Friday, November 30, 2007


It's raining now and for some reason I'm remembering our trip to Amsterdam. We stayed in a studio apartment on the Dam Square. The location was great: we were on the top floor and from our window we could look straight across at the Royal Palace and below us was the square. The only hitch was that the building didn't have an elevator, which meant we had to drag our suitcases up six floors, and when we went out, we had to make sure we had everything we needed for the day. There was no going up and down to get the bottle of water you forgot.

I thought Amsterdam was wild. I don't know how other places in Holland are, but Amsterdam had a hippie-San-Francisco-in-the-70s feel. Maybe it was the pot and sex that were easily available. Clearly there were many young tourists who were in Amsterdam for those things. The older tourists like us took the canal boat tours, and went to the museums (Anne Frank's House, Rijsk, Van Gogh, and Remembrant's House). And because it's part of the tourist thing to do, we walked to their Redlight District, which was near the Dam Square.

I've seen some blatant sex-for-sale in Manila, but nothing like that in Amsterdam. Prostitution there had always been around - isn't it the oldest profession after all? - and it became legalized in 2000. The women display themselves in rooms, more like cubicles, with glass windows. The area had a lot of red lights flashing, and loud dancing music, and cigarettes, and men stumbing about drunk, and a strange creepy kind of energy. It was Lauren who couldn't stand being there and quickly steered me away from the place. But I saw enough. There the women were, in these little tiny rooms, standing, dancing, performing to the passersbys, hoping to get some business. There were older women, young women, pretty ones, ugly ones. Some of them didn't even look like prostitute-material.

I felt sad for them and wondered if they'd get AIDs, or pass this on to countless men. And I wondered what prostitutes do when they become too old for this kind of work. And I wondered if they didn't get bored doing this every day. And what if the guy was a real weirdo? And what if...?

The saddest sight was a pretty Eurasian young woman; we guessed she was Dutch and Indonesian. She looked any where from 19-27, with long black hair, petite and stunning. She was dressed in something scanty, I forget now, all I recall was that she had a very nice figure. There was some music she was dancing to, and she was really quite graceful and attractive, and she was moving in a kind of classy way, doing her thing, advertising herself, and quickly some man entered her small room, and the drapes were drawn close.

I felt very sad for her, felt she could have been a model or an actress with such good looks, felt she could have done something more with herself. And I wondered what makes women settle for that kind of life.

There was something about the rain today that made me think of her again, and I hope she's all right.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


And now dear Readers, I have to confess that I have to go on a serious diet. All the Chile en Nogada (green chile, with white walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds!)in San Miguel Allende, the crab cake sandwiches in Philadelphia, the pasta in New York, the breakfast buffets in the cruise ship, the buttery escargot in Quebec, all of that and more, have tipped over my weighing scale to such shameful numbers - we're not even going to talk about how many pounds I have to lose. But lose I must, because dear Readers, Precious must take care of herself! She just had a birthday, remember? She is no longer a young chick. When she was younger, she used to worry about her weight so she would look good; well now, she is worried about her weight for more serious reasons - things like cholesterol, heart - and yes, Precious must continue to look presentable. Her jewelry has been increasing in size, in direct proportion to her weight, and this must stop, dear Readers, or else her ears will rip from the weight of the earrings she has been wearing.

But seriously, dear Readers, Sunday, Precious went shopping for healthy food like cottage cheese and yogurt, fruit, vegetables, and also those canned diet drinks. She has a plan. First of all, she will give up chocolate cake, lollipops, sodas including diet sodas, butter, chocolate Espanola, gorgonzola cheese, carbs, sugar, and fat. She has allowed herself to eat all the fruit and vegetables that she wants. Otherwise, dear Readers, Precious might starve to death! So, here's her plan: diet drink in the morning; very light lunch; and a meal in the evening. Precious knows that it's not such a good idea to eat the big meal at night, but that's the time she and her husband eat together, so that's how it is.

