Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Did I Say That?

For interviews, you are advised to have memorized answers for some questions like how do you see yourself in the next five years or why did you leave your last job.  But I have been caught unprepared for some simple ones.

One such question was asked by the Vice President of Academic Affairs of a small college who ended the interview by asking me what book have I read lately.  What I usually do when I was not prepared what to give for an answer was to go through what transpired in the past week or so in my head. For this question that was what I did and my answer was "I read a cookbook".  I was into cooking and that was the last one I read.  I research recipes of what I like to cook and I go through cookbooks for the best way to prepare them.  I remember her saying, cookbook with a surprise with a bit of a sarcastic tone.  She did not like my answer and I do not think I liked the question then either.

In another interview, I was asked "what are your hobbies?".  Again I went through my past week or two and I answered, "I attend the activities of my children like their soccer and basketball games and programs my husband sings in".  The interviewer was not impressed with my answer and rephrased the question into "what do you do for fun".  For me, my priority in life then and even now is my family and being there at their games or programs meant a lot to me and that filled my time and made me happy. Isn't that what hobbies are for?  To heck with sophisticated answers like I love playing the piano which one of the principal investigators in a research place I used to work at said is a good answer. It will make you look like a people oriented person since such instrument bring people around you.

I have given answers which in retrospect make me appear like I have not much grey matter in my brain or an airhead. Or could it be I reached a point of exhaustion from answering questions from a panel of 6 interviewers.  One such occasion was an interview held in the Philippines for the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship that will afford me a chance to come to the United States to study.  One member of the panel of interviewers asked me what I  would say if somebody asked me to describe the Philippines to somebody who has not been there.  I said it was a beautiful place with plenty of coconut trees and beaches with a beautiful sunset or something close to this.  Oh my.  Thinking back after the interview, that was I get for watching too many beauty pageants.

By the way I did not get any job offers from those interviews but I  have had also job offers from other successful ones but I do not remember what the questions were asked and any answers that are worth remembering or cringing about now.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Instant Pot Sweet and Sour Chicken and Chicken Adobo (Pot in Pot)

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Chicken Adobo

Most chicken packages you buy in the grocery come in family sizes or 8 pieces.  When you are down to two in your household, our tendency is to cook a big batch of a certain chicken dish then freeze what we do not finish.  However there have been times when I have not been organized and forget or too lazy to freeze the leftovers or promise to eat the rest but do  not and I end up getting tired of eating the same thing. The result one plastic container of forgotten dish I am sometimes afraid to eat after being in the fridge for two weeks getting ditched.  Instant Pot to the rescue!   I decided to use the pot in pot method and cook one dish, sweet and sour chicken, at the bottom of the pot and the other dish, chicken adobo,  in another container positioned on a trivet above it. 

Instant Pot Sweet and Sour Chicken and Chicken Adobo (Pot in Pot)

Sweet Sour Chicken Ingredients

4-6 pcs chicken thighs
1 cup catsup
1 cup water
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar or sweetener
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp onion flakes
1/2 tsp ginger powder
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 cup crushed pineapple with juice
1 tbsp. cornstarch

Chicken Adobo Ingredients

4-6 pieces chicken thighs
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp white vinegar
6 cloves whole garlic
2 bay leaves


1.  Place all the ingredients of the sweet sour chicken EXCEPT the crushed pineapple and cornstarch at the bottom of the instant pot. Place a trivet on top.

2.  Place all the ingredients of the chicken adobo in an oven safe container and position it at the top of a trivet.

3.  Set the valve to the sealing position.  Press Manual/Pressure and cook both dishes at the same time at high pressure for 15 minutes.   Then allow the instant pot to sit for 10 minutes for the pressure to release naturally.  Set the valve in the venting position to quick release the rest of the pressure.

4. Remove the container with the adobo and the trivet.  Add the crushed pineapple and cornstarch to the sweet sour chicken at the bottom of the pot and press the saute button and stir the mixture till the sauce thickens.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Instant Pot Black Beans and Brown Rice (Pot in Pot)

Cooking black beans and rice using the pot in pot method in the instant pot is perfect since they have the same cooking time.  The result is black beans that have body and not mushy texture.  The spices used give the bean dish an addictive flavor.  The beans are definitely several notches above the canned ones.   The brown rice is also well cooked.  Why cook it separately when you can save electricity and time doing it this way.

