This Happy Farmer Breaks Gender Stereotypes

It takes someone who has actually done it to state with confidence that the hands that rock the cradle can also till the soil. Women can successfully raise children, produce food by cultivating the land, and contribute significantly to community building.

 Luzviminda Teston-Oropesa is one such woman.

None of those tasks is easy, especially for a single mother like her, who manages her farm in an environment that lies in the country’s typhoon belt. Minda Oropesa is from Catanduanes, which had experienced extreme weather disturbances in recent memory. Each time she felt like giving up upon seeing the damage caused by those storms, she kept reminding herself of the many reasons she should rise and start all over again. She has always placed the welfare of the farm workers and those who stand to benefit from the fruits of their labor above her own.

Geologist turned farmer

Before she went into farming, Minda was a professional geologist and was working as the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officer of a mining company in Leyte. While managing soil rehabilitation activities in the mined areas, she envisioned vast potentials for her family-owned farm in Catanduanes. She had clear plans for her retirement, and as soon as the opportunity came in 2011, she went back to her idyllic town of Baras and started developing their more than three hectares of agricultural property.

Oropesa as featured in the 2020 calendar of the Department of Agriculture

In 2012 she organized the Happy Farmers Producers Integrated and Livelihood Association, Inc. (HAFPILA) composed of 37 members/farmers, 30 of whom were women. The term ‘Happy Farmers’ in their name has the same ring to it as that of The Happy Island, the tag used by Catanduanes for tourism promotion. The organic farm is listed as one of the Certified Learning Sites for Agriculture in the Bicol region, a classification given to farms that adopt applicable agricultural technologies, using doable and sustainable farming strategies, and are operating successfully.


She deserves the credit for introducing the members to the Diversified Integrated Farming System (DIFS), a concept that favors polyculture or growing different crops, over that of the traditional monoculture, where a single crop is planted over a wide area. Researches have shown that DIFS is more viable, uses natural resources more efficiently, offers better pest resistance, and produces more varied and nutritious produce. In the long term, it has better contribution to economic stability and social equality as it allows farmers to participate directly in decision making.

Everything Organic

Vermiculture has an important role in organic farming

The member farmers do not use chemical fertilizers; instead, they produce carbonized rice hull enriched with vermicompost tea and extracts from fish amino acids (FAA), fermented plant juice (FPJ), and oriental herbal nutrients (OHN). They also engage in vermiculture or the cultivation of earthworms for composting. The by-products, which are made available commercially to the community, have been proven in many studies to promote plant growth and significantly increase nutrient content of fruits and vegetables without degrading the natural resources.

These days it is not uncommon to see young people, especially agriculture students from the Catanduanes State University and youth council members, getting immersed in farm activities – a hopeful vision for Minda. “Our farmers are already old, I hope that the children will continue their parents’ endeavors in tilling the land where they were born,” says this woman farmer who walked her talk when she chose to nurture her father’s bequeathed land.

Agri students learn how to turn rice hulls into organic fertilizer

At certain times, Minda’s farm would burst with colors from flowers and fruits of roselle, dragon fruit, and other seasonal crops, which are sold fresh or processed as jams. For additional income and sustained livelihood, HAFPILA ventured into the production of natural food supplements in 2014. Medicinal plants, including moringa, serpentina, turmeric, mangosteen, and gotu kola grow abundantly on the island. These are solar-dried or made into tea, essential oil, or processed and packed as food supplements in capsule form. Despite the ‘no approved therapeutic claims’ caveat, the use of certain herbs for medicinal purposes has become popular in many cultures. Many of them are undergoing scientific reviews for their possible health benefits, especially in light of the ongoing pandemic. For example, serpentina (Andrographis Paniculata) is believed to reduce the severity of lung inflammation and could be helpful during the early stages of Covid 19.

Part of the farm planted with dragon fruits, a rich source of healthful nutrients and profitable income
Oropesa and some of HAFPILA’s products at a recent trade fair

Happy Farmers, for a Happier, Healthier Lifestyle

For her laudable initiatives to promote organic farming in Catanduanes, Minda was awarded the top prize in the Search for Outstanding Rural Women of the Department of Agriculture in 2015. In her acceptance speech, she said, “It is an honor to be a woman. We play a big role in shaping our nation.” Onwards, she knows that this role comes with huge challenges. “Despite the abundant resources in our province, Catanduanes remains one of 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines with high prevalence of malnutrition,” she says.

Oropesa during the 2015 Awards for Outstanding Rural Women

Through HAFPILA, she hopes to achieve food security through the use of efficient, effective and productive farming systems. She dreams to replicate the humble successes of her group in as many farming communities as possible in Catanduanes. “In supporting us, in buying our products, you are helping us realize our dreams.”


