Painting Cakes Brings New Life to Artist Christina Dy

He Is Risen! 


As we celebrate the message of hope that Easter brings, allow me to share the story of a friend who found light amidst darkness, strength in the midst of fear, and joy in spite of sorrow. She is a true inspiration.


Her name is Christina Dy. 



She is a visual artist: a recipient of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 13 Artists Award in 2009, participant at the Busan Biennale, aside from her solo shows (see She is also an award-winning production designer (her works include Big Time and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros). Extending her artistry to the performing arts, she also created Polecats Manila, changing the perspective of pole dancing from banal and sleazy to brilliant and creative through lessons and performances. 


Last year, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. It was devastating news, as cancer goes, but CD, as she is called by friends, while pragmatic enough to admit her lows, did not wallow in pity or allow the diagnosis to get her down. 


Instead, she turned to art. In the past, she had turned to pole dancing. In fact the story of how she created Polecats Manila – to heal her broken heart after breaking up with a boyfriend – was so moving that Maalala Mo Kaya in 2016 even did an episode on her story, with no less than Jessie Mendiola playing her character! This time, though, she had to find a new medium of expression. And she did … in the kitchen!



“Suddenly I couldn’t do pole anymore. So I had to figure out what to do with my time. I didn’t want to do any serious ‘art’ so I decided to draw on food,” she recalls. 


She started with macarons for a very realistic reason: “They seemed less of a commitment. They’re tiny and readily available and less expensive than a cake. If I paint ugly things on them, I can just feed them to my sister and no one has to know, haha!” Then she moved on to cakes. “After macarons, the cakes came next naturally so that I would have a bigger painting area.” She learned to do art on this new canvass by googling how to paint on cakes online. 

The cakes are baked by her friend Rachelle Sarzona, former pastry chef at Shangrila Fort, who now has her own pastry brand, I Don’t Make Sweet Desserts. Then CD paints on them.

CD posted about the first cake that she painted on, she recalls vividly, on February 27 this year, and got her first order on the same day.


But note that CD does not offer your usual cake art – no characters or kiddie themes. Neither are her cakes bright or festive or chirpy. In fact, all her cake art are black and white. “I never really liked colors. I don’t understand them,” she explains.


So the cakes are simply edible versions of her art.


And as art has helped her in the past, they did help her heal emotionally this time as well. “Painting on cakes helped relieve my feelings of not being productive. It was nice being able to produce something

It did not erase the other pains she had to go through, though. She hated having what she calls a “blistery boob”. “With a blistery boob all you can do is think while lying motionless. Everything else is painful. … What cancer has taught me is that all i have is today. Now. What will I do now?” she mulled candidly on Facebook.


But she pulled herself together with resolve: “How many times have I thought of making this art work or learning this piano piece, but I said I’ll just do it tomorrow? Then tomorrow again. And again. Well guess what CD, today was yesterday’s tomorrow and have you done it yet? And now my attention and energy and resources are directed somewhere else. So yes, what will I do today?”


Then she has pulled herself up with gratitude and optimism: “I never thought that the biggest challenge of my life would be a blistery boob! During times like this, I cannot stress enough the importance of doing something fun and having something to look forward to. Today I went out and took a silversmithing workshop, and getting dressed was painful, but I made it and had so much fun and forgot the blisters for 4 hours. … Tomorrow,  after the hospital, I plan on going to ArtBar and All About Baking and will look at all the pretty supplies and get inspired to create new things. And having that purpose makes the discomfort and pain worth it.”


Her advice to those going through challenges like hers as she finished radiation: “Do something that gives you joy every day. Doesn’t have to be big. Just something. For me, it’s painting on macarons or cakes, playing with origami and chocolate, making clay cakes, making nonsense abstract paintings. It’s important to have something to look forward to everyday, because it’s so much easier to just be angry and give up.”  


Just last month, CD turned 43.  


It is evident – and heartwarming – that after her Black Saturday, by grace, she found her personal Easter morning, as she wrote poetically on her birthday: ”   So many things in life I have no control over, but I can always choose the kind of person I want to be. And right now, I want to be the kind of person that laughs, makes time for herself, takes things slow, listens, tries to make the world a better place, sleeps (who knew I’d love sleep this much!), plays with new silly ideas (likepainting on macarons!), says thank you for each day, wears eyeliner and red lipstick just because.
I thought of sharing CD’s story today, on Easter Sunday, because that is what today is about: celebrating the fullness of life.


I hope that you find your Easter morning, too – and celebrate the fullness of life by the grace of God, in the presence of the Father – today and everyday!


Happy Easter! 

Story in today’s column in the Inquirer

Sekaya has me switching to tea!

Sekaya botanic infusion by Unilab

I’m switching to tea!

Well, a little bit. At least for the products of Sekaya, I’m a convert.

I was introduced to the brand by Claire de Leon Papa, Communications Director of Unilab, when she approached me to recommend a pastry chef who could create cookies or scones using their teas.

