Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Christmas Song



White Christmas, Sung by The Drifters, Cartoon by Joshua Held,
Video by Joshua Held at www.youtube.com/thenosedotcom

May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Kala Khristougenna


Omniglot makes it easy to say "Merry Christmas" in a babel of tongues. Check the link below to learn more and never have to say "It's Greek to me" ever again.


That said, may you have a meaningful Christmas and may it be filled with compassion for those who are most in need.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Friday, December 19, 2008

Have yourself a merry dessert party

Italian fig cookies

Imagine tasting dessert upon dessert (as many as the number of guests you invite) and exchanging recipes. All invitees must bring a dessert they prepared. If not, store bought goodies might turn out to be a revelation. Our party produced desserts from different countries. We had Chinese red bean cake, Spanish leche flan, Philippine casava pie, Vietnamese che - a red bean with seaweed drink simmered in coconut milk, Italian fig cookies, and American favorites - thick and rich chocolate cake, carrot cake, cheese cake and bucaroon cookies, among others.

Try a little piece of every tantalizer on the table and savor slowly. Sweet dreams!

Recipe for Bucaroons
1 cup shortening (2 sticks oleo)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar (packed)
2 egs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp walnut flavoring (optional)
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups oatmeal
1 small (6oz) package chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Cream butter and sugar. Add egs, vanilla, and walnut flavoring. Beat. Sift together dry ingredients and add. Stir in oatmeal, choc. chips and nuts.
Drop by teaspoonfuls on greased sheet.
Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Salut!


There is never a bad year for California wines, so said our sommelier. Let's drink to that! We tasted four different bottles of wine, two reds and two whites from the vineyards of California and France.

Our wine selection:
2006 Serge Lalou Sancerre (Loire Valley, France)
2006 Stuhlmuller "Estate" Chardonnay, (Alexander Valley, CA)
2001 Lorca "Gary's Vineyard" Pinot Noir (Santa Lucia Highlands, CA)
2002 Michel Voarick Aloxe-Corton (Cote-de-Beaune, France)

Seared Ahi

I'm not a fan of seared ahi so I asked the kitchen to prepare my ahi medium well. It came out moist and was served on a bed of bloomsdale spinach, French green lentils and golden raisins. The green lentils were tender and complemented the spinach. I like the way California restaurants serve their vegetables. It's always fresh and never overcooked so you can actually savor the veggies and enjoy every mouthful.

Apple butter custard crêpe

The apple butter custard crêpe melted in my mouth. It was sweet enough to temper the tartness of the apple.

Viognier is at 222 - 4th Avenue, San Mateo, California.

Bon Appetit!

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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

'Tis the season

Fresh Spring Rolls

What can be better than getting together for a special lunch or dinner during the holidays? Good food and warm company are the best of friends and bonding is easier at the dinner table.

Salt and Pepper Calamari

We had our Christmas family reunion at Chez Saigon in Belmont this week. Everyone raved about the food and the attentive service. Not hard to imagine with these images!

Crispy Spring Rolls

My favorite dishes were the seafood pho and the spicy Japanese diced eggplant prepared with scallions, coconut milk, and onions. We requested a milder version and it was a mouth watering revelation.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of family and the bountiful feast. "God bless us everyone."

Chez Saigon is on El Camino Real in Belmont, California.

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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Art of Quilting

These quilts are the works of my friend, Rose Driscoll. Rose usually makes them for family and friends. They are a labor of love when you consider how much time it takes to make one. Observe the detail in the stitching and how many different pieces of fabrics are sewn together to create a work of art.
The quilt above was a present from Rose to a child with leukemia.
What I specially like about quilts is that the quilter can make them on varying themes like playful quilts such as the one above or perhaps one with an Oriental theme like Rose made for my sister (shown below).
There's a world of history, culture, and design behind the art of quilting. More on this later.

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Photos by Rose Driscoll

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Memories of Palma

Pastel of Salmon dish at La Bodeguilla

It was drizzling when we arrived in Palma de Mallorca and the temperature was way lower than in Seville where we had spent the last several days roasting under Andalucian skies. And it rained for most of the time we were in Palma. That sort of dampened our visit but we discovered several places of refuge to while the time away.

Off the main shopping street we found two restaurants, both under the same management. El Burladero is a casual taberna on Calle Concepcion where we kept dry and ate a late, late lunch after a long day of sightseeing. As it was late afternoon and some of the staff were on lunch break themselves, we had the opportunity to get acquainted with them and find out about island life. The following day we had an early dinner at La Bodeguilla, an upscale restaurant with several dining rooms. We tucked ourselves in a niche with a big glass window overlooking Calle San Jaime. It was a pleasure to linger over dinner and drinks. I had the pastel of salmon which was every bit as tender, moist and as appetizing as the image above suggests. In both places we had the best and most attentive service in all of Spain.

