Monday, November 1, 2010

The Chair of Privilege

The Chair of Privilege, taken in Oregon Coast, on July 2010 by Prosy Delacruz  

"Life is a battle – you must enter into it fully, and do what needs to be done. You cannot shrink from your duty. Life presents difficult, sometimes horrendous situations, unwelcome tasks, and obstacles of every sort. Despite this harsh reality, you must resolutely go forward." Pierro Ferrucci

I have wrongly believed life is a battle, in which I have to face all the challenges everyday by myself. It was much later in life that I realized that my Universal Partner is always with me and that I have the capacity to create my own life of privilege.

I have often wondered what it is like to sit in "The Chair of Privilege," wherein one’s check book is freely accessible towards a donation to a church project or a non-profit cause. Or perhaps where one’s circle already includes the ‘sifted and the centrifuged ‘ crème de la crème of society. They can be folks who have endured their own life’s challenges, embraced them, and now are at a point of coming to their privileged times of harvesting the fruits of their labor.

Or simply folks who are children of elites, who have no financial barriers yet still, have interior challenges of living a life of purpose, fulfilling their own goals using motivation and determination that we all must have to reach ours.

When I was going to the University of the Philippines’ College of Home Economics to pursue a science degree in food technology, I was part of a different universe. Some of my classmates were children of elites, chauffered by their own drivers, in their own cars, to the university campus. I was trained by my working parents and my elder sister to take the bus and to ride the "ikot jeepney" to reach one end of the campus, and back. It was a sheltered life: go to classes, go to mass, go to cafeteria, do laboratory experiments and sleep in the dorm. Our weekends were spent at Ma Mon Luk for siopao and mami and the movies.

While I lived a sheltered campus life, I was not content. I instead, compared myself to the children of elites, as if I have much less. My mindset was quite wrong. Somehow, I expected a rich person, an elite to reorient my life to work for me. I did not educate myself to look at my parents as my role models. Not having that secure belief in my family and myself hindered me.

Could it have been my Christian education then in the early sixties, wherein the nuns emphasized a life centered on academics and prayers, but not service to country and its poor? Or was it my university education which emphasized having the skills to work abroad, but not harnessing my skills to improve the industries in the Philippines? While my core education gave me skills, I did not have the inner fortitude to have a correct mindset.

It was not till much later when I was in the United States, that I came to realize how much my father, Eleazar, sacrificed to get his higher education in law. He was an orphan, and without financial means of support from his parents, he befriended hunger. It was his daily companion. He walked barefoot several miles to go to school. He had water but no food. He believed that his higher education was his ticket out of poverty. And it was by divine providence that he got to eat.

His active imagination helped him visualize a better life for himself. Then, he met my mother, Asuncion, who herself was determined, and had her own inner determination. She burned the midnight oil to get her master’s degree in Science, while teaching full-time and raising five girls. She showed me by example how to work hard to reach our goals.

While I had those life examples to learn from, I took them for granted. I incorrectly viewed myself as poor, when I am richly endowed with my parents’ life examples of patience, perseverance, true grit and imagination.

Because of what they showed me, I instinctively knew I can pursue higher education. Because of how my dad and my mom sacrificed, I knew I can achieve, with sacrifice and hard work.

But, my life did not turn around to a life of privilege until I was grateful for what God has endowed me: my own skills, talents and knowledge. It did become a life of meaning, of purpose when I serve others, mentoring them to reach their own life’s goals.

I began to realize that my own poverty of imagination and my own poverty of spirit stopped me from having a life of privilege, one that is connected to the Higher Source of imagination and creativity. I stopped desiring what others have. I started cultivating my own gifts of imagination and creativity.

So here goes now, my life begins with an ambitious climb of 282 steps. This overlook trail was created by the collective foresight of the community and good governance by the state government. It took over a decade for the community to gain this public victory. Yet, the Baldwin Hills’ African American community persisted, and sustained their community efforts not to fall apart to dissension. They solidified their ranks, through their social ties, and with their own creative skills of coming together by holding coffee klatches, movie nights and dinner potlucks, they succeeded in stopping the development of 241 homes over 50 acres of private land. It was not till the land was bought, and state rangers appeared did the community truly recognized their own strength.

282 Steps to Scenic Overlook Trail, taken by Mike Murase

Now this overlook scenic trail is populated by folks of different origins, of different ages, of families persisting to have their own lives rich in imagination, rich in creativity, but mostly, rich in connections with their Universal Partner. Here is where I found a 78 year old poet, running up these stairs and working through her own issues of poverty, unbeknownst to her, her own writing skills, stumped by her own grief, and expecting folks to like her. Here is where I found close to century old - couple whose formula for life is not about viewing challenges, but to take a step at a time, by loving one another for 64 years and smiling as they walk together. They appear to be living lives of privileges, connected to their Universal Partner, the source of all Goodness.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Step by Step: The Formula is Love!

Ellie after successfully climbing 282 steps to reach the expansive summit. I told her to remember this view whenever she is at a crossroads, and the steps we climbed to reach the top! She is now at the top enjoying the Universe's Grace!

90 year old Elsa and her husband, Fred, 96 years old. Both still drive and both were seated at the summit, enjoying the view one Saturday morning, after they walked on the trail from the parking lot. I watch them as they sat next to each other, so content with an inner radiance. "What is your secret?" Elsa replied, "Loving each other for 64 years!" What an unexpected gift to meet them at the summit! Years before this summit was opened, they did 8 mile walks, backpacking in the Sierras and Nordic skiing.

"Step by step your climb expands/ the cityscape a thousand fold/framing it ever so broadly with hillside and sky."

375 feet above sea level at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook Trail

Change comes from a foundation of love, whether towards one's self or others. It does not come from self-loathing, self-denial, nor judgement towards others. It comes from reflection and a grateful attitude to those who cared for and nurtured you to be where you are today. Thank them and the Universe will open up to you so you can receive Grace!  That was the universal lesson I learned, climbing 282 steps to the summit with Ellie. 

