Monday, December 17, 2012

how to make peppermint bark

Cheers to a brilliant, easy, Christmassy gift idea that doubles as a dessert!    I've never tried making (or  eating) peppermint bark before, but I've recently become acquainted with it and I reckon it's a common holiday treat.  I learned this recipe from a girl named Allie, whom I've had the privilege of meeting during my short stay in Vegas.  

You Will Need:

8 oz semisweet chocolate
8 oz white chocolate
Candy canes or peppermint candy

How To Make Peppermint Bark:

STEP 1: Crush the candy canes (or peppermint candy).  Make about 1/3 cup of crushed candy, then set this aside.

Note:  The finer the candy bits are, the less they will stick to the chocolate later on, so you'd want to make the pieces rather coarse, not pulverized.  About the size of rice grains.  We used a kitchen knife today, but I think using a mortar-and-pestle is a smarter option.

STEP 2:  Melt the brown chocolate using a double boiler.  If you don't have a double boiler, improvise with two saucepans:  boil water in one saucepan, and put another pan on top of that one.  Place the chocolate in the top pan.  The steam from the bottom pan will rise to the top pan, melting the chocolate nicely.

It's important to use this double-boiling method so as not to scald the chocolate.  Burnt chocolate = gross = not good.

(Uh ...  I'm really no good at photo-documentation because I get distracted so easi... oh look, a teddy bear!  I'm so sorry I wasn't able to take shots of the other steps. *sheepish grin*  )

STEP 3:  Pour the melted chocolate in a cake pan. Spread with a spatula to make a nice, even first layer.

The size of the pan you use would depend on how thick you want your peppermint bark to be.  We wanted ours to be real thin, so we used a 10x12 pan to make quarter-inch-thick pieces.  A smaller pan of course will yield thicker layers.  A rectangular or square pan is ideal, but I suppose a round one will do if you're not the type of person to obsess over even-sized pieces.

STEP 4:  Stick the pan into the freezer until the chocolate hardens.

STEP 5:  Melt the white chocolate this time.  Pour the molten white chocolate over the hardened brown chocolate layer - and similarly, spread to make it even.  Let cool.

STEP 6:  Before the white chocolate hardens, sprinkle the crushed candy canes over it.  Let this sit in the freezer awhile to let it solidify completely.

STEP 7:  Slice into neat, even-sized 2-inch squares.

Okay, fine.  It isn't so easy to slice them neatly.  Irregular, uneven pieces are an excellent idea too.  You can tell your friends later that this adds character.  :)

6 to 8 regular servings, or
2 candy-lover servings

Prep time:1 hour (it depends on your freezer's capabilities, actually)

Serving Suggestions:

I think peppermint bark is pretty straightforward, but I imagine it would look good with green jellybean garnish and / or those edible sparkly thingies.
Several pieces in a clear candy bag tied with Christmassy ribbons would make nice giveaways.

* All photos in this entry are mine.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

a clever christmas tree idea

Photos mine.

I put together this "tree" for my Ma at her house.  It's a fun holiday craft idea inspired by something we saw on Pinterest. It's a brilliant space-saving idea if you live in a teeny apartment.  It's also something you can do with all your mismatched ornaments.  

The "branches" are actual branches sawed off a dead tree, held up by the powers of push-pins, thread, and a bit of imagination.  Nylon wire or hemp twine would be ideal, but I used beading floss in this one.

As with most of my craft projects, I chose to challenge myself by not buying anything, but using only what I had available.

You don't even need to hang actual Christmas ornaments.  You can use odds and ends you have around the house, then holiday-ify them with red (or gold, or green) ribbons.  If you  look closely, you'd notice I put a key chain in there  :)  I also used a glass pebble, a pine cone I picked up, a gift tag and a plastic something that I found on a cake.

Clever, huh?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

tita haydee's kare-kare recipe

I'm so glad I learned something new yesterday. My wonderful new friend Tita Haydee taught me how to make kare-kare . She's not really my tita.  She's just a few years older than I am, but I call her "tita" because she's a friend of my mom's.

