December 30, 2006

My Tiny Yellow Puzzle

I used to collect puzzles and brain teasers -- from jigsaws to Rubiks to wood puzzles (from geometric shapes to animal shapes and such). When I moved to another continent, I left them all behind. Except one... a small yellow plastic geometric puzzle that I dismantled several years ago, and virtually forgot about. Until yesterday, when I accidentally found it in one of my treasure boxes.

I don't know what possessed me to put it back together, but it was like it was the first time I worked on it! I spent close to 7 hours fidgeting with it. I stayed up late last night solving it and gave up when my eyes started to sting.

This afternoon, I spent another few hours of sheer concentration... hell bent on getting those blasted pieces to come together. Until finally!

Whew! Now I remember why I was digging into my treasure box... I was looking for something to take pictures of. And I imagined this puzzle would be a nice subject. Well, now that I've solved it, I don't really care if the photos are good or not. Haha!

December 18, 2006


Our treadmill is positioned so that the treadmiller (new word?) faces the fountain pond outside. Here's the POV of the treadmiller:

When you're staring at a particular view for about 30 minutes almost everyday, you kinda notice some details you'd normally take for granted. For example, I noticed that when the treadmill is on a 10-degree incline, I could see the tops of all the cars that drive by, and about 80% of them have sunroofs. Oh ye, we're in Florida.

Also, there's a new tenant on the second floor unit across the pond. I haven't really seen the person, but I'm assuming he's male because he doesn't care if he leaves the blinds up all night, or hanging crooked all day. And the resident with the small black dog lets his pet wander close to the pond. The dog seems to always be wearing a red vest -- maybe it's a life vest, in case he falls into the water.

Anyway, what I wanted to share today are the -faces- that stare at me when I do my treadmilling (another new word?). Yes, faces. Just faces. No bodies to speak of. Just faces. These faces:

Don't they look mean and bad-tempered?! The boogly-eyed one looks male -- I call him Gonzor. The other face looks female -- I call her Grenza. Why? No particular reason -- they just look like a Gonzor and a Grenza to me.

Their features are obviously the result of trimmers pruning the trees. Would there be some way to cut the branches so that the tree trunk scars will have smiling faces? That should be fun.

December 11, 2006

Pinecone Tree

And this is the tabletop tree that the pinecones adorned:

A Merry Christmas to all!

P.S. Check out the candle holders that I made out of clam shells.

November 27, 2006

Pinecone Decor

I always thank my mother for the creativity genes she shared with me. She was a stay-at-home mom and her hands were always busy crafting something… from pastries, to paper beads, to pompom poodle bottles. Today, I'll reminisce one of her favorite holiday decorations: jazzed up pinecones.

Back in those days, we would go to a Farmer's Market to buy big sacks of pinecones that were brought down from the mountains. The objective was to hang the cones on our Christmas tree, so my mom would tie each one with a ribbon. Then she would dab white glue on the tips of the cone’s flaps, sprinkle glitter on the glue, and shake off the excess glitter. Then she would add a cute bow on top and voila! Of course, by the time we were ready to hang the cones, our hands and faces would all be shimmering in green and gold glitter!

This time, it's a little different. I picked up the cones from the lawn across the pond. There's a huge pine tree out there that drops quite a bunch of rather large cones in the middle of the year. So, I've had these pinecones since April, I think.

Some of them fell with part of their stems intact, so it would be easy to tie a handle on them. Those with no stems, I drilled small holes and hot-glued twist ties to serve as their handles.

Then I used an acrylic type metallic paint to color the tips of the cone flaps "glorious gold" and "royal ruby."

Add some ribbons, gold balls, and other accessories, and we're all set.

Now all we need is the tree to hang them on.

November 17, 2006

What Was I Thinking: The Bagel Incident

I have a long list of excuses: "Senior moment" (most valid, of course), "I was distracted" (it's my ADD), "I'm new here" (I look like a foreigner wherever I am), "Sorry... instinct" (you can't blame me for a knee-jerk reaction), or "I didn't get the memo" (aka: "Why didn't you tell me?").
What are these excuses for? For my "Duh" moments, which I will refer to as my "What Was I Thinking?!" moments. Let me start with the good ol' bagel incident.

For those of you who've been patiently reading my online ramblings, I wrote about my first encounter with the bagel here: Romancing The Bagel.

As if my romance with this wanna-be-donut pastry wasn't enough humiliation (however private it was) sure enough, I had another episode where I just knew that someone behind me had said, "What the heck is she doing?"

We were at a hotel breakfast spread. I was barely awake (excuse #1). They had the average fare: cereal, oatmeal, fruits, coffee, juice, milk, doughnuts, muffins, sliced bread, and bagels. Some hotels have waffle makers and microwave ovens; this one had a contraption -- like those pizza cooking gizmos -- with a conveyor belt and a heating element over the belt so that you toast only the top portion of whatever you want to toast the top portion of… like maybe your bagel. But unlike pizza conveyors, this one doesn’t go in one end and out the other -– it goes in one end and out underneath.

In other words, you put the bagel on the conveyor, and it slowly travels into the toaster, falls through the back end, and slides forward so you can pick it up just under the belt. Easy.

This was our first time at this hotel, and the first time I saw this contraption (excuse #2). And that morning, I wanted a bagel. What I've always done with my bagel was split it open (learned to do that already), spread some cream cheese on each half, and pop the cheesed slices on the toaster oven. I get warm bagels with a slightly crusty cream cheese topping. Just the way I want it.

So, instinctively (excuse #3), I picked up a bagel, split it open, and spread some cream cheese on the slices. I looked up and about for a toaster oven, but it seemed this conveyor contraption was all they had. So I placed by cheesed bagel slices on the belt. And they started traveling into the machine.

Suddenly, it's like I woke up. Aach! Before I could take another breath, my slices rode deep into the machine, disappeared from view, and fell into the back of the toaster... cheese-side down.

I had to grab the longest pair of tongs on the table so that I could reach the bagel slices now upside down and totally stuck to the back end of the chute where the bagels slide out.

I dashed away with my warm half-bagels, nevermind that most of the cream cheese topping ended up on the floor of the toaster. I was hoping nobody noticed, but surely someone will whisper a curse when his bagel gets stuck in the chute because some idiot put a cheesed slice in the toaster.

The good news is, that was a lesson well learned. I will know what to do (or not do) when I use that conveyor toaster again.

The better news is, now there's a bagel toaster that doesn't use conveyor belts to heat only one side of the slice. These bagel toasters are regular sliced bread toasters but with wider slots to accommodate the fat half-bagels; and if you press the button that says "Bagel" it heats up only one side of the slot.

Here's the model we got:

All I have to remember is to cheese my bagels -after- I toast them.