Monday was the first day of her diet. She had the diet drink for breakfast and cottage cheese for lunch, and she had a cannibal hamburger sandwich (hamburger pattie with lettuce and onions). Precious felt self-righteous.

Tuesday, Precious had her diet drink before leaving for UCLA to teach her Writer's Sketchbook class, which runs from 10-1. Precious noticed that she was somewhat stupid in class. She seemed distracted, and then later she felt jittery. Precious felt anxious and mildly depressed; her mind kept "chattering" negative things. This was followed by a splitting headache, which lasted until nighttime.

To find out what was going on, Precious googled dieting and headaches - and can you imagine that headaches are actually a side effect of dieting? Precious was taken aback. She thought maybe she preferred the feeling of well-being when she eats all she wants . . . the feeling of euphoria when she sips her thick chocolate Espanola, when she pops in one of those succulent escargot in her mouth.

When she went to bed, still with the God-awful headache, she swore the dieting would have to go if she'd developed insomnia (another complaint from dieters). Fortunately, Precious sawed it off last night.

Which brings us to today. Diet drink in the morning, and later she and her husband had a picnic lunch at the Serra Retreat in Malibu; they had bought deli food. Oh, dear Readers, what she had was not diet food at all! Oh, no, not at all! It was meatloaf, with pasta, some vegetables (which she hardly touched) and Greek salad (which was awful and which she didn't eat either). So, she had: meatloaf, pasta, and a sourdough roll. She tried to add up the calories but the figure climbed so high, she had difficulty adding. To make up for that pig-out Precious had her 170-calorie diet shake for dinner.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!

Dear Readers - the question is: can Precious stick to her diet? How long can she stay away from all the wonderful comfort food? Can she refuse all that rich Christmas food, cookies - all carbs and sugar and oil?

Stay tuned, dear Readers, stay tuned.

(Special thanks to Marianne Villanueva whose blog style Precious imitated.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


I found these pictures of nuns. They are so cute. They remind me of the time Lauren and I were in Rome, near the Santa Maria de Magiorre. After seeing the church, we hung around the plaza outside. Then suddenly we saw four Carmelite nuns, dressed in long brown robes; they looked like the type that practised perpetual silence, the ones that used to be locked up forever. There they were, striding together, a cluster of brown, heading toward a gelato parlor. It was summer and there was a line of people impatient for their gelato. The nuns waited, patiently and quietly. There was no talking, no giggling. They could have been standing in a confessional line. I watched from outside and didn't know what they ordered, but when they left the parlor, one of them was carrying a huge tub of ice cream, and they strode back decidedly, from where they had come.

I imagine it was someone's birthday and Mother Superior had sent the group of four out to buy a treat.

Monday, November 26, 2007


My friend Elizabeth Allen and I went to the San Diego Natural History Museum to see the exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The scrolls are 2,000 year old texts found in caves near the Dead Sea in Israel. In 1947, a Bedouin goatherder who was near a cave threw a rock into the cave. He heard clay shatter. He threw another rock and heard the same thing. When he investigated, he discovered the scrolls in clay jars with lids. He contacted an antique dealer in Bethlehem, who was able to contact some religious people, then later academic people. The Israeli government eventually bought back the scrolls that had been sold and now have possession of most of them.

Most of the scrolls are made of leather with writing on them that depict biblical text, songs, hymns, even a legal document. There are scrolls in parchment and in copper. The copper scroll lists an inventory of some 200 tons of gold, silver, and religious garments hidden in areas around Judea. The parchment scroll is a lease agreement.

The caves where the scrolls were found are near a place called Qumram, where a religious group the Essenes, had once lived, worked and worshipped. The Essenes copied the scrolls and when the Romans invaded Qumran in 68 CE or AD, they hid them in the caves where they lay for 2,000 years.

I could go on and on about what we saw, and there was a lot. The exhibit was rich. There were huge photos of Jerusalem, olive orchards, Dead Sea, and other sites in Israel. There was a 30-minute movie presentation about Qumran. There was a section that showed pictures and artifacts of how the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered and brought to light to the world.

