March 31, 2008

WS #30: Honey-balsamic glazed fruit cup

Honey-balsamic fruit cup

I love my fruits. Tropical fruits, exotic fruits, fruits of the forest; poached, baked in pies, stuffed in crepes, preserved in jars, blended in smoothies, flambeed with rum, tossed in salads, love them all! But not as much as I love them raw and pure. Straight from the tree, or bush, or from wherever it is your favorite fruit is grown.

I recall reading somewhere that when Mother Nature can no longer contain her joy, she bursts forth in flowers. If that's the case, then she must unleash her love with fruits!

And while I love to grab a nice ripe peach or mango and sink my teeth into the flesh letting the juices dribble down my chin and and arms, I also like chopping them up into a fruit salad (in this case I used strawberries, mangos and bananas), tossing them with a honey-balsamic dressing for a luscious treat. But when I'm feeling decadent, I'll ditch the dressing for some condensed milk. Yum! :)

Note: Proportion of glaze is about 1/2 cup honey to 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar.

Click on the WS icon above to join the weekenders, and click here to see the other entries for WS #30.

March 24, 2008

Ws #29: Pool with a view


My Weekend Snapshot entry this week is a glimpse of our Easter vacation at my cousin's beach house in Calatagan. It was a wonderful 5 days of sun and fun with mostly family. There was a lot of lazy lounging, holy week prayers, sunset cocktails, chatting under the stars, bird watching, fresh fruits, frothy capuccinos, more chatting over beers and bruschetta, and swimming. It was heaven. I hope you all had a wonderful Easter break too! :)

Check out other WS entries here.

March 20, 2008

Simple strawberry trifle

Simple strawberry trifle

I am a huge Friends fanatic, one of those that owns all 10 seasons on dvd, has watched each episode at least 4x so far and has never recovered from the show's end. It still elicits big belly laughs from me and I don't think the humor could ever get old, at least not for me. As much as I've watched the show though, I such at games like Friends Trivia and Scene It Friends edition (both of which I've played with my own bunch of goofy friends who are not unlike the characters of the show in their own way) because I have a horrible memory for details. But I can run full scenes in my head on demand.

One such scene, one of my favorites, is the one where Rachel - who is seriously lacking in the domestic skills department - attempts to make an English Trifle for Thanksgiving. When it's time for dessert, she proudly presents the trifle and when asked what it is, she answers (and I'm paraphrasing here): "It's a trifle, see it's got all these layers - ladyfingers, then jam, and custard, and raspberries, and more ladyfingers, then beef sauteed with peas and onions, and more custard...". The rest try desperately to hide the horror from showing in their faces. They soon discover that some of the pages in the recipe book Rachel used are stuck together, and half the English Trifle recipe merged with half of a Shepherd's Pie.

But that's not the best part. The gang didn't want to hurt her feelings by telling her she messed up, seeing that she had worked so hard on it. So they force themselves to eat it and pretend to like it. When Rachel leaves the room, Ross groans saying that it tastes like feet. Joey, on the other hand, is scarfing it down and announces that he likes it, "What's not to like? Custard? Good. Jam? Good. Meat? Gooooood!"

Heehee. I love it! And I love trifles. Joey's right. What's not to like? Custard, jam, fruits, all good! So because I still had half a bag of broas (ladyfingers) from a recent trip to Bohol I decided to pair them up with the strawberries I bought. This time though I kept it simple and just used sweetened cream and leftover strawberries from some jam I made. It's so easy, not even Rachel could screw this one up. And even if she did, we'd forgive her because we all have a little Rachel in us. That sweet, thoughtful friend with only the best intentions who messes up once in a while but is loved no less for it. :)

Simple strawberry trifle

Simple Strawberry Trifle

250 grams fresh strawberries
4 pcs ladyfingers or broas (you may also use pound cake)
3 tbsp white sugar
1/4 cup strawberry jam
1/2 cup whipped cream
1 tbsp condensed milk (optional)

Slice the strawberries into thirds and sprinkle with about 1 tbsp sugar. Mix thoroughly and set it aside for about 20 minutes to sweeten.

