What’s in your backpack?

30 03 2010

My brother who gave me this insists that it's not a freebie from a scent or jeans purchase. Hahaha!

SEATED IN the darkness of the movie theater, I waited for the paradigm shift to hit me hard like the settling of tectonic plates, the very moment Ryan Bingham asked, “What’s in your backpack?” – his metaphor for the burdens that we carry and allow to drag ourselves down with every single day.  He abhors relationships the most.

Obviously, it never came.  Either that, or it came in one ear and out the other.  But its residual sense remained lodged in my subconscious – the literal take on the question.  So that, I attempt to answer.

I’ve been shuffling my things between two everyday bags – a white-with-blue-piping D&GJ&ANS DOLCE&GABBANA” backpack and a royal blue adidas® “UEFA EURO 2008 Austria-Switzerland” polyester bag emblazoned with the colors of the Italian flag.

When I took stock of what I keep in store in my backpack – okay, bag – I found the following this morning:  my current notebook (an MIT Cardinal Notes from Mikko), another notebook (my Starbucks Coffee Company® 16-month Date Planner and Journal from last year… for sentimental reasons), my autographed The Dark Knight notebook…

…two Pilot BP-S Fine ballpoint pens (one blue, one red, never black), a Fino Leatherware leather pencil case from my brother (for just two ballpens!), three sets of keys (they’re heavy!), two low-end cellphones (text and call’s all I need!), a black Hair Doctor® comb with the handle broken off…

…an eight-year-old FOSSIL® leather card holder from the Folsom Outlets (in perfect condition!) for mileage cards and a photo (a grad pic), a vintage Dunhill leather billfold for holding receipts and more receipts, a 100-mL bottle of Black – Kenneth Cole eau de toilette, a digital camera (my Canon Digital Ixus 960IS), a 50g(25 x 2g) box of Lipton® Yellow Label Tea (with only two bags left), an open foil pack of Strepsils® Orange with Vitamin C sore throat lozenges, a Ziploc of toiletries…

…the cut-off inside pocket of a Polo Jeans Co. Ralph Lauren messenger bag which I now use as a coin purse, two red string bracelets from Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai, a red string bracelet from Korea, a yellow string knot bracelet I made, Nike baller IDs (one yellow, one blue), a change of wristwatches (some people change outfits to go from day to night…  I change wristwatches…  and sometimes I stack them up!), and the receipts from two unforgettable wristwatch purchases in the past couple of years.

No wonder my shoulder hurts!

That's the adidas bag in the background.


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Blame it on the jager

29 03 2010

FOR THE foodie-wannabe that I am, I got embarrased that I didn’t really get what Harryboy meant when he said, “taking shots of jager.

"taking shots of jager"... photo courtesy of Harryboy from thousands of miles away.

After getting an education on it from him, I saved face by telling him that it would be his perfect excuse should he doze off in the middle of our chat.  I told him that I’d blame it on the Jägermeister.  But if there’s anything about Harryboy, it’s his manners.  So he still asked to be excused when it was about midnight my time.  And he’s at a place an hour ahead!

Being able to talk with my closest of friends is foremost in my list of things to thank technology for.  And these past few nights, I’ve found myself texting with Superman at the same time I was chatting with Harryboy and Batman.

Part of the talk would be about meeting up and catching up in person.  But all of them have been busy with so many things.  Superman has thrust full-speed ahead with his entrepreneurial endeavor.  Harryboy is designing oil rigs overseas.  And Batman is literally burning the midnight oil working on his masters.  I just always tell them that I couldn’t be any prouder of each of them.  I really am.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

He made me do a double take at my backpack

29 03 2010

Up in the air... at 30,000 feet, a snapshot of the Singapore Airlines plane I was on on a flight from Malaysia to Singapore.

THAT, AND text my superhero friends – Superman, Batman, and Cezter (yes!) – about everything he said and did that resonated with me.  I’ve worked with someone (almost) like him twice in the past.  And I have to tell you, it was never easy.  His job is and will never be easy.