A friend of Elizabeth had seen this same Dead Sea Scroll exhibit in Jerusalem, but she said the exhibit in San Diego is better.

I loved the antiquity! I find it interesting to consider that 2,000 years ago people were writing, reading, praying to a One God. Sometimes we think that we, in the here and now, are more superior than ancient people and it boggles our mind when we see proof of how learned, how sophisticated they had been. It makes me realize what a tiny speck we are in the entire history of mankind. It makes me realize that there are more similarities than differences in the life style of man throughout the ages.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


My sister-in-law Kim is making the turkey; I've got 2 legs of lamb (boneless) roasting. They each weigh approx. 4.65 lbs. I bought these at Costco last week and froze them; they're from Australia (and suddenly I have a vision of two 3-legged sheep hobbling about in Australia).

I took them out of the freezer last night - rock solid. I left them on the kitchen sink and by the morning they were thawed. I planned on roasting at 325 degrees for around 2 1/2 hours - less, if it looks done. The meat continues to cook, you see, after you pull it out.

I cut off the wrapper but left the stretchy string that holds the meat together so each roast holds its shape. I crushed an entire garlic with around 20 cloves. I inserted garlic through the stretchy string to the inside parts of the roast. I rubbed some salt on the roast - not too much because salt is drying. Then I rubbed black pepper as well. I cut some fresh rosemary sprigs and rubbed the meat with rosemary. I scrunched this rosemary and inserted inside the meat. I placed the two roasts on a roasting pan.

I used to have a thermometer, which never worked. I don't have one. So I'm keeping track of time - in around 2 hours, I'll check the meat. I'm going to pull this out when pink.

The string will be cut and discarded. The rosemary sprig will also be discarded; but I have fresh ones to use as decoration around the serving platter. The meat will be cut and served with mint jelly and all the other Thanksgiving trimmings: mashed potatoes, gravy, etc.

The garlic tones down the gamey quality of lamb, and so does the sweet mint jelly. The rosemary also cuts the gaminess and throws off a lovely scent.

Once the meat is removed from the enamel pan, I will use the pan drippings for the gravy. But first, if the drippings are very fatty, I will pour off the excess fat, being careful not to pour away the brown drippings, which is the good stuff. I will place the pan over low heat, pour in Shirah or whatever red wine is around - around a cup? - and then I will mix some Mochiko rice flour in a cup of water, stir until mixed. I will pour this mixture into the drippings with wine, and stir, scrape, until the gravy thickens. If needed I'll add salt and pepper to the gravy.

I didn't do it this time, but one can include with the meat, some potatoes so that the whole thing roasts together - the meat and pan-fried potatoes.

Lamb meat is dark with a rich, heavy flavor which goes well with red wine.

Bon A Petit!

from Chef Cecilia

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

OOO - LA - LA, ANOTHER BIRTHDAY! Some Jokes to Make you Smile

Here's a birthday card that I got that made me laugh:

Here's an excerpt from Louie Nacorda's email that mentions St. Cecilia, my patron saint:
The church is different from where her incorrupt body (all of 1,300 years!)
was found in its "just died" condition. The body was dug out from one of
the tombs inside the catacombs of St. Callistus. It was removed to a more
fitting church inside the walls of old Rome but the spot where she was
found was given a life-size carara marble statue of how she looked when she
was found. A Christian to the end, her fingers were all pointed to form the
roman numeral 3, one index finger one the right and the index and middle
finger on the left. It was said that she died slowly after her throat was
slit. Being noble, the executioner did not have the courage to cut off her
head so she laid down bleeding to death, her face wrapped with a cloth. As
of her last living testimony to the Holy Trinity, she used one finger to
signify the Oneness of God, and the two other fingers to signify the Three
Divine Persons in One God. And she was only 15 years old.