Ellie posted on Facebook that she needs a life coach. I responded, even though I hardly knew her. I was somewhat familiar with her public relations work in the community. She was at a crossroads when I met her.  She wanted more out of life.  She could not decide between a job that offered her stability and an offer with opportunities for adventure and fraught with big risks.  

We talked for hours about life, dating, friendship, career choices, family and marriage.  The question I left her to ponder on was: " Why are you afraid of embracing a career with risks and opportunities for adventure, when all along, you prepared yourself, acquiring skills you need for this next job? "

Today, she is the face of inner joy!

The long and short of it, without giving away our private conversations, she wanted to create memories with friends before she left for her adventure.  I thought it was novel.  I decided to go along with some hesitation.  Ellie had rebuffed my offer twice, given her work schedule.  Just when I was about to give up on her, I decided to try one more time.

To my surprise, she sent a text message on Saturday at 7am, wondering where we should meet and what time.  I responded, 8am today and my home address. “Coming," she said.

Will she really show up after dancing the night before, at the Earth, Wind and Fire Concert in Hollywood Bowl? 

It was my second day of climbing the stairs, on my own, without the guiding hand of my husband, Enrique.  He enticed me before to climb all 282 stairs, but I rebuffed him.  I was not prepared. Or I was simply making excuses.  On the weekend he went camping to help our son, Carlo move, I decided to face this physical challenge.  Like Ellie, I was at my crossroads too, choosing between keeping fit or sliding back to a more comfortable, non-active life.  

Ellie came, wearing her glittered Converse sneakers. I proactively shared some breathing exercises, so as not to get dizzy with the quick climb. I felt my instructions were redundant, I should have asked first.  Ellie did not need them, as she got to the summit, with no effort.  And me - I huffed and puffed all the way, but made it!  

What I got was an expansive 360 degree scenic view of the city. It was hot, 80 degrees Fahrenheit with no wind.  My sweat had partially fogged up my left eye. It hurt, but I kept going and ignored my internal pains.  The last thing I wanted was to stop. 

At the summit, we met Elsa, 90 and Fred, 96. They sat next to each other.  Their faces betrayed their inner joy.  Ellie cozied up to them and asked them their secret of being so alive.  They asked me to guess their age, I said 80. They smiled again. 

While taking their photo, they shared their formula in life: “ Loving each other for 64 years." I asked how they reached the summit. I could not imagine them walking all 282 steps.  

Elsa replied: “ We both drive. That is how we got here.  And we walked." 

I could not contain my amazement and asked to hug them, “ You are a picture of absolute happiness that comes from within, “ I said.  Fred and Elsa obliged with more smiles.  

That got Ellie and I talking more about life. I imagined Ellie as a CEO someday. She got excited that I read her mind as she has not shared that goal of hers as yet. " Tita, how did you know? "

I gave her unsolicited advice: “ When you become a CEO, remember you will be challenged by some folks.  You will be faced with a decision, at another crossroad between choosing a limited, convenient option and another choice that seems inconvenient yet, it is foundational, long-term and strategic. Remember to choose the expansive, foundational and difficult option. 

"Why? It is choosing your dream. It is a spiritual test of sticking by your moral values that while you climb the summit, you remain true to what you declared to the Universe that you want to do," I added.                               

I was holding a water bottle and instinctively used it to illustrate my point.  "The tip of the bottle is a symbol of when you are at the top, many folks will hold you down.  Recognize those folks early enough.  Those who love you, work with them to discover their true core personas.  Those who don't, will come to figure out who you are in due time, but not in your own timetable.  The lesson is for you to keep discovering who you are, your true essence, your inner core of connection to the Higher Spirit, the source of all goodness.  But, not for you to reform them," I said.  

I pointed to the base of the bottle and said: "The bottom is always there, for you to drop into, to sink to the lowest, but know that you have the skills to climb back up again, just like these stairs.  It is up to you to find your spiritual friends, some to weed out, some to keep as they accept you with no judgment.  Never chase after money solely, for it disappears like quicksand.   It is about living a life with purpose, serving others, not by words, but through actions and money comes after. "

It was Ellie’s turn to give insight: “ The 282 steps, all diverse in width and height, are about life.  It is climbing the steps, easy, difficult, narrow, or wide, if you do them with preparation, step by step, and with love, you will reach the summit. “ 

Our discussion veered toward our journeys, our families. I shared with Ellie, how I came to fully understand my mom, that she too, took her own steps to reach her summit.  She had the self-discipline to study for her Master’s of Science, while teaching full-time science and math, and atttending to a house full of 5 young children. What a load that must have been for her!  Now, I feel her love, a mother who gave me all that she had the capacity for.  I told Ellie that I thanked my Mom for caring for me! “ Of course, anak, I love you! “ I love you too, Mom!  Tears fell from my eyes and Ellie’s.  

We all want love and to be loved back.  The most precious gift to give yourself is to change from a foundation of love. No amount of self-denial, self-doubt or self-loathing can move you to profound change.  Have a grateful attitude to those who nurtured you, I told Ellie. 

Ellie shared her own reflections in how she finally understood her father: “ You can make your life any way you want to. I did not know I can invent a new me and a new life, “ Ellie said.  She previously believed she simply had to passively wait for opportunities to be handed to her.  “I now know that it is about preparing myself to be at a point to accept these opportunities as they appear in my life.” 

Yes, you can be the architect of your own life, I told Ellie.

After a delicious breakfast of asparagus, mushroom, tomato quiche with salad for me and crab florentine for Ellie at La Maison, she whispered, “Tita, I am one of your mentees who listened. I am grateful for what I learned!" 

