Artful and Festive

It’s quite amazing how quickly we come to the end of another year, and typically I reflect on its arc and narrative in this sliver chapter in my own life. However, this month I’m throwing that out the window and focus instead on particular art festivities over the years. The invitations normally come from my friend Wendy, my longest-known friend in the Bay Area, and thematically around post-modern art and museums with which she has memberships. Here are a few that pop to mind. With that, enjoy the holidays!

“Soft Power” is a rather dark exhibition currently in SFMOMA about disenfranchisement and recognition of refugees and immigrants in light of the current political and cultural mood. The installations exude layers of complex meaning and creativity in terms of material and ingenuity. I appreciate the global perspective and challenge to my own experiential approach to art.

Rene Magritte Exhibition

 

 

One of the more commercial exhibitions in SFMOMA that I briefly blogged, I was pleasantly surprised to know curators sought the services of an architect to design the interior space displaying the artist’s work. I worked for architectural firms and therefore have a soft spot for their efforts big and small.

Traveling Yurt

I’ve been meaning to write about this since 2013 at which time SFMOMA was under construction and its exhibitions were “on the go,” being shown in other locations. “Station to Station” was in Oakland’s rotting and graffitied historical train stations, a tantalizing artists’ lair. The customary yurt (see aforementioned “Soft Power”) seems to follow me and Wendy around our art excursions. I would say one of the most avante garde exhibits I’ve seen due to the venue.

img_3416-1This member holiday party has to be one of my favorites because of the backstory behind it. I had a few serendipitous dates on my dance card that day, and Wendy and I had libations of the mini-bar fridge variety. All told, a very merry good time.

East Coast Revival

Of all my vacations, I had to work myself into this one, as though bigger girl panties were required emotionally. I wasn’t feeling particularly strong for various reasons, but I eventually found my footing due to familiarity like my family home and quite frankly my second family, as it were, of friends. I had intentionally focused my time with them on this trip—so much life has happened since I was last there in 2014.

Even on the first leg of my journey, there was a tinge of sadness. New York City, while still electric, seemed quite frankly deserted due perhaps not only to the stifling heat and humidity in July, but also the steep cost of living residing there. My consolation, though, is I had more of the city to myself. On my last evening, I happened to go into a local Target in Gramercy Park and mixed with ordinary Saturday shoppers and neighbors, some strutting shirtless on the sidewalk, absorbing the early evening sun before nightfall. It was like any other urban neighborhood I had known, and it felt like home. Only fitting, raindrops fell on the morning of my departure.

But my hometown beckoned, and I was on an Amtrak train heading for the Burgh as I had done on previous trips before. However, as I do more traveling solo, it’s more and more about me and how I evolved since 2014, ergo the mandatory bigger girl panties. I am a lot more at home in the world than not, and being more in charge of my destiny is my constant wish.

It has occurred to me that coming home this year, my friends and I are facing challenging situations, like ill parents, struggling marriages, death of a spouse. After all these years, we are still connected as adults as we were in our younger days. As if by design, the states of our unions remain strong. In other words, we are in this lifeboat together until it no longer exists.

To be sure, it was a short homecoming, and I left Pittsburgh well-fed and entertained. It is always personal with opportunities of going deeper. But I somehow prevent myself from diving too deeply for fear of never resurfacing. However, as years go by and I grow older, there’s no avoiding it.

Lengua Franca

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Deneng Deng (left), the Ilocano pinakbet (simmered vegetables in fermented shrimp paste), and lumpiang Shanghai (top right; mini meat egg rolls), fresh tomatoes and atsara (pickled papaya)

I will be visiting this summer my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA after three years. Trips there have been few and far between, so like anywhere else, I try to do and see as many things as possible.

It’s amazing how my folks put down roots in a place like the Burgh, so foreign to them in the beginning, but they eventually grew to love. After all, they raised a family and own a home. I would consider it my family home but not necessarily mine. As years pass, I realize home to me is somewhere else. Yet, there’s no denying my palpable sense memory, especially around food.

Lumpia (egg rolls) and Q BBQ Recipe are delicious staples in my family’s food culture.

My parents are often at their best when they are in the kitchen. In 2012, I wrote this unpublished essay for a food magazine, and since I’m feeling rather nostalgic, I will fit it in here as well as the recipe:

Having beef tongue for the first time one weekend when I was a teen was such an addictive experience that I went into a kind of all-day grazing mode, consuming it and playing into my parents’ hands to stay out of trouble. I recall it had the texture of my own tongue, with its subtle bumps and ridges. Obviously, I got past all that and discovered it had this nice mouth feel (no pun intended), as tender as any piece of meat should possibly be.
The real kicker, however, was the divine tomato sauce in which it was swathed. Lengua obviously wasn’t carried by the regular supermarket, so my Filipino parents would often drive to a butcher shop in Lawrenceville, a neighborhood minutes from downtown Pittsburgh. Our trips into the city felt like an adventure away from the suburbs where we lived. I learned Foster’s Meats and later Butcher on Butler are now defunct, but there, in a nondescript brick-red building and hurricane-glass block windows, they found rare meat products and “nasty bits” for such native fare as karé-karé (braised oxtail in peanut butter sauce) and the Ilocano version of dinuguan (pork parts stewed in pig’s blood). My siblings and I would wait in our boat-size hunter green Mercury Marquis, as one of my parents or both would go shopping for those delicacies.
You could say beef tongue as it was prepared by my dad that weekend not only made me a really good girl, but also kept me from completely assimilating, lest I would lose my delectable and soulful food culture. From my standpoint, I am more than sated by it.
Filipino Dad’s Beef Tongue in tomato sauce
Beef tongue from the butcher’s