Call 0926 728 3444 or click here for inquiries.

(An edited version of this article is in the August 28, 2021 issue of the BusinessMirror. Photo credits: HAFPILA, Inc.)

Of Summers Past and the Pinurunan

(This piece was originally published in The Catanduanes Tribune in May 2007, l-o-o-o-n-g before I started blogging. It appeared in Sisay Kita?, a column written by Dr. Ramon Felipe Sarmiento, a respected advocate of Catandunganon heritage preservation. He graciously wrote the following intro to my essay:

Note: The recently concluded elections once again reminded us of one truly dark aspect of our Catandunganon selves. Every three years, we are made to partake of this shameful, degrading exercise. It leaves such a heaviness in our spirits, a nasty bad taste in the mouth. Why do they have to schedule elections during the merry month of May when we are supposed to bask with sunlight, indulge the senses with the scent of flowers and the taste of delicacies, and enrich the spirit with devotion to the Holy Cross and Mama Mary? The good news is that there is enough of our Catandunganon experience that could counteract the negative effects of elections. Tribune reader Chit Aldave-Tribiana, now based in the capital city, sent this charming essay about her memories of summer in Calolbon. We publish it here to remind us of the brighter side of our being Catandunganons, something that should hopefully take the better part of us and eclipse, God willing, our vices. We should not give up on ourselves. – Mon Sarmiento


I count the summers that I have not been to my hometown and I sigh over lost opportunities. The last time I visited San Andres was in 1994, so that adds up to over a decade of missed chances to go back in time – to places that hold personal significance, and with people I’ve kept special kinship with despite the years. San Andres is ‘home’ because it is where I was born, and although I was raised, schooled, and now have chosen to live with my own family in Manila, my parents, when they were still around, made sure that we spent summers with relatives and friends in good old Calolbon. Looking back now, those were unforgettably feel-good times.

It’s the peak of summer again, and memories seem to recur even at the slightest effort.

I scale the stairs to take my MRT ride to work and suddenly it feels strangely like counting the steps going up and down the Calolbon municipio – a favorite energy burner back then when the knees were stronger and the heart could take the pounding, no problemo. And all that just to get a nice view of much of the town sentro, the turquoise span of the Maqueda Channel, and the distinct contour of the Mayon Volcano on the horizon.

Mt. Mayon as seen from the Calolbon (now San Andres) municipal view deck

Going past Mother Mary’s statue at the EDSA Shrine, I couldn’t help thinking of the Batong Paloway chapel, which enshrines what is believed to be a miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary. I last saw the image in the early ‘70s when it was about the size of a regular postage stamp; it has reportedly grown bigger since then, and sadly, has been the subject of a few controversies. I, myself, am puzzled as to how a probable reproduction of a Renaissance painting on a stone found its way into the barrio. The painting, which is called the Madonna del Dito or Our Lady of the Thumb, is sometimes attributed to Carlo Dolci, a 17th century Italian painter. Interestingly, the question of who actually painted the Madonna del Dito still has no definitive answer. Of course, for many devotees, faith has no need for proof or logic, and in the final reckoning, believing unconditionally is what really matters. There’s no denying though that the Batong Paloway image is one of the most beautiful representations of the Virgin Mary in a dolorous form. Whatever the true story is behind the ‘growing stone’, San Andres is a must-see place if only because of Batong Paloway.

Image of the Blessed Virgin Mary on a stone, enshrined in Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel in San Andres, Catanduanes

Where we live in the city, a group of young people have started hanging buntings on the streets in preparation for the feast of San Isidro Labrador in the middle of May. That’s when I ache for the slew of fiestas taking place back in San Andres during this merry month, especially those in Sta. Cruz, Salvacion, Datag, Tibang, Carangag, and Lictin. The city folks could learn a lot from Calolbonganons, or from Catandunganons for that matter, on celebrating fiestas – from the de rigueur novena, to the pabayle, to the fiesta proper, down to the segunda dia.

For nine consecutive nights before the fiesta, the barrio jovenes keep themselves busy by organizing the novena prayers to their patron saint. This means, among other things, decorating the ermita, inviting the parapoon and hiring a gitarista. The novena attendees are lucky if the jovenes are the hardworking type, because then, their goodie bags or tandan after the prayers would include not only biscuits but also ibos and pinurunan. With thoughts of the pinurunan, I feel my craving reaching its peak. This delicacy, which is made from ingredients and materials largely found in the province, virtually takes a village and trusty teamwork to prepare. Especially when it is used as tandan, I view it as a metaphor for the barrio folk’s piety, diligence, and strong sense of community.

cabo and his or her group members who are assigned on a given novena day, usually source the materials for the pinurunan. Other jovenes give either cash or contributions in kind, such as rice, coconut, sweet potatoes, and sugar. The rest pitch in by working the grindstone, preparing the lukadon and the langkoy, wrapping the pinurunan, or tending the hours-long steaming. Wrapping itself can be a creative expression. The easy way is to wind the despined coconut leaf or langkoy around the round-shaped dough in a radial fashion and tie the neat package with a knot; the fancier way, which is rarely done nowadays, is to weave the langkoy, mat-like style, around the dough. Because of the coconut content, pinurunans do not keep for a long time. But then, what took hours to prepare is virtually demolished in a flash. After a bite into the chewy texture with the distinct sweetish, nutty taste, there’ll be no reason for leftovers.

