“I’ve Been to Bali Too!”

Bali.4In the Redgum song of my youth, Bali was a land of monkeys and mercurochrome, Bali belly and mozzie coils, Kuta Beach and Ubud, that hippy haven in the hills.

My first trip to Bali, however, was spent in the lap of luxury, swanning around in a five star villa near Canggu, with no call for mercurochrome, only a brief sighting of those overfed monkeys (and let’s not mention Bali Belly), but with thanks to the generosity of a dear friend who was celebrating her fiftieth birthday in style.

I knew very little about Bali before I arrived, other than the song, but I can tell you that this popular and predominantly green island off Java is a ninety minute flight from Jakarta and is approximately 95 miles long x 70 miles wide. It is also almost 85% Hindu, with a population of more than four million, and I guess that doesn’t count the deluge of tourists that have been pouring through the Denpasar airport for decades.

My destination was not a hostel full of backpackers, nor a beach-side resort, but Villa the Sanctuary,  a small slice of heaven hidden down winding lanes, between village temples and hidden among the trees. It is, undoubtedly, the most luxurious place I have ever laid my hat, and I enjoyed every glorious moment.

Situated on a steep two hectare property, a river gushes effusively at the bottom of the hill, winding its way round lush lawns and between leafy trees. Stone steps lead down to the dining pavilion with its high peaked ceiling and its vast, polished, teak dining table, down and down to the narrow eternity pool and the games room with billiard table and bar, across manicured lawns to a thatched bale for a peaceful, post-prandial massage as the river burbles away below.

Several opulent villas are scattered across a property that can accommodate up to thirty five people (including a bunkhouse for twenty kids). With only seven of us in residence, there was enough space for everyone, without any sense of overcrowding.

My villa sat high above the river, the stately four poster bedBali.5 (2) wrapped in a sheer mosquito net, so that I could lie, safe from insects, and listen to the river rushing past the window and watch the leaves fluttering outside the eight foot windows. It was like camping in a luxury tree house.

There was water everywhere: river; moats; ponds; pool; waterfalls trickling gently in the background; a sudden downpour from heavy clouds that battered the surface of the pool, as the landlubbers scuttled for cover and the bathers revelled.

Wine and cocktails flowed like the rain, and hilarity was constant, apart from the quiet times, when the heat drove us home, heavy and sleepy, for a nap amongst a mountain of pillows, gentle aircon breathing a cooling breeze across hot shoulders.

Then there would be show-and-tell in the pavilion, amidst shrieks of childlike enthusiasm over successful shopping trips to Ubud for lamps and shoes and quilts and dresses, and prayers that suitcases would miraculously expand like Mary Poppins carpet bag. Friendly staff brought snacks of nasi goreng or hot chips and pecel sauce (spicy satay sauce) to top us up until dinner time, and we all looked forward to trying the local speciality: babi guling, or roast suckling pig. 

When the evening closed in on party night, candles and lamps were lit, while bowls of hot coals threw fiery reflections across the surface of the pool.  A huge feast – enough to Bali.2feed half the island – kept us all quiet for a while, as satays and steak, prawns and salads were piled high on groaning plates. Later, as the music was cranked up – a playlists of Australian anthems and hits of the 70s and 80s – frogs, crickets and geckos set up an alternative orchestra, and well-oiled guests added to the chorus. I won’t say we danced till dawn – well, let’s face it, none of us is seventeen – but it was a party night and the cocktails seemed bottomless.

A final night, and Marcel drove us down the road through acres of terraced rice fields to a resort on the edge of the sea, where we floated across the golf course, twirling like Julie Andrews at the opening to Sound Of Music, to watch the sun set softly into the waves, casting its final pink and gold beams on Tanah Lot Temple perched on a rocky outcrop beside the sea. A fitting finale to a wonderful weekend.



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Of Country Clubs and Cucumber Sandwiches

Hanbury.1Hanbury Manor, Hertfordshire, once the home of English landed gentry, then a boarding school, it has now entered the 21st century as a Marriott hotel and country club. A few miles north of Hertford, Hanbury Manor is a magnificent chapter of English baronial history set amongst huge blue cedars, manicureded lawns and wooded slopes.

The first house here was built in the 16th century by Reginald Pole, the last Catholic Archbishop of Canterbury. By the end of the 18th century, the house had been bought by brewer Samson Hanbury, and was handed down through the family for several generations until 1890, when the rambling, almost uninhabitable manor house on 2000 acres, was replaced with a red brick Jacobean style country house, the first house in the area to boast both electricity and central heating, at the debilitating cost of £30,000.

A service wing and stables were added in 1913, by which time the estate had shrunk to 100 acres thanks to the crippling costs of rebuilding. It was sold privately a year later, and sold on again in 1923 to be converted into a girls convent school, with the addition, a decade later, of a gym, classrooms, dormitories, a tower, and a new chapel. The school closed in 1986 and has since been redeveloped as a 5-star hotel and country club.

