Category Archives: Entrepreneurship & Product/Service Reviews

Wellness: Pinoy Style

Wellness has certainly become more than a buzzword. It has become the “ultimate” state of mind-body-spirit that many are aspiring for. Health no longer stands on its own. Many people have learned to embrace that health should be accompanied by wellness.

What is it really? There is no exact definition yet but for the sake of discussion, we will borrow the definition of Charles B. Corbin of the Arizona State University, who stated that, “Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.” (Source: definitionofwellness.com).

Doc Jimmy: His passion for wellness and his faith in our natural ability to heal make him an extraordinary doctor. Photo shows him during the launch of his book, “Medicinal Fruits & Vegetables” (co-written with his wife, Ms. Becky Galvez Tan). Photo credits: PinoyWeeklyOnline

Our very own Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, the former Secretary of Health, and a community and clinical practitioner of natural healing and integrative medicine is among the new breed of doctors and healers who have been passionately advocating holistic wellness. JR and I were happy to attend his talk last July 1 titled, “Wellness, Happiness, and Prosperity.” He once again emphasized that wellness encompasses several dimensions–physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, environmental, and occupational–practically every aspect of our life itself.  That is why it is very important to follow an integrative approach when it comes to our health and well-being. Neglect one aspect and you will ultimately feel the impact on the other. Even without any background on yoga or other Eastern principles, many of you already know that a happy and positive disposition in life almost always leads to good health.

Easier said than done, one might say. True. We are living in a highly stressful and toxic environments. Metro Manilans, for instance, deal with horrendous traffic, polluted air, and varying degrees of stress on a daily basis. How can we expect to live a life of balance and wellness when we cannot even escape the pollution in the air and the difficulties of our lives as urbanites? The answers will never ever be simple.

However, there are things that we can still control. For instance, we can choose to eat the right kinds of food, sleep 8 hours a day, drink plenty of water–Doc Jimmy recommends 10 glasses of water as we live in a tropical country–and do regular physical activities like walking and jogging. The sleeping, drinking, and exercising part should be pretty straightforward. The eating part becomes challenging particularly for busy urbanites who often do not have time to cook or prepare nutritious food. Another concern is the cost of food these days–many of us cannot afford following the food pyramid concept religiously because of the lack of income.

A banana a day helps keep the doctor away: Packed with iron, potassium, Vit. B, and fiber. (Photo credit: ExportHub.com)

That may be true in some ways but let us not forget that we are very fortunate because there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables around us and most of them do not really cost much. We also take it for granted that many of our “nature’s gifts” are packed with the nutrients that our bodies need for maintenance and the prevention of many sicknesses. For instance, the banana–available the whole year–is rich in iron, potassium, Vitamins A and B, fiber, and other nutrients that are good for the blood, memory, digestion, and the heart. (For more info on how nutritious this fruit is, visit The Natural Shelf.)

Even many of our Pinoy berries (e.g., aratiles, bignay, lipote, and duhat) are found to be high in antioxidants and important nutrients and are, therefore, health-givers and natural healers. But how can we access and eat all those fruits and vegetables if they are not always available the whole year or we do not even have the time to cook a decent breakfast before rushing off to work? The Natural Shelf rushes to the rescue.

Berrywell: It can “very well” be one of the best approaches in our search for wellnes. (Photo credits: The Natural Shelf).

The Natural Shelf, an innovative wellness company set up by Riva Galvez Tan (Doc Jimmy’s daughter) and her friends, promotes the health-giving properties and benefits of natural health products and positive and active lifestyle. It is soon introducing a new product line called berrywell, which are natural food supplements derived from Philippine berries, fruits and vegetables. With these supplements, you need not worry anymore about getting the daily nutrients that you need. Of course, the actual fruits and vegetables (preferably uncooked) are still the best source of nutrients but these supplements are perfect alternatives particularly for busy individuals and those with specific health needs. The berrywell line will be enjoyed in six variants: (1) Cleanse and Boost (cleanses the body by flushing out toxins obtained from the regular intake of unhealthy food, excessive alcohol, and exposure to pollution); (2)  Protect  (strengthens immune system and enhances overall well-being thereby decreasing the risks of infection; (3) Prevent (prevents cancer and kidney damage, rejuvenates liver cells, helps lower cholesterol levels, and relieves gastric pains and inflammation in the skin and muscles; (4) Restore (enhances memory and restores youthful glow); (5) Relax (relieves stress, promotes relaxation, and increases energy); and (6) Reduce (lowers blood glucose levels and helps in reducing weight).

