Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Live Below The Line 2014: Day 2 - 45p and an all time low

I have signed up for Live Below The Line from 28 April to 2 May, hoping to raise funds for ChildHope. You can help either by joining or by sponsoring me here.

First, just realised I miscalculated Day 1's brunch box - I said I ate a total of 5p's worth of garlic sausage when I actually used three slices which means it should be 15p, instead. So yesterday's overall spendage was 95p, not 85p. Apologies!


Starting Day 2 was very easy. I purposely woke up a bit later so my hunger clock would adjust into some sort of daylight savings time for the belly. Surprisingly, I still felt full from the previous night's dinner (thank you very much, casserole vegetables!) and my energy levels were quite high. Even after an hour of commuting (roughly 40 minutes walking as the TFL tube strike was on) I was quite oiled up and wasn't hungry at all.

My brunch box was pretty much the same as yesterday. An apple (10p), a banana (9p), a sandwich made from 1/6 baguette (7p), 3 slices of garlic sausage (15p) and a few leaves (3p), and a priceless photo of little me... just because. I also allocated 3 bags of tea (1p) for this day so that's a total of 45p!

No butter butty.

12pm came around and all I could think about was food. I unwrapped my baguette sandwich and the smell of garlic sausages unexpectedly reminded me of lechon, (aka Anthony Bourdain's "best pig ever" and Chowtzer Fast Feast's Tastiest Dish in Asia 2014) which is usually served during celebrations and festivities in the Philippines. It made me wonder how people below the poverty line celebrate occasions, if they actually do at all. It hit a sad note how some people may never experience the simple joys in life.

So I tried to make a happy face, inspired by Alex's lunch yesterday with my sad little baguette and teeny banana.

I came home late, tired cos of the tube strikes and decided to take a power nap before mulling about dinner.

And it lasted for almost 6 hours. @#$%^&*!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This reminded me of the time my friends and I went on a spontaneous beach trip and I 'power napped' for 2 hours! O_O

I didn't get to have dinner. My stomach is definitely grumbling but I woke up just after 1am which means whatever I consume would eat into Day 3's budget. This is bad. Really bad. Not only am I worried about my health, I'm worried about how I'll get through Day 3 when we are hosting this event at work (think prosecco, G&Ts, canapes). O_O

Overall spendage for the day: 45p
Overall belly factor: Better through the working day, super empty at night.
Overall feeling: @#$%^&*!!!!!! I am never taking power naps again!!!

For more information about the campaign please visit the Live Below the Line website. Please visit the Child Hope website too, for more information about the charity I'm raising funds for!

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

EDITED Live Below The Line 2014: Day 1 - 95p and a major school girl error

UPDATE: I miscalculated Day 1's brunch box - I actually used three slices of garlic pork sausage which means it should be 15p, instead of 5p (price per slice). So overall spendage was 95p, not 85p. Apologies! 

I have signed up for Live Below The Line from 28 April to 2 May, hoping to raise funds for ChildHope. You can help either by joining or by sponsoring me here.

I woke up extra early feeling extremely motivated and excited to start my Live Below the Line journey.

Managed to fix a mini-lunch box consisting of an apple (10p), a banana (9p) tea bags (3 bags make up for 1p), and a sandwich made from 1/6 a baguette (7p), 3 slices of garlic sausage (15p) and a few leaves (3p). That already accounts to 45p or a third of my daily budget so I knew I best be careful with dinner.

I arrived work earlier than expected. Usually I have enough time to swing by a café for pastry and coffee but I went straight to my desk, proud to have passed by my favourite Swedish bakery without missing their freshly baked cinnamon buns. I had a challenge to conquer and I was keen to do well.

An hour into the working day I felt peckish. I munched on my apple and drank two cups of tea (re-used the tea bag) but felt it wasn't enough. By 11am my stomach was screaming "EAT! EAT! EAT!" but I was banking on delayed gratification; Eating lunch early would drive me bonkers when the arvo rolls in. I gave in at 12.30pm, two hours earlier than my planned late lunch, and unwrapped my mini garlic sausage baguette. It was as plain as Jane can get but the bread was thick enough so it was still quite substantial.

