Category Archives: Culture and Travel

Unity in diversity (lessons from a couple-tissue dispenser from Ifugao)

Hello dear readers! My blog has finally migrated to its own domain, http://meilbox.net! And I would like to celebrate this new “home” by sharing this cute couple with you. :)

SMILE! SMILE! There is humor to be found even in the most sh--ty moments! (Update: Hubby and I decided on their names: Meet Ginger and Mushroom a.k.a "Kabute"!) ;D

SMILE! SMILE! There is humor to be found even in the most sh–ty moments! (Update: Hubby and I decided on their names: Meet Ginger and Mushroom a.k.a “Kabute”!) ;D

I met this “happy” couple from Banaue, Ifugao. I guess the message is clear, huh? I salute the wood carver who thought about creating these amusing characters. We have named them, Ginger and Mushroom (a.k.a Kabute). ;)

You may be wondering why they are in different colors. Well, I found Kabute, the happy guy, in a shop by the Dayanara Viewpoint in Banaue (thanks to the shop owner-woodcarver who created him!). When I asked the shop owner why is he selling the male version only, he said that his “partner” was already bought earlier. I readily bought the male version, quietly hoping that I would find him a partner so he won’t get lonely as he settles down in his new home.

Luckily, on the way back to Manila, along the national highway (probably somewhere in Kiangan, Ifugao), I chanced upon another shop and found a couple! This time though, the couple is in brown varnish finish. The lady shop owner did not have the almost-black /antique finish that would seem perfect for what I already bought so I decided to get her female version (thinking that I would just had her re-painted with the black /antique finish later on). The lady shop owner gave me a small discount but did not want to go further because, as she eloquently explained, “…you are taking his partner away! He will be lonely!” (I can no longer argue with that, right?!)

When we got home and I placed Ginger and Kabute on top of a table, I realized that there is really no need to re-paint Ginger! They actually look sooooo cute together, right?!  So, yes, I would keep and enjoy them just the way they are: black and brown, unique in his and her own way, happy, funny, and very ‘ethnic’.

Most importantly, they remind us of one very important lesson in life: we may come from different backgrounds and cultures but we are still united by common goals and aspirations.

Of course, let us not forget their simple message: SMILE! Just smile! There is humor to be found even in the most difficult moments. :)

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Speaking of the wood carvers of Ifugao, this brings to mind the issue on total log ban. I have always been a supporter of Pinoy arts and crafts. However, I also believe that when creating art pieces and crafts, due consideration must always be given to how our livelihood activities impact the over-all integrity of our physical environment.

That is why I was glad to hear from the shop owner in Dayanara Viewpoint that the wood carvers of Ifugao are planting a tree for every tree that they cut. I know that there is still an ongoing debate on the total log ban issued by President P-Noy through Executive Order No. 23 and that the Ifugao woodcarvers are still negotiating with the government for an exemption. Nevertheless, hearing from the wood carver this kind of commitment certainly tells me that the right balance can be achieved. We only need to hear the side, too, of those who depend on forestry products, and at the same time, be more conscientious in the way that we utilize our natural resources. (For a related news article, please go to http://www.philstar.com/nation/2012/12/03/879503/ifugaos-seek-exemption-total-log-ban.)

I also hope that our legislators can already craft a law that will require all Filipinos to plant a tree on his/her birthday! I have began a small tree-planting+letter-writing campaign through this blog but I think that much more need to be done.

Calling all Philippine legislators to create this law soon!

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014-2016 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Of doing good for public health, The Champ, fresh seafood, and more of Sarangani

I feel a little guilty for being away so long! If my blog can ‘feel’, then he must be feeling abandoned already.  :-O Nevertheless, I will try my best to make up for it by posting some insights and pictures from all my travels of the past six months or so. :)

Picture moments with our boxing champ, Rep. Manny Pacquiao. Also in photo (extreme right), is the former Secretary of Health, Dr. Jaime Galvez-Tan.

I will begin with Sarangani as I have been there twice in the last six months, in line with my engagement with a project that assists LGUs in working for better public health services through PPPs (public-private partnerships). The first travel happened in December 2011 and that was also when, for the first time, I had met “The Champ,” Rep. Manny Pacquiao. My colleagues and I were all star-struck and unable to stop ourselves from requesting some photos taken with him. :) The second trip took place in January 2012 and although we were not able to meet with The Champ again, his very accommodating aide gave us a personal tour of his mansion and even gave us souvenir (PacMan) T-shirts. (To protect the aide’s privacy, I will no longer mention his name here but let me send our big thanks to him through this post!)

It might interest you to know that the LGU of Sarangani, through the leadership of Governor Miguel Dominguez and Rep. Pacquiao, is planning to build a modern hospital facility in Alabel. We are part of the technical assistance team that is supporting the LGU as it prepares for the eventual management/co-management of the  facility, to be called Sarangani Medical Center. The medical facility is part of the LGU’s commitment to improve public health services for the people of Sarangani and nearby provinces. (To know more about the proposed hospital, you may visit http://www.interaksyon.com/article/9855/pacquiao-leads-groundbreaking-of-saranganis-p200-m-hospital)

Rep. Pacquiao and Gov. Dominguez, in a huddle, as the group discusses the planned Sarangani Medical Center.

Working with the team has opened my eyes further to the problems in the public health sector. Through this project, I was able to once again visit public hospitals and got more convinced that there is more that the private sector can do in ensuring that our people will get decent and compassionate healthcare.

I am aware that after the devolution of social services, many LGUs found it hard to manage public facilities due mainly to lack of managerial competence, resources, and in some cases, political will. I was not vocally in support of PPPs before but after seeing the state of some of our public health facilities, I decided that I want to keep a more open mind about this strategy. After all, this is about building partnerships. I don’t think the government can do it alone nor can we always expect it to do everything for us. I do agree that the government must build enough and efficient public health facilities but I also recognize that healthcare can be better managed if the managerial expertise of the private sector can be integrated in the whole system.

