Chop chopsuey, my honey!

A very good friend recently sent me a text message asking if I could make Chopsuey. I said 'sure', but then I thought, anybody with a wok and ladle can make chopsuey. It had to be different. She wanted shrimp, water chestnuts, no snow peas, no meat, and lots of quail eggs.
Hmmm. Sounds like a challenge. What could I do to make it a different kind of chopsuey, yet still retain the familiar flavor. What would make a Chinese cook bow to me with praise for creating a variation without coming at me with a cleaver mouthing Mandarin profanities for having perverted such a classic dish.
So here goes. The Chopsuey Recipe. COOKies style. Serves 4
3 tbsp Kikkoman Oyster sauce
1 tbsp Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
2 tsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp dried pepper flakes
2 tsp cornstarch
In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well, then set aside
200g shrimps 45/50
1/2C chicken stock
4tsps minced garlic
1 onion, white, thinly sliced
2pcs red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1pc green bell pepper thinly sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced thinly diagonally
170 g shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
100 g bean sprouts
200g cauliflower
250g cabbage, sliced into squares
125g carrots, sliced thinly
60ml corn oil
30ml Kikkoman Sesame Oil
Over medium high heat, heat oil.
Saute garlic and onion for 3 minutes, do not burn
Toss in the bell peppers and celery
Add the carrots, cauliflower and bean sprouts. Toss it like Yan for 2-3 minutes, then add the shrimps
Add the mushrooms and cabbage. Carefully stir to distribute evenly, then add the Oyster sauce mixture and chicken stock.
Let simmer uncovered for 8-10 minutes, stirring occassionally
Season with salt and pepper.
Add cabbage, then remove from heat. Let cool.
Serve with spritz of sesame oil and garnish with boiled quail eggs and chopped spring onions.



An afternoon at the museum

During the rare time I get a day off, I took my daughter to the Ayala Museum in the Financial District of Makati. Or to put it more frankly, she took me. She has been bugging me for days to see the museum. She says 'the museum' because as far as a 6 year old is concerned, there is only one museum.  And of course she expects to see dinosaurs. Damn you, Ben Stiller.
I tell her it's a date, but not to expect to see a T-Rex lumbering through the hallways. So on a hot Tuesday afternoon, we made our way to the famous Ayala Museum. The last time I enjoyed this museum was way back in grade school. I was fascinated with the dioramas. And I wanted little Maxine to see them.
The entrance to the museum opens up to the museum shop, with a small reception area. Being a hot day, we both welcomed the cool airconditioning with a frosty hot fudge sundae in our hands. This is where our experience starts.
Without batting an eyelash, the receptionist tells us we can not bring the sundaes into the exhibits area. Fine. Understandable. But is that really the first thing you say to a customer when they walk through the door? The same customer who pays for your salary through Museum Ticket Sales? I brushed it off as maybe she is feeling the summer heat, too. After inquiring what the rates are, which were lower than what I expected, we then proceeded to the museum. We haven't walked more than 6 feet from the reception then one security guard says we can not bring in out water bottle. By then we have finished the sundaes. What is wrong with the water bottle, I say. With firm conviction, he just said not allowed. So Maxine took a swig, then I took a swig, then tucked the forbidden water bottle into the bag. A few steps later, we came upon the steps that leads to the exhibits. It had a window with a great view of Makati, so I thought it would be a great photo op with the Ayala Museum signage in the background. So I whipped out my camera phone and took shots of Maxine to capture the moment. A second guard comes out and asks me to put away the camera. We were not even in the exhibits area, and now this 2nd schmuck tells me I have to put it away. By this time I was irritated. What was supposed to be a pleasurable experience at Manila's premier museum is starting to turn sour. I took the pictures anyway, then grumbled invectives at guard.
So Maxine pulls me to the exhibition area with paintings and sculptures. She actually was interested in each painting, and having recently acquired the valuable skill of reading, is equally absorbed in the title and description. She even tried to decipher the abstract sculptures, and was engrossed with the various chicken sculptures on display.
Unfortunately the Gold Exhibition was closed that day, so we moved on the diaroma section. She was drawn to the scaled Galleons on display. It is amazing how we can create these things 1/20th the actual size. She pointed at the different riggings, sails and miniature decks. With my basic knowledge in sailing, she was able to appreciate the functions of each, at least in theory.
On to the Dioramas. Started out with the depiction of the Filipino cavemen. It then progressed to innovations and the arrival of different cultures. Each diorama by itself is pretty much detailed, giving you an idea of what is happening. But I noticed something amiss. The Dioramas had titles, and the obligatory famous quotes. But no description. Why are the figures fighting? Why is the fighting in Limahong so important? Why is the assassination of General Luna so important?
And upon closer inspection, each diorama window pane had an earphone icon. Did that mean there was audio accompaniment with each diorama? Could we be getting audio lectures explaining each diorama? So I turned and approached the security guard who has been shadowing us since the sculpture section. As we were the only customers that day, I guess they had nothing else better to do, or they thought a middle aged man and his 6 year old daughter would be potential vandals. In any case, I asked what those icons were. He casually said that audio headsets were available for use, with a price of PhP100 per headset. ??? Rent a head set???
We went through the dioramas, taking in each beautifully detailed scene. I tried my best to explain to Maxine what was happening. Since my Philippine History was rusty, there were of course a few gaps I could not explain. We ended up at the only audio visual section which features the move to people power. Two separate rooms. Two different audio visual presentations. Both very loud, each room drowning out the other. Maxine actually creeped out in those rooms. So we ended the tour.
We went to the exit. before leaving, I inquired about the headsets. Reception didn't know the details, so they had to get somebody on the phone. While waiting, I wondered why reception didn't know about the head sets. They had the pamphlet about it, but they did not know the price nor what is in the audio content. A whole 2 minutes later, some character by the name of Justin came on the line. But he didn't know why he needed to talk to me. 'Yes?' he says. I go 'So they didn't tell you about my inquiry about the headsets?'. And he said 'No'. Hmmm. I ask why is the headset considered a rental and separate from the admission price. His justification is that it is a peripheral. Period. Care to expound on that? It's just a peripheral. Why can't it be included in the admission price, since it is part of the exhibit. Because it is a separate peripheral. Obtuse isn't he? Quite articulate. Turns out he is one of the Tour Operators in the museum, or something like that. I ask reception where is this guy. They said he was downstairs. I tell Justin I understand how the admission price would cover the museums overheads. But the headset rental rate? What does that cover? Batteries? Justin then tells me production costs for the audio tape. Huh? So I threw in a little bit of logic for this Justin. How many customers does the museum enjoy patronage on average each day? So he sucked it up, and I imagine stood up like a rooster, and proudly said 80-100. So I calculated and told him at PHP100 per head set, that would be an income of PhP8000 from the headset rental alone. Museum is open an average of 320 days a year, so that comes out to roughly PhP2.5M every year. Even if only 10% of the patronage decide to use the headsets, that is still quarter of a million in revenue. That is how high the production costs are for the headset? All he could say was that I could bring this up to upper management. I had two issues with that response: One is that why bring up upper management since he is the official tour guide for the museum; second is that why is he speaking to me over the phone instead of personally attending to my request face-to-face? He was just downstairs. Could he not be bothered to come up and properly inform me, in person as courtesy dictates,  on the benefits and features of the 'peripheral'? So then I ask Justin if one were opt out of the headset, and the dioramas not having any descriptive copy, how are people supposed to know the details? And you know what this tour guide said? He assumes that most people know Philippine history. So what does the tour guide do all day? Ack! I gave up and left. My daughter missed out on a great experience with Philippine history.
The Ayala Museum has always been a landmark when it comes to the Philippine arts and culture. I have fond memories when I was a kid. I tried to pass it on to Maxine, but the individuals working at the museum that day were not the most enjoyable, much less informative. They did not tell me anything special. Reception I expect would let me know what they have on display, suggest what may be of interest, even just mention the headset. I would have gladly paid for it on the onset. No problem.
I guess the 'upper management' are complacent enough to allow these lazy people to rely on the assumption that 'most people know about Philippine history' and that customers are left to their own devices when it comes to exploring the museum. And the constant shadowing of security guards make the experience more creepy. I wanted to take my time. Precious time with my daughter. But here guards made me feel to want to hurry through the museum.
Sigh. The National Meuseum treated me better. At least that is what I remember, last time I was there. Years ago. But it is going to be a while and for good reason for me to bring Maxine back to the Ayala Museum.