November 14, 2006

Blogger Beta and Feedburner Funk

Sometimes procrastination saves the day. Case in point: I had been considering moving to another blog server because Blogger didn’t have the “tags” capability. I felt I needed a way to sort my entries by topic since my blog has been racking up posts, but Blogger’s interface didn’t allow it. I knew I had to migrate, but I kept putting it off like an appointment for a root canal. Though I knew I’d have to do it eventually.

Just as I was cracking my knuckles ready to deal with yet another learning curve switching to Wordpress or some other blog venue, Blogger announces an upgrade version that allows “labels” for each journal entry. “Tag”... “Label”... same diff. So, I rested my knuckles and waited for the version release. They rolled it out yesterday. And I must say I’m pretty happy with the new features and ease-of-use. Labeling was a snap!

Unfortunately, this morning, the Feedburner feed managing my blog gave me (and all the feed subscribers to Learn-Something-New, obviously) a funky surprise.

Apparently, when I labeled my journal entries in Blogger (of course, I had to label all the entries, all the way back to March, or else the labeling concept wouldn’t make much sense), Feedburner got messed up. Today, it sent out a notification that Learn-Something-New has a new entry, but instead of the actual latest entry that I wrote yesterday, it broadcasted the posts I wrote back in August.

Anyway, I’m done tweaking the labels, so this post should appear in tomorrow’s Feedburner broadcast as the latest entry. Things will iron out eventually. Well, they better!

Meanwhile, I’ll stay on with Blogger… I still have to experiment on the new mess-with-your-layout feature. I wonder what exciting glitch will come my way this time around.

P.S. Thank you, Blogger, for your new features. I’m sure a lot of bloggers like me appreciate all the hard work you’ve put in. Kudos to your tech team!

November 13, 2006

Festival of the Masters 2006

The Festival of the Masters has been an annual event at Downtown Disney for the last 31 years. I wonder why I never went out of my way to see it until last weekend. According to the brochure, the Festival “showcases art from more than 200 of the finest artists across the nation.”

Sculpture, jewelry, painting, photography, glass, and digital art are just some of the art genres featured this year. It took me two hours to just walk from one booth to the next, without even talking to the artists. An amazing collection of absolutely stunning work.

Too bad I didn’t have the time or energy to ask the artists about their chosen art, where their studios are, or how it feels to be part of a very special show like the Festival of the Masters. I would’ve learned so much from them. All I could do was snap some photos to remember the shock and awe I experienced as a spectator.

Here are my favorite booths (I apologize, I didn’t get the names of the artists. A serious oversight):

The larger versions and the rest of the photos are here: Festival of the Masters

Also, I discovered that the Festival’s Signature Art Artist, the one created the logo for this year’s event, is Arnel Platon – born in the Philippines and a migrant to the US in 1971 when he was 10. More about Arnel and his Festival Signature Art.

October 27, 2006

Creepy Cake

We get them from the Oriental grocery stores -- they’re called “Red Bean Cake” or, more popularly where I grew up, “Hopia Mongo.” They’re round pastries made with flaky layers of paper-thin dough and stuffed with a pasty filling made from finely ground mongo beans.

The hopia is supposed to have originated in China and might have evolved from another bean-based pastry called the Moon Cake, which is a favorite treat for Chinese holidays and festivities. A similar incarnation of the hopia might have originated in Japan, because there’s the cube-shaped mongo bean delicacy we call Hopiang Hapon.

A few days ago, we got our fix of hopia treats from the Chinese store. I’m not sure if the baker intentionally made this bean cake this way, but it sort of freaked me out when I tore off the wrapper. I took these photos with my phone... you tell me what you see.

Happy Halloween?

More about the hopia here: Hopia on Wikipedia

October 16, 2006

Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip

I’ve stopped counting the times we’ve driven up from Florida to the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina. When you live in Florida, you eventually get tired of the theme parks and the beach scene. You wake up one day craving for mountain slopes and fresh air.

This year, we drove yet another 10 hours north until we reached Asheville, our favorite base camp for our drive up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway. Mornings and high altitudes gave us the chilly autumn breeze we so impatiently wait for in Orlando.

The most wonderful experience on this trip was our search for the colors of fall. We were able to schedule our vacation just when most trees along the parkway are peaking in reds and golds. Every outlook we visited was busy with tourists and photographers capturing the splendor of the mountains. Tripods here and there… motorists slowing down to snap quick remembrances… chitchats with fellow Floridians getting away from it all.

We’ve gone to the mountains many times, on different times of the year. This trip is the best one yet. And I have pictures to prove it.

colorful trees

fallen fall branches

waking up to a cold morning

More photos (in bigger sizes) in my flickr site:

September 8, 2006

Are you ready for the future?

Less than four months to go to Year 2007. 2 0 0 7! I still remember how... in a previous life... we scrambled to ensure that the world as we know it wouldn't end at the turn of the Millennium. The Y2K project we called it. That's history and we're fast drifting past Space Odyssey territory. But where are the flying cars? The shuttles to the Moonbase? The androids?

Just when I imagine I'd have bought the farm when all of these futuristic ideas become part of the human way of life, I come across this video:

If these guys work real fast, I might still get to see flying cars after all.

September 3, 2006

License To Eat Fast Food

Stripped from today’s headlines:

Obesity An 'International Scourge'
Conference Warns Of Global Fat Pandemic's Consequences

"Obesity is an international scourge," Prof. Paul Zimmet, the chairman of the meeting of more than 2,500 experts and health officials, told delegates in a speech opening the International Congress on Obesity. "This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world."

An average adult is supposed to require only about 2000 calories of food per day to stay healthy. When the World Health Organization says that more than 1 billion adults around the world are overweight, with 300 million of them considered obese, I’m not surprised. It’s really very easy to exceed our daily food intake quota, especially in the more industrialized nations where everything is biggie-sized. With all the excess calories we consume getting stored in the body as fat, we’re kicked into the obese category quicker than we can say, “Burp.”

So, having too much time on my hands, I went surfing for the nutrition information on some of our favorite fast food places (interesting how they all provide these numbers now for public consumption – pun intended). I culled the calorie and fat count of their biggest and smallest burger items (all their other burger choices have nutrition values in between) from Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Carl’s Jr.:

Big Bacon Classic = 580 calories, 29 grams of fat
Jr. Burger = 280 calories, 9 grams of fat

Double Quarter Pounder with cheese = 730 calories, 40 grams of fat
Hamburger = 260 calories, 9 grams of fat
McDonald's Menu Items Nutrition

Burger King
Triple Whopper Sandwich with Cheese = 1230 calories, 82 grams of fat
Whopper Jr. = 370 calories, 21 grams of fat

Carl’s Jr.
Double Six Dollar Burger = 1522 calories, 110 grams of fat
Low Carb Six Dollar Burger = 490 calories, 37 grams of fat

Now, for my radical idea...