Anyway, let us ponder on this topic more in my next posts. :) I would now be sharing some photos from these last two travels in Sarangani (and even General Santos).

This is where we stayed in my team’s December 2011 trip. Called A-Montana Resort, it allows one to sleep and relax in cottages built on concrete stilts! Guests can further enjoy their stay there by fishing and boating (and I heard that there is also a swimming pool there although I was not able to see it).

Another image of the cottages on stilt. Looks inviting, isn’t it?

I saw this small orange boat while I was walking around the walkways in between the cottages.

With Sarangani Governor Migs Dominguez and my colleague, Ms. Pearl Soleta. I am not easily impressed but I sense the eagerness and commitment of the Governor when it comes to the goal of improving public health services.

This is my “pet”, Dinger. He also enjoyed being with the fishes in A-Montana Resort. He also got to enjoy my room. ;D Seriously, I just want to share the “Pinoy” ambience of the cottages in A-Montana Resort. The floors are wooden, too.

Dinger may be wondering how can he get to enjoy my mango shake, too!

We had very limited time to see some more of Sarangani because of our hectic schedule but we luckily chanced upon a beautiful beach resort in Glan, Sarangani, as we were going around to visit some of the public hospitals in the province. I am not sure now but this might be Isla Jardin del Mar Resort in Gumasa, Glan, Sarangani. We were truly blessed that afternoon because the sun was setting the moment we stepped down from our vehicle (I had to run madly though or I won’t catch the sun anymore!)

PacMan: Ang Pambansang Tubig. :) Nice, isn’t it?

This is one of the pictures I was able to take while we were going around to visit some of the health facilities in the province. This is part of the beautiful Sarangani coastline.

We had lunch and a short stop-over in Lemlunay Resort (overlooking the crystal clear waters of Sarangani Bay). This boat was ‘happily’ anchored by the cliff so I cannot help but capture this magical moment.

We got to see The Champ’s Hummer, too! :)

Dinger: What will I choose? What will I choose?! Help!

Of course, hubby will not allow me to go back home without the usual “order”: fresh seafood (including tuna!) from Sarangani! Thank you, Lord for the bounty of your oceans! :)

After the hard work, I wanted to pamper myself a little bit so I stayed in General Santos City enroute to Manila and tried the East Asia Royale Hotel. Rooms and service are ok but the hotel is a little old already. I appreciated the fact that the room I booked has a jacuzzi so I had the chance to take a warm bath, listen to good music, and simply relax. :) So, yes, have a good life and relax! Hope you can visit my blog again. :)

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This is not a paid blog.

Contacts:

A-Montana Resort | Email amontanaresort@pldtdsl.net | Tels. 083-826-6699/ 553-8553/ 553-0220/ 553-0110/ 301-333

Lemlunay Resort | Email lemlunayresort@yahoo.com | Tels. 083-228-1704/ +63 928 524 4528

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Food Trip with Fr. Leo: A Celebration of Food and Family Ties

Fr. Leo puts so much of his heart and soul in every meal that he prepares.

A cooking priest?! This is what came to my mind when our good friend, Jinky, texted us about an event that’s happening the next day. Forward to January 6, 2012.

Yes, Fr. Leo Patalinghug is a cooking priest indeed! It was my and JR’s first time to see a priest in a chef’s coat and it took us a few seconds for the reality to sink in. :) When we shook hands with him and began a conversation, we almost forgot that he is a priest because he is so down-to-earth, cool, and humorous. (Father Leo, please consider that as a compliment.) ;)

The event is part of Fr. Leo’s way of sharing his joys in cooking and spreading the word about his group’s advocacy and movement, “Grace Before Meals.” (Visit http://gracebeforemeals.com for more info.) The movement encourages people to spend meals together as a family and community, and in the process, build stronger ties, and commune with God, who is the unifying force and the creator of endless bounty. This is not your typical ‘preachy’ affair but rather an enjoyable journey towards rediscovering the beauty of cooking, sharing culinary delights,  and experiencing simple joys just from talking with our loved ones over shared meals, however simple they may be.

During my and Jinky’s interview (I’d rather call it a conversation) with him, it almost brought tears to my eyes when we began discussing our own personal experiences that have something to do with food. I shared with them a personal encounter, which has happened to me recently. It was last Christmas eve when Mom and hubby were preparing buko (coconut) salad. Enjoying the bond and joys of preparing meals, they suddenly began disagreeing over how much sweetener should be put in the salad! Each was so adamant about his/her own preference (Mom wanted more condensed milk in it while JR was insisting to go easy on the sweet for health considerations, saying, “Mommy, we don’t want you to have diabetes!”), that it got to a point when they decided to prepare two versions: one is very sweet (Mom’s version), and the other, with just the right sweetness. Until now, every time I’d think about that recent episode, it still makes me want to laugh. There is something really funny when two persons closest to your heart are seriously arguing about something seemingly nonsensical such as the the right formula for the sweetness! :) I shared that with Fr. Leo and Jinky yesterday, and what the former said touched me to the very core, “You know, when your Mom is no longer here with us, you will always look back to that moment and it will always make you want to laugh. And you will always remember her every time you eat a buko salad.” Oh, I was ready to burst into tears just thinking about that possible moment in the future…

My hubby, JR Suarin, with Fr. Leo. I know that God will always be on the side of JR as he journeys through life and future career as a chef! How can I be so sure? Well, look at his new apron! It is autographed by God through the hands of Fr. Leo, one of his messengers about good food and small miracles. :)

But it is so true! Buko salad now has another meaning in my life. :) Isn’t that another reason to celebrate our shared meals (and cooking time) with our mothers/partners, husbands and loved ones? Such moments truly make our life richer and deeper, infusing them with even more vibrant colors, or shall I say, yummier taste? :)

I have zero talent in the kitchen but I have been gifted with a husband who is so passionate with cooking that I consider this as another miracle in my life! I cannot cook and yet, I know I will always eat good and hearty meals all the rest of my life! Call it a twist of fate or whatever, but JR seems to be God’s perfect solution for my lack of talent in the culinary department. (Wink! Wink!) In a way, meeting Fr. Leo is also a serendipitous event in our life as a couple. More especially for JR who is beginning a new phase in his life (he used to be working in the financial sector), hungry for new culinary adventures, and constantly in search of inspirations and ‘gurus’. Through divine intervention, I think JR just found another inspiration in Fr. Leo.

