12 Days in 25 Kilos. Or Less

I’ve done two weeks across Asia in a thirty-liter backpack, half of the allowable international limits for a separate two in colder climes and would fit in a weekend domestic into carry-ons. In stark contrast, my other half packs an entire standard trolley for an overnighter.

India was both our dream destination and our flight was on Valentine’s Day. It was a twelve-day date across six cities for our milestone first trip together abroad — a moveable feast for the moveable feast we are curating for ourselves.

She booked only one checked-in luggage add-on with our flight-only tickets. The idea of not having to lug both his and hers across the subcontinent was a relief until I realized her packing habits and the twenty-five kilogram limit split between us might allow me to squeeze in only a set of disposable underwear and a toothbrush for myself.

Packing light is practical but we really aren’t. We packed strictly around the itinerary factoring in rotations; he wears-she wears swaps, layering and smart accessorizing with considerations for the availability of hotel laundry service and clothing purchases on the go. Items were also arranged in progression of use to do away with having to constantly unpack and pack between locations. We scheduled the heavier items such as denim to wear in flight to save on the kgs while warding off the possible chill from airplane and airport A/Cs. It was such a pleasant surprise to have the rather stuffed result tanking at only sixteen and a half. Yes, including disposable underwear.

 

 

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To Greener pastures

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Our hero was last seen teetering over the first drop of roller coaster 2K16 looking over to the horizon where the sea of Pantone 15-13919 met the Rose Quartz sky. This one pulled out all the stops.

Factoring in more shallow drops, what it lacked in deeper meaning it replaced with multiples lows. The internet became ever-increasingly volatile in reaction not limited to the equally ever-increasingly volatile global occurrences. The principles of action and reaction were challenged by the rise of the social-media empowered neo Cro-magnon – the noveau stupide. There’s entitlement to opinion and then there are entitled opinions, hubbub where there should be none, cudgels taken up instead of chill pills and camps within camps within camps. Brownian Movement now even more so danced disjointed to the beats of Brownman Revival’s all-time, greatest social-commentary hits.

Change was an even bigger byword last year and being careful for what one wishes for was a huge moral lesson to this particular story. I’d throw a lit match to the gunpowder trail leading to kegs of politics, religion and everything in between but enough have been said to fill in these blanks. See previous paragraph.

I still haven’t given up on cheese and while some of that fire has been blanketed by everything else in the scene; or my personal one, at least; more and more options and avenues have become more available especially with the molten cheese scrape trend of late. The Cheese Scraper from Manila came down for a two-day pop-up selling out several blocks of Raclette. Local pick-ups served Italian Mozzarella and Swiss Emmental while more familiar flavors came by Quickmelt Cheddar and Monterey Jack. For all other cheese, local culture has amped up supply albeit “non-dairy”.

The midyear crest came with multiple twists and turns, some gut-wrenchingly thrilling and others turning out plain gut-wrenching.  Of course, many enterprises began on the pretense of pretty making the plate. Their survival into the next year now largely depend on mass appeal, extension of millennials’ trends and how much these would allow one to pinch a peso. The upside had molecular gastronomy basics becoming more common with sous-vide already quite de rigeur changing the game to a focus on quality ingredients. Unless labeled otherwise, what you had on your plate was probably organic. Vegan and its less restrictive variations sat happily alongside meat and other by-products, hands up in the air with each loop-de-loop of dinners and pop-ups.

Rising above the tired lechon ad infinitum fame, we finally came into the Michelin-Star light tunnel with the opening of Jason Atherton’s The Pig & Palm. Local purveyors were not to be outdone with the opening of Anzani Prime and the burgeoning prominence of L’artisan, BOCAS and similar specialty establishments. My Pacific-Islander fantasy feast was fulfilled in a gung-ho pit roast and a “Dinner In the Dark” also proved an eye-opener.

The next sudden twist segued into what for a time seemed to be unending double barrels. The kind where a single shriek all in combined surprise, suspense and delight get extended into a drone with several gasps in between to catch one’s breath as a cassette tape warbled version of Rihanna’s Work works into the same loops. Work-life balance got creatively labeled work-life blending before quickly turning into work-life confusion. Even parties started to become a chore. I’ll admit getting further along in age, time and having to play more “dodge-bull” on a daily basis has necessitated a little toss back here and there. Drunk on the deadly cocktail of insomnia, workload and deadlines. Somewhat addicted to it, too.