Sweet Sally Desserts, of course, was top of mind since it was close to home (by Goldee Salcedo) and over the holidays I was so happy to be the guinea pig to test such creations as Earl Grey brownie bites or Green Tea banana bread.

Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands with menu infused with Sekaya teas by Unilab
Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands creates a spread using Sekaya botanic infusions and teas

Last week, though, Sekaya went a step further for their official launch when they approached Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands who created a full menu inspired by the teas.

Chef Wilson, previously at Four Seasons Maldives, did both savoury and sweet creations!

I loved that he created a rub using Sekaya’s Pu-Ehr Tea which he used on chicken skewers. He also poached salmon in Pu-ehr tea.

As for the sweets, I loved everything that he created with the Earl Grey tea. You don’t taste it right away but it will hit you a few seconds after digging in, then the taste lingers. Love that! He used Earl Grey for his almond and walnut cookies, orange pound cake and chocolate truffles (yum!).

There were a lot of other Sekaya botanical infusion flavors as well:

Mango Summer tea was used by Chef Wilson for a panda cotta, pavlova and creme brûlée; and Hibiscus tea was used to create a syrup for a yogurt parfait.

Orange pound cake by Chef Wilson Cariaga of Tagaytay Highlands featuring Unilab's Sekaya botanical infusion teas.
Orange pound cake using Sekaya’s Earl Grey botanic infusion.

But more than the added dimension to flavours that the tea gives you, I was informed by Judy Abrina, Marketing Manager of Sekaya, of the many health benefits that botanic infusions give you!

Sekaya’s Pu-erh Trim, which uses pu-erh tea from Yunnan, China, helps boost metabolism. Their Mango Summer botanical infusion, on the other hand, combines marigold petals from Egypt and black Ceylon tea leaves from Sri Lanka with ripe mango essence, which combined serve as an antioxidant. Hibiscus, meanwhile, prepared using hibiscus petals from Egypt, helps in maintaining a healthy blood pressure (and, Judy notes, Hibiscus has 3x more antioxidants than matcha!)
She also explained to me the difference between teas and botanic infusions. :if the leaves are not from the evergreen shrub species Camellia Synensis, which produces teas like chamomile, jasmine and the like, it is technically not tea but tisane (herbal tea). Both tea and tisanes, however, are considered botanical infusions, hence the terminology by the brand Sekaya.
Judy Abrina, Marketing Manager, Sekaya botanic infusion teas by Unilab
Judy Abrina, Marketing Manager, Sekaya, tells us about tea as key to wellness.
I was also happy to note that Sekaya, though foreign-sounding, is a purely local brand, created by pharmaceutical Unilab. “Since Unilab is focused on the healthcare of the Filipino, it was decided that it is time that we also come up with natural products that will respond to compliment that vision,” Abrina explained.
I confess that I am not a tea drinker. I am part of the Starbucks generation obsessed with coffee. As creator of the Nana Meng Tsokolate brand, I am also into chocolate. But maybe, as we grow older *gulp* it’s time to reconsider our drinks and switch to tea! The wellness benefits seem to be abundant!
Sekaya is available online at
Plant-based healing 
So Sekaya has studied botanical infusions (teas and tisanes) for specific wellness purposes.

Where Shall We Go This Valentine’s Day?

Taal Vista Hotel

Ah it’s that time of the year again when the all-encompassing excuse to love (and spend for it) reigns supreme: It’s Valentine’s Day!

I’ve been told by friends in the industry that the following are happening so here are a few options on how to be a sucker and succumb to the dictates of commercialism and kinkiness on that day … if you don’t allow yourself to be saved by the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday and you have a legitimate excuse to abstain from love itself (hah!) …


Spices under the stars, peninsula manila, valentine's philippines
A romantic Pen Moment: Spices Under the Stars at the Peninsula Manila (Photo: The Peninsula Manila)

At the Peninsula Manila, you can already take advantage of the free-flowing Champagne for a Sunday Valentine’s brunch starting February 11 at Escolta for P4,300 per head.

Then on Valentine’s Day itself, you can have a lovely four-course dinner at Old Manila with the reliable fine dining classics: foie gras, lobster bisque, Wagyu and dessert. If your date has an appetite, try the Valentine’s Day Seafood Buffet – I’m assuming it’s seafood in consideration of Ash Wednesday – with free-flowing sparkling wines and beer (because if you’re a sneaky Catholic, you would argue that your fasting is limited to not eating meat). This buffet is priced at P3,600 per person.

But I think the most romantic set up would be at Spices. Usually, this is indoors but Pen is taking advantage of the gorgeous weather we have been having lately and opening the al fresco area for a poolside dinner called Spices Under the Stars. Imagine having your favorite Thai food and other curries under the stars! This is the option I would choose!

There’s also an incentive to get a room: it comes with a bottle of wine, breakfast buffet, and P3,000 dining credit that you can use at their restaurants.