The berrywell line is certainly a longed-for breakthrough. While our market is already flooded with many options for food supplements, it is very rare that we can enjoy an all-natural variant which is made of solely Philippine fruits and vegetables and completely meets (or almost completely meets) our daily nutritional requirements. I, for one, regularly takes malunggay (Moringa oleifera) supplements but I have been waiting for a Pinoy product that can incorporate many more fruits and vegetables in one or few variants. By the way, the berrywell line will be introduced in the market this August 2011 so you already have enough time to start saving for it!

Before I end this post, let me also share some more of Doc Jimmy’s talk, where he recommended 12 Steps Towards Wellness. I cannot adequately cover all the steps in this post but his “prescription” can be easily remembered because he has formulated an acronym for the 12 steps: BE PROSPEROUS. I have tried my best to summarize the 12 steps below:

B – BOOST your immunity.

E – Take the time to REFLECT each day.

P – PREVENT illnesses by  eating nutritious food.

R- RELAX and engage in yoga, tai-chi, etc. and listen to good music.

O – RESTORE your youth and beauty by using natural and home remedies.

S – CLEANSE your body by avoiding smoking and excessive drinking.

P – PROTECT yourself from illnesses by getting vaccination.

E- EXERCISE everyday or every other day.

R – AFFIRM that you are a happy and beautiful person.

O – RECONNECT with friends and families.

U – REDUCE and manage weight/BMI and blood sugar.

S – SHARE your blessings.

For the complete version of The 12 Steps, you may contact The Natural Shelf for a copy of Doc Jimmy’s lectures. The Natural Shelf has also produced health and wellness tips and they are already available in YouTube. Here is a video on How to Prepare Healthy Pinoy Salads featuring Doc Jimmy and Riva.

What are you waiting for? Pursue wellness, Pinoy style!

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This is not a paid blog.

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

MBA Renewables: A much-awaited online degree program!

Yes, you are reading it correctly! I am happy to find out that a university in Berlin, Germany, is now offering an online graduate program with focus on renewable energy. I have been waiting for this for the longest time now!

MBA Renewables: A much-awaited degree program!

The course is called Master in Business Administration (MBA) Renewables, and is offered by the Institute for Distance Learning of the Beuth University of Applied Sciences Berlin (BUASB) in cooperation with the university’s Department of Business Administration and Social Sciences and the Renewables Academy AG (RENAC). The first run of the program will begin in October 2011. The course is spread over five terms (semesters) or 30 months. What makes this program unique is that it is the first-ever and only distance learning (online) MBA program with focus on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

This is very ideal for working professionals who have limited flexibility in terms of time and mobility. The Beuth University and RENAC are also known for their cutting-edge approaches in training environmental and energy students and professionals.

Personally, I preferred enrolling again in my alma mater, the University of the Philippines. In fact, I have already been admitted to the UP Open University’s Master in Environmental and Natural Resources Management (MENRM). However, I was recently told–with all due respect, albeit the one year of waiting for a reply–that it takes a long time to develop and then approve a new track (I requested for a customized track on climate change and renewable energy). The UPOU’s MENRM is still a good option for those wanting to concentrate in coastal and upland resources management but MBA Renewables may be a better program for those who are really keen on and passionate about more environmentally-friendly energy sourcing. It may also be another course offering that UPOU may want to consider in the future particularly that the Berlin program–while comprehensive and timely–may be considered quite expensive by students from countries such as the Philippines.

My interest in renewable energy is deeply-rooted because I have grown up vacationing in Aurora (my Mom’s hometown) where many barangays were not yet connected to the electricity grid back when I was still in high school and college. While many barangays there now are electrified, many lands/farms are still far from the main grid. More importantly, I have always believed that the renewable path is the way to go!