Relief came in a series of Monday dinners with visiting chef, Tim dela Cruz, and our significant others plus several other pairs of what was then an ever-growing foodie posse. We’d go to our favorite restaurants, to our own operations and to try out new ones always ending up at Ilaputi for ill-advised weeknight drinks and having to peel ourselves away through long goodbyes and “Goodluck, Tuesdays.” Sadly, Tim had to pull a Michael Jackson and, later, another one of my all-time favorites, Carnivore, was also gone too soon.

At points, we came to dead hangs then sudden sheer drops. ‘Got me every time. The important lesson learned was never to let one’s guard down. In everything, there are pros and cons and then there are pros at being cons.
Just when it all seemed to start running out of track, it also  just keep going. Careening over NYE and straight into Prititit, last year missed its scheduled changeover. Thank God (the Yellow one, if that’s yours) for the reset loophole of the lunar year.

The ride’s shift to a placid feature of a “fresh and zesty yellow-green shade” gives some hope for restoration, revival and reinvigoration. The further push into the foliage, though, is starting to push back with the errant branches whacking one along the way. Oh, well. Here’s hoping we’d all occasionally come across clearings.

Fit To A Tee

img_20160914_165943I hit the weights quite regularly and would think that I’m quite physically fit. My introductory one-on-one workout at Fitcamp PH proved otherwise. I found that my flexibility and my cardio are shot. The warm-up sets had me sweating like I usually would in full ones. I initially scoffed at having been told I’ll be doing an intermediate level workout only to find myself coughing through it. The finishers literally finished me. I’m quite glad to have found functional and performance training to augment my fitness regimen. Over the course of three months, I’ve had many revelations about what I can push myself to do and what I can definitely improve on.

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These professional one-on-one training sessions of late made me realize that I’ve pretty much just been thrashing around the gym for the past few years with just bro advice and pseudo-instructor guidance. With Fitcamp’s instructors having graduate degrees or some academic background in the physical education, physical therapy or sports sciences, I’m assured no quack information, get to do the right set of exercises and get to do them right. I’m making better use of my time now and am both seeing and feeling the effects. I’ve been hitting weights only for the longest time and these dynamic workouts are an entirely new challenge for me. Just a few weeks into it and I’ve leaned out quite well.

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I’m also new to elastic exercise bands and I’m noting a marked difference in elastic tension versus tension due to gravity in traditional tower weight stacks. Tension is also easily adjusted by simply changing grip points on the band. I’ve learned grip points on dumbbells and barbells are make a huge difference in muscle activation and now understand how to utilize these to maximize my moves and the desired effects.  I’ve also become more aware of my form in performing movements and I’ve packed on more lean mass.

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“If it doesn’t challenge you, it does not change you.” I’ve had some personal training sessions before but these guys at FitcampPH take guidance to another level with a whole lot of push. My workouts are largely personalized and logged to monitor performance progress. Each successive workout is tweaked to bring me over my previous numbers or to challenge another fitness parameter.

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I’ve let aesthetics take a backseat to functional and performance training at Fitcamp PH. I’ve had marked improvements in strength, body mechanics and cardiovascular fitness all in just a month. Funny how it now looks like I’m also in the best shape of my life to date without making that my focus. Heart-pounding action, breathless thrills and the drama of my fat cells crying through my sweat glands. 2016 has thrown a lotta punches my way and I’m hitting back with weighted ones.

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I usually have the entire gym to myself on Sunday mornings and Coach Djundi always puts me through the paces with entirely new challenges. One of my Sunday specials had Go Heavy Or Go Home Push-Pull Supersets, Hams & Delts Trisets and Core 300’s. That was 2,041 reps total with most weights from the heavier end of the racks plus a secondary workout courtesy of having to putting all those back. The rest in rest days mean that from work but not one’s goals. I turn up and kill a new program every single time.

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“There is no short cut. It takes time to create a better, stronger version of yourself.”