Whip the cream until it soft peaks form then add 2 tbsps sugar. Whip again to combine. You may also choose to add a spoon of condensed milk into the mixture. If you do add it, lessen the sugar to 1 tbsp. or your cream will be overly sweet. Most of the sweetness will come from the strawberries and the jam.

You can arrange the layers in a trifle bowl if you're making a large batch. But because I was only making for 3, I used my Irish coffee mugs to make individual servings. Start with a layer of broken-up ladyfingers. (If using pound cake, use a small round cookie cutter to shape the layers). Spoon some jam on top of the ladyfingers then assemble the sliced strawberries on top. Add the sweetened cream then repeat the layers. Refrigerate the cups (or trifle bowl) overnight to set and allow the flavors to mingle.
Not only is this super easy to make and great for hot summer days when the mere thought of turning on the oven causes you to break out in a sweat, but it's delicious. Just ask Mr. Spoonman from the photo, he looks mighty happy! :)

I'm off in a few hours and headed for the beach with family and friends so I'd like to wish you all a Happy Easter in advance. See you next week!

March 19, 2008

White Chocolate & Macadamia Nut cookies

Chocolate & Macadamia nut cookies

As far back as I can remember, we would often have a box or two of Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts courtesy of a visiting relative or friend of my parents'. It seemed to be the favorite pasalubong (gift from travels) during those times along with cans of salted macadamia, Almond Roca and Violet Crumble (ooohh how we would fight for these!) among a few others. And so for a very long time, that was all I knew of that nut. That it either came salted in a can or covered in delicious milk chocolate, but always from the exotic islands of pineapples and grass skirts.

Of course now I'd like to think that all these years exposed to more types of food from here and beyond have not only helped to expand my waistline (groan) but also my little knowledge of foods somewhat. Like for example, I know now that the macadamia nut is not only native to Hawaii as I ignorantly presumed, but also to Australia, Brazil and some other countries in South Africa and South America.

I found them to be abundant in Beijing, piled high among an assortment of dried fruit and nuts. I wish we had as much variety here and for the same reasonable price. I bought tons of the stuff, some to eat right away and the rest packed away for home. I stuffed myself silly with the sweetest, most delicious chestnuts I had ever tried! As far as the macadamia nuts were concerned, I already knew what I wanted to do with them...these cookies of course! I don't know what it is about white chocolate and macadamia nuts, but they make a good marriage.

I found several recipes online which I morphed into this one here. It worked out perfectly. Not too sweet, which is what I was afraid of because the chocolate I used - Ghirardelli white chocolate chips - were not unsweetened. I undercooked them a little to leave it a little gooey and chewy, the way I like my cookies to be. It was a little tricky to shell so many of the nuts in one go, but nowhere near as crazy hard as shelling those pili nuts was! The nice ladies in the market thoughtfully threw in a couple of those 'keys' you use to pry the shell open. All you have to do is slip the key into the crack, they all have 'em, then twist until the shell cracks further.

Now if you can resist popping all of it into your mouth, you can proceed to make these wonderful cookies!

Macadamia nuts

White Chocolate & Macadamia Nut Cookies
adapted from several diff. recipes at
Can make up to 2 dozen

1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup white vanilla sugar
1 egg
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts
1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a large bowl, cream the butter with both sugars until smooth. Then beat in the eggs, slowly. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt before gradually stirring into the creamed mixture. Mix in the nuts and white chocolate. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 minutes or until it starts to turn golden brown.

March 17, 2008

Steaming cauldrons & delicious concoctions

Witchkins cover

Lookie lookie! It's the newest, most adorable cookbook to hit the shelves!

I was really excited when I first heard about this book while it was still in the works. I thought, what a cool idea!, and couldn't wait to see the finished product. And now I have! I love it. It's cute and the characters are so much fun.

