Friday, September 02, 2011

The Happily Ever After Project

What happens after 30?

The day after my I officially hit 30, I slept for 14 hours straight. When I finally woke up, I was stunned that it was even possible for someone for sleep that long without being anesthesized. Such is the delicious exhaustion that comes with knocking off a list of 30 incredible things in the span of 14 months.

After writing my last post, I took a long hiatus from blogging and writing, and went about enjoying summer in the city and everything it had to offer. Through the madness and incessant hubbub of activity that is summer in New York, I realized that underneath it all I am a woman at peace. That desperate feeling of life having passed me by that dogged me in my late 20s was gone. Any feelings of inadequacy and insecurity had dissipated too; I know my place in the world and I'm secure in the knowledge of what I'm capable of. Best of all, I know that I am always surrounded and bolstered by friends and family who will love me and see me through anything. I am, for all intents and purposes, a happy, happy woman.

The strange thing, though, was realizing that while I'm perfectly happy to be where I am at the age of 30, to some people I seem to be, to put it as nicely as possible, a good wine that must be consumed right now lest I go off or need to be marked down. People constantly ask me whether I plan on getting married soon or whether I'm panicking that I'm not yet settled down. Well, on my own I feel absolutely no sense of panic, but mass hysteria catches on real quickly, you know ...

Which brings me to how I came up with my new blog: 


Part diary, part manifesto, it's my attempt to challenge myself and hopefully others to redefine what it means to live happily ever after. Since childhood, girls have been conditioned to think that happily ever after only begins once Prince Charming comes along to rescue us from our dreary lives. I like fairytale endings as much as the next person—but I'd like to believe finding Prince Charming isn't a prerequisite to happiness. This blog is my way of celebrating the happily ever after in the here and now, and I hope that you, my dear readers, will follow and join the conversation in this new project as you did with 30 Before 30.

If this has piqued your curiosity at all, I would be thrilled if you would visit The Happily Ever After Project at http://www.thehappilyeverafterproject.com.

Thank you all for your invaluable support and insights during 30 Before 30. Hopefully this isn't goodbye—just a segue into a new conversation!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

#30: Forgive.

Throughout the course of my 30 Before 30 Project, I've had to reflect on the meaning of forgiveness. When I wrote the word "Forgive" in the final spot on my list, it was born out of a wish to go back to the person that I used to be: someone who held no grudges and no ill feelings towards anyone, no matter what had transpired in the past. When I was writing my list, I thought that I needed to find my way back to being the person that I was before my life went into a tailspin in order to be happy again.

As the project progressed, however, I found out more about myself, what I'm capable of—and ultimately, what I'm worth. With every new friend made and every timeworn friendship made even stronger, I came to realize that these people that I adore having in my life also think of me as someone worth knowing and loving. With every fear overcome and seemingly insurmountable challenge conquered, I found out that I'm made of some pretty strong stuff. With every new place explored and new experience soaked up, I realized how much promise the future held.

Knowing all that, how could I want to go back?

But even though the original intention behind wanting to forgive didn't hold anymore, it was still something I couldn't let go of. Did I need to forgive the people who betrayed me? Did I need to forgive myself for not being more careful with who I allowed close enough to cause me real damage?

Forcing myself to forgive someone who hurt me in unfathomable ways made very little sense to me. That sort of forgiveness happens in its own time and cannot be given a deadline.

Forgiving myself seemed to be a good way to go. I spent a lot of time being very angry at myself for failing to protect myself. I've never had my own back. I jump into relationships littered with red flags just as easily as I do out of planes and towers, knowing I always manage to bounce back and not caring what I risk in the process. Sometimes, my daring leads me to incredible highs. But other times it brings me to gut-wrenching lows. Reflecting on my own role in the pitfalls of my life gave me a new sense of awareness and hopefully taught me lessons for the years and relationships to come.

It wasn't until Sunday morning, one day into turning 30, that I finally found a definition of forgiveness that brought me peace and closure. Together with a heartwarming birthday greeting, my friend Janine sent me a quote that finally put everything into perspective:

Forgiveness is about giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
- Oprah Winfrey

I still recall those first few days of heartbreak, when I would be doubled over in bed wracked with tears at the life that had fallen apart around me. I would have given anything then for things to go back to the way they were.

