Nastasha Alli was born and raised in the Philippines and came to Canada in 2007. For her writing at the intersection of food and diaspora communities, she won a Food Sustainability Media Award from the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Her work has been featured on CBC Radio and her recipe published in a “top cookbook of 2018” by the San Francisco Chronicle.
She answers the question “Why is research important in your “Exploring Filipino Kitchens” podcast?” on the Artsy Raven podcast, Episode 12. This clip is an excerpt from the episode.
Recently I saw a Betty Crocker Red Velvet cupcake mix selling on Amazon (couldn’t find at supermarket though) which came with icing, all in one box. I thought I would give this a try since it sounded so convenient.
It surprised me that the box made less cake than the usual box mixes. Instead of 24 cupcakes, you get 12. There are two bags of icing in the box for frosting. To make the cake mix taste better, I made some adjustments – 1) added one more egg, 2) used unsalted butter versus oil, 3) used milk versus water and 4) added a teaspoon of vanilla.
With the cake mix I made 6 Elmo cupcakes (used gel coloring to dye one bag of icing red) and 3 fancy tiered adult cakes. I lost some icing because of the piping process and would have liked more icing. I only took a picture of 4 Elmo cupcakes because 2 of them didn’t turn out as nice. Since I made this around Easter, I added m & m chocolate eggs and fruit to decorate the adult cakes. I think the cakes turned out well and made great Instagram pics!
Sight (20/20): A little frosting and color makes all cakes pretty!
Availability (10/20): You can only order from Amazon, I couldn’t find this set at my supermarket. It was also hard to find the red velvet Betty Crocker mix or the cream cheese frosting in the supermarket as well, though there are other brands available. The common flavors of vanilla or chocolate cake mix and frosting are easier to find.
Smell (20/20): Smells like cake while baking!
Taste (18/20): The cake itself wasn’t very sweet, but the icing was, so the flavors balance. This is cake mix so it’s not going to be as good as the cakes from fancy pastry stores!
Touch (20/20): The cakes were springy when done, baked perfectly! Icing was sticky, which is normal.
Overall score: 88/100
Would I order again? Yes! Recently I have been making smaller batches when baking since I can’t share with office folks because of COVID. Making an equivalent of 24 cupcakes would have been a lot, while 12 was just enough to share with a few other people.
Price point note – this box was around $4 Cdn for 12 cupcakes and frosting, or about $0.33/cupcake. For normal size box and frosting, it would have cost around $3.50 for red velvet cake mix, $3.50 for frosting or about $0.29/cupcake for 24 cupcakes. The normal box is cheaper overall, but for some reason it is difficult to find the red velvet box mix and cream cheese frosting in Canada. I really miss crossing the border to visit the US to buy things at their grocery stores!
In the historical imperial palace game I play there are dual competitions once in a while. As a concubine you build up a team of confidants who are princes, eunuchs, maids, friends and foreign diplomats. Over time you gather potions and collect items to increase their tactics, glamour, wisdom and vigour.
When the duals open, for a week you slaughter other people’s teams by beating the butterflies out of them. Yes, you read right, butterflies instead of blood because this is a civilized girly palace game after all! There are random battles and you can choose to challenge players. To win, some players challenge the same person over and over again until they are negative in scoring.
On the server I am playing on, the top player or winner believes that using any strategy to win is fair, so during duals week, they pretty much kill everyone since they have such a strong team. The winner runs a “palace” (to be a member you must convert your name to include a swastika Buddhist symbol and listen to the winner who is the “Master”) and they send orders to other girls to go after certain players to ensure only their palace members will make the top ten. There is one particular player the winner will send orders to be destroyed every time. The person they bullied went onto the chat board and said quite a few horrible things such as the winner’s mom being a street prostitute and hoping that the winner gets COVID.
While a lot of us were sympathetic originally to the person being bullied, we then felt lines were being crossed on both sides. The winner shouldn’t be bullying others so much but the game rules allow this and the person being bullied shouldn’t be saying such horrible things. After a few days of endless chat messages, a lot of us just gave up being peacekeepers and ignored the drama.
Being an online game, we don’t know each other’s true identities and it’s just ok to walk away sometimes because not all fights are worth fighting! And so, once a month, drama fills the game…
I recently represented Ricepaper Magazine to interview the Cantonese and Mandarin talents of Kruger Products’ (manufacturer Cashmere toilet paper and Sponge Towels) Unapologetically Human ad campaign, featuring real people dealing with real messes – spills, tears, blood, runny noses, messy crafts, and more. The campaign featured songs in English, French, Hindi/Urdu, Mandarin and Cantonese. Really cool that a company created a diverse ad campaign! The situations captured in the videos are touching as well, it’s worth checking out the beautiful imagery.
The Cantonese soundtrack is sung by Mr. Will Wong and the Mandarin song by Moulann.