We already know that the over-dependence on fossil fuels is the main culprit for greenhouse gases emissions in the atmosphere. For centuries now, economies are greatly-dependent on fossil fuels and related sources. Just in the year 2001, the world depended on oil and coal for roughly 58.4% of its energy requirements while only 13.5% were sourced from renewable energies.

Just in our own backyard, we have experienced a very destructive flood brought by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) last 2009. More than 1.8 million people were said to be affected. The damage to crops and properties was pegged at more than 5 billion pesos (roughly 107 million US dollars). Obviously, the issue on climate change has to be addressed more seriously. Greater and more destructive floods can happen in the near future.

As such, countries should focus more on climate-related solutions such as carbon management and more use of renewable energy. Environmental and social development professionals should continuously pass on the word and nurture future leaders.  They should also be actively engaged in advocacy and policy work for a more serious shift on energy sourcing.

The Bangui Wind Mills in Ilocos Norte, Philippines. I attended the groundbreaking ceremony for this project! (Photo credits: philippinebeaches.org)

In the Philippines, we have already enacted the Republic Act 9513 or An Act Promoting the Development, Utilization, and Commercialization of Renewable Energy Sources and for Other Purposes–but we need to do more in improving the markets. The role of the market cannot be over-emphasized. Issues such as on trading, financing and investments, transmission and grid connections, market regulatory policies, and pricing should be resolved, and soon.

Education and training programs like MBA Renewables is a step in the right direction.

Kudos and many thanks to those who developed the Program! Special thanks also goes to Ms. Silja Kroesche, Program Coordinator, for her patience in answering my emails! 

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This is not a paid blog.

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

Silang’s Little Secret: Abundant Cafe

(Repost of my Sept. 11, 2010 blog in meilbox.asyanna.com)

My UP friends (Rory and Jinky), hubby, and I went on a quick trip to Tagaytay yesterday and we were gifted once again with a fun-filled and beautiful day. Tagaytay is one of my favorite places in the whole world and the quick trip yesterday sealed my resolve to own a place there someday (may God give us the abundance to make that dream house happen!).

And speaking of “abundance,” Rory led us to an added treat by bringing us to Abundant Cafe in Silang, Cavite.

A view of the (eternally) open door to one of the huts where glorious food and drinks are served.

It was the first time for me, hubby, and Jinky to visit the place so we even if we were still full from the hearty lunch we had at Leslie’s by the Ridge, we heartily gobbled up the dessert which Rory recommended. It is the traditional palitaw but it was served with a cute red flower on top and other garnishing that I really thought it was not thepalitaw that I used to enjoy in my childhood days! Here are some snapshots so you can imagine how yummy it really is…

Yes, this is our traditional palitaw with a “twist.” And yes, the flower on top is edible!

I also liked the net-like cloth that the Cafe uses to cover the glasses.

See the pretty glass covers that protect your drinks from bugs!

The Cafe is also selling native/ethnic bags, pillows, canopies, mats, curtains, and those trinkets (of shells and stones) that you can see in the photos here. It was really tempting to buy all those trinkets…well, actually, I bought 3 pieces and now they are hanging already from the top threshold of our bedroom door (courtesy of dear hubby).

The lovely stringed trinkets made of shells and stones.

The trinkets you see on the photo below are almost the same with the ones I bought. They are also used as hanging decors and they complemented the ethnic and cozy look of the cafe. By the way, the walls of the cafe’s huts are made, not of woods or concrete, but of net-like cloths! So the breeze from outside provides a natural ventilation. Hmm, this ‘green’ design is something we all can learn from particularly if you want to have small “siesta” huts in your gardens.

I also liked the lampshade mostly made of capiz shells. And look at the way they made the hut cooler by putting more net-like cloth beneath the ceiling.

We were also served piping hot cups of chocolate drinks, the same one served by my dear Lola when I was still a young child. I fondly called her, “Nanay”, back when she was still alive and sometimes I still miss her.  Perhaps the afternoon with hubby and my good friends yesterday was also Nanay’s way of reminding me that she will always be around as long as there are still hot chocolate cups to be enjoyed.

Here, you can have a very relaxing cup of hot chocolate!