The Witchkins All-Occasion Cookbook is really much more than just a cookbook with recipes. It is the story of the The Witchkins -Katrina, Carmela, Anna M- and Sir Nigel. The recipes, which have all been kid-tested, are grouped according to the significant moments of the characters' lives such as Playdate, Sleepover, Summertime, Birthday etc. Here's an excerpt from the info kit:

"Turn the pages and visit the world of the unforgettable characters
called the Witchkins—Katrina, Carmela, and Anna M—as they “sassily” guide us
through pages and pages of classic dishes. Sir Nigel, the only male in this
group of young chefs, wears spectacles, dons a cape, and does his best to put up
with his 3 cheeky colleagues. His recipes, however, are marvelous."

Marshmallow surprise cookie

Now doesn't that just sound like too much fun?!

The recipes aren't just for kids, there's mini-pizzas, croquetas, and other well grown-up food, whatever that means. My tummy is a tummy for all ages!

The Witchkins is the brainchild of Mel Martinez-Francisco, whose love for kids and anything culinary shines through in this book. She indulges both passions by teaching regular cooking and baking classes at Beacon and conducting summer kitchen workshops. It is also the first book released under Sabina's Books Publishing House, founded by another friend, Gem Manosa.

In case you're wondering, while Mel is a friend, she did not ask me to feature this in my blog nor is this a paid advertisement hehe. I'm simply sharing it with you because I really love the concept! I will always support anything that encourages children to read more books or to make things with their bare hands; and this cookbook does both which is why I'm really excited about it!

I hope to try out some recipes with my nieces soon so stay tuned for a Witchkins recipe to be featured here. :)

*The Witchkins can be found in Powerbooks, A Different Bookstore, Hooked on Books, Fully Booked as well as Marta's Cakes and National Bookstore for only P999.

March 16, 2008

WS #28: He sells seashells by the seashore

He sells seashells

There's no denying summer is here! School's out and it's getting hot, hot hot! So it's off to the beach we went. There was a lot of eating and lazing around on the beach with cold beers. I hope you all had a great weekend too! :)

This photo I took at the beach is my entry for this week's Weekend Snapshot. Check out the other entries here and maybe submit your own weekend photo to share with us. :)

March 15, 2008

Come with me to the Kasbah...

Kasbah dining

I have some exciting news for all the food-loving and island-loving people out there! The country's first ever authentic Moroccan restaurant is here! Happy happy! joy joy! Ok not quite here, here. But in Boracay. The Kasbah is open!

Kasbah collage

Kasbah is Donna's baby. I've known Donna online for a while now so I have seen through her posts the hard work she's put into this. It was no easy task, putting up this restaurant a million miles away! I was a cheerleader from Day 1, first and foremost because she's a friend and of course I want to see her succeed, but the second reason is more selfish. I LOVE MOROCCAN FOOD! And unlike in London where I could have authentic Moroccan food when I wanted, I can't find a good authentic lamb tagine here. So I've resorted to trying my hand at a homemade version sans the tagine- maybe Santa will finally give me one this year if I'm good :).

Donna knows my weakness and so she tempts me further in her email, "I trained a really good & talented Pinoy chef and he does a mean a lamb tagine with prunes & almonds!!! ". The place looks beautiful too, homey yet exotic. And she kept to the island look which I love, it doesn't look like a misplaced restaurant from Manila. Everything was imported from Morocco - the lanterns (they're gorgeous!! I want them!), tagines, poufs (those nice comfy things you sit on), mint tea glasses, and even the ashtrays.

So now Moroccan has been added to the already diverse and mulitnational Boracay dining scene. Hmm, just the reason I need to return. If there's one thing that will get me back to that island sooner than later, it will be to rock the Kasbah! So Donna, reserve that red lounge chair for me. I shall lay on it as I sip my fresh green tea and rub my tagine-filled belly. :)

Madonna my dear, congratulations once again, you rock, girl! I can't wait to meet you and Nunu. :)

Kasbah is located in Boat Station 1, next to Discovery Shores.

