Kettlebells, Shakespeare, and Stews

A bowl of North African bean stew with visible peppers, yogurt, and fennel fronds visible.

I had such a hard time working out from home in 2020. I bought a pull up bar, a pair of dumbbells, and a set of resistance bands, but I couldn’t get the habit of exercising to stick. I’ve been attending classes for so long that I didn’t really know how to work out on my own. But now that I’m vaccinated, I’ve started attending kettlebell classes at a nearby Muay Thai gym, and I’m feeling much stronger than I used to and I’m really enjoying it. I never really used kettlebells in the past, and it blows my mind how versatile this cannonball is.

I’ve been going out more often these days, too. Recently, I went out to see a live Shakespeare play for the first time called Pericles, Prince of Tyre. It was really fun to watch. The actors were so talented and animated. And it was free! It’s also impressive that they also did aerial gymnastics at the same time.

Clark Park before the show starts.
Clark Park before the show started.

Other than that, I got to make my favorite stew this week: North African bean stew. It’s pretty simple, but it does take a bit of time and requires a bit of mise en place. It’s definitely worth making, though.

A bowl of north african bean stew with visible peppers, yogurt, and fennel fronds visible.
A bowl of North African bean stew with visible peppers, yogurt, and fennel fronds visible.

Trip to Mehoopany, PA

Finn the Dog in the Forest

Last week, we booked a yurt in Mehoopany, PA, and we stayed there for a couple of days. It felt really good to spend some time in the woods and be out of the city. We also made sure to pick a spot that didn’t have any electricity so that we’re forced to disconnect and unhook ourselves from the screen.

There was nothing to do but to sleep, lounge around in a hammock, and read a book (I started reading Dune on this trip.) It was bliss.

I felt relaxed and present.

Visiting Family

Snow-covered ground and trees just outside my parent's place.

I’m grateful that I got to visit my family this weekend. I haven’t seen them in over a year, so I’m glad that I was able to spend some time with them. Even though they’re only a two-hour drive away, I wanted to wait until we’ve gotten our vaccinations.

So now that both my girlfriend and my family have received their shots, I’m not that anxious about visiting anymore. Plus, I’m also pretty lucky to have a car. Even though I’m a fan of public transit, I don’t think I would’ve visited if I had to take the bus or the train.

A view from outside my parent’s place.

Filipino Food We’ve Been Making

A bowl of pancit with squid in it.

Adobong Pusit Pancit

Andrea found this adobong pusit pancit recipe from Bon Appétit over the holidays, so we thought it would be fun to try making it ourselves. Pancit is a rice noodle dish, but I’ve never had it with squid and cuttlefish ink. It was delicious.

A bowl of pancit with fried squid and green onions.

Arroz Caldo

Arroz caldo is what our family would eat during Christmas and New Year. It’s easy to make, it’s cheap, and it’s great when it’s cold out. Arroz caldo is rice porridge with chicken and ginger. You can find the recipe that we used here.

A bowl of arroz caldo. Don’t forget to top it off with fried garlic.

Yema

My favorite Filipino candy is probably yema. I love the hard exterior and the custard-y insides of this candy. It was easy to buy yema in the Philippines because it’s a common street food, but I’m definitely not running into it in Philadelphia. So we tried making it ourselves. It was tasty, but it unfortunately didn’t have the texture that I was looking for. I’ll have to try making it again next time.

Yema is a custard candy made with egg yolks and condensed milk. You can find the recipe that I used here.

Giving in 2020

Early in 2019, I realized that:

So in 2020, I decided to continue donating and making sure that it goes to the most impactful charities. GiveWell has done a lot of research on the most effective charities, so the majority of my donations went to their Maximum Impact Fund which gets distributed to charities that can change people’s lives. The rest went to GiveDirectly which is on the list of GiveWell’s top charities.

I mentioned in “Giving in 2019” that I was expecting to give around $3k or $4k in 2020, so I’m glad that I was able to go way beyond that goal!

YearOrganizationAmount
2019GiveWell$1,398.50
GiveWell (Match)$1,000.00
2020GiveWell$13,420.39
GiveDirectly$920.18
GiveDirectly (COVID-19)$600.00
GiveWell (Match)$1,000
2021GiveWell$300
Total$18,639.07

Salt Springs State Park

A picture of our dog Finn in front of our yurt.

We went out to go camping near Salt Springs State Park a few weeks back. Being stuck at home since February have made us hungry for the outdoors. We tried to compensate by going to different parks in the city, but that didn’t really satisfy our need to be in nature.