We ended our merienda with a drink of hot water infused with tarragon herbs. I did not even know that tarragon herbs can actually be used as a tea concoction! Thanks to the soul and creativity of the place and its owners, we left Tagaytay with more good feelings, grateful for the ‘abundance’ of this universe, the strong friendships that we have forged over the years, and the limitless joys that life always brings.

Have a good life!

Contacts:

Abundant Cafe and Handicrafts

220 Bypass Rd., Aguinaldo Hi-way, Tubuan II, Silang, Cavite, Philippines. Tels. 0918 431 6973/ 0928 364 0563 (Look for Ms. Cecil Guela Caño).

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Photos taken through my HTC PDA/Mobile Phone. This is not a paid blog.

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

In SM Baliwag, the sisig rocks! And you get free wi-fi, too!

I usually do not accept invites to bloggers’ events where you are somehow ‘obliged’ to write about specific products and services. The simple reason is that I do not want to compromise the integrity of this blog. If I want to write a about a restaurant, for example, I make sure that I will pay for my meal.  However, I sometimes (very very rarely, I must say) make an exception particularly if I know that the visit may help future buyers/consumers in their decision-making.

One such opportunity came when hubby and I were invited to  a bloggers event in SM Baliwag in line with the launch of the mall’s wi-fi access. I really wanted to turn down the invitation but I surmised that I also have to try wi-fi services in malls and more importantly, I really cannot say “no” to our good friend and former website administrator, Dave (who’s done a lot for building our site-in-progress, Asyanna.com). The two-hour trip to Baliwag was pleasant enough and provided me and hubby some quiet moments just looking at the clear blue skies and green rice fields of Bulacan. Upon arrival at the mall, we were welcomed with movie treats (JR and I opted for “Shrek Forever After, the Final Chapter”) that eventually led to a nice lunch feast.

I can say that a lunch that comprised of Pinoy Lugaw’s fresh lumpia, Chef Chow’s shabu-shabu, Baliwag’s Lechon Manok and Liempo, and Sisig Hooray’s pork sisig are well beyond my daily capacity for lunch (wink! wink!) but I really enjoyed the food for the most part.

The lechon manok and liempo are really impressive. Perhaps it goes to show I am really a die-hard ‘carnivorous’ in my previous life (I have been trying to veer away from meat the last couple of years) and as they say, old habits never die! But then who could resist these yummy treats, beckoning to you as if they are bottles of sweet sweet wine suddenly appearing in the horizon while you are sweating in the middle of a Saharan desert? You bet, I am not that disciplined yet!

I also enjoyed the shabu-shabu although my standards somehow are a notch higher after marrying a chef-in-progress. I dare say it needs a bit more of the taste that can only be produced from a dash of spices and herbs (instead of just salt and the pepper). However, over-all, it is already satisfying given that it is a fast food fare.

The fresh lumpia is also good but then again, I have also tasted better ones in the past. One thing I  would recommend to its ‘creator’ is to go easy on the sugar of the sauce. I think it was too sweet. Except for this downside, I will definitely still enjoy it especially if I just wanted a small meal the next time I visit SM Baliwag again.

What’s the winner for me? It is the dear “old” pork sisig! Mind you, I am not really a pork-lover. Nutritionists will probably cry in horror over this post but then again who says it is easy to say “no” to temptations? ;D I just LOVE Sisig Hooray’s Pork Sisig! They definitely deserve lots of “Hooray”!  I will certainly recommend it to SM mall-goers but I must also remind everyone to go easy on cholesterol intake. ;D After all, health is wealth!

This has been an enjoyable day. Food, wi-fi, the company of great people (and bloggers!), and an adoring husband who always makes sure I am happily fed…what more can I ask for?

This day definitely rocks! Thank you, SM Baliwag, Dave, and to all the sponsors!

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This is not a paid blog although the event is an sponsored one. This blogger does not normally attend bloggers events for the reasons cited above.

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

Finding a Partner in Bangko Kabayan

Now, here is a bank that truly ‘walks the talk.’

Hubby and I just opened our first (joint) bank account with Bangko Kabayan (BK), a multi-awarded and SME-friendly rural bank in Batangas province. Their brochures and website are not just for PR purposes – they indeed change lives and support the dreams of small entrepreneurs. Among their most recent awards is the “Most Outstanding Rural Bank in Calabarzon for 2008.”

