Saturday, March 27, 2010

Meeting Frances Mayes

At a book signing at Kepler's Books in Menlo Park recently, I had the pleasure to listen to Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun : At Home in Italy, talk about her fascinating life in Tuscany. Mayes spoked about how food and  community are deeply intertwined. As an example, after the olive harvest, locals go to the piazza to share their olive oil with one another while each one believes his/her oil to be the best of the lot. When asked about her favorite food experience in Italy, Mayes mentioned the first communion celebration of a neighbor's child where 140 people were invited and a procession of pastas were served at the end of which, four men carried a roasted cow from the Val di Chiana. She said that in Italy, an eight-hour meal would not be unusual and that guilt is never associated with food. 

Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian LifeAfter her talk, Mayes read a chapter from her new book, Every Day in Tuscany: Seasons of an Italian Life. It was followed by a Q&A session and book signing. Someone asked what her favorite season in Tuscany is and she replied that winter is the best time because the cities are less crowded, tourists are gone which means there are no lines to enter the museums or restaurants, and the locals are out once more enjoying their home turf. Mayes also mentioned that September is a good time to be in Tuscany for the sheer delight of viewing the unique Tuscan light that envelopes the countryside.

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Photo of Frances Mayes by Charie

Bacolod Revealed


What a great opportunity I had to visit Bacolod when my friends from Los Angeles were visiting their hometown! I took a local bus for Iloilo that stopped in numerous towns along the way. It was an interesting but long ride with vendors coming up the bus and peddling in a sort of mantraspeak their "puto, bayebaye, bingka". I bought the bingka, a mini version of bibingka (a rice cake). Two hours later the snacks for sale were "balut, mani mani, mais". Arriving at the bus terminal in Iloilo I jumped into a taxi for the port and took the fast ferry to Bacolod. It was just an hour and 15 minutes away. But before boarding the ferry, I bought some mais (corn) as I was starving.


In Bacolod I was met by my friends and we drove to Los Feliz Alegria Resort in the outskirts of Murcia (where there is a large outdoor market). Our gracious hosts, Julie and Joe Torres, are the owners of this lush and secluded resort where the swimming pool is fed by cool spring waters that trickle down the hill to a stream where a little hut sits atop gentle waterfalls.


Lunch is never simple in the Philippines except perhaps in my house. In Bacolod I was treated to an incredible array of local cuisine like Bacolod inasal, chicken soup with malunggay from Julie's herb garden, tortang talong (eggplant omelette), grilled bangus and tangigue, fresh buko juice (coconut juice), mangos and plantains. After such a feast it was perfect to go upstairs in the open nipa hut for an afternoon nap while the guys chatted and swam in the pool.


In the evening Julie and Joe regaled us at Lunok (the restaurant under the enchanted tree) where the special dish is sili (eel).  Afterwards, Lina Geronca treated us for dessert at Calea. Calea is best known for its cheesecakes. We slept at the penthouse of Villa Geronca, a six story building in the South Market area. The architect of the Villa drew his inspiration from the works of Piet Mondrian, a Dutch modern painter, hence the geometrical shapes and colors that identify the building and its interior design.


I woke up to the early morning buzz from busy South Market below. Terri Geronca and her husband, Jimmo (or as he likes to call himself, eh di ako) walked to the market to buy some fresh ingredients for our breakfast. But the show stealer of our sumptuous meal were the giant guava and mango from Gloria Geronca's garden. And the mango was sweet!


Can't wait to go back to Bacolod. There's much to see and do and the people are most hospitable. I must see Kaitulari Resort next time with spectacular views of Kanlaon Volcano. Thanks to my friends, the Geronca family, for making my first visit to Bacolod  a beautiful and memorable experience.

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Photos by Charie

For recipes of bibingka and other Philippine delicacies check out http://www.pinoycook.net/