Saturday, February 3, 2018

2017 -- my year in Adventures, Misadventures and oh yes ... food!

A year is measured not in hours and days but in the memorable events that happened in one's life. 
I had quite a few exciting turns in 2017 but let's not get ahead of the story ... 


The New York Times recently published an article about making friends in one's 30s and 40s.
NYT calls friends made later in life as KOFs or kind-of-friends.  That sounds a bit nebulous to me as it seems like you can't make up your mind whether they're your friends or not. 
I prefer to think of them as SIFs or special interest friends.  I have quite a lot them and they continue to enrich and bring joy into my life.  
January brought many instances of meet-ups with my SIFs.  Nothing like reunions to give a warm start to the new year.  

I worked with these ladies for the better part of nearly 15 years! 

Sometimes you get really lucky and friends of friends become friends too!

SIFs can span different ages and generations.

The NYT says that our strongest ties are made in our teens and 20s.  My college buddies definitely fit that definition. 

The end of January ushered in the Chinese New Year and (hopefully) the start of a new tradition ... 
our college batch mates from Xavier High School hosted a festive chinese dinner where food, 
wine and memories flowed freely.  Gong hei fat choi!


2017 was the year of the Rooster and I found a fine looking specimen (please don't tell me that is a hen!) at Agustin Goy's retrospective at the National Museum.

A day at the National Museum is a day well spent.   The repository of our nation's art is an architectural masterpiece by itself.   The old Senate building which houses our artistic and cultural treasures echoes a more dignified and statesmanlike time in our national politics. 

Juan Luna is widely acknowledged as the Philippines' maestro and the museum has an entire hall dedicated to his works.  Of course his most famous obra, the Spoliarium is the biggest draw.

I had never heard of the sculptor Isabelo Tampinco until I saw his amazing pieces at the Museum.  
A contemporary of Luna and Hidalgo, his versatile artistry must have been eclipsed by the huge shadow these two painters cast.    I have been converted to a forever fan.


While 2017 was the year of the Rooster it was also the year of the new horse.  Our 4 year old mare Elsa gave birth to a foal promptly named Rosie by Martina who hopefully can saddle her up for a ride one of these days. 

One of my favourite places to visit is Lucban.  When I am in Lucena, I always try to sneak away by myself, after all Lucban is  just a 40 minute jeepney ride away.  This quaint historical town has managed to retain much of its charm, despite the encroachment of certain aspects of modern commercialism.

On this particular visit, I was lucky to stumble in to Isabelito's Garden, a  pleasant and picture
pretty restaurant hidden in one of Lucban's side streets. 

The path to this oasis of calm is lined with lush greenery.  After enjoying the Lucbanin specialties you can even buy some potted bromeliads and other flowering plants to take home.

I was content though just to sit and enjoy the afternoon with my ice cold bottle of beer.

Closer to home, another joyful food discovery was Happy Delicious Kitchen, a most appropriately named cafeteria of sorts in Binondo.

Trays and trays of home cooked dishes using fresh ingredients are laid out for choice.  It's a take-away place frequented by locals and office workers in the area but has a few counter seats for the occasional dine-in customers like me.

Our three labs, Rebus, Travis and Nero sadly crossed the rainbow bridge in 2013 and 2016.
While I knew how lively and exuberant labrador retrievers are, I still could not resist bringing another one into our life.  We picked up two month old Clancy from the breeder and he was so calm and 
well behaved  on the way home.  This was not to last though ...

I later realised that perhaps acquiring a lab puppy after you've turned 60 is not exactly the best or the wisest thing to do.  But we did have some peaceful times ... mostly when Clancy fell asleep.


Summer in Tagaytay is no longer as cool as it used to be,  but it is still a few degrees better that staying in Manila. 

We spent Holy Week in Highlands, feeling just a bit guilty about spending so much "unholy" time in the pool.

A visit from a balikbayan friend led to a discovery of a modest but authentic Japanese restaurant, hidden in the tangled streets of Quezon City.  The atmosphere was something straight out of vintage, small town Japan.

The handmade soba noodles were fresh and delightfully chewy -- I ordered a tousled coil of cold noodles, perfect on such a warm summer noon.

This little gem is called Zaan Tea House and is owned by a Japanese lady, who brings her homespun inventiveness to the dishes on the menu.  Above is her take on the traditional onigiri where she uses mountain rice enveloped in nori packets and mixed with all kinds of interesting delicious stuff --
I ordered the cheese onigiri which was really good. 

I was so happy to see my favourite -- warabimochi.  Paired with a glass of (strong!) ice cold matcha tea, it's a dessert you normally do not find in other local Japanese restaurants. 

The owner/chef was very kind to step out of the kitchen for a photo.  She mentioned that the restaurant also serves as an informal gathering place of Japanese exchange students from around the area and I can imagine that her warm, motherly ways dearly reminds them of home.

