The finest finds

I am enjoying this little detail: the fact that for the past few Saturdays I have been waking up early. On their last stretch of the season, Juliana’s little league baseball game starts at around 8 a.m. and — for all the sleepiness we exhibit in the car ride from the house to the field — we are a happy albeit drowsy heap of three pairs of entwined arms and legs, our torsos trying to relax as comfortably as possible despite being buckled into seat belts with little pillows around us. We become alert, awake and enthusiastic the moment the game begins. We see all the kids in their bright uniforms, their small feet running almost as fast as their big dreams, their little arms holding the bat and hitting the ball with unapologetic gusto-bordering-on-gigil, while we parents sigh and cheer and jump up and down like the little children we once were.  It is a time of pure joy, I tell you, and time spent on that playground is special in ways I cannot quite put my finger on. Ask any baseball mom or dad — they know/feel what I mean. Happy. Yes, it is a happy time, a nice way to start any Saturday.

Right after the game we find ourselves heading off to the Salcedo Market, a place I have been meaning to visit for over a year now, except that sleep or the lack of it as the case may be, always gets in the way.  But I finally made it there, last Saturday and the Saturday before that, and I had such a nice time. Richard and I bought a few plants, one was called the Welcoming Plant, to be placed indoors, and the other three were Peruvian poinsettias in three different sizes — lush shrubs that boast plentiful sprays of little white blooms.  They look like Baby’s Breath but nicer, or at least I think so, and the lady we bought it from said they like the sun and lots of water. Low maintenance, she assured us, and they will stay in full bloom until June or July when the white flowers will fall off and only the green leaves will remain. Their blooming cycle will begin yet again in November.

We planted them under the young yucca tree we have in one corner of our garden and I like how the white stands out against all the yellows and greens. I will think about what I will do when those little white flowers do disappear come June/July but for now, they look very pretty there. Hopefully by then we will have found some mature camachile shrubs, something that has eluded me for over a month now. The ones I have met are all young, and thus display no whiteness in them. They are just green with a little bit of pink, strangely, but I am after the beautiful white spray, something that every gardener I meet says happens only to mature camachile shrubs.

From the plants section we inch our way slowly around the market.  I have yet to linger carefully over all the booths, because we are always pressed for time, although we do make it a point to get what our palates dictate for the day. We operate purely on what we call our appetite compass, and so far the wonderful results are: goat cheese and fresh yogurt from Saint Mary Dairy, a vegetable dip with crackers that taste very much like the tacos from Pancake House, bottled dulong and perhaps one of the best-tasting taba ng talangka from the man who has a spot beside a booth called Ginang Bukid that, in turn, sells good maja blanca and chocolate mousse. There we have enjoyed fresh melon juice that reminds me of the way my yaya used to make it; fresh langka (already peeled and pitted) and pomelo, bagels and sugar-free pastillas. We also got eucalyptus leaves that make our room and all the guestrooms smell so fresh. I know there is still so much more there waiting to be discovered and I look forward to many more Saturdays doing just that.

Last Saturday after Salcedo, we decided to spend some time wandering around Serendra, only to happily chance upon a very quiet, virtually undiscovered second floor. I never realized there were that many shops there! We were waiting for a table at Chelsea and we had plenty of time to go around. Our first stop was Souk and I liked how all the items were thoughtfully chosen. There was a happy mix of designer jeans, although in broken sizes already, quirky handcrafted jewelry, very soft collared button-down cotton shirts from India in vintage prints, reversible quilted skirts, interesting eco-friendly shoes under the brand name Terra Plana (perfect for those with a bohemian style), and cotton T-shirts that were a steal at only P700-plus (already marked down 50 percent). I saw beautiful dresses from local designer Charina Sarte in jersey and in gauzy cotton that would be perfect for the coming summer season, easy dresses that look like they will flatter any body, and some China cropped jackets, too. I like that you don’t find too many of the same things in there when you look around and I feel that should be the lure of any small shop. Souk has achieved that, easily.

