About Me

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An occasionally belligerent mother of five and an autism parent / advocate who believes that traveling, good food and good company are vital to keep one sane. I've worked as a news writer/newscaster, a quality systems auditor, a ISO9001 consultant, an FM radio DJ, a Filipino tutor, TOEFL reviewer and have gone into the food industry both as an entrepreneur and as a mommy chef, giving a sponsored demo on healthy cooking in a mall and on local TV. My favorite job however, is being a mom and a wife.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dampa Good Eats: Claire dela Fuente , Macapagal Avenue

Summer's fast approaching, and with that, images of heading out to the beach and having a barbecue/picnic come to mind. 
grilled pork belly
For those in the who can't go to the beach may just have to settle with eating food that may remind you of these days.

Somewhere along Macapagal Avenue (think Roxas Blvd. area in Manila), there's a big parking lot at the area filled with mini restaurants that serve fresh seafood (and other dishes). Such a place is called a Dampa. Dampa means a hovel or a shack in English. It is often small-ish, a bit cramp to accommodate more people, and more often than not, dotted with tawdry decor. But we all know that looks aren't always what they seem to be. Tawdry or  not, these places offer the best of home cooked delicacies.

After half a day of buying baking supplies at Divisoria, MAX, 2 others and I headed out to Claire dela Fuente's Dampa (see facebook page here). Claire was a popular Filipina songstress back in the 80's but has since branched out into other business opportunities. Her resto near Manila Bay is the first one you'll see among the many that fill the lot.
the mini market at the side of the dampa 
As we were ushered into the air conditioned structure by one of the staff, the choice of ordering from the menu or picking out fresh seafood, meats and the likes from their mini wet market was given. 
at 2500 php/kg and this lobster being a little over 2 kg
this one was a bit too rich for my blood
I picked the latter and ended up with some of my favorite shellfish and crustacean cooked the way I want 'em. On top of paying for the main ingredients, a minimal charge is added to your bill for cooking your food (on a per dish basis).
chili garlic crab claws
I may have over ordered, coz for a group of 4, (one being a toddler) I got a kilo of huge crab claws, cooked in a chili garlic sauce. About the same amount of medium sized shrimps, cooked in garlic-butter, clams cooked in it's own broth, baked scallops topped with cheese and grilled pork belly (MAX's favorite). 
waiting patiently for his inihaw na liempo
garlic butter shrimps

The cook managed to catch the flavors we were looking for and the fact that fresh food was used made all the difference. Everything was DELICIOUS!!
halaan or clams in a light broth
I had to skip dessert with all the food eaten. Though thoroughly stuffed, we managed to have  enough leftovers to bring home and eat for one more meal :)
baked scallops topped with cheese
If you're in the area, take an adventurous culinary step and try our local Dampa
got drowsy from being so full that everything was a blur after
From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Kitchen Wanderings: The Corned Beef Caper

Perhaps the the most memorable experiences are those that when we smell a certain fragrance or taste a certain dish, brings us back to another time and place.

I grew up in a home where my father loved recreating Filipino and Spanish cuisine from recipe books here and there. Mom was more experimental, Indian and Jewish cuisine on top of those learned from all the cooking and baking lessons she signed up for at Sylvia Reynoso's cooking school. Even my younger brother could scrounge up a decent Rosemary Chicken when made to. Cooking from scratch was simply the norm, and processed food (specially breakfast food) was somewhat a treat. I enjoyed bacon and sausages, my brother could live off luncheon meat but we loved our corned beef. 

What makes a good corned beef? Corned beef or beef pickled in brine, are at it's best when they're chunky, rather than unrecognizable ones. They're worth biting into when you can see the individual strands and chew  it's softened beef tendons, not to mention a 10:90 ratio of fat and meat.

I was never too keen on eating those canned mushy ones. Corned beef hash, corned beef soup and  a decent corned beef sandwich top my list of comfort food and can only be made with decent corned beef.