A few bites later, I realised it was Monday.

My mind's telling me "Noooooo!"

I said this before and I'll say it again... this was definitely an R. Kelly moment. I felt so sick, torn between my body needs and tradition. I stopped eating the baguette and decided to have a fresh cup of tea instead.

But my body.... my body's telling me "Yessssss!"
I don't wanna hurt nobody
But there's something I must confess....

I ate the rest of the baguette half an hour later. I'm so sorry!!!! =(

Feeling guilty about eating pork on a Monday threw me off eating completely. But then I saw a colleague snacking on her stash of biccies and my mouth automatically watered like a Japanese futuristic faucet. I ate my banana convincing myself it's the healthier option. I was really tearing up inside. I couldn't wait to go home to cook a hearty dinner. I was so hungry my stomach was going to eat itself.

For dinner I wanted to make vegetarian sausage casserole. I oven-cooked two vegetarian sausages (18p), boiled about 1/6 of my couscous (11p) and 1/5 of my casserole vegetables (20p). When the sausages and vegetables were cooked, I plopped them in a heated pan, poured some gravy (1p) made with the water from the boiled veg on top and let it simmer for a few minutes. I then placed everything in a takeaway container, pretending it was worth £10 from a local vegan restaurant instead of a 50p homecooked meal. I did not use any herbs and spices so I was surprised it tasted decent. The only thing I wish it had more of was acidity, perhaps a few drops of lemon juice or vinegar.

Overall spendage for the day: 95p (Yes, I'm quite surprised too.)
Overall belly factor: Could've done with a few more snacks here and there but quite satisfied after dinner. 
Overall feeling: Couldn't have kicked myself harder for missing Meatless Monday. Stupid school girl error. 

That wraps up Day 1 of the Live Below The Line challenge. It was quite a struggle but it I wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. I can't wait til Day 2 but for now, here's to dreaming about big gooey chocolate fondant cakes with strawberry and basil cream cheese tarts (hey if I can't have it now, I'll have it in my dreams!)

For more information about the campaign please visit the Live Below the Line website. Please visit the Child Hope website too, for more information about the charity I'm raising funds for!

Monday, 28 April 2014

Live Below The Line 2014: Shop list done, game face on

 As mentioned, I am going to Live Below The Line from 28 April to 2 May, hoping to raise funds for ChildHope. You can help either by joining or by sponsoring me here.

So after three shop visits, much recalibration, and a lot of patience this is what I've stretched £5 quid to:

1. Tea (27p) - I've read stories of people who've gone cold turkey on caffeine through the campaign which I didn't think I could do, so the first 'purchase' was a jar of 'value' coffee for 50p. I then saw a box of tea for 27p and some rich tea biscuits for 23p so I exchanged my coffee for those two products. But then I thought 23p could buy me other important things so I left the biccies on the shelf *TEARS*.

2. Frozen veggie sausages (75p) - I was so worried about protein. I don't eat egg and a can of tuna alone already costs more than the daily £1 budget. When I saw these marked down from £1.49 I was so chuffed I got teary. I like vegetarian sausages anyway (Linda McCartney's frozen ones at least) so this will be my source of protein for the next five days.

3. Gravy granules (20p) - Seasoning is going to be a bitch as every gram of herbs and spices would be accounted for. I figured I can season my food with gravy granules - either use it as a sauce, aromat or stock.

4. Cous cous (68p) - My friends recommended pasta but I'd need more ingredients (ie oil, sauce, etc) for that. Also, I didn't want to compromise nutrition so instead of getting something starchy, I picked out this easy-to-cook whole wheat grain. It's easier to make and I know exactly how to jazz it up as I cook it loads.

5. Half-baked baguettes (45p) - A loaf of bread is priced similarly but I never really go through a whole loaf so to avoid wasting food, I chose to buy these baguettes. These were surprisingly massive; I can actually cut them into 5-day lunch portions. 6 to a stretch.

6. Frozen casserole vegetables (£1) - This was "expensive" but I figured it would help me through hunger. It's a mix of carrots, onions, suede, celery and turnip. I think this is a more filling choice than getting some random loose veggies which can sometimes add up to more than you think.