Hitting the gym should never just be so you could rock that douche-cut shirt for January street parties or LaJustAboutAnyBeachLocation. You’re also most probably doing more reps lifting your smartphone up to take selfies. The walls of Fitcamp PH are filled with #fitspirational quotes. Drenched in sweat, lungs screaming for air and heart pounding through your chest but still barely halfway through a workout, these sure help keep one focused on finishing and doing it right. Doing 5kg Dynaball Rotational Wall Tosses here. Slamming it against the word version to destroy my current and become a better one. Cocooning  just doesn’t cut it anymore.

It could only be better. I could only be better. You could be, too.

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Join me for a FREE trial workout at FITCAMP PH. For inquiries, contact 032-4062869, 09155866124, email info@fitcamp.ph or message them on FB or http://fitcamp.ph.

Just Potlucky

As published on Zee Lifestyle Magazine – November 2016 Entertaining Issue

On one of their regular Monday dinners, food writer Michael Karlo Lim and his better half Vanessa East, foodtrepreneurs Cheanie and Kim Salacop, Ilaputi’s Jan and Karen Rodriguez, and BOCAS Modern Patisserie’s Jean Louis Leon join forces with Zee Lifestyle‘s managing editor Shari Quimbo and partner-in-crime Nath Ybanez for a potluck dinner to end all potluck dinners. Take inspiration from what these food creatives whipped up for your own gatherings this season.

Munchkins are a vivid part of my recollection of potluck parties from kindergarten through college. There’s always that someone who mars the tablescape with these afterthoughts. Thoughtlessness, rather, I’ve always understood that to be. While most everyone brings their best, this person brings his own convenience. I brought these so we’d really be in the theme of the Pinoy potluck.

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We were graciously hosted by the Anzani’s, who regrettably were unable to join the affair, at the loft of their food hall concept, District on 53rd. As with regular dining guests, we were treated to the house appetizer trays, the Food Sungka. Banana Chips done more like nachos and fragrant Turmeric Bread came with an assortment of dips: Hummus, Tahini Mango, Harissa and Tomato Salsa.

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Vanessa East and the author (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Vanessa East and the author (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Vanessa East's pork adobo, derived from a Mindanaonan recipe. (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Vanessa East’s pork adobo, derived from a Mindanaonan recipe. (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)

Mine and Vanessa’s actual pledge paid homage to last year’s adobo cook off. I’d daresay I can cook but, really, I’d rather just eat. My princess stepped up to the plate and offered to prepare Pork Adobo of her mom’s recipe. The resulting dish had me offering her marriage. Pieces of pork rubbed with crushed garlic, then seasoned with salt and ground black pepper were slowly boiled in vinegar and water on low to a total reduction. A stir-fry in the rendered fat with soy sauce and bay leaves finished it. Simple and simply delicious.

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Managing editor Shari Quimbo's Saffron Orzo (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Managing editor Shari Quimbo’s Saffron Orzo (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)

Shari and Nath brought in the main starch to start with her Saffron Orzo. Garlic was sautéed in butter and chicken broth was poured in with the saffron steeped on low heat. Uncooked orzo was brought to a boil in the mix and simmered to al dente until the stock has been absorbed. Oil, seasonings and fresh parsley were stirred in, making a dish reminiscent of risotto.

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Cheanie and Kim Salacop's tininolahang pinaupong manok (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Cheanie and Kim Salacop’s tininolahang pinaupong manok (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)

Restaurant supply-allers Cheanie and Kim brought a Tininolahang Pinaupong Manok for our turkey. A whole dressed chicken was stuffed with herbs and spices, deep-fried and rested to drain oil before a slow simmering with lemongrass, ginger and sautéed onions. The final render gave the soup body and flavor intensity. The meat’s flavors were sealed in the fry while the bath gave it back moisture.

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Ilaputi's Karen and Jan Rodriguez (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Ilaputi’s Karen and Jan Rodriguez (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
The Rodriguezes' roasted cauliflower (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
The Rodriguezes’ roasted buffalo cauliflower (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)

There’s my favorite overachiever, another one of my kindred spirits in appetite and palate, Jan, with his wife Karen, bringing in two dishes plus a surprise number. Stems peeking out of what looked like deep-fried breaded chicken pieces betrayed the vegetal actuality of his Roasted Buffalo Cauliflower. Florets were dipped in a light herb and spice batter, oven-roasted for thirty minutes, rested ten and brushed with Louisiana-style hot sauce before another thirty-minute toast. A flash deep-fry finish freshened it up for service with fresh carrot and jicama sticks, and a blue cheese dip.