So what better place to spend a blustery March afternoon thanTea.3 sitting at a table, burrowing into deep armchairs set in front of tall mullioned windows that overlooked a broad sweep of carpet-like lawn, sipping Darjeeling tea and nibbling at cucumber sandwiches and warm scones?

Oak Hall is just that: a long, oak lined drawing room, where the curtains hang thick and heavy, well-lined to keep out the cold. The chandeliers float like aerial croquembouche, casting shadowy light on the vast green tapestries that wallpaper the upper half of the long back wall, and two elegantly carved wooden griffins stand like sentries beside a large stone fireplace the colour of honeycomb. With inexplicable country house mystery, the carpet is a garish, clashing mash of colours and swirling patterns that would make any hangover increase a hundred-fold, but it’s effect is blunted by a large and eclectic collection of armchairs, leather sofas and solid coffee tables.

Having absorbed the setting, we settled in to enjoy the afternoon, beginning with an extravagant glass of Moët et Chandon, one pink, one brut, as we awaited the arrival of afternoon tea. For a few minutes at least we sat stiff and ladylike, but we soon found our tartan covered armchairs a little deep for poise and leaned back luxuriously into the cushions.

Tea.2Our tiered plate eventually arrived – no rush, we were taking it easy – laden with an attractive assortment of goodies: a bottom layer of neatly aligned sandwiches, the middle layer holding four warm scones swaddled in a white linen napkin, the top layer boasting a small assortment of decadent little cakes.

All the traditional sandwiches were in evidence: salmon and cream cheese on wholemeal bread; cucumber on white bread; thickly spread egg and chives, and fresh ham and Dijon mustard on walnut bread, all neatly clipped of their crusts, and scattered with delicate green pea shoots.

The scones, two plain, two with sultanas, came with homemade jam and a small pot of clotted cream, and I jumped on them eagerly while they were still warm.

I was happy to hand over the lion’s share of amuse bouche to my friend of the sweeter tooth, but I nonetheless watched with interestTea.1 as she tasted a lemon cupcake topped with raspberry cream; a miniature lemon meringue pie; a dark chocolate teacup filled with white chocolate mousse and sprinkled in toasted almonds (I admit, I dipped a finger into that one), a fruit cup made of waffle cone lined with dark chocolate; a choux pastry filled with cream and luscious fresh raspberries and a two slices of light fruit cake filled with candied fruits and raisins. Not surprisingly, she was hard pushed to finish them all, so our maître d’ kindly boxes up the remainder for our teenagers.

Then, replete with good things, we took a walk through the grounds, dotted with blue cedars, including the grande dame of the tree world spreading her full skirts like a ballerina in the Daffodils.3middle of the manicured front lawn. We sauntered past the golf course and found our way through a damp copse to a large walled garden to the right of the house, a regular destination for brides, and looking positively bridal itself on this crisp spring afternoon with its rows of fruit trees sprinkling pink and white blossom on the ground like confetti. We admired a clutch of stone statues, roman ladies with arms filled with blossom, leaves or moss, depending on their position, and of course the flowerbeds are boasting the ubiquitous bouquets of daffodils, primulas and we gratefully make it back to the car before another hailstorm…

*With thanks to the gorgeous Helen for her equally gorgeous photos.

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Shanghai Nights

DSC_5105Tickets had sold out before Christmas – an unprecedented occurence even for an event as popular as the ANZA Ball, and it was obvious on the night that everyone had high expectations of a great evening’s entertainment.

As usual, everyone threw themselves wholeheartedly into the fun of dressing up to the theme. As we arrived at the top of the staircase, the ceiling was bedecked in Chinese lanterns, while the foyer buzzed with women in brightly colored cheongsam -  those stylish, tight-fitting satin dresses made fashionable by the upper class socialites of Shangai’s glory days in the 1920s – and the fellas looked equally smart, either in dinner jackets or changshan, the long Chinese silk embroidered jackets for men. But who was the Scot in a kilt..?

Welcome drinks set the tone for a happy night, and we were  summoned to the ballroom by the sound of a huge gong struck by our Australian Ambassador to announce the opening of the Ball. The walls of the Ballroom were decorated with large Chinese gobos and we were entertained by a talented troop of teenage dancers from the Philippine Ling Nam Athletic Association playing cymbals and drums or costumed as either  shaggy lions, laughing Buddhas or as part of a seventy foot Chinese dragon, .

Past President Bonnie Beach, heavily disguised as Dr. Sum Ting Wong, and our ANZA News editor Kathryn Foster as the elusive DSC_0026Madam X – and looking most elegant in an azure cheongsam, I might add - later took centre stage as Masters of Ceremonies. (And rumour has it our dear editor was very pleased to be allowed to wear a pretty dress this year, rather than last year’s elf costume!)