As I type this, I also recall one of our most recent conversations before retiring for the night. I shared to JR how, as a child, I enjoyed playing with my palayuk-palayukan (children’s clay pots and pans). I have a complete set and I’d always “cook” meals with them, complete with actual sinaing (steamed rice)! Laughing a bit, JR retorted, “So! That is why you no longer want to cook when you got older! You finished up all your talents and patience in cooking when you were just a kid!” And we burst out laughing. :) There, it makes us think — many of the best moments in our lives have something to do with food and meals, right? Fr. Leo reminded us that when we celebrate the special events and milestones in our lives, we always dine out or prepare and share sumptuous meals.

Fr. Leo’s Funky Fusion Fajitas. This is what he served us last night. It is truly the best Fajitas I have ever tasted. Go grab the book, “Grace Before Meals,” and discover the recipe.

However, how often do we even bother thinking about how the food was prepared and even how the ingredients were produced? Very rarely, right? That evening with Fr. Leo reminded us again to savor every bite, feel gratitude in every fiber of our soul, and thank the creators of the bounty on the table: God who gave us huge gardens and deep oceans, the farmers who patiently planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables, the soil, the rain, and the sun who ensured that our food will be full of nutrients, and the chefs (and mothers/fathers/wives/husbands) who lovingly prepared the meals so we can continuously grow, live, and enjoy life’s miracles.

Wait, did you know that Fr. Leo was able to beat Bobby Flay in the Food Networks’ “Throwdown with Bobby Flay”? Yes, he did! I think you can watch the episode in YouTube and in the Grace Before Meals website (url above). Culinary arts enthusiasts know that Bobby Flay is a great chef and it is indeed a great feat to beat someone like him. The throwdown was on the Mexican/South American dish, Fajitas, the same dish that Fr. Leo served us last night. Oh, I still salivate every time I remember the dish. I am just so happy that JR promised to make his own version! Yehey!

Grace Before Meals, The Book. It invites us to a journey one closer to God, a celebration of love and family ties. Every purchase of this book in the Philippines will help Sendong victims in Mindanao.

In a way, JR and Fr. Leo share another common experience. While JR used to be in the financial sector and is now preparing to shift to a new career in the culinary arts, Fr. Leo did not really intend to become a priest. He was a martial arts (arnis) enthusiast-athlete, and a graduate of Political Science-Journalism. Like JR, he also eventually moved on to a new calling, a new vocation. Like them, we also journey through life facing new “callings”, forcing us to be bold, to jump, to embrace an uncharted path, even if our hearts beat wildly in our chest. How many times have we followed our instincts only when making difficult decisions and choices? It is during those moments that we can be sure, God is with us. For it is Him who carries us through the difficult moments, assuring us that every thing will be ok.

That evening, we are renewed, inspired, and rejuvenated. Not by a mind-boggling event that deserves a page in the Guinness Book of World Record, but by a simple act of cooking. Fr. Leo cooked to his heart delights, shared his life and personal stories, brought us one step closer to God, and reminded us once again of the biggest reasons for celebrations: our existence and our families. Ahhhh, gimme a plate of Fajitas!

(More photos from the event are below. This is not a paid blog. But Glory to God, I have been paid more than enough through the beauty of this world, a loving and thoughtful husband, and the glorious taste of food!)

We’re now proud owner of Fr. Leo’s Book, Grace Before Meals. :)

Fr. Leo with (L-R) Jinky, JR, and me. Happy gourmet moments!

Fr. Leo shares his life and his personal stories.

There is joy in the little things. Discover them every day.

Give every thing you do your very best for God creates miracles through you.

Commit to each moment. Savor life.

Prepare each meal with love and joys in your heart. A miracle is happening there.

Thank the great creators who prepared the meal on your plate.

Thank the farmers who planted the seeds and harvested the vegetables. The soil, the rain, and the sun, who ensured that every bite will be full of nutrition.

See the miracle on your plate? It is God’s bounty beckoning you, inviting you to a feast.

Fr. Leo was assisted with De La Salle University culinary arts students, Marion Manuel Lagman & Jan Michael de Guzman. (Thanks, guys! Goodluck in your future careers!)

We were served with a very delicious tiramisu dessert, done by Marion Manuel (and assisted by Jan Michael). It is one of the best tiramisu versions that I have ever tasted, with just the perfect tinge of sweetness. Ohlala, salivating for a bite now… :)

God works in mysterious ways. Who would have thought that we will ever meet Fr. Leo, the famous cooking priest? I know now that JR will journey through life and his future career as a a chef with God’s graces: with this apron as a reminder, what dish can ever go wrong? Thanks, Fr. Leo, for the gift of your heart and talents. Mabuhay ka! God bless you more each day!

Big thanks to BergHOFF for hosting the event. Big thanks as well for Ms. Anon Ozaeta, and the staff of BergHOFF, for the warm welcome and good work. Kudos sa inyong lahat!

Contacts:

BergHOFF | G/F Frabella I, 109 Rada St., Legaspi Village, Makati City

Tel. +63 2 347 1165 (Contact Ms Anon Ozaeta)

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Chef Laudico’s Casa Filipino tries an uncharted path

Casa Filipino cares about the details. The napkin has a sketch of the restaurant’s facade on it.