March 14, 2008

Eating our way through Ilocos

Our lunch in Saud Beach

Our lunch spread in Saud beach: kilawin, grilled eggplant, bagnet and grilled fish

The culinary delights in the Ilocos region were plentiful! Prior to our trip, I made a mental checklist of food to try while there: bagnet, the local empanada, royal bibingka, dinendeng, poqui-poqui, miki & gipang, pakbet and pakbet pizza. And so true to my travel form, I set off with wide-eyed and eager, with an open mind and an open stomach! With that list, we were 7 for 8, not bad at all. The only item we didn't try was the miki (and gipang), to my friend's horror. She grew up in Laoag and practically lived on the stuff. "WHAAATT!!! How could you not try miki?!?!", she cried. "I don't knoowww, please don't hurt me. It's just, there were so many things to try!"

And that was true. Aside from those I've mentioned, the north had some foodie surprises for us. There was the delightful (all native kakanins are delightful to me!) impaltaw - sticky rice wrapped in coconut leaves and cooked in molasses, the longganisa, the basi or sugarcane vinegar aka sukang Iloko, and the biscocho.

For our first taste of Ilocano cuisine, we made reservations at La Preciosa in Laoag. It was almost 2pm so we must have missed the lunch crowd. Starving by then, we were so excited to eat, not just any food but good Ilocano food! So we ordered what I will later declare as my top three Ilocano dishes (the Batac empanada is a snack and I will get to that later:) ): poqui-poqui , bagnet and dinengdeng.

Poqui-poqui is basically eggplant sauteed with tomatoes and egg. Being the eggplant-lover that I am, I knew I'd like this. What I didn't expect was to be this crazy over it! It's so simple yet so tasty in a very familiar sort of way. It's your smooshed tortang talong (eggplant omelette). Ahh, now I'm craving it again. Gotta try and make it soon!

Poqui-poqui, bagnet, & Dinengdeng

Poqui-poqui, bagnet, dinengdeng

I was just as excited to watch Joey dig into the golden-brown, succulent bagnet as I was to try it myself. Who better to share that fat-laden plate with than my dear pork-loving friend?! For the benefit of those who are not familiar with this deadly food, bagnet is deep-fried pork meat. Oh I know deep-fried pork meat, you might say - yes I'm assuming some of you might think that because I did- but this isn't your ordinary lechon kawali or other deep-fried pork. What makes the bagnet so mind-blowingly good is the cooking process involved. After the choice cuts are boiled, they are later submerged in hot oil to deep-fry until the skin starts to pop. When that happens, it's removed for about 20-25 minutes and then submerged again for more popping until it gets that perfectly crisp skin. And when you bite into a piece of bagnet, there's a mini-eplosion of fat that goes on inside your mouth, and if you don't clamp your mouth shut fast enough, you'll get cholesterol-filled drool on your chest. The bagnet is best eaten with a side of KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona - tomato/fish sauce/shallot), though it's pretty good with the sukang Iloko as well.

Thank God for the dinengdeng, which I like to believe flushed out all the bagnet cholesterol with it's goodness. Dinengdeng is a soup of green vegetables in a mild bagoong (fish sauce)broth. In it we recognized patani (lima beans), malunggay, sitaw (string beans), sigarilyas (winged beans) ampalaya (bitter gourd), okra and some fish. This was one of the tastiest clear soups I've ever had! And with each spoonful, I could actually taste the word 'healthy'. I couldn't get enough of it. I couldn't get enough of all three dishes really but normally I'll have one bowl of soup; usually before the main course, or sometimes with the main course. But all throughout our meal at La Preciosa, I ladled more of the dinengdeng into my bowl.