City of Dreams, Cafe Society Valentine's hampers
Valentine’s gifts by Cafe Society at the City of Dreams  (Photo: City of Dreams)
If you want a really sulit date, the buffet at Hyatt at the City of Dreams is another option. They offer a six-station buffet with unlimited sparking wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages for P2,799 nett on Valentine’s Day. For inquiries and reservations, call (02) 691 1234 ext. 1163.
City of Dreams, Cafe Society Valentine's hampers
City of Dreams, Cafe Society Valentine’s hampers (Photo: City of Dreams)
Also at City of Dreams are Valentine’s hampers by Cafe Society. These are available until the 15th. You can choose to gift your beloved with a Chocolate Love Bear; a Chocolate Pot of Lollies; Chocolate Truffles with either strawberry or raspberry flavors; or a Latte Chocolate Cake. Prices start at P250 nett while the hampers start at P1,500.




Gorgeous canopy set up for Valentine's Day beside Manila Bay at Sofitel Manila
Gorgeous canopy set up for Valentine’s Day beside Manila Bay at Sofitel Manila (Photo: Sofitel Manila)


Sofitel, of course, has the advantage of being right beside Manila Bay. I mean, how can anyone beat the Manila Bay sunset?! (By creating the most awful Manila traffic, that’s how!) They are also presenting the most elaborate dining experience called Love By Design: For P30,000 (yup, THIRTY thousand), you and your date can enjoy Valentine’s with a canopy set up and have your own butler, a violinist, a four-course dinner, a bottle of Champagne … and (don’t laugh) the chance to win an iPhone 8 (talk about incentive!).

If 30 grand is a bit too much, consider the Romance by the Bay package instead:For less than P3,000, you get to eat and drink all you want via their poolside buffet (more to eat!), enjoy unlimited local beer and catch the Valentine’s fireworks.

For reservations and inquiries at Sofitel, call (02) 832 6988.




Taal Vista Hotel
Taal Vista Hotel
If you are masipag to drive, head over to Taal Vista Hotel in Tagaytay. They also have a canopy set up. It will set you back P8,000 BUT you get to enjoy an 8-course dinner paired with a couple of glasses of Moet with priceless Tagaytay weather and a view of Taal Volcano. How romantic is that?! This is available only on February 14. For reservations and inquiries, call (02) 917 8225.


Edible rose by James Antolin at Ikomai in Salcedo Village, Makati
Edible rose by James Antolin at Ikomai in Salcedo Village, Makati

If your Valentine is a foodie and would just like to just eat out at a restaurant on Valentine’s try one of my fave restos of late, Ikomai in Salcedo Village. It’s a hip Japanese resto beside Smith and Butcher on dela Costa St. For Valentine’s they are offering a six-course dinner. But the best part about it is that the meal culminates with an edible rose (see the pic? that’s the edible rose) created by pastry chef extraordinaire James Antolin. How perfect is that for the girl who is not into roses but into food (like me)? For reservations, call the number in the picture.


Valentine's at Restaurant 101 of the Alain Ducasse Institute at Enderun
Valentine’s at Restaurant 101 of the Alain Ducasse Institute at Enderun (Photo from Enderun)

Another restaurant to consider is Enderun’s Restaurant 101. It’s French cuisine by an Alain Ducasse-trained chef and at a very reasonable, student-friendly price, too! Details in the pic above.


James and Daughters
James and Daughters by Chef Jonas Ng (Photo by Margaux Salcedo)
For those who want just a casual hang on the 13th, head over to the latest hip happening place especially for titos and titas of Manila, James and Daughters. Chef Jonas Ng is testing out his new cocktail menu so for only P750, in what he calls Kulitan Night, you get a cocktail plus some bar chow. The space is lit (uuuy trying to use millennial terms si Margaux LOL) and it’ll feel like you’re just having a really fun party with friends. Call 0917 817 6584​ to reserve.
Valentine's for Singles with Unlimited Wine and Mojitos at Refinery
Valentine’s for Singles with Unlimited Wine and Mojitos at Refinery (Photo: Refinery)

Over at Refinery, they are celebrating the Hashtag Bigo. Their Facebook post humorously gives the definition for “Sawi”: Pagdurusa. Pagluluksa. Walang hanggang kalungkutan. (Suffering, mourning, eternal sorrow.) LOL. Kaloka! Time to drown those sorrows in wine! Details in the pic above.

Karen's Kitchen Valentine's Day cakes
Karen’s Kitchen Valentine’s Day cakes. (Photo: Karen’s Kitchen)
As for gifts, if your sweetheart has a sweet tooth, try the celebration cakes of Karen’s Kitchen. She makes cakes for love birds of all ages. For puppy lovers, you might like to try the strawberry cake with rose petals. For senior seducers and seductresses, she offers an apple crisp with oats on top, a base of apples and sweetened with Stevia; and a Splenda mango cake with a white chocolate heart plaque. Visit her website or call 0917 539 4968 or landline (02) 555 0555 or (02) 555 0111 to order.