Thanks must go to Kings School for their generous sponsorship, and to all those who so kindly donated to the raffle and silent auction prizes, with which ANZA was able to raise thousands of pesos for ECPAT Philippines, a non-government organization that supports victims of child trafficking. A short film about the organization had everyone gasping at the frightening figures on child prostitution in Asia. It was a sharp dose of reality to skew the focus of an otherwise glamorous evening, and remind us all of how incredibly lucky we are.

Local band Authority returned for a hat-trick, and had everyone up on the dance floor like greased lightning when they opened with a Midnight Oil cover song, “Beds are Burning.” Other Aussie hits were interspersed with international favourites and, given the opportunity, we would have danced all night…

DSC_0006The New World staff provided great service, and the meal lived up to last year’s delicious offering. The cream of mushroom soup was piping hot when it reached the table -  surely a first in event catering?  – and I loved my steak with ube mash. The pan-fried salmon looked equally tasty, but I was very sorry not to finish a rather scrumptious-looking dessert before the music called us to the dance floor, as it had vanished by the time I returned. I would only recommend, for the sake of our poor heads, that next year they keep full jugs of water on the table throughout the evening – and leave the local rhum locked in the cupboard.

So, I would like to raise a glass to the Ball Committee for their usual 200% effort to make the Ball quite perfect,  and I think I can safely say I am not the only one already looking forward to next year!

* ANZA = Australia New Zealand Association.         Adapted from an article first published in ANZA News, March 2014.

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Va Bene

panacotta cakeVa Bene has been a firm favourite with our family for some time, despite its rather quirky location above the Petron petrol station on EDSA outside the gates to Dasmarinas, so it was our first choice for a birthday dinner this week. Italian? Good guess! Since it first opened, the owners have spent some extra pesos on the décor, which used to whisper school canteen with its tiny tinny tables and plastic chairs, but it is now looking much cosier and attractive, with padded benches along the side wall and a selection of wooden tables and chairs. And strangely, the odd location works, as somewhere a bit different from the endless Makati malls and chain restaurants.

One wall is painted in my favourite burnt orange and the other va bene restois a wall of bookshelves, filled with recipe books, olive oils and bags of pasta. There is a glass wall into the kitchen, filled with bags of flour, but with a small space to watch the preparation of the handmade pasta.

Service here has always been a bit hit-and-miss, but we are learning to either go with the flow, or speak up and ask for meals to be served at the same time. Admittedly it doesn’t always work, but I guess it’s worth a try! There was certainly no problem with providing an extra serve of the complementary and very moreish tomato and basil bruschetta, extra bread or BYO wine, as we discussed – at length – the options for dinner.

fois grasA long list of desirable appetizers was eventually whittled down to a generous salami and cheese platter with pickled vegetables and the irresistible pan roasted foie gras with portobello raviolo and onion marmalade, both designated for two, and one dish from the specials menu: a creatively different deconstructed salad of asparagus, proscuitto and ricotta cheese. They came out in no particular order, but kept us nibbling happily through a glass or two of a heavenly Clare Valley rosé.

We didn’t make any decisions about the main course until the appetizers were cleared away, but then there was a general lean towards red meat: polpette (four fat pork meatballs in a bath of va bene 226tomato and ricotta cheese sauce); a single, larger-than-life  shredded chicken and egg yolk raviolo with braised veal cheek (no.1 son is still smiling), and papardelle (those amazing broad ribbons of pasta) with braised lamb shank in a sauce of black olives, sundried tomatoes and pecorino cheese, all three incredibly rich, luscious dishes, and we have no plans to eat for at least another week.

And yet we still found room for dessert. The boys shared Va Bene’s infamous profiteroles, filled with chocolate cream and served with icecream and chocolate sauce. (I am proud to say the chockie sauce wasn’t-as-good-as-Mum’s, but that didn’t stop them scraping the pattern off the plate.)  I allowed myself the birthday indulgence of a tea cup of panacotta blanketed in diced mango, a lovely balance of smooth, soft, sweet creaminess, and an edgy splash of tart mango.

Only towards the end of the evening did the staff cotton on that profiterolesit was my birthday. (I expect the mountain of torn wrapping paper gave it away. My One & Only had chosen to go with volume, and had wrapped every gift individually, including my favourite mint slices and boxes of exotic tea!) As a gift from the staff I was offered a nostalgic shot of kahlua and vodka to round off the evening, and departed, like the Queen, past a line of waiters waving us farewell.