The Health Department should issue “License To Eat Fast Food” cards specifically for dining in fast food restaurants. They can be called “License To Overeat” or “License To Stuff Yourself” cards, whatever. The idea is to have different fast food eating clearance levels.

For example, if you want to have a Carl’s Jr. Double Six Dollar Burger (1522 calories) for lunch, you should be able to present a “License To Eat Fast Food” card with a LEVEL G (for Gorge) clearance. Which means you must be underweight (Body Mass Index of less than 18.5; refer to, a professional athlete, a body builder, or practicing for an eating competition.

Every six months, the Health Department will give qualifying exams for the various “License To Eat Fast Food” clearance levels.

Average, healthy persons in the normal BMI ranges (18.5-24.9) will get a LEVEL E (for Eat Healthy) clearance. They’re allowed to order anything on the menu that doesn’t have the words “Big,” “Double,” "Triple," or “Whopper.”

People who are in the overweight and obese brackets (BMI of 25 and higher) will get a LEVEL C (for Control) clearance. They can order anything on the menu that has the words “Low,” “-Free,” and “Diet,” with a maximum of 3 items per 3-hour period.

How to implement that is another story (not to mention the flack it’ll raise from the Hefty-and-Happy crowd). But hey, it’s an idea. After all, “Global Fat Pandemic” deserves some serious thought.

If you’re interested in an easy way to compare nutrition information among the 12 leading fast food restaurant chains, here’s a site with a handy search interface: The Fast Food Nutrition Fact Explorer.

August 19, 2006

Admirers of Fine Print

If there’s one thing I learned here in the US, it’s to read the fine print… on everything.

If you want what’s good for you, you should read the tiniest printed words not just on contracts, agreements, and disclaimers, but also on discount coupons, sales flyers, special offers, product labels, bills, notices, as well as posters, cards, and all your mail.

The main reason you must read the fine print (and that’s after you’ve checked the “Best Before,” “Valid,” and “Expires” dates) is to make sure your expectations are correct, especially when something looks too good to be true. You know what they say, “If it looks too good to be true, there’s a catch.”

For example, a credit card offer will put “No annual fee!” in bold letters, but the fine print will say that on top of the high interest rate, there’s a sign-up fee and a sell-your-soul list of other fees and charges.

Notice how car commercials on TV scream “THE BEST DEAL IN TOWN!” but in very small print, which flashes on the screen on the millisecond that you decide to blink, will effectively say, “Restrictions apply,” which, for all intents and purposes, actually means “none of you will qualify.”

Just a few days ago, I came across these too-good-to-be-true eye catchers:

with the purchase of a family meal
(Poster at Boston Market)

wrapping everyday
(Sign at Bealls)

2nd Pizza of Equal or Lesser Value
(Domino’s Gift Certificate)

Since I started on a mission to read all the fine print on anything I buy, use, consume, or even consider taking into my scheme of things, I’ve become familiar with these:

“Void where prohibited by law.”
“Subscription will be renewed automatically unless you cancel.”
“Limited time offer.”
“Consumers with food allergies, please read the ingredient statement carefully.”
“Heating times are approximate.”
“Consuming raw or uncooked meats may increase your risk of foodborne illness.”
“Only at participating locations. Not valid with other offers. Delivery areas and charges may vary. One coupon per order. No double toppings.”
“These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”
“Any other use constitutes fraud.”

And the most popular clincher: “Individual results may vary.”

To cap this off, here’s what I found when I signed up with a Feedburner email subscription:

"For admirers of fine print, we also offer the following details:
The publisher of the site you have subscribed to uses FeedBurner to deliver email subscriptions. FeedBurner's Terms of Service govern this subscription service. This subscription is a relationship between the publisher and you, the subscriber; the publisher will have access to their complete mailing list should they decide to stop using FeedBurner and move to another service. FeedBurner provides email delivery service to the publisher; it will never sell email addresses, share email addresses or send any other email to the email address. FeedBurner never liked that, and never will. Nice FeedBurner."

August 13, 2006

To Be A Millionaire

Back in our younger days, my friends and I used to say, “We’re so ready to be millionaires… the only thing missing is money.”

I’m sure some of them have found the money by now and are comfortably circulating among fellow millionaires. I have high regard for them, especially after I read an article about what it takes to become wealthy.

In a nutshell, all you need to do to become a millionaire are:
1. work long hours
2. take risks
3. be willing to fail

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Why then are there only "2.9 million millionaires in America and 8.7 million millionaires worldwide in 2005" (Wikipedia: Millionaire)? Maybe because long hours, risks, and failure are not exactly what we want to deal with in this short journey called life. After all, these are way outside our normal comfort zones. We prefer easy money, get-rich-quick, and winning the lottery.

Then there’s the responsibility that comes with being rich. You’ll need to continue spending more time and energy to protect and nurture all that wealth. Affluence does come with a hefty price tag.

But if you really want to be a millionaire, here are valubale hints from one who's been-there-done-that:

If you want to be rich, first stop being so frightened

August 9, 2006

Just Say No

I have a new weight maintenance tool. I call it the “Just-Say-No“ technique because all you have to do is say, “No, thank you.” You don’t have to measure and weigh what you eat; you don’t have to take some funky pills; you don’t have to hop on a treadmill! How easy is that?

By responding, “No, thank you!” during potentially weight-maintenance-damaging situations, you can lose from 100 to 1000 calories every time. And you won’t even feel it! Here are the opportunities you can cut off those calories.

At the theater concession stand:
“Would you like butter with your popcorn?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 220 cal.]

Also at the theater concession stand:
“Would you like to make your soda a large for just 25 cents more?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 100 cal.]

At the coffee shop:
“Whipped cream?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 150 cal.]

At the burger place:
“Would you like to supersize your order for just 99 cents more?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 100 cal. on the soda, 500 cal. on the fries.]

With the boys:
“Another beer?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 120 cal.]

At a party or at home:
“Second helping?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 300-800 cal.]

For dessert:
“How about a vanilla milk shake?”
“No, thank you.” [Lose 1000 cal.]

Simple. A calorie refused is a calorie lost. Intake your calories wisely, is what I say.

So, next time someone asks you to an all-you-can-eat too-good-to-pass-up buffet apply the “Just Say No” technique and save yourself a few hundred hard-to-burn calories.

For more information on calories and how much effort you need to put into burning them (hint: you have to walk the dog for a little over an hour to burn the butter you added to your popcorn):

August 1, 2006

Caimito and Chico

The two fruits I terribly miss out here in the US: the sweet and soft purplish caimito (Star Apple) and the sweet and grainy brown chico (Sapodilla).

My brother and I grew up climbing the caimito trees fronting our house. We had our own favorite branches where we’d while away the lazy afternoons of youth… almost like waiting for the fruits to ripen right next to our faces. Just sit on a branch, reach for a shiny tender one or two, and gorge away.