I always thought of kare-kare as an ultra-challenging dish to prepare, but Mrs. H showed me how to do it the easy way.  Since she's quite health conscious too, she gave me a few tips to make it "safer" for human consumption.


Beef, cut into cubes
String beans
One large onion
Garlic, 4 cloves
Achuete powder, 3-4 tbsps or one packet
Reduced fat peanut butter, 2 cups or 1 jar

You'll also need:
At least 2 large cooking pots
Slotted soon


1.  Wash beef and oxtail  thoroughly under running water.

2. Place the beef in a pot, with enough water to cover it completely.  When it comes to a boil, remove from heat, drain and wash off the excess fat.  Repeat once more.

3.  Boil beef again until soft.  This may take 2-4 hours on the stovetop, or 30 minutes in a pressure cooker.

4.  Meanwhile, chop vegetables into bite-sized chunks.  Set aside.

5.  Take pot #2 and boil water.  Dunk vegetables briefly in boiling water to rinse out any impurities.  Set veggies aside and throw away the water.

6.  Boil the eggplant until tender.  Do the same with the kalabasa.  Set aside.

7.  Boil about 2 cups of water.  Stir in 2 cups of reduced fat peanut butter (or one whole jar) until melted.  It has to be reduced  fat peanut butter because  most other kinds tend to produce globs of oil. Pour this into a bowl and set aside.

8.  Sautee onions and garlic in oil in pot #2.  Stir in the achuete.  Pour in the molten peanut butter and stir until smooth.

9.  Check the meat pot now.  When the meat is completely tender, gradually stir in the peanut butter sauce, about a cupful at a time.

10.  Add the vegetables, put heat on low and let simmer for 2 minutes.  No too long because you want the veggies to be crunchy.

Friday, October 19, 2012

sharpie art

Visiting my Mama in in Las Vegas,  NV - been staying in the lovely lovely guest room in her lovely lovely house (This arrangement is more practical and way better than staying at a hotel, me thinks).

I couldn't help but notice that one of the closet doors had a bit of adhesive-and-paper residue surrounded by chipped paint.  Apparently a poster was previously glued on and later peeled off (My kid sister attempted to hide the damage by plastering a Yoda sticker over it but that only made it more obvious, considering that the sticker didn't match the overall aesthetic and that there were no Star Wars fans in that household).  That unsightly scar on the closet door nagged me day and night, egging the obsessive freak in me.  I finally decided to do something about it.

I grabbed the available materials - a bunch of multicolored Sharpies - and with my Ma's permission, drew freehand on the door in an attempt to camouflage the damage.  On the other door were existing letter decals spelling out a love proverb, so I decided to draw something complementary.

Love proverb = heart visual.  A heart is too cliche, I know.  But it works

Yes, Sharpies - a.k.a., felt-tipped pens.  Good thing there happened to be a lot of them lying around; I didn't feel like making a trip to the the nearest art supplies store (which isn't exactly that near) for paints and stuff I'd only be using once.  It pays to be frugal and resourceful.  :p

And voici, the end product.  I'm  not too happy with how some of the parts turned out (I didn't pencil everything in), but I'm generally pleased with it as a whole.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

1 Peter 3:8 (MSG)

Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless—that's your job, to bless. You'll be a blessing and also get a blessing.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

focusing on the good news about the country

One of today's trending topics on Twitter and FB relates to the recent blunder committed by a local Senator whose name I need not mention, concerning his stand against the Reproductive Health bill.  I admit that I myself have contributed vitriol over this embarrassing [EXPLETIVE DELETED], but I'm not going to talk about that here.  On this blog dedicated to positivity, I'd like to forget about that whole fiasco for a moment and focus a bit on current good news about our country.

Before I proceed, lemme just make it clear that I've never been a unicorns-and-rainbows type of person who instinctively looks at the bright side.  I just think that it's better to celebrate the good things (no matter how insignificant) than fixate on the bad.

