From North to South

It’s been a while since I’ve neglected this oasis.  Blogging helped me with my utter boredom in the beginning.  Blogging also helped me cope up with my new life in the Philippines after I’ve left the City by the Bay in the Golden State.  Since my Fourth Month post, I’ve become incognito because my “Sabbatical” suddenly concluded.  Mother told me to discover my life here (which was really an eloquent way of putting things in perspective, while what she really meant was that I must get this ass a job).  Since my plans in Isabela were not as forthcoming as I had hoped, I thought that it would be a good idea to discover what this life has to offer this unsettled heart and this restless soul.  Perhaps my life yearning for something…permanent?  After all, I’m not getting any younger.

First, I went to Manila and found a home in Pasay City, by Celeridad Street, Libertad.  A charming, old home awaited me there, desiccated from domestic affection.  Armed with my pretty junk and stuff I hauled along with me–stuff from my old California home brought to Isabela then Manila, overtime I’ve transformed this place into a real, warm home.  I called this place Atelier Celeridad.  She is still there though I have moved on further south for I did not find what I’m looking for in there.  Manila is vile and it’s a dog-eat-dog world–I totally get the thousand kilometer gap in the society.  You know the story pretty well: the rich, the poor, and hell, not purgatory, in-between.

From time to time, I still visit this oasis of sanity in the desert of madness.  And whenever I visit–inspect the lights, the water meter, etc… her reception has always been very warm and that makes me happy.  At this point, I wish to thank Tin Bartolome and family for allowing me to live here for as long as I want–or as long her son Tim won’t kick me out!

On July 1, 2015, I officially started my new life with Villa Escudero.  I have hung my apron long enough and that “chef” prefix on my name.  It’s a new life, and in the words of Marilla Cuthbert, “tomorrow is always fresh, with no mistakes.”


The Fourth Month

Today, May 24th, marks my fourth month in the Philippines, specifically in Isabela my home province.  Although four months is nothing compared on how time flies in the States, it does feel so much longer here.  Thankfully, we have internet to keep me sane and keeps me connected to San Francisco at any given day or night.  Being 7,000 miles away is not really that bad when you’re logged on your Facebook.  Looking back from the moment I have embarked on that plane to the long trip from Manila to Isabela, I can pretty much say that I’m a very fortunate fella to have a place to go home to sans rent (just do chores), to have hardworking and loving parents around that pretty much leave you alone on your business, and to have a the world on my hand and the freedom to discover new places, new things and new friends.

Just for the sake of celebrating this sentiment, here are some selected photos and some random thoughts collected from the last four months.


Flying home in style–Mabuhay class (the classless class). What could be more apt than Philippine Airlines non-stop from SFO to MNL? I dined and finished their stock of Courvoisier and opted for San Miguel beer to pacify my crying soul.

In the plane enroute Manila from San Francisco, I drowned my mixed emotions with PAL’s stock of Courvoisier.  I dined well and the attendants very gracious and super hospitable–it didn’t even feel like a flight.  Or maybe because my emotions were so f*cked up and I wasn’t really paying attention on anything else.  Parting was never an easy thing especially after 20 years.  Suddenly, I was off to my new life just like that.  I took my sweater and stuffed it in my mouth, put a pillow on my face and held it tight.  I wailed.  I screamed.  I felt better but never really shook off that feeling until now.

Sometimes, I miss a lot of things about my former home but, I cannot deny that my heart aches for being so far away from my good friends, my brother Paul, his wife Junko, and my little boy (nephew), Paulo.

Paulo Suzuki Ventura

My existence is for this little guy. He’s the sweetest thing in my life.

Oh, and don’t get me started with the dining scene that doesn’t really exist here in Isabela!  I miss having a social sidekick.

Dining, wining, touring, complaining, moving... name it, we do it!

Cocoy Butter and Kanoa Oyl. Dining, wining, touring, complaining, moving… name it, we do it!

And I miss my job.  I miss Maria, Dado et al… and the greatest kitchen/dining team in the world!

Dignitary Dinner 080 cocoy ventura event-36


But then, as per the Bouvier ladies:

Edith B. Beale Jr.:
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too in life.

Edith Bouvier Beale:
Oh yes I did. I did, I had my cake, loved it, masticated it, chewed it and had everything I wanted.

I had my cake in San Francisco and now, I have a different cake–it’s a rice cake!  When I miss people, places and junk, I just have to remember what’s here in Isabela and I’m always given a sense of purpose.

2.22.14kidsfarm 025mangosorting 013 bagoongfarmkids 069

There are lots of happy and grateful kids and many, many new friends, we have tons of Philippine mangoes and I have happy parents.