But Ryan Bingham, played with a smug glow of self-gratification by the George Clooney, does manage to make it look all too easy.  In Jason Reitman’s Academy Award-nominated picture “Up In The Air,” Ryan is a corporate hatchet man – oops, a career transition counselor, to be politically correct about it – who flies all over America, firing people.  Yes, he makes his living by ridding other people of theirs.  But oh, saying “firing” could get him into trouble.  It should be “letting go of people.”  He faces these people and icily sticks the knife into their hearts, declaring their jobs to have either become “redundant” or “no longer available.”  And that they are being let go.

I say “icily” because no matter what these people’s reactions are, nothing is going to ruffle Ryan Bingham’s composure.  So, unruffled as he is, he unleashes his signature line: “Anybody who ever built an empire, or changed the world, sat where you are now.  And it’s because they sat there that they were able to do it.”  Quite cheesy to hear for someone who just realizes someone has moved his or her cheese!  And yet, Ryan Bingham chooses to finish off each “letting go” – okay, “firing” – with this line as he whips out a folder that summarizes the severance package, as well as the career transition assistance he offers.

Once he has freed up more swivel chairs and more desks, he’s back pulling his standard, nondescript carry-on luggage, through yet another airport check-in counter.  He breezes through X-Ray and body scanning not only because he packs light (just the way I do it too!) but because he has reduced traveling to a science and an art down pat (he knows very well to line up behind Asians!).

I sat in the movie theater – by my lonesome – feeling that Ryan Bingham has reduced his own life to an endless series of business trips.  He keeps racking up millions of miles (“I have a number in mind and I just haven’t hit it yet.”) and doesn’t look afraid that it may be all he has to show for.  His rationale in spending even his per diem – like the $40 he gets for each dinner – is only towards its conversion to more miles.  He sheds any form of attachment, a philosophy he hawks to packed hotel ballrooms in speaking engagements called, “What’s In Your Backpack?”  He says that “your relationships are the heaviest components of your life” and I believe him.  After all, he couldn’t even establish a relationship with his one-bedroom, enough to look forward to coming back to it from 30,000 feet up in the air.

While documentary-like snippets of the fired employees almost thrust the issues of a downsized America to my face, I couldn’t help but wonder that “Up In The Air” could very well be more a metaphor on Ryan Bingham’s life.  Everything was, as the title says, up in the air.  And while delayed realization on family, relationships and purpose in life comes to our protagonist – courtesy of a fling with fellow frequent flier Alex and showing the ropes of the business to corporate newbie Natalie (Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, respectively) – it does feel late in the game.

I felt so sorry for Ryan Bingham that when he finally got the ten million miles he has been dreaming of, he doesn’t have the carefree spirit to stare at the big airport airline destinations board, pick a city, and just go.

I didn't know I was channeling Ryan Bingham when I stood in front of the Glorietta 4 cinema schedule board initially undecided on which movie to watch. I decided on "Up In The Air," arguably one of the best pictures I have ever seen!


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

The best does come in that familiar blue box

28 03 2010

THE CORNER section at the Intel Corporation café in Folsom, California – the one right between the omelet maker (where everyday I’d get my usual mushroom and provolone omelet) and the Chef’s exhibition – meant comfort to me.  For a year-and-a-half, it dished out a menu that was a collection of things that I would just love to eat.  Those that I just found so comforting and homey.  Like the macaroni & cheese dinner I never failed to get on the day of the week it was available.  It always came with a Southern style fried chicken quarter that was so huge it almost always felt to be half.

So before my relocation came to an end, I resolved to perfect making macaroni & cheese myself.  That was when I discovered Martha Stewart’s macaroni & cheese 101 recipe.  Hers could very well be the exact same recipe the Intel café chef followed for their versions were almost identical – made with the perfect bechamel, smothered with the combination of light cheddar and gruyere cheeses (accounting for their pale yellowish color), spiked with very little cayenne, laced with a light dusting of freshly grated nutmeg, and finished off with a golden brown, crusty, crumbly top of bread cubes and more cheese.  I need a bib right now because I’m already drooling.

But whenever time is of the essence, that’s when I would turn to my foolproof second option – Kraft EasyMac (big box, please!) in the familiar blue box.  Locally, I used to get it only from the Makati Supermart branch at Alabang Town Center.  It was always on the shelves on top of the frozen food section (weird shelving theory!).  Unfortunately, lately, they seem to have stopped carrying it.  That’s when the quest for my next macaroni & cheese dinner fix – from a box – came to be.

