The panorama on the sunrise side: an awesome view of Malarayat

The quiet panorama on the sunrise side of the farm: an awesome view of Mount Malaráyat and the river below the gap.

25 August 2011

The "Coffee" Table

One heirloom piece that I am taking care of in behalf of my family is a handsome dining table made of nárra, a reddish tropical hardwood with understated, consistently-patterned grains. Most likely, my paternal grandparents must have purchased this early in their marriage in the mid-1920s; family lore says all their children, including my Dad, were born on this table as my lóla was far more comfortable delivering at home without fear her babies will get mixed up with other newborns in a hospital.

It also must have been a contemporary piece then; it is ingeniously designed to extend by simply lifting the top and pulling segmented sections on each end. Moreover, it is in a purely Art Déco style that was so popular in the Philippines and around the world during that time.

Now, I've had many meals on this table, both in my lola's house and much later, in our home where it was kept. But it was not until I brought it to Lipa that I discovered it has finely-sculpted relief work on the end supports. Secretly, I thanked my grandparents for their good taste, selecting a handsome, practical table with a leaf design that looks timeless, unpretentious, and fairly masculine. After all, they could've been swayed by some furniture salesman with hackneyed themes like fleur-de-lis or lyres or worse, festooned garlands and ribbons!
But what really floored me was when I asked one of my staff to determine what leaves these might be. Without batting an eyelash, she (sort of sarcastically) exclaims: "eh di dahon ng kape! Ayán ô, may búnga pà" (what else but coffee leaves! Look, it even has [coffee] cherries).

Holy cow, coffee leaves!? How did I not realize that all along? How did I not SEE that all these years?!? Evidently, they are robusta, liberica, and excelsa, the very three varieties we have in 1784!

Clearly, this is Providence. How else can anyone explain this? It sparked my interest to research more about my grandparents' purchases. I know for a fact that the bulk of his furniture were clearly from the House of Púyat, who were then perhaps the best (maybe even the only legitimate) fine furniture brand available (to my generation, they are the same brand who had the AMF license to make bowling lanes and billiard tables of Coronado fame). Undoubtedly, the style and the workmanship could not have been sourced elsewhere but from them. Besides, my grandfather used to live in cálle Rodriguez Arias in San Miguél, Manila, on the same street where Púyat's workshop/factory was.

But why the coffee leaves? 
A 1924 invoice from my grandfather's coffee (and chocolate) trading company, signed "I de la Cruz," who was to be his wife, my grandmother, the succeeding year. 

A little-known fact, even among my family, is that prior to my grandfather's long-term and successful bakery business, he first tried his hand in coffee and cocoa production and trading. In the 1936-1937 edition of "Who's Who in the Philippines," my grandfather was written up as "was sucessively engaged in printing, chocolate and coffee factory, bakery. In the grocery business since 1920."

The dining table must be bespoke, what else could it be? Perhaps when it was time for my grandfather to marry, move out of San Miguél and build his cálle Legarda house, he most likely asked his industrialist neighbor Don Gonzálo to organize for him his furniture. I would not be surprised if the process of selecting the monogrammed bedroom suite, the elegant aparadórs (one is in 1784 as well), and the sála set were perhaps delegated to a subordinate to streamline options for my grandfather to choose from. But for his dining table, the gentleman furniture maker personally chose the ornamentation appropriate for his young coffee-trading client.

They had no clue that some ninety years later, such a mundane decision of theirs would quietly affirm an uncertain grandson's ambivalent path to coffee farming.

Thanks, Lôlo (how I wish you were around to teach me now).

17 August 2011

Báye báye

Now, I don't mean to be a food blog but my staff managed to come up yet again with something from the excess corn produce and our usual residual coconuts from all the búco juice I drink. They call it Báye báye, according to them it's an Ilonggo delicacy that's traditionally served during Tódos los Santos. Well, here in Luzón, we proclaim that it is to be prepared after exhausting all possible recipes and its permutations weeks after the corn harvest!

How it's done is first, manually scrape the kernels from the cob (left), then toast the kernels on a pan (sangág). Afterwards, grind the corn (gíling, can be on a food processor but in our case, we used the coffee grinder) and it will look like what's on the bowl on the lower right.

Meantime, you should've prepared niyóg already (upper right) which you will mix with the sinangág na maís, add some muscovádo then pound them altogether (i-bayô) on a lusóng (I no longer know how to translate that, hahaha... it's like a big wooden pestle and mortar, someone remind me to blog about it soon).

The end product will look like the first photo, which is deliciously chewy and incredibly fragrant, I don't know how to explain it. It must be the roasted corn which smells new to me.

I googled about Baye baye and was surprised quite a lot has been written about it, despite it being relatively unknown and inaccesible to many. But most of what I found use malagkît (sticky rice) instead of corn, which shows in the photos; theirs look smooth and, well, sticky. But my staff insists it is also done just like how we did it. So there, my contribution to the worldwide web: Corn Baye baye.

