Much Ado About Turkey

I didn't grow up celebrating Thanksgiving. I've never roasted a turkey or manhandled one. The prospect of doing so terrifies me a little. Being a cultural assimilator, I feel that the proper thing to do would be to take part in the full process even if it's only making dinner for two. When I broached the idea of cooking the turkey, the beau hesitantly nodded and hinted with a smile that like anything in life, we should have a back up plan. I was just as hesitant about my skills.

For a couple of weeks, I ruminated on menus and different turkey options from Williams Sonoma, Zabar's, The Fresh Market, Dean and Deluca and Chef Charles Catering . No time for experimentation, it was going to be a toss among the last three options since the first two would rack up a higher carbon footprint. While at Dean and Deluca, a li'l birdie told me about the delicious Bojangles turkey. A chicken and biscuit fast food chain, it is an unlikely, un-Norman Rockwell place to get the Thanksgiving centerpiece. Like my fashion or interior design sense, I wanted to do a high-low approach with the menu but the beau said, the founding fathers wouldn't have approved of the Bojangles fried turkey. Issue was solved when we decided to finally accept an invitation and drove to Greenville, South Carolina with some sweet potato casserole and a case of wine. It turned out to be an intimate celebration with two other couples and their three children. A tasty candlelit meal peppered with brilliant humor and interesting conversation.

While making the casserole, I got the idea to wear this special vintage dress. Thankfully, my extended closet/storage is only two miles away. The dress was my grand aunt, Mama Isabel's, and Ronald Villavelez reworked it with meringue-like asymmetrical hem and sleeves that make me want to merengue!

With a deep neckline, I thought the necklace I made in August using rice pearls, copper chains and balls, carved wooden and jade balls would make the dress more apropos for the dinner table. It looks like it was made to match the Garnier Thiebaut table linens I bought in Strasbourg in 2007. I am a big fan of theirs and these gorgeous linens in vivid colors were my holiday gifts for family and friends that year. They had every color that matched all personalities and homes.

I walked out the door sashaying in these fabulous peep toe platforms from Costume National. Needless to say, fashion inspired by the sweet potato casserole ruled over function. Looking like a well dressed turkey, I had to eat like a bird.

Sweet Potato Casserole
by Bernadette Gallego*
5 cups sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter, melted
3 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup milk
Mix the wet ingredients together. Add to the mashed sweet potato and mix well.
Pour into a greased oven proof baking dish.
Then mix the following together:
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chopped slightly toasted pecans(toast over low flame, stir so they wont burn)
1 cup coconut flakes
1/3 cup flour
1 cup butter, melted
Mixture will be crumbly. Spread over the top of the sweet potato mixture and bake at
375F for 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

*Bernadette is a dear dear friend who is a domestic goddess in every way. One of those charming hostesses who can whip up an amazing multi course dinner pronto for 20, without batting an eyelash. Her famous pastry shop, La Marea, in Cebu makes a TDF brownie cup. Before I moved here, she was so gracious to teach me some standby recipes so I can at least do some elementary entertaining.


Albi and Me

Many have asked about the story behind my profile photo and the interesting animal in the portrait. Everyone, please meet Albi (short for Albino). His name is not very original and some of you must be thinking, how un-politically correct! Albi was one of three albino carabaos or water buffaloes (the Philippine national animal) saved from the slaughter house and we just wanted to celebrate his nude/ peach/pink color. Which answers the next question---his color or image wasn't photoshopped. He was docile all throughout the two shoots. Our first attempt was a night shoot in his surroundings but the studio shoot worked out better. He only made a fuss when we tried to put on a Swarovski lariat necklace by Miranda Konstantinidou (Konplott) so we left him au naturel. Looks much better anway. The dress by talented fashion designer, Ronald Villavelez, and Konplott jewelry ended up matching Albi without much forethought. When I talked to Ron about the dress, I told him I wanted something in eggshell or nude and a modern take on the Filipino terno (our national costume). He called me for the fitting and my jaw dropped when I saw the laser cut florettes on the sleeves, the delicate ruffles and the mix of nudes. Leave it up to him to create something better than imagined. The jewels were an afterthought. I called Miranda while getting made up at the studio and asked if she had anything peachy pink. The driver came back with a bunch of beautiful jewels and I picked this Swarovski pearl layered necklace and bracelet which look like they were just made for this moment. Albi and I unintentionally matched! If I remember correctly, we wrapped up in 2 hours.
If a picture speaks a thousand words, then O speaks volumes. How long will the story of a photo be after Romero Vergara transforms the subject with his amazing maquillage artistry and then Jon Unson captures that particular image at that moment? Alive yet frozen in time.  I am thankful to be part of this book collaboration by publisher Eva Gullas, photograper Jon Unson, and make up artist Romero Vergara. Published in 2006.