Friends and neighbors passing by would see us lounging on the branches; we’d pitch them as many ripe caimitos as they could carry. Most of the time, Papa would be at the foot of the tree, catching fruits my brother and I tossed down -- our very own version of "playing catch."

I remember though, that I never ate the Star Apples piled high on our dining table fruit basket. Not even the ones cooling in our refrigerator. I only ate caimito that I had just picked from our trees with my own hands -- fresh, organic, pesticide-free. Good old days.

Our chico tree was a different story. The tree itself was too dense to lounge in, plus it hosted the life cycles of all kinds of bugs -- spiders, mostly. You’d have to work your way through webs, ants, and aphids to get to the good branches, and then you’d have to literally go out on a limb to reach the fruits. The chico tree taught us how to pick fruits from the ground, using a really long stick rigged with a wire loop (to snag the fruit) and a bag (to catch the snagged fruit) at the end.

Ah, memories of long ago and far away. Our parents were the best; they made sure my brother and I had a wonderful childhood growing up alongside an assortment of fruit trees.

Oh yes, we also had guava, mango, tamarind, santol, avocado, guyabano, and kamias, all lush and fruit-bearing in our yard. I have poignant stories about each of these trees. I’ll write them one of these days.

July 21, 2006

Dieting, Eating Strategies, Fat Loss

I may just have accidentally stumbled on an article I had always wanted to write.

As a health/wellness writer, I’ve published pieces on stress, the fat-and-forty syndrome, backpacking, and other focused topics, but never one that can serve as a comprehensive guide to health and fitness. I planned on writing a simple bulleted guide that covers nutrition, weight maintenance, aerobics, and resistance training – the essential elements of a healthy lifestyle. But the most I’ve done is scribble pieces of a draft that gets shuffled around in a deep drawer marked “One of These Days” (oh, that’s a step up from being in the thick folder labeled, “You think?”)

Today, while surfing the ‘Net looking for the formula for how many calories a person burns at rest (don’t ask), I ended up here:

How Dieting Works by Marshall Brain of

Mr. Brain had the information I was looking for. And I quote:

“At rest (for example, while sitting and watching television), the human body burns only about 12 calories per pound of body weight per day (26 calories per kilogram). That means that if you weigh 150 pounds (68 kg), your body uses only about: 150 X 12 = 1,800 calories per day.

“Those 1,800 calories are used to do everything you need to stay alive:
- They keep your heart beating and lungs breathing.
- They keep your internal organs operating properly.
- They keep your brain running.
- They keep your body warm. “

The part I enjoyed best about Mr. Brain’s article was the section on weight loss myths:

“The myth that you can lose 54 pounds in 6 weeks - Despite what the ads say (I LOST 54 POUNDS IN 6 WEEKS WITHOUT DIETS OR EXERCISE!!! or LOSE 10 POUNDS THIS WEEKEND!), you cannot lose a pound of fat unless you burn off 3,500 calories. To lose 54 pounds in 6 weeks, you would need to lose 9 pounds in 7 days, or 1.3 pounds per day. That 1.3 pounds of fat is equal to 4,500 calories, so you would have to burn off 4,500 calories per day. The only way to do that would be to eat nothing AND run a marathon every day for 42 days. That's impossible. The only way to lose that much weight that quickly is either through dehydration or amputation. The ads are lying.”

With nothing better to do, I continued surfing until I found myself reading what I previously mentioned as the article I had always wanted to write. Obviously, someone already beat me to it. In 2002.

Eating Strategies for Permanent Fat Loss

It’s actually a handout created by Sheri Barke, MPH, RD, of the UCLA Arthur Ashe Student Health and Wellness Center. To learn more, explore the UCLA site she developed: Student Nutrition (& Body Image) Action Committee.

So, I can rest easy. The piece had been written. All I have to do now is bookmark and send the URL to my trainees. Thank you, Sheri Barke.

July 18, 2006

Happy Chickens

There’s this hype about eating organic.

“Organic” is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary in as:

1. Of, marked by, or involving the use of fertilizers or pesticides that are strictly of animal or vegetable origin: organic vegetables; an organic farm.
2. Raised or conducted without the use of drugs, hormones, or synthetic chemicals: organic chicken; organic cattle farming.

I’d say I’m fortunate because I was raised on organic food. Back in the day, my parents grew fruits and vegetables in our backyard. We had a pond teeming with tilapia. We also had a small poultry so we raised our own chickens. I gathered our breakfast eggs by hand. Our chickens were raised on cracked corn and milled grain; our vegetables were fertilized with our chicken’s droppings. It was just how things were.

Of course, on a larger scale, the world needed to feed a multitude of people, so backyard farming wasn’t enough. Mad scientists had to create hormones and DNA strains that make livestock grow faster, bigger, and resistant to disease. They had to develop artificial environments that make fruits and vegetables give more... uhm... fruits and vegetables. They even resorted to genetic reengineering to grow transgenic papaya, potato clones, and headless chickens (sorry, that last one is an urban legend).

Everything went well, and everyone got fed (okay, almost everyone), until another group of mad scientists said all of these growth hormones, funky fertilizers, and pesky pesticides that help grow our food are making us all act weird. Not to mention that these genetically altered environments are upsetting our ecological balance, among other things.

So, we’re back to backyard, all-natural farming. Talk about retro. But now we pay premium for it. Why? Because in organic farms, free-roaming cows and cage-free chickens require more real estate, and eggs that have to be hand-gathered from nests scattered in the open range require more personnel. How about the need to hire more caregivers who must talk to vegetables to motivate them to grow big and prolific?

In short, after science and the economy had their way, now only the elite can eat organic. Elite because they can afford to buy from organic supermarkets, or elite because they can afford caretakers to grow their own produce and raise their own livestock in their own backyard. There’s irony there somewhere.

In any case, I must agree that organic/natural products do taste better than the alternative. I know. I used to water my father’s all-natural vegetable garden and feed my mother’s happy chickens.

Want more information about genetically altered foods and the organic food industry?

Arguments for and against genetically altered produce.

Genetically Altered Food: Myths and Realities

Is Whole Foods Wholesome? The dark secrets of the organic-food movement.

Here’s an article about a whole new crop of goodies:

Eat Your Hybrid Veggies

July 13, 2006

Treadmill Tunes

Long before I became a mountaineer (and that’s a long time ago!), I used U2’s The Joshua Tree album for my aerobic workouts.

For some reason, “Where The Streets Have No Name” and “With Or Without You” jibed well with my cardio workout rhythm. And that was before Tommy Lee Jones danced to these songs in the movie “Blown Away.”

Singing along with Bono (real name: Paul Hewson), I would jog in place and go through the warm-up routines I had learned as a student of Tae Kwon Do (okay, that’s even waaaay farther back – when everyone wanted to be Bruce Lee!). My routines were punches, blocks, and kicks, with the mandatory “kiya!”

