Gruyère

Gruyère tastes like Christmas: mild, soft, sometimes crumbly with its crust, a divine treat you’d only take once a year. Gruyère tastes so much like Christmas that on that chilly December night, there was a back-and-forth between the fridge and the sink: cutting small, triangular pieces to place on the plate, only to find myself later cutting more portions to pair it with soju. Gruyère doesn’t taste like everyday. Gruyère tastes like a festivity, a birth of a god, a celebration, a conclusion to a boring, uneventful, eventful year. And in this rare solitude, Gruyère, obviously, was a blockbuster for one.

On the floor I made a spreadsheet, drew rows and rows and columns. In it were familiar names, and gift ideas for a quick, fuss-free trip to the mall. Spoiling favorite people used to be fun, but the panini happened, and things happened, and my long list turned smaller and smaller. Not that it bothers me. It used to bug me, but the older I grew, the more I knew. What greatly bothers me though is how Christmases have turned into the Presents Olympics: who gave what, who spent more, et cetera. No one ever warned me that Christmas as an adult is part celebration, part public relations.

Though it’s not entirely a bad thing. Sometimes it’s just hard to distinguish sincerity from PR. Being lost in this yuletide sport has left me jaded. I noticed it from my displeasure the moment I was handed a box of cookies at a family dinner as a gift. (I loathe laziness: you get generic gifts from work, not from family.) My lola would probably say, “It’s the thought that counts,” but at 31, I’ve lost belief in sayings and slogans, especially 5 months before the elections.

If there’s any consolation, this Christmas felt as if the panini had died down. Cases were low, and there was bit of a Christmas rush. After months of solely relying on our Telegram group chat, my girlfriends and I finally made plans for brunch—one that lasted 9 hours. My realization was, this health crisis also reset the way we socialize in person. Sure, there’s the physical distancing. But the dead air? The blinks? The crickets? The… brain fog? DOH didn’t make a health advisory for that. After brunch I helped myself to two cups of Ichiban at UCC just so I could be hyper and do my part as a bangka. Thankfully, it worked. I love my girlfriends.

Revelries had a price. Days after Christmas, Omicron. The start of 2022, more Omicron. Thankfully we were spared, but it’s the most contagious this coronavirus has ever been, to the point that I ultimately decided not to take my mask off anywhere indoors. Omicron is so contagious, some relatives caught it; some friends caught it; some colleagues caught it. I’ve lost count how many times I sent “If you need anything, just text me” to loved ones who bore the weight of the virus. I pictured them struggling in bed—sniffles… mild symptoms and all. After the surge, I was deemed ‘immortal’ for staying negative since Day 1. The secret? Face mask, vitamins, and this icy demeanor.

They described January to be the longest month. What with the surge and self-imposed quarantines and subsequent recoveries, January was a drag that the month itself could just well be a year. Post-Omicron, there was February and its 28 days. In February everything suddenly zoomed in fast and felt like a blur. Campaign season started: political ads started bombarding gaps of noontime shows and primetime news, candidates kicked off their sorties, and actress-host betrayed home network. And, of course, there was Valentine’s Day.

Writing this, I’m now twenty one days deep in March, and so far the rollercoaster made a wilder turn: Russia had invaded Ukraine, gas prices are on an all time high, and politicking and troll mudslinging (on social media and in real life) have intensified.

Sometimes I just go on my routine and ride the wave, accepting today’s harsh reality of pandemic… war… and corruption. But, how I yearn to live in the most uninteresting times of our lives. Sitting at the carwash the first Sunday of March, I told my younger brother how I used to detest it when nothing was happening. “We needed controversy for conversation, a scandal for an icebreaker. You know, newsmakers.” Then suddenly we’re given a pandemic… war… and corruption.

But, for now, that’s life: I’m twenty one days deep in March, and I suddenly long for Gruyère: how, on that chilly December night, it tasted like Christmas—mild, soft, sometimes crumbly with its crust—and how things were slightly better, with my slight intoxication… unaware of another forthcoming turmoil.

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Halloween 2020

It was a party one year in the making.