7. Garlic sausage (60p) - This was the only deli meat I could afford, given the budget, for my lunch sarnies. It says 80% pork anyway so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it's all legit meat.

8. Bananas (36p) - This was one of the 'smart' options I thought, because instead of getting them from the shops, I decided to get my fresh stuff from the local fruit grocer. I know they sell products on the cheap anyway so yay!

9. Lettuce (20p) - Again, I bought this from the local fruit/veg shop. It only had a few leaves in there and it's not as crunchy as I would have wanted (tastes rather bland too) but it's green and I needed something to lift my sandwich lunches!

10. Apples (40p) - These are the tiniest apples in the world and I was surprised they were more expensive than the bananas. At this point I was regretting not buying those rich tea biscuits.

That's a total of £4.91 spent which means I've got 9p left for spices/herbs. I don't normally use salt in my cooking anyway but I'm hoping that's enough to afford a pinch of chilli powder here or a dash of pepper there.

It will be tough... but five days is nothing compared to what others are experiencing. I mean at this rate I actually still have the benefit of having options. I get to say "No I don't need you biscuits!" or "No I'd rather have two baguettes than a full loaf of bread!" and that's a real privilege to have. Most people just take what they can get, compromising health for the chance to eat!

So here's to the next five days. I hope I can stop thinking about this (last night's pre-LBTL dinner!):

I'm glad I'm doing this with Alex - it's always good to have someone to help you get through the challenges of life!

For more information about the campaign please visit the Live Below the Line website. Please visit the Child Hope website too, for more information about the charity I'm raising funds for!

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Live Below The Line 2014: Why I signed up to live off £1 per day for 5 days

I am going to Live Below The Line from 28 April to 2 May, hoping to raise funds for ChildHope. 

Most of us have been very sheltered growing up, particularly my friends in Manila. We never had to worry about food, nor how to prepare anything, because most days we come home to the smell of homecooked meals ready to be devoured in the warmth of our homes. We had people clearing our tables, washing the dishes and asking us what we wanted to have for brekky the next day.

When I moved to England I first lived with family in Bournemouth so it was pretty much the same set up. The challenge began when I moved to London because the cooking gene does not run in my family. Prepping meals became a challenge but it was a fun new skill to explore as there are means to make decent meals beyond 'student dinners' or 'dorm food'. And when laziness creeps in, there's always a takeaway or a restaurant to visit. I may not have always been comfortable.

I've been in a very funky "What-is-the-meaning-of-life" mood this week and while searching for a way to rejuvenate my soul, I chanced on my blogger buddy Alex's tweet about participating in Live Below The Line. It's a global fundraising and awareness campaign set to fight extreme hunger and poverty. The challenge is to eat and drink on a measly £1 per day for 5 days. That's right - you're not allowed to spend anything beyond a pound per day nor are you allowed to have freebies or 'food donations' from buds.

I first heard of the campaign from a client who did it last year. We've actually spun stories out of his experience in the trade press and I remember thinking how ridiculously hard it must have been for him and how crazy it was to immerse oneself in such activity. I mean... a fiver for a working week is what I'd usually spend on:
- 5 cans of soda
- 4 snacking popcorn bars
- 3 days worth of single shot espresso
- 2 cinnamon buns
- a glass of wine at a restaurant

I didn't think I could do it. I love my food too much.

But then I realised what I spend on insubstantial food can actually pay for someone's VERY basic daily expenses including a basic meal which stretches to two servings. It just doesn't seem enough to survive. What if you suddenly fall sick? Is it really a matter of having to make the choice between living or going hungry? And if you live, would you want to face malnutrition and injustice? Why would you want to survive then, if you're only going to be hungry all over? Truth is, over 1.2 billion people experience these dilemmas, which are only a few of the millions they face in extreme poverty.