After dinner we walked to the area near the Lonja (old Bourse, now being renovated) to the Jazz Voyeur Club where we sat in a small, intimate room to listen to some great music. It was a Saturday night and the club was standing room only. For such a terrific concert, we each paid the price of a drink or 4 euros for a glass of wine. What a bargain! This same club has hosted the likes of Diana Krall. Check out www.jazzvoyeur.com.

For more on Palma de Mallorca, check my video below.


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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A Halloween Treat

Halloween is always a treat for little kids who are lucky to fill their bags with sweets from neighbors and friends.

We adults love to be treated too. Which is exactly what we got: a sumptious three course lunch at Mistral in Redwood Shores. For the main entrée the selections were: Thai Style Beef Salad, Oak Fire Baked Paella (see photo) and Meyer Lemon Chicken "Saltimboca". I can tell you that the paella was very good. It had gulf shrimps, mussels, chicken, Andouille sausage, peas, tomatoes, sweet peppers, saffron rice, all simmered in shellfish broth. I cleaned my plate.


For dessert we had a choice between Chocolate Chambord Ganache and Creme Brulée. The Ganache had a chocolate crumb crust, whipped cream to top it off and strawberry coulis, the perfect antidote to chocolate. It was a beautiful dessert to behold and the perfect way to end a memorable lunch.


The creme brulée looked good too. Now I'm haunted by what I may have missed.

Mistral Restaurant overlooks a lagoon and it's pleasant to dine alfresco even when it's cold out. They have gas heaters so you can comfortably sit outdoors even on chilly nights. Mistral is at 370 Bridge Parkway, Redwood Shores, California.

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Photos by John Zheng

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Travel Linguist

It's always good to know a few words in the language of the country you are visiting. The locals appreciate and warm up to any attempt by a visitor to speak in their native tongue. The Travel Linguist on YouTube has short videos for learning 10 "survival" words and phrases in 15 languages including Japanese, French, Indonesian, German or Thai, to name a few. These 10 essential words and phrases are possibly enough to win friends and make your trip doubly interesting and exciting. At the very least, you'll learn how to ask, "Where's the bathroom?" And you know that's an important question after having had too much red wine in Burgundy or chai in Thailand.
Here's the link: http://www.youtube.com/user/travellinguist.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Art Scene in Roxas City

At the recently inaugurated Dance and Arts Studio in Gaisano Mall, paintings by Clay Dalid and works by artists of the Paon Livelihood Series are currently on display. From the Paon group comes the livelihood genre such as laying fish out to dry and fresh catch in metal baskets. These works reflect one of the most important means of livelihood for residents of the "seafood capital" of the Philippines.

Clay Dalid continues the theme of the bountiful harvest of the sea with her still life with seashells. In her lily series, Clay gives us a taste of her colorful palette.

On the third floor of Gaisano, there is a children's playroom with a huge mural by John Alaban. Here you'll see the hills of San Francisco and the Golden Gate bridge. I've seen John's other oeuvres of Philippine scenes which are reminiscent of Amorsolo, suffused with the light of the tropics and bold hues.

At the Roxas City Museum, the paintings of Lino Villaruz are on view as well as those of other local artists. Lino's style emulates the works of the Pointilists like Seurat. He also dabbles in abstract paintings. I particularly like his canvas of a group of musicians. It reminds me of the old days when the rondalla was the "band" of choice for the Semana Santa procession.

There is no lack of talented artists in Roxas City. But they need your patronage to keep the art scene alive and well.
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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Art of Shoen Uemura

Copy of original by Shoen Uemura

Several years ago in Tokyo, I stumbled upon some postcards with the artworks of Shoen Uemura (1875-1949), a bijin-ga painter, which means painter of the traditional Japanese subject of beautiful women. I was enchanted by this painting of a woman behind sheer curtains that I had it copied so I could view it in my own bedroom. I have always admired the Japanese masters, Hiroshige and Hokusai, which is why I appreciate Uemura's style and palette. Uemura is the first female painter to be awarded the Order of Cultural Merit in Japan.

My copy is 3 ft. by 3 1/2 ft. It is quite large and complements a vintage kimono which also hangs in my bedroom. It was painted by Clay Dalid from Roxas City who did a fine job in only 4 weeks. There are many excellent artists in Roxas City and I'm happy to have other paintings by local artists in my collection.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Flavors of the Philippines

How wonderful to meet friends and relatives in the Philippines over lunch, dinner or merienda. There are always a number of dishes that I usually leave the party or get-together wishing I could have eaten more of this or that. When we were kids, I remember eating calderetta, a rich stew of goat meat. I have not seen nor eaten that in many years. Has the younger generation forgotten how to prepare this dish?