We were all sitting impatiently in the car, inches away from the next bumper, slowly dying in this horrendous October 31st traffic in P. Burgos, Makati. The rain had just stopped, but the congestion went from bad to worse. Never mind that it was a school night: on this side of the road, cars and strangers merged. Halloween made it a living hell: blurred headlights on a standstill, the engines barely revving in the procession.

From the backseat, I rolled my car windows down as Kiana Ledé started singing “Ex.” Bars from outside lit our bored faces red when I mindlessly started throwing unsolicited one-word critiques at strangers’ costumes. Borat. Witty. Captain America. Passé. Milk tea man. Perfect. “Hey guuuuys,” I said. “Enjoy.” Then from the driver’s seat, a new game plan for Halloween 2020: park the car at A. Venue, book a Grab… or just walk. No more gridlocks next year.

Well… shit.

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Fasting

44 minutes past noon and I’m still full. Not that I had lunch already, nor did I have a generous serving of eggs, bacon, and toast for breakfast, but a hot cup of strong Amadeo coffee did wonders to lose my appetite. (On a Sunday—the day my dad cooks up a storm.) My fasting app rang earlier, announcing that my 16-hour fast had just finished. It is now time for my 8-hour eating window. But my tummy—which I adoringly call my food baby—is still full. With coffee.

This is not the first time I tried intermittent fasting. Since the pandemic started, I must have restarted I.F. 3-4 times already. My previous attempts were pathetic failures. For the first few days, I’d have the willpower to say no to breakfast by distracting myself with a cup of coffee and a book. People at home would ask, “Anong almusal mo?” And I would reply: “Naka-fasting ako.” The next morning, they’d raise eyebrows as I give in to my own frailties, doing an entrance in the dining room with a plate of sunny side up, last night’s adobo, and a mountain of garlic rice. “Grabe, ang lakas mo kumain,” my brother would say. And then I would reply: “Eh wala naman tayong gagawin ngayong quarantine kundi kumain!”

The first weeks of lockdown felt like the Food Olympics. My dad, who had to pause his construction business per quarantine guidelines, whipped different culinary experiments at home. YouTube cooking vlogs (“Simpol!”) and The Food Network presented him with a wide variety of dishes to copy. Every day felt like an episode of Master Chef: paprika chicken on turmeric rice, Japanese katsu curry from scratch, shawarma on biryani rice, and modified sinigang (or sinigang-flavored rice without the soup; the meat and crispy kangkong to be eaten dry), among many others. Our charcuterie board was overused, thanks to his plating efforts, as his culinary expertise had to be on full display on Instagram. My dad’s enthusiasm gave me a full appetite that I alarmingly gained 10 pounds or more in just a matter of weeks… which means, with the gyms closed (and Miss Rona still lurking), I have no choice but to lose weight by jumping rope and by fasting at home.

Pre-pandemic, I never really believed in fasting. I was scared to death to faint in public, to cause a scene, and to lose my poise. “Huwag mong gawin ‘yang I.F., ser,” my fitness coach once advised. He then proceeded with a scoop about an actor he used to train. The actor starred in a primetime series in Kamuning. He needed to look fit, so in the middle of a workout AND a fast, he became dizzy and fainted. I was traumatized by the thought of unconsciously being surrounded by strangers in Nikes amid the thick air of heat and sweat—my sugar down, my system desperate of tapsilog and Coke—and them passing their own judgment. So, my trick then was not to fast, but to count macros and to regularly hit the gym.

But alas, I’ve now lost control. I eat what I see. I eat when I’m bored. I eat when I’m working from home. The contrasts of my lifestyle then and now are glaring. The universe’s wicked sense of humor has never been more clear, specifically at how it compared my last “old normal” photo to my first “new normal” photo. My last pre-pandemic photo was a power cage: taken at our neighborhood gym, in the middle of my usual Monday workout, while taking a break from a squat. It was March 16. (Later that night, Mr. Duterte put Luzon on lockdown.) The following day I unknowingly took my first “new normal” photo: a mami that papa cooked. I marvel now at how these two photos connect and contrast—like a Before-and-After piece: the first’s goal was to burn; the second, to gain—and how it personally became symbolic: in this moment, there is nothing else to burn, and, in many ways, there is everything else to gain. Present Day is hellish that sometimes the only thing that can console is to taste; to guiltlessly partake in gluttony and excess. 