Now, a year and a half later, I wouldn't change any of it—not the mistakes made, the devastation wrought, the anger that swelled up, the resolve that came to reclaim my life, and especially not the grace that allowed me to turn the bitterness into something so, so sweet.

A week ago, fellow blogger Lach interviewed me and asked me what my biggest regret was. Before this project, I would've found it easy to come up with an answer but having gone through what I have over the past year and change, I had this to say: 

I can’t say that I have one. Good things came out of even the most painful events of my life, and I wouldn’t be the person I am if I hadn’t gone through it all—so no regrets."

So if forgiveness is indeed letting go of that hope that my past could be different, then I can say with all honesty and confidence that I've achieved that.

But at the end of it all, I don't know if I've earned the right to cross off #30 on my list. The truth is, it doesn't matter anymore. My little project has done so much more for me than I ever expected it to and I can't ask for anything more at this point.

During the interview, Lach also asked me what book changed my life and I told him that as cliché as it sounds, it's The Alchemist. And as always happens when I come to thinking about this book, I realize that despite reading it numerous times, I can never recall how the story ends.

That's because the point of the story was never the ending. It was about the colorful journey of a shepherd boy and how it was this journey that was ultimately his reward.

And I guess that's how my project ends, too. Did I succeed at crossing off everything on my list? It really doesn't matter. All that matters is that I've had the time of my life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Finding my cojones

As someone who takes pride in how she communicates her thoughts, I find trying to speak in a new language infinitely frustrating. So despite having taken Spanish classes for some time now, it still pains me to attempt to communicate in Spanish—particularly when I know the other person speaks English well anyway.

But it's pretty much impossible to learn how to speak a language without making yourself speak it, no matter how terribly. Lest I waste several more years studying and yet never learning Spanish, I added this to my list to get a good kick in the butt to keep trying.

I'm nowhere near where I'd like to be but I've been pushing myself to practice much more thanks to this list.

In Ibiza, French turned out to be a more useful language to know, given our Belgian party crew. But I took a few shots at ordering in Spanish and attempting to converse with a woman who had dinged our friend Alain's car. 

In Mexico, I was much more agitated that I had to break out some Español when we got stopped at a military checkpoint than the actual fact that we were stopped at a military checkpoint (Thankfully they just wanted to know if we were going to sunbathe in Cancun. Si, Señor!). I got to use the language a teeny bit more to ask directions here and there. Very teeny tiny steps, but steps forward nonetheless.

While hanging out with Tamara, Michele and Juan in Macau, I got another chance to get some practice in. Granted, my two-minute conversation with Michele and Juan made sweatbeads appear on my forehead much quicker than our bungeejump off the tower, but at least I tried!

These days, the most stressful part of my workday is when my co-worker, dear sweet Paula, turns around from her chair and asks me random conversational questions in Spanish. I asked her to do this and I am so grateful that she does, but I hope the day will soon come when I won't feel like she's just asked me for the exact location of the Holy Grail every time we speak.

Crossing off this item is not as dramatic as most other things on my list, but it's one absolutely necessary item that has helped me quite a bit in overcoming something that I battle with quite regularly. People ask me if there's another list in the works now that I'm already 30 and the truth is, I haven't decided yet. But whether or not a new list comes to fruition, there's one thing I absolutely plan on tackling in the near future: Spend a month in a Spanish-speaking country for full-on Español immersion! 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

#21: Find my go-to karaoke song—CHECK!

