August 30, 2007

Something smells fishy

(Cebu: last of 4 parts)


Because we spent most of our time in Santa Fe, there were some places in Cebu city I didn't have the chance to visit such as the popular bagsakan (wholesale) center, the Carbon market . What I did make time for though is Tabo-an market, which is only about 10 minutes away from my brothers house. So while he settled in for a siesta, pooped after driving back from Bantayan, I borrowed his car and his housekeeper led us to the market.

I had heard about this market before so I was prepared for the mountains of dried fish or daing that was displayed before my eyes. What I wasn't prepared for was how much we would reek of fish even hours after leaving the market with our purchases vacuum-sealed in plastic and wrapped in newspaper and packed into a box. Every fiber of my being carried the stench of the sea, my hair, my clothes, even my bra! Same thing with my friend, M. We showered and scrubbed and thought we were rid of it completely, when poof , a surprise puff of the now-too-familiar funky odor greeted me when I opened my bag, and then engulfed us when we got into my brother's car the next day.


But that was ok. It was a temporary inconvenience that was well worth it. My dad loves the stuff and together with other goodies, it's a favorite pasalubong (travel gift) from Dumaguete too. So I was determined to take some home for the family and some friends. I also wanted to get more of that fish tocino which I had bought at the port of Santa Fe before boarding the Fast Craft.

For the benefit of my friends abroad, dried fish which was once the poor man's meal is now a Filipino breakfast favorite. It is fried to a crisp and served with a side of steamed or garlic-fried rice and vinegar for dipping. Like bagoong or ginamus (fermented shrimp paste), it is a nightmare for the uninitiated, especially when it is cooked in their homes because the smell has incredible staying power. My cousin's English husband banned it from their home (or at least banned them from cooking it while he was in town) after he was roused from bed one morning from the offensive (to him) aroma wafting up from the kitchen and permeating every corner of the house. Heehee. It's an acquired taste and smell for sure, but if you can get past the initial repulsion, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.


dried squid


fish tocino

You'll find almost every imaginable sun-dried, salt-cured fish here, piled high in abaca baskets that line the entire length of Tres de Abril St. There were piles of dried dilis (anchovy), sapsap, pusit (squid), danggit, hibe (shrimp), all available to retail and wholesale buyers. Depending on type of fish, they sell for about P200 or $4.50 (dilis) to P480 or $10.00(pusit) per kg. The stalls also carry Cebuano and Visayan delicacies like otap, dried mangos, barquillos, sampaloc, biscocho etc. making it a one-stop shop for pasalubong shopping. The sales ladies will expertly pack everything for you in boxes ready for shipping.

A great tip I learned from my brother: pack all dried fish in large brown envelopes and seal with tape. The smell is contained within, so you could actually put it in your suitcase if you don't want to bother checking-in an extra box at the airport.

Drying Fish

I stumbled upon these fish being sun-dried at Virgin Island near Bantayan


Our breakfast back in Manila the day after I arrived home
left to right: dilis, danggit and pusit, and my favorite fish tocino


Cebu longganisa ; another breakfast courtesy of Tabo-an market

EYC Marketing, Dried fish dealer
Stall #71-72; Tabo-an Market
Tres de Abril St., Cebu City
Tel. (032) 261-4307; 2627414

August 28, 2007

Santa Fe snapshots

(Cebu: Part 3 of 4)


Sante Fe is a small fishing village located on the southeast coast of Bantayan island. It is a place time seemed to have momentarily forgotten. The beaches are beautiful and unspoilt, and perhaps because it was low season, the only other life on the shores were fisherfolk and stray dogs. The beach at dusk was almost surreal. Everything turned a deep blue and you could barely make out the horizon. One evening as we walked the stretch of the beach, there was a dark rain cloud moving towards us which only added drama to the sky.

There isn't much to say about the night life here, at least not on that particular weekend. There were no shtoog-shtoog beats, just more more terribly amusing karaoke. We spent our nights getting massages, riding pedicabs, chatting over fresh seafood and succulent mangos, and then drifting off to the sound of the tropical rain against our windows and on the roof. I slept long, the peace I felt being here cloaked me in my slumber.


One afternoon after a boat ride to nearby Virgin island for some snorkling, we rented a motorcycle and set out to explore inland. The town was idyllic and incredibly charming. Our half hour ronda around the island brought us to old Colonial homes, a Thai massage place, an old man selling "tempura" (stretched fish balls) outside a European deli, two small girls playing on the side of the road amidst coconut trees, a very interesting-looking cemetery, a tourist information office, a church, a cluster of islanders perched on their sidecars waiting for passengers, and a woman grilling corn at the market. People we passed waved at us, they seemed to be smiling all the time. They had plenty to smile about.

