Archive of ‘food’ category

corner tree cafe

For those who have adopted a vegetarian diet, or are looking to try something new, Corner Tree Cafe offers vegetarian fine dining with a taste of Morocco and the Mediterranean.

The interiors are comfortably dim, with tealights at every table. Perfect for quiet tete-a-tetes.

A young author writes her novel by candlelight.

The Spanakopita is creamy inside and crunchy outside.

corner street cafe camote fries

Camote fries – not your usual.

corner street cafe vegetarian meat loaf

 Vegetarian meat loaf entree.

It’s interesting enough to try out. Corner Tree Cafe is at Miladay Building, 150 Jupiter Street, Makati.

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mary grace cafe

Looking for a place that serves great food in a warm, inviting, cozy atmosphere? Check out Mary Grace Cafe at Greenbelt Makati and Serendra Taguig.

My first visit to this restaurant was last month, and I’ve been going at least once a week ever since, on a weekend, sometimes to eat there twice a day – brunch and dinner.

First, let’s look at the interiors. They’re all country, no rock-n-roll. Think of a cottage decorated with Papemelroti accessories and salvaged architectural elements such as carved wood trim and balusters and stained-glass windows.

The facade of Mary Grace Cafe in Greenbelt, Makati City. Notice the fairy lights around the windows! Information such as store hours and contact numbers are painted on the glass door, rather than inscribed on a sign that would mar the view.

Inside, look up and be amazed at the ceiling’s display of clusters of lanterns  and glass jars. I love this! I will duplicate this in my home. One day. When I get around to it.

The upper level of the cafe in Greenbelt is a loft that might be the dining room and sala of your quirky artist aunt’s cottage in Laguna, or something. It murmurs “come in, sit down, eat!”

The interior of Mary Grace Cafe – Serendra. It’s small but still warm with brick and wood trim accents, and all sorts of country-style decor. There are racks of magazines to read while waiting.

Now for the food!

The tables are wooden, the tops covered with glass, underneath which are handwritten notes from happy patrons. Popular menu items include Mary Grace hot chocolate, Filipino-style with ground peanuts, served in a mismatched cup and saucer for a colorful touch; and the cassava chips and onion dip. You must try these. YOU MUST.

Here’s a tip: bring a large 16-oz tumbler with lid or a thermos and combine a cup of the hot chocolate with a cup of brewed coffee. It’s mocha, Pinoy-style.

Their iced teas are really good, and come in several fruity flavors. Our favorite is the apple and cinnamon honey – “Apple pie in a glass!” my youngest daughter calls it.

Start with a bowl of hearty soup. This is my eldest daughter’s favorite – the cream of mushroom soup. It’s savory without being too salty; it’s just right.

The menu runs to salads, pastas, and pastries. Craving a rice meal? They serve Filipino breakfast with rice until 5pm. This is the Vigan longganisa (sausage) plate that comes with two eggs anyway you like it. 

The seafood pasta blends flavors of the sea with earthy vegetables and bread.

The tomato pasta is muy delicioso.

The Kesong Puti salad with Calamansi Vinaigrette teases your palate with interesting flavors.

The mushroom and cheese pizza is on a crunchy thin crust sprinkled with cornmeal for added texture.

Cap off your meal with a slice – or two – of  cinnamony, nutmeggy, whipped cream-y apple pie.

Grilled ensaymada – grilling melts the cheese, toasts the top of the pastry, and warms it through.

Mary Grace started out as a home business in the mid-90s, with the owner selling melt-in-your-mouth ensaymada from her dad’s machinery store along Vito Cruz Street, Manila. I remember how fame of her pastries spread via word-of-mouth, and bought boxes of ensaymada one holiday in the late 90s to give as gifts. I gave a box to the late Speaker of the House Ramon V. Mitra Jr., and was surprised when he called back saying he loved them and asking where to buy.

It’s heartwarming to see that from those humble beginnings more than a decade ago, Mary Grace has grown, giving it more ways to bring its delicious baked goods and food to a wider clientele.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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CBTL single-serve coffee machines

Coffee is big business. This is clearly true in the Philippines, where, as the President declared in his State-of-the-Nation address yesterday, one government agency alone spent P1 billion for coffee during the previous administration.

