Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Yes Meding, Grapes Grow In The Philippines!

I got a viber message from my friend Dom Hernandez asking if I'm free Monday for a day trip to La Union to look at vineyards. My first response was "we grow grapes in the Philippines?" and he replied with a photograph of three happy people clowning under the grape vines. I immediately marked my calendar and moved a few appointments to the evening. This was my kind of trip, only Julie Andrews can stop me from going.
The visit to the vineyards was arranged by the Department of Agriculture. The department's charming undersecretary Berna Romulo-Puyat invited food writers and wine connoisseurs to look at the many possibilities of these locally grown grapes.
Avelino Lomboy started planting grapes in Bauang, La Union in the 70s. President Corazon Aquino visited in 1988, picking grapes herself from Mr. Lomboy's lovely vineyard. Today, there are more vineyards in La Union. You can see them in between mango orchards and tobacco plantations. The province has wisely diversified its crops making good use of its rich soil and bright sun.
Soon, with the opening of the TPLEX, it would take only three hours from Manila to La Union by car. One can go during harvest season and enjoy grape picking and a picnic under the shade of the grape trellises.
I went home with a kilo of sweet grapes I picked myself, they go for P120./kilo. I write this in remembrance of my yaya Meding who would have been celebrating her birthday today. She would have not believed my amazing story about the vineyards but would have enjoyed the grapes for sure. Yes Meding, may ubas na sa Pilipinas.

If you love grapes and road trips, check out

Twenty-five minutes by plane, La Union.

The San Fernando Airport in La Union.

Throwback: President Corazon Aquino visits the Lomboy vineyard, Good Friday 1988

The sun shines much brighter in La Union.

It is true! Grapes grow in the Philippines.

My height is just right for grape picking!

Sevrine Miailhe and Berna Romulo-Puyat checking out the grapes.

Dom Hernandez does a "GrapeFie".

Picnic under the trellises at the Gapuz Grape Farm.

Chef Henny Sison and mixologist Enzo Lim.



The star of our feast.

The future looks bright for growing grapes in the Philippines.

Loving grapes and loving the Philippines, Enzo Lim, Dom Hernandez, me, Berna Romulo-Puyat,
Sevrine and Edouard Miailhe.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Faith and History

In our road trips, my friends and I make it a point to visit a church, not only to admire the architecture but to give thanks for the gift of life, love and friendship. Every time we visit a church for the first time, I get to say my three wishes. I pray for good health, for me, my family and my friends. I pray for my nephews, nieces and their generation to grow up as kindhearted human beings, I believe when you're a good soul, everything that's good in the world will surround you. Finally, I pray that I constantly get inspired creating beautiful things so I can continue being a blessing to others.
We were able to visit two historic churches, the Malolos Cathedral and the Barasoain Church. Visiting churches in the provinces has further strengthened my faith. I am moved by the simple folks' piety and total surrender to our Maker. You feel it when they respond to the priest aloud and when they sing, eyes closed.
Once more, my soul is enriched with faith and history. My deep faith and love of country renewed.

The Malolos Cathedral.

I couldn't go near the altar to take a photo because a wedding Mass was going on.

A monument to the first Philippine president, Emilio Aguinaldo at the Barasoain Church patio.

The historic Barasoain Church.

An old man's bicycle parked in front of the church.

A wedding Mass was also going on at the Barasoain Church.

Barasoain Church ceiling.

Through thick and thin, through sick and sin. From left, Maria Antonia Aquino, Marita Nagar, Beth de la Rosa, Elizabeth Ruiz-Ang, Gwen Tiu-Tangcueco, Maryann Galeno, Joel Joves, Tracy Poblete, Rebecca Almendras, Bernard Bolisay, Dinny Lazo and me.

