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.

30 November 2011

Dalandan Season

Just in time when we're starting to sniffle because of the changing weather, the dalandán trees (mandarin orange, Citrus reticulata) are ready for picking! It's a great Vitamin C morning boost (above), and infinitely more delicious than temperate-country citruses.

Some trees are so heavy with fruit (below) that we have to brace them with pole supports. In my area, these are called çintóres and I couldn't decipher how this name came about in Batángas. It sounds Hispanic and plural, but no amount of internet researches sheds light on the name's source.

We have around thirty trees in all, mature and fruiting by the time I acquired the farm. Apparently, they were grafted from a prolific mother tree; they do produce a bountiful yield but the tree's life span may not be as long as one borne from seed.

I will need to start planting a new grid of cintores trees to eventually replace this batch, which will hopefully remain fruit-bearing for around ten more years.

25 November 2011


Two plants, totally unrelated but contrast each other in the gardens. Both of them look curiously unusual, and are colored from opposite sides of the spectrum.

Above is the Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus haspens), a miniature version of the bulky water plant commonly found in ponds or river edges. This looks good as a potted specimen, elevated to a comfortable height so the plant can be appreciated properly.

On the other hand, the Red Powderpuff (below, Calliandra emarginata) has a similar silhouette but is a different plant altogether. In this case, it is the flower and not the leaf that is umbel-like, and is in a bright crimson color that warmly glows in the sunlight.

23 November 2011

Around Lipa: the de la Salle Chapel

Inside the de la Salle campus in downtown Lipa is a quiet, contemporary chapel that invites one to just stop by and commune with God. Oftentimes, the other churches in the city can be filled to the brim and may sometimes be noisy and surrounded with activities. But this school chapel has a calming and natural atmosphere, it gives a meditative vibe that somehow makes one introspectful. 

It helps too that from the inside, one can see an expanse of green; the school's football field, surrounded by trees and flowering gardens. It's nice to see that contemporary tropical design principles are also now being applied to ecclesiastical architecture.

Of course, I couldn't help but note that they have interestingly-designed pews. I couldn't tell if it partly uses recycled lumber but undoubtedly, it uses combinations of beautiful tropical hardwoods.

17 November 2011

Our Own Sinamak

My caretaker, Bukíng surprised me one weekend with vinegar that he made himself,collecting the coconut sap right from the tree and fermenting it for some time by then. It was remarkable that we are now making our own vinegar! It's not rocket science at all, but is quite laborious to make if only for small quantities. We realized it when he emphatically told the cook not to waste it for cooking but just for dipping; I guess if I have to climb a coconut tree everyday to make a bottle, I'll say the same thing!

And since that remark, the cook, May thought why not use it to make our own sinámak?   After all, we just have to add market-bought báwang at sibúyas (garlic and onion) to our own home-grown síling labúyo (chili pepper, below left), lúya (ginger, below right), and pamintáng buô (peppercorn).

Sinámak, as you can see is a wicked concoction of a dipping sauce for any dish you want to add some kick to. It works best for inasál na manók (grilled chicken) or iníhaw na pusît (grilled squid), fried lumpiâ, or any deep fried, crisp fish.

Chili Pepper/Siling Labuyo

A variation is to add some tóyo (soy sauce) to add flavor to some real killer bagnět (deep-fried pork, below). Just don't forget the Lipitor!

14 November 2011

From My Library: Flora Mirabilis

I would periodically browse through's site and window-shop for good deals, enjoying going through some selected pages as if I'm leafing through real books in a bookstore. I'd put them on my shopping cart after  but won't actually purchase until I'm certain someone can bring it here to the Philippines if I have it mailed to family in California. Sometimes, the deal gets taken and their system will replace it with a pricier equivalent.

For some reason, this National Geographic book is one that's been parked for a long time and never made it to the virtual check-out counter. I've not been to the US for some time, for one. I guess I've also just forgotten about it. But to my sheer excitement, I found a clean and marked-down copy some months back in Book Sale in my neighborhood grocery!

It is sumptuously illustrated, with awesome botanical prints in every single turn! It is a romantic gardener's prized book, with rare and delightful visuals that would fascinate you just as much as the plants themselves. Since I had it, I've been trying to get another copy with the intent of tearing off the pages and framing them as wall decór!

The author, Catherine Herbert Howell selects important historical plants that shaped our present culture and lifestyle today: wheat, rice, sugarcane, tobacco, tomato, cannabis, and orchids, just to name a few. It explains the plants in the context of parallel historical events to help the reader better understand and appreciate just how important and influential plants really are in our daily lives. There are even timelines (below), sidebars with historical notes, striking quotations that would make us see history from a new point of view.

11 November 2011


One of the things I enjoy with the farm is meeting new people who are tagged along by friends or family who come and visit. Most of them wouldn't know what to expect and are even the ones who leave our place with a more memorable time. My nephew Francis did just that recently; he tagged along some friends some weeks back and I struck a lengthy and interesting conversation with one of his friends, Garvin Yao.

He's a budding photographer, and his photos here display an emphatic sensitivity especially to detail, most of which we hardly even have time to take note of.

I remember him saying he does commercial work for magazines, yet his photos come across to me in a personal and intimate way; unstructured, spontaneous, and fresh. I hope you enjoyed his images as much as I did.

10 November 2011

Ripening Papayas

Papayas (Carica papaya) are among the easiest to grow! These big, evenly-ripening ones (above) are fruits from trees we planted ourselves just a year and a half ago. I distinctly remember we had some one meal and it was very good that I had the seeds dried and planted. It germinated soon and transplanted in the farm a few weeks later.

