Christmas Eve at Self’s Humble Abode

At 3:30 PM, self was hot-footing it to downtown RWC to catch Atonement. She made up her mind at the last minute, so she didn’t even have time to clear the sink from this morning’s dirty dishes. Just as she was rounding the corner from Middlefield, she saw Beard Papa! And she remembered that she’d been telling son about this wonderful confection for ages and ages! But he always refuses to go with her to the store, so self remembered her Dear Departed Dad’s favorite saying: If the mountain will not go to Mohammed, Mohammed will go to the mountain. Or something to that effect.

So self stepped smartly inside and asked what time they closed today. And they said they would be closing in five minutes. And so self decided to stay and have them fill an order for two cream puffs and one chocolate eclair (Filling of the day: caramel), even though this would probably mean she’d miss the first 10 minutes of Atonement. And then, clutching her little goody bag, self ran to the movie theatre, and — surprise! — she ran in and they were still showing previews. So self saw the preview of a creepy movie about an orphanage, with a female star who looked a lot like Embeth Davidtz.

Then, the movie started, and self got all swoon-y over James McAvoy. And she loved the movie! Just loved it! And thought all those snarky movie critics who called the movie “fitfully appealing” and couldn’t understand the symbolism of the war scenes were nuts! Just nuts!

And then self arrived home just in time to catch hubby pulling in, and so we walked into the house together, and not 30 minutes later son came home and declared he was famished, and then self had to get Christmas dinner ready and it took her the next two and a half hours (as there was a huge prime rib roast), and then self set out all her little goodies of the day (Christmas yule log, topped with Santa figurines; tiramisu; Beard Papa cream puffs) on a green and red ceramic plate, and hubby opened our last bottle of champagne from Laetitia Winery (just south of San Luis Obispo), and the following happened:

(1) Son said he did not drink. Hubby and self kept urging him to make an exception, “because it’s Christmas,” we said, and son responded, “I’ll decide when I want to drink. Don’t tell me what to do.”

(2) We soon shifted the conversation to various cousins who had split up this year (carefully avoiding the topic of Ying, who self fully intends to call later), and hubby remarked that it didn’t look like one of self’s aunts would ever have grandchildren, as her eldest, a girl, was 42 and childless, and the youngest had just split from her husband of two years. Then hubby opined that it would be so sad not to have grandchildren. And self heartily agreed with him. That is, until she took a look at son’s face and it looked as if he had swallowed a lemon. But hubby kept going on and on about other people who looked like they would never have grandchildren, like Mrs. King, who is in her eighties and none of whose six children have any children (by choice). And self kept nodding her head sagely and son became extremely poker-faced. And then self managed to switch the topic of conversation to —

(3) the Beard Papa cream puffs. And son said he wouldn’t have any. “Well how about the Yule log? Won’t you have a slice of that?” And son refused that as well. And self said, “Oh come on! Look at the little dancing snowmen on top of the Yule Log! Come on!” And finally hubby told self to get a plate, he’d split a Beard Papa cream puff with son. And self produced a plate, and son took two bites of his half and gave the rest to his dad. And then, just as he was getting up, self said brightly, “Want to watch a movie?” Nah, son said. He just wanted to rest in his room. And son slipped quietly away (no doubt uttering Hallelujahs in his mind).

And thus ended self’s Christmas.

Redwood City, California: Day Before Christmas, 2007

12:50 PM

On flat-screen HDTV: “The Bold and the Beautiful” — Party apparently in progress, entire cast is caroling “Joy to the World”. KPIX inserts public service announcement: Today is a Spare-the-Air Day. Don’t light a fire tonight.

Tree: lighted. A scatter of pine needles at base (must sweep later)

House: Dust on all surfaces — coffee table, side tables, bookshelves, etc. Must dust! Better still, must wait until self can buy Swiffer Cleaner from Costco so she will not simply be transferring dust from one place to another (Not until after Christmas, then)

Sink: still full of dirty dishes from this morning, my bad

Self’s state of mind: wonderfully energetic, bubbly. Accomplished call to Dearest Mum without getting depressed. Watched old movie, Love, Actually, in which Emma Thompson plays frumpy housewife to philandering hubby Alan Rickman (hard to believe, self knows)

Son: Home, cleaning up his room. He found $30 in an old Birthday card, doesn’t know who sent it to him. Self ready with aphorism: Don’t look a gift horse in the etc etc

Update on Ying: positive. Latest tests show her TB is no longer infectious. Has been allowed two visits with her children.