Macaroni & Cheese dinners from the pack – San Remo and Springfield.

My brother presented me with two options.  The first was “delicious & creamy” San Remo La Pasta Macaroni & Cheese, available in a 120-gram pouch good for 4 side servings – or, one dinner serving for me!  The other was Springfield Macaroni & Cheese Original Style Dinner, available in a 206-gram blue box good for 6 side servings – or, you guessed it right, one dinner serving for me!  I’ve made both already, following the stovetop cooking directions and not the microwave version.  The San Remo needed milk, water and butter to be brought to a boil, before the macaroni, already with the cheese sauce powder mixed into it, was added.  Simmering to doneness took 10 minutes.  The Springfiled was more traditional in the sense that I had to cook the macaroni separately for seven to 10 minutes.  I drained it and brought it back to the pot, at which point I added milk, butter, and the cheese sauce mix.

The verdict?  The best does come in “that familiar blue box.”

A macaroni & cheese dinner pack calls for the addition of milk and butter.


Stovetop cooking directions are very simple.


With San Remo, the cheese sauce powder is already mixed with the macaroni.


You can see that I was very subjective with the "one teaspoon" of butter that the San Remo recipe called for. Hahaha! Everything's just better with butter.


Water, milk and butter put together in a heavy bottom pot.


The butter has already melted, with the mixture on the verge of boiling.


The mixture is boiling and ready for the macaroni to be added to.


The mixture is now boiling. Package directions dictated to simmer this for 10 minutes until the macaroni becomes tender.


The San Remo macaroni & cheese is done! The yellow color is very intense and the sauce has thickened.


A small serving of the macaroni & cheese! I used an Oneida Silversmiths soup spoon for this. It was very delicious, though some lumps formed inside some of the macaroni. This was because some of the cheese sauce powder mix had been trapped in the hollow of the macaroni.


The Springfield Macaroni & Cheese is next! As you can see, the box has the macaroni and cheese sauce mix separate. And the macaroni is in the shape I like!


The macaroni is cooked separately, for seven to 10 minutes. I timed it for 10, because I want the macaroni to be really tender.


I put the macaroni back in to the pot and add in the butter, milk and the cheese sauce mix.


The Springfield Macaroni & Cheese Original Style Dinner is done! As the cheese sauce mix was separate from the macaroni, no lumps formed. The color is also a more appetizing yellow. And the taste was superb. I loved it! It's now on my shopping list.


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Now that’s a nice rack

23 03 2010

"Let's volt in!"... One of my fave magazine racks. Two pieces snap together to form this "architectural," "clean" magazine rack.

I HAVE a thing for magazine racks.  There was a time I kept snapping up everything in sight that I liked.  And oh, there was that time I asked Sister for one that I particularly fancied at Bed, Bath & Beyond.  She must’ve loved me because I eventually got it for my birthday.

One of the boxes I haven’t opened in years yielded one of my favorite magazine racks.  It’s about time I used it after more than six years.  It’s waited long enough.

A package so dusty from six years of storage. The writing says "Vincent / 2 Blk Wd pcs / 5 LBS." This was part of a shipment.


The first of two pieces


The second of two pieces


Volted in!... Now, all it needed was serious cleaning.


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

Make mine Vietnamese

23 03 2010

A bowl of "instant" Vietnamese noodles so good I didn't think it came out of a foil pack!

TEARING YEARS-old issues of Entertainment Weekly, Esquire, Vanity Fair, and GQ proved to be cathartic.  But not without first ensuring that I saved all features and spreads on wristwatches.  That was what ate up most of my weekend.  I need to make up space for future junk.

While the exercise turned out to be emotionally purging, it did literally eat up most of my weekend.  I lost track of time that my brother had to bring me food to my room.  Since he knew very well that I wasn’t crazy about last Sunday’s lunch fare, he thought better by cooking me my first ever “instant” Vietnamese rice noodles.

The brand and the variant totally escapes me (and there isn’t any trace evidence left in this morning’s trash).  But I have to say that this has got to be the best Vietnamese rice noodles – pho – I’ve ever had outside of Pho Hoa or Pho Bac.