Hubby and  were just so glad that the rains stopped for a little bit today.  It had been raining for days now so at the first sign of a less-rainy day, we called up Chef Laudico’s Casa Filipino (probably the newest buffet restaurant in Quezon City) and asked if they can still accept a late booking for lunch. We had always been planning to try the restaurant out (we’ve began noticing it in the last two months when we’re on the way  to Timog area) but we decided today is a perfect day. For one, we were not able to celebrate our monthsary almost a week ago because I had been traveling lately. (What a perfect excuse! wink! wink!)

It was nice to hear that they’d still accommodate us even if it was already about 12:15 pm when we called up. We were told to come before 2:00 pm so we rushed to the place and were again pleased that a table for two was waiting for us inside (we were supposed to be seated in the open-air terrace section because of our late booking and the high number of walk-in guests–it was ok with us but  thought it might get too humid on a lunch hour). Anyway, before I proceed with this post, let me remind you that I am not a food critic by profession although  I do try my best to educate myself when it comes to food. ;) Of course, being a food-lover, traveler, and then married to an aspiring chef gives me some confidence when discussing food and restaurants.  I definitely know when a food is good or bad.  I have professional experience, too, in customer service, so  I am a sucker for good service. For this simple restaurant review, I also relied on the Association of Food Journalists’ (AFJ) Guidelines  for Food Critics found at http://www.afjonline.com/afj.aspx?pgID=887.  I will also use the ratings, which they often recommend or use.

It looks so homey that you can imagine finding a family living upstairs.

Upon entering the place, I was immediately pleased with the atmosphere, ambiance, interior design, lighting, and over-all look. It looked like an ancestral Pinoy home converted to a modern-yet-traditional-restaurant. I would just recommend that they go easy on the tightly-arranged tables because the place looks so crowded (and almost suffocating) on a busy day. They can probably address this by doing two batches of lunch (or dinner) buffet, or giving more room (and breathing space!) to the diners on the second floor (if indeed they are using the second floor). This way, the diners will still feel some kind of privacy, without worrying that the people beside their table can overhear everything they are discussing. The noise can become so bothersome also particularly if you are one of those people who prefer some semblance of quiet and peace when dining out. Of course, the noise cannot be avoided in buffet restaurants but, still, a careful planning can address the noise and the tightly-packed crowds on weekends/holidays.

Appetizers galore: Karnevorous Pizza, Pork Sisig Baskets, and Lumpia Cones.

Now, let’s get down to business and discuss the food! :) For appetizers, the restaurant certainly did not scrimp. They offered so many options that we had to stop ourselves from trying out everything or we won’t make it to the main course. We had Lumpia Cones, Karnevorous Pizza, and Pork Sisig Baskets for starters. We enjoyed the Karnevorous Pizza and it can easily become one of our favorite dishes there.  We won’t recommend the Lumpia Cones though.  We have certainly tasted better versions of the dish. JR is also good (excellent?!) with Lumpia dishes that I should probably ask Chef Laudico to hire him as his Lumpia master. (wink!)

Truly a Pinoy Salad (with fish bagoong as dressing!). Also in photo are the Tuna Kilawin Spoon and Shrimp Maki.

Next stop: Salad Bar.  I decided to become adventurous and try the bagoong fish sauce as dressing for the Pinoy Salad.  I have never eaten a salad with bagoong as a dressing but this seems to be perfect for the lettuce, green mango, carrots, radish, and steamed okra and eggplant.  I also took Tuna Kilawin Spoons and a piece of Shrimp Maki. Perfect, I said to myself and then took some photos of my plate before devouring my new finds. My verdict? The Pinoy Salad is a nice approach so  I should give credit to Chef Laudico for reminding us again that a nutritious meal of mostly uncooked and steamed vegetables need no longer be that boring. For future diners, just go easy on the fish bagoong so the salty taste won’t be too overpowering. Tuna Kilawin Spoon is ok although  I somehow got confused with the name. It looked and tasted like Tuna Sashimi so I somehow missed the “Kilawin” part (or is it just me?).  I know that Kilawin means the food had been cooked in vinegar and of course, in bits of pepper, salt, onion, ginger, and spices. This Tuna Kilawin certainly did not taste like it was cooked in vinegar so maybe they have a new twist or approach to it. :)

Adobo Rice, Steamed Fish Fillet, and Grilled Vegetables with Pesto and Cheese.

Just so I can eat more variants of the main dishes,  I decided to go easy on the servings. I took two or three spoons of the Adobo Rice, a piece of Steamed Fish Fillet, and a scoop of Grilled Vegetables with Pesto and Cheese. The latter two are run-away winners! The Steamed Fish Fillet is probably the best dish in the whole main dishes’ table. It is cooked to the right texture and the flavors beautifully burst in your mouth. Fish at its best! The Grilled Vegetables with Pesto and Cheese is also cooked perfectly and goes well with the fish dish. As for the Adobo Rice, the restaurant should certainly review their recipe–the rice dish was bland and did not give justice to its name.

Longganara, Tuyonesca, and Fried Chicken in Mango Curry sauce

Still savoring the memories of the fish and vegetables dishes in my mouth,  I then went to the main dishes’ counter again and decided to try two pasta dishes, Longganara and Tuyonesca, and Fried Chicken in Mango Curry Sauce. The Fried Chicken dish is quite good (although a little salty) but the two pasta dishes were certainly big disappointments. Their names are actually interesting but sadly, they don’t deliver. Again, their kitchen team may want to review the recipes and do some more experimentation. After all, the perfect dishes don’t come easy and are mostly learned over time.

