An Ode to Fruits and The Summer That We Missed

When I was younger, summer days looked like this: my best friend and I texting our crush at the same time just to see who he’d reply to first, calling my neighbors on the telephone to ask them if they were free to play, and sticky hands dripping with the juice of a beautiful ripe mango

This year, because of the pandemic, we missed summer. It passed us by like a dream. But that doesn’t mean we can’t relive it.

One random day I had the idea to buy Tajin (a lime and chili seasoning) online to season my mangoes with. But, being the lola that I am (aka I don’t really subscribe to online shopping), I decided to make do with whatever we had at home instead. 

I realized that the Filipino savory fruit combination is usually paired with something salty, like green mangoes and bagoong, saging na saba and ginamos — just about any fruit with salt. I wanted a variant that wasn’t only salty but could easily be bought in groceries or Santi’s. 

I decided that it would be a day dedicated to matchmaking fruits and spices. 

I think food and poetry are a natural match to elicit that sense of nostalgia. So I asked Gian Lao to write a haiku that I could pair with my fruit and spices combination. 

Gian is a writer contributing to different publications, including CNN Philippines, ANCX, and Esquire Philippines. He is also a notable poet and one of the people I look up to when it comes to creative writing. Aside from this, he has superb rapping skills that I am patiently waiting for him to unleash to the world. I secretly jumped for joy when he said yes to writing for me. 

I’d like to relive that feeling of summer with you through this. To quote Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited “If it could only be like this always – always summer, always alone, the fruit always ripe..”

Mango

The colored market street
the people handing mangoes
summers we once had

Recipe: Ripe mango, lime, chili flakes

Melon

Sweet air at the tip
above the mountain fog,
ants on the ripest fruit

Recipe: Melon, slightly crushed pink peppercorn, honey

Honeydew

Slippers off, we leave
traces on the upward path
our skin blessed by dirt

Recipe: Honeydew, cayenne, honey

Strawberry

A mouth in slumber
until it spoke “strawberry”
a sunrise in sound

Recipe: Strawberry,
crushed black pepper

Pineapple

These eyes pining
for every sort of fire
having known no fire

Recipe: Grilled pineapple, paprika
*Put paprika before grilling

Banana

The scent of the wood
of the trees in the tropics
of a love grown old

Recipe: Grilled banana, cardamom, (less than a pinch) of chili flakes

Filipino Comfort Food and Natural Wine

At the end of a long work day coming home to a bowl of monggo soup is a warm hug for the soul. But on some days I wish I had a drink to pair it with. I have no idea what would go well with our local comfort dishes.

Since I’ve been fond of natural wine, I did a Filipino pairing with my friend Sam Ong of Wine Therapy PH. Sam started this wine company to educate and elevate the Manila wine scene through awesome wine, wine classes and events. Sam is a CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine) and was my seat mate back in grade school. She was part of the basketball team then and actually did not start drinking ‘til college but  here she is now trying to change the wine scene one drink at a time or maybe two. 

For our pairing, I cooked some of my favorite Filipino comfort meals while Sam prepared the natural wine and champagne. We did this pairing at home and, like Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg’s Potluck Dinner Party, it was an unexpected match. 

Wine pairings are subjective and I’d like to share our personal opinion (that you absolutely did not ask for).

If you’re wondering what natural wine is – or maybe you’re not because you’re a millennial- it’s wine that has no additives or chemicals. As per Sam, “the grape is left to grow and ferment on its own”, nothing added or taken away. It’s produced without all the additives, chemicals, and sulfites (sometimes a tad bit to preserve the wine), and the yeast it uses is wild yeast not commercial so it makes the grape the main ingredient. But also know that natural wine has no official definition — it’s really just fine, honest, proper wine made the old-fashioned way. Soon, I hope, it will just be called wine. It was actually hard to get natural wine, sellers here easily run out of stock and not all wine sellers have one. 

Taste-wise, I find it earthy, sort of like kombucha at times. Another reason why natural wine is interesting is because it does not feel snobbish. There are real people behind making natural wine who you can actually meet. I have Action Bronson to thank for introducing this “natural” wine movement a few years ago in his Munchies episode.  