She then bought two fruit tarts, one for her and another for Megan.  She wanted to pay for my brunch but I said, “ No, it is your birthday, just pay it forward! “

Mentoring is not a quid for quo for mentor and mentee, it is for the mentee to claim her place on earth, to know her true value and to declare, “ I am here Lord ready to do what you want me to do with my talents that you endowed me, and pass the mentoring forward to the next person who needs to know his worth in the Universe! “

I too have an unselfish mentor/spiritual/physical coach, Quoc Ngo, who prepared me well to climb the 282 steps. When I told Quoc that I wanted to climb the summit, he modified my workout. He had me carry 12 kg. in each hand, and go up the entire flight of stairs.  The day before, he clocked how much time I took to climb 282 steps in continuum.  He prepared me mentally and psychologically so that I maybe capable of reaching my own summit in physical fitness. Thank you Quoc, I got to the summit, with unexpected grace from the Universe and your effective coaching!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Discovering Daily Grace

“I was with God all day. He was with me when I woke up at 5:30am to greet the sun. He was with me when a generous, disabled man had a wrench and fixed the car’s flat tire, on our way to catch the ferry. He was with us when we missed our 10am ferry, only to find out a 10:45 am special, only for that day. He was with us when we met the priests in Catalina Island, getting there after a mishap. He was with me when I got lost in a postcard shop, and located my companions not much later in a restaurant by the sea, when the cellphones did not work. He was with us when we took a chance to drive with an ailing tire yet, got home safely. God was with me and all four priests, all day and night. ” - Fr. Camilo Pacanza

When I heard this story from Fr. Camilo, I enjoyed it so much, I retold the story over and over. I realized that my faith in God is equally strong. I expect abundance now that my dreams will come true, if I work hard to fulfill my dreams, one step at a time.
But, I did not expect God to make things right: from the flat tire, to the special ferry ride to Catalina Island, down to even the ailing car tire which still managed to bring Fr. Camilo and his companion priests home.

He related it with such gusto -- I still could not imagine how he greeted the sun, how the sun’s rays touched his face and warmed his heart to say Mass and still be able to drive for an in traffic, passing over the St. Tomas Bridge (the same bridge where folks lose their way, as the tale goes).

Yet, Fr. Camilo and Fr. Rodel and two other priests found their way to see Catalina Island, and Fr. Camilo’s dream came true.

How does one acquire such a deep faith -- believing that with God, anything is for the asking? C, a friend, told me that he/she had stopped asking because everything she's asked has been given. She is grateful for each breath and each day. She is a successful woman, and sometimes, gives away portions of business profits, as gifts to the community.

Not J. J is a loving mother of a teenager, who recently lost her fiancé. She works hard at two jobs, her hospital career job and a business she created to share her skills. One Sunday mass, she shared her prayer: to have a God-loving man as her life’s companion. After mass, she drove home. At a stoplight, she glanced to her right, and the driver of another car smiled. She smiled back. Off to another stop. The same driver followed her and smiled a second time. He then rolled down the windows, “ Are you J who went to this church sometime ago? “

She was surprised. How can he know this about her past? “ You were wearing this ribbon-accented dress, ” he said. “He paid attention to my dress? He is that much into me? God, are you answering my prayers, now? That was just minutes ago," she thought. “Indeed! For J and her newly ‘bumped into friend’ are ‘slowly’ dating, building up to a long-term relationship! To her friends, she said, “ Be careful what you pray for, for they will just manifest! “

Yes, “Ask and it will be given!“

I shared my own prayers with J 33 years ago: to find a smart, intelligent, loving, community-oriented spouse. I told J that God gave me that spouse and he is all those things. But, since I did not ask God to give me a man who will not try my patience, and God knows I have no patience, He gave me a spouse who pushes my buttons -- for my patience, anger or frustration to reveal themselves each time.

I have a choice though, whether to let God's grace be revealed in me or not.

Here is what happens. When I choose to be unforgiving, when I choose to react to my husband’s naughtiness, I literally lose all of God’s grace for almost two weeks -- no parking spaces in any buildings I drive to, exchanging pleasantries with cranky folks, appointments cancelled, inability to write, a power struggle with nasty and dishonest folks, pipes breaking -- all in succession.

If I choose patience and love to be, I receive more grace: available parking spaces, errands done smoothly, strangers to connect to and to share stories with, an inspired writing day, a manifestation of blessings and invitations from friends. It feels like a glorious, spring day -- perfect for high tea and scones!

When I chose to give love and compassion, I get more of the same. It takes work to be all that, all the time: to be loving, affectionate and to harvest the goodness in folks, rather than their weak points.

But, in turn, God’s sacred space is what I consciously operate from -- away from an unconscious, reactive, difficult life which creates tensions and frustrations. My husband jokingly says that God has a sense of humor, that he was given to me for God’s purpose -- to create more patience in me! We laugh, hug and simply just be!

It is time to let God in -- like a fresh wind, or a ray of sunshine, warm on one’s cheeks, or a Good Samaritan who changes Fr. Rodel’s car tire, or when a human GPS points the way for others. Yes, we are all connectors, but we must choose His love to manifest in our daily actions.

Ask and it will be given! Thank you, Fr. Camilo and Fr. Rodel, and May God bless Immaculate Heart of Mary Church with more blessings, and with renovated structures, to last seven generations, in time for its Jubilee!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Creating New Memories on Birthdays and Celebrations!