Accomplished many many errands this morning: bought bagels for tomorrow’s breakfast; bought a Yule Log from Chocolate Mousse on Laurel St. in San Carlos (Also threw in a Tiramisu cake, what the hell); bought funny musical Christmas cards from Donna’s Hallmark, perfect in which to tuck gift cards for hubby from Kepler’s and Peet’s (Self’s favorite was a card that said: WHY IS NOBODY FREAKED OUT BY A FAT, BALD GUY SNEAKING INTO THE HOUSE AT NIGHT? Open the card and Ray Charles is singing, “Is that you, Santa Claus, is that youuuuu?”); cashed check reimbursing self for travel expenses to LA last September (Self promised to cash it only when she was well and truly broke; now is definitely the time. While at bank, heard customer next to her telling a teller: “I can hardly wait for the holidays to be over.” Self heartily agrees). While driving hither and thither, sang along to newest CD: Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 (Remember Mais Que Nada? And their arrangements of Scarborough Fair and With a Little Help From My Friends? And Lani Hall singing Like a Lover?)

Returned home safely, without hitting anyone or being hit in turn. Told son he could invite someone for dinner tonight, it was on the tip of her tongue to say “your girlfriend” but at the last minute switched to “Aubert.” Son said (as expected), “That’s all right. He’ll probably be having Christmas dinner with his family.” Self says it’s too bad, because she got the biggest five-rib prime roast from Costco yesterday (Self isn’t kidding: this one cost almost $80). Son refuses to take the bait, darn!

Anyhoo, hubby had to work today, self sent him off with a packed lunch. Company-that-is-going-down-the-tubes apparently cannot do without his services, awarded him a certificate of appreciation (and a nice check) yesterday.

Let’s see, what else? Self is sure she is forgetting something!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life II: Reading THE ECONOMIST Classifieds

While son is off tonight with the Mystery Person, the girl to whom he presented his jello volcano last night, at 1 AM (Self knows it was 1 AM because she awoke at 12:46 AM and stumbled into son’s room just as he was getting dressed to go out. “What, she can’t eat jello at a more reasonable time?” self stammers. Son gives self a pitying look and does not deign to answer. Later, he slams through the front door at 3 AM. Self knows because it is so uncharacteristic of him to make that much noise. He was practically conducting a whole orchestra in the kitchen! This morning, when self looked at the kitchen sink, there was the tray on which the jello volcano had stood, only a few red blobs left, and three spoons. Three? Ah, sweet mystery of life!), self is keeping hubby company in the living room while he watches Ocean’s Eleven. There is a very nice fire going, and there is a very pungent smell of dog arising from our two little crits.

Self is still reading The Economist. This time, she’s almost done with the Classifieds. And because she always finds such interesting things in The Economist Classifieds, she thinks she will share a few of them here with dear blog readers:

Item # 1:

Immigrate to Canada? Abrams & Krochak, a respected Canadian Immigration Law firm can help.

Item # 2:

Climb Mt. Everest and the 7 Summits with the world’s leading mountain guiding company, Adventure Consultants. Training Programs Available.

Item # 3:

Republic of Albania Invitation for Expressions of Interest: With the objective of maintaining the high pace of growth in Albania’s trade volumes and GDP, the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MPWT) of Albania has decided to outsource and upgrade through a Public-Private Partnership container terminal operations at the country’s largest port in Durres, introducing private sector participation to the port’s container terminal services two key objectives: to increase the flow of containerized goods into Albania, and to bolster the port’s competitiveness in the Adriatic region. The Government of Albania has mandated the International Finance Corporation (IFC), its lead advisor, to prepare and launch an international tender for the selection of a highly qualified container terminal operator to operate, invest in, and upgrade the container terminal under a long term concession contract.

Item # 4:

Waldhaus Sils Swiss Historic Hotels: Sils-Maria = 6 miles from the bustling St. Moritz: An unspoiled and peaceful alpine village amidst gleaming lakes + impressive mountains. And above it all this remarkable + historic hotel, family owned and managed ever since it opened in 1908. Grand, but friendly and relaxed; children very welcome! Great hiking, skiing and much else. Free pickup at St. Moritz train station.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Perusing THE ECONOMIST’S Books of the Year 2007

Books self is interested in reading after perusing The Economist’s Books of the Year 2007 :


Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, by Linda Lear

    A spunky, humorous woman who fought conventional Victorian family expectations to lead an independent life as an artist, businesswoman and conservationist.