And with food and its preparation being important in Filipino culture, the quest to find the perfect way to prepare a cup is never-ending.

Single-serve coffee machines have been popular abroad for some years, and have recently reached our shores. One of the most visibly marketed here is the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (CBTL) system.

CBTL had a demo some weeks back at the Powerplant Mall at Rockwell, where they showed off two models, the Kaldi and the Contata.

I saw a demo of the Kaldi, thanks to pretty and helpful sales associate Sy. She guided me using the system which is easy to use. Just pop a beverage capsule (CBTL offers coffee and tea) in a slot in the back and pull the lever down. Hot water from a chamber at the back of the machine shoots through the punched capsule, resulting in a no-hands-brewed cup of coffee.

I must say the crema on the espresso was rich, thick, sublime. Sy also showed me how to use the accessory CBTL milk frother, which steams milk for lattes and machiattos. The latte she made me was one of the best cups of coffee I’ve ever tasted.

The Kaldi (above) comes in red, white, blue, and yellow, the Contata only in black. 

The beverages can be enhanced with the addition of “flavored powder sachets” which come in French Deluxe Vanilla and Special Dutch Chocolate.

Their promotional flyer gives the price of the machines as P13,750; the frother (which comes in white and black), P4,250. Capsules per box of 10 cost P400. At the time of the demo, they were having a special sale. The Kaldi and the frother together would have cost around P14,000.

I fell under the spell of the luxurious cup of coffee the machine created, but the system was rather too pricey for me. Other brands of machines cost only half as much – the Nescafe Dolce Gusto at $135 (P6,000), the Bosch Tassimo at $125 (P5,500).

For coffee lovers like me, you can’t go wrong with a single-serve system, and somewhere out there is the right one for you.

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a taste of syria

My classmate Hammed came back from a two-week trip to Syria bearing candy as pasalubong. As we discussed the narratives we were to write for our creative non-fiction class, he passed around chocolate-covered biscuits from confectioner Ghraoui.

The packaging is superb, tasteful and classy, reminding me of the Hermes brand.

The chocolate biscuits are wrapped in gold foil stamped in blue with the name of the brand in both English and Arabic. I peel back the thick foil and take a nibble. The chocolate is sweet, the biscuit crisp.

Hammed passes around a tray of more Syrian sweets. “These are pistachios, nougat, and rose-petal candy. Choose,” he says.

Each sweet is individually wrapped in plastic, bearing a silver sticker with the brand in Arabic. I wish I could read what it says. The confections glow with colors – the green of pistachios, pink of roses, white of nougat, brown of glazed sugar. It is hard to choose. They all look like jewels on black velvet.

Finally I decide on the sweet covered in crushed rose petals. First I admire it before I peel away the plastic wrapper. I lift it to my nostrils and inhale. It smells like dried leaves, more like tea than roses, but the colors of the flower are still vibrant.

I break the candy in half. Inside a bed of sugar syrup and honey nestle pistachio nuts. I bite slowly, relishing the flood of sweetness over my tongue.

With my mouth full of roses and honey and nuts, I glimpse a brief vision of Syria – camels and silks in many colors and tents fluttering in the desert wind. Blades of Damascus steel flash, held aloft by warriors astride noble Arabian steeds with flaring nostrils. Women in swathed in black, their eyes lined with dark kohl, offer glasses of tea.

I swallow the last morsel and the vision fades. Thank you, Hammed, for bringing us a taste of Syria.

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cuisinart coffee

Galaw-galaw, Neni,” said Doc Nonoy. “Move it, move it.”

Walk fast and live long,” said Doc Amer.

Both physicians were my classmates from elementary to high school. Sometimes we see each other now that we’re older, and I’m struck by how they still look like teenagers. I, on the other hand, also still look like a teenager, but weigh twice as much as one.

Both of them have been into running since back then.

I have been into avoiding running since back then (like, what? where’s the fire?) but I can manage to put one foot in front of another to walk.

The new year having rolled around again, as it does every year, I trotted out that hoary old resolution of getting more exercise, and walking it is because it doesn’t require highly-developed motor coordination skills.