We stopped at the European deli for a drink and walked over to a souvenir shop. Two foreigners who were chatting outside a Portuguese restaurant greeted us and volunteered that the food there was excellent. We chatted for a bit and when they found out it was our first time on the island, the shorter of the two looked at us seriously and said, "God lives here. I don't know what he does elsewhere, but He lives here." I don't doubt it. :)


Beautiful fisherman's children





Lechon, outside the public market on a Sunday morning


Fresh fish and fruit at the market


Beautiful old house





August 24, 2007

Do you know the way to Santa Fe?

(Cebu: Part 2 of 4)

"So, are you feeling adventurous?", Woody asked my friend and I during brunch at his apartment Saturday morning. "Yes!", I replied a little too loudly, almost spilling my tea in the process, "Why what's the plan?". "Let's go to Bantayan", he replied.

Less than two hours later we were on the road heading towards the northern tip of Cebu island where we would take the last ferry across to Santa Fe. I road shotgun and played the role of navigator, wrestling with the huge map . It was making me dizzy and I tried my darndest not to do a Linda Blair all over the dashboard. I shouldn't have drank so much wine the night before. Thankully the roads were good and the countryside was beautiful. It helped ease the throbbing in my temples. Every so often, I caught a glimpse of the sea through the coconut trees outside my window.


We reached the Hagnaya port at San Remigio with time to spare. We parked the car in a secured lot then proceeded to the booth to purchase our ferry tickets (P 168.00 or $3.50 for a one way ticket). We were starving, we had nothing but potato chips since brunch. Before boarding, the three of us managed to consume 4 hotdogs on sticks, 6 pork BBQs, one puso, 2 torta cebuanas, a couple of spanish breads, and more cheese bread from nearby Julie's bakeshop. Our scraps were happily lapped up by a poor dog that someone with a marker, who obviously had nothing better to do with his time, had some fun with.

We bought tickets for first-class, which is nothing more than a small stuffy airconditioned cabin. A Jackie Chan movie played on TV while my brother tried to sleep despite the combined noise of the TV, the boat's engine, the drone of the ancient A/c unit, and the screaming baby. I stayed on deck mostly, taking pictures of passing fishing boats and watching the setting sun cast pretty colors across the sky.


It was dark when we docked at Santa Fe. Walking along the catwalk of the pier, I could hear the unmistakable sounds of karaoke in the distance, a sound that would later become much too familiar while we dined in the island's restaurants. A long-limbed foreign man sat on the sidewalk and watched the influx of arriving passengers, lifting his Gold Eagle Beer mucho at us in salutation.

Because Woody had previously stayed at Yooneek Resort and had stayed in touch with Juan, the Japanese-Peruvian owner and his charming Filipina wife, Bernie, this is where we opted to stay as well. We hired two pedicabs and made our way to the resort. The farther away we were from the port, the quieter and darker it got. The terrible karaoke singing faded away and

We were welcomed with a nice dinner spread and wine (see first photo in collage below) in one of the resort's cabanas that was formerly a banka (outrigger). Bernie and Juan were having their regular weekend cocktails with friends - more foreigners who had left big towns and busy lives for the slow island life. Everyone on the resort staff exuded warmth and cheerfulness and made sure we had a pleasant visit.


I counted six rooms, three on each floor and Bernie and Juan's private space on the third. The rooms are big and very clean. I love how the balcony, walls and interiors including furniture are made of bamboo. It was rustic and charming, just how I like it. We were given the room with the view of the ocean on the second floor. It had a small TV, a fridge and a private balcony that opened up to the coconut grove where we could hang our towels and wet clothes.

Although there is a restaurant and bar across the rooms, it was hardly ever used. Most people, us included, ate their meals outside. How could you sit inside when you could sip your fruit shake and eat your longsilog (typical Filipino breakfast of cured sausage, fried egg and garlic fried rice) and juicy mango staring out into the blue green sea while the ocean breeze caresses your hair?


And that leads us to my favorite part of the resort. The beach bar (above & below). Like a scene straight out of Cocktail, waitresses serve tropical drinks from behind the bar as latin and reggae beats played all day and night. But it was in the mornings that I loved it most. It was dreamlike. My favorite meal of the day was brought to us here, and in this most calming of environments we awoke slowly. Letting the sound of waves lapping on the shore and the trees ruslting in the breeze and the salty-fishy smell in the air coax our senses out to play.