The four dishes I cooked were lumpiang gulay, monggo soup, kare-kare, and okoy to pair with two natural red wines, a natural orange wine, and a natural champagne. According to Sam, pairings are done by trying each dish with each drink. It’s not as rigid as a drink should go with a certain dish. At the end of it all, it’s more about your personal preference.

Monggo soup and Ecce Homo 2018 Domaine Des Balmettes 

About the soup: Every person has their own monggo soup preference. I like my monggo a bit soupy and salty with hibi (small salty shrimp), tomatoes, onions, alugbati, pork, and fried pork fat on top. It was Sam’s first time to try monggo soup by the way. Happy to have introduced this to her. 

About the wine: Orange wine from Roussillon, France Winemaker: Lucian Salani. 

Orange wine is basically just white wine with skin contact. For white white you just press the juice out but with orange wine you leave the skin on for some time with the juice. It depends how you want it to taste like but it’s the skin that imparts the color. 

Where the wine was bought: Tokyo, Japan (From previous travels before the pandemic. Hello, Philippine government stop EJK, JUNK TERROR LAW, renew ABSCBN’s franchise, help the jeepney drivers, and focus on COVID-19.)

Why was it good together? 

Aside from the fact that I love orange wine, the wine with a refreshing brioche taste paired with the rich soup brings out the flavor of each of the monggo ingredients. Since the monggo tends to drown all the other flavors with its weight, the orange wine pulls it right through. 

Okoy and El Marciano Garnacha Alfredo Maestro 2018

About the merienda: I can’t remember the last time I had okoy before this but I’m pretty sure it was from our Lola’s cook, Enrie. I’d eat more than I can in one sitting whenever Enrie makes it. So I made okoy using her recipe with small unshelled shrimps, squash, and bean sprouts but I lessened the cornstarch a bit. 

About the wine: Red wine from Ribera del Duero, Spain Producer: Alfredo Maestro Tejero. For this wine, the grapes are crushed before fermentation which gives it more body and tannins.

Where the wine was bought: Sommelier Selection / Origine Wines

Why was it good together? Maybe because the starch was a bit heavy and the wine complimented that heaviness. Frankly, it just was.

Kare-kare and El Rey del Glam 

About the ulam: For this hearty peanut stew that is made with time and effort, you need almost two days. A day to soften the ox tail and another to make the dish itself. You also should pulverize toasted rice to add to your peanut sauce. This already saucy dish still has sauce for it —  bagoong — which is why I consider this my top ulam. It’s just so extra. 

About the wine: Red wine from Castilla y Leo, Spain Producer: Alfredo Maestro Tejero

Carbonic Maceration was the method used for this wine. Which means, the grapes are left in a tank without crushing them. The weight of the grapes will start to crush itself. That makes the wine really juicy, fruity, good acidity, and low tannin. This one is almost like red fruit bubblegum.

Where the wine was bought: Sommelier Selection / Origine Wines

Why was it good together? The Kare-kare and the wine have the same fullness. Usually you need to match the weight of the food and the wine so they don’t overpower each other.

Fried Lumpiang Gulay and Champagne Marie Courtin 2015 Cuvee Resonance 

About the merienda: In grade school, people lined up for this dish, putting tons of suka all over it. Among the dishes I prepared, this was Sam’s favorite. I used fresh lumpia wrapper that’s super thin from the market which made the dish extra fresh

About the champagne: Pinot Noir from Champagne, France  Producer: Marie Courtin

This was a random pick. We both wanted to try natural champagne. This particular Champagne used stainless steel in their fermentation/production.

What makes natural champagne natural? It has low sulfite and is unfiltered.

Where the wine was bought: Premium Wine Exchange (PWX)

Why was it good together? Out of all the pairings this was the best one. The champagne is bone dry and even if it is, the lumpia made the champagne sweet and highlighted its flavor very well. Who would have thought our grade school merienda would go well with champagne?

Merienda from the Panaderia

I wonder how that panaderia at the corner of Wilson street is doing? I hope it’s thriving in this pandemic. Surely, I’m yearning for the long-gone simpler days, that day and age when food didn’t have stars to signify how good it was, when trying something for the first time had no basis or bias. 

In this case, bread. 

