. Deep inside though, I wish I had hair with elegant curls instead.

I loved trying out different kinds of shampoos. Recently though, my friends have been telling me about solid shampoo bars. It’s like soap but for the hair. Shampoo bars are great for those who wish to be more environmentally friendly because regular shampoo used plastic bottle packaging that get thrown away eventually.

Out of curiosity, I researched DIY shampoo bar recipes and ended up realizing I have the ingredients on hand, most of which were from my soap making projects earlier this year. I settled with the following recipe:

0.5 lbs of goat’s milk soap base

0.5 tsp shea butter

1.0 tsp of castor oil

5.0 drops of peppermint essential oil

7.0 drops of grapefruit essential oil

Red liquid coloring

I melted the shea butter and soap base in the microwave for two minutes. Then, I added the castor oil and essential oils. I dipped two toothpicks into the red liquid coloring then dipped them into the shampoo mixture to give a pink tint to it.

I poured them into my round soap mold and was able to make around five and a half of solid shampoo.

They looked so adorable! The pink tinge was just right and they smelled lovely! Grapefruit and peppermint combo was awesome at perking up your senses!

I immediately used the smallest one to test it out. The result? Errrr…

I struggled to make it lather up enough for my long hair that’s currently past my waist. But, it did rinse out pretty easily. However, it left my hair feeling squeaky clean. That being said, my hair did not feel soft like it would have felt using regular shampoo. I struggled combing my hair because it tangled up pretty badly.

After it dried, it felt much softer than expected but did not have its usual shine. It also felt like it had all its moisture sucked out of it. Okay, maybe not that drastically. But, I was not fond of the results no matter how light and bouncy my hair felt.

I searched for reviews of people who transitioned to using solid shampoo and it turns out that I was not alone. Some recommended an acid rinse, wherein one uses apple cider vinegar, to help in the transitioning. Errr…. no thanks.

Thankfully though, it makes an awesome soap for the skin. I should probably stick to that and leave my hair alone.

I really hope manufacturing companies of bath products will be able to come up with environmentally friendlier packaging much sooner.

Mamma Mia 2

“Super Trouper beams are gonna blind me,

But I won’t feel blue,

Like I always do,

‘Cause somewhere in the crowd there’s you.” -Abba, Super Trouper

I have always loved musical plays and movies, from The Sound of Music to La La Land. Maybe it’s because I came from a family that had great musicians and actors. And while I did not inherit the vocal chords to die for, I have always had this little part of me that longed to perform in an acting role and break into songs every now and then. You know, like a typical Disney princess.

So, when I heard Mamma Mia (2008) was going to have a sequel with Lily James in it, I was ecstatic! They had everyone I loved from the original film as well although the trailer had you guessing whether Meryl Streep was going to be there or not.

I took my Mom and our companion at home with me to watch it at the Power Plant Mall cinema. I liked how the movie house wasn’t too big and the sound systems were set just right. The cinema wasn’t packed but I could say almost 95% of the seats were taken.

The movie was just like the first. There was a good mix of drama and witty comedy. The flashbacks are inserted at just the right moments! The actors played the characters as if there was not a ten-year gap between the films, making you feel as if they really were the characters they played.

The choice of songs was brilliant! It’s amazing how one can create a story by putting songs side-by-side. The actors they got sang well but Lily James and Amanda Seyfried were my favorite! I’m glad they got another actress to play the younger version of Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, rather than having Amanda Seyfried play both Donna’s younger self and her daughter, Sophie.

There were inconsistencies in the story when compared to the first movie such as the order by which Donna met Sophie’s potential fathers. Also, for Cher to play the character of Ruby, Donna’s mother, was bizarre to me. After all, Cher was only three years older than Meryl Streep. She looked every bit the age of Donna’s friends in the movie, if not, younger!

Overall, I’m still pretty pleased with the film. I just sometimes want to strangle Donna for assuming the worst of Sam immediately. Imagine, a single moment of hearing him out could have changed their lives forever! This teaches one to not be hasty in making life-changing decisions.

Were you pleased with the sequel?

Note: Featured photo obtained from https://www.mammamiamovie.com/?redirect=off