Felisa Buado Delacruz, surrounded by her first born, Enrique and her youngest born, CJ on her 94th birthday. A great gift to her is to have her children's company and her grandchildren. For her birthday, I made her a heart-shaped coconut leche flan. Recipe is below. Yes, that is a huge ube gelato on top of a halo-halo at Jeepney Asia Grill in Cerritos, California.
A summer of 2010's harvest, directly from the farmer's market: heirloom tomatoes, blackberries, white peach, yellow sweet corn, yellow zucchini, green beans, apricots, cherries and okra in the middle. The best dinner that got a thumbs up consisted of steamed artichokes with aioli, yellow corn, okra and Vietnamese basa cooked with dill, olive oil, herbs de provence and cherry tomatoes. It was light, satisfying in terms of flavors and ended with fresh cherries and blackberries as dessert.
Independence Day Celebration hosted by the Philippine Consulate at the Rizal Hall, it was simple and austere, but full of camaraderie. Those in attendance, from left: Enrique Delacruz, myself, Sion Abarquez-Ferrer, John Davis, a former Bayanihan dancer whose name escapes me, Zen Lopez and Charina Vergara, the birthday Independence Girl!
It was Carmen's birthday. Instead of joining her for a birthday dinner that she and her sister usually cooked for her family and some of the folks in the neighborhood, we decided to surprise her: a lei to crown her Queen for the day, a platter of sushi, two platters of assorted barbecue, seafood and vegetables from Salakot. Folks dropped in and had their photos with her. She was elated and her family treated her to another surprise dinner at a Silverlake restaurant. In all, two surprises in a day! Everyone wore a sticker which said " We heart Carmen " and of course, Carmen had a sticker which said " it's my birthday ! ", simple celebrations with such depth of affection made it so so special!


Coconut Leche Flan using Azukar Organics' Coconut Milk Powder


1 tablespoon of Sugar
1 can of condensed milk
6 egg yolks
1/2 can of water, with 2 tablespoons of Azucar Organics' coconut milk powder added


Caramelize over low flame one tablespoon of sugar in a mold. It will first dissolve and then, after awhile turn into brown color. Set aside to cool down to form a glaze. Then, break 6 eggs, take the yolks only. Set aside the egg whites for future use ( be careful not to keep more than two days in the fridge, as egg whites can go bad ).

Mix the egg yolks and 1 can of Lechera Brand condensed milk. I use Lechera as it is less sweet than the other brands. Then, after emptying the can of condensed milk, fill it with water, up to half of the container, then, add two tablespoons of Azukar Organics' dried coconut milk powder. Stir it until dissolved and add to the egg yolk/condensed milk mixture. Do not overmix, as it introduces too much air bubbles.

Strain the mixture to make sure it is a very fine, smooth mixture. Pour the mixture into the brown glazed mold of caramelized sugar. Double wrap with foil to ensure no water or unnecessary steam can get in to spoil the texture and create bubbles or indentations.

Then, prepare the double boiler or steam bath. Steam the mold, now covered with foil, double layers for complete coverage, and over boiling water for about 45 minutes. Cool in the fridge, keep it there for at least 24 hours before unmolding.

Voila, the rest is perfection, a perfect heart-shaped leche flan that got a thumbs up from Carmen, the Queen of Pico who has platinum palate, she said " it has the right texture, flavor and so smooth! " And the best part, all of the leche flan was eaten up by Felisa on her birthday, she had three servings all to herself and today, June 22, 2010, a whole plate of coconut leche flan disappeared in less than 15 minutes. Now, that is good if I may so, based on how fast folks ate it and how they wanted more servings.

Tomorrow, I am supposed to deliver another batch for friends to snack on. I was asked why? Because Josephine started the circle of kindness when one evening, unbeknowst to me, she hands me a package of Sarangani Bay Marinated Bangus. I fried it the other evening when we could not figure out what to eat and we paired it with fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumbers and steamed green beans, with seasoned rice vinegar. Oh my, what a meal! But, then, I was still asked if Josephine gave you the bangus, how come other women got the leche flan?

Why? Because kindness is about paying it forward, it is multiplied exponentially that way when something is given out of affection, not out of expecting something in return, not a currency for getting benefits, but a currency of love for others! I learned that from Josephine and Carmen and I am simply passing it forward! In passing it forward, my summer feels abundant in grace and unexpected surprises!!

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Canyon that intimidated Me!

This is me, working my earnest with kettle bells with a great trainer, QN, who keeps me motivated, not by guilt, but by reminding me of my worth, of my value, of my family and how I want to keep up with them. He also motivates me by reminding me of his worth, of how he does not just pick up any client, only those who value themselves to work themselves to a higher level of wellness and a better quality of life. His work ethic is legendary, he walks in on time, and works us to a full sweat at the end of an hour!
The 25 pound kettle bell I am holding for strength and endurance training, two weeks ago. Now, I am doing a 35 pound kettle bell for strength, and still 25 pound for endurance training, with short 30 second rest.
Wildflowers at the top greet me when I get to the peak of the canyon! I could not reach the peak of this canyon three months ago. I felt like my jaw would drop as I could not breathe as I walked uphill. Now, I can walk uphill, still with some difficulty, but not with jarring headaches, and not with a chest about to burst. Now, I know what it feels to be fit, to have stamina to reach the top! That is what a winner does, overcome challenges, step by step, until the peak is reached. Just so you know, this blog memorializes what I am doing for my health, and also to join the national program started by the First Lady of the United States, called " Let's Move Program."
Runners and Joggers that I have left in the dust! I never thought I can get to this point in my life, overcome obstacles, overcome my fear of heights, in favor of being outdoors, sweaty, and enjoying the beauty of Los Angeles' canyons and hills. I am so grateful to God when I reach the top! Why? Years ago, I could not even get to half of this canyon, without feeling like my lungs would burst, but after working out with kettle bells with an incredible trainer, I am making so much progress, it is so so motivating!
Yellow wildflowers - they symbolize the rising sun, hope for change, just like the colors of the Liberal Party, of our soon to be installed President of the Philippines, NoyNoy Aquino!