In grade school, I was lucky if there was Bicho-Bicho, Spanish bread, or sometimes Pan de Regla when I got home after tutor. If there was, merienda would be by the kitchen with our helpers — these breads would have been foreign to me if it weren’t for them, by the way. Aside from my family, they’ve opened me up to so many Filipino fare. That is my last memory of having these classic panaderia bread. 

So I tried my hand at making a batch. What I did not know was that bread is hard to make just by hand. Home bakers probably use mixers to make their lives easier. I chose to make bread the hard way. I wonder why too but I guess I just like it like that.

With the first attempt, what I ate were my mistakes. I made a full heavy on the dough bread when Bicho-Bicho is supposed to be a bit airy and light like a donut. For the Spanish bread I put too much flour and also lacked kneading. My gosh, the bread tasted like sand and was freshly stale. I couldn’t bear to eat it myself. It’s a far cry from what I used to have. 

The thing that they never tell you in cookbooks is that your dough can be sticky at first but you don’t have to keep on adding flour especially since this isn’t part of the recipe. It just needs more kneading (I thank God for my friend who sent me this tip).

With some pointers, I kind of got the hang of it the second time around. I knew the things I had to alter such as the measurement of the flour, the thickness of the dough, so on and so forth. It was an entire day of kneading and nursing the dough, always waiting for it to rise.

“This better be good, not just edible” I thought to myself right after the Spanish bread was placed inside the oven. A good sign was that it smelled like coconut while it was baking this time. I was already relieved. 

After some time crossing my fingers and praying to the dough gods to make this a success, the time finally came to put it out of the oven. It’s softer, the filling tasted like how I expected it to be — coconut-y and buttery — and it actually looks like Spanish bread now. It’s definitely better than the first one. The Bicho on the other hand is almost at par with what I used to have. The difference is the amount of air. My Bicho needs more of that panaderia oxygen. Please speak to me if you know how to achieve an airy Bicho.

When it comes to Asian donuts China has Youtiao, Korea has Kkwabaegi, Philippines has Bicho-Bicho. I would like to assume the Philippines was first in the game. Spanish bread, despite its namesake, is ultimately ours. But because it is rolled like an ensaymada with sugar and butter it has been named thus. Calling it Filipino bread would be strange anyway. This is all a theory, mind you.

In older recipes, Spanish bread would have grated coconut together with the brown sugar and butter filling. This is the way I like it and used to have it from that corner panaderia. If there was no coconut it was just like eating sugar and margarine on toasted bread — I still can’t get up to now what children like about that combination. I guess different people like it in different ways. What I know is if you can’t buy from your local bakery, making it at home is the most convenient and simple thing to do, no stars or recommendation needed – just choice. 

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What you need to know:

How to knead

How to shape dough balls

Bicho-Bicho (10 5-inch pieces, 2.5 hours prep)

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm milk
  • 1 egg at room temperature
  • 1 tbsp cooled melted butter

For frying: 3 cups vegetable oil

Cinnamon sugar: 4 tbsp sugar, 3 tsp cinnamon

Recipe

  • Prepare a large bowl and mix the dry ingredients for the dough: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp table salt, 1 tsp white sugar, and 1 tsp active dry yeast. Mix it and make a well in the center to make space for your wet ingredients.
  • In another bowl, mix the 1/2 cup warm milk, 1 egg at room temperature, and 1 tbsp cooled melted butter together. Pour this mixture into the well you made with the dry ingredients. Mix it all ’til it forms into a dough. 
  • Transfer your dough onto a clean table for kneading. Knead the dough until it becomes smoother. 10 minutes is fine. (Remember not to keep on adding flour-it is not part of the recipe. Do not repeat my mistakes.)
  • If you see your dough is smoother, not as sticky as it was, you can now put the dough into a the bowl. Cover this with a damp cloth, and set it aside in room temp for 1 hour.
  • Your dough has risen. Put your fist in the dough to put the air out then put it on your kneading table again. 
  • Divide the dough into 10 equal square parts. Then shape it up into a ball. (Do not over do this as well). Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest again for 10 mins.
  • Roll each piece of dough into a thin log around 10 inches in length, fold it in half and form a twisted dough then close the ends together. 
  • Then cover it again for an hour with a damp towel to let it rise.
  • Prepare 4 tbsp sugar and 3 tsp cinnamon on a plate where you will put your Bicho after frying. 
  • Put 3 cups of vegetable oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Your oil is ready for frying if it boils and bubbles.
  • Fry each doughnut on each side until both sides are golden brown. Use a thong for this. 
  • When the bicho-bicho is already golden brown, immediately remove it and put it on your cinnamon- sugar. Spoon the cinnamon-sugar all over the Bicho to make sure all the corners of your Bicho are coated.
  • Serve your Bicho with dulce de leche. 