Lately I was treated to a Mongolian buffet which consists of different kinds of beef, chicken, pork or seafood. You then choose what you would like to mix with your choice of meat such as bean sprouts, carrots, cabbage, etc. then add your sauce like peanut, ginger, chili, oyster sauce and so on. You take your selection to the cook who will stir fry it for you. What a fun and creative way to feed your burgeoning appetite!

This video has some of the local cuisine I enjoyed while in the Philippines recently. Kain na!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Now on our third year

Third Graders at Culasi Elementary School

Happy to report that we successfully distributed school supplies to 234 children at the Culasi Elementary School. There are 233 children in first grade but since it was a rainy day, many children didn't make it to school. I came prepared to give to all first graders, but when so many were absent, we had extra school supplies. With the help of Miss Norma, a first grade teacher, we decided to give the rest to two sections in the second grade and a section in the third grade. Kids were all smiles when they got their pencils and crayons. I also gave some postcards of San Francisco, California to children who could answer the simple math questions I posed. It was heartwarming to hear them say "thank you". There were some kids who said "you're welcome" instead of thank you or one who said "very good" after he heard me say those same words. All in all a very satisfying experience which I hope to continue in the future. Many thanks to my mom, my sister, Diane A, Terry Smith and Bock Loo for helping me out.

At the Conrado Barrios Memorial School, the principal informed me that they had to temporarily stop the feeding program. 90 children were affected by this decision but as there were no funds forthcoming, the principal had no choice but to end the feeding program for now. Hopefully donors will come forward soon. Children are better able to learn on a full stomach.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

What's new in Roxas City

Dining and entertainment in the seafood capital of the Philippines is on the upswing. All along Baybay Beach, restaurants are sprouting and the masses are following. On weekends, the beach is full of day trippers who jump gleefully into the sea and soak their feet in the sand.

Before any beachside restaurant was born in Roxas City, Marc's was already around serving their famous pork barbecue. When I order my meals, I go for their vegetable chop suey and battered chicken. Up the street from Marc's is Coco Veranda, a crowd favorite. You can order fresh catch of the day by pointing to any swimming fish in their tank or try their blue or white marlin.

At the Sandbar, I like their tangigue steak. You can order food from this restaurant and have it served poolside across the street. The infinity pool streams down to a man made lake. It's beautiful! If you wish to stay the night, Casa Felisa has luxury suites next door to the pool.

Outside the city center in Dayao, Espacio is now open daily. Dining here is an experience amidst lush tropical landscape. The Pinoy style salad is truly Pinoy (see previous blog). For dessert I love the banana turon served on a bed of ice cream.

At Em Punto on the second floor of Gaisano Mall, wifi is free with any order. I like their one of a kind mango iced tea.

Across the street from Gaisano Mall is Area One where a live band attracts a young bunch. From Cebrew or Red Sun, you can watch and listen to the music while sipping a latte.

Roxas City is a sleepy town no more. No need to go overboard and suffer the fate of Boracay.

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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Novel Pizzas

At Nino's Italian Ristorante in Roxas City, my palate perked up after eating a few slices of the pizza Italiana with eggplant and slivers of ham. I had no qualms about eating a lot of pizza in the evening because the crust was nearly paper thin and and not as heavy as a thick crust pizza would have been. The eggplant did surprise me. What a novel idea to add eggplant to pizza! It was quite tasty. I went back two days later and had another pizza Italiana.

I never thought I would find another pizza to top my eggplant discovery. But there it was. A chicken teriyaki and mango pizza at John and Yoko restaurant on the second floor of Greenbelt 5 in Makati. First of all, my favorite fruit is mango. So I was intrigued by the possible combination of chicken teriyaki and mango. I feared the teriyaki sauce might overwhelm the dish but it was all so delicious that I left only 2 little pieces for my cousin to take home. Because the crust was also thin and crispy, it was the perfect light meal or appetizer.

Have you had any unusual or one of a kind pizzas lately?

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Pinoy Style Salad



And now, a truly Pinoy salad! The ingredients are: green mango, singkamas (jicama), pipino (cucumber), tiny local tomatoes, steamed okra, salted red egg, and carrots sliced to eat with your fingers. The "pièce de resistance" is the bagoong dip (salted fish or shrimp paste). Never mind the aroma of the bagoong. It goes well with everything.

I think I have a new favorite salad. Bon Appetit!