So today I went to the mall and bought a Cuisinart four-cup coffeemaker with steel carafe, endorsed on the box by chef Paul Bocuse. I’ve used a French press for eons and felt it was time for a change.

What does this coffeemaker have to do with exercise? We’ll get there, I promise.

This brand of coffeemaker advises the use of paper filters, and comes with two free ones. I do not like my coffee tasting of paper and I do not want trees chopped down just for me to get my caffeine on.

Well, what do you know, the Starbucks across the street from the appliance store had this lovely mesh permanent filter.

I went home and made coffee using ground arabica I bought in Baguio last July, since all my fresh coffee was at the office. The old Baguio arabica was stale and tasted horrible.

I refused to give up on brewing coffee en hora mismo in that smart Cuisinart. So I walked about a kilometer from my house to the nearest Starbucks, where I got this bag of Caffe Verona in the sweetest scarlet Valentine’s Day packaging. (I always was a sucker for cute packaging.)

I walked another kilometer back home and settled down to brew myself some strong, bold coffee for a night of writing.

And that’s how my love for coffee motivated me to get some exercise today and obey my physicians’ instructions.

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army-navy burrito+burger

A penfriend posted as his Facebook status the other day a paean to Army-Navy Burrito + Burger. He said the food was great.

Being always on the lookout for interesting nommeries, the Offspring and I visited the branch at Harbour Square, a group of eateries inside the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex beside Manila Bay.

Army-Navy Burger turned out to be on the second floor above Yellow Cab Pizza. It is built of corrugated metal and has a military theme going on.

The food is American meets Tex-mex – burgers, fries, and milkshakes with burritos, quesadillas, and soft tacos.

Ik got the classic burger, a single quarter-pound beef patty with guacamole for tortilla chips. Army-Navy also has two-patty and three-patty (Bully Boy Burger) variations.

The onion rings were crisp and crunchy as they should be.

Alex got the cheese quesadillas, which are very good indeed.

All sorts of people go to Army-Navy, like this well-dressed and fully-made up woman in a gown. She must have come from or was going to a formal occasion, and decided to stop by for some eats. Seeing her and her companions, men in barong Tagalog and women also in gowns, seated on wooden benches beside tin-topped tables was such an interesting contrast.

Come for the food and the interesting setting. It’ll be a novel – and filling -experience.

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mang inasal can save the world from hunger…

…with its “unlimited rice”.

Yes, the Mang Inasal quick service restaurant that offers as its specialty grilled chicken Negrense inasal style serves unlimited rice to its patrons.  Much like what you’d get in the average home – you know, this much ulam that you have to share with everyone else in the family, but there’s more sinaing in the rice cooker or caldero on the stove if you’re still hungry.

It’s this relaxed, home-style eating theme that this restaurant’s savvy owner and managers have parlayed into commercial success – fortune, fame, and a buy-out by food megagiant Jollibee Corporation.

Inasal is made by marinating chicken in vinegar with minced garlic and tanglad, and grilling. Anatto oil, brushed on during cooking, gives the chicken its distinct orange color. A simple recipe, but flavorful. Don’t forget that at Mang Inasal, it comes with unlimited rice.

How to eat at Mang Inasal:

Step 1. Queue at the counter. Choose items from the lighted menu on the wall. Menu items are no-brainers like chicken (60% of the menu), pork barbeque, bangus, and sisig. These protein-based entrees come free with a cup of sinigang broth and, don’t forget, unlimited rice.

Step 2. Pay the cashier.

Step 3.  The food will be served, so take your number-on-a-stick to your table, insert one end into the carved wooden number stick-holder expressly designed for holding number sticks, and wait.

Step 4. When your food arrives, eat! Galit-galit muna.

Step 5. Drizzle “chicken” (anatto) oil (the sauce bottle on your table not filled with toyo or suka) on your rice for more fat and calories, er, flavor.

Step 6. Ask one of the waitstaff roaming around with what looks like an ice bucket for more rice; he or she will gladly scoop a cup of the hot fluffy steamed onto your plate, as much of it as you want.

Step 7 (optional). Have dessert – save room for halo-halo or sorbetes.

Step 8. Repeat Steps 1 to 7 as often as desired.

I personally know a 20-year old man (I’m talking to you, JM) who ate seven cups of rice at one meal with his order of chicken. And he could have had more, because at Mang Inasal, you get unlimited rice.