Since I am stuck at home during the pandemic, I have been cooking and buying more junk food. Let’s be honest here, comfort food isn’t the healthy stuff most of the time. I’ve been trying new snacks and other random foods so I thought I would share my opinions about them. I’ll compile the reviews onto my “Food Sanity” page since eating is what’s keeping me sane during the pandemic!
The first item I’m posting about is Pizza Pizza’s Superfood Pizza Crust. This was introduced to me by my food conscious sister who said that pizza was an easy way to get vegetables into a kid’s diet. I have yet to have my child successfully eat this, but that’s the theory anyways.
Pizza Pizza’s website states that the curst is “made with antioxidant rich vegetables such as purple cauliflower, purple sweet potato, and butternut squash. It’s vegan, gluten free and contains no artificial flavors or colors, starting at 12.99.”
Ordering the pizza was easy, I did this via the website and paid the delivery man when they showed up. The food was luke-warm but it was a cold snowy day. The pizza cost about $18 Cdn (pre-tax) after selecting medium size, superfood crust, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, pineapples, ham and mushrooms.
Sight (10/20): The pizza I received looked like a pizza but I was super disappointed the crust wasn’t purple and it was slightly burnt.
Availability (20/20): For Canadians it’s easy to buy online and to have it delivered, if a store is in the neighborhood
Smell (10/20): I didn’t smell much of anything.
Taste (10/20): I really wanted to like the pizza but the crust didn’t taste very good. It felt like I was chewing tough fibre even though the toppings were alright.
Touch (10/20): It felt like a pizza slice with melted gooey cheese and pizza sauce, but the crust was quite tough. A few slices weren’t cut properly and I had to yank hard to get them to separate.
Overall score: 60/100
Would I order again? Sorry, no. I tried this pizza crust twice already because I really wanted to like it but was sadly disappointed each time! Maybe in the near future someone will invent a tastier crust that’s made from veggies.
This year I’m doing a few talks at Capricon 41 (Feb 4-7, 2021), a spec fic convention based in Chicago. I’ve been sent their panelist invites a few times, but this is the first time I’m attending.
To my surprise after receiving the schedule, I saw that I’ve been paired up with a few people I know from Toronto and someone I met at Detcon1 years ago! Looking forward to meeting these friends virtually again!
The con features many panels on writing, science and fandom – so if you’re looking for people to chat passionately with about geek topics, come hang out!
To get everyone into the holiday spirits for some merriment and laughter despite COVID-19 still lingering about, here is a podcast of me reading a story about mom cancelling Christmas after finding a severed Barbie doll head. I had originally written it for the Renaissance Press Holiday Blog Roll 2017. Text of the story is re-posted below, enjoy!
The Year Christmas Got Cancelled
One year, a fake auntie (not blood related) gave my sister and I a real Barbie doll to share. We never had a real Barbie before because they cost too much. We only got the Bargain Harold’s or Woolco generic dolls. I remember not wanting to play with Barbie anyways because I would rather play with Transformers, which was more interesting.
A few days before Christmas, a blood curdling scream went through the house. My seven year old sister and I were doing extra Kumon math exercises without any joy. We shrugged and continued our grueling work. Mom screamed a lot; she could be either yelling on the phone at someone or mad about something on tv. Our tiny bodies tensed when she appeared in the doorway of the living room, holding a severed Barbie head by its long blonde hair.
“Who did this?” Mom demanded in her loud voice in Cantonese. Her giant afro perm bobbed up and down, as she stormed into the room and flickered a severed Barbie head by it’s long blonde hair in our faces. She was a tiny woman, but had enough power to topple over any mountain or rip apart any savage animal in our eyes.
Being the wiser ten year old, I shook my head and spoke calmly. “I don’t know mommy.”
My sister was frozen with fear, but after a few seconds of silence, parroted me in a squeaky voice, “I don’t know!”
Both of us looked around for our younger brother who was five. He was nowhere to be seen, but it didn’t matter, he was the golden child and could do no wrong.
“Christmas is cancelled! No more presents! You are naughty children and presents should go to good children!” My mother was livid that no one was owning up to destroying an expensive doll. We rarely got any toys from our parents because there was no extra money in an immigrant family home in which chocolate milk was considered a luxury.
I sighed and tried not to roll my eyes. A few years ago my mother had suddenly told me that Santa didn’t exist, but my cynical seven year old self was already aware of this. I was more upset then that my shrine to Jesus had been ignored by everyone and became an atheist soon after. As the first child, I was continuously being experimented on by my parents.about:blankREPORT THIS AD
“But we don’t get presents from you anyways,” my sister smirked.
“I’m talking about all presents! Even from other people! You are all bad children!”
“No, mommy! I want presents from the uncles and aunties and Santa!” My sister started wailing and crying.
Mother looked happy that one child had reacted to her stern lecturing. “There is no Santa! Hahaha! Now who took apart this Barbie?”
“I don’t know,” I said in an exasperated tone.
My mother shot daggers in my direction as she glared at me.
