Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Siem Reap with Gusto (Part 4)

Having covered most of the must-sees, I decided to slow down. I got up late and had just about enough time to tour the National Museum before closing time. I would recommend a visit here prior to a trip to the temples for a thorough explanation of what you’ll be seeing at the sites.

Charged with nothing but brunch (chocolatine and coffee), I was ready for dinner by the time I got out of the museum. I wanted to treat myself to what is considered one of the best restaurants in Siem Reap, Abacus.

Siem Reap with Gusto (Part 3)

I dig sunsets. I suppose sunrises too but I don’t usually get up early enough to see one. I wanted to enjoy the sunset in Siem Reap and I thought a sunset Quad Ride would be a good idea.

A guide in a motorcycle led my way through villages to the verdant rice fields. Along the way, we passed children waving at us as we went, along with herds of cattle and water buffalos. The scenes are familiar to me, having spent much time in the countryside back home.

Siem Reap with Gusto (Part 2)

While Siem Reap has an abundance of temples, I wanted to devote no more than a day for my temple run. Too much heat and sun gives me enfeebling migraines and I know myself enough as a traveler to not want to court them while I’m on the road.

So I went to Tah Prohm, Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat. Each had a charm of its own. In the echo chambers of Tah Prohm, I beat my chest and made wishes, following the steps of devotees from centuries ago. I lined up for a requisite pose before the imposing roots of the silver cotton tree. I posed nose to nose against one of hundreds of Brahma’s faces at Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom. Then of course I crossed the massive hallways of Angkor Wat, reliving the Ramayana in its intricate bas-reliefs. I climbed to the top of the temple to savor the view. I managed to sneak a peek at and a snapshot of the saffron-robed monks. And just before my limbs melted in the heat, I returned to my hotel room and rested until dinner called.

Siem Reap with Gusto (Part 1)

I went to Siem Reap with a cursory (read: zero) knowledge of things Khmer. I was armed with a loose itinerary that allowed plenty of room for randomness and spontaneity.

I booked myself a fine accommodation at Heritage Suites, which offered tasteful décor, impeccable cuisine, and a cozy room with soft, plushy bed. With only 26 rooms and suites, it looked more like the vacation home of a rich, elegant aunt than a resort, its cluster of bungalows discretely tucked behind gardens near the pool.

I was picked up from the airport by what looked like a turn-of-the-century Mercedes Benz. Fifteen minutes later, I reached my destination. It was a little past midnight owing to the delayed flight. The restaurant was closed. So was room service. So I helped myself to the honey Dijon mustard Kettle Chips from the mini-bar.

Monday, September 24, 2012


I have a thing for lists. My notebooks are filled with them and my output doubles when a significant occasion approaches such as New Year (as might be expected), Ides of March (personally significant to me), summer, birthdays. 

Since my birthday is exactly a month from today, I revisited my Life Dreams list (my answer to Mary Oliver’s “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”).

Then there’s my “Some Kind of Wonderful” list where I jot down small pleasures that I’d like to make time for, things like afternoon tea at da.u.de and ayurvedic massage at Arogya.

Then there’s my Wish List, things I really, really want that I don’t have to save up for to buy but really prefer to receive =)

1. Polaroid Z2300 10MP Digital Instant Print Camera

Because I want to stick those pictures instantly on my notebook so that I’ll always remember.

2. Polaroid M230 Premium 2 x 3" Zink Paper (50 Pack)

I need this to go with no. 1

3. Michael Kors 13" Sleeve for MacBook Pro

Delicious color.

4. DVF Connect Bag

It has an iPad slot at the back that allows you to use your device without taking it out of your bag. Clever.

5. iTunes Gift Cards

So that I could add to my classic movies collection.

6. Amazon Gift Cards

7. The Ballad of the Sad Cafe: and Other Stories by Carson McCullers

In lieu of the gift card.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Halong Bay with The Au Co

Hoan Kiem Lake by day

I had been looking forward to the trip for months. I wanted to give Hanoi a second chance because my first visit was a disaster. It was the result of bad luck and poor planning. I scheduled the trip in July when Hanoi was searing hot. I had nothing on my itinerary but Hoan Kiem Lake and a bit of shopping. Having done both, I had nothing better to do so I made a hasty booking for a tour to Perfume Pagoda. Bad decision, as the last leg of travel was a one and half hour (one-way) canoe ride under the blazing sun. I had one big migraine upon return, lasting till the next day, which made me forego another hastily booked tour.

I regretted not making time for the big-ticket item among Hanoi visitors – the much-exalted cruise along Halong Bay. I was fazed by the four-hour travel time just going. But the idea of plying the waters of Halong Bay in a wooden junk kept haunting me for years. I finally decided to put the voices to rest.