In the hope helping in my own little way, I signed up to raise funds for Child Hope. The charity supports thousands of children in Africa, Asia and South America who are living in hunger and exploitation. These kids are often abused and violated and/or forced to work in dangerous conditions. They work in various countries, working with local NGOs to bring about long-term changes and to help these children turn around their lives to have the enjoyable childhood they deserve. They do this by providing shelter, education and mental/emotional support.

Someone asked, "Why do you have to do it yourself? Surely you can just donate money?"
The point is, it's always been so easy to just give money and pay for someone to do stuff or for things we don't even need. This is why it's easier for us to take for granted what we are given because we don't seem to value hard work as much anymore. How many times did you leave half the food on you plate thinking you can always buy something nicer? How many once/never-used clothes do you have in your closet? There's so much waste going on while 1.2 billion people struggle to have staple necessities. I don't want to be that person who just doesn't care because I have money to spare; genuinely caring means understanding how the other half live. Aside from actually raising funds for Child Hope, and essentially The Global Poverty Project, I joined this campaign in hopes of spiritual healing, honing discipline, being more appreciative and grateful for the little things that count. Most importantly, this little step is having a piece of that much needed soul food I've been looking for.

If you are interested, feel free to browse through the Live Below The Line website. You can help by sponsoring me too! I will, of course post updates on the blog and let you know how I'm progressing!

Here's to seeing how the other half live and here's to hopefully coming out a better person.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Throwback Thursday: an old entry about passion

Last Tuesday, after the first working day post-Easter break, I experienced an indescribable feeling of... discontent. I was unsure what prompted it but I was on tenterhooks all day. Something was not quite right and my blood pressure was definitely on a sky-rocket high.

I left work without an agenda and found myself at a restaurant outside my local train station, nursing a huge glass of red in hopes of calming the nerves. Few sips on I laughed at myself for being that person. Alcohol should never be a resort to resolve unease but sometimes the fleeting feeling of numbness works.

So there I was sipping my drink when a young lady started chatting (loudly) about her recent activities. Apparently, she's started to take on knitting as a hobby and takes her kit in school so she can finish a jumper in between classes and dodgeball practice. She's also enrolled in a pastry class. Her elderly companion asked how she has time for all these things. She said she's passionate about her hobbies so she makes sure she has time.

That was the kicker, I think. I miss having a hobby - some sort of life other than this work-eat-drink-play-sleep-repeat routine I have. I miss feeling passionate enough about something I would move mountains to make time for. I miss knowing that I'm the best version of myself especially when I'm doing something I can master like the back of my hand.


11 September 2005

I’ve been trying to find something I can really be good at. Something I can actually see myself doing and enjoying for the rest of my life. Something that can affect other people as I do what I do. My most unequivocal passion.

When I was relatively younger, I was obsessed with arts and crafts. My parents made me go to art workshops and though I wasn’t as good as [REDACTED], I managed to place either 2nd or 1st in most of the inter-school poster-making contests I’ve joined. At the peak of that artsyfartsy phase, I told my mom I wanted to be a painter and by the time I hit my 20th, I’d have single-handedly earned my first million. Now, a month shy of being universally legal, I am not at all acquainted with brushes and acrylic and my very business minded 14-year-old brother actually has more cash in his wallet than I do. Fudge.

In high school, I tried to find my forte through sports. I’ve kicked a lot of balls and swam thousands of laps. I loved the thrill of soccer (the smell of grass, the adrenaline rush, the thought of getting injured) and revered the competitiveness of swimming (surpassing your own records is a splash) and volleyball was something I enjoyed playing with my girl friends. Though I never really deserved MVP awards, I embraced being sporty even when my muscles cried out in pain. But as the much anticipated summer sun beckoned the end of senior year, I knew my career as a jock was over.

College brought forth a love I never thought I had until I got into UP Street. Ahh, dancing. The very thought of it liberates me. The ability to move your body in rhythm or even in silence is exhilarating. Performing is another thing. Perhaps most dancers would agree with me when I say that they undergo an enigmatic transformation when they are onstage. Ahh, dancing. I know I'm good at it but my standards say being good is not good enough. I regret not training as much as I used to. Perhaps if I had time to spare? No questions asked. In the meantime, my performances and my Janet Jackson fantasies are restricted in the four walls of my bedroom. Oh, and those occasional inter-org competitions.

