Friday, May 29, 2009

An ode to chefs and all those who work with their hands

To be of use
Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

7th Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Contest now open

From the NCCA's Micky Makabenta:

The topic this year is biskwit: traditional cookies that have been part of Philippine cuisine, nationally or locally, for at least 50 years.

There are many types including pan de san nicolas, kamachile, uraro, roscas, biscocho principe among many others. Modern products like today's chocolate chip cookies are not included.

English-language essays from 4,500 to 5,00 characters (800 words) will be judged by professional writers for content (50%), research (30%), style (20%). The judges' decision is final, and submissions become the property of Manila Ladies Branch of the International Wine & Food Society who manage the contest. Entries should be 2 pages, double-spaced on short bond paper. Submit 1 printed and 1 digital copy of the essay. For the digital copy use Word (doc.) or rich text file (rtf) on a CD. Deadline for submissions is Aug 31/09, 5pm.

A contestant is allowed up to 2 entries, each with a different pen name as byline. Only post by special delivery or hand-deliver submissions. Each essay should be accompanied by an envelope inside which is the author's name, pen name, addresses/landlines (residential, business, school whichever are applicable; for the latter specify grade level, course), email address, cellphone and FAX numbers.

Prizes include gift certificates from bookstores, publishing houses and restaurants; magazine subscriptions; publication of winning entries in newspapers and magazines; and invitation to the awarding ceremony.

The contest is a tribute to the country's one time dean of Philippine food columnists, a major national and international catalyst for interest in Philippine cuisine, and founding Vice President of the contest's manager: The Manila Ladies Branch of the International Wine & Food Society.

Submit to:
IWFS Manila Ladies Branch Awards Committee
PRISM, 5th floor, PDAF Bldg.,
Senator Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City 1200

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Another book I'm eyeing for my library:

Food quote of the week

There is no sincerer love than the love of food.
-George Bernard Shaw

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Cook goes on bookstore rampage; takes one hostage

Twelve tomes were killed and nine injured when a wild-haired female cook went berserk at five book shops in the Philippines-based SM Mall of Asia, vandalizing the stores and going on a skewering rampage.

Eyewitnesses said the unidentified crazed cook began her rampage at National Bookstore, disarranging hardcover tomes in the cooking section.

A source who declined to be identified said the woman, who was sweating profusely, could be heard mumbling, “Susur, where are you? I've been looking all over for you,” and appeared to be intently searching for something.

Authorities believe the woman was looking for the book Susur: A Culinary Life, a two-volume work chronicling the career of Hong Kong-born chef Susur Lee which also contains instructions on recreating 57 of his signature dishes.

Failing to find the title, the woman, who was allegedly suffering from mental instability, scurried out of National Bookstore and entered Books For Less, where she lectured the sales assistants for “failing to display the cookbooks prominently enough.” The staff were too stunned to stop her when she left the shop after pouring hot vegetable oil on the cashier's terminal.

Similar scenes of mayhem occurred at Fully Booked, where the deranged woman torched an entire display of Rachael Ray titles. One sales assistant who witnesses said was a little slow on the uptake – the woman was heard spelling out the title of the book to him – was stabbed in the eye with a steel skewer.

Police said the woman, by now in the middle of a complete psychotic breakdown, then barged into Powerbooks. Renovations to the facility – the food books were now at the back – somewhat slowed her down. Actually seeing the title she seemed to have long been coveting appeared to undermine her already fragile mental state.

Witnesses said the woman began trembling and making loud unintelligible noises. She then sprinted over to customer service, where she was heard ranting about the “damaged spine” of the book.

The customer service officer called for assistance on his walkie-talkie to ascertain if there was a more pristine copy of Susur: A Culinary Life in stock. The “damaged” copy was in fact the last one left not only in the MoA branch, but in the entire country, the man at the counter apologetically mumbled while offering her a 30 percent discount.

Thirty percent?” the crazed cook was heard shrieking. “Do you even know who this kitchen god is? He has a soft spot in his heart for our very own kalamansi!” She then grabbed the man by the collar and held a rusty cleaver to his neck to make her point.

