Saturday, August 29, 2009

Coffee Break: (Because) I Got High

First heard this song around 2000. My friend Jenni ups the volume of her car radio and tells us 'You gotta hear this song. I couldn't stop laughing the first time I heard it'.

This song has been banned in some parts of the world for obvious reasons. The lyrics is explicit, so if you're the type who gets offended easily -- do yourself a favor and don't click 'play'. It's not meant to influence anyone. It's just a song people with a twisted mind like mine find funny.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Writer's Block: How to make coffee

No, instant coffee doesn't count, unless you're using Bru coffee. But that's another category all together.

What we're talking about is brew. Real brew. Good brew.

I'm not a coffee connoisseur or barista, but there are a few things about coffee that I think real coffee lovers should know and learn.

While most people are content to get the run-of-the-mill Starbucks or Seattle's Best coffee, I prefer to make my own coffee and really only run to those places when I'm desperate for a cup of joe.

On any other day, I make my own coffee. It's not the best, but it's certainly much better than the commercial stuff you get in the average coffee shop.

An intro to Cordi coffee

Yes, I am a bit of a coffee snob -- but with good reason. I grew up in a coffee-producing region that grows some really good Arabica beans. It's an undeveloped industry in the Philippines --except for Batangas coffee/Barako, which more or less found a niche market in the country.

In the Cordilleras however, where farm-to-market roads are still being developed in many mountain provinces, coffee is just something home grown. Only now are they beginning to discover the quality of Cordillera Arabicas, but it will take years before this will even become an export industry.

Cordillera beans come from different parts of the region. A little known province called Kalinga produces a blend that is very similar to Indonesian coffee. It is light in flavor, has a certain aroma and sweetness with an almost fruity accent to it. But it is powerful stuff that is great to have any time of the day.

There is also a coffee from Sagada and Bontoc (Mountain Province) called Fidilisan -- a brew that has been likened to a rare Ethiopian blend. This is a coffee treat and is very hard to get a hold of since this is usually not sold even in Baguio City. I normally ask my friends from Mountain Province to bring me some when they travel there.

In Baguio, the most accessible coffee is the Benguet blend. It's an everyday type of coffee, still superior to the run-of-the-mill commercial coffee. It is not as fragrant, but it is similar to coffee from the mountains of Vietnam. It is a coffee with a bit more body and a subtle nutty/fruity flavor with a punch.

This is why I am spoiled when it comes to coffee.

People ask me a lot of questions about coffee. Non-coffee drinkers normally complain about coffee being too bitter, and don't realize that bitterness really does not equal good coffee.

Why your coffee is 'bitter'

Coffee is a sensitive bean. If it is not made properly, it will be terrible bitter coffee. That's not what you want to look for.

But first, let's discuss why some coffee blends are bitter. One of the few reasons is because the filter isn't clean. Residue from old coffee ground can make a fresh pot of coffee bitter. It needs to be clean in order to get the real flavor out.

Another thing to look out for is the bean's roast. Dark roasts are generally bitter. While not all dark blends are bad -- heavily roasted coffee can mask the true flavor and quality of coffee -- good or bad.

Personally, I prefer light to medium roasts to bring out the right flavor of the coffee.

Coffee beans

Buy beans -- whole beans --and get a coffee grinder. While there are some really good quality grinders out there, not everyone is willing to dish out more than 50 dollars for a grinder. It may not be the best grinder to get the optimal quality you want, but it is still better than buying pre-ground coffee.

One of the best ways to get the flavor (not bitterness, mind you) out of coffee is freshness. Grind it yourself if you can, and keep the beans in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate it.

If pre-ground coffee is all you can get, refrigerate it anyway in a sealed container. The flavor will keep longer. Trust me.

Cold is good for coffee beans. This is also why some (if not all) the best coffees in the world are from the mountains. Cold weather seals in the flavor of the beans --Arabica beans, the champagne of coffees.

Like I mentioned earlier -- coffee is sensitive, so when it is ground up -- the flavor and natural oils in the coffee are released and break down very quickly. By buying whole beans and only grinding enough beans you need for a brew will help preserve the quality of the beans' flavor.

Buying coffee

Try to find a coffee place that allows customers to see and smell the beans. I used to get it from the market in Baguio, because I got to use my senses when I chose my beans. Trust your senses.

Look at the roast, smell the beans. If you don't know -- ask. You'll get the hang of it.

It is also ok to combine Arabicas with Robustas to get the flavor and body you may be looking for. Robustas are not necessarily bad. Blended right with Arabicas, it can produce a really great concoction.

For more coffee-brewing tips, here's a great article I came across from the experts.

When we Lean Against Each Other . . .

A man on the edge of the bath. A shoe, defenseless
on the floor. Her head wrapped in a towel.
Two arms with a dress in the air. Two dimples in a back.