Fast forward to today. Hell if my joints can still execute half of those karate moves, so I don’t even try. But I still do cardio with U2 – this time on a treadmill. I can’t do spinning back kicks anymore (I’ll be lucky to tear a ligament before I bash my head on a piece of furniture!), but on the treadmill, I can simulate hill climbing, and I can still dance-jog to the rhythm of “In God’s Country.”

In fact, I’ve created several playlists for my treadmill travails. These sets of tunes are 30 to 40 minutes long (my daily routine), some more aerobic than others. The first and last songs are warm-up and cool-down tunes; the ones in between vary from high-incline-slow-speed to no-incline-high-speed. Oh, no biggie... my high incline is only 10 degrees, and my high speed is a break-neck 3.0 mph, tops.

[Aside: The treadmill has a safety feature “key.” One end you attach to the machine, the other you clip on to your waistband just so if you fall, your body will tug the key off the machine and automatically kill it (kill the machine, that is, before it kills you). But, I don’t really want to have to experience that, so, I’m not braving any death-defying stunts like hoofing faster than 3 miles per hour. Maybe next year when I train for the marathon. Not.]

Here are my treadmill workout playlists so far:

U2 [The Joshua Tree]
With Or Without You
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Where The Streets Have No Name
Red Hill Mining Town
Bullet The Blue Sky
In God’s Country
Trip Through Your Wires

Guns N’ Roses [Greatest Hits]
Welcome to the Jungle
Sympathy for the Devil
Sweet Child O’ Mine
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
You Could Be Mine
Don’t Cry

Metallica [Black Album]
Don’t Tread On Me
Sad But True
Enter Sandman
Wherever I May Roam
The God That Failed
The Unforgiven

A Night At The Roxbury [Soundtrack]
What Is Love
Make That Money
Do Ya Think I’m Sexy
Be My Lover
Pop Muzik
Beautiful Life
Little Bit of Ecstasy
Careless Whisper

Satriani [The Extremist]
The Extremist
Summer Song
Motorcycle Driver

Yanni [Live At The Acropolis]
Keys to Imagination
Acroyall/Standing in Motion
Within Attraction
Reflections of Passion

I load these playlists depending on my treadmill mood. Yanni’s set is more for routines similar to the feel of stair climbers and elliptical trainers –- apart from the warm-up and cool-down songs, the set features backgrounds to a steady “orchestral” uphill pacing on 10-degree inclines at 1.8 - 2.5 mph. The Roxbury soundtrack, on the other hand, is all aerobic – disco dancing type of jogging at 0-incline, 2.5 mph (I adjust my stride and pace to the rhythm of the song, and I flail my arms mimicking an elliptical workout). The rest of the sets are, well, just music I enjoy walking/jogging/trekking with.

I should make a few more playlists. Maybe The Rolling Stones or Led Zep. The rock bands are the best to treadmill with. I tried jogging with the jazz guys... no good. Classical, uhm… I’ll have to look again.

Counting more blessings

Last night I had dinner with a friend. Let’s call him John.

John is a survivor. He was diagnosed with cancer of the throat last year. After a series of chemo and radiation treatments, he’s finally cancer-free. As with most cancer patients, he lost a lot of hair and muscle. Other than that, you can see from the smile on his face and the spring on his step that he’s fully recovered. Not quite.

Over dinner, he told me that the radiation treatment for his throat killed not only the cancer cells, but also the roots of his teeth, his taste buds, and his salivary glands. Eating is now a horrendous ordeal.

Without saliva, the whole mouth would be dry, and everything you eat will be dry. Food particles will stick to your gums, teeth, tongue, and all over the mouth. And try bringing all that into your throat to swallow. Without saliva, the food will have a tough time going down. You’ll have to push every mouthful with a gulp of liquid.

John said he now knows how awful it feels to eat toast, chips, and nuts without the slimy natural fluids in his mouth. His doctor says he can eat anything so that he can regain his strength, but without saliva, even sweets and desserts stick to his mouth like glue. Eating is such a chore that he would often just forget about it altogether.

The doctors aren’t sure if or when John’s salivary glands will come back to life. In the meantime, he will have to come to terms with something that’s certainly much better than the alternative.

I congratulated John on his recovery and overwhelming strength of spirit. I was really happy to see him again. After we hugged and parted ways, I said to myself, “Next time I feel rock bottom and depressed about my state in life, I’ll count my blessings by starting with my fingers, and add: ‘My salivary glands work!’”

July 7, 2006

Notepad Log Files

Gosh, took me more than five years to discover that the handy Notepad was designed to be a journal. And I quote from a mailing list I subscribe to (Thanks, Jon Lewis):

Open a blank Notepad file.
Write .LOG (in uppercase) in the first line of the file, followed by Enter.
Save the file and close it.
Double-click the file to open it and notice that Notepad appends the current date and time to the end of the file and places the cursor on the line after.
Type your notes and then save and close the file.
Each time you open the file, Notepad repeats the process, appending the time and date to the end of the file and placing the cursor below it.

Here's a site that gave it as a Tip of the Day in... uhm... April 2001:

And here's the word from Microsoft in 2004:
How to Use Notepad to Create a Log File.
(Of course, it also applies to XP.)

July 6, 2006

Best Pictures

Just finished watching "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" - the Oscar Best Picture for 1975.

I didn't know that aside from this movie, only two other films won the Top 5 Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay. The other two are "It Happened One Night" (1934) and "The Silence of the Lambs" (1991).

So, in my usual OCD thing, I looked up a list of all the best picture Oscar winners from time immemorial. Below is the list with an asterisk after the ones I've seen at least once. Of course, I now remember very little from the movies I've seen, but that's why I'm writing this now -- I want to see these gems again.

Those 60s and 70s ones would be fun to relive. This time I'll have a new perspective from the first time. Like in the Cuckoo's Nest... many of the actors were just being discovered then... like Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd (his first movie). Brad Dourif, our favorite Grima Wormtongue in LOTR was here billed as "and introducing..."

This should be a fun project. I'll tack this list on my wall and see how many films I can tick off for however long this journey takes. Netflix is flashing its "ca-ching" grin right now.