Finding my go-to karaoke song became such an obsession that during my last visit to the Philippines, I did the ultimate balikbayan move. For non-Filipinos, balikbayan is what overseas workers are called when they come back to the Motherland. In Filipino, "balik" means to return while "bayan" means country. There are two quick ways to spot a balikbayan in the Philippines:
  1. They are totally incapable of ordering anything other than a mango shake or a San Miguel beer to drink when at a restaurant.
  2. They can be found in otherwise deserted electronics stores looking for something called a "Magic Mic" or "Magic Sing." What on earth are such things? Let our boy Manny Pacquiao show you ...
It's not just our hometown hero who can't pass up the opportunity to belt out some tunes. I do love a good karaoke session, and in my quest for my ultimate go-to karaoke song, we had plenty. Up until yesterday, I thought my go-to karaoke song should be Lady Gaga's Bad Romance after this hilariously fun karaoke sesh we had:
But yesterday, as we were swilling wine in my living room and using the karaoke contraption I'd brought all the way from the Philippines, we stumbled upon the perfect karaoke song for me. Ladies and gents, presenting my ultimate go-to karaoke song: Last Dance. Try not to let my girlfriends' neverending yells to "Take it off!" and "Peel your shirt off!" distract you from the fact that this is an awesome karaoke song.
So there it is! Another 30 Before 30 task crossed off. It may not be as impressive as a bungee jump or swimming with the whalesharks but it was a great excuse to have a hell of a good time getting my karaoke on with my friends!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Birthday Blog Advisory

The big day has finally arrived! Due to a hangover caused by this little sucker and its many liquid friends, I am unable to whip up eloquent posts at the moment. Blog posting will resume after The Hangover and its many anticipated sequels. Unless, of course, we get sidetracked by The End of the World. In which case, I'd like to say it was nice knowing you all and boy, am I glad I did this little project!

Friday, May 20, 2011

#06: Master a 5-course gourmet meal—CHECK!

I never thought I'd ever be in the kitchen intentionally setting a wine reduction on fire, but there I was on Wednesday, apprehensively watching three bottles of cabernet sauvignon go up in flames:
The unknown factor for my epic 5-course meal was the main course: beef short ribs braised in red wine following a recipe of Daniel Boulud sent to me by my friend Ludette. I was extra worried about this course because I only had one shot at it and had to do it unsupervised. But it all went by without a hitch. I started out by boiling three bottles of wine, setting it aflame and reducing it down to half. Then I prepped the vegetables and rubbed down those gorgeous hunks of beef short ribs with oil, salt and pepper, plus a little drizzle of flour.
I've always been scared of getting splashed with hot oil so the word "sear" tends to strike fear into my heart. The fact that Chef Boulud says that the secret to the success of this dish is browning the ribs well to get all that yummy flavor into the sauce made the task even more intimidating. But I pulled it off and I feel it's largely thanks to Ludette's beautiful Le Creuset dutch oven, which heats so evenly that browning the ribs was no trouble at all ...
After removing the seared ribs from the pot, it was time to throw in the vegetables and herbs.
Shortly thereafter, I added in some tomato paste, then the ribs, red wine reduction and beef stock. Putting the heavy pot into the oven was another nerve-wracking part but thankfully I managed to do it without all my hard work ending up splattered on the floor. I left it to braise in the oven for 2 1/2 hours and went about doing other things like laundry and preparing the molten chocolate magic cake batter for the next day. At the end of the night, I had this beauty chilling on my stove: 
I could barely contain my excitement at the sight of the meat, which was so tender it was falling off the bone! I left the pot out to cool then refrigerated it to continue the process the next day.

Thursday after work, I pulled the pot out of the fridge and found a thick layer of fat had risen to the surface. I scooped out as much of the fat out as possible and discarded it, then reheated the pot on the stove. Once the meat was heated through, I took the ribs out of the braising liquid. They were beautiful and absolutely delicious, even without the sauce!
I did intend to serve it with sauce though, so I let the braising liquid boil until it reduced into something thick and super tasty.
At this point, my guests started to arrive so I presented them with my fool-proof first course: baked brie with apples, golden raisins and walnuts.
God I love that dish. So easy. While they snacked on that, I got started on the second course. I made garlic croutons, grilled some asparagus on the broiler, and poached some eggs (Holla!).
There were no egg casualties this time. You gotta admit, that it is one beautiful poached egg in that salad. Mitch approves.
Then, it was time to sear scallops. I got a fresh batch from Whole Foods before coming home that only needed some salt and pepper before going into the pan. Here I am in basting action ...
Full disclusure: this meal would not have been such a success had Mitch not been there as I constantly bombarded her with questions like, "Is the oil hot enough? .... What about now?" I may be feeling more comfortable in the kitchen these days but I still need some adult supervision. In any case, I did manage to come up with some truly beautiful and very yummy seared scallops.
A significant delay followed because we decided the short ribs should come with some mashed potatoes. But when we finally got to dig into the fourth course, we all enjoyed the super tender and flavorful shortribs. The mashed potatoes need some more work but I can live with that.
After my failed molten chocolate attempt on Monday, I was overly concerned about leaving the cake in the oven for too long. In the end, it turned out to be a great success and most of the chocolate cake disappeared within minutes.
So I'm proud to report that I am entering my 30s capable of putting one delicious five-course meal on the table! A lot of the things on my list consisted of chasing after my youth but this was one of the few that had to do with preparing for adulthood, so it was very satisfying and reassuring that I was able to come through. For someone who only learned how to turn on a stove at the age of 23, you gotta admit this is a massive breakthrough!