All of a sudden, the St. Cecilia that I find rather pedestrian because I
would see her glorified framed stampa where she is playing the organ and
with a chorus of three angels singing behind her, atop every piano in
middle class houses of my youth. Now, after knowing how she died and how
her incorrupt body was preserved by God, St. Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr,
has become so real, so marvelous and so beautiful to me. You should foster
devotion to her because not only is she your namesake and patroness but she
is also the patroness of sacred art, specially music, and you are an artist
albeit in literature. Art lang gihapon.

My friend, Med Villanueva, sent these:


(On September 17, 1994, Alabama's Heather Whitestone was selected as Miss America 1995.)
Question: If you could live forever, would you and why?
Answer: "I would not live forever, because we should not live forever, because if we were supposed to live forever, then we would live forever, but we cannot live forever, which is why I would not live forever,"
--Miss Alabama in the 1994 Miss USA contest.

"Whenever I watch TV and see those poor starving kids all over the world, I can't help but cry. I mean I'd love to be skinny like that, but not with all those flies and death and stuff."
--Mariah Carey

"Smoking kills. If you're killed, you've lost a very important part of your life,"
-- Brooke Shields, during an interview to become spokesperson for federal anti-smoking campaign .

"I've never had major knee surgery on any other part of my body,"
--Winston Bennett, University of Kentucky basketball forward.

"Outside of the killings, Washington has one of the lowest crime rates in the country,"
--Mayor Marion Barry, Washington, DC. ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

"That lowdown scoundrel deserves to be kicked to death by a jackass, and I'm just the one to do it,"
--A congressional candidate in Texas.

"Half this game is ninety percent mental."
--Philadelphia Phillies manager, Danny Ozark


"It isn't pollution that's harming the environment. It's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it."
--Al Gore, Vice President

"I love California. I practically grew up in Phoenix."
-- Dan Quayle

"We've got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need ?"
--Lee Iacocca

"The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein."

--Joe Theisman, NFL football quarterback & sports analyst.

"We don't necessarily discriminate. We simply exclude certain types of people."
-- Colonel Gerald Wellman, ROTC Instrutor.

"Your food stamps will be stopped effective March 1992 because we received notice that you passed away. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances."
--Department of Social Services, Greenville, South Carolina
"Traditionally, most of Australia's imports come from overseas."
--Keppel Enderbery

"If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there'll be a record."
--Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Thanks to Cebu writer (and dear friend) Chinggay Utzurrum, who sent some news clippings and pictures of my last visit to Cebu in June-July 2007. She writes:

"Greetings from Cebu. Hope this short note finds you in good shape and enjoying Autumn.

We're all fine here - WILA - Women in Literary Arts - (under Erma Cuizon) celebrated an anniversary recently, which I wasn't able to attend unfortunately. It was a blast, kono.

Enclosed are some clippings (one is dated 2003 - sorry about this antique piece) but I know you'll want this for your file.

Also one during your very enjoyable book launching (of A La Carte, Food & Fictin), and a photo.

Keep well and stay in touch.

Regards to Lauren and the boys.



I've known Chinggay De Veyra Utzurrum since St. Theresa's Cebu years. She was and remains lovely, bright, energetic, and social. Once we shared a room in Iloilo City where we went for the Dinagyan Festival. You don't really know a person until you've traveled with them! Ching was the most considerate travelmate one could have. In the room, which we shared, she was very conscious about when to turn lights on and off, so as not to disturb me. She was always considerate about the use of the bathroom, which she left this in impeccable condition. My mother described Ching as "muy educada!" She is indeed a first class lady!