But really, what is there to do in quarantine than eat? On nights the anxieties would attack, our pantry would be scoured for bags of chips. On that grim July night our network was denied a franchise, throwing our job security in limbo amid the pandemic, friends and family sent a bucket of Chickenjoy, packs of coffee, and homemade cookies for consolation. For most people who stayed at home, clueless when all this Calvary will end, food—making them or eating them—is a way to cope. For some, it meant survival; for others, a test if they have the virus (“May panlasa ka ba?”) but personally, eating has become a coping mechanism.

Now, I’m back to square one, deeply eager to lose this lockdown weight. My I.F. schedule is basic: 16:8. I try to finish dinner at around 9pm and eat my first meal after 16 hours, or at 1pm the next day. For a beginner, it’s the most feasible fast. Whenever I finish a streak, after seven 16:8 days, I feel disciplined and in control to take the wheel. Then most of the time I try to influence a buddy to fast with me. Comedian Jack Whitehall called fasters the “weirdest ones” among dieters. “It’s like a cult. Fast the 5:2 diet. For five days, I eat what I like. For two days, I fast. And for seven days, I tell everyone about it.”

I’m now telling everyone about it: an hour past noon, no breakfast nor lunch yet, I’m still full.

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The Sixth Spice Girl

My Pride story begins in the early 90s, when our house in Quezon City was dominated by machismo.

My father could be classified as a siga: he was no bully, but was popular in our neighborhood because of his tricks and his alpha male personality. His father, my lolo, was a World War II veteran. He was masculine in his own way: simple, unbothered, no BS. My father and Lolo regularly hosted inumans at home, with their kumpares of Mang Bens who would watch the PBA Finals in our living room, chugging cold bottles of San Miguel Pale Pilsen, shouting and cursing at the TV whenever a player missed his shot. These male figures dominated my childhood, and even then, their interests were something I couldn’t relate to.

Little did I know, one night in 1997, I would have an interest that they wouldn’t want to relate to. I was channel surfing when I chanced upon a concert on HBO: the Spice Girls Live in Istanbul. The production was theatrical: five girls flaunting their authentic personalities onstage, revealed through gigantic grids of the letters S-P-I-C-E, singing songs about Girl Power and screaming “Zig-a-zig-ah.” I was already singing “Wannabe” about a year before, but this 2-hour TV special sealed the deal. It was akin to answering a call from the gods: yes, son, we made you gay.

From then on, I spiced up my life. I cut every newspaper article, bought their candies at 7-11, and forced the adults to finally buy me their cassettes. I spent hours in solitude listening to Spice and Spice World, going through the lyrics from album inlays and marveling at the pictures of Baby, Sporty, Ginger, Scary, and Posh. At the start of their career, the rumor was that the Spice Girls were like me: homosexuals. They were said to be men in drag—or to use an outdated term, ‘transvestites’—probably because of their make-up. Nonetheless this didn’t change my fondness. In the comfort of my room, in my privacy, I had a sold-out world tour singing “Stop.” Damn it, I was the Sixth Spice Girl.

Our house in Quezon City, dominated by machismo, by PBA, by cold bottles of Pale Pilsen, by histories of the war and macho jokes, was playing the Spice Girls. Then word grew, the neighbors knew. The alpha male’s firstborn sang and danced like a girl, much to my father’s chagrin. The Philippines in the 90s (especially the years before) had a brutal prejudice against homosexuality: gays and lesbians were called the “third sex,” the laughingstock in TV shows, who existed but mostly voiceless, made to be felt that they had no place in a predominantly Catholic society, unwanted by their own families. Schools and institutions were strict, old-fashioned elders warned their children against hanging out with the binabaes and the silahis, fearing “baka mahawa sila.” Same-sex relationships were taboo and were called by my Grade 6 adviser “bawal na pag-ibig.” As a young kid, already aware of my identity and uniqueness, I was scared and clueless how to go on with life, clueless how to confirm to my elders that yes, my Spice Girls fascination was a dead giveaway. And so, my tapes were confiscated, escapism and a private concert tour gone, wondering if this preventive measure would indeed help me turn straight.