There are a handful of galleries, like Verite and Galerie Raphael, and I was drawn to the brass sculptures by Michael Cacnio in the latter.  And who would ever think there would be a shop there called Hermle Clocks selling mostly grandfather clocks in cherry wood? I thought I had heard Bernard (the very accommodating and informative guy single-handedly manning the shop) wrong when he led me to the section where there were — get this — grandmother clocks.  I never knew there was such a thing! Grandma was naturally smaller than grandpa, and in hindsight it does make sense — every grandpa must have a grandma somewhere. There were a lot of cuckoo clocks lining half a wall, old-fashioned music boxes (the type you see only in movies and in old houses), unframed artworks of European artists (no one we would know but that is the joy of appreciating art: you never quite know when you will stumble upon a treasure), wall clocks made in Italy and Germany and the most beautiful chess sets.  Depending on the theme (choose from Egyptians, Indians, Confederates, Knights, Romans, Pirates), they are painstakingly detailed and are made of either resin or pewter. Lovely to look at, and very lovely to hold.

For those who love home furnishings, you can wander through the doors of Biara (it is owned by an interior designer and they have nice pieces plus a very pretty oval-shaped capiz chandelier in their window that, I’m sorry to tell you, they are not selling) and Padua (they accept custom orders of everything from beds to bookshelves to sofas). There are other home accessories shops too — Habi, Isa Casa, One Of, Abbey Road and Finesa.

WIC carries jeans from Abfit Jeans Co., a selection of very nice shoes (although none came in my size… sigh), jewelry from Lanera, and a selection of imported brand name dresses in very affordable prices.  It pays to be patient and go through the racks because some very pretty dresses just can be found. Bark and Wag is a very charming store devoted to pets, so charming in fact that I ended up buying stuff even if I don’t really doll up Helen and Bruce, our dogs who really look like dogs. I gave it to a friend who really enjoys doing that and besides, her dog always looks more like a stuffed toy than the animal it really is. Over at Backstage were very pretty flats under a brand called Murmur and colorful bags again for the bohemian in you.

It is a good time to visit, especially because most stores are on sale now, as low as 50 percent off, and some even with either buy-one-take-one or get-an-extra-discount-on-the-lower-priced-item deals.  There is even an antique store, Chain of Custody, although it was closed so I just literally window-shopped, and nice rugs and planters that would make nice accent pieces from a shop called Durrani.  There is even a shop that sells nothing but items for corporate giveaways and the prices are so low you ask the salesperson again in disbelief, just in case you heard her wrong. Then she explains that there has to be a minimum order and it all makes sense. There are all sorts of little gadgets like wristbands with a voice recorder, pill-shaped laser pointers, SIM card back-up and SIM card editors, a stopwatch with multi-tools, alarm clocks with added features. It was a sea of doodads in there.

Mia Bella caries my favorite Melissa Shoes, select styles of Melissa bags too, and locally-made bag organizers. Pharaoh, as the name suggests, is everything Egyptian. They have belly-dancing costumes and accessories, goblets, etc. Luna is very charming, with wooden chairs and accessories painted in bright, happy colors that could very well find a home in a child’s room or a pretty beach or country home. They have a patina that, although most probably manipulated, looks very natural. There are pretty vintage-looking knobs that can double as pegs where accessories can be hung, wooden oars that sport snappy mottos or spark words, one-of-a-kind bags that the owners commission from a Thailand-based artist, recycled sea-glass jewelry made by a New York-based artist, handsome handmade mugs in vibrant yellow and turquoise that are chunky and odd in a very organic way. I also saw accessories made of laminated pressed flowers and four-leaf clovers (a symbol of good luck they say) from Mexico.

Peppered Cherry has the nicest interior in the whole floor, it is the most sweet-smelling too, and even their dressing room is nice. The theme of the décor is carried over even in the small details throughout the shop. I hear Pandok Indah is one of the most popular stores there and in the three times I have visited, the display always changes. It is very dynamic in the sense that items are never there very long because they get sold very quickly: take for instance the Pacita Abad plates, The Wayans, the batik on wood mirrors, lamps in jewel tones of blue, green, yellow and red, and the Balinese panels. I saw a stool made of grass leaves with a drawer in the middle that would be functional as well as pretty in a dressing room, a reclining wooden chair made of teakwood, a ladder-chair (it is a ladder until you flip it over and it becomes a chair). You can use it as a shelf, too, so it is like buying three items for the price of one.