Fudge. I wish I knew how it feels to be really passionate about something again. The thought of drowning in bittersweet mediocrity is terrifying.


Ahhh... mediocrity. Always been one of my greatest fears. If I'm being brutally honest, it's not exactly difficult to doubt yourself when you don't get validation, especially when you're used to knowing and hearing how good you are or how good you can be. I grew up exposed to competitive culture where being the best is the only way to live, bronze medals are frowned upon, and superstardom is almost an innate thing. No, my folks were not "Asian tiger parents" but they were very motivational and made me aim higher for myself.

These days, though I feel like I've done quite well, a huge part of me still seems to be waiting to do something exceptionally great. I have plenty of interests I can tap, but I can't honestly say I'm doing anything I'm super passionate about.

Oh well. I hope the best is yet to come. And I hope I'd stop making excuses and finally start making time to find that great beyond.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Testi: where testicles are probably not offal

#yesthatwasapun But you gotta have some balls to hang testicles on your window and call it one of your recommeded dishes, right?


I had so much fun hanging out with some blogger buds at the London Coffee Festival so when a dinner catch up was mentioned, I was definitely in.

The restaurant of choice was a Turkish restaurant in Stoke Newington called Testi, where one of the chef's recommended dishes is a main portion of lamb testicles. I wondered if it was all eponymous, but according to one of the servers testi means jug in Turkish and there's a classic type of kebab cooked in jugs over fire (which I didn't think was in the menu). Interesting.

Jesse, Emma, Alex & Federica

Naturally, we had to have hummus and it was deliciously creamy with just the right amount of texture and tang. The olive oil drizzled on top gave the flavour an extra boost too.

We were given some warm Turkish flat bread to dip into the hummus. They were crusty, soft and moreish!

The kalamar was just average but the dip it came with was pretty good and I had some of it with the bread.

We had some boregi, the classic dish of filo pastry stuffed with spinach and feta cheese. Who doesn't love that winning combo?

Various salads came with our mains and were served first. We weren't so sure what this was until we realised it was an onion salad. It was crisp, sweet, and didn't give you onion breath afterwards. A revelation.

There was a lot of dressing in this salad so I was surprised to find that the leaves were still crisp and flavourful. I think I had most of this (still trying to catch up on my 5-a-day).

This is the house special onion salad which I really enjoyed as it went so well with my main. The 'special red sauce' tasted like a mixture of balsamic vinegar and pomegranate juice. The grilled onions, despite being soaked in the vinaigrette were actually still firm and crunchy.

They gave us more flat bread! I enjoyed this one a lot. It's different from the ones we had with our starters. They're slightly flatter and a little bit more savoury and saltier.

Federica's lamb and chicken shish mix. This is perfectly a safe choice for those who want to try the best of both (shish) worlds.

Alex and Jesse ordered the lamb sarma beyti which is skewered ground beef wrapped in lavash (Turkish wrap bread like naan or roti) cooked on the grill. 

I ordered lamb pirzola which is essentially grilled lamb chops. I was a bit intimidated (hey, it happens!) by how much food there was on my plate! They're not exactly massive chops but they're not thinly sliced either. I thought I ordered more than I could chew.

Testi's chops were cooked just the way I liked my lamb - well. The meat was tender and easy to cut through. Even the charred parts on the bone slithered smoothly as I tugged them with my knife.

The lamb, as shown, was indeed juicy and didn't need any sauces because the seasoning was spot on. However, when I accidentally poured some of the sauce from the house special onion salad, I was pretty mindblown. Lamb and pomegranate? It's a marriage that lasts a good run on your palate.

And yes, I finished my plate.

Overexposed, but well fed.

We were given a complimentary fruit platter to munch on after our meals. Needless to say, there was much to be happy about - the service was pretty good, the food was very enjoyable, and the company was fantastic. I would love to go back to try more stuff on the menu. Maybe I'd be brave enough to try some testicles then. 

We had more drinks at Stokey Stop and I actually fell a bit in love with Stoke Newington. Haha!