Victory, I reached the peak, the top, and I had a clear view of the city or somewhat smoggy view of the city. My shirt reads Health Care Reform, check!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Juicing for Health ( A Discovery, A Lifestyle Change )

Wheatgrass that we add to juicing veggies...
The veggies we juice...
The parsley we add, according to my internal medicine physician, is a good anti-bacteria...
Close-up of what we juice: red peppers, cucumber, jicama, celery, spinach, orange, apple, grapes, and buried underneath, apple, calamansi if in season, and lemon.

I admit that I was biased in not juicing veggies and fruits. I remember this television program on Jack Lalane promoting his juicer and I swore off the practice of juicing. As to why, I had no idea, other than my default negative reaction.

But, when I got sick and I was open to fortifying my immune system, my husband developed this formulation of juicing vegetables. It was quite expensive to get all these fresh vegetables in the supermarket or Farmer's market, until we discovered a Persian market nearby which sold parsley, 3 bunches for a dollar. When we first juiced three years ago, parsley costs 6 bunches for a dollar. From $0.15 a bunch, we are now paying $0.35 a bunch. Still, buying the produce can range anywhere from $20 to a high of $54. It depends on what we want to add for the week.

This week, I added a new ingredient, singkamas or jicama. At times, my husband will add a slice of ginger, but the best tasting juice thus far is adding 5 calamansi fruits, whole into the juicer. We use an Omega juicer as it extracts mildly the juice and much of the pulp is slowly separated from the juice. A competing machine, which will remain nameless was purchased for $300 and I must admit, this machine, while efficient does not give us part of the pulp foam and fiber residues we want to see for volume and a bit of body on the juice we drink.

Another new ingredient we added is wheatgrass. We snipped a few and add it to the mixture. It gives a nutty flavor and a funky smell, but it gives me such a shot of energy which lasts for most of the day until evening, enabling me to write for a lot longer. This is an effective drink for me, as it keeps my "plumbing" clean, my stomach well scrubbed and what Dr. Oz on Oprah describes about one's poo being an S-shape. I will leave it at that and just to say that juicing has made my immune system much stronger. All throughout the year, I can stay clear of colds, except for an occurrence near the holidays given some of the crowded places we frequent with friends and families.

Well, that's it folks, the juicing practice has improved our quality of life. I am not as sickly as before and I have the stamina and endurance to do my exercise in the morning as an added bonus. Happy juicing and may God's blessings for good health be yours! Of course, we have to do our part first!

Email me if you want the recipe or search through this has the precise formula we use. Again, may you adopt juicing as part of your lifestyle! It truly works for me!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Oscar Weekend 2010

The star of my Oscar party, an organic salad with arugula, shredded cabbage, heirloom tomatoes, avocados, limequat ( combination of lime and kumquats but the skin is edible ), raspberries, mango slices, jicama, organic winter green salad mix. Yes, I cheated with a bottle of citrus dressing from Feast from the East, but later as the bottle of dressing got consumed, I reverted to my own salad dressing: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, garlic, mustard and one teaspoon of sugar or honey.
Nancy 's hands preparing her condiments for the fish taco, prepared by Corina, with help from Sergio. They chopped tomatoes, made their own salsas from scratch and Corina made her own breading for the Vietnamese basa fish ( aquacultured catfish ). Wow, it was a blast!
Corina, with her breading by her side, and the Vietnamese basa fish for fish tacos.

The moonrise that my hubby and I watched one shivering Los Angeles night. We caught the sunset and the moonrise and walked the trail down in moonlight. Okay, yes, sometimes, in my old age, I am hopeful for romance and it gets manifested even if so cold, so windy but oh, so delicious a view!!
So, are the blooming reddish pink roses in my neighbor's front yard, tended by " Green Art " Landscape Services.
Corina, pictured above is my first born. Below is her toddler photo.

I like to indulge her with a week long celebration of her birthday not so much with parties, but with new services, like a new make-up and a hair-do by Rodrigo Alcover, dressed in red in the photo above, or her own wedding dress designed by a Parisian-inspired haute couture atelier, Carlyn Nuyda Calloway, CEO and Founder of Thumbelina Designs, Inc.

Okay, now, na...I am no fashionista, but I know what beauty is when I see it. And my daughter is a first rate fashionista but does so at bargain basement prices. She is quite incredible at finding deals. Recently, she bought me Nike workout clothes which I normally purchased online for two thirds more of the prices she bought them. She does not skimp on value, but she finds them at bargain bottom sales.

It reminded me of my trip to Europe where we found necklaces for sale at $2, yes, just two dollars, but with the artisan craftsmanship of silversmiths from India. Apparently, Indian -French folks import necklaces and jewelry made by Indian silversmiths and sell them in Parisian farmers' markets at a dollar or two. It was quite a find for me and my friend who explored Paris last spring.

Anyhow, one weekend after her makeover, she cooked lasagna for my friends. She decided to make it semi-vegetarian and added spinach and mushrooms to the lasagna, perhaps inspired by our dinner at L.A. Tavern where a vegetarian lasagna is to die for. LA Tavern's lasagna has wild mushroom, garlic, asiago cheese for $27. But, the one made by my daughter was priceless, she added carrots and a unique brand of sausage and two different types of cheeses. My friends raved about it.

The star of my Oscar party was an organic salad with arugula, shredded cabbage, heirloom tomatoes, avocados, limequat ( combination of lime and kumquats but the skin is edible ), raspberries, mango slices, jicama, organic winter green salad mix. Yes, I cheated with a bottle of citrus dressing from Feast from the East, but later as the bottle of dressing got consumed, I reverted to my own salad dressing: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, garlic, mustard and one teaspoon of sugar or honey. I am cooking more from vegetables and fruits and it makes me feel triumphant when most of the items in our refrigerator are green vegetables.

How did the Oscar turn out? Well, the most memorable one for me was Sandra Bullock in how she raved about her husband, Jesse James. There was Monique who also spoke of her love of her husband and Jeff Bridges who heaped on his admiration for his two decade - long wedded wife. I thought it stood out for me in how these actors and actresses revered their families and their spouses.