We were curious about their Angus Beef so we also tried a small portion. It was nothing spectacular but the sauce that goes with it is good enough. JR was also not impressed with the Balamban Liempo (after all, he hails from Balamban, Cebu, and knows how the real Balamban Liempo tastes like) so this one can be missed, too. Just reserve your tummy’s spaces for the other offerings. :)

Pound Cup Cake, Tablea Chocolate, and Seasonal Fruits for dessert.

Of course, a good meal should always have a happy ending, right? Well, we were in for a little more disappointment because there was no more Suman Panacotta in the dessert counter. Darn, we just saw something like it on Junior Master Chef last night and were salivating for it. :) Nevertheless, there’s a lesson to be learned–book early if you want to catch, I assume, the restaurant’s signature dessert dish. Anyway, my attention was grabbed by the Tablea Chocolate Fountain so  decided to make my own experiment at plating. I always told JR that he should hire me as his plating consultant when he is already a Chef. Look here -  I made a “snowy mountain” of watermelon, pineapple, and dripping chocolate. The sweet chocolate certainly made the very sour pineapple edible enough. :) The chocolate was supposed to go with a specific kind of bread/cookie but I could no longer find any cake that can go with it so  tried it with the fruits. The Pound Cup Cake is ok but again, it was nothing spectacular. The kitchen team may also want to improve their desserts.

JR did not complain on the bill so he must be satisfied enough. :)

It was definitely an enjoyable lunch and service is great (one of the waiters was thoughtful enough to offer to take our pictures). The price is reasonable, too. For P488/person on a weekend buffet, this place gives good value for money. I admire the owners because this seems like an uncharted path: establishing a restaurant in a predominantly residential area. Although it is quite near Timog and Morato areas, still, it takes courage to set up a restaurant business in an area where diners do not really frequent. But there goes the beauty and charm of Casa Filipino: it is proud of its beginnings and does not wish to conform. It dances to its own beat.

Over-all,  I give the restaurant a TWO STAR-rating, which, in the AFJ Guidelines, refer to: (Good) Solid places that beckon with generally appealing cooking. It can easily climb up the ladder if only more attention can be given to the quality and taste of the food. And  I am pretty sure Chef Laudico and his team will rise up to the challenge. After all, it is a fairly new establishment and diners would normally give such places second and even third chances. Count on me and JR to dine there again.

Kudos and many best wishes! (For more photos, please scroll down.)

*****

Ratings as provided/recommended by the AFJ.

  • FOUR STARS: (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-a-kind, world-class experience.
  • THREE STARS: (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-quality menus frequently accompanied by exciting environs and/or savvy service.
  • TWO STARS: (Good) Solid places that beckon with generally appealing cooking.
  • ONE STAR: (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing back to. But, it might have something worth recommending: A view, a single dish, friendly service, lively scene.
  • NO STAR: (Poor) Below-average restaurants.

*****

CONTACTS:

CASA FILIPINO | Scout Torillo corner Scout Fernandez, Barangay Sacred Heart, Quezon City | Tel. No. 921-1850

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This is not a paid blog.

The restaurant gave enough attention to the interior design. Everything complements each other.

Yes, there is a signage inside the restaurant but it actually did not look out of place. It also has functional purpose; water cascades down the glass panel, giving the place a more relaxing atmosphere.

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Sandra Torrijos gives us her arts once again (view her works at the German Club)

(Please visit the German Club and view the works of Ms. Sandra Torrijos, a feminist-artist and a Pinay expat who is based in Germany for half of the year. I promised to blog about her show but I was not able to bring a camera when I went there so I had decided to wait. Meanwhile, I have upcoming travels so I think it is better to simply repost my February 20, 2010 blog in the old site so I can share with you some musings about arts and friendships, two things where Sandra is very good at. Please scroll below for the address of the German Club. The show ends on December 2 so please drop by soon!)

When I see works of arts, I feel divinity.  Creative works emerge from the depth and mystery of the human mind (and soul), which are anchored in the divine. We are all connected to this source of light, the very core of our existence, and it is only through this light that we can create lasting masterpieces of arts. To create is to reach for the divine inside.

“Awit” by Sandra Torrijos (2011). One of her paintings shown in the exhibit titled, “EDSA: ano ngayon?”, a commemoration of the 25th Anniversary of EDSA Revolution. (Photo credits: Jinky Joan Jorgio)

Arts, for others, is an expression of the soul. For some, it provides a link among diverse communities and different generations. For others, it is a continuing journey.

I cannot remember how my love affair with the arts began. As far as I can recall, I was not even in school yet when I started drawing stick figures and flowers, mountains and houses, the sun and the moon. I guess it was my Tito Buboy (Harven), Dad’s youngest brother who inspired me. He was a very good artist. He can sketch a person’s face with very close resemblance. He can paint beautiful landscapes in just a couple of hours. And so I tried to emulate this great artist. In my young mind, I had imagined that I can someday be like him. When he passed on, I grieved because I lost a very funny and kind uncle. I grieved, too, because I lost my first arts mentor.

“Pagkalinga” by Sandra Torrijos (2011), another painting now on exhibit at the “EDSA: ano ngayon”? (Photo credits: Jinky Joan Jorgio)

In the next ten years of my life, I sketched and painted. I knew I was somehow good at it because I even won drawing contests back when I was in grade school. However, the ‘busy-ness’ of life eventually caught up with me and I realized, one day, that all my pastel sticks, acrylic oils, and watercolors have either expired or dried up  without even being used. And then I entered college and even became busier. I did not try to draw again nor found the time for it. One day, as I passed by a gallery inside a mall, I began regretting that I did not continue the “passion.” I thought I had somehow lost “it”, lost a part of my childhood.

In 2003, I mustered enough courage to paint again. I decided to enroll in a painting workshop under the renowned feminist artist, Sandra Torrijos, with my close friend, Mar-vic (Cagurangan-Palmertree), and this decision started another journey into the arts. Sandra said it is not possible to lose “it”. It is always there, inside of us. We just have to look for it again, summon it to come alive again. And she was right. Before long, I was again holding pencils, colors, and acrylic oil, happy to be reunited with that part of myself that somehow “slept” for a while. Strangely, I lost many of my works. I had been moving around a lot the past 10 years of my life. Perhaps, they got lost while I moved apartments and traveled…perhaps they simply disappeared?