Yooneek Beach Resort
Santa Fe, Bantayan, Cebu Island
Tel. (+6332) 4389124
Mobile (+63-917) 999 3829

Regular room rate: about $55 per night

August 23, 2007

A city of firsts

(Cebu: Part 1 of 4)


Magellan's Cross
My favorite brother, who just happens to be my only brother, moved to Cebu from Bacolod a few months ago. I had been meaning to visit him much earlier to help fix up his place but unfortunately never got around to it. I did finally manage to make it down to that Queen City of the South for the long weekend with a friend in tow. We almost didn't make it though. A typhoon raged on outside while we sat in the lounge of the Manila domestic airport. Rain whipped the glass windows and we couldn't see the tarmac and the wind howled angrily. I assured my friend (myself, really) that we would be alright, that most plane crashes were caused by mechanical failure and not bad weather. Whereever did I get that anyway? Some of the earlier flights were cancelled, but thankfully ours was only delayed by a little over an hour.

At last, at almost 10 pm we touched down in Cebu and soon after my brother, who answers to Woody by the way, whisked us off to Arano's where friends and food were waiting patiently for us. Even though I get to see my bro often (he comes home about twice a month) it was still see nice to him. He is 11 years my senior (he'll kill me for saying that!) but that never kept us from being very close. He takes immense pleasure in teasing me, and I indulge him. Not that I have much of a choice, really. But when he wasn't picking on me, I couldn't complain. He was good to us and a model son to my parents. And seriously, anyone who can put up with four bratty younger sisters and their quirks is a saint in my book!

So here I was in his brand new home. It was hard to believe it had been almost 8 years since my last real visit to Cebu. By "real visit" I mean not one where I was just passing through, in transit between islands. I had nothing planned for the next three days, which is a little unusual for me. I felt I didn't have to draw up an itinerary this time, thinking we would take it easy and let the wind carry us where it wanted.


Basilica del Santo Niño

To kick off this Cebu series, I thought I would start with the city's most famous landmarks: Magellan's Cross and Basilica del Santo Niño. So here is your history lesson (or review) for the day:

The city of Cebu is the oldest in the Philippines. Among it's many claims to fame are: the nation's first street (Colon), first church (Santo Niño), first fort (Fort San Pedro), and first school (San Carlos). It was here where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan suffered his fate under the sword of Lapu-Lapu shortly after his arrival in 1521, in what came to be known as the Battle of Mactan.

What you see in the picture above is the cross Magellan left behind. It is encased in tindalo wood and housed in a shrine commemorating the early Filipino Christianization and the archipelago's first encounter with the West. Nearby is the Basilica del Santo Niño which was erected by Augustinian Fathers in 1565 making it the first church in the Philippines. It was built as a home for the country's oldest religious relic, an image of the Santo Niño or Holy Infant Jesus. The statue is considered miraculous and a blessed replica can be found in practically every Cebuano household, store, and vehicle.


On this day, devotees are seen queueing up to see the Image, kneeling in quiet prayer, giving alms, and lighting candles. Outside, children beg for change while their elders hawk their wares. It was a typical day at the Basilica.

So there you have it. Isn't it pretty? Before I end this post, I'll leave you with a few more snapshots taken at this beautiful stone church.




August 22, 2007

When life hands you lemons...

pickled lemons

Pickled lemons

It must have been around that time, about 11 years ago , when I lived in Vancouver for a few months with my sister and her family that I became hopelessly enamored with Middle Eastern food. I spent countless hours in awe watching her and her Lebanese husband make some of the most exotic food I had ever tasted, using ingredients I had never even heard of until then. Then I devoured everything with gusto.

Six years later, I moved to London where I lived for two years and found myself amidst a thriving Middle Eastern, North African and South Asian community with access to all sorts of delicacies from their respective regions. Around the corner from my first flat was a Persian store I visited almost everyday and enjoyed a first-name basis relationship with every one in the family who owned it. When I first entered, I felt what Ali Baba must have felt chancing upon the treasure trove of those forty thieves. The shelves that lined the walls from corner to corner were filled with trays of baklava in every shape and form and jewels of Turkish delight and other Arab sweets. There were jars of golden honey and tubs of fresh yogurt on one side and covering the floor were tall mounds of precious spices, nuts, and other dried fruit bursting out of sacks and baskets. Next to that was a Persian restaurant owned by their relatives where they served kebabs and panir and made fresh lavash and nan-e (flatbreads) by the window in full view of the passing public.

My second neighborhood where I lived and put up shop was even more ethnic and included a Tunisian cafe which I frequented for lunch and whose coffee I adored, a Turkish wine and deli shop whose owner I had a huge crush on, an Ethiopian restaurant that served colorful and aromatic mounds of food atop a large injera (pancake-like flatbread) and more ethnic shops replete with fresh leben (yogurt without butterfat), kofta and shawarma. A fragrant bouquet of cinnamon, cardamom and mint and the smell of fried dough permeated the air hypnotizing passersby. It was a nothing short of a culinary paradise for someone like me and I fell deeper in love with the magical cuisine of these exotic lands.