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Friday, August 22, 2008

No sweeter orange


My orange tree finally bore a fruit. Just one little fruit. Even though it is still quite green and I didn't notice it amongst the green leaves, I know there could be no sweeter orange than the first surviving fruit from the tree I planted 3 years ago. I'm one very happy gardener.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar



Saturday, August 09, 2008

Barcelona - Legacy of Greats

Gaudi's Casa Batlló

I had three full days in Barcelona recently. Hardly enough to see Gaudí's many projects, Picasso's paintings and ceramics, and Joan Miro's colorful works of art. Dividing the city into sections, I started exploring in the medieval Barri Gotic where the Museu Picasso is located. The most memorable of the collection on display are the series of paintings called "Las Meninas" after the painting of the same name by one of Spain's greatest painters, Velasquez. Picasso's abstract interpretation of the 17th century painting is interesting and thought provoking, to say the least. The series challenges viewers to see an icon from a modernistic perspective and appreciate the nuances and differences in style.

The second day was devoted to Gaudí. I could only squeeze 3 of his masterpieces into my schedule - Casa Batlló, Casa Mila and Sagrada Familia. Inside Casa Batlló I was captivated by the sheer beauty of the undulating walls, the stained glass windows flowing in a curve, the outdoor terrace with a wall on one side decorated in a rainbow of colors, the attic with its white arched vaultings that reminds one of a chapel, and the rooftop where one can get up close to the front façade which is designed like a giant scallop shell. As excited as I was with Casa Batlló, I can't say I feel the same way about the Sagrada Familia where work continues. I wish they would have left the cathedral just as it was after Gaudi's unfortunate death. There are so many things going on with the construction today that it no longer feels uniquely Gaudí.

It's easy to smile when viewing the works of Joan Miró. They seem like child's play - fun, whimsical and colorful. The Fundació Joan Miró on Parc de Monjuic above Barcelona (take the funicular) has a large collection of the artist's paintings, sculptures, and tapestries (which are colossal in scale). The galleries provide an intimate look at the artist and his oeuvres.
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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Wonders of Spain


The Alhambra in Granada, the Roman Aqueduct in Segovia, Gaudi's Casa Mila and Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, the Valle de los Caidos, are just a few of the many treasures of Spain. In May, we stared with wondrous eyes and mouths agape at the beautiful, harmonious and mystical Mezquita in Cordoba. That was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. May is also the month of festivals in Andalucia. Cordoba celebrates its Festival of the Patios in early May as does Jerez to the south with a grand parade of horses in the Feria de los Caballos.

Check out Cordoba now.



Spain never ceases to amaze.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Traveling through YouTube

It's been a fun and creative last few weeks for me while learning how to convert my travel photos into video stills. I have 20 travel videos currently uploaded to YouTube for the vicarious traveler in you. No need to pack your bags. Just turn on your laptop or computer and link to my site: www.youtube.com/travelswithcharie. You have a choice of destinations to visit: Spain, The Philippines, Bali, Yosemite National Park, Egypt, Lantau Island, Berlin, Italy, Prague, Amsterdam. There's also a video about food, "Eating Well in Spain", and one on gardens, "Filoli House and Gardens". Check out Oahu now.



I hope you have as much fun watching these videos as I had creating them for you. Happy travels!

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Discovering J. Torrents Lladό


The home and studio of J. Torrents Lladό contains around 100 of his works as well as his personal belongings. There is a stunning courtyard garden. It is located at C/ de la Portella 9, Palma de Mallorca, Spain.

Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Comemos! España



Madrid
La Barraca - Calle Reina, off Gran Via
Best place for authentic paella. Beautiful dining rooms and private rooms available for groups (There were 7 of us).
Miau - Plaza San Angel
Great tapas bar. Try their selection of canapés. We thought we overordered but ended up finishing everything but the torta de patatas which was too much for 5 people.
Meson de la Guitarra - Calle San Miguel
Good selection of tapas. Receives quite a crowd. Guitarist plays all evening but we also were entertained by guest diners who brought their own guitars. Cave setting.
La Mallorquina - Puerta del Sol
Selection of pastries from 1 euro. I particularly like the hojaldre and neapolitana (with choice of fillings).

Segovia
Meson del Candido - in front of the aqueduct
The roasted suckling baby pig is the house specialty. It is moist and tender. Quite tasty.

Sevilla
El Alabardero - Calle Zaragoza
Best dining in Spain. Loved the arroz in langoustine sauce, marinated skewered fish, and pastel of white asparagus. Melts in your mouth. Try the local Manzanilla wine.
Café Roman - Barrio Santa Cruz
Usually crowded. Best spot is to stand by the bar and order chorizo, bacalao and oveja cheese.
Horno San Buenaventura - Avenida Constitucion,in front of the Cathedral
Choice of pastries. Great for morning coffee and late afternoon merienda.

Palma de Mallorca
Taberna El Burladero - Calle Concepciόn, 3B
We spent a nice afternoon here until the rain subsided. Try their veal albondigas and the variado 6 tapas. Order some Manzanilla tea on a cold day. Extra attentive service.
La Bodeguilla - Calle San Jaime, 3
Upscale look. Good selection of wines. Love the vino dulce, a sweet white wine. I savored every bit of the pastel of salmon I ordered. Excellent service.