2005 - Crash *
2004 - Million Dollar Baby *
2003 - Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King *
2002 - Chicago *
2001 - A Beautiful Mind
2000 - Gladiator *
1999 - American Beauty *
1998 - Shakespeare In Love *
1997 - Titanic *
1996 - The English Patient *
1995 - Braveheart *
1994 - Forrest Gump *
1993 - Schindler'S List *
1992 - Unforgiven *
1991 - The Silence Of The Lambs *
1990 - Dances With Wolves *
1989 - Driving Miss Daisy *
1988 - Rain Man *
1987 - The Last Emperor *
1986 - Platoon *
1985 - Out Of Africa
1984 - Amadeus
1983 - Terms Of Endearment
1982 - Gandhi *
1981 - Chariots Of Fire *
1980 - Ordinary People
1979 - Kramer Vs. Kramer *
1978 - The Deer Hunter *
1977 - Annie Hall *
1976 - Rocky *
1975 - One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest *
1974 - The Godfather Part II *
1973 - The Sting *
1972 - The Godfather *
1971 - The French Connection *
1970 - Patton *
1969 - Midnight Cowboy *
1968 - Oliver! *
1967 - In The Heat Of The Night
1966 - A Man For All Seasons *
1965 - The Sound Of Music *
1964 - My Fair Lady *
1963 - Tom Jones
1962 - Lawrence Of Arabia *
1961 - West Side Story *
1960 - The Apartment
1959 - Ben Hur *
1958 - Gigi
1957 - The Bridge On The River Kwai *
1956 - Around The World In 80 Days *
1955 - Marty
1954 - On The Waterfront
1953 - From Here To Eternity *
1952 - The Greatest Show On Earth *
1951 - An American In Paris
1950 - All About Eve
1949 - All The King's Men
1948 - Hamlet *
1947 - Gentleman's Agreement
1946 - Best Years Of Our Lives
1945 - The Lost Weekend
1944 - Going My Way
1943 - Casablanca *
1942 - Mrs. Miniver
1941 - How Green Was My Valley
1940 - Rebecca
1939 - Gone With The Wind *
1938 - You Can't Take It With You
1937 - The Life Of Emile Zola
1936 - The Great Ziegfeld
1935 - Mutiny On The Bounty *
1934 - It Happened One Night
1933 - Cavalcade
1932 - Grand Hotel
1931 - Cimarron
1930 - All Quiet On The Western Front
1929 - The Broadway Melody
1928 - Wings

Oh, and ye, I liked Cuckoo's Nest much more this time around. Excellent movie, certainly deserving of the Top 5 Oscars.

July 4, 2006

For the loogah

“Scuse me, while I kiss this guy!” – Jimi Hendrix (or not)

Back in a previous life, I had a pocketbook of misheard song lyrics entitled Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy.

I wish I still had that book. It would be fun to go over it again, now that I’ve had a more extensive exposure to rock songs—the major source of misheard lyrics.

“Clown control to Mao Tse Tung.” (Ground control to Major Tom.) – David Bowie
“It’s a hard egg.” (It’s a heartache.) – Bonnie Tyler
“Sweet dreams are made of cheese.” (Sweet dreams are made of these.) - Eurythmics

Last night, I was listening to a collection of Steely Dan songs from their Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980 box set.

I never used to bother with the lyrics, much less what they mean, since most of the time Fagen’s lyric poetry could hold a candle to... uhm... Beowulf. But this time, “Third World Man” bothered me.

The song went... or at least it sounded like:

Soon you’ll throw down your disguise
We’ll see behind those bright eyes
Flying by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the loogah

“For the loogah”?! What the heck is a loogah?! That couldn't have been "lugaw" (porridge in Tagalog).

Of course, the whole stanza didn’t make sense at all, but I didn’t care, I just wanted to know what he said that sounded like "loogah"!

Thank heavens for the Internet, I found a site that listed the lyrics of “Third World Man.”

“Flying by” is actually “By and by” and “the loogah” is actually “the little guy.”

The whole song still didn't make sense... but now I can sleep.

But then again, who can sleep after watching THIS?! How do you wash your brain with soap?

June 14, 2006


My brother and I often discuss the mysteries of the universe. We've always been sci-fi, my brother and I. Growing up we devoured "Chariots of the Gods?" by Erich Von Daniken, the first book to present proof that we are not alone in the universe, and that our most ancient art and artifacts are works of aliens passing through.

Recently, he asked me if I've read the works of Dr. Michio Kaku, a renowned theroretical physicist who has taken after Einstein's quest for the "theory of everything." I replied, "Dr. who?" He said, "No, not Dr. Who... Dr. Kaku!"

Before we could both stop laughing, my fingers were already Googling the doctor. I quickly found his site: And before the end of the day, I had read all the articles posted on the site. My favorite is The Physics of Extra-Terrestrial Civilizations, which explains how our planet can evolve into a Type I, II, and III in order for our species to survive.

I am reminded of this today when I read an article about the thoughts of another renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking: Hawking: Humans must colonize space to survive.

It's just interesting--okay, mind-boggling--to think of all this. Certainly a lot of questions remain unanswered... or actually "fictionally" answered by the plot lines in our favorite sci-fi worlds of Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica. I would love to actually own a replicator or feel the effects of going through the "gate."

For now, in this fraction of time that humans try to not annihilate themselves and somehow succeed in evolving from a Type O to a Type I civilization, my brother and I will just continue to look up at the moon and imagine...

What would it be like to live on Mars... or slip through a tear in the fabric of time and space?

[Photos by Ronald Bayan]

May 15, 2006

Da Vinci Cryptex

I had mentioned the Da Vinci Code Quest on Google in a previous post. Yes, I had so much fun solving the daily puzzles. I even set an alarm to remind me to solve the last puzzle as soon as it came out. Took me about 5 minutes, so I was confident I made the first 10,000 who completed the puzzle.

Got my confirmation in the mail today... the Da Vinci Code Cryptex! It's brass and quite heavy. Very nice souvenir for the fun I had with the puzzles. A big Thank You to everyone who made this happen.

Now, will I try to solve the final puzzle to win the Grand Prize of untold riches? Who knows?!

Postscript [05/27/06]: Yes, I tried solving the final puzzle, but no, I didn't solve it. Unlike some who cheated by picking up solutions posted online, I worked on the puzzle on my own... ergo, I didn't even get to finish the first set! I'd blame it on the eternal conflict between my ADD and my OCD.

But I did get to see the movie. My take: I'd have enjoyed the movie more if I hadn't read the book. The film has its merits, surely. Still worth seeing if only to learn something new... or at least come out wondering "what if?"

May 7, 2006

Cabbage shoot - Part 3

Another follow-up on my "Cabbage Shoot" and "Cabbage Shoot - Part 2" posts.

Someone (Rej) suggested that I plant the cabbage shoot in soil. Well, a few days ago, I noticed that the bright yellow plant sitting in my crisper drawer had started to wither because the mother wedge had almost totally dried up. No more nutrients to sustain the shoot!

So, I pulled out an old pot and planted my new plant in the soil. I sheltered it under the plants just outside our patio so it won't get shocked by the light, the Florida heat, and the general outside world.

It's been a week and here's how she looks today:

Notice how green the leaves are! And there seems to be a flower blooming! I'll continue to monitor our little cabbage darling for as long as I can. Until next time.

April 28, 2006

Fondness for puzzles

I am so ready to watch movie. I just finished reading the book, and I must say The Da Vinci Code is a page-turner. Whatever controversy surrounds it, on whether it's fiction or not, it doesn't matter. The story is well told, and the author really takes you there. The action and intrigue holds a candle to plots weaved in TV series like 24 and Alias.