The pabayle, which comes after the novena, draws volumes of memories that perhaps it is best left for another round of musing. For now I imagine dusk setting in, creating silhouettes of coconut trees with their fronds waving gracefully in a nature dance. From somewhere, the faint strains of a guitar, which earlier accompanied the songs of the pious, drift into my consciousness, lulling me to dreamland. The whole pinurunan experience fades into the night, but not without leaving its tacit lesson: prayers coupled with hard work have their just rewards in due time. For some, the rewards may come fast and sure like the tandan after the novena. Others may have to count years, but if they wait, life’s blessings do come without fail. Many of those youth group members who are now way past their jovenes days hold positions of governance in their town or elsewhere. Clearly, their first shots at leadership had served them well.

I’ve just passed up another chance to visit San Andres. Although writing about it eases the longing somehow, I know I’ll have to do something about going back sooner rather than later.

For now, I invoke echoes of summers past in my mind… and I’m home.

A new ‘project’ on the Taft block


cover photo

It opened barely a week ago but it’s already threatening to steal some business from foreign brands Starbucks and Seattle’s Best, at least in the millennials area of Vito Cruz/Taft Avenue.

The Coffee Project is the latest business meant to complement the other ventures of All Value Holdings Corp. owned by Senator Manny Villar. Earlier Coffee Project shops opened only last year in different parts of Metro Manila and in the Villar-owned Vista Malls in Sta. Rosa, Antipolo, Pampanga, and Bataan. With capitalization of PhP240 million, it hopes to complete at least 20 projects by end of 2017.

Check out why The Coffee Project is billed the most Instagrammable café in the metropolis.

when all else fails

start your day

no one gets hurt

your monday be short


There’s a nook to suit your every mood.

hello taft

bike corner

hello taft 1

way up
More to see on the upper level but they will have to wait till my next visit.

ceiling art
Enjoy your coffee with this  ceiling  art above your head.


And ‘hugot’ lines aplenty.

love is all you need

hello goodbye

trash can

your ex

View more photos here.




A Tea House Like No Other

mabuhay temple.jpg
The Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple

Sometimes, when the fam craves “something different,” we usually take a short trike ride from our place to a Buddhist temple.

No, we’re not Buddhists nor vegetarians, but we know of  one place that serves good food minus the usual aromatics. Just simple and homey flavors in a quiet and comfortable dining atmosphere.

The WaterDrop Tea House is inside the Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple across from Century Park Hotel in Malate, Manila. The thought of having olive fried rice and wintermelon tea here always makes me feel good. On our last visit, we decided to have those plus pumpkin soup (hotpot style), some tofu dishes and dimsum.

tea house.jpg
WaterDrop Tea House

While waiting for our food, we did some table hopping not really to greet friends (there were just us and two complete strangers), but to read the information on laminated place mats on each table.  Some detail the origin of the tea house, while others contain thoughts and lessons on vegetarianism from Venerable Master Hsing Yun. Venerable Master Hsing Yun is a Chinese Buddhist monk and a proponent of humanistic Buddhism as taught by the Fo Guang Shan religious movement, which he founded.

The WaterDrop Teahouse was established based on the spirit of gratitude for the devotees and supporters of the temple. It was set up to promote gratitude in societies, and to improve human relationships through service and Buddha teachings. It is there not for business profit but to provide a convenient dining place for the public.

Here’s Master Hsing Yun’s take on vegetarianism.


Other thoughts:

Excessive food consumption and supplements will lead to elevation of fat, blood sugar, and cholesterol, which would cause harm and increase burden to the body. Eating a simple meal lets one savor the flavor of the vegetables and enhances one’s temperament and endurance. If one wishes to attain longevity, one can try to be a vegetarian.


Western medicine has been strongly advocating the decrease in the consumption of meat. This is because meat consumption leads to fat and cholesterol deposit leads to hardening and clogging of the blood vessels. Eating vegetables can detoxify the body.

Can vegetarians eat eggs?