Valdemossa
Aromas - off Carrer Uetam
The chocolate drink with marron glacé was so thick and rich, I'll always remember it.

Barcelona
FrescCo - Carrer Caspe, 30
Eat as much as you can. Start at the salad bar, try any of two soups of the day, continue with a hot dish (menu del dia) and selection of pizzas, finish off with cake and fruits. Drink as much as you can. Your choice of beverage or beer then coffee or tea with dessert. All for less than 10 euros.
Lactuca - Ronda Sant Pere, 17 near Plaza Catalunya and a branch near Sagrada Familia
Same concept as FrescCo. I liked the chicken dish and the gazpacho soup (hot dishes change daily). Take as long as you want and dine at leisure.
Cuines Santa Caterina - at Mercat Santa Caterina, near the Cathedral in the Barrio Gotic
Trendy restaurant at the market. Loved the cold melon and mint soup. Busy with the lunch crowd. Stars for ambience.
Farggi - Passeig de Gracia, 2
Popular ice cream and coffee joint.

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Where's the legroom?


This is the toilet at one of the hotels where I stayed in Spain. It had me pondering not only about how to get my left leg into the incredibly tight space (I couldn't) but also how this was conceived and by who. And most importantly, who approved this? Even Twiggy couldn't slide her leg in there. If you exclaim, "Oh *&%#!", you wouldn't be out of line.

This gives me a new appreciation of airline seats in cattle class.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Friday, May 02, 2008

Month of Festivals


We are in Madrid during the height of the bicentennial celebrations of the city. Concert stages have been erected in various plazas and we had the chance to listen to rehearsals at Plaza Mayor while dining at an outdoor cafe. There are people everywhere especially at Puerta del Sol where it´s nearly impossible to get around without running into someone. There´s music in the air courtesy of street performers. We´ve listened to mariachi bands and Peruvian groups as well as classical violinists. We´ve stopped to watch human statues that suddenly move when you place money into their pots. A sexy lady will sway her hips and raise her skirt when she receives a little dinero and a cowboy all in black will swing his gun for the ladies. We´ve enjoyed the tapas bars with the array of hors d´ouevres like chorizo, queso de manchego, oliva, croquetas de jamon, torta de patatas and so much more, washed down with sangria or vino dulce while the men drink draft beer. We ate the best paella at La Barraca in Madrid, thanks to Carmel and Miguel, and roasted suckling pig at Meson del Candido in Segovia. Only a few days in Madrid and my companions are already discerning enthusiasts of pastries from La Mallorquina and café natural from Café y Te.

There are still many things to see but we´ll have to set those aside for now because we are enjoying the sounds and flavors of Madrid. Hasta luego.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bohol



Can't say enough good things about Bohol. It's hard to ignore its natural beauty, colonial history, lush tropical landscape, uncrowded beaches, all packaged in rustic simplicity. In short, this island will not remain below the radar screen for much longer.

It was wise to hire a guide who drove us to the places we wanted to see. The roads to touristic spots were well paved and traveling was comfortable in the airconditioned Combi. From Tagbilaran City we went inland to gape at the Chocolate Hills. On the way we stopped at the monument of the historic blood compact between the Spaniard, Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and local leader, Datu Sikatuna. So much for pacts of friendship! History can attest to that.

The man made mahogany forest is the work of one leader, a former Governor of Bohol, who cared enough about his province and his people to initiate the planting of mahogany trees covering an area that spans 2 kilometers. It's taken 40 years for these trees to mature and the area is protected from logging.

Forging the hanging bamboo bridge is a little scary because it sways with the slightest movement. I tried to walk on the bridge but turned back after a few feet. Locals though are sure footed and have no qualms about the river below.

It's hard to resist the palm sized tarsiers who seem to have a smile on their faces even when they are taking a nap. It was a feat to take any photos at all with so many people surrounding the wide eyed tarsiers. Touching them is a no no. They are too delicate.

Just before sunset we walked along one of Panglao Island's empty stretch of white sand beaches. It was the perfect way to toast the quiet beauty of Bohol.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Welcome Home!


My thoughtful cousin sent me an email that said, "Welcome home!". This reminded me of the welcome I received at San Francisco airport from Customs examiners. I was randomly picked from hundreds of passengers who arrived from Tokyo earlier this week. My one small suitcase was carefully checked as well as my handbag and handcarry. I hadn't really bought anything while abroad except 2 almerez that my Mom and sister asked me to bring. I didn't know how to translate almerez into English but one of the examiners knew what I was describing with my hands. I was pounding my right hand against a make believe stone bowl. He said it's a mortar and pestle. I had a difficult time finding these as my sister asked for a white marble almerez, the best of which come from the island of Romblon. Luckily my resourceful tricycle driver found them in the market. He had to go back and look for another one as the first store had only one in stock. Problem is these weigh a ton and my luggage seemed ready to tip at any moment.