Donate blood on Valentine’s Day (Photo:

Food writer CJ Juntereal told me about this: “Makati Med is doing a Valentine’s Day Blood Donation drive. Donate blood with your sweetie then go out for dinner after. You might even save a life!” For inquiries, call (632) 8888 999.

Cardinal Tagle Dispensation for Chinese New Year
Cardinal Tagle Dispensation for Chinese New Year
 When I wrote my shout out to friends in the industry to tell me what events they had planned for Valentine’s Day, our friendly priest Father Benny Tuazon gently commented that since Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year, we must be KJ. KJ is ’70s slang for Kill Joy … but for Father Benny it translates to “Kay Jesus (lang)” (baduy! haha!) So go celebrate on the 13th or on the 15th but remember, we must fast, abstain and go to mass on the 14th. Anyway, it would be rather odd to be on a date with a cross of ash on your forehead!

Bawi na lang sa Chinese New Year because Cardinal Tagle, who is apparently partly Chinese, said that as the Chinese New Year celebrations also have a spiritual and cultural significance, it is ok to celebrate, i.e., not fast and abstain, as long as you also do acts of penance, mercy and charity on the said date.


The best option, of course, is to make the effort to cook for your loved one on that day. There’s nothing sexier! Click HERE for some great ideas for a Valentine’s dinner from Whole Foods.

Happy Valentine’s!

PS Spread the love and share!!

New York-based Pinoy Bartender Shows MasterChef Skills at New BGC Resto

Francis Balbarin, New York-based Filipino bartender takes over James and Daughters kitchen


There is a new restaurant in BGC called James & Daughters.

It is by the same group that created Le Jardin. But chef-owner Jonas Ng emphasizes that this time around, he is just cooking from the heart; no more stuffy classic fine dining frou frou recipes. “This is me,” he says. The restaurant serves “no borders cuisine”.

The place is beautifully designed, with touches of the old Le Jardin, like the faux balconies. There is one private dining room and high seats for those who care to just drink.

Best of all, there is parking!

If you would like to check it out, it is on the side of Essensa.


NYC Bartender Proves Kitchen Skills

But here’s the thing: I did not go to check out Jonas Ng – though I will definitely come back to try his new style and see how he is flexing his kitchen muscles this way.

In fact I had not heard of James & Daughters before my friend of 14 years (since my sabbatical in NYC) Francis Balbarin told me about it because he was doing a pop-up at the resto and cooking a full 8-course dinner for the first time for a public Manila audience.

I always knew that Francis can cook and cook well. After all, he co-founded Burgers & Brewskies in BGC. And truth be told, the B&B hits are his recipes: the Walk of Shame, a huge burger with a sunny side up egg on the top toast; the Call the Nurse burger, a burger with mac & cheese alongside the patty between the buns; and the Cuban Missile corn on the cob, inspired by the corn on the cob of Cafe Habana on Prince Street, one of our favorite hang outs back in the day in New York, even if the line was horrendous.

Francis Balbarin, whom we fondly call Kiko, executes an excellent 8-course dinner at James & Daughters
New York-based bartender Francis Balbarin, whom we fondly call Kiko, executes an excellent 8-course dinner at James & Daughters

Bartender Cooks Like A MasterChef

I was blown away, though, by how much he has improved as a cook. He could very well compete with today’s top restaurateurs in the industry.

Dinner started with grilled octopus with arugula and patani. But my I was especially impressed by the second starter: Kitayama beef heart and rib eye tartare with quail egg. It’s hard to find good tartare in Manila, a dish that is harder to execute than it seems (Tonyboy Escalante still makes the best but you have to go all the way to Antonio’s Fine Dining in Tagaytay). And I loved the incorporation of ox hearts into the dish.

His third dish, thanks to the Tiger Milk Gang’s campaign, was the ever-trendy ceviche. Francis used barramundi and scallops for the most part. It was beautifully seasoned with fresh lime juice and cilantro, as is the usual case, and Francis added kaffir leaves for character. But I also loved how he added white corn for texture, sweet potato to contrast the acidity, mango for some sweetness, and on top just a snip of barramundi skin for crunch. It was a very cohesive ceviche and every bite was pleasurable.

His fourth dish, dedicated to his lovely wife Mayone, was likewise exceptional: squid ink pasta because it is one of her favorite dishes. But Francis upped his squid ink pasta game by using shallots, anchovies, and (best of all!) taba ng talangka for his pasta sauce. And then the dish was finished with lemongrass “para mawala umay”, he explained. It was so good, I could have finished a larger bowl of it.

This was followed by duck, which reaped the approval of Swiss-trained French cooking expert Aleth Ocampo. And a little piece of pork with the crunchiest skin. Then, finally, two courses of elaborate desserts, such as a dalandan ice cream with strawberry coulis, meringue and a rosemary parfait, all in one plate.

Pop Up

It was a really great, well thought out menu and you could see Francis’ passion for cooking with every dish.

Unfortunately, Francis does not have a restaurant with such dishes on display just yet. He is in fact going back to New York in a few days to continue his bartending career.