Eating or not eating egg is not a serious issue. It is the strict upholding of the precepts and the purity of the mind. Tibetan lamas usually include beef and lamb in the main dish. Similarly, the monasteries in Japan do not observe vegetarianism. There is no need to criticize certain groups of people about the issue of violation in eating unfertilized eggs. (Hurray for balut!)

There is also no need to deliberately boost or exaggerate about being a vegetarian.

Why having a bowl of compassionate porridge surpasses taking ginseng soup

Taking a bowl of compassionate porridge is more valuable than taking a bowl of ginseng soup, why? With the mind of compassion, humility, transference of merit, and making connection in taking the bowl of porridge, I vow to be grateful, do good deeds, cultivate, think of others’ interests and serve them. This bowl of porridge broadens the scope of my mind and purifies the inner self. It is more nutritious and meaningful than ginseng.

In the same light, he teaches that a cup of tea surpasses drinking ambrosia.


A thought with no evil surpasses a sumptuous feast.

If your stomach does not have evil thought to inflict suffering and craft plots to harm others, then it is more beneficial to the body than eating a sumptuous feast. Sometimes, good fortune may turn into misfortune due to deviant views. Other times, misfortune may turn into good fortune due to righteous views. Therefore, if the mind is pure, it would certainly lead one to attain good fortune and distance from misfortune. A real tonic does not necessarily deal with food consumption or refer to food only. In a broader sense, one should take tonic that is beneficial to the inner self and the mind.

Very enriching food for thought. But then it was time for real food.

The pumpkin soup, olive fried rice, and wintermelon tea were served first.

Shortly after, the tofu dishes and dimsum

Anthony Bourdain himself said, “Good food is very often, even most often, simple food.”

On the way out, one can sound this bell while making a wish at the Temple’s Wishing Pond.

Who’s afraid of hungry ghosts?


By Chinese culture reckoning, August of each year is a month to be very mindful of one’s usual activities. It is the 7th month of the lunar calendar when restless spirits are believed to visit the physical world and make their presence felt. Unless appeased, they could cause many forms of trouble and damage to the living. One way of preventing their negative manifestations is to make incense offering rituals because the spirits are said to “feed” on the aromatic smoke coming from the burning incense.

This year, the dreaded Hungry Ghost Month from August 3 to 31 climaxed yesterday, August 17, the 15th day of the 7th month. On a day when the influence of the hungry ghosts is said to be most potent, I opted to go out and pursue my scheduled activities with my sisterhood at the Carewell Community. Wednesday is our qigong, dancing, and yoga or gong healing day, after all; and what could be a better way of deflecting negative vibes than filling oneself with happy and positive chi instead through these wellness pursuits.

Sheng Zhen Healing Gong yesterday with teacher Roger Simone went particularly well. Truth is, after joining his qigong class more than two years ago, it wasn’t until lately that I started to enjoy its true flavor. The practice grows on its own pace for different people. I’m a “slow” student, but with the patience and resolve of our excellent teacher, plus his inspirational sharing of his thoughts and personal experiences, my belief in qigong has developed firm roots.

After gathering energy for the day, we were all for expending it in an hour-long dance class with our LeBran shapers Abby and Axl. Both are regular staff members of a Latin dance health and wellness provider named after its founder, Brando Balmedina. Teachers are not called DIs or dance instructors but “shapers,” because the LeBran business model provides sustainable income for talented but financially-challenged Filipino dancers. While helping to put clients in better physical shape, the program also helps shape the future of its young and promising talents. Just like qigong, every LeBran session means expelling a lot of toxicity, this time by sweating it out, and cultivating more happy hormones.

Gong sound healing with yoga teacher Rosan Cruz may seem like a passive activity, but it is a great way of achieving a state of harmony and balance. Using soundwaves, it helps clear blockages and enables  deep healing of the mind, body, and spirit. We always end each session by chanting the OM (or AUM) mantra to signify our oneness with everything that is good in the universe.

So, contrary to the belief that everything that could go wrong will go wrong during the Hungry Ghost Festival, it was all good for me and my sisterhood yesterday. To top it all, teacher Roger treated us to a yummy surprise like he would often do. Yesterday’s decadent caviar pie will be talked about for a long while, just like the couscous salad and the banana cake (the best ever!) he had shared with us in the past.


For those who would like to try this caviar pie, visit Mellissa’s Facebook page to order straight from the source. Otherwise, please click on this link  to view how this creamy, sinful treat is made.

Play safe and offer some incense to feed the hungry ghosts. For Carebelles like us (term for Carewell members)  who may not be exactly hungry but are mortals with HUGE appetites, make it caviar, please.


Tacloban, sashimi, pee walk, and other mondegreens*

Only a handful of the usual Qi Gong attendees made it to Carewell last Wednesday, which was April Fools’ Day. It was also the last working day during the Holy Week, so the others must have chosen to stay home or go someplace else.