Jan's "Faux Gras" is made up of chicken liver with bacon fat, topped with applewood and hickory smoked bacon marmalade (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Jan’s “Faux Gras” is made up of chicken liver with bacon fat, topped with applewood and hickory smoked bacon marmalade (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)

Bacon fat and pureed bacon were emulsified into a chicken liver pate topped with Applewood and Hickory smoked bacon marmalade in his “Faux Gras.” Here the regular chicken liver burst with the richness of bacon fat, making it quite like the real LeCoy. The savory-sweetness in the marmalade helped cut through the fatty goodness albeit its bacon base.

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Jean-Louis, my favorite and inarguably the best pâtissier on the island to date, brought in “Pumpkin”-Spice Eclairs for a seasonal twist. Local squash figured into custard with cinnamon and piped generously on split choux pieces with Chantilly cream. Some croquantine gave a chocolate-hazelnut crunch to the spongy textures with boudoir biscuits and chocolates for garnish.

Jean Louis Leon's "Pumpkin"-Spice Eclairs made with local squash (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)
Jean Louis Leon’s “Pumpkin”-Spice Eclairs made with local squash (Photography by Oliver Echevarria/Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, November 2016)

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Jan’s surprise was his take on the Salted Egg Potato Chips trend. Hand-cut fried potato chips painstakingly brushed with salted egg butter and sprinkled with roasted pepper flakes for a rich and flavorful profile more “salted egg” than most commercial availabilities.

Order of progression has never been established in informal gatherings around these parts. Everyone dipped into the box of Munchkins randomly throughout dinner, each one making some declaration or a Munchkin anecdote with some bravado as if to ease some or share guilt. I gathered that my attempt at bringing humor to the table worked. I also hoped the juxtaposition allowed us to really appreciate all our food experiences. After all, this is thanksgiving.

photography Oliver Echevarria

Dinner in the Dark

“It’s called Dinner in the Dark. Don’t bother with makeup. No one’s going to see you.” I hurried her anticipating bad Saturday night traffic. My PussyKat away on business for the weekend gave me the chance to take out my other woman – my mother, La Emmanuela.

My expectations of a pitch black room and waiters in night-vision goggles were quashed as we were ushered into the Marriot’s ballroom with other guests in blindfolds already into their second course. I’m glad I let my mother finish both her eyebrows. Seated with another pair of latecomers, our “darkness expert” — our dedicated dining guide, Dr. Devi, breezed us through the basics and asked us to put on our blindfolds. We were asked to familiarize our place settings with our hands and served some white wine to ease us into the activity.  Without much further ado, we were served the first course and advised to feel the plate’s edge to imagine distances our cutlery would have to navigate to the portions of food oriented as these would be on a clock’s face. With it came the blow-by-blow interactive instructional commentary.

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Smell your food. What do you smell? What do you think your food is? Everyone, you may begin at your six ‘o clock. Pierce the food with your fork then slice. You have a good piece on your fork, Karlo. You may put that in your mouth now. Miss Emmie, that’s a pretty big slice. You might want to cut that smaller. Yes, that’s a good piece. Sir Donnie, your food fell off your fork. Miss Luisa, very good. Now what do you think your food is? How does it taste? Correct. Prawns. What else is there? Cucumber. Correct. Karlo, move to your nine o’clock. Sir Donnie, you may slide your food to your six ‘o clock. Everyone, your remaining food is at your twelve o’ clock. Please move your food to the center of the plate or to your six o’clock. Now, scoop your food. Miss Emmie, that’s your last piece. Karlo, your food is on now on your sleeve.

My dry cleaning would be one small point about the difficulty of sightlessness and an argument for Ben Affleck’s Daredevil. With sight shut down, the rest of the senses were forced to compensate. Midway through the course, I could identify familiar voices from other tables across the room. I could feel the waiters move around as they dished out plates. Aromas were intensified. Flavors burst in the mouth as they would in color to the eye.

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The first course, as roughly detailed above, first registered to the nose with pleasant herbals then the briny sweetness of prawns hit the tongue. The distinct taste of lemongrass explains the general aroma before the tart sweetness and mild bitterness of pomelo does the fruity notes. Crisp, fresh cucumbers leave a clean finish in the Poached Lemongrass Prawn with Pomelo and Fresh Herb Salad.