The House Of Dr. Luis Santos

Our tour of Malolos continues, from the Cojuangco ancestral house, our gracious host Melecio Cojuangco brought us to the house of Dr. Luis Santos. Mel arranged the visit with one of the heirs of Dr. Santos, George Imperial.
From the outside, one would already be in awe of the sheer size of the house. The house was built in 1933, according to the marker by the gate. Upon entering, you will marvel at the grand staircase, the expansive receiving room and the foyer filled with hard bound medical books and mementos of Dr. Santos' career as a well loved doctor in this town. The second floor was something else, as our group slowly ascended the magnificent staircase, my heart literally skipped a beat at the sight of the ceiling mural and Art Deco details. We found out later that the mural was painted by the great Fernando Amorsolo himself. There was a private chapel in honour of Our Lady of Lourdes and a bedroom where a figure of the Santo Entierro lies. It is brought out on Good Fridays for the procession. Through the kitchen, was what I imagined as a secret door to the tower. The house is very much intact, George told us that termites gave up on the hard wood used to build the house, the floors a combination of four tree varieties.
It was 36 degrees outside that afternoon, but the visual spectacle was worth the sweat.

Thank you very much to Mr. George Imperial for welcoming us to this beautiful house.

The house of Dr. Luis Santos

Upon entering, you will be awed by the sheer size of the rooms.

Medical books

A photo of Dr. Luis Santos

The grand staircase leading to the second floor.

I wasn't prepared for this, a breathtaking Fernando Amorsolo mural on the second floor living room.

Art Deco at its peak.

Hanging above the piano in the living room, Kundiman 1932, by Fabian de la Rosa

Our group shot with Melecio Cojuangco and George Imperial.

The private chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes.

The Kitchen.

The spiral staircase leading to the tower.

A divan for two at the tower room.

It was 36 degrees that afternoon, but the visual spectacle was worth the sweat.

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Cojuangco Ancestral House

Our next journey takes us to a historic town in Bulacan, thirty minutes north of Manila. My road trip buddies, my college friends who all share with me the same fascination for heritage houses were privileged by an invitation from Melecio Cojuangco to visit their ancestral house in Malolos. Mel, his cousin in law Marissa Lopa, Rima Datuin and Evelyn Bautista and I discovered each other's funny bone because of our love for the ice cream served in a huge bowl at Peninsula Manila's lobby. One evening, to justify our appetite, we pretended it was my birthday and we had the string quartet play happy birthday for me, from then on, we became good friends.
Mel's grandfather, Jose Cojuangco was born at the Malolos house, very near the Barasoain Church. Jose's mother traded rice from Nueva Ecija, sacks transported by boat via the river at the back of the kamalig to Binondo, Manila.
Like most turn of the century houses, the Cojuangco house uses piedra china stones for the ground floor and wood for the second level. It has only one bedroom with an adjacent 'baby' room for the newborn Jose. This was home to the young Cojuangco couple, Melecio (Mel's great grandfather) and Tecla before they moved to Tarlac.
The ground floor or Silong which was used as storage in the past, was converted into a mini museum where enlarged old photos tell the story of the Cojuangcos. There is so much history about the house and Malolos, a history of heroes and our great nation.

The Cojuangco Ancestral House in Malolos, Bulacan

Now filled with historical photographs, the Silong (ground floor) of the house was used as a storage room in the past.

Jose Cojuangco and Demetria Sumulong on their wedding day, 11 October 1924

Don Pepe with wife Metring in New York, together with (from left) Jose Jr., Corazon, niece Lulu, Pedro,
Teresita and Paz (foreground)

With our gracious host Melecio Cojuangco, and good friend Rima Datuin

The house has only one bedroom with an adjoining 'baby' room.

We had Filipino comfort food for lunch - Pakbet, Adobong Pusit and Halabos na Hipon

On the side was home made Pancit Malabon, I had to have seconds!

The best home made Leche Flan I've tasted!

Pastillas de Leche, a Bulacan delicacy.

The Kamalig, equivalent of a barn where rice is stored.