Vegetable or canola oil (1 to 2 tablespoons)
Tomato sauce/puree and/or fresh diced tomatoes
Garlic (2 cloves, sliced)
Onion (1 medium, sliced)
Soy sauce and pepper to taste
Sugar (optional)
To prepare the beef tongue, cover it in water and boil for 3 to 5 hours (1 lb./50 minutes is the conventional wisdom). You may also use a pressure cooker to shorten the cooking time (follow its recommendations).  When done, cool and remove outer skin or covering and any gristle or sinew.  Cut quarter- to half-inch slices.
Tomato Sauce:
Sauté garlic and onion slices in oil until soft. Add 2 cups of tomato sauce/puree and/or diced tomatoes and simmer till thickens. You may also add a little water to thin out the consistency if it’s too dense for your liking. Season with soy sauce and pepper to desired taste; cook for two minutes. Add beef tongue slices to sauce and let them meld together, basting the gravy over the beef to help heat it through. Once done and the meat is tender, serve and enjoy over rice or by itself. Green olives (or pimento stuffed ones) for some briny flavor would also take this dish to another level.

 

Mentors

UZAD1166 Adjusting to a new job no question takes time. Be that as it may, I am mindful of what I already have in my career and lucky enough to have two I could call mentors from journalism to contracts management. Jason, a former contracts manager at Interior Architects, imparted knowledge and the path forward to leverage in my current career. Rene was my first and only editor in journalism, who taught me to be a better writer. They are both highly-skilled, invariably men in their positions.

The women whom I can say are my mentors are really my peers, which speaks more to the lack of them at a higher level. And those in positions of power, I have observed, are merely surviving, dare I say scheming (although they may call it succeeding), in a stratosphere of male culture that rebuffs equally qualified women who would otherwise be at the table but refuse to play the game in a man’s world.

This month I was honored to have met as well as delight in the gastronomic offerings of Chef Tanya Holland of Brown Sugar Restaurant and “Top Chef” fame. She put together a meal featuring her soul food menu for the Macy’s Culinary Council during its Spring Flower Show. Her ability to transcend norms and create more of a life than simply a career resonates with me, and I peppered her with questions in exchanges during her cooking demo as we tucked into her dishes and imbibed in wine and spirit.

I identify with her eclectic background, having also grown up and educated in the East before moving west. She said she loves being her own boss, an entrepreneur who is also interested in empowering her community in the Bay Area and globally. She has a degree in Russian language and literature that later led to being a U.S. culinary ambassador to Kazakhstan for the Third Annual Culinary Diplomacy program in 2015.  While current public discourse has become polarizing, she said, food is instrumental in opening up dialogue and discovering commonalities when sharing a meal.

It’s comforting to know a role model like her exists when I am less than satisfied with how my career is progressing. She reminds me I have more agency over my life than I can imagine, and it keeps my eyes locked on the prize.

The Joy of New Beginnings

It was months ago last year in October to be exact that I wrote about eagerly anticipating my next move, and now I can happily say I have turned that page. I can’t say it was easy, but as I am told often, anything hard is more than likely worth it.

This was a no-brainer. There were no conflicts or fears on my end–just it was time to get out and be more me. So here I am with a new job and a freedom I don’t think I have ever known because I am so unequivocally joyful. I see it in wanting to watch my nephew play ball and being my own boss in whatever I choose to do. It is, as overused as this term might be, liberating once again and as ever a moment of gratitude and abundance–twin states of being I could only express in how I live and who I am.

 

Averting Death

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Poolside: MLK weekend getaway before a brief scare on the return flight.

I was taking off in a plane last month on a windy morning from Palm Springs, and before the critical 30 seconds when the aircraft would have reached a safe level, it started to bounce violently like a puppet being willfully pulled by invisible strings. Obviously, I survived, however, the event nudged me to think how final moments are never shared after the fact because, well, one would not have lived to tell them. Once we disembarked, my travel companions and I reunited and immediately debriefed to comfort each other. Later, I also texted my siblings.

I was seated in the last row, where one could feel every bump and disturbing noise expressed from a plane’s gut, when it started rocking in a not so pleasant manner. I turned toward my sole row mate, and he looked about to lose it, including all his saliva, judging how he was cupping his mouth. With little assurance there, I took hold of the arms of my seat, curling mine around them, imagining I would have some kind of protection if separated from the plane in a hard, vertical fall.

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My nephews are babies no more but still raison d’etre.

Then my phone popped out of the pocket in front me. When I had a chance to grab and pick it up, the top screensaver of my two nephews around two or three at the time, lit up, as most phones sensitive to any touch or movement are want to do, and glowed in the gray well of my row. I locked into their angelic faces that were increasingly coming into sharp focus, as I brought my phone closer to me. I thought if this is my final moment, then I am at peace and good with whatever follows because these boys, whom I consider at times my own, were the last images I would have seen.

But I dodged the grim reaper again, and well, I guess, at this juncture, the directive is more or less the same as time immemorial–live like there’s no tomorrow–but also speak of what’s in my heart, especially when without any notice, it may suddenly be on its last tick.

Even-Keeled

Self-Portrait

A portrait composed by my coworkers on the whiteboard of my office.

I just thought it’s the perfect moment to plant a flag on something I’ve often wondered–whether my own plan would at some point coincide with reality. Office desk

Here it is–I have a job I’ve come to appreciate because it supports a life I love. By the same token, I approach my job situation in similar fashion as my personal life: It’s how I feel about the job not the company that’s primary. Therefore, it’s about my partner not marriage that’s foremost. I am hopeful on both fronts as I navigate my next move.