A telephone with a flashing display: I can hear you . . .
please listen to me . . . I can feel your hands on our cheeks . . .
please feel my hand on your heart . . .

A man on the edge of the bed. A woman on her belly.
An arm, dangling over the edge.
Mouth-to-mouth every millimetre
of her back in to life
– eyeball, spinning under the eyelid:

a man and a woman lean against each other. The woman tilts her head,
breathes in and closes her eyes, gently presses an auricle to his chest
as if she may listen to the coming of age
of the avalanche.

by Peter Verhelst

Translation: Astrid van Baalen, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Mental Notes: On kindness

The Washington Post comes out with a review on a new book simply titled "On Kindness". I haven't read the book, but judging from the review, it speaks a lot about the human psyche and the balancing act between kindness and aggression.

Some interesting excerpts from the article by Michael Dirda on Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor's book :

"Most people, as they grow up now, secretly believe that kindness is a virtue of losers." But Phillips and Taylor show that kindness -- "the ability to bear the vulnerability of others, and therefore of oneself" -- is essential to our humanity. "Indeed it would be realistic to say that what we have in common is our vulnerability; it is the medium of contact between us, what we most fundamentally recognize in each other." What kindness does is "open us up to the world (and worlds) of other people in ways that we both long for and dread." I'll come back to that "dread."

Following Winnicott, the authors then emphasize that genuine kindness must somehow accommodate hostility. "The thing that works, Winnicott says -- the thing that makes relations between parents and children 'feel real,' in his phrase -- is the hatred that is lived through without severing the relationship." In fact, "real kindness, real fellow feeling, entails hating and being hated -- that is, really feeling available frustrations -- and through this, coming to a more realistic relationship. This, one might say, is a more robust version of kindness, a kindness made possible through frustration and hatred rather than a kindness organized to repudiate (or to disown) such feelings. Kindness of this variety allows for ambivalence and conflict, while false, or magical, kindness distorts our perceptions of other people, often by sentimentalizing them, to avoid conflict. Sentimentality is cruelty by other means." We must value people for what they are, not for what we want them to be.

Read the full article here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mental Notes: Half of the sky

Today I had to write a really quick, short piece on women's role in society today.

Normally, I would choose to do interviews and take some time to do more research on a topic like this, but since it was for a blog, I had to skip all that and write off the top of my head.

How I wish I could have had the time to write something like this instead, and about better examples of women who without question, hold half of the sky.

Here's a much better article about women that I came across thanks to Frank Cimatu's posting on Facebook. It is an in-depth piece about the challenges women face today.


IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Coffee Break: French Bitch

How to tell if your coworker is the Devil

* Office extension is 666.
* Borrows your soul without asking, doesn’t put it back.
* Half goblet of blood left in break room.
* Brings pitchfork to work in blatant defiance of “No Weapons” policy.
* Lingering sulfur smell in restroom.
* Contribution to office potluck is a live goat.
* Keeps possessing your laptop.
* Constantly listens to Black Sabbath without earphones.
* Doesn’t smoke cigarettes, just smokes.
* Consistently gets “Exceedingly Evil” on yearly performance review.

Image cocktail

Stop toying with your contacts

How smileys are made

Apartment tetris
Manok ng Ina mo!

Walk slowly and carry a big fish

Enough said...

One Should See One’s Home From Far Off

by Vinod Kumar Shulk

One should see one’s own home from far off.
One should cross the seven oceans
to see one’s home,
in the helplessness of the unbridgeable distance,
fully hoping to return some day.
One should turn around, while journeying,
to see one’s own country from another.
One’s Earth, from space.
Then the memory of
what the children are doing at home
will be the memory of what children are doing on Earth.
Concern about food and drink at home
will be concern about food and drink on Earth.
Anyone hungry on Earth
will be like someone hungry at home.
And returning to Earth
will be like returning home.

Things back home are in such a mess
that after walking a few steps from home,
I return homewards as if it were Earth.

translation: Vinod Kumar Shukla and Daniel Weissbort
From: Survival (ed. by Daniel Weissbort and Girdhar Rathi)
Publisher: Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, 2002

Coffee Break: The truth about lies

Is being honest a conscious decision at all? A new study tackles this truth about ethics in society.

Veronique Greenwood in Seed Magazine:

In a famous set of experiments in the 1970s, children were observed trick-or-treating in the suburbs. Some were asked their names and addresses upon arriving at a door, while some were asked nothing. All were instructed to take just one piece of candy from the bowl, but as soon as the owner of the home retreated into the kitchen, the children who hadn’t provided their names and addresses shoveled the candy into their bags, sometimes taking everything in the bowl. Psychologists posited that anonymity made the children feel safe from the repercussions of their actions, an effect they call deindividuation.

