Monthly Archives: February 2010

Filipino cooking project

(cross-posted at

I told Thomas that this “eating in” project wasn’t going to be like school, and we wouldn’t have any homework.  But I love school, and I’m a nerd to the core, so here’s my self-imposed homework assignment:

We’re going to learn how to cook Filipino food.

Today, I found this awesome Filipino food blog called Burnt Lumpia – Finding Identity Through Food, authored by Marvin Gapultos.  I love that “finding identity through food” part.  Like most Filipino Americans, I don’t know my native tongue, yet connect with family and homeland memories mostly through food.

As a kid, I remember my mother teaching me how to smash garlic with the dull side of a knife to sautee for steak tapa (thin, salty steak).  I remember de-heading (and de-tailing) shrimp for sinigang (a sour and savory vegetable and seafood stew).  I remember when my father found a calamansi sapling at the nearest nursery, and planted it in our backyard.  The calamansi tree provided citrus garnish for many Filipino homemade dishes at my house.

I’d like to learn Tagalog and Bicolano someday.  But I think it’s far more appropriate now, especially with this eating-in project the BF and I are doing, to learn how to cook the food.

I know how to make chicken adobo.  Kind of.  I know the burden of rolling and frying lumpia.  And I’m also pretty good at making rice.  I think that’s about as far as my Filipino cooking repertoire goes.

I want the majority of my eating-in experience to be about learning how to cook Filipino food.  I’m interested in finding my own versions as well.  Barbara Jane Reyes writes about her experiences experimenting with Filipino food on her blog.  She’s also lent me some of her favorite twists on sinigang (using salmon!).

A few summers ago, one of my best friends, Melissa taught me how to make salmon cakes, a family recipe from Alabama.  She used vegetables she already had in the refrigerator as part of the filling, and spiced the cake batter with lots of cayenne.  I asked if that was how the rest of her family made salmon cakes.  Melissa said, no, I make it to my taste, the base ingredients are the same, but I improvise.

I used to be a stickler about being “authentic” in cooking Filipino food AKA making it the way my mom makes it.  But I think that food naturally evolves, especially when it’s placed in another context.  I wonder what the future of Filipino food will look like in the United States.  Will I know where to buy tamarind soup base?  Will I ever learn how to eat fried fish without choking on the infinitesmal bones?  Will we be feeding our children eggs with garlic fried rice for breakfast? (The answer to that last question is a heavenly YES.)

Today, the Los Angeles Times published an article called, “Filipino Food: Off the Menu,” which asks the question: Why hasn’t Filipino food assimilated (like Vietnamese and Thai food) into the U.S. mainstream?

From the article:

“It’s probably one of the least understood cuisines,” says Rodelio Aglibot, a Filipino chef who was the executive chef at Koi before opening the now-shuttered Yi Cuisine, perhaps the only upscale Filipino restaurant Los Angeles has had. “Are we Pacific Islanders? Are we Asians? There isn’t, like, a defined identity,” says Aglibot.

Why do so many gourmet Filipino cooks cook cuisines other than Filipino?

I kind of like that Filipino food hasn’t assimilated (yet).  I like the idea that Filipino families stay at home to cook and EAT IN.  It’s incentive to learn how mom makes adobo, rather than finding the best restaurant that replicates the recipe.

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Longaniza Breath

I’m giving up take-out, deli lunches and the late-night drive thru for home cooking for Lent.  Check out the blog Thomas and I created, chockful of photos and delicious posts, here.

We were inspired by a Huffington Post writer, Cathy Erway, who began the blog “Not Eating Out in New York” as a 2 year experiment in a city known for its accessibility to street food and gourmet.  The results: a deepened connection to food, where it comes from, how it’s prepared.

Last weekend, we made steak fajitas, red velvet cupcakes, fresh salsa and guacamole.  Last night, I made chicken adobo (I made it spicy!).   Tonight, I’m making arroz con pollo without saffron.  I used to cook plenty in New York, but not so much in L.A.  I’m glad that I’m getting into the habit again.  All this cooking and recipe reading means less time for reading and writing poetry.  But it also means more time for working with my hands, digging in the dirt at my school’s community garden, growing basil in my window, asking folks for recipes.  Plenty has been written on how cooking affects writing, and I’m happy to cook as a way to stir the senses and be open to how this experience will influence my work.

For everyone out there, if you have a recipe I should try, let me know!


Filed under influences, los angeles

Remembering Ms. Clifton

I’ve recently joined an online poetry community called “Read Write Poem.” I’m still figuring how to use the website, but it seems pretty cool so far.  There are a variety of specified interest groups you can join, from Diasporic Poetry to Haiku and Short Form Poetry, where members discuss their favorite poems, poets, etc. within the subgenre.  I joined a group that posts weekly “Poetry Mini-Challenges.”

A mini-challenge is a poetry-writing, poetry-reading or poetry-process prompt that you respond to with a new poem each day for a set number of days. The idea isn’t to warm up the poetry muscles, it’s to feel the burn. Go deeper. Explore further. Pass the place you may have stopped initially. See what comes next. And as if that weren’t juicy enough, you do all of it with the support and encouragement of the other crazy hardworking Read Write Poem members who take on the challenge.

Here’s the latest one:

Spend five intimate days (or nights) with your favorite poet. Gather your poet love’s work around you and get busy … reading, of course. Highlight your favorite lines. Tired of your current poet paramour? Spend some time with a poet you’d like to know a little better!

I’ve decided to “fall in love” (rather, remember my love) for Lucille Clifton.  Her passing last weekend made me dig through my library for her books, and revisit her work.   I am excited to embark on this “poetry mini-challenge” in honor of Ms. Clifton.

I am realizing that writing poems everyday right now isn’t possible without reading, reflecting, cooking, arguing, teaching and remembering.  Last spring, I was able to write everyday with ease and as much as I’d like that discipline and energy back, this time around feels different.  I’ve been feeling guilty for not writing everyday and posting but I want to let go of that.  I want to live and remember why I fell in love with a poet in the first place.

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Filed under 30 days/30 poems, influences


Poet Dick Lourie in his most recent book If the Delta was the Sea writes about the Mississippi delta region.  The book is an homage of Clarksdale, Mississippi, where many blues musicians were born.

I’m inspired to write a poem on place, in the style of Dick Lourie, who writes 10 syllables/line.



i’d dream you some strange new york city

opening into a mouthful of black beans

maripositas fritas in chinatown where

the false silk waiters’ jackets unravel

i’d dream you eggshells carefully buried

under palm trees/ a sweep of prayer floats above

a list of names of those passed/ the names of water

i’d dream you a crown of boleros muttering

to guava trees at night/ ghosts who sway above

my bed gather in celebration / stroke their

beards in time with the slapping of guitars.

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baby girl tightens a yellow balloon in her fist.

her mother scatters a sandwich in the

rain. crumbs for the pigeons, crumbs

for baby girl. tied at her chin, her headscarf

is a splash of tulips, calls out, Storm, Storm.

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Two Weekend Haiku

Cop out Haiku

i don’t even have

the paper to write this down

the storm clouds slice through


Valentine Haiku

last night, a song of

valentines rising in the

dark, our moon studded faces

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