A book called O

O is for openness, an open door to
exciting possibilities, a space that
allows access...it is an open
mind, receptive to ideas, and open
to vulnerabilities...

O is just like oxygen, a necessity
to living a life...

O is a circle that gives
a different view, a different

Introduction by Jing Ramos

The Company We Keep

It takes more than wit to capture the nuances and mood of a community that is on the brink of turning cosmopolitan. Welcome to our times - Cebu on the throes of constant upswing transformation, peopled by the pages of this book - hopefully viewed with sympathy by the next generation.
The photographs Jon Unson have taken, fortunately, are all for art's sake. And like most of his works they often explore the nature of closeness and disaffection, sameness and anomaly, belonging and exclusion, the tension derived from sentimental expectations of what is supposed to be and the debacle of what really is. Or perhaps the timing is just a coincidence.
Something uncanny occurs in civilized people when they're suddenly confronted by a truth they have long repressed. Our dignity, after all, depends upon continence, in the broadest sense of the word, and Jon Unson's subjects leak their souls. Some sitters were in part souvenirs of initiation and trophies of acceptance.
Portraiture in whatever form is an autonomous high minded act. But if the pictures make you wonder how Jon got them and why his subjects consented to pose as they did, everyone with a true and false identity secretly knows the answer. In the process of becoming visible one risks being seen through. On the other hand the photographs have blurred the lines of class distinction and social roles, while the photographer harrowed the more subjective, unstable terrain of eroticism and gender.
Romero Vergara's aesthetics bring out a distinct reality that can only be described as his own. And it takes a publication like Zee to tackle the challenge of a unique perspective and bringing this vision into the mainstream.

Romero Vergara + Jon Unson

Please allow me to share a few of 117 lovely portraits....

Rose Amores Hudson, florist

Oj Hofer, fashion designer & aspiring bodhisattva

Joanna Maitland Smith-Lhuillier, bag & jewelry designer

Stephen Aznar, sommelier

Amparito Lhuillier, business+social doyenne

Kenneth Cobonpue, furniture designer

Marjay Ramirez, model

Miranda Konstantinidou, jewelry designer

Margot Osmena, First Lady of Cebu

Butch Carungay, jewelry designer

Rosebud Sala, interior decorator

Nina Kokseng-Misa, restaurateur

Jaja Chiongbian-Rama, entertainment media director

Behind the scenes:

Albi post mud-bath
with Jon and Romero prepping


Manang Flor's Tsokolate

Incessant rain and wind for the last three days, Ugh!
 Not even my fab OTK boots and shearling vest make me want to leave the comfort of my flannel pajamas for a London Fog latte run to Starbucks. While going through the fridge, the sight of three packs of tablea (cocoa chunks native to the Philippines) readily suggested that  some hot dark cocoa would make the appropriate dreary weather antidote.
Exhibit A - tablea my mom special ordered from her tablea maker
Exihibit B - Megan's tablea from a Cebu grocery store

I grew up drinking tsokolate for breakfast the way my Mamalo's (how we call our Grandma) cook, Manang Flor, makes it and serves in my favorite Donald Duck cup.  Manang Flor played a great role during my formative years in shaping my love and appreciation for food. She executed Mamalo's instructions to home cooked perfection by consistently churning out a full breakfast spread and five balanced meals twice a day. God bless her heart, she has outlived the mistress of the household and continues to live with the family.