So anyway.  Here's the latest good news about the Philippines:  The economy is apparently improving, the peso is growing, and we are currently experiencing a period of prosperity.  We've gone from "the sick man of Asia" to "Asias's Bright Spot".   See these articles for the details:

Philippine Economy Grows 5.9% in Q2
Philippine Economy Grows Faster Than Estimated
Why the Philippines is Asia's Bright Spot
Philippine Economy Set To Become Asia's Newest Bright Spot

I'm not about to say "it's all good", but there's something definitely good going on, and we ought to give it more attention.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

bless my book-wormery

Earlier today I thought about how much my books have been a source of joy for me these days.  Then as I checked my Blogger feed tonight, by happy coincidence, I found these lovely artworks in two of the blogs I follow:

Cheers to that! I've been a sort of book-lover since childhood, even though reading often gave me headaches.   Well I still get headaches sometimes, but since after college I've set a goal to read at least 20 titles every year .

I decided to push myself  for 2012 and I hope to exceed 50 books this year (with at least 20 each of fiction and nonfiction).   So far so good.  ^_^ Since discovering the used books store (the one with good titles) last summer, I've faithfully read at least one book every week and am enjoying myself.  

I  just finished ...
a compilation of mysterious phenomenon published in 1982 by Readers' Digest (and not so mysteriously, some of those "unexplained" occurrences are no longer so these days).  

I'm currently reading ...  
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Alende.  The first few pages are delicious.
* I started on The Brothers Karamazov, but I decided to shelve it until I could find a non-compact copy with larger print - I admit, my eyesight is  beginning to deteriorate so I tend to stay away from tightly-laid out pages.

Next in line is ... 
The Life of Pi,
Epicenter, and
Kite Runner.  

How 'bout you? Any reading lists or reading plans you'd like to share? What about a list of recommended titles?  

Speaking of lists and recommendations, I recently came across the the following on the NPR site:

And a final thought: After seeing the above artworks, I thought maybe I should employ my artistic skills in making my blog entries more visual.  Actually, I've been thinking that for more than a year now, and it's about time I actually do it.  It's not a matter of great importance, but I should I should.

Monday, July 16, 2012

home de-cluttering

I am once again at that juncture:  'tis the jolly season for de-cluttering (hooray!).  After watching a few episodes of Biography Channel's Hoarders,  I felt the impulse to clean out my closet, my shelves and most especially that unruly conglomeration of file boxes, doodads and whatzits squatting in our hallway.  I've already cleaned all those up in the past, but clutter tends to reproduce asexually when no one is looking, and you can end up with twice as much junk at the end of the year if you aren't careful to keep everything in their respective bins.

So here I go:

home de-cluttering tips

  1. Take one room at a time, one day at a time.  Depending on your mess, you may take several days, so pace yourself.

    I started with the easiest room - the bedroom.  Then I slowly conquered the hallway.  Then I took a break and made strategies for the living room and dining area.

    Still strategizing.

  2. Set up three huge boxes (or garbage bags).  Label one as "THROW AWAY", another as "RECYCLE", and the other as "DONATE TO CHARITY" or "GARAGE SALE".  You may even want another one marked "GIVE AWAY TO RELATIVE".  Pitch things in accordingly.

  3. If you haven't touched it for more than a year, let it go.
    I gave up any illusions that I will someday fit into that slim pair of jeans.  
    ByeI found a couple of dresses I wore back in college but can't possibly wear now without looking like I'm desperately trying to appear young.   Bye . That pair of shoes that always slices into my heels.   ByeThat cookie canister that has long been empty but is just too cute to throw away and is now eating shelf space. ByeSilly useless kitsch gifts.   Bye .   Bye .   Bye .

  4. If it's gross or useless, throw it away.  Especially if it's a health or fire hazard, forget sentimental value. Don't even think about fixing it up.  If you're having second thoughts about something, think about how you'll keep chancing upon it every time you clean the house, and how you'll always wonder whether to throw it away, so you might as well do it now.