Longing to recreate the food I enjoyed then and let its flavors transport me to far-away lands, I began to collect recipes and cookbooks such as Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry. This is no ordinary cookbook, it is a sensual journey into the Mediterranean, Middle East and North Africa told in enchanting prose and through intriguing recipes. Each page conjures visions of cheerful lemon groves, colorful spice markets, perfumed gardens, and sunny coasts. It's amazing how Diana Henry uses common and exotic ingredients in unusual ways or combines them to create captivating and evocative dishes. The chapters are divided according to main ingredients such as Curds and Whey (recipes with yogurt, feta and ricotta), Heaven Scent (flowers and flower water), and Fruits of Longing (figs, quinces, pomegranates and dates).

preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

It is in the Pith and Skin chapter where I found recipes for both pickled and preserved lemons. Lemons have a unique way of enhancing everything it is added to, bringing forth and underscoring its natural flavor. Sometimes though the tartness of lemons can be a tad overpowering. Pickling and preserving lemons are great ways to mellow its sharpness and astringency without compromising its role as a flavor-enhancer. Just like other preserves and pickles, the longer you let it sit the better. I can't wait to use my lemons, but in the meantime, I can admire how they look absolutely brilliant in my kitchen.

Preserved Lemons

4 organic, unwaxed lemons (for preserving)
4 more lemons for the juice
coarse sea salt
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
3 bay leaves
extra virgin olive oil

Here's what you do:

Sterilize the jars then wash the lemons, scrub them really clean. Divide the lemon into quarters with four deep cuts lengthways, but don't cut all the way through the other end. Take each one, and holding it open like a flower, stuff with salt, probably about 2 tsps. for each lemon. Squeeze closed and put into the jar. Do this with all the lemons you want to preserve. Push lemons down tightly and pack well. Sprinkle generously with salt.

Cover the jar and leave in a warm place for about three days while the juices run out. On the third or fourth day, add the cinnamon sticks, coriander seeds, peppercorns and bay leaves. Squeeze fresh lemon juice into the jar, making sure to cover the lemons completely. Then pour a layer of olive oil on top. Let it sit on your kitchen counter for about a month, shaking the jar at least once a day.

Preserved lemons are fantastic with vegetables, tossed in a green salad, in couscous or rice, with pasta and fresh tomato sauce or used to enhance tajines and braises. Recipes in the book that I imagine would go beautifully with these are Bulgur and Spinach Pilaf with Labneh and Chilli Roast Tomatoes, Fruit Couscous, Lamb Pizza, and Catalan Black Rice with Allioli among others.

Pickled Lemons

4 organic, unwaxed lemons
coarse sea salt
extra virgin olive oil

Here's what you do:

Sterilize the jar you'll be using. Wash and scrub the lemons very well. Slice them about a quarter inch around. Put the slices in a colander set over a bowl, sprinkling with salt as you go. Leave overnight to drain off the moisture. Layer the lemon slices in the jar, sprinkling paprika between each layer, until the jar is full. Cover with extra virgin olive oil. Make sure all lemons are covered (I hadn't finished filling the jar when I took the picture above). Let it sit for about three weeks to a month, shaking the jar once a day or so.

Pickled lemons may be served with grilled fish, chicken or lamb chops. I have already bookmarked recipes to try from the book that would make great pickled lemon partners such as Arab-Andalusian Monkfish with Saffron, Honey and Vinegar, Harissa -marinated Lamb with Spiced Mash and Cinnamon Onions, Ottoman Lamb with Sultan's Pleasure and Socca with Sardines, Roast Tomatoes and Olive & Parsley Salad.

So when life hands you lemons, stick them in your San Pellegrino, as Joey says, or pickle and preserve them!

August 15, 2007

Vanilla - anything but ordinary

Vanilla beans

adj.: Ordinary flavor, standard. When used of food, very often does not mean that the food is flavored with vanilla extract! For example, `vanilla wonton soup' means ordinary wonton soup, as opposed to hot-and-sour wonton soup.

The word vanilla has become synonymous with anything that's ordinary. But really, is that even fair? How can something so intensely aromatic and exotic be used to describe anything that is ordinary? Or plain? Or bland? Alright, vanilla ice cream certainly looks more boring than chocolate, I'll give you that. But ice cream color aside, vanilla beans actually have a very complex flavor and you will be hard pressed to find a pastry or cake that doesn't call for some form of this spice. Even those chocoholic Aztec emperors enhanced their cocoa with vanilla. It perfumes everything to which it is added and it imparts a subtly sweet flavor to savory dishes as well.