The broth was flavorful without tasting that it came from the minute-wonder that is a seasoning packet torn open atop boiling water.  The flecks of herbs served more than a decorative purpose as they imparted a bouquet of fragrance that can only come from fresh coriander and sweet basil.  But the best parts were the rice noodles themselves that were cooked to the point of “al dente” with a good give to every bite, and the fresh vegetables that my brother threw into the pot.  There were the usual green leeks and the “unusual” spinach bought from the supermarket.  I call it unusual because they weren’t anything like American spinach or the Filipino version that is available in the neighborhood wet market.  This one had really thick, succulent leaves that for a second I thought they came from some arid region.  They were a delight for the senses – both for the taste and texture.

This bowl of Vietnamese rice noodles was so good it almost felt sacrilegious not to slurp.  Almost.

The succulent, cactus-like spinach that founds its way to my bowl of noodles.


A tight shot of the noodles and the spinach!


Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.

No hotdogs in mine please

21 03 2010

I AM very exacting when it comes to what goes into my chicken macaroni soup, “chicken sopas” in the vernacular.

A batch of my favorite "chicken sopas"

As a kid growing up, this was one of the first dishes I have ever perfected.  In school, whenever this was on the recess menu, I would always have seconds.  And in one instance, the seconds ended up poured all over the school bully’s head – but not piping hot, of course!  I wasn’t that bad.  So you can see that without question, “chicken sopas” brings back fond memories.  There is truth after all to the claim that chicken soup – in its various iterations – is food for the soul.

“Chicken sopas” also happens to be one of the fail-safe dishes I whomp up whenever I make a huge batch of my chicken broth.  It’s the third in the trinity formed together with my “tinola” and “mami” – both of which I’ve talked about in length here.

To make my “chicken sopas,” I start with my homemade chicken broth.  I make it with what the supermarkets call “soup pack,” the bony tissue parts left when the thighs, wings, and breasts have been cut off.  But for when I’m making “sopas,” I also include in the pot lots of chicken breasts whose meat I later shred and set aside.  Another component that requires separate prep work is the macaroni which I cook to package directions.  I only use the large tube macaroni – never elbow!  It’s just one of my isms.

In a pot that is deeper than it is wider, I sauté lots of finely minced garlic in a little vegetable oil over very low fire – as low as the stove can go.  Through the years, I’ve found that sautéing should take its own sweet time and not be rushed.  I allow the garlic to sweat in the oil and not brown at all.  It shouldn’t take on any color.  Once it has softened, I add finely chopped white onions.  I also allow the onions to sweat and become really translucent and sweet – still without browning anything!  Once the garlic and onions start to really break down, I put the shredded chicken in the pot and mix everything well.  I season the mixture with a tablespoon of fish sauce and add about a cup of the homemade chicken broth.  I put the lid on and let the chicken simmer in the root aromatics for about five minutes.

After the chicken, garlic and onion flavors have married thru the slow simmer, I pour in the rest of the chicken broth.  I just eyeball everything.  I’ve never measured when it comes to my “chicken sopas.”  I turn the fire way up to bring the pot to a raging boil.  Once it does, I pour in the macaroni and wait for the mixture to come back to boil.  At that point, I give the dish a taste to see if I need to adjust the seasoning.  Once its perfect to my taste, I turn the fire off and add in a large can of evaporated milk.  After mixing the soup to ensure that the milk has been completely incorporated, it is optional to bring it back to a boil.  I ladle this on to my favorite bowl and enjoy it.  Best with a couple of cracks of the pepper mill.

The only other thing that I will allow to riddle my lovely “chicken sopas” is diced carrots – either the ones from the homemade chicken broth pot, or fresh.  And I add it to the sauté before I put in the shredded chicken.  Just carrots.  Not ground pork.  Not shredded cabbage.  And definitely, never hotdogs, please.

A look at my sauté of garlic, onions, carrots, and shredded chicken. Yes, this batch was a different one from above. This one had diced carrots.

If you look closely, you shall see that as I have said, I don't allow any of the garlic or the onions to brown during the sautéing. Not only does this impart color to the soup, it can also make it taste a bit burnt (or worse, bitter). My "sopas" takes all the sweet time it needs.

Copyright © 2010 by eNTeNG  c”,)™©’s  MunchTime™©.  All rights reserved.