I had my first taste of the Pasuquin biscocho during that pleasant late night chat and snack sesson with our hosts at Sitio Remedios. It was the hard biscocho and we dipped it into our hot chocolates. It was good but had nothing on it's soft sister. Though I've already mentioned it here, it deserves another mention. These are soft rolls flavored with a tinge of anise. When you take a bite, you instantly detect a faint hint of a spice. But wait, youre not so sure, so you take another bite, hmmm yes, there it is almost, could it be?, another bite, mmmmm yes definitely, it's got to be. Ohh this is gooooooood...bite, chew chew chew....bite, chew chew chew. Oh do you wanna hear the other secret to this wonderbread? Lard. :)

Pasuquin Biscocho

Pasuquin biscocho

You can find two kinds of empanada up there in Ilocos, the paler Vigan empanada with its thinner crust/casing and the orange-y Batac or Laoag empanada with the thicker crust. We didn't try Vigan's version so I can't give you my opinion on that, but I can tell you this about the Batac empanada... IT ROCKS!! Omilord, it was fantastic! And even more so when doused with the sukang iloko. While at the motocross that morning, I told Gani I wanted to finally try the empanada from the stall there, he said no. He was taking us to his hometown of Batac for the best empanadas in the world so just wait he says. Fair enough, I thought. Besides being Gani's home, Batac is also the birthplace of former Pres. Marcos. We never made it back there in time to enter his old house, but that was ok. It was the empanadas we were after!

The Batac empanada is made with rice flour which is stuffed with grated papaya and monggo (mung bean) sauteed with garlic, then topped with egg and longganisa before it's sealed and deep-fried to a crunch. Gani took us to the plaza where stall after stall offered these half-moon treats alongside other favorites like kwek-kwek (deep-fried battered quail eggs), balut, hotdogs, longganisa etc. It seemed like half the town was there that evening, enjoying a light snack before dinner, or maybe this was dinner for them.

We followed Gani to the last stall, to D'Original Glory's Empanada; the very first empanadahan. There are apparently many variations on offer: special, ordinary, jumbo, double special, special eggless, special w/o monggo, with a soft or hard egg (I preferred it soft) and the price ranges from P25 ($0.65) to P42 ($1). For P7 ($0.15) you can order just the crust to munch on which is very tasty on its own, better than some of the tortilla chips out there. I had two empanadas, it was too good to stop at one. If we didn't have dinner waiting for us back at the resort, I would have easily had another.

Batac Empanada

Making the empanada, with soft egg (middle photo) and hard egg (right)

I enjoy a good pinakbet so I was very intrigued when I first heard about pinakbet pizza. So when I saw it on the menu of Cafe Leona in Vigan, I had to order it. It looked just as I had imagined it would look, and it actually tasted okay. Not great by any stretch of the imagination, but I can see how it can be quite good with some slight tweaking. The crust was thin and crispy so they just needed to work on the bitterness factor maybe and taking the saltiness down a notch and we would have a decent take on Ilocano fusion. However, I still prefer my pinakbet with a nice bowl of steamed rice.

Practically every region in the Philippines has it's own specialty longganisa. The ones we had for breakfast every morning here was excellent, quite lean and very garlicky and peppery. The combination of the longganisa with sinangag (garlic fried rice), fried egg and sukang iloko made this breakfast-loving person very very happy!

What makes the sukang iloko unique is that it is a byproduct of basi, or sugarcane wine. When basi is exposed and left to sour, what you get is a nice dark - almost black- pungent vinegar. We bought litres of the stuff from the roadside when we bought our salt, garlic and shallots. They gave us some trouble at the airport because they weren't packed very well - so if you're flying home instead of driving, make sure the vinegar is properly sealed and packed. They will also ask you to wrap a towel or something as thick around each bottle to absorb any spillage.

Pinakbet, Sukang Iloko and Vigan Longganisa

pinakbet pizza, sukang iloko, Ilocos longganiza

We asked Gani to take us to the San Nicolas market where I had read about the mountains of bagnet on display. It was a clean wet market with rows and rows of vibrantly-hued vegetables and fruits. At the end is where you'll find it. A separate room for the bagnet and longganisa. Lots of them piled high underneath ropes of longganisa. He also took us to the Batac market for dry goods such as abel table runners, placemats and table napkins. Here I bought Nana Meng's chichacorn in bbq and cheese flavors (they had run out of the garlic flavor) as pasalubong for the people at work.