If you want to learn something new, or at the very least read about some radical thought (remember, the book is touted as fiction), pick up the Da Vinci Code. Even for just the story. I loved it for the riddles, puzzles, and codes (actually figured out a few).

Info and links pertinent to the movie, the author, the book's references, etc. are compiled on Wikipedia (heed warning on spoilers).

If you're like me, who grew up collecting puzzles (talk about solved jigsaw puzzles piled under the bed because there's no more space to hang them on the walls), you'll try the Da Vinci Code Quest on Google. I'm on the Day 7 puzzle (and kinda stuck! Haha!).

Did you know that the Mona Lisa is both male and female?

April 20, 2006

Cabbage shoot - Part 2

I talked about how I discovered that a cabbage had grown in my refrigerator crisper.

Well, I didn't want to throw the thing away, so I shoved it back in one of the crisper drawers. I didn't put it in a plastic bag anymore. This morning, something yellow caught my eye... in the crisper drawer where I left the cabbage. Look what I found!

How totally fascinating is that?! The shoot had grown tall (trying to reach for light) and remained light yellow (should I have opened the fridge door more often?). The wedge continued to wither as it fed the shoot.

And look at this close-up!

Wonders never cease.

April 19, 2006

Musty AC

Big Problem: Our apartment's air conditioning unit is giving off a musty smell.

Bigger Problem: The apartment maintenance guy came to clean the coils but did a piss-poor job; musty smell is still there.

Biggest Problem: My roommate is allergic to molds.

I took a look at the AC coils (the tubes containing freon that cools the attached fins that cools the air that flows through). OHMYGAWD! Many of the fins were sqwooshed flat (most likely from the last maintenance job, obviously long before we moved in), not to mention the mold and mildew growing all over the thing! I don't want to imagine what's cultivating behind the flattened fins! No wonder the apartment smells like a rain forest everytime the AC comes on!

Here's where my OCD kicked in. I had to straighten out all the fins and clean out all the mold! [I need to do this. And I need to do it now!]

My first challenge was what tool to use to un-flatten the flattened fins. [Tool - yes! I love tools!] Checked my tool cabinet and there was this putty knife. Tried that but it felt awkward -- not ergonomic.

Maybe I'll find a better tool in the... uhm... kitchen drawer. Found a plastic knife... that should work.

After a few un-flattened fins, I felt the upper edge of the knife was too wide -- some fins didn't straighten out nicely.

Back to the kitchen drawer. AHA! The orange peeler! Excellent. That worked.

When I finally straightened out all the fins, the next task was to clean out the gunk. Bought two implements to make this happen: a coil cleaner (foaming detergent in a spray can), and a water pump.

I sprayed the coils with the cleaner and used the water pump to flush out the loosened dirt.

I poked with the orange peeler and brushed with a bristle brush (some of the resident fungi were pretty well-anchored!), and flushed with water for almost two hours. Okay, more than three hours. I was surprised my ADD hadn't pulled me away sooner.

When it felt like I had fished out about a pound of moss and seaweed, I sprayed foam cleaner one last time, flushed with water one final round, and let my ADD take over. [I need to check my emails!] (Sometimes it's tough to have OCD and ADD at the same time.)

The coils don't look brand new (some stains are permanent), but I think I did a pretty good job -- certainly a lot better than that maintenance guy. Now to see if the roommate's histamine agrees with me.

April 11, 2006


The date on the label says "Jan 26-28 1996." It's a VHS tape of our trek up Mt. Pulag, back when I was an avid backpacker/trekker.

Ten years. That long. Once-in-a-lifetime memories held together in a strip of decade-old magnetic tape. How long do these things last? The tape, I mean. A friend gave me this time capsule a few months after we got back from the trek, and I've seen it only twice -- the day I received it and about four years ago. I'm surprised it's still working. I'm surprised I still have a working VHS player.

Memories are supposed to last forever. But they don't do they? I can't even remember with whom I climbed that time. I can't remember what I wore, what we ate. All I remember is I have sounds and images of a very important climb in this strip of decade-old magnetic tape. How long so these things last anyway?

So, I did myself a favor. I watched the tape again and tried to remember everything (I still can't remember the names of some of the guys I trusted with my life up that mountain!). It's stunning to realize that since that climb, two of my fellow-climbers had died. Some have migrated to other parts of the world. A few have gotten married... to each other.

I knew that if I wanted to keep these memories with me, I would have to watch the tape every so often. Some of these friends will be hard to find now, and a number will most likely continue to exist for me only in this roll. Maybe in one of my viewing sessions everyone's names will come back to me.

So, before I lose everything as this VHS tape deteriorates, this VHS player fades into oblivion, and this aging mind slips into retirement, I copied the tape onto a DVD to preserve the stories, the smiles and laughter, and the unforgettable faces of friends who trekked with me through some of the most exciting days of my life.

How long do these DVDs last anyway?

Here's what I gathered from the old reliable Internet:

Pressed DVD (movies) - 50-300 years
DVD-R - 20-250 years
DVD-RW - 25-100 years
Magnetic tape - 10-100 years
Archival Microfilm - 300+ years

Fine print: Computer storage media and equipment become obsolete in 20-30 years.

Finer print: all of these lifespan estimates are based on highest quality materials and manufacturer standards. Poor materials, equipment, and storage conditions reduce lifespans considerably. Some experts recommend archive backup on at least three different media, and constant upgrades as new technologies emerge.

Finest print: nothing lasts forever.

April 3, 2006

Cabbage shoot

Every now and then I discover a science project in my refrigerator.

Some would be familiar, like a kaleidoscope of molds on old cheese, or a cucumber that has disintegrated into a soft mush in its original grocery produce plastic bag.

Some would be just plain black -- an unknown substance that had evolved from a leftover long forgotten in its airtight plastic container pushed back deep into the lowest shelf of the fridge also known as the FBH or Fridge Black Hole.

Some would be a wonderful surprise. Like this one:

This is a cabbage wedge that I had forgotten I still had. It was in a plastic bag in my vegetable crisper. When I pulled it out a couple of days ago (of course, while muttering the usual, "What the heck is this?!), it had this beautiful shoot coming out of the center part. Oooh, wow!

I've had other vegetables grow in my crisper by accident, like potatoes, onions, garlic, even carrots. But this is the first time with cabbage. I wonder what else I can grow in there.

As for this little wonder of FBH, I obviously will not use the withering wedge anymore (I bought a new head of cabbage yesterday). But will I let the baby cabbage shoot grow bigger so that I can use it in my next cole slaw? We shall see.


I got this message from a friend today:

"On Wednesday of next week, at two minutes and three seconds after
1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06. That won't ever happen again."

Kinda like my birthday.