Va Bene is a family owned business, the baby of Chef Massimo Veronesi and his wife Carolyn. Chef Massimo has apparently worked at the Manila Peninsula in Mi Piace, as well as in Naples, Dubai and Florida. Unfortunately, for all the times we have eaten there, I have never clapped eyes on either Chef Massimo or his wife. Well, there is always next time… next week..? Tomorrow..?

* With thanks to all my boys for a wonderful birthday, and for their photographic skills. And to Google images for the snap of my burnt orange wall.

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The Science of Rice

rice“The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life”  ~Bob Geldof, Do they know it’s Christmas?

As an Anglo-Australian, I grew up on a diet of meat and three veg. Potatoes were my staple carbohydrate, and rice was simply Calrose. After years living in Asia I grew, finally, better informed, but a recent trip to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines broadened my knowledge considerably.

Travelling in a multi-cultural convoy from the Asian Development Bank in Manila, we drove down through Calamba to Los Baños on the banks of Laguna, where we found the headquarters of the International Rice Research Institute. The compound contains the Riceworld museum and learning centre, 200 hectares of experimental farm, a training centre, laboratories and the International Rice Genebank, as well as accommodation for foreign staff.

Rice, as they say, is life and it is also the past, present and future of Asia. Rice is rich inour-facilities-page energy-giving carbohydrates and very low in fat. It contains no cholesterol, and it is salt free, sugar free and gluten free. And rice sustains two-thirds of the world’s population, so it is hardly surprising that so much attention is focused on its production.

So, IRRI is a non-profit research organization, that works across Asia and Africa. Its work is funded by both governments and private sector, where the staff works tirelessly to develop genetic diversity, sustainability, higher yields and better production techniques. Why? Because rice farmers world-wide are facing the major issues of food security, global warming, poverty and malnutrition, as micro-nutrient deficiencies in rice – ‘hidden hunger’ – seriously affect the health of women and children. On a lesser, but still important scale, they are also battling with the effects of disease, pests, weeds, droughts and floods on their crops.  Part of IRRI’s contribution involves donating free foundation seeds specific to the needs of farmers in different regions.

On December 9, 1959 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed in New York to establish IRRI as an organization ‘to do basic research on the rice plant and applied research on all phases of rice production, management, distribution and utilization.’  Just our-facilities-experimental-farmingover two years later, on February 7, 1962 Philippine President and Mrs. Diosdado Macapagal and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III attended a dedication, which marked the formal foundation of the International Rice Research Institute. Three months later, the first crop of IRRI’s Maximum Yield Experiment was seeded. Christened the Long-Term Continuous Cropping Experiment (LTCCE), it has been producing three crops a year for over fifty years to test for sustainability and the effect of long-term planting on soil quality. It has become the longest-running field trial on rice in the world.

Arriving in a spacious and attractive courtyard just opposite that historical rice paddy, twenty five ADB spouses were welcomed by two IRRI guides, who began our education with a short film about rice production, followed by a tour of the museum. Discussions on rice breeding and genetic modification led to some surprisingly vehement reactions, especially from guests whose countrymen are more heavily invested in the success of rice development than I. At the other end of the scale we examined simple tools and machinery still in use for rice farming in poorer regions, where farmers still need to be able to fix their equipment with a length of wire and a tin can.

Our next stop was the IRRI Genebank, which stores the most comprehensive rice better-rice-varieties-aboutcollection in the world – to date, over 123,000 varieties from all over the world, including wild, heirloom and genetically engineered ‘golden’ rice, a new type of rice that contains beta carotene, which is a source of vitamin A.

Many varieties are specially bred to withstand drought or flood waters (known as ‘scuba’ rice), viruses and insects. All of them are stored in specially designed refrigerated rooms that feel positively Arctic when you wander in wearing only a light summer dress.

The corridor to the Genebank is a who’s who of Asian royalty and world politicians that have visited IRRI over the past fifty years. Outside the storage rooms there are long tables filled with workers integral to the running of the bank.  We watched, fascinated, as these female labourers systematically sorted through handfuls of rice at an astonishing speed, separating the wheat from the chaff so to speak – or rather, weeding out the diseased or damaged rice kernels before filing the remaining ‘good eggs’ in the bank.

women-and-capacity-building-the-needAccording to the IRRI website, ‘women play an important role in the global rice sector as both paid and unpaid family labor’ yet they are often hampered by social restrictions and gender stereotyping from becoming involved at higher levels, so IRRI works with them to empower them and strengthen their role in agricultural research and development.

At the end of the tour, our new friends very generously hosted a buffet lunch at the IRRI Guesthouse and we later posed amongst the rockery on the patio. And yes, there was rice for lunch.

*With thanks to Judy and Charmian and their team for their hospitality, and to the IRRI website and Google for their images.