You can buy a taller trivet but I decided to be resourceful and use a small custard cup to add height to the trivet that comes with your instant pot.  To easily remove the bowl or cake pan with the rice, I used an aluminum sling I made with a 20 inch long piece of foil I folded three times.

Instant Pot Black Beans and Brown Rice (Pot in Pot)

Black Beans
  • 1 lb dry black beans
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp dry oregano leaves
  • 1 tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp chili powder
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 tbsp. miso paste
Brown Rice
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water

1.  Rinse and drain the dry black beans, discarding stones and dried up beans. 
2.  Add and mix all the bean ingredients except the miso paste in the instant pot.
3.  Place on top of  the bean mixture, an empty small custard cup to add extra height to the trivet. Position the trivet on top of the custard cup.  Center the aluminum sling on the trivet and center on the sling an oven proof six or seven inch bowl or cake pan.  Add the rice and the water to the bowl or pan.
 4.  Position the valve in the sealing position.   Press Manual or Pressure  and cook the beans and the rice at high pressure for 35 minutes.
5.  At the end of the cycle, let the pot sit in order for the pressure to be released naturally for 10 minutes.
6.  Then position the valve in the venting position to quick release the rest of the pressure.
7.  Using the aluminum sling, remove the pan with the rice.
8.  Remove the trivet and the custard cup.
9.  Add the miso paste to the cooked beans.  
10.Serve the beans over rice topped with cilantro or green onions or avocado slices.

Saturday, February 1, 2020


i am tired of trying to understand
to know the answers to questions in my mind
i am tired of figuring out
if what i just did was right or not
i just want my mind to rest
to decompress in His warm caress
assured He loves me no matter what
as i am. not this. not that.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Instant Pot Vegan Bread Pudding

This is an easy and delicious dessert to prepare in the Instant Pot.  I just used ordinary whole wheat bread and mostly ingredients I already have in the pantry. To make the original recipe from this site vegan, I used flax seed meal instead of eggs and almond milk instead of the cream. I also skipped the butter. I was pleasantly surprised the end vegan version turned out moist but not mushy at all .

My family especially my husband love this. I for one could not stop eating it.

Instant Pot Vegan Bread Pudding

Adapted from this site

  • 8 cups whole wheat bread, cubed
  • 2 tbsp flax seed meal 
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups almond milk
  • 1//2 cup raisins 
  • 1 1/2 cups water for Instant Pot
  • 1/2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tbsp rum

1. Cut or tear the bread into cubes.

2. Mix the flax seed, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and almond milk in a large bowl.

3. Add to the milk mixture, the bread and raisns including liquid they are soaked in. Mix.

4. Transfer the bread mixture in a 6 or 7 inch bowl. Cover with aluminum foil.  Center the container on the aluminum sling.

5. Place 1 1/2 cup water in the pot.  Place the trivet on top. With the help of the sling, lower the container of bread mixture on top of the trivet.

6. Place the valve of the Instant Pot in the sealing position. Cook on manual/high pressure for 30 minutes.

7. At the end of the cooking cycle, allow the pressure to release naturally for 10 minutes. After that time, place the valve in the venting position using glove for quick release of pressure.

8. Using pair of gloves, lift the container with help of the sling.

9. If you like,  mix maple syrup and rum and pour on top of bread pudding.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

My impossible wish for maddie

That you will always find the thrill in finding your elf in its hiding place. That missing a morning to find it is not an option, more important than staying overnight with Lolo and Lola, grandpa and grandma in Tagalog respectively..

Oh how you shed cupious tears when your Dada insisted that you stay overnight with us. He did not want me to take another trip to your house the next day to babysit you on your day off from school.  I just quietly stayed out of the way of your power struggle with your Dada. You did sleep at our house.  Dada won.

Finding your elf in its hiding place is not something I did with your mama though I had several toy elves I have could have used.  Your Lolo's mother never taught me that custom at all.  I finally understood why you cried when we finally got to your house past lunch time.  That morning, you sort of forgot about the elf since we had a great time at the Oakmont library and then lunch at Panera like we used to before you started kindergarten,  I will not forget that excitement in your steps as you entered your house to look for the elf.  The seriousness in your quest for finding the elf was intense.  You went through every possible nooks and crannies, high and low in your house. The joy in your squeal when you finally found it on the shelf among several plates and cups in the curio cabinet was heartwarming.   I do not know how you found it but you did.