Police who belatedly arrived at the scene surrounded the establishment and evacuated the premises. After a five-hour stand-off during which police refused the woman's demand to be served foie gras terrine with black olive dust and cocoa nibs cooked by Susur Lee himself, snipers opened fire on and instantly killed the hostage-taker. Susur: A Culinary Life was mangled in the firefight.

Photo from sunday driver's photostream on Flickr

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The wizened chef

I worry about being too old - I turn the big three-o this year - to successfully change careers. People like to say it's just a number and I desperately want to believe in that fantasy, but I know I will be confronted by the physical, plenty-of-heavy-lifting aspect of my new career, as well as its ugly, ageist face: older chefs are much less appealing to employers because they are seen to take fewer culinary risks (and offer less adventure and surprises to diners).

I wish I'd heard the kitchen's call as early as 13-year-old Greg Grossman.

New addiction: Butter Cream Crackers

It's thin, crispy and, well, buttery. Sorry, I ate it all up before remembering to take a picture.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Food quote of the week

When you become a good cook, you become a good craftsman, first. You repeat and repeat and repeat until your hands know how to move without thinking about it.
-Jacques Pepin, French chef and teacher

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gardening hype

If you had told me one year ago that I would get all worked up over a pail of decomposing organic matter, I would probably have let one of my insulting cackles loose at you. And yet, here I am, all excited over my purchase of a fruit/vegetable drainer, a small garbage bin and a budget pack of trowel, transplanter and gardening fork.

The drainer and the bin will be reworked into an improvised composting bin, while the gardening tools... go figure.

My roommate A and I went window-shopping at a hardware yesterday, where we peered gleefully at all the pretty little pots, planters and gardening implements displayed on the shelves. Now I don't know what that means if one gets all flushed at the sight of shovels and pruning shears – whether that means one has gone forward or backward on the evolutionary scale. A and I don't care anyway.

The thing is, we can't wait to start gardening. She wants to raise some ornamentals while I look forward to growing my own vegetables. I will start with lettuce, which I am told is a “no-brainer” crop, then attempt some tomatoes. A has had a decent gardening track record, while with this black thumb of mine which has killed several houseplants, cacti and nearly devastated an aloe, I have not really grown anything yet, not even leaf mold or nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Growing my own veggies would cut down on food costs, plus I get the benefit of eating organic and freshly picked produce.

Halayang ube at Salcedo market

The most beautiful piece of halayang ube (also spelled haleya), or purple yam jam I've ever seen is sold at the Salcedo Market on Saturdays. This one is encrusted with nutty brown linga (toasted coconut meat) and glossy strips of macapuno (young coconut). Linga is traditionally sprinkled as a topping on rice cakes (kakanin) and other kakanin-like desserts but this is the first time I've seen one with macapuno, which somehow makes it seem more decadent. This giant slab of decadence is completely affordable at only P50.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Food quote of the week

Nothing would be more tiresome than eating and drinking if God had not made them a pleasure as well as a necessity.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Palayok by Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez

The exquisitely written and illustrated Palayok: Philippine Food Through Time, On Site, In The Pot by Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez is the first of hopefully many acquisitions for my food books collection.

A collage of some of the contents of the book:

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kitchen fashion

The New York Times's T Magazine reports on chic chef jackets for women that are a departure from the standard-issue whites (and blacks) more commonly worn today.
I like chef jackets and don't mind wearing them but please, somebody do something about the clunky footwear! If some genius can invent something like the Anti-Griddle, them I'm sure someone can fashion more attractive-looking clogs.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Postscript to "Manila meets Ming"

In my previous post I mentioned that Global Culinary and Hospitality Academy is one of the six schools competing in Manila meets Ming. Whaddyaknow, GCHA made it to the finals, even squaring off with Center for Culinary Arts, a more well-established school. I'm still using my Google stalking skills at the moment to find out which school won.