Or so I thought. But then life at Carewell is much like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.

Around lunchtime, the activity room came alive as the Thursday Group arrived, one member after another, many with FTS (Food to Share, in true Carewell lingo). Within minutes, the table was groaning with a hefty spread: Mila’s pan-broiled bangus, Jane’s puso ng saging dish, Jasmin’s kalamay biko, Femie’s cheesecake, and pomelo from Choochie. Before we could match the chicken, lumpia, pork barbeque and other dishes with their respective providers, we had to join Tatang Doug in saying grace. No need to describe what happened next.

Cynthia's Maqluba
Cynthia’s Maqluba

But there’s every reason to focus on the culinary creation of our dear Cynthia Sanchez, who was set to leave for the US the following week. Not just because it was such a beautiful and flavorful labor of love, but also because its name sounded different. When Cynthia mentioned what it was called, it sounded like baklava, but I knew it couldn’t be that. She had to say the name again and the others went: “Ha, bakla ba?”  Other reactions: “Ano, Tacloban?” and “Ay, parang hukluban!”

Cynthia had to spell it out: M-A-Q-L-U-B-A,  a Mediterranean dish that literally means “upside down” because of the manner it is prepared.

Pray that Cynthia wouldn’t have to spend two years straight in the States, or else it will be that long before we could enjoy this exotic dish again.  For those who’d rather not wait until she returns to savor Tacloban once more, please check out this site.

And dance time with Teacher Trish after lunch? “Sounds like” pa more!

Take this instruction, for example: Step with your left, turn toward your right. Step with your right, turn toward your left. That’s easier done than said.

Ano raw, “bebot?” No.

“Ah, “libot!” Hindi rin.

This last one from Jasmin cracked me up: “Pee walk?”

I wanted to run to the bathroom.

The instruction was for the PIVOT turn as shown in this video.

Another dance step instruction: Step to your right and do chasing steps with your left. That’s called the…

SASHAY? (close, but not quite)

CHASSIS? (sa sasakyan yun!)

SASHIMI? (pagkain na naman!)

Teacher Trish was teaching us how to do the CHASSE (pronounced SHaˈsā).

Please click here to watch how it’s done.

group pic
Group photos grabbed from Lulu Arevalo’s Facebook Timeline


Please click on the link below to watch the Carebelles (and Tatang Doug) putting together the dance steps that afternoon. Yes, we dance to “Winter Wonderland” in the heat of summer. Well, you’ve been warned.


* Mondegreen – a misheard word or phrase

My Mother’s Garden

roald dahl   Thank you, Mr. Roald Dahl for this eye-opener. I find it most truthful after discovering this charming treasure in Pasay City. For years I’ve always equated my own city with crowded neighborhoods and the sticky reputation of being (once) the red-light district of Metro Manila.

Then magic happened.

Sometime in May this year, my balikbayan cousin Aida wished she could connect with a long unheard-of friend before going back to San Diego, CA with her husband Bill. Her friend, Letlet Veloso, is a well-known fashion designer and I was confident that locating her would be a cinch. I volunteered to find her. In a matter of days, Bill and Aida met with her in a Pasay address ─ with some relatives, including me, in tow.

The house on 2650 Zamora St., declared an architectural legacy by a National Artist  by the previous administration, was built in 1948 by Pablo S. Antonio, National Artist for Architecture (1976). It has enjoyed much media coverage for being an “organic” house, and the perfect model for “eco-friendly” and “less is more” even before these became popular lifestyle expressions.

As eco-friendly as it gets ─ high ceilings, natural light, cool air flowing freely. The irregular shape of the interior space follows the dictates of the lush garden outside.

The whole house “breathes” because there are virtually no walls, only windows all over covered with very fine screen mesh to keep garden insects off.

The ancestral house has many sitting areas that provide eye-soothing views of the greenery outside. The effect is so calming, I could sit around this place all day! sitting areas Please read the  related articles by Mr. Pablo Tariman and Ms. Marge Enriquez to know more about the National Artist and his architectural style.

The only daughter of Pablo S. Antonio, fashion designer Malu Veloso, has taken on the task of maintaining the house. Ms. Malu’s daughters Vicky and Letlet, themselves fashion designers of note, complete three generations of style mavens starting from Doña Marina Antonio, Malu’s mother. To help in the upkeep of the property, Ms. Malu repurposed it into a garden café and called it My Mother’s Garden, as a fitting tribute to her mother. Cool and restful, the place has become a popular foodie destination, especially among couples who are celebrating romantic milestones or those simply wanting to enjoy special moments with family and friends. In February this year, it was chosen by as one of the most romantic restaurants in Manila.