Edith Wharton, by Hermione Lee

    Money, status, marriage and divorce: all became grist to the mill of the turn-of-the-century American writer whom Henry James called “the great generalissima.”


Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Tim Weiner

    A survey of the agency’s failures since its founding in 1947, which concludes that the world’s most powerful country has yet to develop a first-rate spy service.

The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England, by Adrian Tinniswood

    Meet the family that was involved in cheesemaking, sword-buying and scandal-mongering — as well as the English civil war, the Great Fire of London and the coronation of William and Mary.

Politics and Current Affairs

Gomorrah: A Personal Journey Into the Violent International Empire of Naples’ Organized Crime System, by Roberto Saviano

    A national bestseller in Italy that traces the decline of Naples as construction, fashion, drugs and the disposal of toxic waste all fell under the systematic control of organised crime.

Through the Darkness: A Life in Zimbabwe, by Judith Garfield Todd

    A harrowing tale of courage and betrayal by a white heroine of the liberation struggle against Ian Smith who has been punished (and stripped of her citizenship) with extraordinary vengefulness by Robert Mugabe for speaking out about the regime’s abuses of power.

Fiction and Memoirs

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J. K. Rowling

    Books written as part of a series that start well almost invariably fall off in quality. Not so the seventh and last HP, the end of the decade’s most successful morality tale, which shows J. K. Rowling at the height of her magical imaginative powers.

The Septembers of Shiraz, by Dalia Sofer

    A successful jeweler and gem merchant, patronised by the Tehran aristocracy and the wife of the shah, is arrested by two armed Revolutionary Guards. His wife searches frantically for him, while in prison he asks himself how he can survive. A powerful depiction of a prosperous Jewish family in Iran shortly after the revolution.

Mr. Pip, by Lloyd Jones

    A young girl finds escape through the pages of Charles Dickens’s “Great Expectations,” thanks to the efforts of a new teacher who is drafted into the local village school during the 1990 blockade of the Melanesian island of Bougainville. The cadences of Pacific vernacular make spare, moving prose.

The Ghost, by Robert Harris

    A racy political thriller that has earned its high sales in Britain, “The Ghost” is the tangled story of a former British prime minister, a strong supporter of the war in Iraq, and his wife and political adviser. Brilliantly persuasive, right up to the last page of its astonishing and unpredictable conclusion.

The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett

    Witty and urbane, physically tiny and charming, this account of Queen Elizabeth II discovering the work of J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, Ivy Compton-Burnett and other writers is a Swiftian tirade against stupidity and philistinism, and a passionate argument for the civilising power of art.

Culture and Digressions

Letters of Ted Hughes, edited by Christopher Reid
The roaring, intemperate missives of one of England’s great primitives.

The Famous “Batchoy”

from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s Memories of Philippine Kitchens, a description of the dish that has the same name as self 🙂 :

Batchoy, or batsoy, is derived from the Chinese ba chui, meaning “meat water.” The batchoy of La Paz Market, Iloilo’s signature dish, is a rich pork and beef-based broth filled with yellow noodles and topped with cut-up roast pork, chicharron, fried garlic, and scallions. Reynaldo Guillergan owns the original batchoy stand at the La Paz Market in Iloilo City. He inherited the recipe and business from his father, who worked for and later bought the original noodle stand from its Chinese owners who started it fifty years ago.

The La Paz Batchoy begins with a basic batchoy stock made with a mix of pork bones, intestines, liver, and beef bone marrow simmered in a stockpot with water seasoned with salt, sugar, and guinamos (Visayan fermented fish paste) for hours. The next day, the stock is skimmed and he adds two separately prepared stocks: sauteed red onions (called Bombay in Iloilo) simmered in water, and guinamos billed in water and strained. Sahog is the pre-cooked and cut-up meat that is added to the soup. The meat from the stock ingredients is added, including the pork liver. Before serving, the marrow from the beef bones is added, along with pieces from a lechon snipped with scissors. The soup is garnished with fried garlic, chopped scallions, and pieces of crispy chicharron.