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A Fragrant Outdoor Kitchen

‘An Indian kitchen is a fragrant kitchen’    ~ Ragini Dey

 Spice_Kitchen_titleMy favourite new Indian cookbook, ‘Spice Kitchen,’ by Indian-Australian restaurateur Ragini Dey, describes Indian food as ‘vibrant, colourful and richly flavoured… yet devilishly sly as its spices lie in wait for unsuspecting palates.’ Earlier this week we gathered in a garden in Forbes Park and learned the truth of that description.

We were a multi-cultural mixed bag of Indians and Bhutanese, Australians and New Zealanders, Swedes, Filipinas, Japanese and Korean, interested in learning more about Indian and Bhutanese cooking.

The garden had been set up like a TV show, with the audience sitting on garden chairs in front of an outdoor ‘kitchen’ complete with gas burners, waiting for the show to begin. The chefs were our friends, on a mission to raise money for the school children we support while concurrently teaching us about their cuisine .

I love Indian food, and I particularly love the attitude to cooking it. We were given recipes, but promptly advised that the specifics are flexible: Indians just tend ‘to bung in’ all the ingredients. Pakistanis, I gather, are far more particular about measurements. Coming from the chop-and-chuck school of cooking myself, “bunging” sounded more my style.

Having said that, these ladies were highly organized and obviously well versed in takingspices cooking classes.  Spices had been carefully measured out into little bowls and arranged on a tray. All the other ingredients had been prepared earlier, too, as each member of the team took a turn at talking us through a recipe.

We began with a cheese and cucumber salad from the Kingdom of Bhutan, with ingredients reminiscent of a salsa: cucumber, tomato, raw onion and fresh coriander.  The quantity of chili and the cheese added surprising heat and texture respectively to the salad.

The most distinctive and beloved characteristic of Bhutanese cuisine is its spiciness. The Bhutanese eat a lot of chilli, fresh, dry, and powdered, but if you don’t want it so hot, cut down on quantities. The same goes for the Szechuan pepper: if it is too hot or unavailable, just replace with paprika.

 In Bhutan this dish is made with datshi, a local curd cheese made from yak’s milk, but unless you  have a yak hiding in your apartment and know how to make your own fresh cheese, you may need to improvise. Try the local carabao cheese Kesong puti as a good alternative.

Next up, was a North Indian paneer tikka. This is also traditionally made with cottage cheese, but again, this isn’t easy to find in the Philippines, so thinking outside the box, use feta  cheese.  Marinated in a yoghurt based sauce brimming with spices, the cheese is then arranged on satay sticks with red onion, bell peppers, and pineapple before cooking it under the grill or on hot skillet, charred till smoky. Serve them with a mint chutney and watch for the smiles. And for the more carnivorously inclined, the same recipe can be done with chicken pieces.

There was also a discussion about mustard oil with its very distinctive aroma  (think of burying your nose in a jar of Dijon mustard and how that clears the sinuses). Apparently it’s a cheap and commonly used oil in eastern India. It is also a heavy oil, but apparently if you heat it to smoking point that will lighten it a little.

I had just arrived in Manila the first time I watched samosas being made, and a groupsamosas of Pakistani women were raising funds for flood victims. It took almost three hours to make those little snacks that we devoured in three minutes flat. They were absolutely delicious, but as one Hungarian woman said in her sexy, heavy accent: “What a waste of good drinking time!”

Today’s efforts were much more efficient, and our sample samosas were done and dusted in half an hour – a much more acceptable time frame, especially as we had  noticed platters of pre-made samosas waiting in the wings, and our mouths were watering already.  When making the crust, we were advised, use any familiar shortening: Crisco, ghee, butter or canola oil, as long as you get the balance right so that the dough doesn’t crumble, but holds together when you pinch it. We practiced folding half circles of paper into the right shape while the ladies out front made the filling, and told us that we can bake the samosas instead of frying them and they will keep for a week in the fridge. Sure, but not in my house! They vanish is moments.

alooo gobiOur talented cooks whipped up four more dishes in rapid succession:  okra with onion (bhindi do pyaza); aloo gobi; mustard fish and a chicken curry, which came with tips to pile in the finely diced onion for a thicker gravy, add oil to butter to prevent the butter burning, and toss salt into the grinder with the mustard seeds to remove the bitterness.

To complete our Indian luncheon, we were offered a cup of kulfi - that cardamom flavoured pistachio ice-cream perfect for Filipino taste buds, with its blend of richly sweet evaporated  and condensed milks, and Nestlé cream.

I love the lyricism of spices: cardomom and coriander, kalonji and carom, almost onomatopoeic in the way they dance off the tongue. More practical than poetic were the household hints: coriander powder is good for bile and astoefetida is good for reducing gas – both common complaints for anyone with a tendency to guzzle curries like me.