Hopefully, we can convince him to come to Manila more often and do more of these dinners!

Happy tummies with (standing) Francis Balbarin (in the bandana) and Jonas Ng of James & Daughters.
Happy tummies with (standing) Francis Balbarin (in the bandana) and Jonas Ng of James & Daughters.

In the meantime, check out these upcoming events at James & Daughters:

January 18 – Salsa Night with Don Papa Rum

January 25 – Jazz Night with Ferdie Borja

February 7 – Blues Night

February 13 – Singles Night


James & Daughters by Le Jardin. G/F Westin Residences Manila Sonata, 21st Dr., Fort Bonifacio, Taguig. +63 917 817 6584. Open Monday – Sunday, 11 am to 3 pm and 6 pm to 11 pm. 


A Symphony of Wine: Chateauneuf du Pape at Antonio’s in Tagaytay

Margaux Salcedo appreciating Chateauneuf du Pape

I had the pleasure of being invited by Wine Depot for an evening of wine and classical music at the exceptional fine dining restaurant Antonio’s in Tagaytay over the weekend.

Almost a hundred guests were personally welcomed by Wine Depot Philippines owner Brett Tolhurst and lovely wife Hazel at Wine Depot on N. Garcia (formerly Reposo). We enjoyed some champagne before boarding the coasters where more champagne was served (!) on the way to Tagaytay.

The lovely Hazel Tolhurst of Wine Depot Philippines welcoming guests to the Symphony of Wine Dinner 2017
The lovely Hazel Tolhurst of Wine Depot Philippines welcoming guests to the Symphony of Wine Dinner 2017
Champagne at Wine Depot ReposoChampagne at Wine Depot Reposo
How cute are these tiny bottles of our welcome champagne? I was tempted to drink it straight from the bottle! Perfect too for the cooler on the bus on the way to Tagaytay!

It was such a joy to visit Antonio’s in Tagaytay again. It has always been one of my favorite restaurants in the Philippines, a true example of fine dining and it was great to see that its charm is as enigmatic as ever.

The Symphony of Wines 2017 dinner was held at the award-winning fine dining restaurant of Tonyboy Escalante, Antonio's in Tagaytay.
The Symphony of Wines 2017 dinner was held at the award-winning fine dining restaurant of Tonyboy Escalante, Antonio’s in Tagaytay.

Dinner included Chef Tonyboy’s much loved classics. We started with the Black Prawn Nori Arugula, with greens fresh from the Antonio’s farm next door, of course, and the most juicy prawns in Metro Manila. This was followed by a truly succulent mushroom broth whose aroma and taste reminded one of why Tonyboy Escalante is regaled as Manila’s best chef.

The palate cleanser of Mango Sorbet had my tablemate Simon Cote, formerly of Shangrila, nodding in amazement. “This is really good!” And the Rougie Canard Leg Confit reminded me of the good ol’ days when we would drive all the way to Tagaytay just to taste the duck at this restaurant.

Tonyboy Escalante's classic menu at Antonio's in Tagaytay
Tonyboy Escalante’s classic menu at Antonio’s in Tagaytay paired with Ogier wines.

Dinner was paired with Ogier wines: Cotes du Rhone blanc, Ogier Lirac, Ogier Gigondas Rouge, Ogier Heritages Chateauneuf-du-Pape Red and Clos de L’Oratoire Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge.

The Cotes du Rhone blanc and Lirac have both won Gold at the Concourse International de Lyon while the Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge won Gold at the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

The blanc is a nice and easy white, perfect to start off a simple dinner. Wine connoisseurs describe it as having a “fresh, long, minty fruit finish”. The Lirac, which is a village in Chateauneuf du Pape, is relatively new, created in 1980 and called the “baby Chateauneuf”. It is comprised of what the producers call GSM (Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre) as well as Cinsault. While an easy wine, it has a long vanilla flavor on the finish.

The Gigondas Rouge (Gigonas is another village) is also a GSM. Princess Tenajeros, Export Manager of AdVini, explained that because the terroir Gigondas has more altitude, this wine is more concentrated than the Lirac, with a lot of fruitiness.

Ogier wines were served by Wine Depot at the Symphony of Wines at Antonio's in Tagaytay.
Ogier wines were served by Wine Depot at the Symphony of Wines at Antonio’s in Tagaytay.

My favorite for the night was the Ogier Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2015. After the dinner, I checked Vivino and was happy to see that it had a 4/5 rating. Some give the tip to have it in 5 years yet. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault, it is described by Wine Depot as “brooding black fruits … (with) fruity, spicy and complex layers of flavor” and having “sweet red cherry aromas”. A reviewer at Vivino observed it as fruit forward, with a pronounced sweetness, a “cool grenache nose” and a surprisingly supple finish.

What makes this wine even more interesting, though, I learned after chatting with Princess, is that the wine is named “du Pape” because the Chateauneuf du Pape commune was where the summer palace of the Pope was in the 14th century, just an hour from Avignon. There is actually a ruined medieval castle that still exists above the village which was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon. Possibly as an ode to this memory, the label of the Chateauneuf du Pape, which makes reference to the castle for the Pope, has not been changed since 1926!

