What's Cooking: Aligue Pasta

It's a freezing cold night in New York—and the first in quite awhile where I had nowhere to be and nothing to do. That in itself is a big enough treat in this city where we seem to be moving from one place to the next incessantly. But as soon as I got home, I thought I'd up the ante. I slipped into some comfy jammies and wandered into the kitchen to make a wickedly delicious yet unbelievably easy-to-make dish that I've been obsessing about for awhile: Aligue Pasta. 

Aligue is what Filipinos call crab roe—that rich, unctuous treasure that is as sumptuous as it is treacherous on the arteries. I spotted some crabs in Chinatown a few weeks ago just overflowing with the good stuff. It was all I could do not to pick them up and lick them right there.

Lovers of artery-clogging food and generally enterprising folks that Filipinos are, some bright minds back in the Motherland thought of bottling up these treasures, making aligue readily available in grocery stores—you know, so you don't have to put too much effort into tempting a heart attack.

Outside the Philippines, bottled aligue is available in some stores that sell Filipino products. I scored a bottle of Navarro's Crab Paste at Fou Lee Market while on vacation in Seattle. My dear friend Pattie, who is a food enthusiast, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York and the woman behind the beautiful Cintai Corito's Garden in Batangas, recommends this brand's Premium Quality version, but I had to make do with the regular variety and it was still pretty good.

On Pattie's food blog, A Slice of Pattie, she has a recipe for aligue pasta which I followed without much difficulty. Other aligue pasta recipes jazz up the sauce with seafood and cream but I like the simplicity of this recipe. That rich, briny taste of aligue can stand on its own and and dresses up some al dente spaghetti nicely after being sauteed in olive oil and garlic. A squeeze of lemon juice adds some acidity and cuts through the richness. If you like some heat like I do, red pepper flakes and crushed black pepper go with aligue really nicely, too.

The recipe also calls for fresh basil as a garnish, but I piled it on with a generous hand. Aside from the fact that fresh basil is plain old delicious, it gave the dish some texture and kept the aligue flavor from being too overwhelming.

It was so easy to make, and if you're as lazy as I am, you can get away with just using one pan to cook the whole dish in. I finished cooking in under half an hour and was immediately back on the couch, plunging my fork repeatedly into this sumptuous dish. I'm not gonna lie, I definitely felt my body slow down (I was nodding off before 10pm), and my cholesterol levels definitely climbed a bit.

But I suppose there are worse vices in life than delicious food that makes you want nothing other than to curl up and take a nap, right?

I say forget the guilt for a second and let's raise our forks to moments of gustatory bliss ...

Happiness is a pile of lovingly baked cookies

I spend most of the year on the opposite coast from my family. So when I come and visit Washington, it's such a treat to spend quality time with my baby sister, Katie.

We spent a cold winter day holed up inside in our jammies, the scent of cookies wafting through the house and songs from the Glee Christmas album filling the air. I loved baking when I was Katie's age but I haven't made a single cookie in the last decade. Meanwhile, she has been baking up a storm. So in all honesty, the only thing I can claim credit for as far as these cookies are concerned is that I didn't ruin my baby girl's masterpiece!

Is it just me or do lovingly baked cookies just taste so much more delicious?

Happiness is ... a happy belly

At a holiday party last weekend, some friends and I talked about how interesting it is to see what people skimp and splurge on.

"For some reason, I can't get myself to take a cab to the airport," I said. It's odd but the thought of dropping $60 on a cab ride is more stressful to me than the tedious process of pulling my little carry-on wheelie through subway turnstiles and tempting fate on the A train all the way to JFK Airport.

"Are you kidding me? I'd skip dinner just so I can sit in that cab and chill out all the way home," replied one of the girls.

As soon as she said that, I felt wholly enlightened about my taxi aversion. It's precisely because I could get a really great dinner for the price of a cab ride that I won't part with $60 just like that. And I guess I've always been that way. Some people eat to live; I live to eat. I grew up in a family and culture where love is expressed through the making and sharing of good food. So it's always stayed with me and to this day, I make it a point to break bread on a constant basis with the people who are important to me.  

For me, happiness is a happy belly. So my moments of foodie bliss will find their way into this blog more frequently from now on. A quick snapshot of some of the heartwarming deliciousness coming your way:

If delicious food is your definition of bliss, too, then I hope you'll enjoy the posts to come!