(photo courtesy of candy mag)

The implements to use when making Philippine style hot chocolate is the batidor and chocolatera.
Mine are in storage so a normal pot with a whisk or my Ikea frother worked but it takes away the pomp. I chanced into Market Manila's food blog where he wrote about making hot chocolate and using  batidors et al on one post and here are his photos:


Burnt Lumpia, Filipino food blogger, waxed historic and alcoholic with his version.
Here are his photos:
the cinnamon sticks add a nice touch
Filipino Russian

However, I just waxed sentimental as I sipped a strong semblance of Manang Flor's brew with 8 pcs. of Exhibit A tablea, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of 2% milk.*  It was rich and a bit gritty and would have been perfect with some puto (rice cakes) or churros (the way the Spanish take it) . Tonight, I will try Exhibit B with just milk and keep myself warm with memories of 46 Sindulan St., Mabolo where my dear Mamalo once lived.

*Most people add sugar but I like it dark and bitter since I have the memories to make it sweet.


The Swag

Last July, the beau took me on a surprise weekend to Waynesville, North Carolina. It was the first time Waynesville ever surfaced on my geo radar. Our first stop was Waynesville Inn ,  a historic lodge with 27 holes of championship golf designed by Donald Ross.

The accomodations have a dated country club meets campy vintage feel.
This Magnavox is so "tiempo ni mampor"!
 *Cebuanos use the term "Panahon/Tiempo ni Mampor" (At the times of Mampor) when they refer to something that's Old World (pre-18th century). Mampor was Capt Joaquin Montfort, commander of the Spanish army in Cebu in 1898. The Philippines was colonized by Spain for almost four centuries.

Food was forgettable but the view of the green and the mountains from the rocking chairs was picture perfect.
The spot to read a good book or have a cocktail.
We woke up the next day excited for the main event of the weekend.
Sixteen miles into the journey,

we finally saw the sign to The Swag Country Inn 

the nondescript gates add to the mystique.
After a two and a half mile drive climbing more than 1000 ft,
we were greeted by our hospitable guide.

 While waiting for our room to be ready,
we were given a quick tour of the inn, our personalized walking sticks and lunch bags
with sandwiches, great potato salad and the famous Swag Bars.

 Swag Bar Recipe 
1 cup white sugar
2 cups peanut butter
1 8oz package of chocolate chips
1 cup white Karo syrup
6 cups scrunched corn flakes
Put sugar, syrup and peanut butter in a large heavy pan. Heat very hot, almost to boil, and stir constantly. Take off stove, mix in scrunched corn flakes. Mix well. Press lightly into oiled pan (9x13). Sprinkle chocolate chips evenly over the top. They will melt after a while but, to speed up the process, put in the oven for a few minutes. Score the bars while still hot, they are hard to cut when cool. These freeze well.
The Swag is adjacent to and shares this mile long rail fence that borders the
Famished, we opted for the shortest hike to Gooseberry Knob
and reached Roger's Hideaway in no time.
With an unsurpassed view of four of North Carolina's six highest mountain ranges,
we sat transfixed and immersed in the beauty of it all.
There was so much to explore, we only covered a tip of the 250 acre estate.

tree house
refreshment area
We were told that Gail's Room is one of the most spectacular so we couldn't wait to enjoy it.
Whiling the afternoon away in the outdoor soaking tub 
overlooking the mountains was ultimate relaxation.
 I find a little fellow who’s cute and yellow and chubby! Rub-a-dub-dubby!

with fine vintage bubbly!

The following interior shots depict the little details that give The Swag
some of its character aside from the warm people that make it special.


In our room, an excerpt of The Velveteen Rabbit
was etched on a piece of wood.
A touching reminder of life and love.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."