“Lagas” by Sandra Torrijos (2011), was also part of the exhibit, “EDSA: ano ngayon?” (Photo credits: Jinky Joan Jorgio)

Just like many things that we somehow forget or lose track of, some of my works eventually faded away. Is it time to create again?
Last week, Mar-vic (who, incidentally, has taken up painting more seriously the past years) and I had a much-longed-for reunion with our mentor and inspiration, Sandra. Mar-vic is based in Guam these days while Sandra is now a resident of Germany so it was actually serendipitous that both are here in the Philippines at the same time. It was a beautiful evening of kumustahan, conversations, musings, and reflections.  “How old have we become!”, we amusingly remarked as we sipped our ice-cold beers, discussing our lives, choices, politics, men, travels, and food (not necessarily in that order). Indeed, it had been seven years since we last saw her.

However, the seven years apart somehow did not matter. We talked as if it was just yesterday when we had the art classes and conversations with her. I felt so much at home. Perhaps, such is another testimony to the beauty of the arts. It draws people together in mysterious ways, as if sharing a pact, so that distance and time apart do not matter anymore. It is as if a silent bond was forged, beyond what can be fully understood.

And so, that evening, I promised myself to continue retracing my path.

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Sandra Torrijos: Pinay in Duesseldorf

A One-Woman Show

German Club Manila
Opening Night: Nov. 10, 6:30pm
Penthouse of Eurovilla II Bldg.
118 V.A. Rufino St. Legaspi Village, Mkti.
Exhibit runs until Dec. 2, 2011
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Here are some of my old sketches. :)

Mountains and a fence. One of my old sketches (2002), drawn from a picture in in a practice book on drawing.

A stone bridge. One of my old sketches (2002), based on a picture from a practice book on drawing.

Rivers. One of my old sketches (2002), drawn from a picture in a practice book on drawing.

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

A Black Rose blooms in Tagaytay

[UPDATE (26-March-2014): The shop is no longer in Tagaytay. Please scroll down for the new location.]

Let me tell you a story. Her beauty has struck me as feisty and enigmatic. Back in my first or second year in college, when I didn’t know if I’d adjust well to the liberal (almost radical?) style of UP education, I found a new friend seated in one corner of our UPSCA* tambayan, happily puffing away at her cigarette (don’t worry, she has, fortunately, given up on that habit a long time ago). ;)

The Black Rose Shop opens in Tagaytay! (Photo credits: mostbeautifulflower.com)

In what I would probably describe as a fateful event, our deep friendship began. There were no formal introductions. It was as if we have been friends for the longest time already. I have somehow forgotten that we do not come from the same batch (I will not divulge our ages…wink!) because she did not make me feel so juvenile with my remarks. In my young mind back then, she was the epitome of an accomplished woman–finishing her UP education while already building (and managing!) a family with two young daughters. How did she survive the exams, term papers, habla espanol, late-night outs, UPSCA activities, etc. while boldly and happily carrying her role as a wife and mother is beyond me.

And now this woman, called as a “Black Rose” in her elementary (or high school?) school days by one of her teachers, opens a quaint and cozy shop in Tagaytay.** JR and I were among those invited in the shop’s opening last October 30. It was a particularly busy weekend for me and JR because we were then printing our course modules (we are both back in school–he in his culinary studies, me in my MBA Renewables coursework) but we felt we wouldn’t want to miss this for anything in this world!

Grab these 5-year Planners at the Black Rose (but call first because they disappear from the shelves so fast! Photo taken through HTC Tattoo.)

What does the Black Rose sell? For one, the shop sells beautiful notebooks and planners, books, bags, scarves and shawls, costume jewelries, school supplies, home and kitchen accessories (they have beautiful spoon and fork sets embellished with stones!), spices, and other art pieces. It is actually a one-stop-shop for those looking for gifts to their loved ones. I particularly liked a planner because it is handy enough and good for five years! What I really do not like about those being sold in bookstores is that you need to throw them away just after one year of use.  The one that I got from the shop has no date entries so you can begin the planner at any time of the year and when I counted the (generic) calendar pages, they’d be good for 5 years! So the planner can be your handy companion in the long haul. I missed the first one that I liked so I ended up buying the ‘Paris, France’ version with a photo of Moulin Rouge on the cover. (Yes, someone else snatched the first one I liked in just a matter of minutes so dear readers, if you saw something that you liked at the Black Rose, get it right away as another person will surely want it in the next hour or so!) Here is a photo of my planner. :) I liked it, too, even if it was just my second choice because I consider it serendipitous that it has a picture of an old wind mill! Remember, I have just began my coursework in renewable energies. (Wink!)

A nice pink bag with old world charms. (Photo taken through HTC Tattoo.)

The other find that I was not able to resist (the hubby certainly did not complain because it was a 2nd-hand item and did not cost him our weekly allowance, haha) is a nice pink-and-cream bag, with an old-fashioned look because of the way the straps were designed. See here? I think it is even big enough for a laptop. The bag is made of local materials, too, so it shouts, proudly Philippine-made.