As a niche restaurant, My Mother’s Garden is a standout.

The buffet spread: melanzane, seafoods, pasta (with three choices of sauces), their signature dish mustard chicken, and green salad with different dressings. I’m sure I failed to include another dish or two.

An  interesting discovery came in a platter with chopped onions, cucumber, tomatoes, ginger, ground nuts, etc. The idea was to put a little bit of everything into the cado leaves, drizzle with tamarind sauce, and roll using the leaves as wrap. So refreshing and it does a good job of cleansing the palate, making diners ready for seconds. They grow cado plants in the garden, too. cado   Then finally ─ after sips of fresh juices and a nice serving of their homemade ice cream ─ the dessert cart! GE DIGITAL CAMERA   The atelier that houses some gowns and many fabulous creations of the Veloso women is also a treat for fashionistas. I’m more of a fashion disaster, but I found the prices irresistible. I went home with a couple of long-strand necklaces and that purple bag. 🙂 atelier   No less than the Dalai Lama once said, “Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” Fair warning:   My Mother’s Garden may make you rethink this advice and go back to this oasis in the city a second, third, perhaps several times.

My Mother’s Garden is a by-reservations-only dining place. Check out its Facebook page at


Food Finds in Barako Country

Getting to Batangas City from a Pasay bus terminal last July 23 took us 1-1/2 hours. Arriving early for this year’s Sublian Festival, we saw a hefty crowd forming in front of the city hall and around the Mabini Plaza. The parade wasn’t scheduled to start until 9 am so at a little past 7, there was plenty of time to walk around the area and look for a place to eat. It was going to be a long and leisurely breakfast.

We shunned the familiar food chains nearby and opted for a coffee shop called Kapeng Barako. Batangas is famous for its Barako (also spelled Baraco) coffee, a type of Liberica coffee distinguished by its strong aroma and flavor. Barako is also a Tagalog word that means strong and courageous–traits commonly attributed to the Batangueño male. So it was kapeng barako for the hubby and hot chocolate for me.

The tablea chocolate, which is a by-product of the cacao, is equally popular in the province. I want my choco rich and creamy; better if it is thickened using a batidor or a wooden whisk. The one served to me that morning was a watered-down version, so naturally I was disappointed. I asked the hubby if his coffee was good. His answer came in the form of a gesture: a hunch of the shoulders a la Incredible Hulk. Strong coffee for a big guy. Sounds great to me.

kapeng barako

We ordered suman mahakot and tamales ibaan to go with our beverages. Tamales is of Mexican-Spanish origin, but in Batangas, especially in the town of Ibaan, it is given a local twist and the delicacy  has made the place famous. Instead of the sweet variety, Tamales Ibaan is nutty and spicy. When you cut through the white outer layer, you have a flavorful mix of chicken strips, peanuts, and slices of salted egg. The inner layer gets its orange color from annatto seeds or atchuete.

Since preparing this tasty snack takes about the same time as the travel to Batangas, I’d rather take the trip than labor in the kitchen to enjoy the real thing. 🙂


The suman (rice cake) served at the coffee shop got its name from Mahakot, another town in Batangas. I tend to rate other types of suman, with our own latik in Catanduanes as the gold standard. I had initial doubts when I saw that their suman came with budbod (coconut and sugar sprinkle) instead of the creamy caramel sauce similar to our Bicolano latik. After taking a bite, however, I realized why some foodies are all praises for the delicacy. The budbod’s crunch complemented the melts-in-your-mouth softness of the suman—resulting in a yin and yang food experience that’s to crave for. The favorite show biz expression of Batangas Governor Vilma Santos immediately came to mind: “Heaven!”


The parade didn’t start until past 10 am and lasted till noon, by which time my knees were all wobbly from standing the entire morning. I asked some locals where we could have some good bulalo, the trademark beef shank soup of Batangas. Turned out the nearest place it could be had was far from the town center. Alternatively, we were directed to a nearby eatery to try a local favorite called pancit pula.


The intriguing pancit pula was actually miki noodles sauteed the usual way. It’s red because of the atchuete coloring;  otherwise, it’s just another cousin in the pancit family. Next time we visit Batangas, I’ll make sure to include a bulalo place. And I will definitely load up on suman and tamales.

The Edgar Cayce Diet


Urges arise, not only from what one eats, but from what one thinks and eats! Also from what one digests mentally and spiritually!”

– Edgar Cayce

Edgar Cayce was a famous American psychic who was also known as “The Sleeping Prophet” because his insights came while he was in a state of “sleep” or what is now termed as trance channeling. It is said that he could see into the past and into the future and could describe events taking place in far off places. A total of 14,000 “readings” or documented records of his telephatic clairvoyant statements were gathered between 1901 and 1944. They covered such topics as ancient civilizations (including Atlantis), dreams and their meanings, psychic experiences, reincarnation, nutrition, relationships, among others.