Halong Bay sunrise

For this trip, I searched Tripadvisor for the best Halong Bay cruise provider and found top of the class Bhaya. I knew that a day tour would kill me and an overnight tour would be shamefully short. So I opted for a 3-day, 2-night package.

Hotel de L'Opera’s lobby

Upon arrival at my hotel in Hanoi (Hotel de L’Opera, great choice), I received an email from Bhaya informing me that they were offering me an upgrade to their newest boat, the Au Co. I knew about the Au Co from my extensive research online so I was aware of their top-dollar price. This was much too good an opportunity to pass up so I kissed my wooden junk cruise idea goodbye (great decision, you’ll know why later). Traveling to Halong Bay on board the Au Co turned out to be one of the most unforgettable travel experiences of my life!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A lunch to remember

This post is long overdue but I couldn’t let pass of the opportunity to talk about one of the best meals I’ve ever had. It was a treat from Chef Kyla for the final day of our basic culinary foundation course.


It started with seafood Veracruz, a cold appetizer with shrimps, poached squid and scallops in a bed of creamy, velvety sauce. What a start.

This was followed by a hearty French onion soup, generously piled on with translucent, caramelized onions; mixed with gooey cheese that stretched with every spoonful; and topped with crusty, cheese-laced bread toasted under a salamander. For the main course, we had the protein that we earlier prepared in class.


We prepared the pork tenderloin by pulling out the thin skin that clung over the silverskin, a white, silvery connective tissue that we also trimmed off. We cut both ends of the tenderloin (the head and the tail) so that the meat is almost even in diameter. Then we tied it with kitchen string so that it would retain its shape when cooked.

Next, we worked on the lamb rack. Again, we had to peel off the thin skin that wrapped the bones, leaving just a thin filament that a knife could easily slice through. Then we removed a flat cartilage sandwiched between the layers of meat and fat.


We made a cut on the fat side of the rack, perpendicular to the rib bones. My cut was an inch thick (thickness depends on the size of the rack). I pushed the end of the knife through the flesh between each rib and freed up the meat from the thin membrane wrapped over the rib bones. We had to make sure that all the meat was cleaned off the bone, a very tedious process. Even Chef Kyla took a while to do it.


The effort was well worth it because both the tenderloin and lamb rack were perfectly cooked and superbly plated over mashed potatoes. The seasoning was mild, allowing the flavor and tenderness of the meat to show through.

Dessert was a light cheesecake topped with chocolate chip brittle (something I MUST learn to do). I was smacking my lips well on the way home.

Monday, April 16, 2012

How to make green mayonnaise

Lesson 4: Prepping Seafood

I didn’t expect to actually enjoy prepping seafood but I did. We started out with sole, a flat fish with thick leathery skin that you can just pull off in one piece. Skinless, what is left is the white flesh, which we filleted by running our knives just clear of the fins, from end to end, with a slight downward angle. To make sure you get most of the flesh, allow your blade to run through the bone with every stroke. Continue until you come up against the backbone.Peel the filet back and run the knife over the lateral line, and continue until the flesh on one side has been filleted. Each side makes two pieces. Cut off the brown parts and just use the white flesh.

After the sole, we worked on a red mullet. The process is almost the same except we kept the skin and removed the sporadic scales with our knives. The red mullet makes a smaller fillet and has more bones in the belly area, which we removed using kitchen tweezers.

We also cleaned out and prepared shrimps, by taking out the head, peeling the shells off and fishing the intestines from its back using a toothpick. It was the first time I’ve seen the toothpick technique.

Last came the squid. We pulled out the head and set it aside. We worked on the body by cleaning out all the fat and gunk inside. We removed the “pen”, a clear film that runs along its torso. We also pulled out the skin to reveal the white flesh. Then we sliced the squid into rings. As for the head, we removed the bulb that contained the sharp beak, and the innards attached to it. Then we sliced the head into two. The ink sac can be found in the innards.

When done, we breaded the squid and shrimps by dipping them in flour then beaten eggs then panko breadcrumbs. We took turns in the deep fryer (make sure it’s hot enough so that the flesh is sealed, keeping its moisture instead of turning greasy).

Chef Kyla prepared a wonderful green dressing made of mayonnaise that she made by hand and blanched-and-squeezed fresh herbs, which she mixed together in the blender.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Lesson 3: Trussing a Chicken

I’ve handled uncooked chicken before but never unclean and unprepped. There’s always a first time. It helps that, in the kitchen and with food in general, I’m very rarely squeamish, unless I’m working with something that stinks to high heavens. Chicken, to my surprise, does not.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to make Parmentier Soup

Lesson 2: Turning Vegetables

Trust the French to develop a culinary module out of turning vegetables, which means just that, turning vegetables so that you pare them to even, oval shapes, usually with 6 or seven sides. I thought I would fail miserably at the task, my knife skills being nil, or at best, suspect. To my surprise, my chef instructor thought me to be a natural turner (yes, Tina Turner). Studying the potatoes I have turned, she noted the confident strokes and the absence of ridges. When done with the potatoes, we moved on to carrots. We also did a refresher of the last lesson by making paysannes and juliennes of leeks, which went into the making of a wonderful potato and leek soup that we enjoyed after class.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How to cook ratatouille Alain-Ducasse-style

Knife skills at Enderun

Paper bags with apron, hair net and toque

For weeks, I had been looking forward to the start of my culinary course at Enderun.