We felt a sense of calm the moment we stepped into our campsite. We stayed there for a couple of days, and I’m glad that we didn’t have any access to electricity either. We were content with what we had.

I wish this was something that I could do more often. But now that COVID-19 is spiking again in Pennsylvania, I fear that it might take some time before another opportunity like this will come up.

Cloud Gaming

A screenshot of the game Doom Eternal.

I’ve been fascinated with cloud gaming in the last few months. The idea of playing high-end games on any hardware (old computers, Chromebooks, ARM processors, phones, etc.) and on any operating system really drew me in.

The eye candy also won me over. My laptop isn’t built to handle graphically demanding games, so a lot of the time I play my games in medium settings. With cloud gaming, the games look glorious since they run on powerful servers.

I’m surprised at how well it all works. It’s like magic to me. With Stadia and Geforce Now, all you really need is a web browser because all it needs to do is send video. I’m impressed that I don’t really notice the latency issues either. I was able to play shooters like Doom Eternal and Control pretty smoothly.

We’ll see if cloud gaming ends up being the future, but right now I’m having fun with it.

Staying connected through games

I’ve been playing more games than ever since I moved to Windows, and I’ve been half-joking that gaming is my social life right now. I used to think of gaming is a massive waste of time and an expensive one at that, but the pandemic has completely changed my opinion. Co-op games have kept my sanity intact now that I rarely see friends in person.

The game that opened the floodgates for me was Animal Crossing because it let me visit my friends virtually. It really showed me that Zoom isn’t the only way to get together these days.

I’ve collected quite a handful of co-op games since then. My favorites so far are:

  • Deep Rock Galactic
  • Overcooked
  • Moving Out
  • Unrailed!
  • Portal 2
  • Among Us

Kombucha

A gallon of kombucha in a big jar with cloth covering it. There are also empty bottles beside the big jar that we'll be using later.

I love the taste of kombucha. Since I already do some fermentation at home, I figured that I could try fermenting my own ‘booch at home, too. So last month, a friend gave me a jar of kombucha with a gelatinous, leathery-like film floating at the top. It was pretty gross-looking, but this was the SCOBY or the “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” and it was essential for making my own kombucha.

There are plenty of kombucha-making tutorials online, but my friend recommended that I watch the You Brew Kombucha channel on YouTube. Andrea and I learned that it’s actually pretty straightforward to make kombucha, and it’s also really cheap! It’s just tea and sugar (and time). There are basically two parts to kombucha making:

First Fermentation

We put sweet black tea (we use Assam tea at home) along with the SCOBY in a large jar, and we just basically let it sit there for 7-10 days. We should be okay as long as we have a piece of cloth over it (to prevent contamination) and that it’s away from direct sunlight. We also try and taste the tea from time to time to see if it’s good enough for our liking.

Second Fermentation

We technically have kombucha after the first fermentation, but the second fermentation adds additional flavor and carbonation. This is fun for us because we get to mix in different fruit juices and try out different flavors.

We first puree the fruit and put them in bottles. We then pour the kombucha into those bottles and shut them tight. The sugar will turn into carbon dioxide as it ferments for a few days (4 seems to be the sweet spot for us), making the kombucha fizzy.

My personal favorite so far is honey with lemon juice. It makes a really refreshing kombucha.

Bagels and Bibingka

Uncooked bagels on a tray

Last week I got to make bagels with my coworkers over Zoom. We were supposed to get together in person for our annual meetup, but we opted to do everything online instead because of the pandemic. That bagel-making class was honestly one of the highlights of my week! I feel like it’s such a treat to see people in their own kitchens.

I rarely bake, so bagels were a bit of a mystery to me. I heard that bagels are boiled and then baked, so I assumed that it would be difficult to make them at home. It turns out to be pretty straightforward, and you can check out the whole recipe here. The hardest part for me was probably kneading the dough for ten straight minutes.

I think learning how a particular dish comes together is what I find enjoyable in cooking. And that I get to eat it if it all goes well! Even though bagels can be found in just about any grocery store, I feel I have a better appreciation of it now that I know how to make it.

Last week, I also got to make Bibingka for the first time. It’s a rice cake that’s usually sold as street food during Christmas in the Philippines. Andrea thought that since we had just made salted duck eggs, we should use it to make Bibingka, too. You can find the recipe that we followed here.

Bibingka and salted duck eggs were things that my family never made back in the Philippines because there was really no need for it—you could easily get them from a street vendor or at the store. But now that I don’t have easy access to Filipino food, I feel like it’s become a bit of a necessity for me. I’m feeling proud of myself for learning the dishes that I ate growing up, and that I’m seeing them in a new light now that I’m making them as an adult.