It took years and years of silence to please my elders. Years and years of internal struggle; years and years of me being the elephant in the room. In birthday parties and family reunions, my sexuality was the open secret that no one dared to blurt out in the open. I knew that they knew. Nothing could change the fact that, viva forever, I was the Sixth Spice Girl. “When you’re feeling sad and low, we will take you where you gotta go,” assured one of the songs.

And so, it took guts to hold on to my truth, no matter how uncomforting to some, and in my own little way I turned the tide at home. I came out to my family in the mid-2000s: by this time, I had gone into adolescence, now with different interests but my voice still full. I dared to live my life out in the open. I convinced everyone, especially my alpha male of a father, that, yes, I may be gay, but I’m harmless, and I’m definitely not an embarrassment. Eventually, my elders gave their complete trust and support. It took years for them to understand, but all the wait was worth it. Our house in Quezon City is not dominated by machismo anymore, but by a strong sense of acceptance.

Today’s queer kids are mostly empowered, not having to hide, not having to struggle in their own homes. How far have we come? The number of participants in Pride Parades grows yearly, openly gay politicians are elected in office, a transwoman was allowed to join Miss Universe, and the media landscape has become more inclusive than ever (more BLs or ‘boy love’ series in the Philippines; a vast catalogue of new queer cinema; and the mainstream success of RuPaul’s Drag Race). These are just little metrics of progress, but (at least) there is progress. However, we still struggle. The fight for equality is far from over.

Gone are the days when I’d lock myself up in my room to sing “Spice Up Your Life.” Navigating the corporate world now, I sometimes draw strength from other powerful women in pop culture: Madonna and Beyonce, their vision and strong work ethic inspiring. But nothing can change the fact that when I was a powerless child, I found my courage in the Spice Girls. And that night in 1997, when I switched the channel to HBO, was no coincidence—the universe just brought me to my fate.

Happy Pride!

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Usapang Sunday brunch

We haven’t seen each other in a while, so my sudden invitation for a catch-up couldn’t come more fitting. But to shake things up, can Toni, Sabrina, and I have Sunday brunch, instead of Saturday night drinks?

Sometimes, Saturdays feel like an extension of the weekdays: horrendous traffic, unavailable parking slots, and multiple events in one day. Sundays, on the other hand, are usually chill. I haven’t heard mass in a year (but hey, I pray!), but I’m always down for a good brunch. It’s not too early, and it’s not too late: you earn two more hours lounging in bed, then you dress up at 10am, meet your friends for eggs, bacon, coffee (or more), then say tata after 1pm. When you’re in your late twenties, it’s basically the new hook-up.

The girls were unsure at first, but were eventually sold to the idea knowing it’s the first time we were ever going to have brunch. Breakfast and lunch: it’s like hitting two birds with one stone. Getting out of bed on a weekend was a challenge, yes, but the conversation and the smell of pancakes amid a quiet space were inviting.

As I have become an advocate for brunch, I’m listing down hip brunch spots you may want to try:

LITTLE OWL.

(Broadway Ave., New Manila, Q.C.)

With its homey vibe perfect for a Sunday morning, Little Owl is an old house that has become a quiet hideout for my friends and I. Serves western and Pinoy breakfast. Food is delicious; the nook, ‘grammable.

Try: Banana Brulee Pancake. Looks thick, but is actually fluffy. Divine with (what else?) maple syrup.

Try: Chick N’ Waffle. Protein for the gains, carbs for the weekend, fries for fun.

LA CREPERIE.

Not saying which branch, but it’s quite obvious if you’re familiar with Little Owl’s location. (Haha.) I used to frequent the branch in Wilson, San Juan, but it’s closed now, so I’m usually here for a quick crepe fix.

Try: Ratatouille and Fontina on toasted baguette

Try:  the Mango Nutella French toast if you’re not dining with your mom/lola, otherwise they’ll say, “Sana kumain na lang tayo sa bahay. Kaya ko rin tong gawin, eh.”

TOBY’S ESTATE.

Greenhills.