By the end April, Clancy had added quite a few pounds and was turning into a ball of playful energy. He was literally getting to be too much to handle. 


May 15 is Pahiyas in Lucban and the town's biggest festival.  It is also perhaps the worst time to visit.  To give the Amigos a taste of Pahiyas, I invited them a week early.   Lunch at Isabelito's Garden was a picture perfect experience.

We did some pasalubong shopping at my favourite bakery, Pavino's and were warmly welcomed by the owner, Ms Josie.

Pre-Pahiyas without the traffic and the crowds -- a fun Sunday spent with the Amigos. 


2017's big adventure also happened in May.  After a year of planning, Jay and I finally fulfilled a long held wish -- to trek the Kumano Kodo, an ancient Shinto pilgrimage in the mountainous region of the Kii Peninsula.  

My body and I were not quite prepared for the rigours of the trek -- hiking straight up mountain slopes through loose rocks and stones and tree roots.

But the five day trek yielded priceless rewards such as breathtaking views that we woke up to ....

Magnificent cultural landmarks such as the largest concrete torii in the world, rising seemingly like a mirage in the middle of green rice fields ...

An overnight stay in one of the most quaint and oldest onsen towns that I had been to ....

With a scorching hot dip in the blue medicinal waters of the only onsen that is a designated UNESCO world heritage site ...

Of course the highlight and the goal of the pilgrimage was to pay homage to the three Kumano Grand Shrines ....   Hongu Taisha

Hayatama Taisha ... 

and Nachi Taisha.

The Kumano Kodo along with the Camino de Santiago is the only other pilgrimage route that is recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site.  Because we had also walked the Camino and completed the minimum requirement in 2015, we earned a double pilgrim status after our Kumano Kodo trek.  
For this non fit, on-again-off-again "trekker", the double pilgrim certificate was certainly a remarkable achievement! 

After the Shinto pilgrimage, I brought some of our friends to experience the unique atmosphere of staying in a centuries old Buddhist temple, a shukubo at Mt.  Koya.  This sacred mountain is my favourite place in all of Japan -- a temple stay is just what I need to refresh and recharge my spirits.

Since this was our friends' first time to visit Japan,  dinner at the singularly excellent Takumi Gion Shirakawa was a delicious way to try the high art of Kyoto kaiseki ryori.  

And to make their trip even more memorable, we had Chieko san, one of the best guides in Kyoto
to bring us around.

After our friends left to go back home,  Jay and I indulged in one of our favourite pastimes -- combing the flea markets for one-of-a-kind finds.

And at Nishiki Market, I finally succumbed and bought myself a beautiful santoku or multi purpose knife at Aritsugu, one of Japan's oldest knife makers.  Seeing them engrave my name on it (written in Japanese) made it even more special!

After two weeks of traipsing around Wakayama and Kyoto, it was time to head back.  Time to start planning the next Japanese adventure perhaps?


Every June, the Nanagas clan has a reunion in Lucban.  I hadn't really attended in many many years but this year, I did.  It was lovely to see the fire trees in full bloom along the Eco Tourism road that links Batangas to Quezon province.

The reunion is held during the feast of the Sacred Heart.  This beautiful statue  belongs to the family and is brought out for a special mass and a procession along the streets of Lucban every June.

One of the things I most look forward to when I visit Quezon is the array of native kakanin that we 
all enjoyed for merienda.  My number one favourite is the pilipit ... sticky rice blended with sweet pumpkin and coated with a coconut caramel sauce!


To paraphrase Hemingway,  Japan is always a good idea.  I flew back in July to meet up with friends, this time flying to Nagoya via Hong Kong.  I enjoy the stopover since it gives me a chance to enjoy some much missed rice rolls while waiting for my connecting flight.

I had never been to Nagoya even if the city's most famous manufacturer had been my client for so many years.  I had less than 24 hours  before I took the shinkansen to Tokyo so I had to make the most of my time.

Food cramming leads to food coma!  I managed to try two of Nagoya's iconic dishes in one evening.  An appetiser of spicy tebasaki from an award winning restaurant ....

And for my main course, I transferred to another very popular spot to try the hitsamabushi -- eel cooked Nagoya style and enjoyed in three delicious ways!  

Before I headed to Tokyo the next morning, I made sure I visited a shrine and a temple.
Atsuta Jingu is one Japan's important shinto shrines and was a lovely green place in the middle of the city.

After the shrine visit,  I think that Kobo Daishi himself led me to Osu Kannon temple, where the main statue of the goddess of mercy is said to have been carved by him.  The temple also has an extensive library and numerous works of art that are designated as national treasures.

Right outside the temple is a network of inter connected shotengai or shopping arcades -- my kind of mall!  It was all I could do to tear myself away since I still had a train to catch.

