Sunday, April 26, 2015

A culinary field trip at Madrid Fusion Manila

It's not everyday that I encounter chefs, business people, movie stars, and food enthusiasts in my line of work. But during the times when I do bump into them, I feel like I've gone into an alternate universe... maybe not. Let's just say I feel like a country mouse out in the big city. And what a metropolis it was for this country bumpkin during the Madrid Fusion Manila event! 

I was at the SMX Convention Centre with the IRRI contingent of the Heirloom Rice Project because I had a rice tasting segment in the seminar about heirloom rice.

The unique thing about this event was that I got to meet chefs like Robby Goco (Cyma), Jessie Sincioco (Top of the Citi), Amy Besa (Purple Yam), Fernando Aracama (Aracama), Rob Pengson (The Goose Station), Chele Gonzalez (Gallery Vask), and Carlos Garcia (The Black Pig)... people who I could only dream of meeting if it were not for the assignments I get at work!

Anyway, aside from the opportunity to meet chefs, I got to try (and was absolutely blown away) by the food. Chefs Robby, Jessie, and Amy prepared tasting samples of different rice varieties made from the heirloom rice samples from the Cordilleras. These people are really something else. Robby made a vegetable salad and included rice in it (I love the contrasts in textures, the variety of flavours, and the aroma of sesame oil), plus he made maki using the Ominio black rice variety. Jessie made kakanin using Ominio, and Amy made bibingka using Dinorado rice. All these were served in a session at the MFM Food Tunnel, a cocktail area for people who wanted to try different food items.

At one point, I found myself shaking hands and talking with three-Michelin-starred Quique Dacosta. As always, this country bumpkin failed to realise that she's in the presence of greatness until a few hours later. Nevertheless, I was struck by how low-profile Chef Quique was despite his highly regarded reputation and celebrity status. And it's not just him... all the chefs featured in MFM appeared to be like that. To me, it seemed that fame is left at the door once these kitchen rock stars enter the kitchen. None of the prima donna behaviour I got to watch in Chef!

And then there were the exhibits. See, the IRRI booth was at the trade exhibit area. Therefore, I was able to sample (and to buy) a lot of different products. The different companies also seemed to have amped up their creativity, with a lot of experimentation going on. The most notable of them all being the sherbet with chili sauce, presented by Mama Sita. There were olive oils and vinegars with various infusions too. The chocolates were wonderful. I ended up buying these relatively expensive chocolate bars after munching on them every time I passed by the CMBV booth. Imagine eating white chocolate with a dash of pink peppercorns and of sea salt or dark chocolate with the essence of pomelo. How cool is that!

Jamon. This was one of the highlights of the show for me. There are, it appears, two types of pork in Spain, Iberico (black pig) and Serrano (white pig). Of course I ended up preferring the iberico ham, the more expensive of the two. Don't ask me why. I haven't figured out how these two cured hams are different; I just know that they are.

What an eye-opener MFM turned out to be. I was happy with the different culinary approaches I saw and tasted. It's the first time I've participated in an event of this scale! I want to go to the next one! ... Which just might be WOFEX

Friday, April 10, 2015

Laguna day trip part 2: The underground cemetery of Nagcarlan

On to Part 2 of the Laguna day trip of the doctors...

It was a perfectly sunny day to be outdoors and we weren't too tired yet. So after our visit to the twin lakes of San Pablo City, we took off to Nagcarlan, Laguna... the home of the underground cemetery.

I've been to the Underground Cemetery three years ago. I never realised, until this trip, that I haven't been to this side of Laguna for a long time. I'm amazed that each time I visit, I find new features of the cemetery to focus on. Last time, it was all about the feeling of solitude exuded by the place. Today, it was about the fleeting nature of life and the finality of death...

See, it started when I walked up to the gate of the Underground Cemetery. Old people were hobbling towards the gate and a child was attempting to fly a kite on the cemetery's garden. As I walked the red brick path, I noticed that the gate and the red stone walls were overgrown with weeds and mosses, as if marking the passage of time and the gradual return of something man-made to nature. Then I reached the chapel; it has an architectural style that reminds me of the Baroque churches of Ilocoandia... down to the stylised Chinese clouds and curlicues.  

I wonder how beautiful this chapel is back in its heyday. I could just imagine that stained glass adorned the exteriors, providing a kaleidoscope of colours for people mourning their dead as the priest imparted final blessings. It's a good thing I was with Noan, Matty, Lawrence, Martin, and Erjohn during this trip; otherwise, I might have imagined myself walking to Westminster Abbey a la Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu in the Da Vinci Code movie (complete with the ghostly images of people walking in and out of the church). 

Entering the chapel, it struck me that this was the last place the departed went before they were buried in the crypt below (if they were Spanish friars or rich people) or in niches above ground (the normal people). The finality of death was even more emphasised by the presence of the Santo Sepulcro, a reclined statue of Jesus Christ in a glass coffin. 