Back to my Oscar weekend, it felt good to see my daughter with her new makeup and hairdo. Here is her toddler photo years ago, I dare not say her age for fear of being censored. Anyhow, she is a fine woman of substance and I love her a lot!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Let's move, buddha's hand of 13 fingers and banana bread!

Harana Men's Chorus, led by Music Directo Ed Nepomuceno
Banana Bread with Mango Slices and Orange Zest, next to 13 fingers' buddha's hand aka as lemon and new blooms on the orchid ( it took a year for it to bloom in my kitchen window )

Mangosteen and Chico, purchased in Westminster, CA -- tropical fruits normally found in the Southern Part of the Philippines...

Let's move!
I woke up at 530 this morning, eager to do an uphill walk up a canyon in Los Angeles, in keeping with the First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign. I chose to be part of it. It feels good to be fit, healthy, and full of energy to do the chores of the day, a much better quality of life!

I was in Leyte 3 years ago. Walking was easy for me, but for my asthma, my legs were strong, physically I could tackle the strenuous trails, but my lungs gave up at times. I was then physically fit, doing aerobics on the treadmill, elliptical, lifting weights, doing pilates so travelling was easy, walking was easy, except for moments when asthma took hold of my lungs.

Now, with my asthma under control, I want to be in charge of my body. It was a quick decision for me.

I decided it was time to be in charge of my body instead of my body being in charge of the quality of my life. This time, I want it to be different and part of the motivation is my daughter's wedding. It is a mother's dream to be next to her beautiful daughter, Corina Teresa Delacruz in her upcoming wedding to Sergio Nino Flores, and to satisfy my ego, to look not that much older, to look not much fatter, just fit and healthy!

So, let's move, I told myself. Get out of bed and let's move!

Take charge of my life. Wow, for awhile it felt difficult to write about this, to acknowledge I am in fact in the last two seasons of my life, fall and winter, having lived my spring and summer seasons.

I used to take pride in introducing myself as the youngest in a group, graduating 14 years old from high school, and 19 years old from a five year college degree. I will not claim to be smart, but it was an economic necessity for my mother, who did not have reliable babysitting and decided to enroll me at 4 1/2 years old in first grade.

Not anymore, I am now the 'oldest' in a group. One time, I joined the Wide Eyed Writers Workshop, led by Brandy Lien Worrall and Shirlie Mae Choe. I was the only 50 year old participant, the rest were 30 years old and under. I felt amused to be with these young adults and found it quite intimidating that they could be creative on demand: compose a poem or a rap or a story in less than an hour. Wow, that takes innate talent, I told myself!

And now, in my fall and winter seasons of life, I find that I am as creative as I wish to be. I have been writing now for 2 years, completed 24 stories the first year, did 64 editorial column submissions the second year, and with four front pagers to boot. And when I am not writing, I am cooking, creating recipes, even baking new ones.

It is something I am proud of, and my thanks to these young folks who helped liberate my creative self, formerly caged by years of resentment, anger, fear, and bitterness. It took arduous work to 'do the work', examine, challenge and remove these encrustation. Now, I am freer to write, until I dry up for lack of inspiration. Then, I keep moving, yes, moving gets me going. And music keeps me going.

In a week's time, two events converged to make moving so necessary.

First, my brother - in - law, Eduardo Alcantara got a triple heart bypass, one that kept him in intensive care's hospital bed for awhile, ala Pres. Bill Clinton who also got a stent recently to open up a blocked artery.

Second, I injured my back when I slipped when water from the dishwasher drain flooded the kitchen. After slipping, I went about my normal routines. I neglected to apply cold compress to the injured part. Instead, I went to a movie screening, cooked for Director Dante Nico Garcia and Bennie Salindong and visited for hours. My back was already 'talking back' in the evening, but, I dismissed it as simply tired from what I did.

The next day, I could barely walk. Bending down hurt my back. I could not even walk without my back hurting. When I applied hot compress, it gave me some relief. A full body massage allowed me to walk and even drive the car with tolerable pain. I pushed myself to move more the next day, but it was not a good decision.

With an aching back, cooking became too much to do. I got 'grounded' by my spouse, Enrique who insisted I cancel all meetings and heal myself first. I rested, but the pain did not abate. It got worse.

While lying down for 2 straight days, I realized that was not the way I want to live. Being on my back, incapacitated, and in pain limited me and with a deteriorating quality of life that is unfulfilling to my creative self. I was miserable, unable to write.

Six days later, I got better. By the 7th day, I worked out with my family, using kettle bells. The kettle bells resemble a kettle, round, hence the name, but with a U-curved handle. It takes a cluster of muscles to carry the weights, to make sure the wrists are straight, not bent the wrong way, and it takes precision to move the kettle bells.

The next day, all my muscles talked back. It was a very loud conversation, I took noticed of where these muscles were all located.

Back to Moving.
I started at the bottom of the canyon. Halfway through the canyon, our companion, Sergio had already completed a run uphill and now is going down. I was barely navigating a third of the canyon. Yet, I felt determined to reach further than the resting bench where I was before, a half mile up the canyon.

At the end of this uphill climb is a lovely view of Los Angeles, without the brown blanket enveloping the city. In a few hours, it would be different, it would be hot, as the sun rises in its full splendor, and the canyon filling up with runners, and folks who walk their dogs.

I moved slowly, still recovering from my muscles 'talking back'. I reached the next bend, about a mile or so. I wanted to go one more mile but my legs stiffened. I stopped and the sight of my husband coming down the hill got me excited, for now, I can have some support. But, his strides were longer. I assumed the same long strides, but still felt short. So, I told him to proceed.