But first -- must have lunch!  I had another Nagoya specialty I needed to try before I finally ended my very quick layover.  And I knew just where I had to enjoy it.  Yabaton serves the best misokatsu in Nagoya and luckily for me, they had a branch right by Nagoya Station.  The long lines were daunting but being a solo diner, I was waved right in and seated at the counter.  

This is Yabaton's miso katsu -- deep fried tender pork cutlet smothered in a savoury miso sauce.  Umai desu yo!

It was a pleasant surprise to know that my server Mercy was a fellow Filipina who has lived in Nagoya for more than twenty years.  Pinoy hospitality and kindness plus the best misokatsu in Nagoya ... a most memorable combination!

All too soon, it was time to catch the shinkansen to Tokyo where I would spend the next few days. The quick taste of Nagoya would hopefully be just a foretaste of more to come ... I'll make sure to come back soon!

When in Tokyo, my favourite hotel is Park Hotel in Shiodome where I try to stay each time.
The elegant quiet atmosphere is a respite from the full-on sensory assault that Tokyo brings. 

The travel gods smiled at me again -- I was upgraded to the 34th floor where all the rooms are done by famous contemporary artists.  This is my room called "Haiku" where my bed was framed with masses of lotus blooms painted by the artist Rieko Fujinami. 

Fujinami san's painting of koi in different colours, swimming through the four seasons was projected as a continuous video on my wall.  Instead of turning on the t.v. it was infinitely more relaxing to just sit there and contemplate this for hours.    Perhaps even come up with a haiku or two.

Much as I wanted to stay in my artistic cocoon, I had to step out to meet my friends. The main purpose of the trip was a reunion with my ex colleagues from Southeast Asia.  This would be the first time to see them all again after my retirement.

We've gone through ups and downs, shared turmoils and successes but our friendship just grew stronger through the years.  It was such a delight to see them all again.

On a separate note, a visit to Tokyo is never complete without seeing my ex Japanese expats.  
I'm happy that Niikura san was able to have breakfast with me at the hotel before he left for another busy working day.

My dear gourmet friend Abe san continues to amaze me with his thoughtfulness and exquisite taste.  This time,  his special treat was a soba kaiseki dinner at a Michelin recommended restaurant in the Kagurazaka area.

In between all the dinners and lunches, there was time to spend on quite a bit of shopping.

But most of the time, I  ate ....

And ate ....

And then ate some more!

The grand plan is to meet up regularly, while we all still can.  What a wonderful reunion! 
Jaa mata ne!

Kobo Daishi was with me on this solo trip.  After leading me to Osu Kannon in Nagoya to see the statue that he had carved,  I like to believe that he again "brought" me to  Nishi Arai, in East Tokyo where his statue is prominently displayed at the Nishi Arai Daishi Soji temple.

It was a sunny and hot summer day but the greenery surrounding the temple helped ease the searing heat.

Another gift from Kobo Daishi -- the day I visited Daishi Soji was also the day of the temple's annual furin or wind chime market.  All kinds of lovely chimes in all shapes, sizes and materials tinkled merrily as I walked through the temple grounds.  Jay and I have been collecting Japanese furin for as long as we have been visiting Japan so this market was such a special surprise. 

This trip was all about seeing new places and reconnecting with old friends.  I had just enough time for some more reunions.  I met my goddaughter who I had not seen since she was 12!  She's now a lovely young lady working as an english teacher in Tokyo.

I also met up with a young friend's fiancee who teaches kindergarten in Setagaya.  Meeting these young people certainly made me feel a whole lot younger myself.

Before I left Tokyo, I made one last stop to see a famous temple -- Sengakuji is just a few minutes'  cab ride from the hotel.

The place is famous because it is where the 47 Ako ronin are buried.  The real life story of  loyalty and revenge is probably the most well known samurai tale and it was both fascinating and quite moving to visit their grave site. 

All too soon, I was back in Nagoya airport to catch the flight  to Manila.  It was a quick 6 day trip but certainly crammed from end to end with happy memories. 


Some of the best trips are those that are unplanned.  In August, free time just fell into place and along with two of my best friends from college, we took off for a 2 night girls' getaway to Bohol where one friend owns a luxury resort.  
After landing, our first stop was the public market to see my suki Grace at her dried fish stall for some daing shopping. 

From the palengke, it was on to another local favourite -- Abdul's Sinugba. We could not resist the deep fried crunchy chicharon bulaklak... definitely worth its weight lipitor!

For dinner, we decided to go upmarket and savour Spanish cuisine at Tomar, the tapas and drinks bar at Amorita, one of the best 5 star resorts not just in Bohol but in the whole Philippines

The seafood paella was deliciously decadent -- savoury rice black from squid ink, topped with the freshest catch from the waters off Panglao beach.

We were housed in just one of Amorita's two premier 2-bedroom villas.  Each villa has its own lap pool, the ideal place to just drift the afternoon away.