Market food

Top: Nana Meng's chichacorn, dried miki noodles, squash flowers
Bottom: longganiza, bagnet, pokpoklo

And this brings my Ilocos series to an end. Thanks to my travel companions and our wonderful hosts and guide, I went home enriched and enlightened and with a box full of goodies that allowed me to savor the experience long after we touched down back home. :)

For more about Ilocano food, visit Mike's post and Joey's posts here and here. :) And for even more lively posts and pictures about our weekend, check out Joey's series as well!

La Preciosa, Rizal St., Laoag
Tel. (+6377) 777.5130/773.1162/773.2159

Saud Beach Resort, Pagudpud
Tel. (+632)921.2856/928.9853

March 12, 2008

Ilocos Norte road trip: the destinations

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

I don't know if I mentioned this before on my blog, so most of you may not know this but I have a thing for lighthouses. Back in 2002, an old friend of mine sent me a lighthouse calendar which I've kept because I love to look through the pictures every now and then. They are beacons yes, but also symbols of perseverance and self-sacrifice. But I think the attraction for me is it's connection to the sea and to travelers; guiding them to safe harbor, leading them home. And it reminds me that no matter how far or how often I may sail across that horizon, I can always follow my heart back home. No, the romance of lighthouses is not lost on me. :)

So anyway, I don't need to explain to you just how thrilled I was deep down to be visiting the Cape Bojeador lighthouse in Burgos, the tallest in the country. My first thought upon seeing it was that it very closely resembled the Punta Santiago Lighthouse in Calatagan with the whitewashed red brick. The lighthouse is perched high on a hill at the northwesternmost corner of Luzon, where it has been whipped by cruel storms for over a hundred years.

View from the lighthouse

I admired the decorative grillwork that adorned the balcony of the main house and the stairs leading up to the tower. We never made it up to the overhanging balcony by the lantern but the views from the second level are spectacular! The sea in these parts just seem bluer. One of the rooms which I assume to be one of the lighthouse keepers former living quarters has been turned into a mini museum.

Our next destination was the Bangui Bay Windmills. Before my friend had told me about the windmills, I didn't have much interest in seeing them because well, they're tall steel structures, how exciting can that be? If I wasn't wowed by the Eiffel Tower as much as I thought I would be, than surely 15 wind turbines could not move me.

Bangui Bay windmills

A Bangui windmill

Oh boy did it move me. It was already a beautiful sight from afar, from the viewing deck. There they were, like soldiers in a row, spaced perfectly apart. Stark in their whiteness against the turquoise sea and emerald green rice paddies. My friend told me to make sure we're taken down to get up close and personal with the windmills, and so we went.

Then it just seemed so surreal. There they were, calling them tall would be an understatement, like the windmills of the gods on a desolate stretch of beach. I felt tiny. I looked at my friends, they looked teeny tiny too. The photo below should give you some perspective. Look at the couple in the shadows. The turbines are 70 meters high and the blades are about 40 meteres long. The blades weren't picking up any winds just then, and I imagined how amazing it would be if they did. I imagined the "THOOG...THOOG" as it starts to pick up speed. Woah!

Bangui bay windmills 2

Just at the next cove is Saud Beach, Pagudpud's prime tourist destination. When people rave about the beaches of Pagudpud, it's the stretch of beach in Saud they speak of. And I understand clearly why. It's largely unspoilt, uncluttered, clean and devoid of any crowds.

Saud Beach, Pagudpud

I was fortunate enough to have an aunt who owned a beach house in Batangas and so I practically grew up on the beach and loved every minute of it. And because we spent so much time in that house and the beach houses of other relatives and friends, I have never gottten accustomed to over-crowded and commercialized beaches and resorts. Sure, they're great when I'm looking to party in a tropical setting and dance barefoot in the sand, and even groove to 'shtoog-shtoog' versions of Bob Marley hits, but most of the time I long for the beach in all it's natural glory. All the massive developments in the south are scaring me, which is why when I see beaches like this one in Saud I am soothed.