The Cooking Playlist

I love listening to music when banging around with pots and pans. I achieve a kind of zen, a kind of rhythm when putting together ingredients. Every beat, every tone contributes to the cooking, which translates my mood.
Classical music? French cooking with a lot of butter will grace my pans. Rap music will force me to do short cuts. Dance music will make me miss the timer. Preparing for a romantic dinner? For sure Barry White will be crooning from the speakers.
They say music heals the soul. You can rise up from the ashes with upbeat tunes, or you can wallow in misery with depressing sounds. Get inspired. Get with it.
Before I pick up my knife, I pop on my Media player with a few playlists, depending on my mood. There is a set of 'Jazzy Upbeat'; Pick me ups in 'Good Morning'; When I am feeling surly, 'Moody' gets top billing; After a hard day's work, I kickback with a glass of wine and listen to the 'Chillout' playlist. But my favorite is 'Feel Good', because this is what gets me going. This is what brings out the magic, the inspiration. The songs in the playlist have been collected over the years through various avenues. CDs collected. MP3s exchanged, downloaded, ripped and copied. I have listed these songs in no particular order, since they are set on shuffle.
Day dreaming - Massive Attack
The Secret of Life - Faith Hill
You Learn - Alanis Morisette
Spice up your life - The Spice Girls
Freedom - George Michael
Candy - Mandy Moore
Secret - Orchestral Manoevers in the Dark
Cantaloop - US3
History Repeating - Shirley Bassey with Propellerheads
Hey Eugene - Pink Martini
Numb - U2
Big Time Sensuality - Bjork
Human Behaviour - Bjork
Bust a Move - Young MC
Roam - The B52s
Fooled by a smile - Swing Out Sister
Wink and a smile - Harry Connick Jr.
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Deep Blue Something
Who Knew - Pink
Missing - Everything But the Girl
Church of the poison mind - Culture Club
Thank you - Dido
Moving on up - M People
Push it - Garbage
Serenata Rap - Jovanotti
Never gonna give you up - Lisa Stansfield
Grits Aint Groceries - The Commitments
Dyslexic Heart - Paul Westerberg
There is something about you - Level 42
Ainsi Soit Elle - Cristophe Miossec
How Gee - Black Machine
Are you going my way - Lenny Kravitz
I know it's eclectic. but it is a rhythm that works for me. What is on your playlist?