Back to the search. What I find most annoying with these searches is how items in my carefully packed suitcase are pulled out and I can't put them back neatly or at all. The zipper usually won't close anymore because everything is hastily repacked. No matter. Home is a short drive away.

Welcome home! Where is home? I recently read a book written by an Irish woman who devoted a chapter on "Home is where my toothbrush is". But I have a toothbrush in my car, my travel bag and in each of my two homes. When I was working, I had one in my desk drawer. Yet I didn't think the workplace was home. It's not that simple.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Breakthrough

In Iloilo recently, we had the opportunity to check out Breakthrough in the neighborhood of Villa. Breakthrough is a restaurant on the beach with a view of Guimaras Island (which is famous for its sweet mangos). While the sand is a pearly grey, the beach is as inviting as that of Boracay's White Beach. No crowds and quite clean. We ate our lunch in one of the palapas rather than in the main restaurant hall. It was relaxing to sit there and watch the calm sea.

We ordered sizzling crab, fish sinigang, prawns, seaweed gel, and pinakbet. My friends loved the seaweed and ordered more to take home. I enjoyed the sizzling crab though it wasn't really sizzling. We washed it all down with a mango shake. This is our favorite drink, especially on a hot day. Is there ever a day when it's not hot in the islands?

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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Gift of a Tree

We went to the wake of a young relative who died recently. What moved me most was the gift of seedling palm trees the family gave to guests who cared to plant them. I took one and planted it the very next day.

There was a card with this inscription attached to the tree:
"It matters that the world knows
that we continue to celebrate the gift of life.
If you wish, bring this palm tree seedling
home with you and take the first steps
in the journey of a new life."

What a wonderful way to remember loved ones who've passed away. These trees will live on for many years to come and continue the cycle of life.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Graduate


The graduation ceremony started at 1:30 p.m. but we didn't get there till 4 p.m. That was on purpose because our own graduate would not be called until 5:30 p.m. Think how long the poor graduates were seated under the searing afternoon sun just for that moment when their name is called and they could go up the stage to receive their diploma case (diplomas will be handed out in a few weeks). Over a thousand graduates waited for confirmation that they had indeed successfully completed university requirements.
Our very own Barbie graduated with a degree in nursing. She also received a Special Award for academic excellence. We left the university about 7:30 p.m. after taking memorable photos of the event. The proud Mom took us to MO2 where we celebrated in a private videoke room. We toasted the graduate with strawberry margaritas and mango shake. Dinner spread included sizzling tangigue, boneless bangus, cordon bleu and nachos.
How novel to celebrate in a videoke room where we could sing with no holds barred.
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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Going Private in Boracay


Finding the perfect accommodation at the hottest beach destination in the Philippines and perhaps Asia can be a bit tricky. There are native huts, five star hotels, Mediterranean inspired lodgings, boarding houses and if you’re lucky as I was, a room in a private home.

I’ve written before about Filipino hospitality and how easily I’ve made friends with them during my travels around the world. In Boracay, I was once again reminded how generous and welcoming Filipinos are.

My friends had invited me to Boracay for a long weekend through the first couple days of Holy Week. I was excited because I wanted to get away and see more of the island. My first visit to Boracay was on a day trip and we spent most of our time walking along White Beach. I was captivated by the colors of the sea and the missing crowds. It must have been off season then.

When we arrived at the home of my friends’ friends in the neighborhood of Station 1, I was entranced by the tropical landscape, the tree house, the nipa huts, Mona Lisa (the monkey), the open living room that invited the outdoors in and my very own air-conditioned bedroom with cable TV and refrigerator.

Our hosts, Terry and Wilson, made sure we were comfortable, fed us the most unforgettable meals in the most incredible setting and drove us around the island in their super golf cart. Now that’s Filipino hospitality!

Boracay will never be the same again.

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Photo by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When it Blooms


Photos and layout by Rosario Charie Albar

The Impatient Gardener


It’s a special privilege to have a garden. When I wake up in the morning, I stand by the French doors to see the flowers blooming, the trees swaying in the sea breeze, and more banana trees sprouting though the old mama banana has not yet borne any fruit.

I just planted several ti plants this week to give more color to my elongated yard and hide the ugly cement fence. When I first paid attention to these plants in Bali, I thought how beautiful it would look to have a profusion of them. They grow tall and the crimson leaves are eye catching. I’ll need at least two dozen of these to cover the walls.

My garden is still evolving. I am hoping to bring the lush landscape of inland Capiz and Bohol into my home. But some plants are a little difficult to find like the Madagascar palm tree. So far I have a few young palms. They take a long time to reach six or seven feet but if I start cultivating them now, I’ll enjoy seeing them reach their maximum height.