Now that’s the way to solve world hunger.

Photos taken with a Nokia C3 2-mp mobile phone cam.

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fine dining at chef’s quarter

My first post for this year concerns something important to everyone – food!

“I’m hungry,” my sister said. “I haven’t had lunch.” It was  four o’clock in the afternoon on New Year’s Day. My two offspring and I had just met her at Megamall.

She had flown in from Dubai a week ago for Christmas, and I wanted her to enjoy her vacation in Manila. “What do you feel like having?” I asked. We went to the Megamall Atrium to find a decent place to eat. There were a lot of restaurants, but she fixed on a place called Chef’s Quarter, on the third floor.

The facade was modest, yet it was surprisingly roomy inside. We sat a table at the very back, by wide plate-glass windows facing the street. The place was awash in sunlight.

The place has an unassuming facade, tucked away into a little corner. Image here.

We had a helpful and knowledgeable waiter who tossed around terms like “remoulade” and “confit” with abandon but without being a show-off. He also memorized all our orders pat, pen and paper nowhere in sight, when I myself couldn’t keep track of what we’d ordered! Being easily impressed, I was impressed.

For starters we had the Caesar’s salad and the soup du jour, cream of lettuce.  The salad was the best I’ve had so far, with the dressing reminiscent of how my mother makes it from scratch. The greens were lightly tossed in dressing and not drowned in them like everywhere else I’ve had that salad. I have finally found a place where I do not have to request the dressing served on the side.

The soup was thick but not too, with the seasonings blended just right. The button-shaped rolls were sweet and soft, and served with butter rosettes piped into little tiny cups.

For sides we had mixed vegetables and – an interesting concept of this restaurant – a “potato of the day”, which for 1/1/11 was baked potato wedges with pearl onions and garlic. Again, the seasonings were perfect, no need to adjust. The vegetables were done just right, with the right amount of crunch, and the potatoes were tender and flavorful.

For our entrees, we chose paella, replete with seafood and egg; baby back ribs that were falling-off-the-bone tender; penne carbonara with bacon; and lasagna that was creamy and tomatoey-rich.

The paella was superb – the rice a nice saffron-golden color, the shrimp and fish cooked without being overdone.

The baby back ribs were a bit too sweetish for my taste, but the pork was fork-tender, the beans were great, and the greens lightly tossed with a mild vinaigrette that complemented the meat well and was unobtrusive enough not to interfere with the rest of the rich flavors.

The pasta was great, not too toothy, and only tossed in sauce, not deluged in it; the bacon was still crisp when the dish was served.

The lasagna came baked in a dish, rather than served as a slice from a bigger pan. Served with garlic bread, it was creamy and savory.

“So, what did you think?” I asked my sister after the meal. She replied with a satisfied burp.

Chef’s Quarter is one of the best places I have been to, with the food perfect at every turn and the waitstaff accommodating and gracious. We had a wonderful experience and look forward to returning soon and tasting the rest of the dishes on the menu. It was a delicious start to the new year, and I hope this is a harbinger of more good things to come.

Except for the first photo, all photos were taken with a Nikon Coolpix L21 using available light.

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pop goes the world: sinful and sweet

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 30 December 2010, Thursday

Sinful and Sweet

I was at work yesterday afternoon when someone dropped by with a luscious chocolate mousse cake. It was a three-layer concoction composed of a sinfully rich chocolate cake base, chocolate mousse center, and whipped cream rosette topping. Like all desserts are made to do, it beckoned, tempting me – “Eat me. You know you want to.” I knew it would melt in my mouth and coat my tongue with pleasure.

Yet I hesitated – it was a calorie- and fat-laden time bomb that would further expand my waistline and elevate my glucose and cholesterol levels. Should I taste it – or not?

The matter was taken out of my hands when an officemate cut a slice, plated it, and handed it to me along with a fork. Now, I couldn’t very well be rude and refuse it, could I? It would have hurt her feelings. So I sank the fork in that three-tiered treat and dissolved into a puddle of sugar-fueled ecstasy when the chocolatey goodness hit my tastebuds.