So, apart from ‘bunging,’ the other message was simply to experiment and innovate if you can’t find exactly the right ingredients. Ragini Dey recommends this too:

Don’t be afraid to try unfamiliar spices to get to know their distinctive flavours…. experiment with different combinations – your imagination and taste buds will do the rest…

…and then enjoy the feast. I have to add though, I especially enjoyed the luxury of watching someone else do the cooking. Somehow that makes it all taste so much better!

*with thanks to Google images for the majority of these photos – well you all know I am a hopeless photographer.

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A Life’s Work

shiphrah.5Jeri Gunderson is a tall, slim, wiry American on a mission. Warm and enthusiastic, she talks easily about her life and work in the Philippines. Huddling in a corner of the Shiphrah Birthing Home on the rim of Metro Manila, she chats with my daughter, my mother and me, as we try to keep out of the way of a deluge of pregnant women wandering through for pre-natal classes and health checks.

Jeri first arrived in Manila almost twenty seven years ago, with her husband and five children, as missionaries, sent to set up a church in Taytay.

Midwifery was a sideline that has become a life’s work, although she clarifies quickly that she fell into midwifery, and has had no formal training. Her first teacher was a hippie from Seattle, who she helped casually to deliver babies. Midwifery is one of the oldest professions for women, and these two women, self-taught and learning through experience, were obviously doing something right. After one birth – “a baby I just happened to catch,” she laughs self-deprecatingly – the new mother asked her to come to her village to teach other women about pre-natal care. And so it all began, quite by chance.

Despite a lack of formal training, Jeri obviously had the knack for delivering babies successfully, and the women were soon lining up at the door. After delivering babies in her spare room for four years on a diet of adrenalin and no sleep, she felt it was time to move the birthing centre elsewhere. “Every one of my kids had been thrown out of bed to make way for a birth,” she laughs. “But we are risk takers, and somebody is nobody if we don’t do it.”

As I think I have mentioned before, the name Shiphrah (pronounced Shif-ra), is taken from the biblical story of Moses, in which two midwifes bravely defy Herod by preventing the genocide of Hebrew boys. Almost five hundred babies are delivered here annually, and the staff has grown from five to twenty seven. Jeri has safely delivered many children into the world over the years but these days she is happy to watch from the sidelines, handing those duties over to a team of trained midwives that includes her daughter, Deborah.

“I don’t see myself as a midwife,” she confesses. Yet after giving birth to six of her own, she clearly wants to share the joy of childbirth. As one woman heads home, beaming proudly down at a tiny bundle of daughter delivered only hours before,  Jeri says, “My gift is to create a space where things like this can happen.” And she gets plenty of joy in return, watching families come through a happy birth together.

The efforts of Jeri and her team to deliver children safely into the world have the full support of the World Health Organization, which states that:

‘Midwifery services are [vital] to a healthy and safe pregnancy and childbirth. Worldwide, approximately 287 000 women die every year due to pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Most of these largely preventable deaths occur in low-income countries and in poor and rural areas… Many maternal and newborn deaths can be prevented if competent midwives assist women before, during and after childbirth and are able to refer them to emergency obstetric care when severe complications arise.’

Yes, I know I have quoted that piece before, but its worth repeating.

At Shiphrah, midwives provide not only assistance during birth, but pre-natal trainingentrance and maternal accountability, which Jeri sees as vital for safe home births. And everyone on the team at Shiphrah works to ensure that the birth of each child is a safe, nurturing, and affirming event for every mother, a privilege that perhaps we, from more developed countries, take for granted.

“We could change the world with an army of midwifes,” Jeri claims, with a smile.

With thanks to the Shiphrah website for photos.

Adapted from an article first published in Inklings, February 2014.

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Mr. Ferguson: A Force in the Philippines

mills_reef_winesRobbie Ferguson moved to Manila just over a year ago, with his partner Olivia and their two kids. A stocky, blond Glaswegian with merry blue eyes, a ready grin, and an accent you can cut with a knife, I occasionally find him a little tricky to understand, but luckily the lovely Olivia makes a willing translator whenever I am baffled by his broad accent.

Born in Glasgow in 1971, Robbie made his way to Australia via Hong Kong in the early nineties.  Landing first in Perth, he eventually settled in Brisbane.  In 2010 he set up a wine distribution company ‘Don Revy’, with his three partners: Piers Kinloch, another transplanted Scot; long-time Filipino friend Jose Vega and New Zealander Rachel Norman-Mayers,  who, you may remember, first introduced us to Don Revy wines at an ANZA event at The Fort a couple of years ago.

Self-labeled ‘an international wine company that sources new world wines for emerging markets’ Don Revy began shipping wine to Manila in 2011. Don Revy is currently representing four New Zealand wineries, claiming to have sourced some of the best producers in the best wine growing regions across New Zealand from Central Otago to Hawkes Bay.  It is a portfolio of well-priced, mid-range, very drinkable New Zealand wines that included Mills Reef, Chard Farm and Jules Taylor, as well as a label they own ‘from grape to glass,’ Pebble Lane.  

Last month Robbie introduced us to a couple of new additions to the Don Revy stable: a Chilean winery, Genesis, and New Zealand’s answer to Yellow Tail wines, Squawking Magpie, with poetic labels like Stoned Crow Syrah and Sticky Beak Chardonnay. Very soon, two well-known South Australian names, Elderton and my own personal favourite Shaw & Smith will join this growing portfolio. Robbie tells me they are even planning to add spirits to the line in 2014: a Scottish malt whiskey, FTV Vodka and a German Brandy. The latter will include ten bottles of limited edition Asbach Goethe Vintage Reserve 1952 at a cost in pesos too high to mention, but Robbie assures me it’s a real treasure.

Don Revy is currently distributing its wines through leading hotels and restaurants in Manila, Cebu and Borocay, and through retail outlets Rustans, Robinsons, Landmark and Philippines Duty Free.

Robbie anticipates strong growth over the next five years, as the Filipino middle class and expat markets continue to expand. Socializing is high on the agenda of both these groups, and wine is an increasingly popular beverage in South East Asia. With an obvious gap for New Zealand wines in a market flooded with Aussie and French wines, Don Revy has moved into the neighbourhood with unquenchable enthusiasm.

Robbie seems very satisfied with how business is progressing here in the Philippines, and hopes it will also prove to be a good stepping stone into the rest of Asia. He is grateful for all the local support he has had during these first two years, particularly to local business partner Jose (Jojo) Vega, who has helped him through the maze of unfamiliar and often challenging regulatory processes which differ considerably from those in Australia.

As Robbie and Jojo work on sales, and getting to know their clients, Robbie’s partner Olivia is running the administrative side of the business with great success: ‘joyfully and with a cavalier attitude’ is how Robbie puts it, proudly.

I asked Robbie what were his favourite things about the Philippines. His answer: the Robbie & Oliviaconsistently good weather and the people he has met here. He says the welcome he and his family have received from the local community has been great.

Robbie’s top tip to anyone starting a business here in the Philippines is be adaptable. And the best piece of advice he has received came from an hotelier in Cebu who warned him he couldn’t just come and dump stock on the Philippines and then clear off.  If he wanted to be successful here, he was told, he must have a presence in the industry. And Robbie Ferguson definitely has that, in spades.

If you can’t find these wines at your favourite watering hole, contact Robbie directly on: robbie@donrevy.com

* First published in ANZA News, January 2014

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Celadon Rocks!

IMG_0689-1One of my favourite locations for dinner is the strip of restaurants on Lopez Drive, on the perimeter of Power Plant Mall opposite Rockwell Club, with its outdoor dining and a great selection of Italian, Spanish, Filipino and Japanese food. Last year Celadon arrived in the neighbourhood, and to date, it is the only exclusively Thai restaurant at Rockwell, apart from the cheap and cheerful Asian mix at Banana Leaf. Celadon isn’t large, but the décor gives a sense of palatial splendour with its golden chairs and white linen table cloths.

The name Celadon comes from a type of glaze used on porcelain or stoneware that originated in China, and its production eventually spread to Thailand.  Although it can come in a variety of colours, the name has become almost synonymous with the most popular pale jade green of Celadon crockery.

My husband and I had tried out this restaurant when it first arrived in Rockwell last year, but found it disappointing. In retrospect it was simply the lack of variety. As any Asian gourmand should remember, it is so much better to eat any Asian cuisine with all your friends, so you can taste as many dishes as possible. As a farewell dinner for our daughter and my parents, we did just that.

Celadon provides a modern take on traditional dishes, and the family leapt upon the celadon3menu with alacrity. My mother was keen to try the mangosteen curry, once we had defined a mangosteen as a cross between a lychee and a passionfruit, but unfortunately it was not available. There is a good variety of other options, however, including some delicious salads to choose from. The pomelo salad rated right up there with a similar dish (my favourite) at People’s Palace. Zesty and refreshing, this one comes with caramelized calamari, instead of prawns, and is a great appetizer to get the taste buds leaping into action.

Of course the teenagers loved the hands-on, irresistible satays and buffalo wings, which all disappeared in a heartbeat, and the not-so-traditionally-Thai Beef Rendang from Malaysia was a hit with my father.

The key to Thai food is balance, and Celadon manages to balance its dishes beautifully. Despite the presence of red chillis on the menu, denoting spicier dishes, none is painfully hot, and certainly there is no sign of the Filipino preference for sugar. Ingredients are fresh and the flavours are authentically Thai. 

Sadly there was no Singha Beer to be had that evening, a great liquid accompaniment to Thai dining, but our beer drinkers happily made do with San Miguel Light.

soupThe menu contains many popular dishes such as the classic green chicken curry, tongue tingling tom yum and the epitome of comfort food, tom ka gai, while the phad Thai wrapped in its hairnet of egg, was packed with flavour and vegetables. My own favourite, apart from the pomelo salad, was the spicy beef and basil, which I was selfishly disinterested in sharing, but which nonetheless made its way all around the table to great enthusiasm.

Others recommend the desserts, too, but we were full to the brim and preferred to complete the meal with a short walk down the road for a bottle of rosé at Barcinos.

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Vignettes of Puerto Galera

IMG_2362iA chattering, boisterous crowd gathering on a quay with bags and boxes, cases and Eskies, already sipping beers, keen, eager, ready to party, clambering aboard a large, pelican-like banca bobbing in matronly fashion on a subdued sea…

A significant birthday, celebrated in style, on a tropical island cloaked in jungle and hemmed with lilting, azure blue waters…

Tinnies, yachts, bancas and motor boats moored in the bay, set in the deep, blue-glass water like insects in amber…

A bedroom with a broad balcony, French doors opened wide to welcome the cool breeze that sails in on the calico curtains and whips them to a frenzy…

 A cocoon-like pod attached to a motorbike skimming perilously along a winding coastal road, with the breeze skipping in through the open sides, skirting shrubs and shanties and semi-naked toddlers playing in the dirt, roosters strutting their stuff in polished feathers, trucks roaring past and stirring up nose-scrunching clouds of dust…

A quayside full of cosy bars, beers, burritos, and men offering pearls, sunglasses, hats andPGbanca hands full of slightly-stale peanuts…

A straight-backed Australian with a chunky walky-talky, calmly choreographing boats and accommodation, meals and massages, sailing trips, bands and bottles, firm and efficient, like the Pied Piper of Hamlin, as we all trail cheerfully in his wake…

A flat bottomed blue-and-white service boat chugging back and forth across the bay ferrying goods and chattels, travelers and locals to their various destinations…

Another body scrub? No thanks, but a wonderful, heavy-handed massage to iron out the knots and pound me to oblivion and back, in an airy space with gabled windows beneath the roof, would be fine…

A barbecue on the patio at the yacht club, with gallon glasses of red wine or buckets of beer, ribs in slabs, and salads, chatter and laughter, a sprinkle of rain, a t-shirt stamped with a picture of the Birthday Girl, a tiny tiara to designate her Princess-For-A-Weekend status…

Brunch on a yacht, glamorous and poised, lying elegantly in designer bikini along silky cushions, crystal champagne flute in perfectly manicured hand… oops, wrong channel, wrong dream… out on a yacht, perching precariously on the brim, dodging the boom and yelping as the wind seizes the sail and tears it from the rope, clinging to a paper cup of sparkling wine (priorities, girls!) as the boat tips vertically, and garrotes us in glorious splendour on the wire railing, our legs hanging down into obstreperous waves desperate to drag us in to play…

Becalmed, calmer, bruised, but still beautiful (ha ha), chewing hungrily on a chicken wing and a chunk of baguette after a swift swim through clear, slightly bumptious sea…

Sailing past curvaceous coastline spread thickly with deep green trees, dotted with the IMG_2417.1thatched roofs of small, shady cabanas or nipa huts on the sand, a rustic wooden house, like Bunyip Bluegum’s, settled into the steep hillside above the beach…

A dining room bedecked in white linen: napkins twirled into plate-sized petals, delicate vases of fresh flowers, deep pink balloons and deeper pink sunburned cheeks, smiling broadly, eager to celebrate…

A talented, be-hatted saxophonist, serenading us with seductive notes of jazz and blues and old favourites from bygone musicals…

A beautiful Birthday Girl, glowing, glossy brown in white cotton, crowned in a twinkling tiara, twirling, tall and lithe, her fifty years sitting as lightly on her shoulders as butterflies, beaming with childlike joy and delight…

A band stridently engaging our attention with an endless array of dance songs, no time for a ballad, as we bounce and dance about for hours, grabbing the odd glass of water or bubbles as we career past the bar, hoarse with singing exuberantly to every song we ever knew…

Tired feet trudging up a stone staircase, looped with gauzy white fabric and the ubiquitous pink balloons, past a dining room bare and bereft, and a vast tarpaulin poster of the Birthday Girl, marking the various eras of her life, draped on the wall…

A soggy heap of party aftermath, recovering on carbs and coffee, recounting the exploits IMG_2394iof the night before with weary pleasure, bright and cheery little Hobbits bobbing and swirling amongst the detritus that are – or were – their parents and their parents’ friends…

A subdued return to the mainland across boisterous, churning waves…

*Photos from my One & Only, except the banca from Google Images.

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