I'd like to share with you a recipe I picked up somewhere on how to make some fabulous homemade corned beef :

Fresh Corned Beef
Beef  Brisket                              2kg (whole)
Salt                                            1 cup
Pink Salt/Prague Powder            1 tbsp (if you can't find any, 1/2 tbsp salitre or sodium nitrate works fine)
Sugar                                         1/2 cup
Pickling Spices                           3 tbsp
 = coriander seed, mustard seed, dried chili, bay leaf, juniper berries and cloves
(couldn't find juniper berries so I substituted it with cumin seeds, as for the mustard seed, which I also ran out of, I substituted it with a tbsp of prepared mustard. Cloves maybe substituted with allspice or nutmeg)
Garlic                                          1 head
Cold  Water                                4 liters

boiling all the pickling spices
  1. Put all the ingredients, except the BEEF in a pot. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let cool. 
submerge brisket into cooled down curing liquid
      2.  Put cooled curing liquid in a plastic container big enough to accommodate the brisket. 
          Weigh down  meat to make sure it's completely submerged. Let cure in the fridge for 5 days. 
the finished product
      3. After 5 days, rinse and place cured beef in a large pot. Boil  slowly simmer and till beef is tender 
         (about 3 hours). I used the pressure cooker instead for about half the time. 
         The corned beef turned out to be nice and tender but wasn't mushy and did not fall apart in the cooker.

Cool down beef and store in fridge if you don't plan on serving it just yet.
about to make corned beef soup
I kept a chunk away from the freezer, and just in the compartment below it so that I could make delicious chunky corned beef sandwiches (with a bit of mustard, maybe some onions and lettuce) at a moment's notice. You could also cut it into small cubes, add potatoes's , some celery (powder's ok) and cabbage for a hearty corned beef soup or cook the way you would canned corned beef.

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours.

** clearly, taking a decent photos is something I'd have to work on, but as far as the meat was concerned, the flavor and texture was absolutely spot on :)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

From The Top Of Dominican Hill (The Diplomat Hotel Experience)

off to see Diplomat for the first time

It may not be Halloween but a quick look around the place last weekend reminded me of all the stories and mystery that surround Baguio's Diplomat Hotel.

For about 6 years of my life, I worked as a radio DJ in a radio station at the top of Dominican Hill ( a stone's throw from the alleged haunted structure) here in Baguio City. All the time I worked there, it never entered my mind to enter the ruins of Diplomat's pre-war structure despite all the stories told.
no matter how bright the morning sun was
this place still gave me the creeps

Built in 1913 and inaugurated in 1915 as a vacation house/sanitarium for the Province of the Dominican Order, the 17 hectare property initially housed a school known as the Collegio de Santissimo Rosario. Due to the small enrollment, the school closed in 1917 and the building was reverted once more to it's original use.
would have had more pics to post
had I actually attempted to take any

During WWII, the building was used to house refugees, until the Japanese Army decided to bomb them out. I'm totally unsure of the casualties but read somewhere that five direct hits to the building left it badly damaged and unused for quite sometime. Reconstruction came about around 1947 and it's completion and restoration, the year after.
I could imagine a 100 different ways on how to shoot
a goth  music video in here.  On a side note: The front desk on the right
gave me chills every time I passed by it. Weird.

In 1973, it was acquired by Diplomat Hotels Inc. and made into a 33-room hotel filled with the modern conveniences then. However, upon the death of one of it's main stockholder, Baguio's very own faith healer and spiritual leader Tony Agpaoa, the hotel ceased it's operations. 
MAX loving the greenhouse out back

To date, plans to convert it into a prayer mountain/spiritual center, a mining museum and a government agency's vacation house have been discussed, but a definite decision is yet to be made.
one of Phil's test shots during the photography workshop

Taking advantage of the awesome 360 degree view of Baguio City, as well as the drama invoked from the ruins, Diplomat has a growing number of tourists and  photographers holding  pictorials and workshops (like Allan Manalac's Shiver, which Phil happily attended) in the area. Don't be surprised to see a woman in  a white dress, walking around in broad daylight, as it is used mostly by wedding photographers holding pre-nuptial photoshoots. 
a glimpse of Marcos Highway and Mt. Sto Thomas