Ogier Clos de L'Oratoire Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge
Ogier Clos de L’Oratoire Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge

After dinner, where the stars of the show were the wines, we walked to the beautiful gardens of Antonio’s where the stars were two opera singers, graduates of the University of Sto. Tomas (UST) accompanied by a 10-piece orchestra from the Manila Symphony Orchestra. It was just magical. I had never seen Antonio’s closed for an event or the garden closed for an event. It was so beautiful. It rained, though, so we had to transfer to the Cabana. Which I think was a blessing in disguise because the acoustics got better.

It was truly a magical evening! I may have finished this magnum … shhh!

And I definitely made new friends, which is always wonderful 🙂

Simon Cote and Niguel Arevalo at the Wine Depot's Symphony of Wine 2017.
Niguel Angelo of Wine Depot and Simon Cote, who will be in charge of the expansion of Wine Depot to spirits
Simon Cote from Quebec and Princess Tenajeros from HK at the Wine Depot's Symphony of Wine 2017.
Simon Cote from Quebec and Princess Tenajeros from HK at the Wine Depot’s Symphony of Wine 2017.

Congratulations on another successful wine and opera event, Wine Depot! Hopefully, another one next year? 🙂

Panagbenga Power at The Manor with Alden Richards, Maine Mendoza, Enchong Dee and Bea Alonzo

I always knew that PANAGBENGA was a flower festival. But I never imagined that it would be this elaborate!

It was my first time to attend and I was swept off my feet! It wasn’t so much the variety of flowers as the presentation of the floats that displayed them. Was pleasantly surprised to see floats as big as jeepneys with every last inch of the float covered in flowers or greens!

Here are a few of my favorites:

This one with polar bears complete with sound!

The City of Baguio’s Float

It’s More Fun in the Philippines – The DOT Float 

The Everlasting Monkeys.

Note that the entire monkey is made of Everlasting flowers!

The Green Elephant

The SM Prince and Princess Float

I was also blown away by the costumes of those who walked in the parade depicting flowers! Some of the girls walked the entire stretch of the parade from the Supreme Court compound all the way to past Session Road in heels!

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Naaliw din ako sa headdress ng babaeng ito. I’m sure Gina Lopez would approve of her environmentally conscious hat!

The DILG also gave its all-out support to the City of Baguio with no less than DILG Sec. Ismael Sueño and “PNP Dir. Gen. Bato” present:

And the women of the PNP showed full support wearing these native Igorot skirts

The highlight of the parade for residents, though, was the float that carried the love team of Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza and for ABS CBN the float that carried Bea Alonzo and Enchong Dee. Bea was amazing in engaging the Baguio audience. The Aldub team was more reserved, just smiling and talking between themselves inside their float.

All the VIPs – Alden, Maine, Bea – stayed at the luxurious hotel The Manor in Camp John Hay where my family also happened to be staying at and guess who got a photo op with “that girl” … my mom got her attention by telling her that we are neighbors in Sta. Maria, Bulacan …

"That girl" - Aldub's Maine Mendoza and my gorgeous Mother, Wonder Woman Carmelita "Baby" Salcedo at The Manor at Camp John Hay
“That girl” – Aldub’s Maine Mendoza and my gorgeous Mother, Wonder Woman Carmelita “Baby” Salcedo at The Manor at Camp John Hay

… we also got to meet the charming General Manager of The Manor, Mr Ramon Cabrera (right). If you want a discount at The Manor, look for him, hehe! But if you are a Smart Infinity user – like me since 2008 – you may not need to make sipsip to Mr Cabrera because The Manor and SMART Infinity have tied up for a special program exclusively for their members. According to Ms Marites Pamintuan, Manor’s Marketing Director: Room rates can get anywhere between a 30% to 50% discount.  Smart Infinity members can redeem and use this promotion for the month of March. They can contact their Concierge directly for their room accommodation.”

The men behind the success of Panagbenga (L-R): Freddie Alquiroz, Co-Chairman; Anthony de Leon, Chairman of the Flower Festival Foundation; Ramon Cabrera, General Manager of The Manor at Camp John Hay
The men behind the success of Panagbenga (L-R): Freddie Alquiroz, Co-Chairman; Anthony de Leon, Chairman of the Flower Festival Foundation; Ramon Cabrera, General Manager of The Manor at Camp John Hay

I am definitely coming back next year!

The Manor at Camp John Hay
Camp John Hay, Loakan Road, Baguio City
Baguio: +6374 424 0931 to 43
Manila: +632 584 4892, +632 584 4911


Nikkei: a Japanese-Peruvian Restaurant from the guys behind La Cabrera

Nikkei Ceviche. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for

Stumbled upon this new restaurant after church service at Union Church just today. Beside Wildflour on Rada St. in Legazpi Village is a new Peruvian-Japanese concept restaurant Nikkei.

nikkei 11We got a seat by the bar because the restaurant was full. It can only accommodate maybe 5 groups of 4 (thereabouts) and the bar seats around 8. We ended up sitting by the bar. Just as well, we got a good view of the chef.

