Category Archives: Thoughts

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.

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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!

sampalokjam 019



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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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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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Bleeding Skies after the Rain

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Photo: Taken from my window after a hard rainfall.  Behind the lower clouds touching the ground is Ifugao (Mountain Province) mountain range.

I live in a vast valley floor with two magnificent mountain ranges on opposite ends of Isabela: the Mountain Province on the west and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges towards the east. With that said, an ocean view is something that we are void of especially at sunsets when the ocean is most stunning. But, my beloved Valley won’t fail to disappoint. In fact, it’s been providing equally stunning sunsets after sunsets, not to mention sunrises. Afterall, I still see ocean but in this case, it’s not water, they are emerald rice plants.

Isabela Express

After 67 days since I left my beloved San Francisco, I’m beginning to make sense of my reality here in the province I grew up in: Isabela, Philippines.  Armed with tools of my everyday conveniences in the States that I’ve brought with me, I wish to document moments, things and traditions I’ve taken for granted when I was young and stupid growing up in this bucolic, agrarian countryside.  As I hang my apron temporarily, giving my “chef” title a break, to smell the roses (or ilang-ilang in this case), I wish to share the world that happiness comes from the smallest and simplest things.  I look forward to my everyday adventures whether it is around my yard or out and about other provinces and big cities.

Welcome to Isabela Express and come explore with me!


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