Spanish Bread (10 pieces, 2 hours prep)

Ingredients

For the dough:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup full cream
  • 2 tbsp Cannola oil

For the filling:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup shredded coconut
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose cream
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1/8 cup bread crumbs

Bread crumb coating: 1 cup bread crumbs

Recipe

  • Prepare a large bowl and mix the dry ingredients for the dough: 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 tsp active dry yeast, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 cup brown sugar. Mix it and make a well in the center.Pour in your wet ingredients: 1 cup full cream milk and 2 tbsp Cannola oil. Mix it all until it forms into a dough. 
  • Transfer your dough onto a clean table for kneading. Knead the dough until it becomes smoother. 10 minutes is fine. (Remember not to keep on adding flour-it is not part of the recipe. Do not repeat my mistakes.)
  • If you see your dough is smoother, not as sticky as it was, you can now put the dough into a bowl. Cover this with a damp cloth, and set it aside in room temp for 1 hour.
  • While waiting, make your Spanish Bread filling: Combine 1/3 cup unsalted butter, 1 cup light brown sugar, 2/3 cup shredded coconut, 2 tbsp all-purpose cream, 1 tbsp water, 1/8 cup bread crumbs
  • Your dough has risen. Put your fist in the dough to put the air out then put it on your kneading table again. 
  • Divide the dough into 10 equal square parts. Then shape it up into a ball. (Do not over do this as well). Cover the dough with a damp towel and let it rest again for 10 mins.
  • Start shaping your dough into a Spanish bread by stretching it lengthwise around 5-6 inches. (you may use a rolling pin or a wine bottle if you do not have one). Flatten the lower portion of the dough leaving a thick top (1/8 of the top is thick the rest is flat). 
  • Put 3 tbsps of the filling and spread it equally from top to bottom. Stretch the sides of the top part that is 1/8 thick, connect it together in the middle then roll your dough til the end. Close the ends of your roll by tucking the ends inwards.
  • Place your rolls into a bowl of 1 cup bread crumbs. Make sure your rolls are covered in it.
  • Now place the rolls on a baking tray that’s lightly oiled (Cannola will do). Cover with a damp towel for 1 hour. 
  • Preheat your oven to 350°F and bake your bread for 15 mins. 

Tuklasin: Kakanin

Tibok-tibok

I am not a cook. As I’ve said in my about page, one of the reasons I’m starting this blog is to journey on mastering making kakanin (rice cake). My first kakanin attempt is Tibok-tibok, my favorite and one of the most underrated kakanins

Tibok comes from the phrase, “tibok ng puso” or heartbeat which is also an indicator that your Tibok-tibok is cooked- if it starts to beat in the pan. I’m not in love but my heart beat too with self-love as I ate my byproduct of milky goodness and realized how my kakanin pursuit was a success. 

As a kid, I’d constantly visit Pampanga with my parents and would request that we stop by Susie’s for Tibok-tibok. Unfortunately, I have not been back so I got a recipe online that would be as close to the Tibok-tibok I know. According to my non-biased mom and two of my good friends they like this more than Susie’s. They’re just being honest, promise! So yes, I’m definitely not a cook but this turned out pretty good. Better than I expected. Beat that. 

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • For the Latik (coconut topping): 2 cups Kakang gata (coconut cream)
  • 2 cups Carabao’s milk (fresh cow’s milk can be a substitute)
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch (I prefer this than rice flour)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar

Process:

Latik

  1. Using a non-stick pan, pour 2 cups of the Kakang gata
  2. In medium heat, consistently stir the gata to prevent it from solidifying. During this process the coconut oil begins to separate from the curds. 
  3. When the curds are golden brown, strain the curds from the oil. Let your curds cool. Try it, it’s good. Don’t forget it’s your topping.
  • I kind of overcooked my coconut curds it became a bit crunchy. What you want to achieve are soft brown curds. I had to bathe my curds in its oil for it to soften.