I was dumped from my cloud of baked bliss when a voice spoke. “Jenny, don’t finish that cake.” It was a visitor, one of my former bosses. “Give the rest to someone else to finish.”

I stared at the cake with different eyes. Yes, Attorney Mon was right. That cake would have gone from my lips straight to my hips. Already carrying excess poundage and having trouble losing it, any extra avoirdupois was just an added health liability I could ill afford.

Which brings me to the point of this article. The holidays are a traditionally a time for feasting, when abundance and the pleasures of the table are an essential part of the celebration. Almost every household has its Christmas and New Year recipes for ham, pasta, salad, whatever. It is a ritual, this preparation of the holiday food that is often not made at any other time of the year. And when the special dishes are served, it marks another cycle in the circle of cultural observances.

But many traditions we observe, while fulfilling psychological needs, are not always good for us. The overconsumption of sugar, fat, salt, protein, carbohydrates, and alcohol wreak havoc on our health, which we pay for in the future, if not right away in the form of, let’s say, indigestion, hypertension, and diarrhea.

After the holiday feasting, we step on a bathroom scale and watch the needle swing much farther to the right than we’d like. Some panic and look for quick fixes. Diet pills, for one. Through the years, there have been many, some with evil side effects.

Some 20 years ago, fen-phen – a combination of two drugs, fenfluramine and phentermine – caused a global sensation for resulting in very rapid weight loss.Fenfluramine was later shown to cause heart problems and other internal damage. It was withdrawn from the market and “led to legal damages of over $13 billion.” This is one case where the “cure” proved to be more harmful than the cause. (“Phentermine was not shown to cause harmful effects.”)

Undergoing scrutiny now by the American Food and Drug Administration is bupropion/naltrexone (trade name Contrave), “designed to affect the hypothalamus to decrease food intake over extended period of time…On 7 December 2010 an FDA Advisory Committee voted 13-7 for the approval of Contrave, and voted 11-8 for the conduct of a post-marketing cardiovascular outcomes study.”

The current popularly marketed medication, available over-the-counter here, is orlistat, “a drug designed to treat obesity… [by] preventing the absorption of fats…thereby reducing caloric intake.” (All citations from Wikipedia.)

Succumbing to the ease of taking a drug panders to our desire for convenience and immediate gratification. For some, under a physician’s care, such medications could even be necessary. But the best results come from the old-school way to weight loss – healthy eating that is predominantly vegetarian combined with sweaty exercise (both aerobic and strength training), adequate sleep, and less stress.

I’ve done it both ways, and only the natural method really worked and made me feel better. So this is one of my resolutions for the coming Year of the Rabbit – to regain wellness.

I will lay off the White Rabbit candy, and lace on my walking shoes once more. Because of my hypertension, I will reduce my caffeine intake. My 12-year-old daughter is helping me get healthy by giving frequent reminders. “Mama, you have to stop drinking too much coffee, eating sweets and chicharon, and sleeping late. Those are bad habits. I’m just glad they’re not illegal.” Thanks, Ik.

I must harness my willpower and discipline to achieve the goals I’ve set because it’s the only way I will get well. And only I can do this for myself – no one else. And because I have loved ones to take care of, I have to stay healthy as long as I can.

It’s a resolution I think we all need to make – and stick with. Happy new year, everyone.

My thoughts return to the chocolate mousse cake that got away. Bereft and forlorn without the other half, I console myself with a chunk of banana loaf someone else left behind. That should be healthier, I figure, because it’s got fruit in it.

Right?   ***

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pop goes the world: holiday serenity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 December 2010, Thursday

Holiday Serenity

Only in the Philippines, I think, is Christmas celebrated for practically an entire month. Work slows down by the first week of December. Malls, offices, and other public establishments evoke the holiday spirit by decorating, some lavishly, others simply, each according to their inclinations and capabilities.

Ayala Avenue this year is more brightly lit than ever before, with thousands of blazing white lights festooned like strings of  glowing pearls from the trees that line the center of the road, and damn the power bill because it all looks so splendid.

Ayala Avenue this Christmas 2010. Image here.

Shopping is always a favorite pastime of Filipinos, and especially so during this season, when cultural norms of gift-giving are observed. A person would sort the groups of people he knows into several categories – work (bosses, officemates, clients); friends (schoolmates, friends made elsewhere); family (immediate and others); and so on.