Anna Pashmina is a great place to get shawls. They have very cheap ones as well as the very beautiful, embroidered more expensive ones from India — they cover the whole spectrum, style- and budget-wise. I especially enjoyed Carnevale, a shop you go to if you want to give someone who already has everything something. The items are almost irresistible — colorful beer glasses and mugs in excellent packaging from Ritzenhoff, tea glasses and bone china tea sets, beautiful clowns, My Sweetheart milk and sugar sets, the most artsy bottle openers I have ever met, scented candles in containers so exquisite you almost will want to burn the candle as fast as can be just so you can utilize the container in a different way. There are amusing salt and pepper shakers camouflaging as little people, serving trays and plates, beautiful glass ashtrays that could be used as catchalls, and Oriental jewelry pouches starring a girl named Shanghai Sally.

Blow-Up-Babies, a favorite of ours is also on the same floor and there is even a Bench Fix Salon and an E-Nopi Center!

I love the restaurants on the ground level of Serendra (what’s not to love?), but now there is an added reason to go visit. I think what I appreciate most about the second level is that every shop has a theme, and going through each of its doors reminds you that charm can be constantly reborn and surprises always await where you least expect to find them.

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On February 29, 2008 at 7 p.m., there will be a benefit piano concert featuring Jovianney Emmanuel Cruz, the most internationally awarded Filipino concert pianist, together with violinist Rachel Alcanses and cellist Antoni Josef Inacay at St. John Bosco Paish Church, A. Arnaiz Avenue, Makati City. The proceeds of the concert will be used for the improvement of the acoustics, inside and outside lighting of the church and the purchase of additional church equipment. Kindly support this project.

Also, there will be an “Introductory Retreat on Centering Prayer” from March 7 to 9 at Lake Island resort, Binangonan. This retreat will be worth your time as it will bring you deeper into God’s loving embrace. Please contact Anna Marie Llanos at 842-4030 for details.

Everything in moderation

Balance. Variety. Moderation.

Finally, I met a nutritionist.Prof. Luchi Callanta is her name. Guesting on The Sweet Life, she said we can enjoy everything  — that bag of chips, those fried peanuts, ice cream, meat, rice, bread (yes, rice and bread!), chocolate, chicharon bulaklak, lechon — all you can think of. It is okay, provided that you don’t have as much as you want of all that you can think of. There has to be (and these are the key words) balance, variety and moderation.

Think of all three in one breath when you think of food. Think of that last one, especially when your fingers begin to touch the bottom of  the bag of chips, and when you are tempted to wolf down every nugget in that bag of chocolates.

I’ve been through diet phases myself — three-day liquid diets (you are starved and your skin looks it), absolutely no-meat diets (you morph into a little monster because you are frustrated as well as deprived), no carbs (the most difficult for me because I just love rice and bread; makes you feel sluggish too, so it really is no good), the no-dessert-other-than-fresh fruits diet (which works out just fine until the day you snap and find yourself in the kitchen, at midnight, frying Double Oreos or Presto Peanut Butter Creams in salted butter and wolfing down six of them with full cream milk like there was no tomorrow).

And finally, its very strange counterpart — the all-dessert or all-junk food (basically all-one-thing) diet. Believe it or not, my Lola Carmen was a perpetrator of that (it was severe and I suspect she invented it because I have never come across anything like it in print). She believed that if you just ate one thing, not mixing it with any other, you could have as much of it as you want, and guiltlessly at that, because you absolutely will not gain weight. In hindsight, maybe it was her love of sweets and the desire for something so forbidden (she was diabetic) that made her preach that to us, her grandchildren. Of course we followed it. Lola said it would work if we took it seriously, and I would eat ice cream or hot caramel sundaes from McDonald’s as often as I wanted, the whole day through, while my cousin Johanna snacked on Jack & Jill potato chips that a suitor of my sister Caren gave to her in bulk. Those she would eat with mayonnaise.