We instantly know that this Bank has a ‘heart’ when we were personally and enthusiastically welcomed by the Bank Manager, himself, Mr. Rico Arcillas, and their Info and OFW Desk Officer/Product Development Officer, Ms. Gaye Gonzalvo. We came from Laguna (to attend dear friends’ wedding) and so, you can just imagine how tired and ‘shabby-looking’ we already were by the time we reached the bank. [I just hope we did not smell yet!] :) It was also beyond office hours already so that makes the gesture even more admirable and appreciated.

The Bank’s vision statement (pasted below) is definitely reflected in the way it does its services -

Enabled by the Divine Providence and generating His presence among us as a work community united in His name, we will be a leading rural financial institution through the delivery of personalized and relevant financial services in an excellent manner, with a preference for the small and micro entrepreneurs of Batangas, contributing to the development of the countryside. (Source: Bangko Kabayan website)

The term ‘personalized service’ is often abused in the business circle but in the case of BK, the use of such a statement is certainly well-deserved. The BK team truly demonstrates passion, eagerness, and commitment. The words in their brochures and website are backed up with concrete and realistic programs that allow ordinary citizens to open an account or secure loans (for example, in BK, one can already open a savings account with just an initial deposit of P100.00! A balance of P1,000.00 already earns interest. This is no longer widely available in other commercial or big banks. )

They also offer microfinance and SME-friendly loan and financing services that are genuinely sensitive to the realities of small and aspiring entrepreneurs. As I have mentioned before in my online article in Suite101 Media, oftentimes, the big banks  claim to be offering “SME-friendly” packages but in reality, they still require stiff requirements that already limit access for start-ups.

I strongly believe that genuine development can only be realistically attained if there are adequate opportunities for jobs/ employment and more importantly, self-employment. The banking and financial sectors have big roles to play because they are the ones who can truly provide the needed impetus for business development and growth by providing real, easy and tangible access to credit and financial services.

But anyway, you may be wondering why we opted to open an account with them when the branches are all based in Batangas? For one, we have a dream of owning a farm and Batangas is a perfect place because of its proximity to Manila. We want to begin planting the first seeds towards that dream! As they say, you have to visualize your dreams so that they will become true. :) Second, BK allows clients to deposit/withdraw funds via the (Globe) Gcash system and so, the distance no longer becomes an issue. Third, the BK is truly passionate about their mission and we have seen that up-close when we visited their Tanauan Branch. Fourth, opening and maintaining an account does not cost an arm and a leg! (You can practically save every peso because the Bank will not charge you anything, say, if your balance falls below P2,000 – an example of the lowest ceiling for the Average Daily Balance or ADB required in most banks.) Finally, we believe in the Pinoy industry and this is also our way of supporting our own.

Bangko Kabayan is indeed a breathe of fresh air. They know the real situations of small and aspiring entrepreneurs but never will you feel ‘small’ when you enter their premises. They offer you even bigger smiles, which you carry home with you, happy with the thought that you have just gained a lifetime partner.

P.s. This is definitely not a paid blog! I am writing this because I truly believe in the mission of BK. For more information on the bank, please visit www.bangkokabayan.com. God bless!


Bangko Kabayan’s Deposit Products
Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Afraid of dengue, malaria and typhoid? Use PermaNet & LifeStraw!

The best thing about living in the 21st century is having all these gadgets, technological advancement and amenities around us. Indeed, they make life a little bit easier. :) However, we also seem to be experiencing more dangers and risks compared with our ancestors. Perhaps such is the price that we pay for having computers, cellphones and airplanes! Indeed, the more industrialized we are, the more we are also polluting our environment. Sigh!

Opps, let’s not depress ourselves! Let us just work together so we can create healthier surroundings and practice more responsible lifestyle . With that in mind, hubby and I decided to sell two innovative products, which are very supportive of our health and wellness.  With the trial opening of our e-shop, Asyanna (www.asyanna.com)*, we have also introduced Permanet and Lifestraw. While they are not strictly ‘Asian’ (they are manufactured by a global company, Vestergaard Frandsen), we think that these can be considered as necessities already in Asia, given that we are very susceptible to malaria, dengue, and other vector-borne diseases.