There is another reason why you should also swing by Tagaytay. The Black Rose shop is located at the lower ground floor of the unit occupied by Papa Prito (yes, it’s quite an interesting name!), the newest food joint in Tagaytay, where you can find the best fried dishes that go with the Pinoys’ favorite staple, sinangag (fried rice). Hubby and I did not eat there because we were still full when we left Tagaytay so we decided to order take-out. It turned out to be a good decision because we enjoyed the tapa (Taal-style) with sinangag immensely. It was marinated in their own secret sauces and fried in just the right texture (not rubbery!). You can enjoy it through their sinangag-to-sawa meals, at only P95.00. In the menu are offerings with interesting names such as Wow Sabaw, Papalicious, Arroz Tuyo, Kalibre 45 meals, and other all-time favorites like pancit, liempo, sisig, and goto. And don’t forget, with the very reasonable prices, you also get to enjoy the view of the world-famous Taal Volcano! The restaurant (and the shop) are fortunately situated by the Taal ridge, just by the rotunda (almost across Mang Inasal). For those who have to keep a budget while enjoying a Tagaytay weekend, this is certainly a good option: you enjoy the perfect view of the volcano and you get to satisfy your gustatory cravings, too. ;)

Enjoying the goodies and ambience of The Black Rose shop (Photo credits: Homer Verayo)

The Tagaytay landscape is certainly evolving through the years. New surprises happen every day and this time, it has embraced a Black Rose warmly, mesmerized by its enigmatic beauty. Visit the Black Rose shop and be equally smitten!

 

*UP Student Catholic Action.

**UPDATE (26/Mar/2014): The Black Rose has recently joined the Evia Trunk Sale in Daang Hari, Las Pinas. See her there on Saturdays and Sundays, from 4:00 to 10:00 pm. Cp # +63 920 9209628.

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Religion and beauty pageants: Why our Shamcey did not win the title

This is my first time to write about beauty pageants. I have nothing against this type of competition but I also think that the pageants can be a lot wiser and more gender-sensitive if the contestants are not required to wear skimpy bikinis. After all, women are beautiful creatures (and even men, for that matter) and they do not have to reveal too much skin to prove that. :)

Shamcey: Truly an honor to this country. (Photo credits: Binibining Pilipinas website)

However, I will not dwell on this sensitive issue because that is not really the reason for this post. Let me share my two-cents’ worth on why I think our Ms. Shamcey Supsup did  not covet the Ms. Universe 2011 title. Let this be clear though: I really liked her and have high hopes for her. In fact, I was already predicting that she will be Ms. Universe. My No. 2 choice was Ms. Angola, Leila Lopes (who was eventually crowned). However, I started to have some doubts when Shamcey began responding to the question during the final round. The question for her went something like this,  “If you were asked to change your religion first before getting married, would you agree?”

On an intellectual point of view, her answer was a very intelligent and clear one. She explained that she will not do that because her God, being her Creator, is her priority, and if her boyfriend loves her enough, he should also love her God. Biases aside, I think her answer was the best among the five finalists’. The others’ responses were either too ‘generic’ or ‘played safe.’

However, if we will scrutinize closely (and I think many of the judges did this), her answer–without intending to–may have sounded like it was bordering on being discriminatory vis-a-vis religious freedom. (Again, Shamcey may have not intended to make it sound that way… we won’t know for sure and we have no right to judge her.) On the philosophical (or even spiritual) point of view, it sounded like her religion (I suppose that she is a Catholic or Christian believer although that is not even important in this discourse) is a “better” religion than the others’ (e.g., in the hypothetical question, her boyfriend’s) or that her God is better than the God of others (or her boyfriend’s). It may be quite disconcerting to many people. She did not really say it outright but the message that got through was clear enough. She–again, without intending to–sort of debased other people’s religion. I would choose to assume that she was simply nervous to choose the right words. (Who wouldn’t be, anyway, in a moment like that?) We are not in the position to judge her or anyone, for that matter, but I think this question reminds us that we also have to be careful when affirming our faith, beliefs, or religion (although they are not the same concepts…but that is another long post so I will refrain from discussing this either).

We only have one God and He is not a discriminating God. No matter what our religions are, there is only one God. And your God, Shamcey’s God, and my God are the same. We call him in different names and we go to different churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples, but for sure, we all believe in the same God. There is only one God who is the source of the Truth. [As we think about this, we also need to remember that some people do not believe in "God" or the presence of divinity or  deities so we also have to accept and embrace this reality as a part of a very diverse world and no matter what a person believes or holds on to, it should not deter us from treating him as an equal.]

Anyway, you may find it interesting that I am of different Church from my other immediate family members’ congregations. Nevertheless, I find the same peace and comfort even if I attend services inside another Church/congregation. A few months ago, I joined my Mom in attending Saturday services in another congregation. It was a beautiful service not only because the speakers and pastors were great leaders but also because it gave me a quiet time to pray with my Mom. I enjoyed it not because the “Church” is different or better or anything like that but because wherever I may pray, I know that God is just there. I can pray under the rains or on top of a mountain or inside an MRT coach because I know that God is listening.

To be fair, I genuinely believe that Shamcey did not intend to belittle other people’s faith. The sheer tension of the moment will definitely make anyone nervous. I think that if she was given another minute to think about it (which, of course, does not happen in the final moments), she would have come up with a very carefully-worded, well thought-out, and less discriminatory-sounding response.

However, when all the pageant’s noises have gone down, a profound moment may find Shamcey thinking and she may look back on her reply. For example, what if her boyfriend is non-Catholic/Christian or of different religion from her? He may feel some discomfort also. It is not really about the fact that he will make her choose (I think genuinely sensible and well-grounded men will not make their girlfriends choose between them and their girlfriends’ religions) but more really on the fact that actually, there should be no “contest” on whose religion is better (e.g., so it will be the “winning” religion, the religion that the marrying couple should choose as their “unity” religion). Because between two persons who are truly in love and united by a common God–the  One God–there is really no contest. Sometimes “religion” muddles up the whole equation. Actually, at the end of the day, for a couple who has a very strong foundation and whose relationship is not confused by religious ideologies, faith is clear enough. God is clear enough.  

No matter what our faiths or religions are, we are all the same in the eyes of God. He does not teach us to love and respect only those who belong to our Congregation or religion. He teaches us to love and respect one another. He does not care in what name will we call him. He only wants us to do what is right and follow our inner compass because in our core lies our true connection with Him.