Vanilla sugar

The vanilla "bean" (it's actually a pod) is the fruit of the climbing vanilla orchid (vanilla planifolia) which thrives in tropical climates. The reason it commands such a high price (don't buy imitation vanilla, you'll only get what you pay for) is that it is a highly labor-intensive crop. Because the kind of bee that pollinates this flower is rare, a method of hand-pollination was developed. Once the flowers blossom, they must be left on the vine for much longer before they are harvested and the lengthy process of curing, sweating and drying begins.

The three most popular types of vanilla beans are Bourbon (from Madagascar), Mexican, and Tahitian. The major distinction among the three types is intensity of flavor and thickness. Because I love the flavor and fragrance of vanilla (many of my lotions, hand gels, and body washes are of either warm vanilla sugar or lavender-vanilla scents), I bought myself several packets of Indonesian vanilla beans at the Ubud market in Bali not too long ago. When I arrived home, I split some up to make vanilla sugar and vanilla extract for future use.

As for the rest of the beans which I have stored in the refrigerator wrapped in many layers of paper towels and plastic, I plan to use their seeds in desserts such as custards or puddings, muffins, cookies and cake. Now if I can only find the time for all that! If you have any vanilla recipes you'd like to share, I would love to try them. :)

Vanilla extract

To make vanilla extract:

You will need 1 vanilla pod for every 3/4 cup of vodka.

Lay the bean flat on a chopping board. With a sharp knife, make a slit down the length of the vanilla pod leaving the ends intact, but exposing the seeds within. Steep the beans in good quality (don't use vodka you wouldn't drink yourself) vodka in an airtight bottle for 6 months. Shake often.

To make vanilla sugar:

You will need 1 vanilla pod for every 2 cups of sugar.

Make a slit along the vanilla pod in the same manner above. You could cut it in half if it's too long. Bury the pods in caster sugar inside a vacuum-sealed or airtight jar and shake well. And shake often. In about 2-3 weeks, you will have sugar infused with the heady and evocative aroma of vanilla.

Use it to flavor your pastries, coffee, hot chocolate, yogurt, tea, fruit, and anywhere you might use the plain stuff.

Variation: Use cinnamon sticks in place of the vanilla bean.

August 13, 2007

Red curry crab


Remember Edgar, the taho guy-turned-crab guy I was telling you about in this post? Well twice recently I managed to catch him while I was home during the weekend. One Saturday morning, we chatted under the shade of a large rainbow-striped umbrella fixed to his sidecar as he weighed live crabs for me. I peered into the pails at his bounty, seeing some great-looking squid, lapu-lapu and prawns squirming around in there, still very much alive. He was telling me how he gave his taho business to his brother-in-law and nephew to help them out. What a nice guy!


Crabs are a family favorite and we used to cook it at home pretty often, but we've been having it more now than ever. This gives me a chance to experiment with different flavors. I got the inspiration for this dish from a recipe in At The Table of Jim Thompson for prawns in red curry and basically just substituted the prawns with crab. I used a packet of curry paste left over from a trip to Bangkok a few months ago, along with the naam pla (Thai fish sauce) and dried kaffir lime leaves also purchased during that trip.

It turned out to be an addicting meal of succulent crab drenched in a semi-sweet, very spicy creamy curry that will have you ladling more of the sauce into your rice. Yet another one of those finger-lickingly good and utterly satisfying Sunday lunches brought to us by Edgar, who now has us eagerly anticipating his next visit.


Red curry crab
adapted from At The Table of Jim Thompson

1 1/2 - 2 cups coconut milk
4 tbsp red curry paste
2 tsp palm sugar
5 tbsp fish sauce
4 tbsp chicken stock
4 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
1-2 tbsp red chili paste (depending on your heat preference)
6 whole crabs

Boil crabs and set aside. When cool, chop in half and separate the claws.

In a wok, warm the coconut milk over medium heat, then add the red curry paste and continue cooking until fragrant. Add the palm sugar, fish sauce, chicken stock and simmer until the mixture is reduced to a thick curry. Add the shredded kaffir lime leaves, mix well and simmer for another five minutes.

Toss in all the crab and mix well. Transfer to serving plate and garnish with remaining kaffir lime leaves. Serve with rice.

August 10, 2007

"If the Travel Channel and The Food Network had a baby..."

I wasn't planning to put this up on the blog but then I decided it's about the blog so I should, right? It's kinda like an important milestone in your baby's life and not adding it to her baby book. Not that I would ever compare having a blog to having a baby, so you mothers out there can put that knife down and back away slowly. ;)

So anyway, a few months ago, Alynda posted about her blog review. She had submitted her link to Review my Blog and then posted her results. I followed the link and read other reviews and then read about the panel of judges. They explained:
"We don't claim to be blogging experts, and we don't claim to know
everything there is to know about template design. We are not award-winning
writers, either. We're here because it's fun for us. We're a group of ladies
with a sarcastic sense of humor, and we love reading people's blogs!"