His medical readings particularly astounded many, especially doctors. Many of Cayce’s recommended cures have been found to be relevant to this day and have become the basis of modern medical treatments. Not surprisingly, Cayce earned the distinction of being the father of holistic medicine. He rose to fame decades before the New Age came about and had remained a major influence on its teachings.

In 1932, Edgar Cayce founded The Association for Research and Enlightenment, Inc. (A.R.E.), which is based in Virginia, USA to preserve his readings. A.R.E. is a non-sectarian, non-dogmatic global network of individuals who conduct educational activities and fellowships in 25 countries. In the Philippines, there are groups affiliated with the Virginia headquarters that offer regular spiritual growth discussions and disseminate Edgar Cayce-related information.

It was in one of those discussions some years back that I met Anna Llamado, an active A.R.E. member. In that meeting she talked about the basic recommendations for health maintenance and proper food preparation that were gathered from the Cayce readings. Anna’s interest in the subject of food should not come as a surprise. “I grew up surrounded by huge pots and pans and an extended family of big eaters,” she quips. That family happens to be the Reyeses of Filipino cuisine fame.  Her maternal grandmother, Doňa Engracia Reyes (or Aling Asiang), started the Aristocrat chain of restaurants.

According to Anna, Cayce’s thoughts on diet and food preparation are based on seven basic principles.  She is quick to caution, however, that the dietary prescriptions are intended for normal cases and not for those with physical ailments who may have special food requirements. It may be noted that many of today’s healthy diets are grounded on these principles.

1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

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Cayce specified that fruits and vegetable should be freshly picked and used right away. Vitamin C in some veggies, such as lettuce, for example, is lost one hour after they are harvested. Other Vitamin C destroyers are water and contact with copper and iron. The best vegetables are those that are bright yellow and intensely green. Squeezed citrus fruits should be used immediately; otherwise, they should be kept covered in the refrigerator. Plant food should be preferred because they rebuild brain matter faster than meat or sweets can.

2. Keep the alkaline and acid balance in the body.

Cayce generally recommended a diet consisting of 80% alkaline-producing foods, such as vegetables, fruits and dairy products and 20% acid-producing foods, such as meats, starches and sugars. The more alkaline there is in the body, the stronger the immune system becomes and the lesser chances of catching colds.

 3. Avoid certain food combinations.

Some food combinations require different acids to be digested; thus, one type of food would be digested while the other would ferment in the body and become toxic. Specifically, proteins and starches should not be taken in the same meal, thus, the traditional Filipino meal of rice and meat is a big violation. Starches and greens are a good combination, so are meat and vegetables, or vegetables and starches. Most fruits should be taken alone, not together with other foods. Can’t decide whether to have pie, cake, or ice cream? Take the ice cream. It will be easier to break down.

 4. Keep an ideal proportion of vegetables grown above and below the ground.

He also recommended that vegetables grown above the ground, such as lettuce, squash, and tomatoes, should constitute 75% of one’s diet of vegetables; while those from below the ground, such as carrots, beets, and potatoes, should account for the remaining 25%.

5. Avoid heavy meat; use fish, fowl, and lamb.

Meat presents a digestibility problem. If you must have meat, use the lean parts for necessary body-building. Definitely no raw meat and have very little, if ever, of pork. Eat plenty of fowl and make sure to use the bone structure itself – chewing the chicken neck and the bones of the thighs is suggested. Glandular meat (tripe, liver, etc.) contain vitamins that enable the bone marrow to produce red blood cells.

6. Use whole grain cereal and similar products exclusively.

Cereals, as we have come to know today, are the system sweepers. They should not be used together with other food, especially citrus. When taken with citrus, cereals become too heavy for the system instead of acting as eliminants. However, whole wheat bread with citrus is okay.

7. Avoid fried foods.

Meat should ideally be roasted, baked, or boiled – never fried. Cayce reserved his biggest objection to anything fried. He said fried food is difficult to break down. He also cautioned against using bacon fats for frying vegetables. Stewing is permissible, but the broth should be used as well.  Ideally, a closely covered utensil should be used and the meat should be simmered rather than boiled.