The guide inside the chapel mentioned that this venue is no longer used for requiem Mass nor for burials. Indeed, the dates and inscriptions on the niches indicate that the people resting in peace in this cemetery have all moved on in the last century. Nobody from the recent past (i.e., 2000s) occupies the niches. And so we eventually moved down the crypt. A Spanish inscription I've been curious about ever since I've noticed it was still painted on the wall but I don't know what it says. Fortunately, someone from the historical committee translated it into English (source: Wikipedia):

Go forth, Mortal man, full of life
Today you visit happily this shelter,
But after you have gone out,
Remember, you have a resting place here,
Prepared for you.

Creepy, no? But it does point out (somewhat) the fleeting nature of one's life. One day, we walk in and go out as tourists; someday, we go to the cemetery one last time... and there's no going out anymore.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Laguna day trip part 1: Pandin and Yambo Lakes

San Pablo is known to be the city with the seven lakes. On National Heroes' Day, I went with Matty (we're the PhDs), Noan, Martin, and Lawrence (they're the MDs), and Erjohn (appointed as the official photographer) to see Pandin Lake... because the day was too beautiful to be spent indoors. Noan took care of all the arrangements and reservations. We just had to show up, basically. 

Going to the lake from the parking lot proved to involve a bit of a walk under the minimal shade of coconut trees. Not a problem, since we'd be under the sun while in and on the lake anyway. The walk towards the lake also gave a sense of anticipation because we couldn't see the lake from the road. 

A few minutes into the walk, we finally had our first glance of the lake... and it was beautiful! It's peaceful and the water's flat. Deceptively safe, I'd say, since the water is very deep. The guide said that the water must be around 180 ft deep; I wouldn't jump in without a life vest on! 

And so off we went on a floating hut where lunch was served. This hut also served as our means of transportation from Point A to Point B. The food was delicious, particularly the pako salad and the grilled fish.  

On the other side of the lake, we were allowed to swim. As predicted, I almost jumped into the water without my vest on! Good call from Matty, already in the water with his vest, reminding me to wear mine before I took the plunge. Martin and Lawrence also swam but Noan stayed on the raft, still wearing her life vest.

Pandin Lake is known as one of the cleanest lakes among those in San Pablo, and I think that whoever said that is correct. While in the water, I could see that there were a lot of dragonflies, fish, and birds which call this lake their home. I also saw (and chased) quite a few of those insects that walk on water. It was amazing to see so much wildlife in this lake (I don't see these in Caliraya or in Laguna Lake; not that I've been in Laguna Lake). The area surrounding the lake was also a lush forest... somehow, I recalled Pangsanjan River when I saw the thickness of the foliage. 

But wait; there's more! Right behind those trees was a thin strip of land that separates Pandin Lake from another lake: its twin, Yambo Lake. Always the curious travellers, we thought it was a great idea to have a look at the other lake. We learned, on our way to the lake, that there was a steep climb to get to that thin strip of land. 

And in the back of my mind, that meant that there'd be a steep descent. Given my fractured wrist, I thought: what did I get myself into again?!? But the great outdoors was calling. The fracture's not going to stop me from seeing the other lake (here we go again with the hike-with-a-fractured-arm program). Given that the land was quite narrow, it was difficult to take a group picture. A small step could land me in the water (again) and in the hospital (again)!

But look at that view! Yambo Lake is as picturesque as Pandin Lake! The view was definitely worth the trek! Unfortunately, we're not supposed to jump in from the view point. To go to Yambo Lake, we needed to go on a different road. So we contented ourselves with one last look and then started the trip back to our hut on Pandin Lake.

Alas, the day trip had to end. It was a fun trip to San Pablo. And I realised that it's a good idea to explore the remote corners of my province with the same curiosity that I have when I visit other provinces. I tend to take for granted gems like these. And so for the next opportunity, I ought to check out the list of things to do as a tourist in Laguna. I just might find my next adventure there.

Monday, April 6, 2015

the mystery of pushing the feeling on

What an earworm! I don't know which one's more memorable, Matty's singing to an unknown tune with unintelligible lyrics or the saxophone solo which sounded awfully familiar.

See, Matty put Jo and me to task to find a popular song from the 90s that may possibly be added to the playlist we listen to when we're wakeboarding. Alas, to no avail because there are no songs about "Eliza pulling shoes". And we searched on Google and YouTube for hours while we were going to Calatagan! and then when we were going back to Calamba! and then days after!

The saxophone solo, however... I knew I heard that before. My mind turned towards Parokya Ni Edgar's Bagsakan, which had a similar rhythm. It's wasn't quite right, though. But I insisted that I've heard it before... then it dawned to me: Pitbull used that same solo as a sample in one of his songs! Which song that is was the question because I only listen to it when it's played on the radio (he's not on my music playlist). 

Matty called a friend overseas later in the week (yes, it sounds like we're in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire) and sang the unintelligible song to him (Joeri, aka DJ Phuse). Naturally, Joeri recognised it right away!

So without further ado, the song turned out to be the Nightcrawlers' Push the Feeling On

*cricket* *cricket* 0_o

I've never heard of this song! Hahaha! Thanks to the wonder that is YouTube, I eventually listened to the real song (versus the Matty version). It didn't matter, it turned out, because the song itself was utterly unintelligible. We all didn't know what the singer was saying.