I know there will come a time when this obsession of finding the hidden elf will pass but I hope you will discover another challenge in  your life to seek and find not necessarily an object.  Maybe a quest for happiness or maybe peace or some goal you want fulfilled. I hope you will always find joy when you do reach that aha moment. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Instant Pot Vegan Shepherd's Pie with Mashed Cauliflower

Shepherd's Pie and Mashed Cauliflower in one Instant Pot?  Yes, Ma'm.  Instant Pot comes with a trivet and this recipe employs its use to the hilt to accomplish the stacking approach.  The shepherd's pie is cooked right in the pot, trivet is positioned above it and the cauliflower is placed in a seven inch container to hold the cauliflower florets.

The recipe and idea of using the stacking method to cook both the pie and cauliflower was adapted from the book The Fresh & Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook by Megan Gilmore. I tweaked the original recipe by using tomato paste, miso paste, nutritional yeast and bay leaves to enhance the depth of flavor of the filling. I also added green peas to the vegetable medley at the end.

Instant Pot Vegan Shepherd's Pie with Mashed Cauliflower

Adapted from the book The Fresh & Healthy Instant Pot Cookbook by Megan Gilmore.


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 carrots, cut in half inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, roughly cut
  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • 1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp dry rosemary
  • 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce or more to taste
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 head cauliflower cut into small pieces
  • 1 tbsp miso paste or more to taste
  • 8 ounces frozen green peas
1. Add all the ingredients EXCEPT the cauliflower, miso paste and green peas in the Instant Pot and mix them. 
2. Place the trivet on top of the vegetables and put a seven inch oven safe bowl on top. Place the cauliflower florets and 1/2 cup water in the bowl. 
3.  Securely place the lid and be sure the steam release valve is in the Sealing position.
4  Select Manual/Pressure Cook to cook at high pressure for 5 minutes. 
5. When the cooking cycle is done, allow the pressure to naturally release for 10 minutes.   At the end of ten minutes, move the steam release valve to Venting position to allow the remaing pressure to escape.  
6. When all the pressure is released the floating valve will drop, and you can now open the lid. Using an oven mitt remove the trivet and the bowl out of the pot. 
7,  Remove the bay leaves from the vegetable filling and add the miso paste with stirring and adjust the other seasonings. Add the frozen green peas and stir.  
8. Mash the cauliflower with nondairy milk, salt and pepper in the bowl with a fork or transfer in a blender.
9. Serve the vegetable filling in a large bowl or individual bowls 
topped with mashed cauliflower.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Paula’s Prayer Meeting 1/8/2020

My notes:

We were asked to find epiphanies that we have experienced in our lives.

God uses everything for the good. We just need to pay attention.

Jesus was born during winter and resurrected during spring.

Seek me with all your heart and you will find me. Jeremiah 29.

We are called to be saints. Collosians 3

We all seek transcendence. The spiritual yearns not to be constricted by our body.

We need community and connectedness.

Happy New Year. Hope you can join us.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

eternity in life stories

Am I witnessing eternity as I visit the past?
As I write about my life story.
As I reminisce about my childhood with my Nanang, my Lola Sefa,
My mother, my father.
My aunts and uncles.
My days playing with my Ate, Anton, Benjie, Chot, and Menchie.
Countless cousins, playmates.
Friends in high school, college, grad school.
Memorable neighbors, friends, colleagues.
Strangers along the way.

Is that why I am both exhausted and exhilarated as I hit the keys as I write.
What I  knock off from my memory bank.
Pieces and fragments. Emotions, happy, sad.

Am I poking at an incomprehensible huge matrix.  Of interwoven lives and events.
Is this after all eternity? When the past is brought in the now.
And the future being painted with the brushes of awe inspiring recall.

Note:  This musing was inspired by the interview of the Poet Laureate of 2019, Joy Harjo,  in Oprah Winfrey's Super Soul Sunday Show.   Below are some of the notes I made of her profound thoughts.

Nobody dies
Ancestors in every poem, story
One connected matrix

In the eye of children,  nature
We are always in conversation with history

Friday, January 3, 2020

Train sets, I don't get it

What is this about
train sets? Mesmerizing whirr,
symphonic movements.

Unearthed from boxes
Set up with blood, sweat, elbow grease
Countless google search for parts
But why?

Memories of childhood past
Thrill to build
Creative juices satisfied
I still don't get it.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Gift of Joy

Tucked with a bow. Baked
with care, love and pride. Surprise.
Joy in every bite.