Speaking of women in white, much has been said about the appeal of Diplomat Hotel to both the living and non living. Probably drawing inspiration from it's previous occupants and all the shenanigans that have occurred in the place, eye-witness accounts have suggested the presence of beings from the beyond. A headless priest, a white lady, shadows moving about and various unexplainable sounds have been heard. The radio station that I used to work for has had it's share of amateur ghost hunters who have shared their tales and we have seen a couple of pictures taken in the area that have included orbs and strange images.
poor neglected fountain in what seems to be a courtyard
inside the hotel. 

The freaky part may also be my old workplace's close proximity to Diplomat and it's ghostly inhabitants. I've had a colleague (who worked the 9-12 mn shift) see a transparent woman in white go through the then locked gates of the hotel. Or how about that fellow DJ and our other colleague who  probably saw that same lady in white, take a ride in their backseat on Hallow's Eve (seen on the car's mirror) to lead them on the scariest ride of their lives ( I am so writing a Halloween special this year and will give you a detailed account of this). 
the place may have some rubbish here and there, but I gotta say
the plants in the place are well taken care of

My personal experience as far as the Diplomat spooks go was limited to this one time: It was a rainy Saturday   afternoon and I had just given my introductory spiel of my show for that hour. After giving the time check, I remember playing Mandy Moore and Jon Foreman's song "Someday We'll Know" when I heard the floor  creaking, akin to the sound that someone makes while walking on loose floorboards. Thinking that after all the time I've worked here, the rain was somehow affecting the floorboards of the radio booth (denial at it's finest) causing it to creak, I went on to get my next cd (right beside the console as we weren't computerized back then)  when I heard the "footsteps" get closer and closer. I slowly turned around, really scared now, to see if maybe, just maybe, one of the technicians or the guard had come in. 

To my horror/relief, I saw no one but heard a deep loud moan of what sounded like eternal suffering (for real! It wasn't the hot and sexy moan one would wish to hear!). It sounded audible enough for me to think that the source was near, but somehow gave me the impression of coming from the bottom of a well . The moan sounded male.

I would've bolted and would have seriously settled for dead air to that of the spirit of a dead man, but could not have done that, as the sound came from near the guest mic which was frustratingly beside the door. The whole time that song was playing, I was frantically and blindly pressing numbers on the phone, trying to call whoever. I ended up calling  the number of an ad executive at another radio station (who happens to be an acquaintance) and started babbling to her about what had just happened. I stayed on the phone up until my next talk spot 5 minutes later. After which, I hung up and ran outside to look for the technician, the janitor and the security guard, who were the ONLY people, aside from me, present in the radio station on that Saturday.

Even scarier was the fact that they were all at the generator house, which is a structure in front and separate from the main building. I was all alone in the booth at that time and in no way was there anyone in the building who could've made that noise. The walls and doors of the booth had huge glass panels so seeing people from the admin floor and main entrance should not have been a problem. Breaking into a cold sweat and shaking even half an hour later was the other thing I remember from that afternoon, a decade ago.

It's no wonder Ghost tours are now being offered to those who would want to see Diplomat at night. (website here.)
Baguio's Guinness Book of World Records entry

Ironically, despite all the so-called hauntings, a part of the property has recently been developed and now houses a 12.19 meter high prayer building painted like stone tablets to contain the biblical Ten commandments. The building has also earned a Guinness World Record for being the biggest of it's kind. 

Perhaps it's a good thing that something spiritual and holy was put amidst the ruins of Diplomat to keep out the bad.
To all those intrepid folks out there who would want to try and see a glimpse of the unknown, or to those who would just really want to see the breathtaking view of the city and do some spiritual recharging, do check out the top of Dominican and visit Diplomat Hotel and the Spiritual Center.
parking's clearly not a problem

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Su Casa, Nuestra Casa (Vallejo)!