  5. Give stuff away.  I've previously said elsewhere that giving away your stuff is an antidote to selfishness (try it, it really works!).  If there's someone else who could appreciate it more, give it to that person.

    While I was sorting the old clothes in the garage, our driver picked up this sun dress saying how his teenage daughter happens to love that particular style.  I never was able to use that dress since I acquired it, and I gave up trying to fit into it a long time ago, so it's time to pass it on.  Not to the driver, ok - his daughter.

    Old clothes: Take them to your church.  Most churches have ongoing charity collections. But nix on the ball gowns and party stilettos.

    Old books: Donate to a library.

  6. Hold a garage sale.  If you have a lot of stuff you no longer want but are still good, and it would seem too much of a waste to throw/ give them away, sell your second-hand items to your neighbors.

    It depends on your neighborhood, but you generally have to price things incredibly low, or they won't sell.  Unless of course they're genuine antiques or items of special interest.

  7. Employ smart storage solutions for the stuff you do keep Candy-colored plastic storage boxes come in various sizes.  There are also a lot of sleek Ikea-ish shelving aids, and nifty things like pegs, racks and bins. 

... And after several days of going through our stuff, I'm still not done.  But it feels grrrrrreat to have more space in my closet already.  And I'm so proud of the fact that I singlehandedly defeated the evil dragon of debris that has been living in our hallway, using only a broom, some trash bags and storage bins. Now I'm thinking about painting the interior of the house a crisp, fresh white ...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

who slew the minotaur?

Phillip (not his real name) is a charming nine-year old, the nephew of some friends of ours.  The Hubby and I met him at a wake and he kept us entertained for a good number of minutes.  What was so interesting is that he wasn't interested in the usual kiddie chit-chat about favorite colors or best friends or what teacher said at school.  He quizzed us with several questions on ancient civilizations, the answers to all of which he was impressively able to provide when we said we couldn't.  Questions like:

Which two Roman emperors built the Colosseum?
Which emperor burned down Rome?
Who slew the Minotaur?
Who is the Egyptian god of the moon?

If you think about it, trivia like that are easily absorbed by a nine-year old, but he had a British accent that made him sound so erudite, and you can't not fall in love with a kid like that.  =D

For a brief moment I thought about being a jerk and quizzing him about the Second World War and Chemistry, and whatever else I thought he wouldn't be able to answer - but why be so pedantic, right?  Instead I gave him a small bit of trivia to take home:  I taught him the French pronunciation of Tintin (as in, The Adventures of Tintin) and the fact that the movie was based on comics that were originally in French (Les Aventures de Tintin).

I drifted off after The Hubby began asking him about Cricket (the game), and the boy gave detailed answers to every question, which would certainly help The Hubby appreciate the game more when he watches it on Cable.  

As for my take-home from Phillip (not his real name), I have a desire to review old school notes and refresh my wealth of useless trivia.

Friday, June 22, 2012

springy wallpaper

Click for full size. 
Background image mine; photo taken in North Las Vegas, May 2011.
Text from the Bible.

Friday, June 1, 2012

soaking the blues away at the water spa

My sister has been telling me about this water spa in Pasig lately. I gave it a try yesterday and  I went home loving it too.  It's brilliant! Highly recommended.

According to the brochures, it's a European-concept spa that offers what is called hydrotherapy - a massage sans the masseuse.  Your body gets treated instead by pressurized water jets in a pleasantly warm pool.  It's kind of like being in a hot tub, only it's not so hot, and it has jets targeted for specific areas of the body.

Illustration mine.
For representation purposes only.  We aren't really that skinny.

Imagine a huge but shallow swimming pool divided into twenty or so sections.  Each section specializes in massaging a certain body part - shoulders, legs, full back, and so on.  All you have to do is choose a section, sit there (or stand, or squat, or lie down; whichever you prefer), push the ON button and enjoy your massage.  As I've been having upper back and shoulder pains these past several days, I spent more time in the sections that focus on the back.