His name is Juan Barcos. He is Argentinian, not Peruvian. But highly recommends a trip to Peru. He is also a chef at La Cabrera at 6750 beside Shang Makati.

Nikkei. Japanese Peruvian restaurant on Rada St., Legazpi Vill. Photo by Margaux Salcedo for to the Peruvian theme, ceviche was in order. They have several kinds: the classic ceviche, smoked chili, yellow pepper, green ceviche, salmon thai and tuna. I tried the classic, which was ok. But was more impressed by this one: the yellow pepper. So tasty! It goes well with their sake, which I also loved (light, smooth, slightly sweet – perfect even for lunch!).

nikkei 5The rolls below were given to us complimentary. I have no idea who sent it over. I’m wishing it was some cute single guy LOL but I think it was from one of the partners. As they are just on their 8th day of operations since opening, the partners were themselves bussing out orders. Which was necessary because the servers are very obviously just now getting the hang of serving. I’d estimate for maybe another month, expect around a 15-minute wait for your orders to get to your table.

I think this was the Panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs) Sushi Roll: salmon, avocado, kampyo (shavings from a gourd) and truffled cream cheese. I loved the touch of creaminess and the fact that it did not feel oily in spite of the crusty cover.

nikkei 2 I was also curious about and therefore tried the Causa Appetizers. Ordered the salmon, which comes with guacamole and salmon tartar; and the tako causa, which has octopus confit and guac as well. Be forewarned, though, that these are practically the size of an amuse bouche. They are puny! LOL. Although very tasty. That yellow tower is potato. nikkei 6 nikkei 7 Strongly suggest to order any of the sushi rolls while you wait as these are much bigger. Also thoroughly enjoyed the Ceviche Roll. This is a meal in itself and incredibly fresh, too. nikkei 8

If you have time, by all means, have a main dish. Their pork is Kurobuta – oh so soft and full of fat. And the beef is Kobe. You can ask for a separate bowl of rice.

Also worth a mention is the salmon belly, cooked tempura-style. It is fatty but the batter is not oily at all. It is just a beautiful dish. We had to get another order – it was just so good.

nikkei 9 nikkei 10 For dessert, we did see the waiters bus out a Tres Leches that looked incredible but we did not try this. Because Wildflour is just next door and within that proximity, you just HAVE to order their chocolate cake!

The dishes are a bit on the pricey side. You might feel short-changed esp with the Kobe beef which is P795 for a few small slices. But I think it’s because the ingredients are first rate and the each dish (the ones that we tried anyway) was delicious.

Nikkei Salcedo VillageI would come here for lunch if I had time but I think it’s a better place to unwind with friends after a long day at work! Ceviche and Japanese whisky – what better way to relax after a long day?

nikkei 12Nikkei
Rada St., Legazpi Village, Makati
No reservations
+63927 2730114 / 02 880 0231
Open for lunch and dinner daily (From 3-6 pm only dessert and drinks)
What to order: Yellow Pepper Ceviche, Panko sushi roll, Ceviche roll, Salmon Belly
Wheelchair accessible
Major credit cards accepted

Precioza Farms: A Botanical Farm & Luxury Camp near Tagaytay

I had the privilege of being invited by Dr. Preciosa Soliven, founder of OB Montessori and wife of the late great publisher and writer Max Soliven, to her farm in Tagaytay. It’s a beautiful farm that was borne out of Dr. Soliven’s vision of putting up a self-sufficient farm that would be used for the education of OB Montessori students especially in the fields of agriculture, science, horticulture, and related fields.

It’s a truly educational tour that shows the guest varieties of trees and plants such as these mahogany trees.

Or this row of Dragon Fruit trees. Did you know that it first grows a flower that wilts before the pink Dragon Fruit shows itself.

I was also fascinated by the following plants:

Lemongrass …

Ginger …   Peanuts … Tobacco …

… and corn!!! “If you build it, they will come!” they whispered. IMG_0440

In 2012, they added Asian-themed villas. We got a peek into the villas themed Japan and Thailand …

They now have 12 villas (some with jacuzzi pools!) open to the public. There is also a camp site with a zip line, wall climbing and mini-ampitheater facilities. They are also currently working on building a 1,000 square meter chapel.

But the piece de resistance of the 16.5 hectare property is the Pavilion. There is a sprawling garden leading to it.


The lanai is designed with wood with intricate craftsmanship (look at those doors!) and some works from the personal art collection of Dr. Soliven. 


The second floor offers this serene view.

Our lunch comprised of Tagaytay popular dishes like bulalo and tawilis cooked by OB Montessori’s chef.

Especially loved the fruits fresh from their farm. Their durian and rambutan were so sweet!


The trip was capped with loads of lovely “family pictures”. Especially love this one of Dr. Preciosa Soliven with her golden-haired dog Goldie.