Moral psychologists have since constructed myriad experiments to probe the workings of human morality, studying how we decide to cheat or to play by the rules, to lie or to tell the truth. And the results can be surprising, even disturbing. For instance, we have based our society on the assumption that deciding to lie or to tell the truth is within our conscious control. But Harvard’s Joshua Greene and Joseph Paxton say this assumption may be flawed and are probing whether honesty may instead be the result of controlling a desire to lie (a conscious process) or of not feeling the temptation to lie in the first place (an automatic process). “When we are honest, are we honest because we actively force ourselves to be? Or are we honest because it flows naturally?” Greene asks.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Writer's Block: Bubbles

I fell in love with one of Rishab’s paintings many years ago. It was one of a man and woman intertwined, and reflected the elements earth, fire, water and air. It was gorgeous. Unfortunately I didn’t really have the capacity to buy it, and later learned it was bought by an Aboitiz.

Rishab, a Baguio-based artist, may not be as famous as BenCab but is still one of the best artists I know.

Baguio is blessed, being an artist’s haven. Many musicians, painters and other talented people live there.

I met Rishab through work and often viewed his paintings alongside other talented artists like Clemente Delim, Chi Balmaceda, and the late Santi Bose. But I have to say that of all of them, Rishab has always been my favorite for his ability to translate human emotion into his work — though his paintings are usually also surreal.

Unfortunately, each time I wanted a painting from him, it had already been sold. Fortunately Rishab is a friend, so he came up with an idea to make me a painting based on his series of paintings entitled, “Bubbles”.

I said yes, and it was better than what I expected.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Writer's Block: Sweet things

I'm usually not one to go for flattery. People normally flatter others to get something, like when a stranger says you have beautiful eyes at the train station and tries to get your number.

But there are some things that are just plain sweet that can make any girl's day.

After a bad morning at the office, it was a pleasant surprise to get a compliment from a total stranger with no strings attached. As I walk up to get myself a cup of tea, the man at the counter smiles and tells me I look like heaven.

Of course, I felt far from that due to the lack of sleep, a stress-headache and hell of a morning. Men can always say how pretty you are all the time when they want something, but this was different. It was just sweet.

The man at the counter who handed me my tea thought I was pretty. What a happy pill.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coffee Break: Anastacia

One of the few most underrated singers around -- a beautiful petite woman with a powerful voice...
Not that Kind of Girl

Sick and Tired

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Coffee Break: Tonight I can write

Pablo Neruda's classic, reversed.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example,'The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved him, and sometimes he loved me too.

Through nights like this one he held me in his arms
He kissed me again and again under the endless sky.

He loved me sometimes, and I loved him too.
How could one not have loved his great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have him. To feel that I have lost him.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without him.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep him.
The night is shattered and he is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost him.

My sight searches for him as though to go to him.
My heart looks for him, and he is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love him, that's certain, but how I loved him.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch his hearing.

Another's. He will be another's. Like my kisses before.
His voice. His bright body. His infinite eyes.

I no longer love him, that's certain, but maybe I love him.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one he held me in his arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost him.

Though this be the last pain that he makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for him.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mental Notes: Picking up the pieces

When push comes to shove, I shift to defaults. It isn't ideal and is in fact, rather cowardly, but there is a point in life that we simply have to accept what we are and what we are not.

While I am all for fighting for what you believe in with all your might and passion, there comes a point in time where it's time to just surrender to what life throws at you.

Although I have no regrets about decisions I've made, it is hard not to look back at times to see just how far off my mark I've gone. There are worse things in life, as we all know, and we should always be grateful for what we have or at least find contentment in what we lack.

Being an ambitious woman early on, I fought tooth and nail to be the best of what I could be. Those years were turbulent, but things always had a way of turning out for the better.

Fifteen years ago, the world was at my fingertips. I had options to get a steady job in government, look pretty in front of a camera, or marry rich, but dismissed it all for something that I felt passionate about. The idealist in me believes that hard work, good will and keeping good friends was much better than being rich and famous.

I still believe in the same things. I have however, transformed into someone I could barely recognize.

I am not rich, but I live comfortably. I lead a 9 to 5 life and I come home to an empty apartment where I spend most of my time in front of the computer anyway.

I did not marry, and don't expect to -- to my mother's disappointment, but I am passively content. I know I've become jaded, having lost my faith in love and marriage -- out of bitterness, perhaps -- if feeling numb is what qualifies as such.

Much of things that made me the person I am today has been shed, by bits and pieces along the way. But there is much in life to be grateful for -- for people who love without limits, and for opportunities that come when we least expect it. We all need at least one happy thought to wake up for in the morning. Perhaps I just found mine.