As quoted from the company’s marketing materials, Permanet is a “long-lasting Insecticidal Net (LN); ready-to-use bednet pre-treated with deltamethrin and has a long-lasting killing effect on malaria and dengue mosquitoes, as well as other disease-transmitting susceptible vectors. Made of 100% polyester, it requires no re-treatment or dipping; thereby decreasing the need for repeat intervention. This is based on a superior technology of impregnation, where the bioavailability of active ingredient is controlled through a slow release process.”

Here in the Philippines, the circular-type (perfect for adding ambience to your bedrooms!) and rectangular type of Permanet bednets  are already available. The prices are found in our Sulit(dot)com site (just search “Asyanna”). We are also selling Permanet curtains.

On one hand, Lifestraw is a point of use (POU) water filtering device. It “eliminates risk of contamination during supply and storage of water. It filters a minimum of 700 liters of water and temoves 99.7 to 99.9 % of water borne viruses, bacteria, parasites and particles down to 15 micron. It does not need electrical power, batteries or spare parts.” And more importantly, perhaps, it does not need running water supply! This means it can work well even in homes and areas where there is no public utility-supplied water.  We are also selling the family size version which can be hung from your walls.

Lifestraw-Personal: The portable water filtering device.

I would also recommend Lifestraw for mountaineers and travelers. This will allow them to have safe drinking water even when they are up in the mountains or simply walking around. Please do be reminded though that Lifestraw will not eliminate chemicals so if your water supply has, say, arsenic, it will remain in the water even if you use the gadget. (Correct me if I am wrong but I think none of the personal- and home-use devices available in the market can even eliminate chemicals.)

Lifestraw was featured by Umagang Kay Ganda and you can watch it through the link, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9sLqKfKOkc .

What are you waiting for? Please visit our Sulit site for more details about these innovative products. You may also visit www.permanet.com or www.lifestraw.com.

Stay healthy and happy!

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Full Disclosure:  This is not a paid blog although I must mention that my husband is an independent distributor of PermaNet and LifeStraw through a Philippine company.

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

Crazy over Madeleines

Goodies at Madeleines (my fave is on the rightmost side of the plate).

Crepe au chocolat chaud et chantilly. Organic mixed green salad with shrimps. Chicken breast with cepes mushrooms sauted in fresh organic Italian parsley and garlic with organic brown rice (or Battambang rice). Yoghurt stawberry ice cream (low fat). How’s that for lunch?

Well, if you are salivating now, head off to…Madeleines! However, we Manilans will have to suffer in our cravings (for now?) because Madeleines’ first-ever branch is about 2,000 kms from Manila. (Wink!) Yes, my dearies, Madeleines is in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, the place that healed my soul when I was suffering from lunacy brought about by a tear-jerking break-up.

This is no time for melodramatics so let me introduce you to Madeleines and its beautiful, wacky, sexy, sweet and strong-willed owner and executive chef and pastry connoisseur, Karen Le Calvez.

Madeleines is located in a quiet neighborhood near Sihanouk Boulevard (where Lucky Market is – for expats who are very familiar with this Phnom Penh landmark). (Update: Madeleines has moved since this post so the new address is below this post.) Madeleines is a dream-come-true for my close friend, Karen. She’s always wanted to have her own café-restaurant-bakery and Phnom Penh just turned out to be the perfect place to have her wishes fulfilled.

I’ve known Karen since the start of her family’s stay in Manila last 2000 (or maybe even earlier). They stayed in the Philippines for several years and then had to relocate to Phnom Penh after staying back in Europe for a while. When I went to Cambodia last June 2007, it was time to reconnect with her again. I realized that I missed this woman’s presence in my life because of her funny and intelligent take on almost anything about life. She is also too ‘human’, too ‘real’, and that means, you can be very comfortable with her, warts and all. Being both expats in Phnom Penh (her country of origin is France and I am a true-blooded Pinay), we shared our dreams, expectations, and struggles that usually come with being ‘strangers in a foreign land.’ It just felt like we were just taking off from the time we last talked while she was still in Manila.