I thought why not, it would be nice to know what unbiased people think about my site, so in a moment of massochistic whimsy I shot them an e-mail and waited. And waited. Until the waiting consumed me, eating up my very being! Just kidding. :) But I will admit it was quite nerve-racking, especially when all the 4s and 5s and even 1s (blogs are rated on a scale of 1-10 based on first impresson, design, and content) were coming in droves. The header design my friend is working on wasn't going to be finished on time so I knew the plainness of my blog would cost me many points. You also have no control over who does the review, it could be a Randy, Paula or Simon if you're unlucky.

And then it was time. Review day was upon me and I swear it felt like course card day in college. Ok. Are you ready for it? I got a 9!! YAY! Can you believe it?! *doing the dance of joy* I honestly didn't expect that and I'm super thrilled! :)

My favorite part of the review was when Lexis said "It's like if the Travel Channel and The Food Network had a baby, lol." I loved that. Almost as much as I loved this: "Now some of the food made me want to hurl, but I'm sure she's seen some shit we eat over here that has made her want to do the same thing, lol." I'm pretty sure she was talking about the picture of the sinigang na lechon I posted because it was on the main page around that time the review was done. I can understand how it would elicit that kind of reaction from the uninitiated. Heehee.

So here is the review in it's entirety:

Blog Being Reviewed: Ramblings from a Gypsy Soul
Reviewed By: Lexis Eldorado

At First Glance: Ohh Someone from Another Culture, I'm intrigued.

Template/Design: Almost thought it was a wordpress template but it's not.
Plain, but I see heavy visuals in the content; so it might need to be plain
white. The sidebar is enthusiastic. She's about travel and food and her sidebar
reflects it. I'm intrigued.

Content: Wow! I feel like I haven't been out of my backyard reading this
blog. It's like if the Travel Channel and The Food Network had a baby, lol.
There's one thing to scour the net looking for appropriate pictures to tell your
stories and actually taking them. Her photos are vibrant and colorful and you
almost feel like you can touch a leaf or the sand or run through the ocean. Now
some of the food made me want to hurl, but I'm sure she's seen some shit we eat
over here that has made her want to do the same thing, lol. In terms of the
writing. She tells the story without all that 'extra'.

What is the first thing I would change about this blog? More pictures, lol I
love looking at these pictures. I would like to see a more vibrant template.
There's got to be some type of really cool travel template out there just
waiting for her.

What is the best feature of this blog? A great merger of visuals and

Rating: 9 Also here is her VT Page for those interested.

(The original post is here.)

Thanks again, Lexis, for the great review! And thank you to all of you who read my blog and encourage me with your words. A special thanks to the other bloggers out there who continue to amaze and inspire me. I'd also like to thank my mom and dad for.....

August 8, 2007

Chunky guacamole


When I was younger, I only really knew avocados as a sweet treat, served with milk and sugar in a bowl or blended into thick green shakes. It was only later that I began to discover this fruit for it's more savory potential, where it lends creaminess to dishes such as sushi, salsas, salads, sandwiches and of course dips like guacamole.

In Aztec Mexico, the avocado fruit was highly-regarded because of it's high-fat content and essential to their mainly low-fat diet. But alas, this was not good news for the Twiggys and Kates of the world and their frail disciples. The avocado lost some of its glory and I will be the first to admit that I too tried to stay away for a time. It didn't take long for me to realize though that this was actually good fat, the mono and polyunsaturated kind, and that packed into this fruit are over twenty vitamins and minerals that contribute significantly to overall good health. So there, trump that! :)

So I opened my arms wide, welcoming the avocados back into my life and embracing all it's good qualities and culinary potential. I no longer picked the pieces out from that bed of salad greens and I began slurping those delicious shakes again. Oh and making home-made guacamole too.

Below is the recipe which was based on Rosa's New Mexican Table by Roberto Santibañez and which is the same recipe used at the Rosa Mexicano restaurants in NY where they prepare the guacamole by your table in a molcajete, a traditional Mexican mortar made with volcanic rock. I did use a mortar to make the paste and then tossed everything together in a separate bowl before transferring it into smaller bowls like the one pictured above, incidentally a favorite of mine that I picked up during a trip to Mexico last year.

Although the addition of lime or lemon is not found in most authentic Mexican recipes, I like to squeeze some of the citrus onto the guacamole to add a bit of tang. South of the (American) border, guacamole is traditionally served inside a fresh tortilla but I prefer having it as a dip with salty tortilla chips or crudites.

The result is a fiesta in a bowl! It's rich, lusciously creamy, give-me-lumps-or-give-me-death! chunky, colorful and sshh, are those mariachis I hear?