We ended up chit-chatting and laughing our heads off til closing time and I was quite nervous about going home as the tubes and trains were already closed and I wouldn't know which bus to take. Thank God for UBER! If you haven't tried it yet, you should! They’re offering you £20 off for your first ride. All you have to do is download the app, type in your destination, use the code NUFFNANG20 and wait for your sexy UBER car to pick you up. Easy breezy.

Overall, a very good night spent with pretty awesome ladies. Can't wait til the next one!

38 Stoke Newington High St, London N16 7PL | +44(0)20 7249 7151
Ave spend pp: £25

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Wedding Talk: The Dress

I wish I were the type of kid who grew up imagining her wedding because it would be so much easier to piece up everything now! We do have planners (quite brilliant), family and friends who are helping out, and we still have nine months before the big day but OMG!!! Try overseeing the whole wedding planning 6,000+ miles (plus 7-hour time difference) away - it's a challenge! The details are killing me because no matter how many suggestions people give you, it's still ultimately your (and your partner's) choice. Thank God I only ever plan to get married once! (And thank God I have the best partner to go through it with - yihee).

Case in point: THE DRESS = STREEEEESS! But give me some leniency naman - everyone judges the dress! Practically speaking though, what's the ROI of a wedding dress?! A couple of "Ooohs" and "Aaahs" and nice photos? If this is the most expensive dress I'll ever purchase then it better be perfect and timeless - I don't want to look like a poofed up kamote in photos 20-30 years from now.

My wedding gown dream team consists of  three Lebanese designers and a Filipino designer who are truly masters of their craft. Their clothes really celebrate brides and what they should be on their wedding day.

FYI: Photos in this post aren't mine.

Elie Saab's S/S 2009 couture collection was the first one I truly liked from him. Since then, I've admired the way he transitioned from the early years to the signature look of today. His much coveted pieces are detailed and elaborate yet sophisticated, textured but also dreamy and almost ethereal with their movement.
I like the structure of this dress. Very power woman!

 Classic ES. See how gorgeously embellished that gown is?

Very regal, very classy

 Can you say fun and flirty? And the plaid skirt is perfect when you're marrying Plaid Boy!

 Fresh and simple

I doubt this will be allowed in church, but I love this dress to bits.

Zuhair Murad to me is like the lovechild of Gucci & Versace because he does sexy and glamour in a chic way. This guy understands curves like no other (JLo, Blake Lively, Alessandra Ambrosio are some of his loyal patrons). 
This dress has been pinned so many times but I still can't get over it. Imagine in white over nude!

Such a classic silhouette. Imagine this in white - tres chic, no?

 This came as a surprise when I saw it in the A/W '13 collection - so delicate!

If this dress is good for JLo... then, uh, yay for her. #iwishihadhips

Reem Acra's silhouettes are simple, feminine and timeless. Her bridal gowns never fail to remind me of regal beauties of yesteryear. Ultra-feminine and ultra classy. 
I love the simplicity of this gown...

...but I love the awesome back more!

An understated elegance - perfect for Gatsby themed weddings!

I love the neckline and the illusion sparklies.

Simple, elegant, beautiful. You'll definitely feel like royalty. 

Last, but definitely not the least, my designer. After tossing and turning and choosing from a long list of AMAZING Filipino designers I chose him because I've seen him develop from a young college designer to a great mover in the Philippine fashion industry. His romantic bridal gowns are much coveted and I can see why. His work is impeccable and his attitude is way too fantastic (it's almost infectious). No wonder people fall in love with him as much as they fall for his gowns. 
 His signature look is volumised, textured & dramatic
(three words I wish I could use to describe my lashes)

But he's also good at simpler designs without sacrificing quality and style.

He collaborates well with clients (keeping his nervous brides calm) making sure their requests are seen to...

 ...and reels them in by producing absolutely impeccable designs.

He definitely knows how to make a statement and I can't wait to see what he can do for me.

Phew. Admittedly I still haven't totally made up my mind about the type of gown I like. My pegs are all over the place and quite jumbled. I guess I'll leave it to my designer for now. Can't wait to see his sketches!