The mystery was far from solved. The legend continues...

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Winter poem

I was editing a photo from the Korea winter vacation. And then, like an earworm, Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening began playing in my head. Thank you, Prof Connie Apalin-Gaffud for forcing me to memorise a handful of the classics in my third year in high school. :)

I like that poem because the imagery is so vivid. I could just picture it in my head: It's dark outside, the roads full of snow. The horse's bell is tinkling, breaking the silence in the forest. Time appeared to be standing still as the narrator paused to take in the scene surrounding him and the horse.

Somehow, the image of the sun and the silhouette of the branches underneath (with snow... not in the frame) got me to think about this poem. Only that I was outside in the early afternoon, hiking up Yongpyong's Dragon Peak... far from alone because I was with a big group of people of different nationalities. Of course, there were no horses in sight. In their stead were crows.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Epic trip from Lobo, Batangas

Marco said that this was "the best road trip... ever!". Who's the cool Tita again? Me!!!! 

Alas, all good road trips, even this one to Lobo, had to come to an end. Soon we were packing our stuff back in the car for the long drive back. However, I didn't want to go via Taysan again because there were no lights along the road. And have I said that the road was long, winding, and narrow? With lots of hairpin turns? I was just, straight up, intimidated with the drive back via this route. There's an alternative though (thank goodness!), according to Waze and Google Maps. This new route would have been a scenic coastal route if it were before sunset but it was just dark at night.

I thought it was an easier route. No! This route had steep grades and narrow roads. If the hairpin turns in Taysan were devices to help ease vehicles with the steep slope, I had almost none of that in the Batangas-Lobo road. It was just steep up, steep down in succession on the road... again with the ever present cliff on the side. If those didn't make for challenging driving, the road added more obstacles: cars parked on the side of the road, high speed bumps, people walking on the roads... 

And then there's a boulder the size of a house in the middle of the narrow road! What did I get myself into again?

A long drive later, we passed by several oil refineries and the road finally merged onto the highway leading to STAR Tollway. Finally! That was a 40-km challenging drive and I was just exhausted!

Do I want to go back? Definitely! Lobo has a lot more things to offer and I will be back next time. :)

Friday, April 3, 2015

Epic trip to Lobo, Batangas

Rochie: Ate Madie, let's go to the beach!
Madie: When?
Rochie: On Thursday!
Madie: Go!

And so on a warm Thursday morning, drove off with Trisha and Marco to Lobo (the same group who visited Burot Beach last year). Our destination was Lobo, Batangas. But since it was a Maundy Thursday, we were expecting a long drive because of the traffic jams from Sta Cruz, Laguna to the STAR Tollway. Just getting out of Sta Cruz was a challenge because vehicles going to Pagsanjan were choking both northbound and southbound lanes of the Pan-Philippine Highway (AH26). Once we've escaped that jam, were slowed down again on AH26 by vehicles queuing (and counter-flowing) towards Tiaong, Quezon. Looks like the city people were moving to the provinces en masse!

We finally escaped the traffic jam when we entered the STAR Tollway, and that was just an extremely quick trip from Sto Tomas to Batangas City. From there, Waze guided us through the long, narrow, and winding road of Taysan, Batangas. And when I say long and winding, I had nothing but sharp and steep hairpin turns overlooking cliffs for an hour! There was absolutely no beach in sight! It's as if the beach were right behind the mountains! I compare this road to Kennon Road's zigzag turns... only narrower!

And indeed it was! Four hours of traffic jams and zigzag roads that challenged my driving skills and we were finally at the famed beach of Lobo!!!

Was it worth the road trip drive? Definitely! The sand was so fine and there was no trash in sight! The water was so calm that it's not intimidating for small kids and for non-swimmers. I just couldn't get enough of that view: Isla Verde and Oriental Mindoro so close that I feel I could actually swim to them! It's not everyday I see a sight like that!

Be warned: the resorts are underdeveloped and so the road going there had rough patches. That's not necessarily a bad thing because the beach doesn't have (yet) the commercial feel of the better known beaches frequented by urbanites. 

I thought that I had seen the best this stretch of Batangas coast had to offer ... until sunset came. Suddenly, there was a hush in the beach crowd as camera- and mobile phone-toting individuals paused to capture the sunset in their gadgets. Though the sun set behind the mountains, the colours were just awesome! If I had questions before, now I'm sure: summer had definitely arrived. Just look at that sunset!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Boyhood (2014)

It's not everyday I get to encounter a movie whose principal photography took years to make. This is why Boyhood was fascinating. As the movie progressed, the movie stars aged as well... no plastic surgery; no bodily enhancements... they just grew old in front of my eyes!

The story wasn't so much about the journey of a boy through a major chunk of his life. I thought it was more about seeing the world change from his point of view. He grew up and the people around him changed as he did. 

It was just refreshing that everything and everyone seemed to develop naturally... unlike in other shows where there's a sense of un-realism because the actors, despite years of being in the same role, have not aged at all. My favourite among the well-developed characters? Ethan Hawke's character growing from a bum dad to this successful role model.