Chunky guacamole
(adapted from Saveur, Aug-Sept 2007)

3/4 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 whole tomatoes, diced
1 jalapeno chile, finely chopped (if you have Serrano chiles, better)
2 medium-ripe Hass avocados
fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of 1 lime
salt to taste

The most imporant step in making good guacamole is to grind the onion, cilantro, chile and salt in a mortar until you've achieved a nice paste. You have to really get down and grind like your life depended on it. This will allow the paste to enhance the flavor of the avocados without overpowering it.

Next, cut the avocados lengthwise and twist to separate the halves. Remove the pit with a knife and make 3 or 4 lengthwise cuts through it's flesh down to the skin. Then do the same crosswise, like you would cube a mango. Scoop all the diced avocado flesh out and into a bowl.

Scrape the chile-onion paste from the mortar onto the avocados and gently fold the avocados into it, careful to keep the avocados intact. Add the tomatoes and more chopped cilantro. Squeeze the lime onto the guacamole and season with salt. Fold together all the ingredients and serve immediately.

Bonus trivia: Guacamole dates back to the Aztec period where it was first known as ahuaca-mulli, loosely translated as Avocado mixture. Learn more about the origin and kinds of avocado here.

August 7, 2007

Mixed mushroom couscous


Here's a little break from all the protein I've been featuring from my last trip. This is a recipe that was inspired by BBC's Good Food 101 Veggie Dishes. I needed something new for my office baon (packed lunch), a change from my usual. I was growing a bit tired of grilled chicken (served with our ever-growing collection of condiments in the office), my usual salad brought from home, or any one of our usual take-outs : laing, tawilis or sushi from Conrad's, dimsum, pizza, or KFC. I need baon ideas, people, please take pity on this poor working girl! :)

I saw a recipe with couscous and thought that was just the thing I wanted. I still had half a pack of couscous in my pantry from a recent lamb tajine I made so I used that. I wanted something light, so I turned to my trusty little book of veggie dishes like I always do when I'm feeling "healthy". I settled for this recipe which originally calls for halloumi cheese. Unfortunately I no longer had any of that in my fridge so I made it anyway without the halloumi.

This is an incredibly quick and no-fuss dish. Something you can whip up in the morning while getting ready for work. It's that easy. When lunchtime came around, I had it with a half order of steaming mechado (Filipino beef stew) from the cafeteria and that hit the spot beautifully.

I really love the texture of couscous, I like how the grains feel when mixed with other firmer ingredients. It is also a great vehicle for absorbing and carrying whatever flavors you lay on it. You can have this as a side or as your main meal.

Mixed mushroom couscous
serves 2

3/4 cup couscous
1 cup boiling water
1 green or red bell pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed
150 g mixed mushrooms, for this one I used shitake, button and oyster mushrooms
basil and parsley - finely chopped
olive oil
fleur de sel

Pour couscous into the bowl of boiling water and cover with cling film. In the meantime, roast the bell pepper on your stove top then seed and chop when done.

Heat some olive oil in a pan and fry the garlic for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and saute until lightly golden. Set aside.

Stir in the chopped bell pepper and herbs with the couscous and season. Spoon onto plates and top with the pan-fried halloumi (if available) and mushrooms. Garnish with the extra herbs and serve.

August 6, 2007

Drive-thru organic market


I love my weekends and I look forward to it with much anticipation during the week. And I've always felt they were too short and should be composed of three days instead of two. I think it's only fair to work 4 days in a week and rest for 3, don't you think? Anyhoo, for most of us these two days are precious! On weekends I find myself in a bit of a tizzy; I am torn between the very elusive pleasure of sleeping in and making the most of every precious minute by doing everything I don't get to do and spend quality time with family because I work full-time during week days.

Spending my mornings at the market is one of my favorite weekend indulgences. But for it to be more rewarding one has to go early which of course means giving up even the slightest hopes of sleeping in. This isn't always easy to do though because Fridays can (and usually do) mean late nights. More often than not though, if I'm in town on the weekend, I fight the urge to sleep in and thank myself for doing so as I drive back home with my trunk and cooler filled with fresh and delicious foodstuff.


Which brings me to this little strip of a market close to my home, the Sunday Organic Market at Magallanes. On weekend mornings, when the gravity underneath my bed is at its most powerful and makes me miss the Salcedo market and when I'm too lazy to drive to Market! Market! or Legaspi, it's good to know I can go for a quick run to Magallanes for some fresh produce. Once when I was rushing because I was cooking something for lunch to be served in the next hour but lacked shallots, I did my marketing from the comfort of my car in ratty house clothes.

It is still a relatively young market with limited space and even more limited purveyors, so it's not an alternative to the bigger and better marketplaces out there. But it is undoubtedly a nice thing to have around for those kitchen emergencies. :)

August 4, 2007

pineapples, steaks, and coffee


Our weekend jaunt to the south was coming to an end, sniff, but there was still one more thing we had to do (er eat) before hopping on that plane back to Manila: the steaks at Del Monte!