Saud Beach kayak

The energy of the sea here was different. I couldn't get enough of it, here was this tempestuous sea pounding the shores of a beach, that frankly my dear, didn't seem to give a damn. We walked around quite a bit before we settled into a little hut by the shore for some lunch. We ordered fresh seafood, had more bagnet, and drank the juice straight from the coconuts which had just been picked from a tree behind us by our waiter. It was all so perfect. There was a nice breeze, the food was fresh and satisfying, and the sound of the waves lulled us into a stupor. I wish we could have stayed the night. But maybe next time.

Saud Beach hammock

Snapping out of our daze, we reluctantly climbed back into the van to retrace our tracks back towards the resort. But not before we stopped at Batac for some of those famed empanadas. Stay tuned! :)

Up next: the final Ilocos post : Eating our way through Ilocos!

March 11, 2008

Ilocos Norte road trip: the journey

Pasuquin bakery

Pasuquin Bakery

On our second day in Ilocos, we headed north, up along the western shoreline. The idea was to visit notable places in Ilocos Norte before capping the tour with a leisurely lunch in Pagudpud. So Gani picked us up right after breakfast and then we were off. It was a beautiful drive and we enjoyed the views of the ocean on one side and the Cordilleras on the other.

You know the saying, "happiness is a journey, not a destination"? Well, in travel, there can be as much happiness in the journey as the destination. This is why I love road trips, there are always surprises along the way. Those unplanned pitstops that yield happy little discoveries and spontaneous explorations. This particular road trip had its fair share of interesting pitstops which I felt were worthy of mention.

The first was the Pasuquin Bakery where we bought more of that delicious soft bischocho - rolled bread with a hint of anise - we tried back in Sitio Remedios. It was the perfect first stop since we pinched and pulled happily from our biscocho stash all throughout the rest of the trip. Pasuquin Bakery is a favorite for biscocho lovers because they're known for using freshly-baked bread instead of day-old bread even for their hard biscochos. Please read Rene's post about the bakery's interesting history here. If you're driving on the national highway, you can't miss the bakery, there's a big sign advertising it just off at a fork.

Ilokano kids 2

Aside from the Bakery, Pasuquin is also famous for it's salt factories and roadside stalls along the country road that sell the fine sea salt in large plastic bags. Salt-making is a traditional livelihood in these parts, passed down from generation to generation. Aside from salt, the stalls also carry bundles of native crops such as garlic and shallots and bottles of sukang Iloko (or Ilokano vinegar). I couldn't resist photographing the kids who were helping their mom with the business. It was their fault I bought much more than I needed. :)

Native garlic & shallots

Pasuquin sea salt

The Motocross rally we chanced upon was quite a surprise. A large crowd had gathered just off the road where it was all happening, trucks, motorcycles and jeepneys were parked on both sides of the road, and various refreshment stands, including empanada and halo-halo stands, were set up across the road for the spectators. We parked for a while and joined the crowd, watching the loud action on the track through the chicken wire through which I managed a couple of action shots.


Motocross spectators

the spectators

Empanada stand

Empanada stand across the street

Halo-halo stand

Halo-halo stand

Unlike in the south where I am used to seeing rice fields and sugarcane as far as the eye can see, corn fields make up a big part of the Ilocos landscape. And ears of corn and corn kernels left to dry under the sun on the sides of the concrete road are also a common sight. Gani tells us that it's seeds will be planted for next season's harvest. I wonder if these are what's used for chichacorn too?

Sidewalk corn

The kuliglig also become a familiar site as we drove up and down Ilocos. Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of what it looks like, but it is basically a two-wheeled tractor with an engine used for farming, and when connected to a trailer, it is also used to transport produce.

Something else I didn't get to take a photo of were the La Paz sand dunes. It took Gani a while to find it because he said the roads leading to the sand dunes no longer looked familiar. Driving among the sand dunes made me feel like I was in another place like the beaches of North Carolina , and then later I started to picture myself riding the dunes on an ATV or starring in a Mad Max movie. Speaking of movies, this is where FPJ's Panday movie was filmed. The Ilocos Norte sand dunes is a National Geologic Monument, declared as such because of it's uniqueness in the Philippine landscape and it's significant role in educational and scientific studies. Here's a beautiful shot of the dunes taken by my friend James.