Besides, you don't really need to have body aches to appreciate a water spa.  You can just go there to wind down or have fun.  It's like going to a swimming pool, only this one massages you.  It's a lot more exciting than I make it seem, trust me.  ^_^   But if you'd rather do laps, the facility has a separate pool just for that as well.

After trying out all the various sections, we lolled in what they called the "Lazy River" - it goes around the main hydrotherapy pool, and it has slight current.  Grab one of the kickboards there and float along.  I managed to lie down on my board (after much struggle) and I had four rounds of a nice, slow drift.

My favorite part though was the hot herbal pools.  There was a separate section with four pools,each filled with hot, scented herbal infusions - mint, jasmine and lavender.  Excellent for relieving muscle and joint pain, insomnia or diabetes, we've been told.   I made sure to dunk myself in all four, alternately with the cold-water pool.  It kinda felt like soaking in tea, but it was sooooo nice.

The place also offers a steam bath and a sauna, for sweating out bodily toxins.  I sat in the sauna for ten minutes, and despite the high humidity that made it a bit hard to breathe, I found it enjoyable.  Though maybe next time, I should bring a book.

Hydrotherapy massage + lazy river + lap pool + hot herbal pools + sauna + steam bath = a whole morning of relaxation, all for a P550 entrance fee.  Not bad, huh?  We're definitely coming back and telling our friends about this place.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

what's so good about being a ghost writer?

Aside from the fact that it brings in a bit of extra pocket money, helps keep my writing skills sharpened, and gives me something productive to do after-hours, there's nothing so great about it really, if you think about it.  Unless I was working on an entire book, which I'm not.  It's unglamorous, incognito and nothing I can boast about; but even if only for the three little benefits I just mentioned, I appreciate and even enjoy ghost-writing.

Okay, wait.  For those of you who aren't quite familiar with the term, it has nothing to do with ghosts, or anything supernatural for that matter.  It simply means writing for someone else, and that Someone Else takes credit for my work.  So the only ghost here really, is me. 

Lately, it's been my preoccupation of choice - researching and writing articles for travel books, tourism magazines, technology blogs, health websites and places in cyberspace to spam.  I don't really mind not being credited, since it's not creative work but just a lot of gathering and organizing data (now, for creative writing like short stories and poetry, that is a whole other story; I will never give up my rights on something I created with creativity).  If I didn't need to do chores, maintain hobbies or make time for ministry, I could make up to fifty US dollars a day - but since I want to have time for all those other things, I don't earn more than ten, but I'm good.  ;)  The reward really is being able to simplify my life, making time for things that matter to me while still being productive.

And oh - another little benefit of writing for other people: I get to learn about stuff I normally wouldn't be interested in.  Like, I just learned a lot about Australia, Diablo III builds and the new Samsung Galaxy.  And that article I recently worked on about "the top 10 regrets people have" made me reflect on my life and contemplate on a major decision.

The other day, I got so tickled when I found a website where several of my articles were put up.  It's a website on air travel called iFly, for which I've written a number of tips for travelers, glossary items and air-travel-for-dummies type material.  I recognized my work immediately (including the typos that were left in!) and wondered whether I should have charged more for them :p but there's some content pleasure in knowing that what I wrote is going to be immensely useful to a lot of people. 

Monday, May 14, 2012

cheerer-upper: new used books

I love good books.  I could be quite a glutton when it comes to reading, but I haven't been able to buy any new books in a while because of budget constraints.  Just some time ago I was ranting to a friend how trips to a bookstore could be quite frustrating since there are a lot of titles I want to buy but don't because great books aren't exactly cheap these days.

So I had a really lovely day when I came across this gem of a used books store.  I found it as I was passing time in the mall while waiting for a movie.  I don't mind buying second-hand books as long as they're in good (or at least, acceptable) condition; it's just that most used books stores I've been to mostly sell crap romance novels and obscure titles by never-heard authors.  But this one had several titles I've been looking for for some time now - and not in cheap pocket-sized versions with tiny print, mind you.  And they cost between P99 and P145, depending on how dog-eared they are.  But really, most of them are in good shape - besides, I don't mind slightly crinkled covers. 