On the contrary, it’s easy for bougainvillea, kalachuchi and roses to grow and bloom. With bougainvillea, I just cut off a stem, stick it on the ground, water it and after two weeks, the leaves start to sprout and in three months, there’s a small bush. With roses I notice that when I cut off a stem, new leaves, reddish in hue, sprout on the old stem after a week. The stem I’ve cut and sunk into the ground develops within a month.

I’ve always dreamed of a pink kalachuchi tree outside my front door. That’s exactly what I see whenever I open the door. It’s been blooming since the winds died down. My only problem now is to get rid of the aphids that are eating the leaves and turning them a spotted yellow. I tried to spray the leaves with Tide but it burnt the leaves instead. So I must get some insecticide soon.

The gumamela (in the hibiscus family) are not as easy to cultivate but the varieties and colors are worth waiting for. There is a bush in the garden that’s a mix of pink gumamela with the long stamen and a red gumamela with a yellow border. It’s an amazing sight when they bloom together.

Some days I’m surprised to see yellow butterfly orchids, bright orange sunflowers or white spider looking flowers. Today I saw an incredible pink bromeliad. I don’t know all their names but these wonders are the joys of gardening.

It’s thrilling to come home after being away for a few months. It’s only then when I can see how fast my plants have grown. But day-to-day I only collect dead leaves from all of them, especially the papaya trees.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Once upon a summer's day

Once upon a summer’s day, I walked along the beach under a big, green umbrella with the name of a local bank emblazoned in gold across its face. I was dripping wet, the kind I abhor the most when my skin feels so sticky and shiny, I can only hope no one I know will stop and chat with me in my most vulnerable state. Any foreigner would laugh at the sight of me. No one uses an umbrella on the beach unless it’s one of those resort beach umbrellas that do not walk. But it’s scorching hot, a normal summer’s day.

These days I’ve been using my designer look-alike, plaid umbrella that can barely keep me dry, what with its flimsy metal bones that break at the slightest provocation. It’s been raining everyday since February. I wake up in the morning to the sound of howling winds and heavy surf. The skies are consistently a threatening grey. The ground is muddy and when I walk up and down the long driveway, my flip flops collect the mud. It sticks like glue and I feel laden with weight that I have to stop and wipe my slippers against any protruding rock along the way.

My friends and I talk about the rain and what happened to summer. Today someone said we’re lucky that it’s been windy else we would suffer the tremendous heat. And after thinking about it I had other positive things to say about this strange weather that La Niña has brought about. For one thing, I don’t have to use my airconditioner. That’s a big savings! And there are no mosquitoes at night because the unrelenting wind blows them away, hopefully far out to sea. But I miss the flowers in my garden which have eloped with the mosquitoes.

Now I know what it’s like to live in Seattle.

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Videoke Queen

Whenever I've joined friends for a videoke evening, I've been surprised at how well they can sing. But I shouldn't be surprised in a country of singers. Singing is a great Philippine pastime. In church, I feel inspired by the beautiful songs rendered by the Sunday choir. On TV I've watched children sing like professionals. And at any party, the whole family sings while reading the lyrics on the TV screen.

But I'm surprised by my videoke friends because I've never heard them sing when I knew them in grade school. Now when they grab that mike, I hear Tony Bennett, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra or Andy Williams.

After each song a score comes up on screen to show how well the singer did. And my friends usually get a score of 97 and up. One of my earliest scores was 76. I was so humiliated.

I only knew one song, Girl from Ipanema, when I started going out with friends. And I was afraid to sing in front of confident men who would unexpectedly say, "Haaa" at strategic moments along the song. I've slowly learned a few more songs: If by Bread, Close to you by The Carpenters, Can't take my eyes off you. I've written down the numbers of these songs so I don't need to search through an interminably long list in a worn notebook in the dark. I hope I can get the Music System with microphone, video connection, and a 3000 song bank so I can practice everyday and surprise my friends with a repertoire of new songs. For now I must train my timid voice in the shower and heed my music advisor's words, "don't hold back". "Belt it out", he adds. Perhaps if I practice often like they do, I can score a 99 and be hailed Videoke Queen someday. Haaa!

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

Let's Eat - Philippine Style


There is no simple meal in the Philippines. Any invitation to lunch or dinner entails fasting at least 24 hours beforehand. Every meal is a feast. Among the variety of dishes served are the staple lechon, prawns, fresh fish, crabs, assorted noodle dishes including spaghetti (the local version has a sweet taste), pork barbeque, and my favorite, scallops in a shell. Who needs dessert after such a feast?

Iloilo
Emilion - at the Grande Dame Hotel offers Japanese buffet nightly except Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays when they serve an international buffet. So much to eat for an incredibly low price.
Smallville - is a row of restaurants, bars and cybercafes. We love the Thai restaurant for great food and ambience.