Two strangers boosted my spirits " You are doing well. " " Keep going ", another said.
I did two miles. When I got home, my legs could barely move. I could not fix breakfast. My hubby fixed it for both of us, and with a good cup of coffee, I was filled with energy. A buddha's hand at the center of our table caught my attention.

The buddha's hand. I stared at it for awhile, wondering why 13? A friend, Nonoy Alsaybar came by to drop off 20 pounds of navel oranges. He looked at it and remarked " It is looking more like a devil's hand. "

Well, readers, if there are some of you out there, leave me a note, and let me know what it looks like to you. But, still why 13? Is it like Judas, the 13th apostle?

Unable to find my answer, I opted to bake banana bread, but altering my core recipe.

Banana bread with banana chips.
The changes included dried banana chips, instead of walnuts, diced mango slices, orange zest and orange juice.

1 stick butter
2 eggs
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
3 tbsps. sour cream
1 orange, add juice of half, zest entire orange and add to recipe
2 ripe bananas
1 1/2 cup flour
10 slices of dried mango, cut in thirds
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking soda

Cream butter. Add sugar. Add eggs, one at a time. Mash bananas. Add sour cream. Add salt. Add flour, sugar, the mashed bananas, orange zest, orange juice, dried mango slices, vanilla and baking soda. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or longer until the toothpick comes out clean when inserted. Do not overbake. It is baked when the toothpick comes clean and brown on the top surface. Serve with a good cup of coffee or hot tea. Sometimes I serve it with white cheddar cheese or cream cheese.

Since I am exercising this week, I cannot have the banana bread the way I want to, a slice for breakfast. Instead, I invited the Harana's Men Chorus, and tonight after their practice, they will have my banana bread. It satisfied my culinary artists' sensibilities without undermining my exercise routine or my 'get moving' program. First Lady, I am sticking to this national program, Let's Move, it is a matter of national interest as well as personal interest for a better quality of life. As I want to listen to more of Harana's Men Chorus Concerts and live music so I can live better!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

It is about Intentions!

“ Respect from outside is a fine thing, but inner respect is crucial. It is difficult to respect ourselves if we do not know what we are doing and why we are doing it. If we do not come from a place of clarity of purpose, and the respect for ourselves that flow from it, none of our actions will be fruitful. “ Gay Hendricks

Yesterday, I was fretting that I had not quite decided on a dinner menu to feed 15 folks, actually 19. I am not beyond ego yet, though I try hard to displace it. I could not decide as my mind was in control of my creative space and eager to “ impress folks “. The more I heeded my thoughts, the more I became misguided. It got to a point where I had butterflies in my stomach. All I had was disarray, cookbooks to look at, notes, and nothing definite 24 hours before the event.

My prior experiences of overfilled tables became overstuffed guests, who got confused with what to eat, end up choosing not to eat and so much left-overs. Yet, when the table is balanced, and the serving portions are enough, the guests go for seconds, the desserts are devoured and there are no left-overs. So, I decided I wanted a balanced table.

I reflected and gave the event some distance. Wisdom says when you are under pressure, the slower you should move. So I did.

I looked back. I remembered that I have been cooking since 4th grade with my father. Yes, my dad taught me the basics of sautéing and how to extract flavors.

I reflected some more on what this invitation means, at least my intentions. I wanted to create a hospitable space, an inviting space where folks can have good home-cooked dinner and make music together.

Who got invited?

I invited musicians and Filipinos with musical talents to share: Bob Shroder with his flute; Lito Molina, with his violin; Sir Ric Ickard with his guitar; Dra. Charito Sison on the piano, and a tenor, Pete Avendano, who sings at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church. I also invited the founders of the Filipino American Symphony Orchestra, Roger and Cora Oriel.

If you know me, I get nervous around authority, it is not because Cora and Roger make me nervous, but they are the publishers of the paper I write for, so in a sense, they are my employers. I was also nervous as other good cooks were coming to my house for dinner and that was enough to put me into a tailspin. My competitive spirit was getting the best of me.

I visited Suzan, my former Taliba editor. I brought her and her son leche-flan. I shared with her my anxieties. She was accommodating and suggested two winning dishes: sotanghon to warm up folks from the rain and green salad to go with the salmon.

I relaxed. I decided to trust my instincts. The menu got created 8 hours before the event: baked salmon, chicken sotanghon, green salad, brocollini with shaved parmesan, pasta with marinara sauce and cheese with roasted cauliflower and tri-colored bell peppers, seared and braised ribeye steaks and steamed rice.

I covered all food groups, just in case folks have allergies to one protein group. I had a plate of appetizers: twisted cheese sticks, marconda almonds and garlic adobo peanuts. I served both red and white wine and orangina for non-wine drinkers.

As the day went on, rains poured. Evacuations were ordered in the foothills, particularly in the burned areas. There were hailstorms, ice, tornadoes and even, howling thunder. In the Los Angeles River, a man caught carp using his bare hands. Los Angeles was wet all through out.

The evening’s attraction.

The attraction for the evening was Jamie Lazzara, an American violin-maker who went to Cremona, after she took lessons in woodworking in Los Angeles. She realized she loved working with wood, so she has been crafting violins for 30 years in a shop in Florence. Each year, she makes 4 – 8 violins, one of which was for Itzhak Perlman, who played the Lazzara violin during President Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009. Jamie was self-effacing, humble and told us that Perlman's Stradivarius violin would have cracked in sub-zero temperature so, he played the Lazzara violin.

All her violins are commissioned, meaning, they are not done, unless someone gives her a deposit. When she finished our violin, a gift to my husband, I did not want to pay for the shipping costs of $1,000. So, my family and I went to pick up the violin in Florence, our first trip to Europe. That was 2002.

Every two years, Jamie visits her family and she services the violin she custom-made, either by fixing the bridge, or adding a new coat of varnish. This year is no different. And this year, Giovanni accompanied her.