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Unlike photographs, our memories are our most ardent source of scent records.  Today, in the bustling market of Santiago City (Isabela), my cousin took me around to buy canning supplies and other things I need at home.  While we navigated the interior of the market, a certain smell kept on catching my attention.

Kampupot (single petal crown). Jasminum sambac.  Sampaguita.

Jasminum sambac

The scent takes me back to a lot of places–all pleasant, some antiquated religious practices, or just sheer bliss of enjoying the simple beauty yet complex scent of a sampaguita.  Needless to say, I almost bought them all from the lady vendor.  Now, my house smells like heaven.

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The Generous Tamarind Tree

Couple days ago a family of tamarind harvesters asked my mother if they could harvest our tamarind fruits.  They’d buy the fruits but they’d also climb the tree.  It’s a family of 6–the parents plus 4 children.  The oldest child in tow, about 12 years old is also a tree climber like his father.  The rest of the kids are 6, 5 and a 2-year old.


The harvesters climbed the 40′ tree so effortlessly.  And because the fruits are mostly at the end of the branches, they had to go as close as possible at the end of the branches.

magoes,tamarind,kids 076 (533x800)           magoes,tamarind,kids 037 (800x533)


They harvested about 2 large sacks.

magoes,tamarind,kids 045


They only took the green tamarind and left us the ripe ones.  The following day, there were just too much sampalok and I didn’t want to give them away.  So, I made jam.

tamarind jam

Here’s how to make the sampalok jam:



2 kilos ripe tamarind, peeled and deveined

1 liter filtered water

1 1/2 kilos washed sugar

1 tbsp sea salt


Braise cleaned tamarind until pulp has disintegrated.  Using a strainer with large holes (colander is ok), ladle solid tamarind particles and push through sieve.  Discard solids.  All these can be done over the pot/kawali/vat.  Over medium heat, add sugar and salt, stir and reduce until mixture covers the back of the spoon.  Mixture should just be right–not too thick, not too runny.  When jam cools down, it’ll become thicker.

Pour hot tamarind jam directly from the stove to clean canning jars or any contraption you may want to store this in.  Pasteurization is necessary if you’re planning on storing this for a year–just follow canning instructions.  Otherwise, keep it on a tight-lid container and store in the fridge.   Enjoy with a piece of toast or a hot pandesal, or as an accoutrement for Manchego slices.

When life gives you tamarinds, make a sensational Sampalok Jam!

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Ginger Delegation

It’s been a very busy few days–between construction work at home, farm, commercial food photoshoots, and a visit from the Ginger delegation–people who are experts in growing ginger.  Of course, I made lunch and just made the best of what we got in the backyard–practically.  Just let me know if anyone’s interested in the recipe of these items.

Things are coming along  just fine.  I’m here in the Philippines for a reason and it’s now slowly unfolding.  Ecstatic, anxious and excited, there’s so much work ahead, good for the mind, body and spirit.  Cheers to a bright, gingery future!

Flame-Broiled Okra & Sweet Peppers with Dry Farmed Tomatoes, Native Yellow Ginger, Tagalog Onions, Calamansi Dressing

Flame-Broiled Okra & Sweet Peppers with Dry Farmed Tomatoes, Native Yellow Ginger, Tagalog Onions, Calamansi Dressing

Patani (fragrant lima beans), tender yam leaves,  ginger, red onions, Ilocandia dressing

Patani (fragrant lima beans), tender yam leaves, ginger, red onions, Ilocandia dressing

Freshly caught first thing

Freshly caught first thing

Malunggay (moringa) fruits, sweet peppers, local kabocha, okra, pork, ginger braised in coconut cream

Malunggay (moringa) fruits, sweet peppers, local kabocha, okra, pork, ginger braised in coconut cream

2011 Artesa Chardonnay, Limited Release

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A Little Fire, A Little Smoke

One of my preferred ways of preparing eggplant is flame-broiling it–until the skin is charred and the whole fruit is soft.   I simply use my gas stove to achieve this quickly.  After all eggplants have been flame-broiled, I put them on a plate and cover it with a film to encourage further steaming from the residual heat.  The moisture will make the peeling of burnt skin a lot easier.  After peeling it, I lay it on a plate, smear some seasoned bagoong I made from yesterday, dice some dry-farmed tomatoes, a little bit of Spanish onions, and sweet green chilies.  Serve it with fried smoked fish–today, I fried smoked milkfish (bangus) to go along with this.  Simple, quick and satisfying but you can’t tell because the layers of flavors are complex.  A little fire and smoke takes this dish into another dimension.

calamansi 012


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Auntie Esther

Now that the balmy summer is upon us, one of my favorite ways of cooling down is enjoying a tall glass or two of a fruit slush (fruit shake). Just fresh pulp of fruit (or vegetables sometimes), ice and simple syrup–no dairy!  Thanks to my Vitaprep (really worth it!) and our antiquated power transformer (110V to 220V), I can produce these slush at any time of the day, well, depending if there’s a 10-hour blackout or just a 30-minute.