The next morning, I walked up and down the nearly deserted white sands of Alona Beach, stopping for a mid morning coffee and honey ice cream at the Buzz Cafe.

What a relaxing interlude!  Thank you my dear friend, shall we do this again soon?


September marked the start of another semester of teaching at the Ateneo.  It's always nostalgic to walk through the campus even if the place looks so different from when I was a student there,
40 + years ago.

At 8 months old, our yellow lab Clancy had grown to a 72 pound bundle of strong energy.
While he looks quite innocent and helpless here, he unfortunately caused my one big misadventure
of the year.

Somehow cake makes everything better.  The misadventure with Clancy cost me a humeral fracture on my right arm, which I had to keep immobilised for 6 weeks.  I also ended up with a few staples on my head but thankfully, no concussion.  Considering the accident that happened,  I still think I'm so lucky to have gotten off as lightly as I did.


The accident and the sling did not stop me from teaching my once a week class at the Ateneo.  
I roped Jay in as my temporary teaching assistant and he helped me all through the time my right arm was in a sling.

I couldn't stay idle while I was recovering so I learned how to cook using my left hand.  Somehow this baked spaghetti "cake" turned out just as I hoped it would.

I finally used my japanese cast iron skillet to make sukiyaki.  I like to think that it added some authenticity to my dish. 


Balikbayan season started a bit early when close college friends came for a visit from Canada.  
It was a great excuse to spend the day in Tagaytay -- feasting on Pinoy classics like bulalo, lechon and fried tawilis at Balay Dako.

It would have been nice to walk off all the calories ingested but instead we drove to Highlands for a post luncheon coffee ... and of course, a slice of cake.  All in all, a wonderful day spent in the company of old and dear friends. 


I could not quite believe another year had almost passed but yes, it was December and my birthday once again.  Like last year, Jay drove me to Manaoag so I could properly give thanks for all the blessings in my life.

From Manaoag it was a short drive up to Baguio City where we had not been in over ten years.  Mario's, an old favourite was our first lunch stop and thankfully, it had retained its homey charm.

Our home for the week-end was Elizabeth Hotel, tucked away along Gibraltar Road.  It was a lovely place to stay and convenient to exploring most of the city by walking or by taking the jeep or the cab. Traffic in Baguio is just as bad as Manila so we left the car in the parking lot as often as we could.

We had a corner room with a big balcony and the views across pine trees reminded me of a  Baguio long gone -- now, commercialisation and over development have set in.

On this trip, I discovered  tapuy -- a Cordillera  alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.  Perhaps 
it is the local version of sake.  Tapuy is deceptively sweet and mild tasting but packs quite a kick!  
A glass of tapuy was the perfect way to celebrate my birthday.

When we could tear ourselves away from the comforts of our suite at Hotel Elizabeth, we  ventured to familiar parts.  Session Road is as bustling as ever, but with bumper to bumper traffic.  Sadly most of the old stores and local restaurants had either closed or moved making way for chain stores and fast food joints.

All too soon, our week-end trip was over and it was time to head back to the lowlands.  Thank you Baguio -- I hope it won't take another 10 years before I see you again!

A few days later, my birthday celebration continued with a food tour to Marikina City -- where my friends and I sampled the homespun authentic Thai recipes at Moo Baan.

They have one of the best pad thai I have ever tasted -- simple yet bursting with genuine flavours, as if it had just been cooked off the streets of Bangkok!

Moo Baan is owned by the sister of a nephew-in-law so we enjoyed her warm and gracious hospitality.

What is a birthday celebration without cake?  We sampled three at (appropriately named) Chubbie's along Marikina's famous food destination, Lilac Street and came away feeling very much full and satisfied!

We ended the year with a trip to Tagaytay where we discovered a new decadent, artery bursting
restaurant called Ribchon.

As the name promises, Ribchon's speciality is lechon ribs, served roasted or fried.  These ribs are lip -smackingly and heart attack inducingly good.  A full slab of ribs is just right for 4 people.

Great food brings out the smiles from everyone!  Ribchon is definitely worth the drive to Tagaytay. 

We spent the last few days of the year enjoying the cool climate at Highlands, staying in our favourite Cowboy Cabins which look out on to the surrounding tree covered mountains.  There are a variety of indigenous birds that fly around and birdwatching was a pleasurable way to while the lazy hours away.

When in Highlands, Martina never fails to pay a  daily visit to the zoo where she hangs out with 
her animal friends.

And of course a daily horse ride around the paddock is the other highlight of her day. Spending time with family, relaxing and doing the things we love was the best way to wind down the year. 

Blogging had been severely affected by my misadventure in September.  It was hard to type with just one hand.  So, I am sorry that this post is at least a month late.  
However it's never too late to wish everyone love and light this 2018!  
May it be a good year for all of us!


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