Generosity of musicians inspire my cooking.

I had another revelation – artists and musicians are the most generous folks on earth. Invite them and if they are free, they come. The same with photographers.

I wanted to make the best dinner for all of them, a nutritious, home-cooked meal prepared by my own two hands, pouring all my love into the details.

I had one concession, desserts from my favorite bakery, La Maison du Pain where I ordered lavender creme brulee and chocolate chip cookies, which Cora Oriel happily paid for.

Salmon was thawing for two days inside the refrigerator. I examined it, flesh still firm and it is now ready for baking. I prepared the marinade: butter, lemon zest and brown sugar and tasted it. A thumbs up. I only need to make sure I do not overcook it. I refrigerated it after filling the belly with the marinade. I figured with 20 lbs. of salmon, I would need 4 hours at 300 F. And enough time to cool it down before I serve it.

I decided to bake it at 1pm, and serve it at 6pm. I wrapped the salmon in parchment paper and since it was such a humongous salmon, I split it in half. I had a pan of water inside the oven to provide moist heat, not dry heat.

I roasted the cauliflower with olive oil, pepper and butter. I did the same with orange, yellow and red bell peppers. Butter and olive oil are twins, I found out particularly in roasting. By itself, it burns, but together, they don't. I did not time it, but roasted salmon at 375 F. I used my nose as an indicator -- a distinct smell of the vegetables when fully cooked.

I started the marinara sauce: olive oil, butter, garlic, and fresh tomatoes about 8 pounds worth. I boiled it for at least four hours over low heat, added some red pepper flakes and towards the end, added few basil leaves. Smelling it inspired me more.

I cooked the pasta al dente and cooled it in the refrigerator. With my paella pan, I thought of decorating the pan with the pasta, marinara sauce, cauliflower and bell peppers, except I left the pasta in the pan. I also added shaved parmesan cheese on the pasta, careful that I gave it a hint of cheese not kill the flavors with cheese.

This is what I learned from taking classes in Provence, France – the subtlety of cooking, the hinting of flavors, the muting of flavors, hinting at them, and layering them: roasted cauliflowers – the caramelized flavors, with the bell peppers and their the sweet, roasted flavors, and the pasta with marinara sauce and cheese. When I tasted it, I gave it a thumbs up. So far, so good.

Then, I marinated the steaks. I asked my husband to pick some calamansi fruits in our backyard. I told him to be generous. He picked enough and I used them all. I added garlic, olive oil, and reduced sodium soy sauce, but barely two tablespoons, as I also added Goya adobo seasoning liberally. That is the secret to my cooking – goya seasoning whenever I can, paired with calamansi.

Back to the refrigerator, I can sear the steaks, braise them or bake them later. I apportioned half a steak for each person so they can enjoy all dishes: salmon, chicken sotanghon, pasta primavera and green salad mix.

I took out my blue and white salad bowl to prepare the green salad. I laid out the green leaf lettuce, added the red heirloom tomatoes in the middle. I segmented an orange and distributed it in a circle. I did the same with Persian cucumbers. Then, I took some glazed pineapples and diced them. I shredded some cabbage and laid it as a nest around the green salad mix and finally marconda almonds in the inner core of the circle. I found a way of building my salads: a core of vegetables, a circle of colors, a layering of textures, one type of berry, and the key, a good citrus dressing. I included by its side the other half of the roasted chicken. It was a perfect salad for me, as it depicted all the colors I have in my garden.

I started the chicken sotanghon soup. Except I had no leeks, which is my secret ingredient. In the middle of the rain, I went out to get my supplies. Good thing, I am but five minutes away. I decided to roast the chicken breast to intensify the flavors. I sautéed the leeks, garlic, ginger with raw chicken pieces until their flesh turned to cooked. I added fish sauce and added chicken stock. Then, the sliced, roasted chicken, seaweeds and saffron strands and more water. I wanted enough water and only hints of sotanghon. Next time, seaweeds can stay out and so with saffron, for they leave somewhat of an unsual flavors and the Filipino memories of sotanghon is centered on garlic and ginger tastes. So, I made sure I had roasted garlic as a condiment.

In making soups, I add bonito or miso – another source of salty seasonings, something I picked up from another chef, Rick and my homemade marinara sauce.

Except that idea is not applicable for clear chicken sotanghon soup. I added fresh spinach just before folks walked in and served it in heated nambe bowl, a metal bowl that keeps its heat for hours. It works like the Korean clay pot, and holds the temperature of the cooked foods.

At about 6pm, I started to assemble all dishes. I heated up the roasted pasta with marinara sauce, reheated the cauliflower and bell peppers and plated it in my paella pan, decorated with lettuce leaves, rosemary bushes from my garden. I took a large banana leaf from my garden, washed it and laid the tail end of the baked salmon.

Hmm, looking good, I told myself. I was building up the table. I had also steamed brocollini, added the parmesan cheese shavings and plated it. I also took out the heated nambe bowl and served the chicken sotanghon with fresh spinach. Last, I laid out the pan-seared and braised steaks.

I said another prayer that all my guests enjoy the evening.

Folks ate their fill. The musicians took turns: from the guitar, to piano, to viola, to violin and the flute. I thought for awhile I had gone to heaven, as I could not wipe away the smiles in my face. I was filled with joy and I hope that everyone did too.

And Giovanni, who came with Jamie, he composed an Italian song on the spot to say thanks. I knew at that moment he had a good time for his creativity was unleashed by the magical moments we all had, listening to music that night and eating food that I cooked from scratch all by myself.

A blogger, Rene Villaroman, wrote about this evening as Food vs. Music, whether my cooking could hold up to four musicians. I honestly would defer to these musicians and say, they won. For me, I won my internal battle and left behind my self-doubts to recapture my innate source of inspiration to cook these many dishes.