Note: One of my favorite gifts I received this Christmas is the Filipino sweet delicacy, referred to as Filipino boat tarts, baked with precision by my friend Nenette who personally delivered them to my front door. I was in heaven when I took the first bite into the crispy pastry and then the just perfectly balanced sweet filling. So grateful.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Miss me, miss me

Miss me, miss me but
let me go. I am now home
where we all belong.

Note: Thoughts and phrases taken from the beautiful sermon delivered by Fr. Rick during the funeral Mass of my friend Antonella's beloved husband, John, at North American Martyrs this past Friday. The photo was taken at the St. Mary's cemetery where John was buried. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

In and Out Flow

Not enough this faith
if not coupled with service.
Receive, give. The flow.

Sunday, December 15, 2019


How sweet it is to
learn to go with the flow. Peace
forever is yours.

Note: The beautiful painting was created by Margaret Soboslay, a member of the Life Writers Group we both belong to.  She gave each one of us in the group a scene that she painted as a gift during our last meeting. Thanks, Margaret.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Comfort Food that Never Fails Me Even in My Lumbar Stenosis Surgery

As I was eating adobo during the wee hours yesterday morning, it just dawned on me I am once more leaning on this iconic Filipino food for comfort. I recalled the time I cooked it when I learned I had cancer of the sweat glands in December 2011 and surprisingly ate it with gusto despite the frightening news.

Once again, adobo has been my go to refuge.  It has been quite a challenging few weeks lately. I just went through a minimally invasive surgery to relieve me of my lumbar stenosis at Allegheny General Hospital under the expert hands of Dr. Hae-Dong Jho this past Friday. I went home the same day, drove that Sunday and taught a Faith Formation class to my third graders followed by attending Mass after with the children. I then celebrated my son in law's birthday at Hoffstotts at Oakmont that wonderful evening.

I could stand, walk, sit and move but getting up from the sitting position is painful. But compared to what others go through in the traditional type of procedure this was exceptional.  I only had less than an inch cut versus about six inches in the traditional one.

I learned about Dr.Jho's highly innovative approach to treating stenosis in the lumbar region through a friend in December 2017. I was just turned down by my insurance to have the conventional spinal fusion the day before the scheduled surgery and was waiting for the appeal to be approved when from across the hall at Webb's Gym my friend Jennifer screamed down the hall that she heard that I did not have my surgery.  Beside her was Debbie, another member of my Zumba class, asking what surgery were we referring to.  That was when divine providence showed me the amazing alternative, a minimally invasive yet effective surgery.  She told me to talk to Bud, her husband, who just successfully went through the procedure and was very happy with it. I remember him saying he would not mind doing it again since to him it was just as simple as having a tooth pulled as compared to the conventional one that is.  After talking to him I knew what I had to do.  When the appeal was approved for the conventional approach, I informed the other doctor's office, with sincere regrets since they worked hard to get it, that I decided to take a different route.

In March 2018, my first lumbar surgery with Dr. Jho was done on the L4-L5 level first so loss of blood is minimal and thus could be done on an outpatient basis. The other one, L3-L4 had to wait with even the possibility that tackling the first level might be enough.

After March 2018 surgery.  Me, Bob and Dr. Jho.

The surgery was a success. I was able to walk, sit and even drive after 24 hours. I had pain though which I did not expect that I complained incessantly to the patient and kind physician assistant,  Morgan. But voila, on the eighth week it was all gone.  During my after op visit, the MRI showed the decompressed L4-L5 canal had opened beautifully. Lurking above it in contrast was the untouched still compressed L3-L4. It was decided that we will work on it if any pain comes back. But so far, sooo good.

In about August this year, more than a year after my first surgery, pain on the side of my left knee was bothering me as I turned on my side. I knew it was time to have the "proverbial other tooth removed". So I put into motion the process of doing the decompression of the L3-L4 level this time.

Leading to the surgery, I had an X-Ray and an MRI before my visit with Dr. Jho who looked at them and suggested it was time to have the surgery. The usual EKG and lab work were ordered and done. Everything was moving along until I had a urinary tract infection a week before the day of the surgery.  To make sure it was gone, a urinary test was done but the lab personnel said the results would take time due to the need to incubate the sample. The result could come late Thursday or early morning Friday.  What? Fortunately I read on my portal early Thursday morning the good news, it was clear. No growth. The wait though was nerve wracking.

Friday, December 6 came and the surgery went well. That night I could not sleep and just wept out of relief.  I just realized it had been a long week of anxiety and anticipation.