“It wasn’t me!” My sister sobbed, her chubby cheeks becoming red and streaked with tears.
“No one is confessing? No more Christmas!” My mother stormed off to dispose of the doll head.
“What do we do now? What did she mean that there’s no Santa?” My sister asked me.
I shrugged. “It’s ok, she’ll calm down and change her mind. I’m sorry, the whole Santa thing was really mom and dad all along.”
“Oh,” my sister said as she wiped her tears. “No wonder Santa always gave us such crappy presents.”
As with many things, I was wrong about mom changing her mind about un-cancelling Christmas. I also never found out who tore off the doll head. In the following years, any presents given to us were never seen by us. It’s presumed that they were re-gifted to another child who deserved presents.
Although we didn’t get presents at Christmas, we still got red pockets (cash) at Chinese New Year, birthdays and whenever we passed any big tests. Admittedly all the red pockets went into our bank account which we later learned was paying for household expenses.
There is a Chinese idiom about daughters: “Daughters are water poured out of the family after they get married.”
After I started dating a Caucasian Canadian guy in university, my Christmases were spent with his family. We eventually married as well and he was relieved that there were no fights about splitting up the Christmas holidays since my family didn’t celebrate it.
My sister and I have children now and they have great Christmases compared to our childhoods. Maybe we are trying too hard to compensate for the fact that we didn’t celebrate it or have any toys and want our kids to have everything. I hope that the kids don’t end up being spoiled brats! They will sigh as I tell them this story about Christmas being cancelled and probably won’t believe me since grandma always brings them presents!
I’m very excited to be invited to be part of the first virtual speculative fiction convention called Amazing Con held by Amazing Stories Magazine!
Featuring over 42 authors, there will be tons of author readings, panels, musical performances and panels over a period of 3 days. Closer to the date I’ll post my reading date so people know when to look for me.
Registration is free and a suggested donation of $25 will give you access to the con along with a digital bundle of a year’s worth of Amazing Stories magazines! Click here to register
Since we are all hiding out due to COVID-19, this is an easy way to experience what a con is like from the comfort of your own home!
A few weeks ago I took a trip to a few stores to look for Paw Patrol and Batman piñatas. The average price was $20 for an empty one and you still had to buy treats! Admittedly they were very nice but I couldn’t bring myself to shred up $20! I would rather spend the money on nicer treats for piñata innards!
People online have made piñatas out of balloons, papier-mâché, cardboard…however all the youtube videos looked like it took a lot of time.
After many unnecessary sleepless nights on how to make a piñata cheaply and quickly, this is the best I’ve come up with – just decorate a paper bag!
large paper bag
crepe streamer ribbons (2 colors ideally)
printed character decoration
broom handle (for hanging pinata on)
Piñata stuffing – chocolate, erasers, toys, stickers, etc.
1. Cut up crepe paper streamers by measuring how much is needed to wrap around bag. Fold 2 cut pieces together to about 5″ in length before cutting fringes with scissors.
Note – for Lego Batman pinata I couldn’t find black streamers so I bought sheets of tissue paper. This is not ideal, it took time to cut ribbons and since the paper wasn’t long enough to wrap around bag things were a bit uneven when gluing.
2. Use hot glue to layer on crepe paper fringes onto paper bag starting from bottom. Basically squirt glue, tap on paper, glue, tap on paper…Cover bag half way before stopping. Don’t worry about perfection, this is going to be broken!
3. Fill piñata with treats!
4. Fold flap of of bag over broom handle and staple flap onto the bag. I had a long reach stapler which made the job easier. Remove broom handle until needed later.
5. Use hot glue again to layer crepe paper to finish covering piñata.
6. Last step is gluing a picture of whatever character you want!
At party – reinsert broom handle at top and hold. Kids at our party were given a small broom that was part of a play set to break piñata with.
At birthday parties full of toddlers under 5 years it took over 20 min before the piñata broke! Every kid got to swing at least twice which was important!
The next event I’m attending is Can Con in Ottawa. I’ve never been to this literary conference, but have been told it’s a great event. Since Dark Helix Press never got a chance to launch our Trump book at a Toronto convention, we’ll be launching in Ottawa instead. I’ll be speaking at two panels as well, so it’s a good chance to network with authors/publishers/readers.
For the launch it’s a group event with two other authors for a total of 3 books. We’ll be providing food and drinks since it’s a party! In addition, we’re all doing raffle draws for our books and Dark Helix will be making a “Basket of Ridiculousness” to raffle off specifically to people who will be purchasing the Trump book at the event. We figure it’s only fair to give our supporters extra presents when we can!
Since we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we also mined the inter web for funny images to make a collage for a table display. We had wanted to illustrate that our book was fiction and satire, so we chose images of Trudeau on a unicorn, Hilary saint candles and Trump resembling a Dragonball character.
We’ll have fun anyways regardless of book sales or not as book launches don’t always guarantee sales!