Hope to hold a party here one of these days!

Precioza Botanic Park & Farm Resort
Call 723 9067 for inquiries
Wedding Package P60,000 – P66,000 + P6,000 in excess of 5 hours
Villa rates P4,800 (up to 4 pax) + P600/extra person

Preziosa Farm Map

Motag Living Museum: Planting rice (near Boracay) is fun!

Motag Living Museum Malay Aklan

If you are looking for one more thing to do before leaving Boracay, do check out the Motag Living Museum in Malay, Aklan – just a half hour from Bora.

It was the brainchild of  Nenette Aguirre Graf, barangay captain of Motag in Malay, Aklan, but a lovely English lady named Louise has brought life to the project.

Louise will meet you and your party at the entrance with this greeting:

Then you start the tour. First, Louise will show a basic Aklanon home – their kitchen, their toilet & bath, how they get water (note how she pronounces ‘timba’ (pail) like Simba (the lion) haha) …

I love how their kitchenware are all made from coconut!! And how the stove is made of stone!

Motag Living Museum After a tour of the house, we were brought to the fields where you get to experience what it’s like to be a farmer. I gamely took off my Toms and plunged my feet into the mud. I was surprised to find that it wasn’t icky at all – the mud was soft and warm and it felt like my feet were getting a massage!

Motag Living Museum Aklan Philippines farming agriculture

The view of the rice fields is absolutely breathtaking – although it may be very hot!

Motag Living Museum Malay Aklan Living Museum 7After planting rice (like one plant haha), I got to ride a carabao sleigh. I felt bad that the carabao would have to carry such a heavy thing – me! But if you ever get there, do get on and watch out for the surprise that the carabao will give you midway through the ride!

Motag Living Museum Malay AklanAfterwards, you will be shown how the locals manually mill and grind rice grains. It’s a fun activity for kids and adults alike! Motag Living Museum, ChabeliWhen you are done making rounds, they offer the freshest buko juice you will taste. Sooo good! You can cool down with that and watch these kids at play with their toys made from coconut shells!

The tour is then concluded with this touching farewell song.


What an experience! So happy I got to participate in this. Thank you to Krip Yuson, Mike Marasigan, Binggoy, Nina and Chabeli Remedios and Louise! ❤


The Motag Living Museum is in Malay, Aklan. Details on tours, location, etc on their website:




How Dos Mestizos’ Binggoy Remedios Escapes from the Bustles of Boracay

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay Aklan

Boracay is one of the most popular beaches in the world, ranked 7th best beach in the world by Trip Advisor. But it’s become quite the party place, compared by some to Ibiza, more than the laid back pristine beach that Boracay originals first fell in love with.

So what have the originals done? The guys who moved to Boracay decades ago before techno became a music genre?

Well I don’t know about the rest but Binggoy Remedios, owner of Dos Mestizos, has managed to leave the bustles of the new Boracay without actually leaving the island: he has created his own little paradise just half an hour away, in Malay, Aklan. So he’s near the sand and the restaurants that have grown with the Boracay’s development, but still able to maintain the lifestyle of serenity and oneness with nature that he moved to Aklan for to begin with.

He calls his home Finca Verde. It started out as just his home with Niña Bustamante and daughter Chabeli but now the 1.5 hectare property has four huts that are available to guests. We were privileged to stay in this one with this gorgeous bed:

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanFinca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanI was amazed at what they had done with the property. Binggoy admits that he just “ouido’ed” building it and Niña proudly shares that the labyrinth was built by Binggoy and even the “tiles” in the toilet were rocks from the river attached to the property.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay Aklan
The labyrinth at Finca Verde using rocks from the property’s attached river

Daugther Chabeli’s playground is pretty huge! She literally crosses a river and says hi to the cow on the adjacent property!  Finca 12Mommy Niña, meanwhile, keeps busy with their little “farm”. They grow arugula, special greens and herbs.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanThey literally just pick from here if you want a salad or just want to jazz up your dish with tarragon or cilantro. And when they want juice? Buko doesn’t get fresher than this!

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanThey also showed us this 100 year old tree just down the road.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanAnd in the afternoon, Niña showed us these local berries, just below the hut.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay Aklan
My sister Goldee picking indigenous berries at Finca Verda

If you have time, visit the Motag Living Museum, where Englishwoman Louise personally gives a guided tour for a fresh perspective of our agricultural history, which we so awfully take for granted. She makes it all sound exotic and interesting – which it really is! We totally underappreciate our farms and our peoples. Louise lives right next door to Binggoy and Nina and we caught her by her hammock as we walked around the grounds.Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanFinally, at night, you can make a bonfire right here and cook smores to match a bottle of whiskey. Then look up. The stars here are so bright you almost believe you can reach them.

Finca Verde Binggoy Remedios Nina Bustamante Resort Farm Boracay AklanAn unbelievable escape!

Finca Verde
By reservation only.
Brgy. Nabaoy, Malay, Aklan
+63 998 545 7279