Despite a late Friday night, I made it to the school at 8:45 a.m. the following day. I had just enough time to chat with Alexandra, another student, before the start of class. She’s an expat who has been based in the Philippines for close to five years. She was there for just one session. Her main objective was to gather material for an article she was writing for the expat community. It was from her that I learned we were sharpening our knife skills (of which I had none) that day.

Monday, February 27, 2012

What's on my plate

Travel has been scant lately but that’s not to say that I have little on my plate. In fact, my plate has been, quite literally, full.

I had to spend a night at Oakwood Joy Nostalg recently. Since I’m not a big fan of the Oakroom, I walked to nearby Uncle Cheffy for dinner. The restaurant came highly recommended.

Only two tables were occupied that Sunday night but I was assured that the place attracts a decent crowd on weekdays.

I loved the pizza wrap. It had cheese so thick it was threatening to dribble off the thin crust. I asked for extra arugula because its peppery note cuts the umay off the savory ingredients.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Good for the heart

A heart-shaped wreath from Ate Neneth

When I go to Tagaytay, I usually have only one thing in my agenda: Sonya’s Garden. Sonya is a dear friend. I call her Mother. She must know how much of me is frittered away by city life because when I arrive at her garden, she always, always has me fed straightaway, as if there’s a hole in me that needs filling. And she must be right because when I get there, I am always, always ravenous.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hotel Review: Radisson Blu

I had high expectations with this hotel because it’s rated no. 1 on Tripadvisor.com among Cebu City hotels. All my expectations were met.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cebu Lechon Atbp.

I regretted not going to Cebu during the Sinulog but I was glad I went before the earthquake happened. I was with the entire family, after all. It was a quick visit, arranged for the following reasons:

1. Mom and Dad’s 42nd Wedding Anniversary

Very little research went into the trip so my sister-in-law had to get restaurant recommendations from her friends. We ended up at The Gustavian in Ayala Center.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Fresh Start

I make plans to use the rebounder at the Jungle Gym but opt to relish the little time I have left in my lovely Garden Villa. In bed, I disappear completely under the sheets, hearing only a hush of the fountain from my very own garden as I drift back to sleep.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Good to be Alive!

From the spa, I proceed to the clinic for my capillary scan and live blood analysis. Although I don’t notice much damage from my mostly meat diet and late nights, the blood doesn’t lie. The doctors remark that my blood is one of the palest they’ve seen, indicating iron deficiency and lack of sleep. The cells are clumpy, most likely due to dehydration. I am horrified and make a vow to drink eight glasses of water as soon as I step out of the clinic.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Farm's Salus per Aqua

Infinity Pool

Floral mandala

After an hour-long siesta, I head to The Farm’s Salus Per Aqua spa. I wait for my treatment at the lobby overlooking an infinity pool that seems to stretch toward the distant cluster of palms.

Monday, January 30, 2012

System Reboot

I find myself sitting in one of the benches under the glorious mango tree, its branches widely outstretched, coiled with cascading tendrils of vine. I relish the cool breeze and the holy hush of verdant scenery and catch myself wondering why it took me this long to return. I lament my overindulgence during the holiday season and look forward to giving my system a reboot, here at what is considered to be one of the top wellness sanctuaries in Asia—The Farm at San Benito.   

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bali with Gusto: Mozzarella Restaurant

Whenever I travel, I tend to obsess about restaurants to try. I tried to chill a little this time and stick to places that were accessible. Luckily, this place was.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bali with Gusto: Waka Land Cruise

The ride

I must admit, I was a little disappointed about this tour. It was featured on Conde Nast Traveler and described as a luxurious experience but it was a letdown. First of all, it was pouring hard when the tour started and the rain was seeping inside the windows and over the roof of the land rover. We had to position ourselves a certain way to keep from getting wet.

Bali with Gusto: Legian

A less-scrubbed neighbor of Seminyak, Legian offers more affordable lodging options while giving you the same view of the legendary Bali sunset. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bali with Gusto: Seminyak

I fell in love with the beach and sunset in Seminyak the last time I visited Bali so when I went back for a post-birthday treat this year I made sure to stay in the area.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Welcome, 2012!

Via WowWindows8.com

It’s been almost two weeks since the year started and I realize I have not given it a proper welcome. Nice to have you, 2012. Please treat me and the people I love wonderfully, blissfully well. 


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