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We were asked to take the soup course as if we would from a cup of coffee. It was a Mushroom Cappuccino with Cocoa and Tarragon Powder, after all.  The thick foam texture filled the mouth before the hot and heavy soup which was unmistakably mushroom. Tarragon was a bit lost on the flavor but definitely tickled the nose and the cocoa powder came in punches of pleasantly chocolatey bitterness.

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Red was poured to signal the meat dish. It was quickly echoed in the hearty red wine stew on the tender and succulent beef. The veg mash initially came across as sweet potato but later unfolded as local squash in the main, the Classic Rib Eye and Vegetable in Red Wine Stew.

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The Chocolate Lemongrass Cake for dessert came heavily scented in the herb with the darkly sweet aroma of chocolate chased by the sharp lemony taste of the lemongrass mousse and the rich chocolate base. White chocolate bonbons added a toothsome.

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Dinner in the Dark was brought to the Queen City of the South by the Eye Society in partnership with the Marriott Hotel Cebu for the benefit of the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. The Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines is a non-profit, non-government humanitarian organization that brings the gift of sight to corneally blind individuals. The reinterpretation of the Manila installments’ menu was by the Marriot’s executive chef Chachpol Suaisom, who, owing to his heritage, deftly included touches of Thailand in the preparations.

More than just a delicious dinner and a novel new experience, I headed home with a newfound appreciation for my 20-20’s and a rekindled desire to be an organ donor. Corneal, to be specific to the cause of the Eye Society and the Eye Bank Foundation of the Philippines. Ironically, Dinner in the Dark was, well, quite an eye-opener.

Mad Hatter

Ever the optimist, I’ve always been into exploring possibilities. Limitations only came by the reality of the physical self and singularity all bound by time. Still, I’ve managed to touch on a lot of this’ and thats. I’ve always loved the thought of the Multihyphenate and to go by Trade Jack would be quite an understatement at this point.  And, yes, I take some pride in embodying the idiom: wears many hats.

As a country beat weary by weather extremes, we really should get into the habit of headgear. Most often, sporting such is pushed by Western pop culture as in the woolen, knit beanie worn with muchhats-misappropriated panache in this humid, tropical heat. More points off Slytherin if it comes with the name of our Summer Capital worked into the knitting.

I have a modest collection of hats and have grown quite fond of Panamas with their growing popularity and local availability.  Rain or shine functionality, too.  I get a lot of Bruno Mars ribbings, yes, never mind that he’s more into fedoras. I also have a few of the latter with one favorite in twisted paper straw.  Quite easier to pull off are the ultimate security blanket — the more ubiquitous baseball cap.

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The cap has evolved from just-baseball and has become widely identified with other sports, sports merchandising and permutations pertaining to professions such as the infamous Trucker. Natural flat visor shape has gone through the cycle of the coveted curve and back to what is now known as the flat bill. From snapbacks to elasticized to cinched to the trendy fitted of today, it has become a subculture of its own.

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New Era Caps, “an international lifestyle brand with an authentic sports heritage that dates back over 90 years”, opened at SM City Seaside earlier this year. Boasting of a dizzying assortment of caps, mainly in US regional and sporting team themes, they also carry statement caps, movie tie-ins and iconic character features. Featured during my first visit was a flashy, metallic ode to Voltez-V.

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Beyond the not-quite-basics, they offer an update on the 90’s bucket with a more contemporary silhouette and in an assortment of prints. Ranger hats in all-weather material were available in solid brights and same prints as the buckets. There’s also their field cap with a high drum panel. Fedoras came in options of fiber weave and solid felt. I picked up a fitted cap in red and in the no-fail black. I chose a flatcap in the beige to add easy sartorial elegance to the otherwise regular pique polo and chino day or a stylish cover for bad hair ones.

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The brand carries shirts in similar design themes as the caps to extend the line of casual cool. Completing the lifestyle circle is a series of bags: pouches, drawstring slings, messengers and specialized backpacks. They even have some specific for storage of caps.

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Different strokes for different folks. New Era Caps offers walls upon walls and shelves of choices of hats to match each personal requirement and personality. For my particular case of schizophrenia: multiple choices to match all of mine.

 

New Era Caps – Cebu is located at SM Seaside Cebu.