The nearest and dearest receive the most expensive presents, while officemates one isn’t close to get the gaily-packaged brownies or cookies bought in bulk from friends who “make negosyo” during the season. And so on. Hierarchy is a cultural meme, maybe even a survival imperative in our DNA, some thinkers suggest, and exerts influence even as we perform this pleasant chore.

It is a festive time, with food playing a major role in providing a sense of comfort and security and adding that extra fillip of extravagance that sets occasions like these apart from the ordinary.

When I was a child, Western fruit like apples, grapes, and oranges were to be had only at Christmas-time, along with chestnuts and walnuts which we cracked against door jambs. My mother made certain dishes only during the holidays – deep-dish one-crust apple pie sprinkled with parmesan cheese on top and fruit salad made with canned US Del Monte fruit cocktail that was mostly peaches, never the local kind that was mostly pineapples and made the salad too sour, and she would add a squeeze of calamansi to cut the sweetness. For an appetizer she would lay out plates of Edam cheese, some slices plain, others fried in butter.

Through the years, she’d mix up the menu, sometimes whipping up Caesar salad dressing from scratch with egg yolks, extra-virgin olive oil, and crushed peppercorns, while her entrees would include falling-off-the-bone roast crown of pork, fondue, beef stew, shrimp tempura, and one of my favorites, chicken marinated in Pepsi, ketchup, and secret spices then grilled over charcoal.

We lived in a series of small apartments that were easy to decorate, and my mother made sure that wherever we were, we always had a Christmas tree with ornaments and silver tinsel and colorfully-wrapped presents underneath, and garlands of evergreen with pine cones and red-and-gold ribbons on the walls.

I’ve kept up our family tradition of a tree. Mine is soft and warm and fuzzy with handmade quilted and cross-stitched ornaments from snail-mail swaps or bought at bazaars. No glitzy tinsel and metallic balls for us, just homespun decorations made with love.

Presents back then were simple – an Enid Blyton book, a kitchen playset, t-shirts. There were no electronic gadgets with their beep-boops and flashing lights distracting people from interacting with each other.

Today, with all the bustle and swirl of activity, the rampant commercialization by merchants, and the over-the-top keeping-up-with-the-neighbors, some might feel the need to slow down and find a quiet place.

Where is yours? It can be an actual location or inside your head. It is wherever one may retreat into calm and peace.

University of the Philippines professor emeritus Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo recently shared with us, her graduate students in creative writing, an essay she wrote titled “In Search of Stillness and Serenity.” In the piece she revisits all her quiet places in the different countries she’s  been to.

Here’s an excerpt, where she tells of an oasis of stillness in the mountains of war-ravaged Lebanon:

“I remember our being invited by Frieda, a member of Tony’s staff, to her family’s old villa in the small Druze town of Abey, up in the mountains. Her great-grandfather had been the village blacksmith and had built the house in the late 19th century. It had walls of thick stone, deep windows, a high, vaulted ceiling, beautiful rosewood furniture, hand-carved and inlaid with nakkar and mother-of-pearl, and lovely old rugs, lamps, pipes, copper coffee pots…

“Frieda walked us through a small forest of oak trees, to the olive orchards, where her father was cutting off large branches and putting them into baskets—the white (green) olives to be made into araq; the red, into vinegar; and the black (the sweetest of all), to eat as part of the traditional Lebanese mezze. And then we came to the olive press, and were offered some freshly baked Arabic bread to dip into the freshly pressed oil, which was delicious.

“And there was a serenity about the olive grove, and the day, and the village itself, which seemed far removed from the ceaseless strife that plagued Lebanon.”

In Philippine culture, the holidays are full of rituals to be observed and traditions to keep up, and we do these joyfully, because it is when the past connects and extends into the present that we feel the tug of the bonds of family, society, history, and culture that define and shape who we are.

Yet in the midst of the maelstrom remember to visit your quiet place, wherever it is, to rest, recharge, and reconnect with yourself and all that you are, and all that you can be.

Happy holidays from my home to yours, and I wish for you blessings of deep peace, utter happiness, and boundless love. ***

Olive oil and bread image here.

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