I was so delighted, ended up getting six titles:

There were a couple of others I wanted to buy, but decided not to be too greedy.  Not yet, anyway.  After I've read at least three from this batch, I'd like to go back for a second helping.  Maybe some hardbound titles next time. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Jewelry of the Sky

Extravagant jewels
On perpetual exhibit
In God-made

All photos mine.
Top: Manila Ocean Park, November 30, 2011.
Just outside our home in Taguig, March 2012.
Bottom: Estrellas de Mendoza, Laiya, Batangas, March 17, 2012.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

tarragon love

The tiny patch of tarragon in our herb garden has been flourishing this year (whee!).  It's one of the herbs I am least familiar with, so I spent some time getting acquainted with it. 

Image not mine.  Nicked from this site.

my top three uses for tarragon:

1. For making a nice cup of calming tea

Tarragon tea is said to detoxify and reduce anxiety.  I've found that it's a perfect pre-bedtime drink; if I had a cup or two while watching television at night, I'd have an easier time falling asleep.

Pour a cup of boiling water over a teaspoon of fresh tarragon leaves (or half a tsp if dried, or two if frozen).  Cover and let stand for two minutes. And don't add sugar.  ^_^

It's nice as a cold beverage too:  Let cool, add cold water and ice. Add a drop of vanilla extract or honey if you want it sweeter.

2.  For not-so-plain rice

Drop a sprig or two of tarragon into the rice cooker before the rice boils.  When cooked, remove the leaves, mix and serve. That simple!  In effect, you would be cooking the rice in herbal tea instead of plain water, making the rice absorb the flavor.  Tarragon adds a mild fragrance and sweetness to rice, makes for a good companion to meats (like lechon manok), esp. spicy meats. 

This process can be done with almost any herb actually - mint and chamomile are excellent rice-spicers, me thinks.

3.  For adding a kick to mango shake

To reap the benefits of fresh fruit shake, it should have little or no sugar (not refined sugar at least).  Herbs like mint or pandan have long been used to add sweetness to beverages, but tarragon is a good choice too.

I.m.ho., the flavors of mango and tarragon complement each other. 

Make fruit shake the usual way, but this time, add tarragon instead of sugar.

And another one of my favorite uses for tarragon:

My rabbit Davey loves it.  He gets excited when he gets a whiff of freshly-picked tarragon.  It's a healthy bunny-treat, besides.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

an early summer in bohol

Had an early summer in the lovely, laid-back province of Bohol.

We first of all visited family. 

We stuffed ourselves with food.

What was special about the food during our trip was that it was mostly fresh seafood.  Freshly-caught fish, prawns and squid taste so much better than the store-bought frozen variety.

We also went beach-hopping.

When we think of nice, white sand beaches in the Philippines, we often think of Boracay.  But I was delightfully surprised to learn that there are so many white sand beaches in the island of Panglao.

The sand is pale and fine, like polvoron.

We went to see the historical sites ...

Above: The Sandugo Monument. It commemorates the blood compact made between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legaspi on March 16, 1565, to signify good relations.

Baclayon Church, one of the oldest churches in Asia.  Built in 1727 by the Jesuits, it is quite well-preserved.

... and natural treasures Bohol is known for:

Loboc River.  Enjoyed via a leisurely cruise and lunch on a floating restaurant.

Hinagdanan Cave.

 Tarsiers, one of the world's smallest primates.

And of course, a tour of Bohol wouldn't be complete without seeing the Chocolate Hills.

One of my favorite parts of the trip: Dolphin-watching.

  We were lucky to sight a lot of dolphins skipping.  We were close enough to tell they were huge - they might have been about human size or bigger.


That was fun.  ^_^  Next trip planned for summer 2012:  Laiya, Batangas, next month.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

more buttons

 I was looking through my files today and found these.  Sharing for grabbing.

For easy-instructions and more buttons, see this entry.

flat round

gray round

swirly, blue

swirly, pink

You're welcome! ^_^