If we will also look at it from the “universal” point of view–after all, the pageant is called, “Ms. Universe”–her response can also be misconstrued as an attack against the concept of ‘universalism’. Or even the philosophical underpinnings of “universal human rights”, which clearly state that we should not discriminate against anyone on the basis of gender, color, or religion. Her reply, without meaning to offend or hurt anyone, may have raised some eyebrows simply because it somehow compared her hypothetical boyfriend’s religion and her religion. Her answer seems to oppose the very core principles of ‘universalism’ and the context of “Ms. Universe” as ambassador of global peace. A “Ms. Universe” is expected to epitomize the values of open-mindedness, of embracing other cultures and religions, and her answer clearly showed where she stands amid a world where conflicts, wars, or terrorist attacks happen because of religious differences or in some cases, fanaticism.  But again, it is a tough competition–the final moments even tougher–and not everyone can land in the Top Five.

Ms. Angola brings beauty pageants a notch higher. Congratulations! (Photo credits: Telemundo.com)

So to Ms. Shamcey–thank you for doing your best. We are proud of you! The whole country honors you for going that far in the competition. You may have not won the title but to our hearts, you are already a winner.

And to Ms. Lopes, congratulations and best wishes! I am sure that great things are in store for you. May your reign bring you to new levels of personal and spiritual awareness. God bless you and Angola!

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Engawa and suikinkutsu and my fascination with Japanese architecture

(Re-post of a January 10, 2011 blog in my old site)

The word engawa led me to the blog of Mr. Ken Mori, Pursuing Wabi. It was on a typical work-at-home day when I was working on a client’s paper about Japanese architecture. I looked for posts about it and was glad to discover that it is actually that part of a typical Japanese house, the part that I liked most (I used ‘that’ here because I have always liked it but did not even know how is it really called. Forgive my ignorance!). It is also similar to what we call papag or balkonahein the typical Filipino huts or cottages particularly those in the provinces.

An engawa in a typical Japanese house. (Photo credit: Travel-around-japan.com)

Anyway, as Mr. Mori described it, “an engawa is a narrow space that serves as a transition space between the indoors and outdoors.” The photo on the right is a typical engawa. (With special thanks to the Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System.)

The JAANUS site also shared the following notes about engawa: “Also written 掾側. The area beside or surrounding the straw matted tatami 畳, floor of a room or veranda in Japanese dwellings. Formerly, en 縁 and engawa were interchangeable terms, but engawa now usually refers to a veranda that is either partly inside the building with sliding doors protecting it from rain, or a completely exposed veranda.”

I feel blessed that Mr. Mori was so kind to allow me to repost the photos of his house (Thank you so much, Mr. Ken!). His blog is quite an interesting read because it shares his and his wife’s journey as they built their house in California (Japanese-inspired, of course). I suppose that Mr. Mori is from Japan with Japanese lineage and it is always nice to hear stories about one embracing his roots in every facet of his life, including the design of his dream house! JR and I also have dreams of building our own home and we will definitely incorporate the principles of Japanese architecture and eco-design. Engawa and suikinkutsu (this is described below) will definitely be two of the best features of this future house!

A suikinkutsu in Kyoto, Japan. (Photo credit: Kyoto.asanoxn.com)

Suikinkutsu is a beautiful proof of God’s magic and man’s ingenuity. Literally translated, “water harp chamber,” it is an underground water-based musical instrument that is typically constructed in Japanese-inspired gardens and even places of worship. It was not originally intended for gardens  but more for religious occasions and rituals (e.g., washing of hands before a Japanese tea ceremony) but because of the beautiful and unique sounds that it creates, many home owners and builders have been inspired to incorporate it in their landscaping. So you can better understand it, here is a photo of a typical suikinkutsu (photo courtesy of Oddstruments.com).

The suikinkutsu’s magical sound is created by the play up of the water and the structure itself.  Here is a diagram of the system so that you can further appreciate its structure and beauty (deepest thanks to jgarden.org for this photo):

Suikinkutsu’s structure itself is amazing! (Photo credits: Jgarden.com)

If you want to have an idea on how beautiful the sound is, here is a brief sample from the Suikinkutsu in Enkohji-Temple, Rakuhoku Kyoto, Japan, shared in YouTube by “hide564″. Isn’t it beautiful and relaxing?

I will now stop rambling and let you enjoy the photos of Mr. Mori’s beautiful house. I will post the photos in my best attempt at chronological order (i.e., from the early to the last phases of the construction) but I hope Mr. Mori will forgive me if some photos will not appear in their proper order. Take note of the beautiful pond by the engawa and the “burned” wood facade of the fence surrounding the structure. I also liked it because of the ‘movable’ walls, which allow them open-air ambience when the weather is good. For the nice stories behind the photos, I invite you all to drop by Mr. Mori’s blogsite. (Update: He also recently uploaded a video clip of his house! You can view it a http://blip.tv/dwell/the-wabi-house-5435862t)

Enjoy the photos then! Happy 2011! May this year bring many inspiration-filled moments, opportunities for growth, amazing travels, new friends, love and hugs, and material and spiritual abundance!

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

Photo credits: Ken Mori

I guess this is the most important part of the house: the best views of the night skies! (Photo credits: Ken Mori)

Thank you once again, Mr. Mori! For more info and insights on Japanese and eco-design architecture and farming systems, here is another interesting site called, Earth Embassy: Sustainable Living Solutions. I want to write another blog related to one of their services, the building of energy-independent homes, which involves the setting up of wind and solar power systems! I have always been a proponent of renewable energies and hubby and I intend to build an eco-home and farm someday.

Anyway, another interesting and beautiful house that is inspired by Japanese architecture is found at ColourlessDesign.com (view the Shimogamo House and become fascinated as well!)

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin