“Fashion Fantasy”

“Every day is a fashion show and the world is your runway” ~ Chanel

ADBSA (2)Last night I was a super model.

OK, well maybe not quite a “super” model, but I didn’t fall off the catwalk, which I consider a major achievement, having had nightmares about tripping into the lap of the President as I wobbled down the runway.  As it turned out I had more to fear from a family friend who showed up unexpectedly and attempted to grab my attention – and my ankles – as I strolled past.

In case you are wondering, no, I have not actually had a mid-life crisis and a career change. I was, in fact, participating in a charity event at the Asian Development Bank here in Manila to raise funds for the various local charities supported by our ADB Spouses Association which include an orphanage; scholarships for underprivileged college students;  a home for street kids in Quezon City, and micro-financing for small businesses in the provinces.

The ADBSA Fashion Fusion Show had been in the pipe-line for months, instigated by an offer from Dianne Picture9
Andrysiak, an Australian expatriate and fashion designer, who was prepared to donate her time and talents to help raise funds for our charities. The Board then decided to add a second segment to the evening’s entertainment, to showcase the traditional dress of ADB member countries.

The result was a fashion spectacular into which all the efforts of the Board, Dianne and the wannabe models were
poured with boundless enthusiasm. Embellished with elegantly upswept hair and alluring make up, thanks to the talented efforts of students from  Wella and mp maquillage professionnel, we donned our gorgeous outfits and lined up, ready for the red carpet.

The first half of the show was presented by our in-house Master of Ceremonies, Shubhra Chatterjee, who spoke with flamboyant finesse about each model, her outfit and its cultural significance. From India, Sri Lanka and the People’s Republic of China, Cambodia, Malaysia, Korea, Indonesia and Japan, Bhutan, Nepal and Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Kiribati, Tonga and Samoa, our models came from all corners of Asia.

Picture8The show opened with a bang, as two lovely Filipina ladies made their way down the catwalk in eye-catching ternos, those formal Filipina dresses with the butterfly sleeves, made world famous by Imelda Marcos.  Leni’s very original, and surprisingly glamorous version was made from coffee sacks, while Elise was more traditionally attired in a terno made from lime green piña, a fabric made from the fiber from pineapple leaves combined with silk, with Swarovski crystal detailing.

From there we travelled through Asia to see sumptuous Sri Lankan Kandyan sarees that can be folded, draped or pleated in myriad variations like those from neighbouring India; the hanbok, which is traditional Korean dress for festivals and celebrations; the Bhutanese goh for men, and kira for women; exquisite silk kimonos from Japan, and from China, the sensuous silk cheong sam or qípáo from Shanghai and the historically significant hanfu of the Han dynasty. We admired a shimmering Cambodian sampot paired with a detailed white lace blouse, a colourful kebaya encim worn by the Pernakan Chinese women of Malaysia, elegant Indonesian variation of the kebaya, and a heavy black cotton saree with a red border known as hāku patāsi worn by Nepalese women for the Newari Festival and other important celebrations.

From Asia to the Pacific, where, Beta added a practiced wiggle to a full Kiribati skirt made from layers of dried coconut leaves with accessories made from sea shells and pandanus leaves. Victoria, also from the Pacific, showed off the traditional Tongan tupenu and ta’ovala – a family heirloom that had belonged to her great great grandmother, and was a hundred years old. And we also enjoyed the appearance of two brave young lads from Samoa, Henry and William, who modelled their traditional lavalava skirts accessorized with red ulafalla necklaces that looked like large red chilies but were made from the fruit of the pandanus tree .

Red also played a large role in a sumptuous, full-length gown from Uzbekistan, embroidered with large, vibrant flowers, enhanced by a Scarlett O’Hara style hooped skirt beneath. Suzani is a intricately embroidered tribal textile made in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries. Galiya, meanwhile, sported a dress and jacket made in a shorter, more casual style in a brightly coloured ikat, which would later play a significant role in the designs for the Fashion Fusion segment. Ikat is an ancient technique used to dye yarns before it is woven into patterned fabrics. It is a word of Indonesian origin, but it’s a weaving method commonly used across Asia, Africa and Picture7South America.

An interval was heralded by a raffle, in which prizes had been generously donated by restaurateur Paolo Nesi, Don Revy and Craggy Range wines, and a wonderful weekend in Vietnam thanks to GHM luxury resorts. And then it was time for part two: Fusion Fashion.

Dianne’s designs were enchanting, and, as Shubhra astutely observed, she had displayed a real knack for dressing not only the body but the temperament and tastes of the models, creatively blending modern design with traditional fabrics. And, as our MC also noted, ‘there is no better way to express yourself than through the clothes you wear.’

A Scandinavian nineteen fifties floral print, Japanese printed cottons, local linens, Laotian prints, hand painted Japanese kimonos, Indonesian batik, a glamorous sunflower-yellow, full-length satin and a heavy and sumptuous jacquard weave from Iran transformed into a wrap-around evening jacket worn over a silvery grey empire line silk gown with a metallic brocade neckline. As I watch the models sway along the catwalk, I start to understand Rosalie Ham’s fetish with fabrics in her novel “The Dressmaker.”

The ikat fabric we saw earlier reappeared again and again, displaying its variety and versatility in a number of stunning outfits, both casual and formal.  Mari began the parade in a simple biscuit and cream ikat print, perfect for the cool, calm ‘Lady Who Lunches.’ Later she re-appeared in a simple, elegant cocktail dress in which woven silk satin was overlaid with black chiffon. Another vibrant ikat fabric from Tajikistan was used to create a shimmering gold and ruby cocktail dress for Cindy, while Vida also wore an ikat print in black, red and beige, masterfully cut on the bias to create an asymmetrical, floor sweeping gown. The gown was accentuated with one, Philippine-style butterfly sleeve in silk organza. Elise, too, modelled a modern variation of those butterfly sleeves in a long gown of lilac satin and silk organza, belted with a silver, embroidered, obi-style Japanese fabric .

Picture6Not surprisingly, Thai silk also played a major role in the parade, appearing time and again in various styles of dress and in a rainbow of glorious colours. Cathrin’s ball gown was created from an emerald green Thai silk ball gown with a cowl neckline, the skirt cut away at the front to display yet another brightly coloured ikat print from Tajikistan. Runa’s gown combined a green and blue shot Thai silk overlaid with a stunning turquoise and midnight blue Jamdani  muslin from Bangladesh. My own ball gown was created from a blend of deep bottle green Thai silk overlaid with a gold and green Indian sari, in a design inspired by the Middle Ages. Heather’s frock was artfully simple: a dark Thai silk skirt overlaid with an Aussie cotton sporting an aboriginal motif, the bodice made from thick strips of woven Thai silk. Even the President’s wife, Mrs Nakao, took a stroll up the catwalk in a layered champagne-coloured Thai silk, cut away at the front to display a Japanese satin in a softly feminine cream, rose and green floral print.

Several more casual outfits included Sucheta’s pink and white floral capri pants teamed with a white silk blouse which had been hand-painted in pink to team with a matching, waist length pink jacket with mandarin collar.  Sucheta, and several other ladies, also carried matching handbags created by France-Anne Van Peteghem.

And so we reached the end of the show with a bow. Flowers were presented to our magical designer, Dianne, as she appeared on the catwalk in one of her own eye-catching creations with the luminous Mrs. Nakao and her husband, ADB President Mr. Nakao, before we were ushered out to celebrate with sparkling wine in the foyer. I think the audience enjoyed the show – we certainly had fun playing at being super models – and we were also able to raise considerable funds for our charities, which was highly satisfying. Now I am off to practise posing in the mirror for the next time I am seconded for a fashion parade!

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Dream Kitchen

Julia Child’s kitchen

“…But the kitchen will not come into its own again until it ceases to be a status symbol and becomes again a workshop… [and] you and I will know it chiefly by its fragrances and its clutter. It won’t be neat. It won’t even look efficient. but when you enter it you will feel the pulse of life throbbing from every corner. The heart of the home will have begun once again to beat.”  ― Phyllis McGinley, American poet and author

I grew up in just such a kitchen: the workshop kind. Cluttered. Chaotic. Cupboard doors hanging open. Littered surfaces. Leftovers turning into chemistry experiments at the back of the fridge. I recognize all the signs. A pot of soup, regularly topped up with last night’s vegetables, sat on the back of the stove all winter, socks and underpants drying in the warming drawer, the almost visible smell of orange cake wafting from the oven and down the passage.

Everyone congregated in our kitchen – friends, family, workmen, complete strangers sometimes – perching on low stools around the kitchen table or leaning against counter tops. And our mother was ever the centrepiece, chatting, laughing, always active: baking biscuits or cakes; topping up the soup or burning the saucepans dry; chopping, peeling, stirring, and making endless mugs of Nescafé; knitting a jumper or doing the daily crossword, surrounded by small mountains of reference books; exploring cookery books that had been liberally baptized in flour, butter or gravy.

A round table stood in in the middle of the room and would always be scattered with letters, car keys, mugs, ashtrays,50s kitchen spoons, elbows, sugar bowls and inevitably a raggle-taggle posy of flowers gathered from the garden and stuffed in a small, chipped vase. An old dresser stood by the door – it has stood there for almost fifty years – accumulating all the family detritus. The drawers were stuffed with loose photos, flat batteries, secateurs, screwdrivers, shoe polish. The cupboards were crammed with plastic containers, odd saucepans with mix and not-matching lids, bent and dented roasting trays and assortments of home-made jams and chutneys, some of which had lurked there for years. On top of the dresser cake and biscuit tins would be stacked, supposedly out of the reach of a hoard of vertically challenged, ravenous children, but we were like mountain goats and learned to scale that cupboard from an early age.  The heart of the home? Always. The pulse of life? Absolutely. This kitchen was never ‘designed’ by any stretch of the imagination, it just was, and it was always warm and welcoming.

As an adult, I have moved house uncountable times over the years, and each time I have to start house-hunting again, I write a hit list of everything I want and need in our next abode. Each time number one on the list is: ‘a decent kitchen.’  And yet, inevitably, it is the kitchen that doesn’t make the grade. In retrospect, I guess I have always been attempting to replicate the atmosphere of our childhood kitchen – maybe not the clutter, but at least the pulse. Often I blame the details: no hot water on tap; cheap and nasty electric ovens; negligible storage space. There have been kitchens where the counter-tops were so low that even hobbits would have to stoop uncomfortably to chop or wash up. And there have been those suffocatingly hot kitchens in the Tropics with no air-conditioning, because ma’am doesn’t belong in the kitchen anyway.  Occasionally we have even had smart, designer kitchens that are frightfully efficient, even pretty, and yet I never felt they exuded the warmth of my mother’s kitchen. And mostly,  I suspect, for want of a kitchen table.

our kitchenWhen we finally bought a house in England, the kitchen was awful. It was an 8’ x 10’ space hampered by three doorways. The cupboard space was severely limited by the unwelcome presence of a boiler, a dishwasher, a washing machine and a tumble dryer. Tiny bite-sized slices of counter space were scattered round the walls in the most ineffectual arrangement that was ever invented. We eventually gutted and redesigned it, and I absolutely loved what we created, but it never actually expanded to fit a table.

At the moment I have a pocket-sized kitchen in an open plan apartment (never again) with counter space that even the cockroaches find limiting.  What’s more, it has been designed – and I use the term loosely – by someone who has never stepped foot in a kitchen. Despite the minimalist space, I still have a tendency to clutter surfaces with  pots of utensils and boxes of tea and toasters and chopping boards, because I love having things to hand. Luckily, I have never been one for gadgets, because, seriously, there is barely room for the toaster. And the maid’s room has become my pantry, in which I store every over-sized saucepan or useless utensil I cannot bring myself to throw away, because I may need it at some undetermined point in the future.

Nonetheless, needs must, and I am learning how to cook without elbows and how to clear up as I go, although I would kill for a dishwasher in which to tuck all those mugs and plates and glasses out of sight.   Of course there are only two of us now, so I am downsizing my pots and pans and trying not to cook every meal for five. I am getting the hang of it, but I find I miss the neatly stacked ice cream tubs full of leftover pasta sauces and curry in the freezer, marked in marker pens as “soup” – or not marked and assumed to be ice-cream, until it isn’t. The good part is, my cook books are at hand, although much to my chagrin I have inherited the messy cook gene, so there are remnants of every recipe I have ever attempted decorating the pages.

In postwar America, the modern kitchen was designed to tempt women back into ‘the heart’ of the suburban family home and away from their war work in factories and offices. The modern kitchen was stocked with every possible labour-saving appliance. It was often merged into the family’s living space. The modern kitchen did indeed become a status symbol and there it has remained. Today, my modern, technology-friendly girlfriends boast of something called a Thermomix and invest in high tech juicers. Others have those glorious retro cake-mixers reigning over the counter tops. At least one friend has even invested in a Thermomix and the most amazing space age kitchen in which the meals seem to virtually cook themselves in moments. It’s like magic!

banner_jckitchen1Call me perverse, but I honestly prefer my muddled, mixed-up workshop kitchen with its awkward corners and it’s ridiculous, impractical design – although I admit, I do occasionally dream of something more in the vein of Julia Child’s simple, homely Massachusetts kitchen, its shelves choc-a-block with pots and pans and jugs and jars. And I do wish there was room for a kitchen table. Then, like Julia’s or my mother’s kitchens, it might just become “the most loved and most used room in the house.”

*With thanks to Google Images for the kitchen  pics.

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The Dinner Party

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”  – Harriet Van Horne,  journalist

Since the genesis of shows like Master Chef and the rise of Jamie, Nigella, Gordon and Curtis, who amongst you has never felt the urge to unleash the inner chef and work in a real restaurant kitchen – and of course gain instant celebrity status for your efforts? Well, last week I had the opportunity to do the former, although the latter still continues to elude me.

Chef Philip at Brera

Chef Philip at Brera

Last year, my One & Only won the raffle at the ANZA Wine and Cheese night. This year we finally availed of the prize. ‘What did he win?’ you ask. A five course dinner prepared by a professional chef in our own home.  What could be more decadent?

Philip Golding is a British chef who has been based in the Philippines for twenty years, and has a finger in so many pies it’s impossible to keep count: teacher, chef, Breville ambassador, culinary consultant, President of the Disciples de Escoffier Philippines…

There was only one small problem. Last year we downsized to a great little duplex in Rockwell. We really love it, but the thought of anyone cooking a five course meal in our pint-sized kitchen is laughable. Luckily one dear friend  had already suggested he would like to be one of the guests, so we suggested in our turn that we might need to use his kitchen – somewhat larger than ours – for the event.

The Saturday before our dinner date, we held our first meeting with Chef Philip at Brera,  delicatessen and grill,  his latest venture, and a Taguig twin to his store in Yakal Street, Makati. Here we sat over coffee and concocted the bones of a five course menu which would, he promised, evolve over the week ahead. We then created a lengthy shopping list, so I could start to buy the ingredients. Also – and this we weren’t expecting – Chef Philip invited us, if we so desired, to get involved in the process of creating the meal.

I spent the next few days dashing around the city gathering a boatload of ingredients with which we could have fedIMG_4307 most of Metro Manila. We started by rummaging through the shelves at Brera, and then I went on to scour Rustan’s and Säntis . The stars had aligned nicely, as good friends from South Australia turned up in time join us for dinner, accompanied by some amazing Australian cheeses and wines, they had ransacked from the Adelaide market. On Thursday I took them to Yakal Street, where we would finalize the menu with Chef Philip and visit The Butchery next door to choose the meat for our main course. Here we discovered a veritable goldmine of cheese wheels the size of coffee tables, and some fabulous looking lamb racks.

Finally, on Friday afternoon, armed with our menu, our aprons and boxes full of food and wine, we descended on our friends home in Forbes Park. Chef Golding and his tool box of cooking kit arrived too, in the wake of a team of assistants. The team was joined by our friends’ two Helpers.

As food writers both, our Aussie mate and I were keen to add to the manpower in the kitchen. Now, I am generally the Head Cook at home. I have worked in Hospitality and even ventured into Hotel Management once upon a time. But this was the first time I had gone to work with a professional chef, and I instantly forgot everything I thought I knew and felt like a total novice. Luckily, as the chef assigned us our tasks, I found myself with a job I thought I could just about handle: I was put in charge of making the crepes for dessert. Chef Philip whipped up a batter, flavoured lightly with Grand Marnier, and then pointed me to the stove. As I slowly turned out a mountain of wafer thin pancakes, my confidence grew. Soon I was even feeling secure enough to help the trainees with some of their tasks.

It was a surprisingly long process to create this ‘simple’ dinner for six, particularly given the large team we had to pull it together. But once I got over my initial stage fright, it was great fun, and working on the team was a fascinating experience. Chef Philip went from one work station to the next, checking on progress, offering tips, encouragement and mild criticism when things weren’t up to scratch. Apart from the odd sarcastic note, however, it was nothing like the kitchen scenes in the movie ‘Burnt,’ or ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ with near-hysterical chefs throwing furniture and knives and entire dinners on the floor. Although, to be honest, I was still not tempted to test his patience!

IMG_4323Eventually our job was done and we sat down to dinner, already gently lubricated with champagne and gin, and eager to enjoy the banquet. Our minestrone came to the table – shallow bowls containing a neat mound of finely diced and blanched vegetables. Chef Philip then poured the soup from a jug around the vegetables, creating a small island in the centre of a ruby red lake. The broth was surprisingly rich, largely thanks to a tablespoon of pimento paste, balanced by the fresh, crisp vegetable cubes.

Next came the tuna salad. Fluffy lettuce, dollops of burrata cheese and cherry tomatoes were prettily arranged on an entrée plate – although it took me a while to realize the fish was secreted beneath the shrubbery. The seared yellow fin tuna and smoked wahoo – a local, white-fleshed fish that has become very popular with gourmet diners –  were both superb. Like Oliver Twist, I wanted more.

Back in the kitchen, I had basted the lamb racks in whole grain mustard before coating them in breadcrumbs seasoned with fresh tarragon. The racks were accompanied by lamb sausage, surprisingly German in style, a deliciously cheesy potato gratin (thanks to the best Watsonia Vintage Cheddar), broccoli with a hint of hollandaise sauce and my favourite purple cabbage cooked with cranberries and sultanas. We had been having trouble boosting the heat in the oven, probably due to the fact we were using every available burner, so for me, the chops were a little underdone, but the vegetable dishes were perfect, despite what I had feared would be overkill in the sauces department.

Finally, the crepes, which were, of course, spectacular. Lightly flavoured with Grand Marnier, they were filled withMain Course dried figs, orange segments and vanilla ice-cream, sprinkled with crushed macadamias, and topped with a fig and orange sauce. My only regret was that there just weren’t enough – I should have made at least a dozen more.

We finished off with a cheese board, courtesy of our Australian guests, including a divine Onkaparinga Triple Cream Brie.The food faded out, the wine faded in as we sat and chatted with Chef Philip. There were lots of laughs, lots of wine… and towards the end of the evening, lots of Air Supply. (I probably shouldn’t have mentioned that.)

So, I finally got my time in the kitchen, and while I enjoyed it, I now have even greater respect for the men and women who work daily under that level of stress and speed. It was like running a marathon, and I now remember why I veered sharply away from the challenge twenty-five years ago. It was fun for a night, but it totally validated my decision to stay out of the kitchen, and to choose a path whereby I could eat, admire and write about the amazing efforts of other more talented cooks from a sensible distance. So thanks to ANZA and whoever pulled out the winning ticket, to our dear friends in Forbes for providing a terrific venue, and especially to Chef Philip and his team, for a great night’s entertainment. All hail the Chef.

*Adapted from an article that appeared first in ANZA News, April 2016.

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Highlights of Cebu City

A weekend in Cebu City. A friend’s birthday. A room at The Henry. A table  at Anzani . A Sunday recovery barbecue by the pool in the friend’s garden. A recipe for a super weekend.

Henry1Our hotel may be a good place to start. Walking distance to our friend’s lovely home in a nearby gated community, it is a complete contrast to its elegant, colonial-style sister hotel in Manila. Built in the style of an old warehouse, The Henry in Cebu City on the outside is all black paint and big windows. Inside, the hotel is brimming with an eclectic collection of modern art, quirky furnishings and eye-catching sculptures scattered around large, airy spaces. This included a rather unnerving plastic statue of a red man in the lobby. A welcome drink, a quick and easy check in, and we are escorted to the sixth floor and a vast bedroom, with two huge windows overlooking the garden and pool. We step back to admire the polished concrete floor, a super-king sized bed, a generous bathroom separated only by a curtain (not so good for the more reserved amongst us), a lovely hip bath (but no hot water) and more than enough room to swing the proverbial cat.

Two minor complaints: a kettle and tea making facilities in our room would have been most welcome. And when Henry3drinking the tap water is not an option, I figure it might be kind of the hotel to provide bottomless drinking water, or at least a small water cooler, not just two small plastic bottles per day. That said, the room was incredibly comfortable, the staff were friendly, and the restaurant was really very good – the One & Only took a particular fancy to their carafes of lemongrass tea. And of course the artwork and furnishings were fascinating. I particularly liked a framed violin above the dressing table. Its bow, also framed, hung on the opposite wall. There was also a brightly coloured, Andy Warhol-style mural onto the wall above the bed. And I loved the various stacks of old trunks piled around the lobby – and two 1950s cream suitcases we initially thought someone had left behind beside the elevators!

And so onto dinner at the very beautiful Anzani, set high in the Nivel hills above the city, with stunning views and a range of attractive indoor and outdoor spaces for dining. We were ushered downstairs to a table for eight in the wine cellar, overlooked by two large sketches of Sophia Lauren.

It calls itself ‘New Mediterranean,’ but Anzani is more a wondrous fusion of Mediterranean recipes and Filipino Anzani5ingredients.  The menu was handed to us on a tablet, which novel, but a bit problematic, until we came to grips with the screen, which kept vanishing. Eventually we sorted it out and began to unravel the extensive menu (pages and pages) of Mediterranean-inspired dishes. I am always a little nervous about large menus – I find it hard to believe the chefs can possibly do justice to so many dishes – but tonight my doubts proved unfounded. Every dish, even the complimentary ones, came to the table in style, artistically presented and tasting sumptuous. There was a ‘chipotle three-cheese fondue’ and a platter of Italian meats, both generous enough to share; carpaccio of beef, swordfish or ostrich or a smoked tomato soup; numerous pizzas, pastas and risottos, and a selection of mains that included French duck breasts, Wagyu short ribs and pan-seared crocodile tail. And I am not kidding when I say I am just scratching the surface, as there were also numerous dishes that wove local ingredients (yellow fin tuna, bangus and grouper) into the mix.

We were swiftly presented with a very pretty selection of dips and nibbles to get the ball rolling, while we devoured the menu and chose the wines – wonderful fun when you can just lean behind you and grab whatever catches your eye!  Grant Burge put in a star turn, in both red and white, but the wine cellar offers all sorts of nationalities: New World wines from Australia and Argentina, Chile and New Zealand, South Africa and the States; Old World wines from France, Italy and Spain. I chose, with no apologies, a lightly wooded Grant Burge Chardonnay

I was particularly delighted with my dinner tonight. Normally I am one of those annoying people who decides too lateAnzani3 that everyone else has made better choices than me. But tonight I decided to experiment with the ostrich carpaccio, which is apparently sourced from an ostrich farm in the Philippines. Paper thin – as it should be – it was topped with crumbled goat cheese and roasted wild mushrooms.  Much to my delighted surprise, the ostrich proved to be a dark meat with gallons more flavour than the Angas beef carpaccio, and quite beautifully partnered with the goat’s cheese and mushrooms. I would greedily have ordered a second serve, it was so good.

For my main course I ordered from the grill: a steak of yellow fin tuna, also a local specialty. It had been lightly marinated with a really tasty and ever-so-slightly crunchy marinade of olive oil, sugar, turmeric powder, sea salt, a glove of garlic (I assume this was a typo, but loved it anyway), freshly ground black pepper and chopped shallot. I have only ever eaten such beautiful tuna once before, and that was almost thirty years
ago. Fresh from the sea, meaty and perfectly cooked, it quite simply melted in the mouth. It was very simply accompanied by a handful of chunky chips, a small side salad and a bowl of dipping sauce that I have to admit I totally ignored, as the tuna was perfect sans sauce.

Anzani6 (2)Having had some issues with the air conditioning – a more serious problem for the resident wines than for me – we adjourned upstairs for dessert and coffee. Although we all blanched at the thought of dessert, when we were presented with a platter of gelati (nine different flavoured scoops on a pretty green glass serving platter) quite a number of us were more than happy to dip in. From memory, flavours included green tea and choco mint, raspberry and mango. The rest completely escape me, but I do remember they were all delicious, and a lovely finishing touch.

And then, just in case there hadn’t been enough food and drink already, our night at Anzani was followed a lovely, gentle, Aussie-style afternoon round the pool with strawberry cocktails and prawns on the barbie.

Life doesn’t get much better, really…


*With thanks to Google Images and my One & Only for the photos.

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Mother’s Milk or Mother’s Ruin?

“Red meat and gin.” – Julia Child, on the ingredients for a long life.

gin4Ten years ago micro-breweries hit the market with ‘craft’ or ‘boutique’ beers, providing the world with interesting alternatives to the mass-produced European style lagers.  Today, word on the street is that gin is now having a similar renaissance in ‘boutique’ distilleries.  Visiting England recently, I discovered a myriad small gin distilleries have been springing up all over the country. And it is not limited to the UK – the resurgence of the juniper berry has struck a chord all over the world. I even met a bloke recently who is planning to make gin at that altar of winemaking, the Barossa Valley. So move over craft beer, designer gin is here.

Two years ago, a friend I was visiting in Kent eagerly handed me a gin and tonic. The tonic? Probably Scwheppes. The gin? He was reluctant to share the secret, but eventually told me that it came from the lovely Suffolk seaside town of Southwold. Adnams, originally established as a brewery in 1872, decided to diversify, and in 2010 a distillery was born. Adnams now makes not only beer, but gin, vodka and whisky as well.

This new gin was quite different from the usual gins I drink: the Gilbeys-and-Gordons, Beefeater-and-Bombay Sapphire brigade which have little to recommend them beyond alcoholic content and a neat and unobtrusive match with tonic and lime. Adnans – and the many more boutique gins attempting to upstage the old stalwarts – tastes quite different: more complex, more sophisticated, even poetic flavours that make it distinctive, unusual, unexpected and aromatic.

tonicLast Christmas my daughter took me along to ‘The Howling Owl,’ a quaint little bar in Adelaide with a not-so-secret stash of boutique gins – more than forty different brands in fact, from all over the world. A tasting tray provided four shot glasses and a selection of garnishes: slices of lemon and lime and cucumber were no surprise, but the sprigs of rosemary, dried juniper berries and peppercorns were a whole new experience. It was great fun – a little like creating a mini cocktail.  And the results were fascinating, quite upstaging those old stalwarts above the bar. It was a real eye opener. There were even, it turns out, some new, lighter ‘artisan’ tonics on the market, like Fever Tree and Fentimans.

Simply put, gin is flavoured vodka. The base spirit for both spirits is derived from grain, (rye, corn or wheat) or potato and in the case of gin, sometimes even grapes. The base spirit is then infused with juniper berries. Called berries, these are actually berry-shaped seed cones, and give gin a flavour that is often described as ‘piney’ or ‘tasting like Christmas.’ Other ‘aromatics’ or ‘botanicals’ add complexity. These botanicals may include such things as cassia and chamomile, coriander and cardomom, cinnamon, citrus and cubeb berries (Indonesian pepper) – which sounds like the recipe for a magic spell. Typically, a fine gin contains six to ten botanicals.

Gin first appeared in Holland in the seventeenth century. Like many spirits and liqueurs, it was created by the monks, who used it to treat any number of ailments from gout to gallstones, and even the Plague.   Its name comes from the Dutch word for juniper – genever –  and it became popular with Dutch and British soldiers fighting together during the Thirty Years War (1618-48), where it was praised for its moral boosting and warming effects in the damp and chilly Lowlands of Europe, and nicknamed “Dutch Courage.”


“The Drunkard’s Children” by Cruikshank

Its popularity – and the recipe – spread from the battlefields to England. Unlicensed production meant anyone could set up a gin still very cheaply, and British gin was a rough-and-ready concoction, fit only for the poor, who drank it liberally, often by the pint, and just as often enhanced with turpentine –  highly toxic when ingested. Hardly surprisingly, this led to horrific displays of disorderly drunkenness, ill-health, and death. Gin was even blamed for a negative population growth in London.

Over the next century, the “Gin Craze” grew. Eventually, however, its adverse effects on society caused panic amongst the elite, and the British Parliament introduced a series of laws and taxes to curb gin consumption by raising prices beyond the reach of the poor. This lead, predictably perhaps, to street riots and a flood of illegal gin stills, and the laws were repealed, and eventually replaced by more reasonable ones.

As these milder reforms gradually took effect, gin production became more refined, and gin gradually climbed out of the gutter.  In the nineteenth century, the ‘column still’ was invented, which allowed gin distillers to improve the quality of the base spirit. They also started to play around with different flavours. London dry gin was born; a specific style of gin, not necessarily made in London, but involving a double distillation of the grain to which the botanicals are added only during the second distillation. The upper classes were entranced. Ornate and luxurious gin palaces were established to provide sophisticated settings for this now sophisticated panacea.

Tonic water was first introduced to gin in Colonial India in the nineteenth century.  Gin and soda was already a popular drink amongst the British military stationed there, quinine a necessary evil in a malaria-ridden country. And then some clever chap devised a cocktail of carbonated water, gin and quinine that made the latter so much more palatable. As Winston Churchill is quoted as saying: “the gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds than all the doctors in the Empire.”secret-gin-club-gin-martini

Then, in the twentieth century, gin became a popular base for flamboyant cocktails, but I am not going to dwell on that here.

Instead, let’s leave history for now and drop into a small High Street wine shop in Surrey, where Alistair, my guide to the New World of Gin is waiting to introduce me to a selection of English craft gins. Arranged on an old wine barrel at the back of the store are at least a dozen bottles of gin, a carafe of water and two sherry glasses.

Some tips, though, before we start:

  • Although reminiscent of a wine tasting, we are only using a small sherry glass (a shot glass will do, too). Gin is a spirit and therefore much stronger than wine, and you may need to get home afterwards.
  • There is no tonic in sight – we will taste the gin straight and possibly with a splash of water, which apparently releases the botanical flavours.
  • It is best served at room temperature (approximately 15°C).
  • Swish it gently around your mouth, like wine, and note the effects.
  • “Generally speaking, a nice aroma and a smoothness of taste are good starters. If it tastes thin and has a burn to it, avoid it.” ~ Tanqueray’s master distiller Tom Nichol.
  • Explore the flavours. All gins contain juniper, but each gin will have its own unique combination of botanicals.

So explore we do, my guide happily joining me to compare aromas and flavours. Initially, I bow to his superior knowledge, but surprisingly quickly I find myself interjecting with my own discoveries.

Silent Pool is an English gin named for a spring-fed lake at the foot of the North Downs, near Guildford. This gin3delicate but complex gin is captured in a beautiful turquoise glass bottle and claims to contain some twenty-four ‘unique’ botanicals.  Cory Mason, the Head Distiller at Silent Pool, describes their signature product as “full-bodied and fresh, with depth, clarity, and above all else flavour.“ His flavour descriptors include “clean juniper-driven spirit with floral layers of lavender and chamomile. Fresh notes of citrus and kafir lime… [and] local honey.”

An online reviewer attempted to identify all 24 botanicals, and his check list included “juniper, [obviously] coriander, cassia, chamomile, orris, kaffir lime, elderflower, pear, star anise, coriander, lavender, bergamot, honey, linden, hawthorn, angelica, possibly rosehip,” which sounds like a cross between potpourri and an Indian curry. Rest assured this is not what it tastes like. (And I should know, I have tested two bottles already.)

Beckett’s is another new English gin. Produced in Kingston-upon-Thames, it is made from Box Hill juniper berries – the only British gin, apparently, to use berries grown in the UK. Box Hill is maintained by the National Trust, that blessed English charity that looks after some of Britain’s most beautiful coastline, countryside and heritage houses. Beckett’s management work with the Trust to pick “a strictly controlled number” of berries, at the same time cultivating new juniper plants on Juniper Top where, ironically, they no longer grew. Beckett’s is surprisingly delicate and smooth. Alistair advises me not to drown it in tonic because the flavours are so subtle, and suggests soda water instead, with perhaps a sprinkle of mint and citrus rind. Given that I don’t have malaria, why not?

We also sip a Dorset gin, Conker, which, like Beckett’s, was only born two years ago. (Note that gin can be produced much faster than whiskey, without all that barrel time.) Labelled as another ‘unique’ gin, Conker is created in the back streets of Bournemouth and contains ten ‘select’ botanicals. The producers use Macedonian juniper berries, to which they add local elderberries, samphire and ‘handpicked New Forest gorse flowers’. (How else would one pick gorse flowers, I wonder?) The website claims that Conker is ‘brazenly refreshing and deftly smooth… crafted to stand up on its own, poured and adored over ice.’  (I am really enjoying all these gins, but finding the marketing spiels harder to swallow.)

gin1Next we travel from the New Forest to the Black Forest in Germany. Monkey 47 is incredibly complex, its name referring to both the number of botanicals used and the fact it’s bottled at a healthy 47%. ‘Good on your cornflakes,’ jokes Alistair. Ha! It just about knocks my socks off to drink neat. I would highly recommend at least a dash of soda and maybe a curl of lime zest. If you have ever tasted that other monk-made drink Benedictine, it has similar overtones of the floral and the heartily medicinal. It even looks like an old-fashioned medicine bottle.

I guess the next gin to be Slavic, partly from the name (Makar is a Russian boy’s name), partly from its potency. But Makar also means ‘poet’ in Scotland, and the gin proves to be a robust little Glaswegian number: hot, musky and high octane.  Think Turkish Delight infused with pepper. Makar contains ‘seven internationally sourced botanicals,’ including rosemary and black pepper. This one too arrived on the scene in 2014 – obviously an excellent year for the rebirth of gin – from a new distillery built in the heart of Glasgow.

So go forth and drink gin – there are plenty more to choose from.  I have even tried a pink one flavoured with rhubarb! (Way too sweet for me, though.) And it turns out I am in the right place to share the news: figures say that there is more gin drunk in the Philippines than anywhere else in the world; that the annual global sale of gin is nearly 60 million cases, and almost half of this is consumed in the Philippines. So it looks like I am in good company. In the meantime, though, before I join you at the bar,  I am off to find a dose of Mother’s Milk to cure my cold, or maybe I will make one of those gin and tonic popsicles I saw on Facebook this week…

*with thanks to Google Images for the pics.

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A Host of Golden Daffodils

Manila is the natural habitat of the small dog, given the proliferation of high rise apartments and limited green space. In our own area of Manila, I often pass herds of tiny dogs, sometimes dressed in slippers and jackets, occasionally even riding in a pushchair. Owners of these pocket-sized pooches, somewhat surprisingly, usually have the kind of cars in which they could fit a small elephant.

London is the opposite. The Mini Cooper is king and the dogs must ride on the roof, I guess, as I have no more idea of how you would squeeze an Irish wolf hound into a mini than how you would wedge in that that elephant. It brings to mind the genie in the lamp. (“Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty bitty living space!”)

Luckily London, as I may have mentioned before, is full of parks where dogs of all shapes and sizes can stretch their legs. And in South West London, where we have settled for the Easter holidays, there are acres and acres of public parks, something Manila is desperately lacking, even for its pint-sized puppies. In London, I have found woodland, common land, riverside walking paths, public parks and private gardens, so much so that in the past week, my feet have rarely hit the pavement. And wherever I wander, I find an abundance of wildlife, flora and fauna.

Almost as soon as I landed, I headed across town to my current obsession, Hampton Court Palace, with its amazing walled gardens: a medieval IMG_4585veggie patch; a rose garden (sadly not blooming in March); and the Hampton Court Wilderness, once a structured garden of high hedges and coppices within which lovers could canoodle unseen, now a spring meadow simply awash with daffodils and a sprinkling of grape hyacinths. Even Wordsworth, so familiar with golden daffodils that flutter and dance in the breeze would have been gob-smacked. I had never before realized there were so many varieties of narcissi, baptized with glorious names like ‘February Gold,’ ‘Merlin,’ ‘Spellbinder’ and ‘Rip Van Winkle.’

Should you have done your dash with Hampton Court, then the vast and sprawling Bushy park is only a stone’s throw away, and stretches over 1,100 acres from Kingston-upon-Thames to Hampton Court and from to Hampton Hill to Thames Ditton. Here I wandered through a broad, open landscape, past bare trees whose only foliage was flocks of squawking, screeching green parakeets that appear to have migrated from Australia. Beneath them, herds of hefty deer gathered in their now somewhat tatty winter coats. I passed horses trotting though the Royal Paddocks, their riders sensibly dressed in bright orange safety jackets.

And of course there were myriad dog walkers. My favourite sighting was two somewhat rotund, corgis looking like prosperous, bushy-tailed foxes – it no longer being permissible to dock their tails anywhere but New Zealand – or those stocky Thelwell ponies, beer-barrel bellies scraping the ground. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomewhere in the middle of Bushy Park I discovered a fenced area I hadn’t noticed before. Walking through the gate was a little like going through the mirror into Wonderland, as I stepped from open, uncluttered deer park into lush woodland, festooned with ponds and streams and winding paths. The Waterhouse Woodland Garden is a woodland walk created in 1925, and further developed in 1948. Ducks and geese honked and quacked across the water, squirrels bounded up the trees, daffodils stretched their swan-like necks towards the sun, and a few tiny trees blossomed like brides with pink and white confetti. It was like a child’s painting of Eden. I was enchanted.

And in between these swathes of public space I have found pretty little villages and cosy towns whose main streets are full of antique shops, art galleries, coffee shops and restaurants –  British history captured in a streetscape of picturesque imagebuildings with Tudor beams and gables, or flibbertigibbet Victorian fretwork, or Georgian pomp and soaring columns. In East Molesey, across the river from that grandiose and grandiloquent Tudor palace of Hampton Court with its wealth of elegant chimneys, we found a coffee shop full of sofas, rustic tables, built-in books shelves and eclectic artwork: a home away from home. There were even deep baskets full of organic vegetables, such as Christmas-coloured capsicums and knobbly, gnarly ginger.

I found myself wondering why the last century has added so little to the glory of English architecture, until I remembered a handful of interesting modern structures encircling the City of London. And on a trip to St Paul’s, I suddenly saw and enjoyed the juxtaposition of an elegant Victorian church steeple aligned with the sharp-edged Shard piercing the clouds; a glimpse of the fairy tale outline of the Big Ben tower through the pupil of the London Eye; the stark industrial lines of the Millennium Bridge against the backdrop of Wren’s curvaceous cathedral. (No sign of a single swooping Death Eater, thank goodness.) No daffodils or woolly dogs here either, but the architectural variety had me spellbound as I wandered along the riverbank from Waterloo.

* With thanks to Google Images for the pup in slippers and the Woodland Garden. The daffodils are courtesy of my One & Only, and I actually took the lop-sided view of St. Paul’s cathedral and the Millennium Bridge with my new phone!

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Dancing with Dolphins



Another March, another birthday, and finding I had no great inclination to party, we headed north to Subic instead, where rumour had it there were dolphins to be met. It’s a three-hour drive from Makati – about 120 km north-west of the CBD – so we decided not to rush, but went for the weekend, and spent a lazy afternoon lounging by the pool, wandering along the seafront and, of course, eating.

The website for ‘It’s More Fun in the Philippines’ says Subic is a ‘sublime’ place to visit, full of ancient rainforests, restaurants and boats. It also clearly says ‘Don’t confuse [Subic Bay Freeport Zone] with Subic [town]… although an equally exciting trip, the town [Subic} is about 10 kilometers from the area.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t read that page before I booked our hotel, and thanks to this pathetic lack of research, we found ourselves on the far side of the bay from the Freeport Zone and even further removed from Ocean Adventure, where we were due to swim with the dolphins on Sunday morning. And it was quite a long drive: Subic Bay is a much bigger area than we had realized.

With its deep harbour, Subic Bay was used by the Spanish as a port. After the Spanish-American war of 1898, ownership was transferred to the United States, who held it from 1899-1991 (apart from three years of Japanese occupation in WWII), and created America’s largest naval base outside the United States, giving America a firm footing in SE Asia. Today it belongs once again to the Philippines and Subic Bay has been transformed into an industrial centre and a duty-free commercial precinct. Yet signs of its former incarnation remain: the coastline is dotted with abandoned barracks, while the bay is dotted with shipwrecks from both the Spanish-American war and World War II, which attract many divers.

I just came for the dolphins.

Before our date with the dolphins, though, we had time to watch the Wild World show, where we were introduced to a fascinating selection of Indigenous birds, reptiles and mammals: a beautiful but top-heavy horn bill; a sleek and scaly python; a large but rather shy fruit bat who kept flitting off-stage. (Later that day we would pass a whole colony of fruit bats in the wild, swarming like bees on two or three huge trees at the side of the road. I haven’t seen them in such numbers since we lived in Sydney.)

As we waited for the next exhibit, a shadow passed over our heads. On a thick vine that stretched across the audiencedownload
from the front to the rear of the auditorium, a bear cat paced like a tight-rope walker, using its tail to help it balance. The bear cat is the emblem of our sons’ school, so I have seen cartoon images reproduced on t-shirts and sports kit and posters. But I had never seen a live bear cat. We were quite entranced. He looked, quite literally, as he sounds: a blend of bear and cat, heavy-set and ponderous with a long fluffy, prehensile tail, sharp teeth and thick, bear-like fur. And he certainly didn’t look as fierce as the logo. (Although bear cats can be found all across Asia, loss of habitat and hunting have severely depleted their numbers.)

When the show finished, we wandered across the park to prepare for our session with the dolphins. On Filipino time, we pottered through a promotional video as staff fitted us with life jackets and warned us to remove any accessories that might scratch the dolphins. (It is hardly surprising that dolphins are renowned for their friendliness when their wide mouths seem permanently stretched into a broad smile, and it is hard not to respond with delight. Yet I fear that it is a misconception to assume happiness where there seems to be a smiling face.)

Eventually we headed to the beach, where two dolphins were waiting for us in the shallows. Summer had suddenly struck, and Subic was steaming, so we had no reservations at all about stepping into the sea, well doused in sun screen and hoping we would survive sunstroke without our hats. In two groups of five, we were escorted down into the water to cluster around one dolphin each. There, our guide introduced us in great detail to our new friend, Nahla, whose name means “first drink of water” in Arabic and “gift” in Swahili.

Nahla is a bottle-nosed dolphin, but unusually, this nose is not for breathing. Instead, she breathes through the blow-hole on back of her head. This is also how she speaks, using signature whistles to communicate, and a clicking sound as an echolocation device. (Echolocation is a means of receiving information by sending out sound waves and then gauging the proximity of other objects from the responding echoes.)

Nahla was happy to show off her ability to hold her breath underwater (for up to seven minutes, we were told), and blow water at us out of the air hole when she re-surfaced. I am always a little anxious in zoos and wildlife parks about how animals respond to captivity and doing tricks, but while obviously a little bored with our interest and enthusiasm, it seems that Nahla at least is a born show-off, and happy to go through her paces for pieces of fish that her trainer kept secreted in a bum bag around her waist. Initially we stroked her smooth, satin skin carefully, but very quickly we had all relaxed, and were posing happily for hugs and kisses.

Information varies on the effects of captivity. One website I read assured me that, if properly cared for, dolphins can live up to twenty-five years in captivity – about twice the time they will survive in the wild. But others made my heart sink as they talked of unnatural behavior and the detrimental effects of captivity on such a free-spirited animal. And yet, for some of the rescue dolphins at Ocean Adventure, who have lost their hearing as a result of dynamite fishing, survival in the wild would have been impossible. (This violent method of fishing is also causing irreparable damage to Philippine reefs.)

In the meantime, despite my anxieties, it was an utter joy to have the opportunity to come so close to this beautiful, gentle and fun-loving mammal. We all examined Nahla’s physical attributes – from her almost human teeth and tongue to her strong tail, or fluke, which she uses to propel herself through the water at speeds of up to 20km an hour. We could feel the force of which that tail is capable when she  used it to carry each of us across the bay, first on her back with her “rider” holding her flippers like hands; then back again, when we rode on her back, clutching her dorsal fin and attempting to keep our legs out of the way of the strong thrusts of her tail, apparently oblivious to the weight of two less-than-petite Australians.

Swim with dolphin (13)And then there were the balletic, mid-air leaps and spins. Apparently in the wild this is a movement with multiple purposes: to orient themselves and see what or who is around; as a social display; in fighting, or just for fun. It is even used as a method of dislodging parasites. They can also spin on their tails in the water – as we observed first hand when Nahla invited us to dance with her, and, wrapping our legs around her body, we were spun about in dizzyingly tight circles. And I am reminded of that pithy conversation at the beginning of Gallipoli, the movie:

Jack: What are your legs?

Archy: Springs. Steel springs.

Jack: What are they going to do?

Archy: Hurl me down the track.

Nahla, too, hurled herself around the pool, as if she had steel springs in her tail.

We were also able to observe the dolphins speeding through the water without human cargo, and they set a cracking pace. Later we would watch the trainers water-skiing across the pool, somehow balanced on the dolphins’ backs, looking for all the world like Dash in The Incredibles, as their turbo-charged steeds whipped through the water.

All in all, this opportunity to interact with Nahla and her friends was an amazing experience. And putting a positive slant on it, it has given us a far greater appreciation and understanding of the dolphin, and made us all more aware of the need to preserve these beautiful creatures, as they struggle to survive the dangers of a sea dominated and damaged by human mismanagement and interference. I hope so, but I wonder…

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“My Precious”

Hiding in the shadows of dense Filipino forest
– the Aeta of the animal kingdom –
a petite, palm-sized primate
clings to a branch with padded fingers.
The platypus of the Philippines,
– shy, elusive, unassuming –
with a halo halo of body parts:
Gollum-like googly eyes
fixed miner’s lamps
in bronze;
a neck that swivels, owl-like,
– before, beside, behind –
to check for danger;
outsized, bilby-ears that pivot too,
like small satellite dishes,
listening for food or family;
an ultrasonic bat-voice
that less subtle ears
will never hear;
a long, thin, rat’s tail
for grip and balance
high above the forest floor;
elongated ankle bones
and furry frogs-legs
that spring from tree to tree.
This endangered, pygmy predator
with spiky-Gremlin-teeth
and soft-wallaby-fur
is no pack animal, but a lone traveller
who seeks space and solitude to thrive,
sleeping by day, hunting by night
for pica pica insects…

But be warned!
Do not distress this timid bush-baby,
for if disturbed,
perturbed, unnerved
by heavy feet and thunderous whispers,
He dies.


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Down on the Farm

Graco4The sky was clear, with no hint of rain, and a beautiful breeze across the paddocks all day – perfect weather for a picnic…

Last weekend, a small group from the Social Welfare Committee of the Asian Development Bank Spouses Association paid a long overdue return visit to Graco Farm, in Pila, Laguna, with thirty-one children from Tulay Ng Kabataan (TNK) – boys and girls this time –and a clutch of TNK staff and families.

Our planned starting time went a little askew when Teacher Neil forgot to set his alarm, but our convoy eventually got underway and was hurtling south along the SLEX towards Calambra. Road works obliged us to re-route from the National Highway onto a convoluted and narrow road skirting the edge of the lake. It turned out to be a fascinating detour, as we wove through small, lakeside villages, dodging tricycles and children and chooks and trucks. We still managed to arrive in Pila in time for merienda in the welcome hut: puto, fried bananas wrapped in pandan leaves and fresh pandan juice.

The kids were initially a little subdued, but we quickly put that down to an early start and a long car trip, because half an hour later it was full steam ahead as they all tore around the field, stretching their legs and their lungs! When they had settled down, owner Grace and her side-kick Eric talked to them about the plans for their day, and then led them down to meet the animals.

They were instantly absorbed, goggle-eyed at the shy ostrich, Karra, and the showy peacocks. I demonstarted how Gracos4the peacocks tail worked, using my fan, and they were gobsmacked and giggling when I explained how he used his tail feathers to show off to the girls. When the ostrich had been fed, and the peacocks thoroughly admired, the children were rounded up and marched off to the raised goat shed in single file, where the excitement levels shot through the roof.

Staff provided leafy mango branches for the children to feed them with, and they fought hard as the hungry goats played tug-of-war with them. They noticed that some of the goats had long, soft ears like Jaja Binks, (Anglo-Nubian) while others had no ears, (Lamancha), but all looked glossy and soft.

The Anglo-Nubian goat is a cross-breed that originated in England: a blend of Old English milch goats and bucks from the Middle East and North Africa. The Anglo-Nubian adapts well to hot climates – hence its popularity in the Philippines, and also in Australia and South Africa. Its milk is high in butterfat content and the male makes good eating.

The Lamancha goat originated in Spain, but has been developed in America. It has distinctively small or nonexistent ears, known as ‘elf’ ears or ‘gopher’ ears. Grace does not cross-breed the Anglo-Nubian and the Lamancha, but they both feed on Napier grass, indigofera, madre de agua, madre de cacao, centosema, malunggay and mango leaves and they are also regularly provided with probiotics, calcium phosphate, and molasses with salt.

A few of the goats were shy of handling, but several came out of the pens to mix with their visitors. Most of the children took this in their stride, but some were frightened by their proximity, and there was a bit of squealing!

cc2The staff then led the children to the back of the six-hectare property, where the ducks, geese, hens, roosters and turkeys wander around the edge of the tilapia pond. The pace picked up, however, when the children realized the hens, at least, could be taken captive and cuddled. At that point, I suddenly became very popular with my friend Colin’s little four-year-old, John, who promptly decided he would far rather be up in my arms than at risk from vicious chickens! From a safe height, he was then happy to admire the beautiful breeding roosters and pose with the older children for photos.

A three wheeler tractor put in an appearance for ferrying the more geriatric amongst us across the paddocks, and we trundled in comfort to the tilapia lake before returning to base camp to fire up the pizza oven for lunch. As the children waited patiently to choose their toppings, Hema and I encouraged them to learn some new songs – old favourites we have used with the kids for several years, but ones this new batch didn’t know. So we brought them out for an airing and had relative success with “Skinnamarinky dinky dink” and “Galumph said the little green frog.”

After a delicious feast of home-made pizzas, the kids ran about playing Chasey before collapsing in the shade for a little time out. That was when Hema and I found the new green house, choc-a-block with herbs: lemon balm and graco2spearmint, curly kale and basil, rosemary, tarragon and oregano, as well as a couple of tomato plants and some chives.  Returning with scented fingers and a bag each of kale and basil, we discovered that Grace had arranged some party games.

To delighted and noisy encouragement from the girls, the boys competed for the coloured flags at the top of a ten-foot slippery pole, skinning up it like professional coconut pickers. Then the girls had a go at donning blindfolds and busting open the piñata with bamboo sticks while the rest yelled instructions and directions.  Some of us had to head home after that, but TNK staff and children stayed on for a couple more hours to make the most of their day out in the country. And Grace told me later that she was almost in tears when the kids told her that they wanted to stay and live at the farm to care for the animals. Maybe we have inspired some future farmers. Certainly, my One & Only was making plans for his future chicken farm… on the 38th floor?

*With thanks to Colin Campbell, and Gracos for the photos.

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A World of Fruit

3ba9f8a53b72417cdcb3bd4d7d83cd41‘It is not only the taste, or the freshness, but especially the memories, the beliefs, the associations – the whole cultural package – that makes the fruit more than food.”  

So says the late, great Doreen Fernandez,  food writer and food historian extraordinaire and one of my favorite Filipina writers. The quote is taken from her book Fruits of the Philippines, a fascinating mix of fact, fiction and memory. As she tells us in her introduction:

“Each fruit would be identified first by its local names, then by its English name, and by its leaves and flowers, but especially its fruit, how it is eaten, how it tastes and how it figures in the culture,” from fairy tale to folk medicine.

Her tales of tropical fruit were written to record a childhood world full of taste and texture, at a time when many native species were being threatened with extinction. The pages are interspersed with photos and illustrations that enhance her lively descriptions. And I was particularly struck by the line that I quoted at the beginning, on how fruit features in so many memories, for I, too, find the fruits of my childhood have many memories associated with them, although my frame of reference is several degrees further south….

I grew up in a temperate zone: our fruit baskets were full of apples and pears, citrus and stone fruit. We clambered up our grandmother’s tree to hunt loquats and scrambled down the side of the house, to capture passionfruit that grew thick on the vine along the fence, tearing open the leathery casing and sucking the juice through our teeth.

Every garden in South Australia had a lemon tree that was never out of season, always heavy with sunshine-coloured fruit eager to be included in the lemon meringue pie or my aunt’s homemade lemon cordial. My grandfather also had an orchard of orange trees, where bumble bees buzzed about the pretty white flowers in spring. My mother had a huge tin cauldron for making marmalade, chunky style, bubbling away for hours on the back of the stove, filling the house with the oily scent of orange zest.

Many gardens also boasted an almond tree, usually embroidered with tin foil to scare off the rainbow lorikeets, who tore the nuts of the branches with hooked beak and raucous shrieks of delight, and left us with a confetti of husks beneath the tree. We would pick them too early to beat the rosellas, the soft, pale-skinned, unripe almonds punishing our keen-as-mustard greed with crippling stomach aches.

Then there were sunset-tinted apricots, the fruit of princes, the apricot tree’s fecund branches heavy with fruit, leaning like a weeping willow to the ground. Another back yard favourite that swamped our kitchens for a too-short season with glabrous fruit that dripped juice down our chins, filled jars and jars and jars with thick, oozy jam. Quilts of apricot halves would be laid out on chicken wire trellises to dry in the sun, or, stewed and syrupy, could be hoarded in the cellar and served with icecream.

Pineapples occasionally found their way down south from Queensland, but generally they had been picked too early and were as sour as kamias, in marked contrast to the sickly-sweet canned variety, leaving your tongue feeling uncomfortably furry. Bananas travelled more successfully, and were great for school lunches, even better for cakes once they had become too brown and sleepy to eat straight from the skin and could be miraculously converted into warm slices of fresh, moist buttered banana loaf.

Avocados were all oily, creamy smoothness, rare and expensive and a real luxury. Dad would bring a single avocado home from work as a Friday night treat. It was as serious a moment as Holy Communion, as he sliced it in half, carefully removed the fat, round pip, filled the empty well in the centre with homemade vinaigrette, and spooned it sparingly into our mouths, eager as baby birds. These days, avocados are no longer seasonal, but evergreen at Woolworths, and it is possible to find a number of more exotic tropical fruit in the supermarkets, but forty years ago they were few and far between, we knew not what they were, and generally avoided their strange aromas and highly inflated prices.

Years in England added berries to my basket: raspberries and strawberries and blackberries and gooseberries (pronounced goozbry). Raspberries only appeared for Christmas, to accompany the plum pudding, slathered in brandy cream. The strawberry season was the chance to head out to the local strawberry farm and pick our own until our lips and teeth were vampire-red and our backs ached. Our mums would earn a few extra pennies in the summer term by picking for the farmer while the kids were at school, stripping down to shorts and bras, and coming home more scarlet than the fruit, from sunburn.

Blackberries grew like weeds in the local gravel pits, and we risked fierce scratches in early autumn to gather ice cream containers full of wicked black berries – free fare at a price – which we ate tentatively, alert to the risk of fat white worms dwelling at the core, wary of the mushy putrescent over-ripe ones that you would spit straight out, or those that pretended ripeness but were still wincingly sour. Seamus Heaney described it perfectly in his poem Blackberry-Picking, where he talks of being sent out in late August, “with milk cans, pea tins, jam-pots. Where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots… [and] our hands were peppered with thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.”  We did the same. Then we would gather in a friend’s kitchen to make dense, bubbling blackberry jam, which we sold at our back garden fêtes. I don’t remember eating it though. The fun was in the hunting. None of us really approved of homemade blackberry jam when there was shop-bought strawberry jam to be had.

Gooseberries – the Eurasian variety – are also a little dangerous to pick, the bushes bearing sharp thorns that seem hardly worth the fight for those marble-like, acerbic, furry green berries… until you taste the tart, but creamy gooseberry fool, and suddenly it is worth all the effort. I learned to make this delectable dessert during my nineteenth summer, in England. I have dreamed of it intermittently since. And I wish I had written this too, Amy Clampitt: “an inkling of the mingling into one experience of suave and sharp, whose supremely improbable and far-fetched culinary embodiment is a gooseberry fool.”

Although just imagine those poor babies born beneath the gooseberry bushes, soft new flesh torn to smithereens by those vicious thorns. What terrifying and twisted midwife invented such a tale?

Since moving to the tropics, I have created more fruit-filled memories, as I discover an astounding number of fruits I have never tasted before. For example, all those unfamiliar citrus fruit with names that roll off the tongue: dayap, dalandan, kalamansi and sagada. Fruits that range in flavour and appearance from the tiny, multi-seeded, and terribly sour kalamansi to the juicy, citrus-sweet dalandan; from the thick skinned, high-fibre pink pomelo (suha) to the lumpy, bumpy kaffir lime.

Then there are those incomparable fruits like the red, rubbery-haired rambutan with its juicy, lychee-like flesh, or the deep purple, palm-sized mangosteens hiding succulent orbs of soft white flesh to be sucked off thick seeds. What about the startling and colourful pitaya or dragon fruit that puts all its efforts into appearance and virtually none into flavour?  Its skin, like soft leather, is a deep pink with green horns, its flesh a black and white version of the seedy green kiwi fruit with less taste. There are the clusters of tiny, legendary lanzones and the giant langka (jack fruit) with its spiky skin that bears a family resemblance to the durian of the rank aroma and ambrosial flavour, but is actually not related at all.

I first came across banana hearts in the market mere moments after landing in the Philippines. I found them absolutely beautiful, but discovered I had neither the skill nor the knowledge for preparing them properly – any advice welcome. Yet I have used the brown-skinned, gritty-fleshed chico to create an interesting variation on the long-suffering banana loaf.

And kamias, an onomatopoeic fruit that makes you purse your lips just to say it. Chef Sau del Rosario tossed one at me many moons ago. I am still squinting.

It has also been an opportunity to discover the taste of a properly ripened pineapple and those fabulous Filipino mangoes. The One & Only has always maligned mangoes, after his childhood experiences of huge, over-ripe, overpowering Fijian mangoes. The Filipino mango is of a completely different caliber. An eighteenth century friar describes it as ‘the most sensuous fruit there is,’ and Fernandez quotes a nineteenth century Jesuit, who claimed that the mango found in Manila was ‘one of the most delicate…in the world, both because of its sweetness and its aromatic smell.’ It is also smaller and thinner than other varieties, its stone almost flat, its skin a pale yellow, its flavour heavenly. Green or yellow, ripe or sour, it is a joyful addition to both salads and smoothies. Although it is an import to the Philippines, it has settled so comfortably and vigorously here that it is has become totally ensconced in Filipino culture.

Originating in Brazil, the piña, or pineapple immigrated to the Philippines long ago on the Spanish galleons, and has since made itself quite at home amongst the hills around Tagatay, luxuriously sweet and firm, unexpectedly ground-dwelling (who else assumed they grew on trees?). The pineapple is a cone-shaped fruit, hence its name (piña is Spanish for pine cone), and the fibrous pineapple leaves can be woven into a fabric also known as piña that is used to make traditional Filipino formal wear.

With a world of fruits to choose from, I could go on for pages, but I will leave the last word to my favourite Australian food writer, Marion Halligan, who says, in her book The Taste of Memory, that ‘tastes and smells transport us, they carry our minds back, we do not so much remember their moments as relive them.’ And so it is with fruit.

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