Now, we have more than two dozen trees and they are heavy with fruit! They're excellent to be eaten plain or with a dash of fresh calamansî juice, my favorite! It also works well as a smoothie, or if you're lazy to make one, just eat it with yogurt or honey.

And did you know there are "male" and "female" trees? I only learned in the farm already that papayas require pollination and some trees just bear the male flowers for the other trees to bear fruit.

08 November 2011


We're about to harvest peppercorns again, it's that time of year when the vines are drooping with this all-important spice that were among those that triggered explorations in the 15th and 16th centuries. We in the tropics kinda take spices like this for granted, just as ginger which gives immense flavor to a lot of dishes we regularly eat.

And I only learned when I had the farm already that white pepper and black pepper comes from the same peppercorn, except they're just picked at different stages. If you pick them while they're green, just as how the berries above look like, you can either consume it fresh while tasting mild and fruity or dry it for some days then crush it and mix with olive oil or brine.

When you pick them instead some weeks later, just when it's about to turn red, leave them to dry until they shrivel and turn black (right). When you grind it on a peppermill, you'll get black pepper, the most flavorful of all.

On the other hand, if you missed out picking some and they've turned ripe and red on the vine, you can soak the berries in water with salt for some days. This will dissolve the outer shell and will effortlessly make the white inner seed come out. Leave it to dry and it becomes white pepper when it's ground.

06 November 2011

November Bird of the Month

The Philippine Oriole (Kilyáwan) is our featured bird this month, a medium-sized bird with brilliant yellow feathers that makes it easy to spot, sometimes even way before you hear it chirp. It's fairly common to find them anywhere in the Philippines, yet their attractiveness hardly diminishes at all.

04 November 2011


Even as a young boy, I always enjoyed a group of plants that I did not even know the name of but was fascinated by the variety of patterns and hues of its lush foliage. I would bug my Mom to bring to my Lola's house empty pots to have them filled by her gardener Mang Ciano. It was up to him what to put but I would particularly request for these, which he collectively called sédang dáhon (silk leaves). [A footnote: after some months and I failed to keep them healthy, we repeat the cycle of the empty pots and the bugging and the requesting...]

Now that I have my own garden, I started collecting aglaonemas, which turns out to have an even bigger number of varieties and cultivars. They are a member of the aroid family (Araceae) just as alocasias, anthuriums, philodendrons, and xanthosomas. Also, despite them being given the popular English name of Chinese Evergreens, they are actually endemic to the Philippines, particularly to Luzon.

They thrive best in filtered sunlight: too much and the leaves will burn while too little will not bring out the patterns and the colors. I place them under big philodendrons as proportionately-big ground covers and to offset each others' leaf shapes and patterns.

They would also look good as potted specimens and do well as indoor plants. Moreover, most of them have unusually-colored or patterned stems, all the more it is best placed on a tabletop to better appreciate the plant. 

03 November 2011

Around Lipa: Casa de Segunda

Lipa is one of the few Philippine cities (and towns) whose main street is not called Rizal. Instead, it is named after Claro Recto, a nationalist and one of the city's most distinguished sons. The other major thoroughfares pay tribute to equally-prominent Lipéňos: Morada, Luz, Kalaw.

But there is a Rizal Street, a side street of Recto Avenue, some blocks behind the Cathedral. There is a special, sentimental reason for this rather unusual street-naming: the young Jose used to visit a house on this street, a house that you can visit until today. He would arrive on horseback (presumably from Calambâ), tie his horse on the alagáo tree by the gate (which is still there today) to court a young girl he was infatuated with: Segúnda Katigbâk.

The house is a fine example of colonial tropical architecture; it dates from 1880 and is in excellent shape to this day, one of the city's five remaining Spanish-era houses that survived World War II, earthquakes, and typhoons. In fact, this particular ancestral house has this wonderful, lived-in ambience: Segunda's descendants live within the compound and personally attend to every guest who knocks in their gate.

The nárra floors are polished, the capíz windows are complete, the planters and pedestals are filled with greens, and the compound seems to be always abuzz with activity. Once I was there, the barangáy was having a meeting in the courtyard.

Apart from its great condition, it also displays a tasteful selection of period furniture made of tropical hardwoods with exquisite inlays and tracery, rattan caning, Chinese porcelain, silverware and kitchen implements true to the era of this beautiful home. There are family photos, leather-bound books, Lipa memorabilia, and of course, references to Segunda and her famous suitor. But the ancestral house speaks far more than this short historical footnote: its design alone is a good model for tropical architecture.

Despite the heat and the sunshine outside, it was pleasantly cool and breezy within the rooms, the corridors, and especially in the foyer downstairs. Of course, the compound is sheltered by old trees that further enhances the shady and balmy atmosphere.

Casa de Segunda requests a token amount of twenty pesos to help maintain their house. They are open everyday but big groups best book ahead.

01 November 2011

Suman sa Ibus

My caretaker and his family made súma(above) today, a glutinous rice cake wrapped in young coconut fronds (íbŭs), on the occasion of All Saints' Day, when Filipinos troop to the cemeteries to pay respects to their loved ones who have gone ahead. The market-bought glutinous rice (malagkît) is mixed with kákang gatâ (the first press of coconut cream), then functionally yet artfully-wrapped and tied together before boiling it in water.

It was striking to see that even though my Ilónggô caretaker has no tomb to visit in Lipa, they still hold their traditions dear and keep them alive. And because he and his wife are quite amused that I patronize their traditional foods, they set aside some of the malagkit to make for me the rice version of báye báye (below), that toasty cake they made last July and August after the corn harvest.