Kind of basic and a given–and more of a weekday hangout for the millennial workforce and Chinoy families–Toby’s still makes the best spot for brunch because of their heavenly sweets and heavy meals.

Try: Bucky’s N Creme brownies. Worth the calories.

Try: their frothy flat white

TYLER’S CAFE.

Katipunan.

Another basic cafe in front of Ateneo, try their cinammon. Okay naman.

DRIP CAFE.

Banawe cor. Maria Clara, Q.C.

Try: matcha cheesecake!

JIRO COFFEE STUDIO.

Mother Ignacia Ave., Q.C.

I love Jiro because it’s perfect for introverts like me: it’s unassuming, it’s hidden, and it’s quiet. The space is Japanese-minimalist, with unfinished, industrial interiors. (Another plus is that it’s just a tricycle ride away from work.)

Try: baked banana slices with butter

KANDLE CAFE.

Mother Ignacia Ave., Q.C.

Almost everything in Kandle Cafe is made in-house, from the bread to the patties. Another cafe that’s just a stone’s throw away from our office.

(Disclaimer: not a sponsored post; all photos are mine)

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Tokyo 2018

Hentai, big-ass cotton candies, egg ramen, MarioKart live, schoolgirls in Harajuku, the foodie haven that is Omoide Yokocho. Went on a trip to Tokyo, and here’s what I saw.

ここは東京のビデオ女の子です

 

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100 Days Without Facebook

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“Who are you avoiding?”

“Are you okay?”

“How are we going to contact you now?”

If you’re going to quit Facebook, expect these questions on Day 3—or the day your friends will realize you’re not on Messenger and can’t be tagged on 9gag memes anymore. Your profile picture is reduced to a blue silhouette, and your selfies are vanished into thin air. Just like that: you’re a goner.

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Energy

It’s 1:22am and my younger brother and his gang are downstairs finishing their thesis. I got home past midnight, surprised that a stranger in her early 20s was outside our house, accommodating a pizza delivery guy. Not sure if we hired a new maid, but she’s dressed like a typical millennial (plain black top with crazy cuts on her sleeves—so I reckon she can’t fetch a juice for me?), and had a bit of a shock on her face when I gave her an ice cold stare as I got down from my Uber. Apparently, it’s one of those nights again: a somewhat-noisy night… having to witness how these youngsies pull off an all-nighter without effort. (Also known as: a reminder that I’m now officially a killjoy tito who has to fight the urge to remind them: ‘Bawal magkalat.’)

It comes with age. Now in my mid-20s, I am sometimes in awe how my younger brother can stand sleeping at 4 or 5am in the company of friends, then wake up at 10 for class. Back in college, I wasn’t a fan of all-nighters (I always chose to do group work with a bunch of fellow stuck-ups so we would plan ahead and won’t cram), but I could stay up till 3 or 4 then immediately be alert in the next few hours. But it’s just a different story now—I am the personification of my iPhone 6s: functional and pink, but my batteries could do better.

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Just last weekend I was out with friends. After dinner, one of us had to announce: “Wala pang uuwi, ha,” which was probably her sensing me that I wanted to call it a night. Who could blame me? Even on weekends I work, so after our plate of pasta I just wanted to lie down and mock everything on TV. (It was 8:45pm.) From Quezon City we drove all the way to Greenhills to have coffee, and talk for a few hours we did. It was an unspoken attempt to prove that at this stage we can still bring it—but on the condition that after-dinner has to be chill. When you’re on your mid-20s, you’ll realize you’d like to keep everything down a notch. It just isn’t the same anymore.

There’s a 1997 ‘Friends’ episode where Joey took Chandler and Ross out to party, only to realize they have all become adults and are too exhausted after going to a few clubs.

Chandler: We’re not sad. We’re just not 21 anymore, you know? I’m 29 years old, damn it. I wanna sit in a comfortable chair, watch television, and go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

Ross and Joey: Yeah!

Joey: Yeah, and I like to hang out in a quiet place where I can talk to my friends.

Chandler and Ross: Yeah!

Ross: And so what if I like to go home, throw on some Kenny G, and take a bath?!

Insert laugh track here.

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