(Photo seated l-r: Cecilia, Susan Evangelista
Standing l-r: Chinggay Utzurrum, Jun Dumdum
Above 2 news articles (Sunstar Cebu)are about the June Book Launching of A La Carte, Food & Fiction in Cebu City, Philippines - some of those in the news photos are: Inday Blanco, Erma Cuizon, Susan Evangelista, Karina Bolasco, Carlos Cortes; the whole page news article shows photos of: Helen Misa, Lucy Franco, Bambi Beltran, Ester Tapia, Gingging and Jun Dumdum; Jason Verallo, Louie Nacorda, Gavin Bagares, Radel Paredes, Dr. Juliet Basa, Haide Acuna, Mae Manacap, Mayette Tabada, Josefa Gorordo Y Revilles, Terry Manguerra, Tanya, Jojo, Chessy, Marty Manguerra, and Patti Aberasturi.)
Bottom news article (The Freeman) is about Dr. Linda Alburo's trip to the U.S.; we had the chance to see each other in California at a book launching)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Monday, November 5, 2007


There was something that happened to us. We went to the same college, and we probably weren't even that close then. After college, we went on with our lives. Some of us stayed in the Philippines; some migrated to the U.S. or to Europe; some got married; some didn't. Some of us had children. Some of us had careers. We took different paths, and for many years, we barely saw one another. And then after not seeing one another for two decades and more (so hard to imagine it was that long ago) we got together and reconnected, got caught up with our lives, and now suddenly, these classmates whom we hadn't seen for ages became symbols of home, of our youth, and a kind of ease developed among us. It was no longer important to show off, to be the most popular, the most beautiful, the smartest, the most accomplished. It was all right to be overweight and all right to have dysfunctional families, and all right to have some neuroses. (Next year marks 40 years since we graduated from Maryknoll College!)

That is how it feels now to be with old high school and college friends. . . at least some of them. . . it feels like "going home" to be with them.

And that was how it felt to go to Arrowhead to be with Maria Ciocon and Med Villanueva, classmates from Maryknoll College (class of 68).

I had with me my lengua, some Didi Riese cookies, an overnight bag, when I drove to Upland to pick up Maria Ciocon. In fact Maria's nickname is Baby. So through the years, she has been Baby C. and I, Baby M. (for Manguerra, my maiden name). Technically, she ought to be called Baby N. (for her maiden name, Navarro), but somehow, we ended up calling her Baby C.

So, Saturday, after delays because of business phone calls, I threw my bag and food into my Mercedes Van and drove for about an hour to Upland where Baby lives. She was waiting for me, with a nice cup of brewed coffee. And then we drove to Arrowhead. We were both wondering if we would see evidence of the recent fires. We didn't, at least not from the highways we took.

Med was waiting for us, and the first thing we did, after greeting one another and dragging our stuff into Med's house, was to start heating the food. It's very Filipino to eat during gatherings. It's like Holy Communion. So, the lengua was in the microwave and the mongo soup was over the cooking range, and a chicken dish was in the oven. Rice was ready. The table was set, and by 12:30, we were eating our comfort food.

(Aside: Twice a month or so, I will go down to Vermont to my favorite turo-turo Filipino restaurant for my laing, dinuguan, binagoongan - Filipino dishes - and I pick up the Asian Journal or Philippine News, and I read about Macapagal pardoning Estrada while I eat my comfort food. The food is totally high in cholesterol, but it's all fun, and psychologically healing - it is like recharging a battery. After such a meal, I can leave Bibingkahan Restaurant and face "America" once again. I can go back to my American life.)

Eating Filipino food with other Filipinos doubles the same experience. My batteries feel doubly-charged. We eat the food we grew up on, and we talk about matters that we could not discuss with our husbands and American friends, and we can even do this in Taglish!

So there the three of us were, talking about the recent fire - Med's house had been spared, but she had to evacuate - and talking about our children and grandchildren, and of course our classmates, these other links to our youth and past.

We ate and talked from 12:30 to 2 p.m. And feeling we had to do something else, we went to town where there was an Oktoberfest going on. We window shopped and watched the Men's drinking contest. We each picked a possible winner and watched them down pints of beer in a few seconds flat. Maria thought the young college-age guys would have a lot of practise drinking beer. I picked an older man with a rotund stomach, thinking age and experience might have an edge. Med picked a younger fellow, who made third-runner up. Maria's and my candidates dropped out in the first round.