Outside the basics, the Cayce readings on diet revealed these interesting insights:

  • Tomatoes contain the most vitamins, but they should be ripened in the vine. It is better to use canned ripe tomatoes than the green ones that were allowed to ripen later.
  • Oysters should not be taken with whisky as they produce a harmful chemical reaction.
  • Aluminum cookware should be avoided, especially for cooking cabbage and tomatoes.
  • The 3-day Apple Diet, like other fruit fasts, cleanses the system.
  • Eat plenty of lettuce; it purifies the blood.
  • Adding salt during cooking draws out the juices; it’s better to add salt after cooking.
  • Meat should be cooked at very low temperatures.
  • Yogurt or Bulgarian buttermilk is largely responsible for natural health, vigor, and   virility. One study showed that for every one million Bulgarians, 1,600 lived to be 100, as opposed to only nine Americans.
  • Coffee may be taken with sugar, but preferably not with milk or cream.
  • Beet and cane sugars, molasses and honey (preferably in the honeycomb) are excellent; brown sugar is not harmful, but also not good; refined sugar should be avoided because it interferes with the absorption of calcium in the body.
  • Gelatin helps in making the system react more favorably to vitamins. The protein of real gelatin also has a special value in the production of hemoglobin.
  • Do not bolt the food. Chew it well to allow better assimilation by the body.

Edgar Cayce had always maintained that the spiritual, mental, and physical lives are not separate but are, in fact, one.  Thus, he warned people not to eat when they’re upset, angry, or extremely tired. Due to the resulting physiological changes in the system, food would remain undigested and become harmful to the body. He stated that even the most carefully chosen and nutritious food can be toxic, if eaten while a person is in a negative frame of mind.

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Kulinarya Tagala, Part 3

This last installment on our culinary tour focuses on a resto that best captures the melding of local cuisine and architectural gems in a charmingly rustic set-up.

Here’s looking at Sulyap Gallery Café

‘Sulyap’ means ‘a glimpse’ or a ‘quick look,’ and that’s what this cultural and foodie destination promises visitors—a glimpse of the glorious past through cultural relics that have been thoughtfully preserved or restored for today’s generation. The cafe/art gallery sits on a two-hectare property in Barangay Del Remedio in San Pablo City, which also houses  a bed and breakfast and a museum. The structure that now houses the museum used to be the Southern Luzon Colleges in the 1960s, but was later transformed into a hotel.

Roy Empalmado, the café owner, is a businessman with a background in architecture  and a passion for antiques. In time he has accumulated a large collection of religious icons, armario, and other objects from an era long gone. Logically, his interest evolved into building, or more appropriately, reconstructing historic buildings to accommodate his treasures.

The two-story Sulyap Gallery Café is a resurrected ancestral house that dates back to 1907. Empalmado bought the house, which was dismantled or deconstructed from its original location in Quezon and transported to San Pablo. Most of the original parts were used in the reconstruction of the Spanish colonial house. Many of his antique pieces now adorn the interiors of the café, giving it an old world ambiance for a unique dining experience.

Capiz windows, ventanillas, and laced canopies induce nostalgic feelings

A cozy nook for two

Tulingan pasta by candlelight

Sulyap is known for its heirloom cuisine, but for our afternoon snack we were served Tulingan Pasta, an interesting fusion of Italian and Southern Tagalog cooking. In Laguna, tulingan (skipjack tuna) is usually seasoned with salt, wrapped in banana leaves, and steamed to bring out its distinct flavor. The fish is then flaked and used as a substitute for anchovies in this pasta dish. I only managed a few bites, however, because my mind was already out there in the museum across from the café.

The ground floor of this former school has a rich repository of antiques

Found treasures galore

A Batangas altar table with carabao bone and horn inlays. The design is typical of the second quarter of the 19th century.

There were no aluminum sinks nor plastic basins then, but they had wash basins made of hard wood.

This farm tool used to scare birds and other animals in the rice field is called balakatak. In Batangas, the word is also used to describe a blabbermouth or a loud and talkative person.

There are Jurassics among us who had a chance to use the rotary phone. But this?

Way back when laptops and handheld devices were unheard of.

Just before we boarded the van for our return trip to Manila, I took one last look at the Casa de Obando Bed and Breakfast. This two-level reconstruction used original materials from an 1850s ancestral house acquired in Obando, Bulacan.  Given a chance to build my dream house, I would like to have something similar—rock sturdy and genteel. I could only imagine how beautiful it must be inside because the place was booked, thus we were not allowed entry. Perhaps next time, I’ll take more than a glimpse of this casa of my dreams.

And what is an out-of-town sortie without a hoard of pasalubong? My bag spilleth over with treats from Sariaya and Tayabas: turrones, puto seko, the hard but oh-so-yummy pinagong bread, coco jam, coco vinegar and others whose names escape me. We also managed to pick up espasol and cassava cake while in San Pablo. As expected, my brood got into demolition mode pronto, so there are no photos,  no proof positive that they, too, had a taste of this ultimate food trip without having to leave home.

To join a Kulinarya Tagala tour, call 0927-5630989 or (632) 728-1180.

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