Because it’s Sunday and Mom’s got her disciples of 9 children, I made lunch for them and a fruit slush.  Dad brought home some papayas the other day–one was finally ripe today.  With a hint of calamansi, it’s a perfect item to square a meal in a hot weather under a tree.

While making this fruit slush, it reminded me of one of my favorite aunties, Aunt Esther.  Back in the days, she would make papaya shake with calamansi, with just the right amount of sweetness.  She’s a very sweet lady, gentle and kind, and I hope that I get to see her someday soon. This is her fruit shake, and I propose a toast to her good health and long life!

Papaya Calamansi Slush


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Common Ground

Today, I had to cook Kare Kare for our Sunday supper (braised oxtail with peanut sauce and vegetables) and had to deal with a lot green mangoes from the farm and our neighbor’s mango harvest.  Kare Kare and green mangoes must go with a prepared bagoong (fermented shrimp fry).  I had to make it first thing in the morning–I was up early and started working on this because cooking this bagoong into a savory-salty-sweet with a texture of a conserve, takes about 2 hours top, for half a kilo.  I’d rarely make this but when I was with a Filipino restaurant in San Francisco, I made certain that my bagoong never come in those ready-made jars.  I insisted on cooking it, no matter what.

LEFT:  sauteed garlic, onions and tomatoes with fresh bagoong just added. MIDDLE:  In the process of reduction and introduction of sugar. RIGHT:  Canning.  This is the color of the freshly cooked bagoong.  It should look dark brown like the ones bought already made from stores.

LEFT: sauteed garlic, onions and tomatoes with fresh bagoong just added.
MIDDLE: In the process of reduction and introduction of sugar.
RIGHT: Canning. This is the color of the freshly cooked bagoong. It should look dark brown like the ones bought already made from stores.

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Holy Tinola!

When the skies are in void of azure colors and when the breezes remind you that it’s time to wear another layer of clothing, it’s a good idea to make Tinola.  It is a chicken dish in gingery broth with soft, green papaya and tender pepper leaves.  This classic Filipino dish truly hits home.

Tinola: native chicken in ginger broth, green papaya, pepper leaves, garlic and onions.

Tinola: native chicken in ginger broth, green papaya, pepper leaves, garlic and onions.

Here’s the recipe.



2 tbsp vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small onion, diced
3″ ginger, julienned
3 -4 lb chicken, cut in pieces, (native chicken optional)
2 tbsp patis (fish sauce)
4 cups water or light chicken broth
1 green papaya, peeled and cut into diamonds (or chayote/sayote)
1 1/2 cups pepper leaves


Saute the garlic, onion and ginger in hot oil.  Add chicken, add patis, stir and cover for 10 to 15 minutes–chicken will draw its juice.  Don’t brown and keep heat on medium.  Add water or broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat, add papaya.  Cover and simmer for another 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and toss in pepper leaves.   Salt to taste.

Suggested additional ingredients (to be added in the pot immediately after heat’s turned off):

2 jalapeno peppers or 6 sweet long peppers

1 or a combination of:  spinach, moringa (malunggay), yam leaves, bittermelon leaves alucon

Serve with freshly cooked rice or as is.

Stay healthy, friends!


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The Perfect Longganisa

The longganisas of the Philippines are as varied as its people.  Each are unique and very special and to many, it holds such profound gravity, to a point that it conveniently became one of the key factors on one’s regional identity.  For example, the longganisas of Pampanga are sweet like its people.  The northern conterpart, Vigan, is renowned for their savory and garlicky longganisa.  Other regions are interestingly shaped smaller or larger.  Then again, all of those are special at their own ways.  However, in my 20 years in the States, I have never encountered a longganisa close to the flavours of home.  I call it the “Perfect Longganisa”–lots of native garlic, a little sweet, a little salty, a hint of vinegar, and just the right amount of fat and meat.  And since I’ve been home, I’ve been trying to make up for all those years I’ve missed Isabela longganisa.  Don’t worry, I don’t eat it everyday or every week.  It’s served every other week and in small quantity–I’m not lying!

longganisa 009

Cooked gently by first placing these freshly made Isabela longganisas on a dry kawali. Cover and turn on heat, keep it to the lowest setting. These beauties will cook in its own juice, avoid lifting the lid too much. After about 20 to 30 minutes, remove the lid and turn longganisas once with a pair of tongs. Let remaining juice evaporate and encourage caramelization, turning longannisas as dim feet for even coloring. The rendered fat will aid browning.

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