Next: Ilocos road trip: the destinations

March 10, 2008

WS #27: Taho


My sister and her husband were at the beach for the weekend at a friend's wedding. So I played babysitter to her five kids and had the best time! They really bring me so much joy and make me relish being an aunt and godmother.

We spent all of Saturday playing in the garden and all of Sunday at a friends place for a bbq and swim party. There was lots of food: quesadillas, burgers, sausages, chili-garlic pasta, bruschetta, mango & tomato salad and ice cream sandwiches on Sunday and pizza, popsicles and taho on Saturday.

I chose a photo of taho for this week's WS because I love it, plain and simple. It never fails to make me and my tummy happy - both for the childhood memories it brings and for it's super healthy deliciousness! The best part about it was that it was cheap, so cheap we could actually pay for it ourselves when we were little, from out of those cylindrical cardboard piggy banks, remember those? Or from the loose change we'd scrounge from around the house and inside the car.

My sisters and I would race to the front door when ever we'd hear our local taho vendor singing "tahoooooo" as he walked by carrying those tin buckets from a bamboo pole across his shoulders. He would call out extra loud as he passed our house, knowing that during those summer afternoons we'd most likely be inside waiting for him if we weren't already out on the streets playing. We'd hand him our own big glasses to fill (his small plastic cups were never enough for our appetite, though they're just right for my nieces -photo above), hand him our money and then take our big glasses filled with hot taho back into the house where we'd happily eat them with a spoon. Mmmm...childhood comfort food.

I no longer have taho as often because I'm rarely home, so the few times that I catch our magtataho (taho vendor) in the morning, or on the weekends, you can bet I get my share! :)

For those unfamiliar with taho, it is a drink/snack made with silken tofu, syrup and tapioca pearls called sago. It can either be drank from a cup or eaten with a spoon, and usually it's taken hot or warm. You will find many magtatahos plying the street of our country, but there are now kiosks selling original and flavored taho in the malls.


magtataho on the boulevard

March 5, 2008

Lovely surprise from Santos!

Gifts from Karina

Because I can’t wait to share this piece of happiness with you, I have put my Ilocos series on hold temporarily to post this.

The goodies you see in the photo above are from the lovely Karina of The Scent of Green Bananas, who most of you may know as Santos. Though our hectic schedules prevented us form meeting up during my brief visit to Guam last weekend (despite the many text messages), Karina didn’t let this stop her from showing me some love. Let me tell you what a wonderful surprise it was! We had just walked into the lobby of our hotel, starving and exhausted. It was 10 pm and I hadn’t had any dinner nor lunch, just a quick burrito for a mid-afternoon snack; lugging heavy bags that threatened to snap my shoulders off their sockets, when the receptionist handed me the bright green gift bag with the note from Karina. Almost instantly the growling in my tummy and the soreness of my feet were forgotten as I peeked into the bag that was bursting with all sorts of goodies! I clutched the bag to my chest, what's one more bag to juggle?!, and hurried to my room where I could slowly pore over the contents.

Like a little kid opening her birthday present, I cooed at this item and gushed at that. There was a bag of spiced almonds (she shared her recipe here- yay!) and a jar of vanilla bean sugar – both homemade by Karina, delicious-looking (haven’t tried them yet – they all look too cute to eat!) biscotti, bento cookies and tea cookies from her friends’ bakery, Cup and Saucer! This was better than any of the other food stuff I bought, combined! Her thoughtfulness and generosity warmed my heart and touched me deeply. This was a lady whom I had never met in person; with whom the most contact I’ve had are a handful of blog comments and emails, yet that didn't matter. It just goes to prove once again that friendship can know no boundaries and I am truly grateful for all the lovely friends I’ve made through blogging. :)

Karina, you are a doll. Thank you so so much again! I am overwhelmed and touched by your thoughtfulness. I really do hope to meet you very soon either here in Manila or back in Guam so I can give you a big hug. For now, virtual hugs will have to do. :) xoxo