A big thank you to my dearest friends who patiently taught me and ate my food, for better or worse, throughout this process. My future family, who will have to survive on my cooking, thanks you all!



Thursday, May 19, 2011

Egg Poaching 101

People do funny things when they're drunk. Some get more promiscuous, others start dancing on tables, and still others fall into a crying, self-loathing spiral. Me? I crawl into the nearest bed and promptly pass out. Oh, and I apparently like to talk about poached eggs.

A few months ago, while inebriated on beer and whisky, I spent an entire conversation harassing a chef to teach me how to poach an egg. The poached egg is an enigma to me—those delicate little satchels that cradle heavenly runny yolks. When the idea came to me to do an asparagus, prosciutto and poached egg salad for my five-course meal project, I was equal parts giddy and petrified. My learning how to poach an egg would be the equivalent of Santiago (the shepherd boy in The Alchemist) figuring out how to turn lead into gold.

The dream was to create a something resembling this beauty from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook:
On a Saturday morning, Zoe and Mat came over to my place to help me achieve the dream. To ensure my friends wouldn't starve lest I eff up the poaching, I served them the cheese course I plan on including in my 5-course meal: baked brie with apples, golden raisins and walnuts. I love making this when friends come over for wine and cheese. So easy but delicious!
This foolproof course plus a big baguette would tide us over until I got the hang of this egg poaching thing. Once reasonably full, I set up the egg poaching station with all the essentials: vinegar, slotted spoon, ramekins, ice bath and of course, a dozen eggs.
There are myriad ways to make "perfectly poached eggs" but the general idea is that you need simmering water with a little bit of vinegar in a pan to do it. The Ad Hoc at Home cookbook said I needed 6-8 inches of water, others less. Some will tell you to stir that water vigorously to create a vortex to drop the egg into, while others don't mention stirring at all. I can tell you that the vortex method did not work for me. Zoe thought keeping this little egg graveyard by the stove would keep me from repeating my mistakes.
After two botched attempts, I was feeling disheartened. But then we found this YouTube video that put us on the right track. Zoe and Mat each took a turn, et voila!
That the two of them made perfect poached eggs on their first try definitely put the pressure on! I was so nervous when I slipped that egg into the water, you would think I was jumping off a tower or something. But I stayed calm and corralled that egg into a little oval just like the lady in the video did, and lo and behold ...
That, my friends, is pure unadulterated JOY. You would think I'd found the holy grail or something—which it kind of is for me. The thought that I can have poached eggs anytime I want just blew my mind. After grilling some asparagus on the broiler and Zoe making a lovely batch of garlic croutons, we had this lovely plate to dig into:
A priceless cooking skill learned and one more course checked off! Up next: braised short ribs.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Early Birthday Present

I got a lovely gift today from fellow listomaniac and fear crusher Lach over at The Art of Audacity. It's one of my favorite blogs—so well-designed and written with purpose. The blogosphere is full of would-be inspirational gurus who will write post after post of how to's but rarely actually show themselves walking the talk. Lach isn't one of those; his blog talks about crushing fear and shows him actually doing it—whether he's skydiving, bungee-jumping, swimming with the sharks or, scariest of all, up and quitting his job! So when he preaches, I say amen—and when he asked if he could do a post on lil 'ol me, I did a happy little dance of joy and fired away at those questions. So please do check it out over here.

Thanks Lach! I'm off to kill the rest of the list ... 3 days and counting to the big 3-0!

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