By the way, for the sake of the photo, I garnished the dish with some pinípig which cannot be translated either. Thank God for hyperlinks and Wikianswers!

16 August 2011

The Bat Plant

One of the more unusual plants in the garden is the Bat Plant (Tacca chantrieri), sometimes also known (though unfairly) as the Devil Flower. The blackish brown flowers with what looks like long whiskers is what makes it unique and gives its rather sinister name. It blooms pretty consistently and is better presented as a potted specimen, in my opinion.

12 August 2011


Photo by Joaquin Zamora
No time is more exciting than a day a photographer comes to visit. It's an absolute thrill to see how others view things differently from us, and even more if they lead us to see things we sometimes do not even realize in the first place.

Photo by Joaquin Zamora
And if they even portray such ordinary, taken-for-granted things with such evocative imagery, it makes us sit back and take stock what else we could be missing in our busy and hurried lives. A lot of times, what gives us immense pleasure are not monumental, mystical, and unreachable but instead, everyday and mundane stuff: a flower, a relaxing afternoon, the way the light streams in.

Photo by Joaquin Zamora

Photo by Joaquin Zamora
It takes sensitivity and
introspection to capture and convey not just objects and views but such abstractions as mood, ambience, and feeling

And to be able to accomplish it, and very well at that, with technical precision and impeccable timing is undoubtedly an art.

Joaquin Zamora captures the essence of 1784 so poetically in his images, shown here. His photographs can speak far, far more than any material I can come up with in this blog for months! For more of his photos, click the link to his tabblo page and be awed by so much else we're missing.

05 August 2011

Biking Around the Surrounding Barrios

Not many people know that Lipa sits on a plateau where rivers wend through, so the landscape is of rolling terrains and gentle gorges. And in the Malarayat foothills where we are in, practically all roads are good, mostly winding and hardly flat. It's a pleasant place to bike in: we have a touring bike which I enjoy using, with my then-still-a-pup Vitra coming along to drop by the neighbor's or run an errand. Other times, I go further with my mountain bike on Sunday mornings and have a short work-out before breakfast. 

Just behind the barrio is a quiet country road that goes towards Quezon (province); it goes down a lush gorge until you hit the river and cross one more barrio before hitting the Batangas-Quezon border.

A typical weekend countryside scene, San Celestino

This same back road lead to many trails to Malarayat. I've not begun exploring beyond the river and into the mountain, but I'm sure once you're off the paved roads, the possibilities are endless.

Otherwise, keeping to the roads and biking around the next barrios of San Benito and Santo Niňo would lead you to more farms and country homes, quiet and sprawling private properties tucked in the most idyllic countryside spots.

A thoroughbred from a farm full of polo horses, San Benito
The Katigbak coffee nursery, San Benito
Mid-term duriáns in July, Barrio San Benito
An acácia-lined driveway
An unusual sight: alpácas in Barrio Talisay, Lipa! 

Mango trees line a horse farm, Barrio Santo Niňo

A California-style country-house, Barrio San Benito

02 August 2011


I chanced on this good Mexican cookbook at National's Cut-Price Book Sale the other day called Antojitos: Festive and Flavorful Mexican Appetizers (for only P242!) and my cook, Marisú finally whipped up our own home-made guacamólê! Of course, it goes without saying that we made it from our own avocados; I wish I could say the náchos are from our own corn too!

The taste brings back many memories of trips to Mexico: backpacking in the Mayan south near Guatemála, a weekend in a charming B&B with my Mom in San Miguel de Allende, dining alfresco at the Zócalo in Mexico City, and many, many meals in Rosa's Cantina with my family in my sister's hometown of Temecula in Southern California.

I've got to plan a trip again soon!

01 August 2011

Hatchlings/August Bird of the Month

It was strange that in the dark of night, a bird was clearly chirping somewhere above one of the huts. We investigated and was startled to find not just one, but two injured and weak, newborn olive-colored birds on the ground, tortuously bitten by ants. We hurriedly cleaned them and put them on a hanging cage close to us. We presumed the chirping bird is the mother, and that the hatchlings fell from their nest (most likely in the eaves of the cógon-roofed hut).

The next morning, we excitedly woke up to see that the hatchlings look better than the previous night.

Before we can even figure out and organize what to feed them, the mother comes and feeds them herself.

As the mother started to flit around gathering food and feeding the two, we were even more surprised to find a third hatchling sitting in a fern leaf, looking like it's hanging for dear life. 

Just like last night, we promptly cleaned the third and temporarily put it on the cage alongside the first two.

The mother would periodically check on them throughout the day, and we opted to keep them another night until we figured they can already manage to fly by themselves the day after.

They are called Lowland White-eyes (matáng-dulóng); we first mistook them as Sunbirds because of their size but on closer look, the large, white-rimmed eyes clearly distinguish them from other small birds.