Do you speak the same love language?

If you've never been there, you've at least heard a friend express dismay and frustration at their loved one in some iteration of this sentence:

"I'm always the one who {insert act of selfless love here} ... why can't he do the same thing for me?"

Each person does certain things to show that they care when they're in love, whether it's showering someone with gifts, cooking an elaborate dinner or giving a naughty slap on the butt when no one's looking. It comes naturally and effortlessly—which makes it all the more frustrating when the object of one's affection doesn't reciprocate in the same way. 

When expressions of love get lost in translation, it can make you just wanna scream,
"Do I have to spell it out for you?!"

In this season when we all go out of our way to show our loved ones how we feel, I thought it would be prudent to reflect on the concept of 5 Love Languages. Through years of counseling couples in rocky marriages, Dr. Gary Chapman came to realize that each person has different ways of expressing love—and that most of the time they will pick a mate who expresses love in a different way than they do.

According to Dr. Chapman, people express love in 5 universal love languages:
1. Quality time
2. Physical touch
3. Acts of service
4. Words of affirmation
5. Receiving gifts

If you rank these five according to what makes you feel the most loved and line that up against your partner's rankings, chances are there will be differences. But the way you show love will probably always be according to your list; meanwhile, the way your partner expects to be shown love will be according to his or her list.

And therein lies the problem.

Picture a husband who comes home and gives his wife a big hug to express his love—only to get swatted away because she's annoyed that he didn't take out the trash as promised and therefore sees that act of service left undone as love withheld.

Imagine the girlfriend who's showered with gifts by an incredibly busy boyfriend, and still feels unloved because to her love is shown by devoting time while to him it's expressed by doing everything he can to keep her feeling like a spoiled princess.

You think you are unloved when the other person is actually trying to express love—just in a way that's natural to him, but just maybe not for you.

It's important to find out each others' love languages so that messages don't get lost in translation and petty hurts don't fester and grow into full-blown heartbreak. In this season of love, we'd all do well to start learning the languages our loved ones speak.

Apotheke: It's the cat's meow

One night, after gorging on our favorite Shanghainese soup dumplings, my friends and I decided go around the corner to Doyer's Street for a quick nightcap at Apotheke. Apotheke is one of my favorite speakeasies in the city, hidden in the middle of Chinatown and disguised as just another Chinese restaurant. To our surprise, the door was locked—very odd at 8:30pm on a rain-soaked Wednesday. After stubbornly pulling at the knob a few times, the door finally cracked open and we found ourselves face-to-face with an intimidating bouncer.

"What's the password?"
"Uh ... please?" my friend Kim attempted.
He laughed and replied, "Maybe that works for your mom but that won't get you in."
"Is there a private party tonight?" I asked in confusion. I had been to Apotheke many times before and never needed a password to enter.
"It's Prohibition Wednesday so you need a password to get in. It's on the website ... but I can give you a clue," he hastened to add, seeing our crestfallen faces. "It's an animal and the sound that animal makes."
"Tiger ... Rawr!" burst out our cute blond Swede Mimi, causing the bouncer to erupt in laughter.
"No, that's not it. But you're very close."
"Cat's meow!" Kim exclaimed.
"You got it!"

With those two magical words, we walked in and instantly felt that we had been transported back into the roaring 20s. This lovely band of flappers seemed straight out of the prohibition era with their pincurls and heady jazz music.

At the bar, the drink list was a blast from the past, listing cocktails adapted mixology books dating as far back as 1869. The drink I chose was one of the older ladies on the list, inspired by a recipe dating back to 1887: the Peg Flip. It contained vodka (which marks the first time I've tasted the spirit in an artisanal bar setting), fresh pear, advocaat (a creamy liqueur made out of eggs, sugar and brandy), sugar, egg white and cinnamon. It tasted like a cinnamon bun in a glass. I wanted to take it home for the holidays and introduce it to my parents as my significant other. Yum.

We only stayed for one drink but that unexpectedly wonderful night at Apotheke made me fall in love with this spot all over again. I can't wait to come back for more time warp experiences.

Living in a city that keeps finding new ways to surprise me—that's definitely part of my happily ever.

Apotheke is located at 9 Doyers Street, New York, NY.

(Image source: New York Observer)