And, self is getting mighty hungry, after typing this post 🙂

Kanlaon’s Favorite Books (Of Those She Read in 2007)


Mark Essig’s Edison & The Electric Chair: A Story of Life and Death
David Freedberg’s The Eye of the Lynx
Adrian Hartley’s The Zanzibar Chest
Philip Kafalas’ In Limpid Dream: Nostalgia and Zhang Dai’s Reminiscences of the Ming
Mary Beth Norton’s In the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692
Nathaniel Philbrick’s Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery
Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead
Jenny Uglow’s Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World
David Wise’s Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI’s Robert Hanssen Betrayed America


Linh Dinh’s Blood and Soap
Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex
M. Evelina Galang’s One Tribe
David Guterson’s Our Lady of the Forest
Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies
Joan London’s Gilgamesh: A Novel
Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It
Anne Tyler’s Ladder of Years
Samrat Uphadyay’s The Royal Ghosts


Louise Gluck’s Averno
Luisa Igloria’s manuscript of Juan Luna’s Revolver
Barbara Jane Reyes’ Poeta en San Francisco
Joel Barraquiel Tan’s manuscript, Type O Negative
and self always loves the poetry of Anne Sexton and Jean Vengua

The Kitchen Maid in SWANN’S WAY

Temperature is down to the 30s tonight in Redwood City. Cold exacerbates the ache in self’s neck; this evening self feels quite ill, feverish even. She’s had to cancel a long-overdue appointment for a trim because she doesn’t feel like walking out of the house dressed in parka and furry boots. Son, in the meantime, went out to test ride his dad’s bike (He fixed it; that, he says, will be his Christmas present for hubby, since he happens to be very short of cash: Self was right, he does have a girlfriend!)

The jello concoction that’s taken up all son’s energies the past three days came to magnificent fruition this afternoon, so while self was watching The Painted Veil and shedding copious tears over Edward Norton’s exquisite death scene, son was in the kitchen, running to and fro between refrigerator and sink, opening and closing cabinet doors etc — looking, he said, for just the right tupperware container for some huge thing he was making, and then he slammed something into the fridge and went out on his dad’s bike, and when self took a peek in the fridge, she saw a red jello volcano, dripping over all the shelves. Encased in the middle of this quivering red mass was a gift wrapped in plastic. Hmm, self thinks that if some boyfriend of hers presented her with such, she would be reluctant to take it into the house and show her Dearest Mum, as Mum might pronounce boyfriend a @##!!

Anyhoo, it was quite fun, though, having all this activity in the kitchen, and son would come out every now and then when self would say, “Listen to this scene! It’s really great!” And so he got to watch about 3/4 of The Painted Veil, and he even agreed with self at the end that Naomi’s son looked a lot more like Ed Norton than like Liev Schreiber.

So now self comes to the main point of this blog — apologies, dear blog reader, for being so digressive — which is to quote a passage from Swann’s Way which concerns a kitchen maid. Self loves the way Proust writes about his family’s servants, for he gives them such humanity. The other day, while self was entertaining herself by perusing a couple of blogs from the Philippines, she was amused to read several short stories that involved protagonists being awakened by maids and having to rush to school. Ah, those were the days! But the maids who were waking up these sleepyhead colegialas were pretty much nameless and faceless, in contrast to the following maiden immortalized by Proust:

The year we ate so much asparagus, the kitchen maid usually given the job of “scraping” them was a poor, sickly creature, in a state of pregnancy already rather advanced when we arrived at Easter, and we were in fact surprised that Francoise allowed her to do so many errands and so much heavy work, for she was beginning to have difficulty carrying before her the mysterious basket, rounder every day, whose magnificent form one could divine under her ample smocks. These smocks reminded me of the the cloaks worn by certain of Giotto’s symbolic figures, photographs of whom I had been given by M. Swann. He himself was the one who had pointed this out to us and when he asked for news of the kitchen maid he would say: “How is Giotto’s Charity?” What was more, she herself, poor girl, fattened by her pregnancy even in her face, even in her cheeks, which descended straight and square, rather resembled, in fact, those strong, mannish virgins, matrons really, in whom the virtues are personified in the Arena.

(And, as Proust’s paragraph about the kitchen maid goes on for almost an entire page, self thinks she will stop here and give her aching fingers a rest. Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.)

Five Days Before Christmas

Self is having dinner alone this evening. Son dashed off to watch a movie with Kenny from UCLA, and hubby is attending an office party (Self finds it amazing that this company, which hubby assures self is “going down the tubes”, has the funds to throw an office party, but let’s not digress)

Self knows she is supposed to be thankful for this unexpected solitude: after all, writers are supposed to be anti-social. Just look at Frank Langella’s character in Starting Out in the Evening: he spent all day in his study and got very annoyed about any interruptions, even the ones from his own daughter. Now, self would have to say that Frank’s character shows truly commendable commitment to his craft. But, as far as she can make out from the movie, this disciplined regimen produced only four novels, not counting one that he left unfinished after 10 years of fruitless labor. “I got bored with my characters,” he said. Horrors! This is what happens when a writer spends too much time alone: he forgets that what he writes has to be interesting.