After the beer drinking contest, we went to Mass in Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church. We were an hour early, so we said the Rosary and Our Divine Mercy Chaplet, and walked around the neighborhood, and the outdoor Stations of the Cross, and window-shopped in the Church store. Then we heard Mass. The priest talked about the fire and the victims; and a fellow from a volunteer group talked about their providing assistance to fire victims. The priest invited all to the refectory because the Red Cross had brought food.

We returned to Med's place and proceeded to pray the long version of the Healing the Family Tree prayers. It's a very powerful prayer for your ancestors - look it up sometime (I forget the title of the book with the prayers we said, but Kenneth McAll has an excellent book about the subject matter).

After praying, we ate some more. And then we changed into our nightwear and settled down to watch DVDs. Med's machine is apparently temperamental and it refused to read my DVD on Water (by Deepa Mehta), which I wanted to share with them. But it read the BBC's version of Pride and Prejudice, a 4 hour show. I dozed off and on, but Maria and Med stayed awake until around 3:30 a.m.

There were two beds in the guest room but I opted to sleep in the living room with the magnificent cathedral windows. It was chilly, and we welcomed it because this was different. It reminded us we were in another place. Maria kept saying, "Doesn't this remind you of Baguio?" - referring to the cool, mountain place, Baguio, with pine trees, in Luzon, a favorite vacation place.

I was awake by 7 a.m. and through the cathedral windows I watched blue jays hopping on pine trees branches. There were white fluffy clouds and the sky was blue. By 8:30, we congregated around the dining table again for a meal of garlic rice, eggs, bacon, dangit (dried fish), and fruit.

We talked until 1:30 p.m. and then Maria and I packed our things and put them in the car. The plan was to windowshop in antique stores, then we'd bring Med home, and head back home. In Cedar Glen's street mall, I parked the car, and we visited five shops. When we returned to the car, there was a note stuck in the windshield, saying my tire was soft. Indeed a huge bolt was stuck in my left rear tire and my tire was flat. We called triple A, had to wait over an hour, and got a guy named Paul who had a heck of a time figuring out what to do. We stopped by a gas station and had another guy put air into the spare tire and other tires. Then we dropped Med off, and Maria and I drove back down Freeway 10, to 210, and alone to 10 all the way to Santa Monica. The only hitch was I had to keep my car down to 50-60 mph because of my spare doughnut tire.

But I got home safely, and I dare say the three of us were charged once again to deal with Life.

There's talk of another mini-reunion before Christmas.

(Above photo: Seated l-r: Med Villanueva, Chona Preston, Standing: Cecilia and Maria Ciocon;
Middle photo was taken at another Mini-Maryknoll reunion: Seated l-r: Marieda Alba, Maria Ciocon, Standing l-r: Meldy Perez, Med Villanueva, Cecilia Brainard
Bottom photo was taken in New Delhi, India, l-r: Cecilia, Lulah Quiambao, Mila Santillan)

Saturday, November 3, 2007


Last night we stopped by Didi Riese for dessert. Didi Riese is in Westwood Village, near the Bruin Theater. The order lines are long, especially on a Friday night, but it's worth the wait. The cookies are fresh; you see them making them right there. Didi Riese has a variety of cookies (chocolate chip with walnuts; white chocoloate chip with macadamia, etc) but their chocolate chip cookies are famous. And their ice cream sandwich is also famous; it's made up of two cookies of your choice with a thick slab of ice cream in the middle.

Prices: 3 fairly large cookies for a dollar; a huge ice cream sandwich for $1.50; a dozen cookies for $3.75.

Yes - a real bargain, which accounts for the long - very long - order line.

So, what were we doing in Westwood Village last night? Lauren went to the UCLA Basketball game - apparently UCLA won by 50. I saw the movie, Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney. It was good. Described as a legal thriller, the movie deals with a huge fertilizer corporation and a huge legal firm, and some people trying to get justice for the cancer and illnesses caused by the chemicals.

The movie held my attention although I note that some reviewers say the movie was slow. I didn't find it slow; I enjoyed it.