April 1, 2006

With lemon, please!

According to an herbs-for-health book I read, lemons help digestion. Of course, that’s aside from the fruit's Vitamin C benefits. Another expert suggested adding a slice of lemon to every glass of water you drink. Hmm... I can follow that advice. Better yet, I can also add lemon to every glass of soda I drink.

So, do I cut off a slice each time I feel like a drink? I tried that for a while but it’s too much of a bother to get the lemon from the refrigerator, put it on a board, pick up a knife, cut off a slice, then return the lemon to the fridge, and wash the knife and board, every time I feel like a drink with lemon. Nah... too much work.

So, do I pre-cut the lemon, put the slices in the refrigerator, and pick up a piece every time I have a glass of soda or water? I tried that but the slices deteriorate faster than I can consume them.

So, do I freeze the slices so they don’t deteriorate? Tried that, too, but the slices stick to each other as they freeze, making it impossible to pick up just a slice.

After thinking it over real hard… I figured out a way. And I will share this little secret with you!

***NOTE: The tips and photos have been migrated to: How to Freeze Lemon Slices

Here's to everyone's digestion!

March 31, 2006

Shocking shrimp

I can't count how many times I've cooked shrimp. Tiny shrimps, medium shrimps, large shrimps, tiger prawns; white shrimps, pink shrimps; head on, head off, de-veined; steamed, scampi, sweet-sour, chili-garlic, fried, breaded, roasted, broiled, grilled. So, you can imagine how many meals I ruined.

To save you the same misery, here are my learned-the-hard-way tips for cooking tasty, delicious shrimp:

1. Room temperature. Frozen shrimps thaw quickly, so it won't be too much of a hassle. Unless you're thawing the really big ones, in which case you just need to take them out of the freezer earlier. (No matter how much of a hurry you're in, DO NOT thaw in the microwave! Seafood and microwave don't go well together. Thaw them in water instead. Give your guests something to play with while they wait.) This room temperature requirement is important because otherwise the next tip won't work.

2. Shock treatment. Shrimp becomes tough the longer it cooks. So, the best tasting shrimp would be opaque but not tough. The solution: shock. If you're steaming, let the steam build up before you put in the shrimp. If frying, heat that oil to smoke point. If broiling, pre-heat the oven. If grilling, let's see those bright red coals! The shrimps should curl up almost instantly, and when they're whitish and all curled, take them out pronto and serve! (Remember, only a few seconds spell the difference between "flaky-scrumptious" and "hard-as-rubber" shrimps. So, practice, practice, practice!)

3. Season with a reason. Shrimps are like most seafood -- bland. Sprinkle salt and pepper, or whatever your poison is, before cooking. And unless the shrimps are a minor part of a major dish, season them again just before serving. The best just-before-serving seasoning for shrimp would be melted butter, garlic powder, flavored extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, and/or a squeeze of lemon. Of course, there's the ubiquitous marinara dipping sauce (speaking of which, soy sauce and wasabi would be fun, too!). Now, don't get carried away with the sprinkle-sprinkle-bamm seasoning -- it's easy to overwhelm these little shrimpies. Of course, if you're the adventurous type, no harm no foul!

About guest satisfaction...

Before I came to America, I thought everyone knew how to eat shrimp. Then I met folks who have zero experience in shelling cooked shrimp (they never bothered to figure out how the guys in the kitchen prepared their favorite shrimp cocktail). I even know someone who gets goosebumps at the sight of cooked shrimp with their heads on (I plan to teach him how to suck the tasty shrimp fat from inside those spiny heads! Yum!). So, ask your guests beforehand if they have qualms about consuming sea creatures -- the ones that look like insects. It would be a golden opportunity to teach someone something new.

Bon appetit!

March 29, 2006

Dishwasher lesson

I was born and raised in a tropical island. I didn't grow up operating dishwashers much like Paris Hilton didn't grow up pitching hay.

We didn't have dishwashing appliances because hand dishwashing is considered an integral part of tropical island life. And also because dishwashers require hot and cold water, an indoor engineering application that we had absolutely no use for in our lovely, steamy equatorial climate. We take refreshing cold showers 24/7.

So, when I came to America, this dishwashing contraption was as alien to me as a snow plow. But hey, I gotta learn to use it, so I used it. How hard was that -- turn knobs to settings that said Hot Start, Heavy Wash, Normal Wash, Short Wash, Rinse Only, Drying, and Stop. Simple.

I loaded the dirty dishes. Of course, dishwashing needs detergent, right? Hmm. I have detergent. There's a cup in the dishwasher door that's obviously for the detergent, so I pour it in there, close the cup, shut the door, and engage the lock. Turn knob to... uhm... Normal Wash should be good.

And the machine goes whirrrr. Okay. I can get used to this world of machines doing housework.

A few minutes later, my guardian angel whispers in my ear. "Check the dishwasher."

I go into the kitchen and notice bubbles streaming out from under the dishwasher door, and a white foam starting to crawl across the floor. Argh!

Stop! Stop! Where's the stop button?! Unplug! How do you unplug this thing? Panic!

I unlock the door and swing it open. Woah! More bubbles! Everything covered with bubbles! More bubbly water flowing onto the floor! Mop! Get the mop! Get the rags! Panic!

When I finally pulled myself together, I called the apartment maintenance.

"Our dishwasher is busted! The drain must be clogged. Could you send someone to our apartment?"

I had transferred the dishes to the sink and handwashed everything when the maintenance guy arrived.

As soon as he saw the bubbles, he looked at me and asked, "Ma'm, what detergent did you use?"

I paused, and realized I had obviously used the wrong detergent. How was I to know? Thinking quickly on my feet, I said, "Uhm, I didn't load the washer myself. Why?"

"Well, your husband might have used -that- detergent over there." He pointed at the dishwashing handsoap pump that was sitting next to the sink.

"Oh, really? Why, what's wrong with that detergent?" Busted.

"It's not for dishwashers, Ma'm. They produce too much bubbles, so they will flood the dishwashing machine."

"Ye, my husband might have used that detergent by mistake." I was certain he knew it was me.

He soaked up all the soapy bubbly water from around and inside the machine and wrung the rag over the sink. After he had wiped off all the bubbles, he ran the machine for a bit until it rinsed out whatever soapy water lurked in the plumbing.

When the man of the house got home, I told him about the incident and warned him that if the maintenance guy ever confronts him about using the wrong detergent in the dishwasher, to say, "Yes, my mistake!"

Luckily, no confrontation ever took place. And we've long moved out of that apartment complex. Since then, we... er... I... have always used the right detergent in our dishwashing machine.

March 28, 2006

A good day to learn

I always say, "Learn something new everyday."

It's actually an excuse for my ADD.

Today, I will learn to work with Blogger.

Then I'll tell you about my Chicken Cacciatore... and how I flooded the dishwasher.