Self earlier sent e-mail to brother in Manila, inquiring about latest test results on sister-in-law Ying. Self also imparts information that, according to her research, UCSF had a very good program for treating leukemia. Her e-mail got sent around to various family members: aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Next thing you know, self gets a snippy e-mail from a second cousin who says: “I’ve already arranged for Ying’s transplant at Sloan Kettering. We’re just waiting for her saliva tests.”


Clearly, self is very far out of the loop.

Anyhoo, self decides that, since she doesn’t have to cook dinner for anyone, she will skip dinner altogether (well, maybe she will just have a bowl of microwave popcorn if she gets too hungry). To get herself in the mood for writing, self decides to peruse Linh Dinh’s poetry collection, All Around What Empties Out. As is her wont, she opens the book at random and comes to a poem, “Scansion” (must look up that word: it’s not one self has ever encountered, but it does have the flavor of the scientific about it), which contains the following interesting lines:

This man is not an old rifle,
coughing up buckshots

This woman is not a contraband moped
With dented mudguard.

Hmmm, very interesting thoughts, Linh. Self is particularly grateful that woman is not considered a contraband moped, as that does not sound at all exciting. Hmmm, what kind of writing can self pull out from the above thoughts/ images? Stay tuned, dear blog readers, stay tuned.

Quote of the Day: Religious Beliefs of the Early Visayans

Most of the Visayans neither knew or believed in an afterlife. They thought that this life was all and even today after sixty years of preaching, I am unable to say that they have even a faint belief in an afterlife or in heaven or hell. What the most intelligent among them used to say was that they believed that the soul was born and died nine times and after dying nine times it became so small that it could be buried in a coffin the size of a grain of rice. They said that the body after burial became water at night and during the daytime lived alongside the soul.

— Quote from Fr. Alcina, the principal authority on the life and customs of the early Visayans, in History of Negros by Angel Martinez Cuesta, O.A.R. (Manila, 1980)

Overcoming Time: A Zhang Dai Essay on Food

This is a curious holiday season. Son seems more reclusive than self ever remembers him being. He is polite, but he keeps to himself more. Now he is in the garage, working out some secret stress on the punching bag hubby hung from the garage ceiling, over a decade ago.

In the meantime, self is continuing to read the Lydia Davis translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, and, alas, self is finding Proust’s “architectonic sentences” to be more akin to impenetrable thickets (especially after dinner, when her mind is sluggish). Just now, self finds herself staring numbly at the following: “Perhaps the immobility of the things around us is imposed on them by our certainty that they are themselves and not anything else, by the immobility of our mind confronting them.” Now, when self reads a sentence like that, she feels very thick indeed.

For relief, self has been turning to Phil Kafalas’ In Limpid Dream: Nostalgia and Zhang Dai’s Reminiscences of the Ming. Zhang Dai, like Proust, is also concerned with the overcoming of time. But he goes about it in a completely different way. Here is an excerpt from a Zhang Dai essay on eating crabs. It’s a recreation of what Kafalas calls “the perfect gustatory moment.” Bear in mind, dear blog reader, that the below piece was written in China in the late 1640s :

The foods that, without additional salt or vinegar, are complete in the five flavors are: sea clams and river crabs. River crabs grow fat with the coming of the tenth month, along with the rice and millet. Their shells are big as plates and swell up; the purple pincers are as big as fists, and the meat as you pull it out from the little legs is shiny like millipedes. Peel back the shell and the fat is heaped up like jade unguent and amber chips, all clinging together, so sweet and rich that even the eight precious flavors could not match it.

As soon as the tenth month came, I and my friends and brothers would establish a crab club and arrange to meet after noon to boil crabs and eat them, six apiece. Being afraid they would get cold and stale, we would boil them in batches. To go with it we had fat salted duck, cow milk junket, wined sea clams like amber, cabbage boiled in duck broth until it was like jade slabs, and for fruits, late-season oranges and chestnuts and water chestnuts. To drink we had a jade pot of ice; for vegetables, Bingkeng bamboo shoots; for rice, new Yuhang white; for a mouth rinse, Orchid Snow tea.

Thinking of it now, it truly seems like Heaven’s kitchen and immortals’ offerings: drinking till merry, eating till stuffed — fortune beyond asking.

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