Opened since about the time the City of Baguio was chartered in 1909, Casa Vallejo has been a part of local Baguio history. From being a hotel, to a restaurant, to a place where one can learn ballet, this building has seen a lot of renovations and face lifts. The most recent reinvention is what people have been raving about. Welcome to the new Casa Vallejo!

Dubbed as one of the top 10 oldest establishments in the City of Pines, CV has been resurrected into Baguio's latest boutique hotel. With 24 tastefully arranged rooms, a spa, a fine dining restaurant, an indie film cinema and it's own bookstore, it's quite sad that it's only now that TMW has written anything about this gem. 
the frontdesk
Casa Vallejo Boutique Hotel: Being right in the middle of things, the hotel at Session Road is right across SM Baguio and downtown central is just a walk away (including the Baguio Cathedral).
Rates are quite reasonable  with rooms starting at around PHP 2000/night. For more info, here's a link on their room rates and their contact information. Oh, and if you're worried about street parking, they've got a huge parking lot out back.
my date for the evening :)
Northhaven Spa: Known for their special brand of indigenous massages, Northhaven Spa is the place to get a strawberry organic scrub, the "Dagdagay" or indigenous head massage and so much more. Visit their website for more info.
great books for the kids, specially those that  cover local Philippine tales
Dad, you oughta visit this place!
Mt Cloud Bookshop: My love story with books and bookshops has been around for as long as I could remember. The fresh, crisp scent of a new book always reminds of my childhood, mostly spent browsing for great finds with my father in 2nd hand book stores and book shops. Time spent at Mt. Cloud filled me with a whimsy of sorts. We were even there for it's opening.
a book about the Ukay ukay...hmmm...interesting
Owned by author/artists Padma and Feliz Perez , Mt Cloud has managed to bring back a warmer, more personal feel to book shopping. Browse through their shelves and display tables. There's a little for everyone in this tiny, wood paneled shop. My first purchase from this bookshop, seriously, was a beautifully illustrated book about Aswangs (mythical Philippine Vampires). Poetry readings and other fun activities are also held at this place.  I also love the fact that they don't use plastic bags to wrap your purchases. Last time I bought a book, they wrapped it in brown paper and twine. Check out their website for details.

beautiful photos and art work guide you to Mt Cloud

Cinematheque Baguio: Indie film lovers and movie buffs rejoice! A newly opened theater has been set up for everyone's enlightenment and aesthetic cravings. Be it a Vilma Santos classic or a Kidlat Tahimik original, they've got quite an impressive screening sched. It's right beside Mt. Cloud. For movie schedules and other info, check out their Facebook page.
Cinematheque's entrance
a look at Hillstation from the hotel's lobby
sinful delights! try Death by Chocolate
and their Vanilla Cinnamon ice cream
(tastes like apple pie!)

Hillstation: Fine dining at it's best! Hillstation offers sumptuous dishes for the most discriminating palates. Included in the 2011/2012 edition of The Miele Guide (the indispensable guide to Asia's best restaurants), the Hillstation's understated elegance creates a balance between the complexities in flavor of the food that they serve. The herbs, spices and textures of the dishes simply demand to be applauded! Don't be the last to find out just how good their food is. Visit their website to browse their food and beverage list. They also have function rooms that can cater to a group of 30 to a crowd of 100. 

sunflower honey

guava jam by the restaurant's food goddess, Mitos
salsa bravia
Pinoy caviar
tinapa or tuyo in olive oil
(metal note: must pick up a bottle of each)

export quality Benguet Coffee
For those who want to bring home a bit of their Hillstation experience, check out their gourmet in a bottle offerings as well as some art pieces from both Philippine artists and indigenous talents. 
Yes, they also sell pot...
the kind you display :)
click to view pricelist in a separate window
All in all a perfect place to go out on a date, hang out with the whole family or share a slice of cake with a friend, Hillstation's a-ok in our book.
great meal, great company, great city
So if you're coming up to Baguio for whatever reason, or you're a resident who has yet to check out the place, take time out to visit Casa Vallejo.

From TMW, may all your wanderings be better than ours.