Bukidnon is a rolling highland with an average elevation of about 900 meters. It is home to the world's biggest pineapple plantation and is also the biggest cattle-prducing province in the region. Now think about that for a second. That's a lotta cows and pineapples! Actually that's a whole lotta cows eating a whole lotta pineapples!


Del Monte Philippines, Inc. owns 90 sq kms. of fertile land in Bukidnon, majority of which is devoted to the largest pineapple plantation in the Far East. In the heart of this vast expanse of land is Camp Philips, Del Monte's headquarters, where many of the top executives live while their children study at the Del Monte Int'l. School. The pride among other recreational facilities is the 18-hole golf course and a golf club famous for steaks from pineapple-fed cattle, a non-core business created to make use of excess pulp.

The club is casual and unpretentious and presents the diner with a pretty view of the gold course through screened windows. It's cool and there's a light breeze so there's no need for even an electric fan even at this time of day when the heat is usually most unbearable. We order our steaks - porterhouse for most of us - and a New York steak for my friend. Other cuts available are T-bone, sirloin, club and round. You can choose to get the full order which comes with soup, salad and dessert. I went with the short order of porterhouse (large!), with two orders of extra bread please.


I am told their bread is fantastic, so I ask for two extra orders not knowing that my steak comes with 2 slices. But it was really, really good, so soft and perfect that I practically finished it all anyway. The steak did not disappoint; it was tender and flavorful. But since I'm not a big steak person, I couldn't tell that this was pineapple-fed. But then that's me. I couldn't tell ostrich meat from beef either, remember? :) It didn't matter, everything was delicious, the company was first-class and we were happy.

Super good bread

At the airport cafe, I grabbed myself a pack of Monk's Blend premium coffee which I first heard about from Christina who discovered it while backpacking through Bukidnon earlier this year. The beans are roasted by the monks from the Monastery of the Transfiguration I'm still happily drinking my way through some Benguet arabica a friend of mine gave me (a present from Baguio) so I haven't tried this one yet. But I think I'll brew some and give it a try this weekend. :)


Del Monte Golf Club
Cawayanon, San Miguel, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon
(088) 855-5976 to 78 ; (08822) 742370 ext. 6125/6145

August 2, 2007

Finding God's country in Bukidnon

Backyard view of Mt. Kitanlad

We were invited to stay for the night at a friends' farm in Bukidnon. So after we accomplished what we did and satisfied our inner stuntman in Cagayan de Oro, they sent the car to pick us up from our hotel. We drove for over an hour through nothing but a sea of pineapples (owned by the Del Monte Corp.) on either side of the dirt road until we arrived at their gorgeous 60-hectare estate.

I knew they had a beautiful place up there, but I wasn't prepared for just how beautiful it actually was. When we reached the estate, we drove past banana trees, papaya trees, coffee plants and a myriad of organic produce, a couple of ponds and finally up the gravel driveway leading to the main house. It was a simple wooden structure, typical of a hacienda house in the province, that belied the quiet luxury within. There were big windows everywhere, giving every room a bright and airy feel.

I let out an audible gasp when I caught my first glimpse of the backyard from the cheerful yellow terrace. Wow! was all I managed, dumbfounded. Beyond the neatly manicured gardens, the grounds stretched out towards Mt. Kitanglad in the distance. It was absolutely breathtaking!

I flipped when I saw the horses and ponies - there were nineteen horses, I was told later. I love horses, and have always dreamed of living in a ranch with some of my own. I was thrilled beyond belief and felt like a kid in a candy shop. The air up here was cool and smelled fresh and clean. The only sound was that of horses neighing in the distance and birds chirping. We toured the grounds and I spent a great amount of time lingering among the horses and taking pictures of them. They're truly beautiful and gentle creatures.


We spent the next two days relishing our surroundings, during which we slipped into a state of perfect contentment. There were long walks among the horses, aperitifs in the gazebo, cocktails in the terrace of cheese fondue washed down with wine from their extensive collection; a delicious five course dinner with the highly entertaining sister of a datu; gathering around the bonfire sipping home-aged rum from large oak barrels, under a thick blanket of stars - the sky was so clear I actually saw the Milky Way!; waking up to the sweet sound of children singing during Sunday school nearby; lingering over a breakfast of mango pancakes, jelly-filled buns from Davao, capuccino and fresh pineapple juice; horseback riding against a backdrop of majestic mountain ridges; and dozing off on woven mats under the shade of an acacia tree.

In the end we felt sad that we had to go, but extremely grateful for a taste of this piece of paradise. As my friend aptly described it, God's country.