Anyway, I also must thank her (and her whole family too!) for allowing me to stay in their beautiful house with their two crazy and sweet dogs, Luna and Sabbay (ok, the ‘sweet’ goes to Luna and the ‘crazy’ goes to Sabbay) :) while they vacationed in France and Finland for almost a month. That really gave me the much needed solace and quiet moments while I was starting a fresh chapter in my life.  It also made me an expert nanny for dogs! (I have old posts about my sojourn in Cambodia so you can view them, too).

Just about the time that I was already leaving Phnom Penh (with my newfound love and now hubby!) last December 2008, she opened Madeleines! I was too happy for her but admittedly, a little bit sad for me because then I realized that I will miss her goodies so much! Darn, why didn’t she open earlier?! ;D

Anyway, Karen gifted me and JR with a quiet and sweet farewell lunch party at Madeleines last December 24 (and another one on the Saturday before that where Karen also opened up bottles of exquisite French wine – or so my poor memory can serve me right now!) In that lunch party, Karen made me a special organic salad with mixed greens (among them, watercrest), and shrimps. Yummy yummy yummy, to think it was very healthy! I was so thrilled when she served it that I had to take a photo of it before I gobbled it up. See this photo on the right.

Organic mixed green salad with shrimps especially made for me! (Grab it at Madeleines!)

I asked her how would she name it and she said I can coin up a name for it. I need more time for that so for now, let’s simply call it, Organic mixed green salad with shrimps. During the dinner farewell, we had her fabulous pastries (see the photo again below). Arrgh, it’s even harder to write about these goodies because now I am really salivating! Of course, my favorite is Madeleines because it is not too sweet, just the right amount of sugar and so it makes you feel so satisfied without ever feeling that you ate too much sweets for the day. Whenever I would order a box from Karen and brings it home, I had to strictly forge an agreement with then housemate, JR, to eat it only when I am around (!) because he also loves it like crazy. (Actually, I got to ‘steal’ a couple of so pieces on one of those days he was not looking!) :)

Yesterday, Karen sent me an email and updated me about her new ‘concoctions’ and darn it, I was ready to buy plane tickets for Phnom Penh if only I had the budget for it! Among her latest menu items are the oatmeal banana organic palm sugar cookies, yoghurt green mango ginger ice cream (she said here, “No cream and home made yoghurt, low fat…good for us!” Tasty! My kids don’t want to eat other ice cream since I started that!”)

The new salad offerings include Nicoise salad, Greek feta mint salad, tomatoes, olive and basil salad, potato no-mayonnaise with grain mustard dressing salad, tzatziki and organic green salad with paratha bread, and fresh mint tabouleh salad.

She also added 2 hot dishes: porkchop with fresh rosemary, and sauted baby potatoes or Battambang rice and organic salad; and the one I mentioned above – chicken breast with cepes mushrooms sauted in fresh organic Italian parsley and garlic with Battambang rice.

And there are crepes, too! They are all served with organic side salads. They are: crepe with ham and emmenthal cheese with egg; crepe with eggplant, mozzarella, tomatoes and basil; and crepe with chicken, bell pepper, tomato, onion, garlic and basil. For the sweet crepes, try Karen’s crepe avec pommes caramelisees a la cannelle et chantilly, toutes les patisseries, and yup, not to be outdone, she also has white chocolate cupcake.

For sandwiches, you can have her feta mint eggplant baguette sandwich, and parma ham with rocket salad and tomatoes.

Do you still have the space for the desserts?! Don’t quit yet, you will love her fondant au chocolat with strawberry yoghurt ice cream! She also bakes homemade cookies, oatmeal, dark chocolate chips, raisins, butterscotch and birthday cakes full of candies that you (and your kids!) would also go crazy about.

After a good and quiet meal (ok, it depends on whom you are with!), you can easily just relax there, perhaps read a good book and listen to your Ipod music. The place is so cozy and relaxing that you’d feel you are just home where everything feels so sweet and familiar. However, on a busy day, you might feel guilty to overstay when others are waiting to be seated so just come by another day and who knows, the place may just open another branch soon! Perhaps in Manila too?!

It’s so cozy, you’d have to force yourself to leave or end up staying there the whole day!