Breakthrough and Tatoys - Getting rave reviews. Breakthrough is on the beach and offers seafood. Tatoys is famous for its tasty grilled chicken.

Cebu
Cafe Laguna at Ayala Center. Their lumpia ubud is as good as it looks and the sotanghon is excellent. Minimalist decor and spacious dining area.

Tides - at the Mactan Shangrila. Buffet dinner. Stations to choose from - Italian, Inihaw, Japanese, Seafoods, Dessert. Price per person without drinks may dent your wallet if you're on a budget.

Restaurant Chain
Max's Chicken - in Metro Manila, Iloilo, Cebu and even South San Francisco, USA. Their chicken is the house specialty but the other dishes listed on the menu like pinakbet are well prepared and tasty. Love the camote fries.

Kain na! Let's eat!

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When a Papaya is Not a Fruit!

I'm happy to see the 5 papaya trees in my garden growing fast but I have not yet enjoyed a single papaya. In time I'm sure there will be plenty to eat.

These last few months I've been interested in a different kind of papaya. This is the papaya dance that I've seen on local television. It's in the game show, Game ka na ba? It seems that when a contestant makes it to the final round, he/she must first do the papaya. I've followed this show religiously just to see the papaya dance. But to date I can't seem to get the movements down.

It starts with rolling both hands above the right knee, then the left. The next move is to raise both hands and roll them above the head and then down to the waist level. The next step is to wave both hands upward while the hips sway in the direction of the hands. This is where I get lost. But I'll work on it. When I've got it, the show's host can finally say, "Yeah, Baby!".

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

These Islands


Growing up in the Philippines, I've never really traveled much around the country. I've only visited Manila, Baguio, Mindoro and Iloilo until recently. Last year I went to the beautiful island of Boracay, one of 7,600 islands (when it's low tide) that dot the Pacific.

Last week with cousins visiting from the U.S., we went to the bustling city of Cebu and rustic Bohol. In Cebu we traced the historical rediscovery of the Philippines by Ferdinand Magellan. In Fort San Pedro, I was reminded of Puerto Rico's fortifications. All colonies of Spain bear similarities like churces adorned with centuries old retablos.

We enjoyed best Cebu's delectable cuisine at Cafe Laguna in the Ayala Center and Tides at Shangri-la. The fat lumpia ubud look every bit as good as it tasted and the sotanghan, according to my cousin, was incomparable.

We loved Bohol, as yet unspoiled, with its 1,268 Chocolate Hills, its man-made mahogany forest and mangrove marshes. The beach at Panglao was perfect for a sunset walk. And who can resist the big-eyed tarsier, so tiny it fits in the palm of your hand.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

To the Indefatigable Traveler


Don’t say you’re not even tempted to shop when you’re traveling. I saw you looking at postcards in the souvenir stalls near the Notre Dame in Paris and buying designer look-alike handbags from street vendors in Florence and Venice. Yes, you brought the world to your home. There is a Greek vase with its familiar scroll on the side table in your living room, a Japanese kimono hangs from a bamboo pole on your dining room wall, African masks adorn the hallway, and Eiffel Tower base lamps in your bedroom, a bright reminder of the City of Light. Who can miss the lace fan from Spain, painted with flamenco dancers, that sits right above the mantle, next to the castanets?

How exotic you look in that colorful sarong from Bali you always wear when the temperature outside matches the tropics. The upscale flip flops from Hawaii go well with your outfit. Now I know you’ve been everywhere. Even the soap in the bathroom is pure English lavender and the chocolates in the fridge are Belgian, no less. How long has it been since you came back from your last trip?

Your wine rack has two bottles of reds you lugged back from Burgundy. I was hoping you would offer me a glass. And the sophisticated refrigerator stickers are copies of artworks from the Musée D’Orsay. I know, I have a couple of those. The guide book you lent me of Scandinavia has a banana shaped bookmark from Costa Rica. I was touched when you gave me the silver camel brooch from Peru and the papyrus painting from Egypt.

When are you going to wear the wooden clogs you bought in Amsterdam? They’d be perfect for working in my garden during the rainy season, if you would lend them to me. And how did you silence the cuckoo clock you found in Germany which hangs in the guestroom? That rug from Turkey looks good in the family room, except the dog has chewed it a bit. How I wish I have my own set of bronze Buddha statuettes, just like the ones you brought back from Thailand.

You are an inspiration to me. You’ve been everywhere! And you have reminders of all your journeys at your fingertips. I admire your sense of adventure and wanderlust. I thought I was well traveled until I met you. You've been to 65 countries and counting. That’s way more than I’ve visited or hope to visit. I know I have a long way to go and not enough space for all the memories I will bring back home.

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Image by Rosario Charie Albar