Milk Pudding

  1. Get 1/4 of milk from the 2 cups. Mix the milk, cornstarch, sugar in a small bowl and whisk until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Over low heat, pour the rest of the milk in the pan and let it simmer for about a minute
  3. You don’t want a lumpy pudding. Pour the sugar and cornstarch mixture in through a strainer.
  4. Stir until the mixture thickens. The mixture will bubble. When you see the first bubble it means it’s ready to be taken out of the heat.
  5. Transfer the pudding right after in a greased pyrex or container. I greased mine with the coconut oil from the Latik.
  6. Even out the mixture in the container making sure your pudding has no air bubbles
  7. Let the mixture cool down in room temp then cover. You can put it in the fridge if you want to eat it cold. 
  8. Put the Latik on top (like so. As YouTubers would say)
  9. Serve.
  • I like mine served hot so I let it cool in the fridge then prepare myself a microwaved Tibok-tibok. It’s a milky, coconut-y party that melts in the mouth.

Why I Cling To Food

It’s been a while — seventy eight days to be exact, since the community quarantine was enforced due to COVID-19. This is the first time I’ve been at home with my parents for this long. To help flatten the curve, it’s one of our main responsibilities to stay home during this crisis. Most families now are probably solving puzzles, playing chess, and hearing mass together online. My family and I are different — we have our own lives. We keep to ourselves more often than not. Despite living under one roof, we’re only ever with each other at the dinner table with the one constant thing that gathers us: food. 

I was 4 when I learned what delicious meant. My parents had brought me, my brother, and my yaya to Sugi, a Japanese restaurant originally located in Greenhills. There was so much food on the table but even then, as a child, the few dishes that stuck to me were the Gindara (black cod) in Teriyaki sauce, eggplant in Bonito flakes, and the shrimp tempura. At this age, I already noticed how united we were as a family when there was food we can ultimately enjoy. But I also noticed how we remained silent, savoring and being one with what was in front of us. When words were not enough, food was our way to connect. 

Sunday lunches were a weekly family tradition when my grandparents were alive. Lolo and lola would host this for our family of seventeen which included them, me, my two siblings, eight cousins, and our parents. My grandparents are from Pampanga and as people coming from the Sisig capital of the country, they know good food. 

One of those Sundays with my lolo’s siblings & my mom’s cousins. (lolo and lola are on the left most)

If we chose to have our Sunday lunch in our grandparents’ house it meant that we were going to have a feast. A feast that wouldn’t be possible without Enrie, our family cook. She was in charge of cooking the Sunday menu curated by my lola. Among the many dishes she would prepare, Enrie’s Lengua Estofado (beef tongue in tomato sauce and olives) was loved by all. 

The lengua with its tomato braised sauce is the perfect combination with rice. I mean, it’s usually the sauce that makes a comforting Filipino meal. For dessert, what I loved was the Canonigo (a fluffy meringue served with Cointreau and custard sauce, as big as a cake). I can finish an entire Canonigo in a heartbeat but had to share, of course. 

In any Filipino family, the last thing that should not be forgotten would be the take home. Whatever’s left from the feast is divided amongst us. We are always thoughtful in a way that we want to extend joy as long as it can last and in this case in our tummies. 

My cousins and I (missing three more in this photo)

Tama na yan!” I would remember my lola say, as my cousins and I gorge on the freshly popped chicharon on the table. And that was how a bunch of very different people got together on Sundays- the only time we saw each other in a week. We were those kids who once played tag in the garden, swam under the rain, and stuffed our faces with anything made by Enrie. It was both chaotic and delightful.

This brings me back to the reason as to why I had grown a penchant for food. Eating to share the same experience of joy, curiosity, and maybe even disappointment was something everyone enjoyed. Food connected us. 

Now, all of those seem like a memory I don’t even know when we can recreate. With everything up in the air, I shall hold on to those moments of sharing a meal across each other, in one table, hoping that one day Sunday lunches bring back the concept of eating- together.