By the time we realized Lola was not right on this one, our bellies were much rounder than our appetites and we had to slave away the excess pounds in the gym or dance and sweat along to step aerobics, guided of course by perky, fully-made-up instructors clad in shiny tights and leotards, hollering out instructions from the VHS player, their tsunami-style bangs and cobra hairstyles withstanding the full-hour high-impact workout. How did they manage that and why did I not find that ridiculous at all back then? My cousin Johanna always points out it probably was because we had the same hairstyle to begin with. Creepy.

Anyway, back to the wisdom of the nutritionist. It sounds so sensible doesn’t it? So doable, too. I have been thinking about that, replaying it many times in my mind in the hope that it will really become a habit, a lifestyle. I have been trying to eat less meat since the year started and I feel good about that, but it feels even better knowing that I do not have to completely eliminate it from my diet.

Every day I pop into my mouth one piece from a big box of chocolates that we got as a Christmas gift. It is wonderful, the way it melts in my mouth and I like the excitement of tasting the dusting of cocoa powder first, and then the decadence of velvety chocolate next. It is a beautiful ritual I look forward to every day, usually before I shower; I open the fridge and I take one, just one. The brand is Truffettes and they were not available locally until recently; then I heard they could be found at the second floor of the Shangri-La Mall and also at the second floor of SM Mall of Asia. I used to ask friends to bring the chocolates back home for me, which was hard because they melt so easily, but now I know where to go when my supply runs out. Of course, a chocoholic like me can never be totally at peace with having just one piece but because I know I am only allowing myself just one, I savor it even more. Tomorrow is another day, I tell myself when the urge is so strong, and I can always have my fair share then.

I attended a food tasting a few nights ago, together with close friends, and it again reminded me: Balance. Variety. Moderation.  There were over 25 different dishes and it was an exercise in restraint (where none seemed to exist at that particular moment, that particular gathering) not to take more than one spoonful of the really delicious ones. But I managed, and except for those with ingredients I really do not like (uni, for instance), I was able to enjoy all that was laid out before us. And being a foodie, I totally loved the experience. I was full but I was not so stuffed that I could no longer think of food. That should be the way to feel after every meal, I think. To be fully satisfied but not so much that it makes you feel awful and sluggish afterwards.

And I guess that will be my little mantra when it comes to eating and indulging this year: to bend a little so I don’t break. Sensible eating will allow me to indulge in all the flavors I want, guiltlessly.

I know for sure that I can enjoy Juliana’s full cream milk, ice cream, the Alaska condensed milk that we make into caramel that we so love at home by slowly heating the whole tin in a water-filled pan for three to four hours, cookies and desserts and meat with rice as long as I don’t consume them in super-generous amounts, the way I do my Del Monte fiber-enriched unsweetened pineapple juice. That I take with all my meals and it helps me stay fit. Keeps me full longer, too. When I am craving food with empty calories, I take a serving of that, very cold, with lots of ice, and immediately I am satisfied.

And guess what I am having for merienda later? Buttered wheat toast with kesong puti from Cavite (a pasalubong from Wilma when we tape Mondays and Tuesdays) smothered generously on top with Toastbox Hainanese Kaya with Honey and Coconut Jam Nonya Kaya with Pandan, both gifts from Scho, our good friend based in Singapore. It is the most delicious coconut spread I have ever tasted.  Ever. No kidding. I remember taking my first bite of it a couple of days ago and my first thought was, “Lord, oh Lord, where can I buy some more when we finish off the contents of both bottles?” I checked the label for clues — a website hopefully, or even just a phone number — before turning it upside down. Bingo. It is from Bread Talk. Of course I know Bread Talk. Richard brings me pasalubong from there all the time. I am happy to know that I know exactly where to run when I need some more.