Hurry up for reservations and be crazy over Madeleines, too! Bon appétit ! Amusez-vous bien alors ! (With the help of Francis who said my first attempt for this sentence is meant for older and more formal audience. Hehe!)

UPDATE: Sorry, as of mid-2012, Madeleines has closed down because Karen and her family already moved to Bangkok.

[This is not a paid blog.]

Farewell lunch party at Madeleines (the beautiful owner-chef, Karen, is on the left, seated. Others in photo: Hubby JR, Idon, Ate Cel & Hanne)

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Brown Skin

One of my close friends has already written a piece about the seeming penchant of many Filipinas (and to some extent, South Asians) for skin products that give one a whiter or fairer skin. Skin whitening products are indeed selling like hotcakes and still expected to thrive in the beauty industry in the long haul.

Brown-skinned…and loving it. :)

With all due respect to the women (and even men) who patronize such products and those who manufacture them, I hope I can encourage many to rethink before buying any of those so-called skin whitening products again, particularly with the results of studies about the dangers associated with certain ingredients and substances such as mercury and hydroquinone. (An article that discusses some of the ingredients in skin whitening products is found in this link.)

For one, we are born of the brown race. God wanted us to be brown. He created us with brown skin because he thinks this is the best color for our race. More so, we are a tropical island-nation and it will be quite strange indeed to be gifted with lots and lots of beaches but with people all scampering away from the sun’s rays. Yes, it pays to be careful of the sun’s harmful UV rays from 10 am to 4 pm but there are enough sun protection products out there that can protect us from getting burned skin.

White skin is not superior or prettier. Just as having American twang if you are a Filipino does not mean you are superior than the rest who have this distinct Pinoy accent. White skin is white skin. They are the skin of our equally beautiful brothers and sisters from the west. Just like brown is ours. There is no competition there. No one is prettier by virtue of the color of her skin. We are all different. We all have unique characteristics that make us the race that we are. I like white skin on white people in the same way that I like brown skin on brown people.

I hope this will not sound racist or judgmental but I hope that many of those skin-whitening-product-patrons will feel beautiful again with their brown skin. Everywhere I go, I am proud to wear my skin. When my Pinay and other Asian friends are abroad, surrounded by Caucasians, they notice (and feel) admiring eyes on them. More than a couple of times, I, too, get compliments from well-meaning strangers, telling me how nice my skin color is. Again, there is no better color. It is just out of habit that people normally admire brown skin because it is a fusion of dark and fair, like a perfect blend of milk and coffee. Shouldn’t we then feel really blessed that our color is like a perfect mixture of black and white, just like how life should be? Even our fair-skinned counterparts sometimes want to experience having our “glorious” tan by going to the beach or staying inside tanning machines. However, the difference is that, oftentimes, they do not want the tan to be permanent. Most know the dangers of staying so much under the sun or getting too much of the UV rays from tanning equipment.

Another thing to consider is how a formerly brown skin really looks like after consuming all those skin-whitening products. Does anyone really like to be described as looking “maputla” all her life? Unlike a person who is originally fair-skinned from birth, someone who just turned fair artificially is likely to look anemic sans make-up or worse, may find it difficult or costly to maintain such whiteness in the long haul.

And speaking of UV rays, shouldn’t we feel lucky too that because we have brown skin, we are supposed to have more protection against the sun’s harmful rays? Statistics would point out that skin cancer (the variant supposedly caused by UV rays) is more highly-prevalent in white-skinned population. The advertisements of such skin whitening products do not mention this fact, right? Why is it that cigarettes’ packaging and ad materials are required to show “Cigarette smoking is dangerous to your health” while skin whitening products are not required to state “Having fairer skin may unnecessarily increase one’s chances of getting skin cancer due to the sun’s harmful UV rays” on their packaging and ads? Just something to think about before you buy that skin whitening lotion again.

Again, I respect everyone’s choices, whether or not he has fair, brown, or dark skin. I have good friends who also buy skin whitening products. Their skin care regimen does not in any way affect my feelings for them. I just hope that they will be reminded again that actually, their brown skin is beautiful and more importantly, their hearts and minds are their best features.

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This is not a paid blog.

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