The next few nights I was on this weepy state.  Part of it is not just relief but more the feeling of gratefulness for receiving excellent professional care and kindness from the staff at Allegheny General Hospital.  The receptionists, the nurses, anaesthecists, Dr. Jho's three physician assistants, Morgan, Phil and Pat and Dr. Jho were amazing. I also would like to thank Robin at the office for working on my insurance approval and Denise the scheduling nurse.

As I went through what transpired during the day of the surgery I noted little and big gestures of thoughtfulness and kindness. For example I could still  feel the warmth of the extra blanket a nurse in the recovery room placed over my shoulder as I groggily waited for my blood pressure to go down. On Monday, I was pleasantly surprised the usually stoic Dr. Jho personally emailed me the answer to a question I asked Morgan. One thing worth noting is every phone call I made in the past and the one lately always ended with the encouragement from Morgan and the other physician assistant Pat to call whenever I had any questions. They never hesitate to do their best to assure you that you are not alone in your sometimes painful journey to recovery.

I think the tears that are being shed from time to time these past few days is partly due to being overwhelmed about how lucky I have been to have discovered this procedure courtesy of Debbie and Bud, and learning to be grateful rather than complaining of the pain this time and just patiently wait for it to end. I am completely in awe when I see the face of God through it all.

There are so many other people to thank for. One of them is my daughter Wendy, a wonderful, thorough MD, who thought through the best way to combat my urinary tract infection. The other is my husband, Bob, who patiently waited the whole time in the waiting room and was with me in both preop and recovery. Thanks also to the nurses at my PCP Dr. Stasko's office for faxing results to Dr. Jho's office. Of course thanks to Dr. Stasko and her physician assistant, Farrah Holmes, the UPMC imaging MRI and lab personnel. It indeed took a village. Two great medical institutions working together.

For inspiration to be brave, I drew from my very own three plus year old grandson, Luca who went through his ear canal surgery.  He unexpectedly butted in a conversation during a senior luncheon as he heard the word surgery spoken. He proudly proclaimed to all he had one and that he wore a special gown and shoes. As I was putting on my surgical gown and socks this past Friday that image of Luca popped in my head.  Surely if he did it, I could too.

My favorite comfort food adobo is helping me through these days. It has been my go to dish to relish every day as I recuperate. And with my new attitude, it has never failed to give me solace. The blessing for the sick officiated two Sundays ago at Mass surely helped.  The Lord knew for my body to heal my mind/ attitude had to change too.

Pork Adobo

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Maxims 99 and 100 Monroeville Prayer Group November 18, 2019 Meeting

This blog post consists of the handouts on Maxim 99 and 100 generously prepared by Natalie for the Monroeville Prayer Group meeting held in November 18, 2019 at Dottie's house. The scripture readings suggested in the book of Maxims are conveniently included for us to ponder on.

As a bonus, Natalie also included at the end of the maxim handouts the prayers that were provided to the participants of the retreat she attended at the CSJ retreat house in Cape May in 2018. Thank you Natalie for your time and effort in preparing these handouts and to Dottie for hosting the meeting.

The Monroeville prayer group that used to meet at the St. Bernadette Convent and lately at Dottie's house will be combined with Sr. Paula's prayer group that will meet from here on on a Wednesday  once a month at Sue's house. To celebrate the evolution of this so called Convent group, I am featuring some photos of the group through the years at the end of this post.

The late Sr. Ursula Grimes facilitated the group which was started by Sr. Marguerite Kropinak in the early eighties.  We met at the St. Bernadette Convent in Monroeville PA for several years.  Sr. Carol Arch used to come down and served us coffee and goodies after.

The picture above shows the members having coffee and goodies brought by the members after the meeting. The sisters at the convent headed by Sr. Carol, the principal at the parish school, are always very hospitable to us. The person on the left of Sr. Ursula is Sr. Mary Cordia, Sr. Ursula's sister.

Sr. Bernadette Carlow and Sr. Mary Fran Graesinger used to join us during our discussion.

We had Xmas dinner at Dottie's house as shown below in 2017 and when the St. Bernadette Convent was scheduled to close we moved to Dottie's house to meet.

Our last meeting was November 18, 2019 at Dottie's house before we join with Sr. Paula's group that meet on a Wednesday once a month.

Our thanks to all that have been part of this wonderful faith sharing group.  Thanks to you all for joining our group as you read and shared with us on our reflection of the maxims.