Sunday, December 22, 2013

Baguio in December

I currently live in one of the most humid provinces in the Philippines. One of the few wishes I have every Christmas is to have holidays with at least a mild semblance of the cold cheer that comes with the holidays. Sadly, my wishes are not always granted. I realized that I had to improvise.

This December, a small group of people and I made our way up to Baguio to experience what this Christmas city had to offer for us. Here's what transpired during our very eventful trip.

The first shot is of the huge Christmas tree in the middle of Session Road. The tree is located on a small concrete island in the middle of a rotunda. I thought a shot of the tree would look interesting with the swirling red and yellow tail lights around it. To get this shot, we had to climb up the roof (and by roof, I mean inclined metal sheet roofing) that was slippery with fog in order to get an overlooking view of the tree.

We visited Mines View Park (pictured below) in hopes of a scenic view of the majestic mountains of Benguet. We were very lucky that cloud cover was minimal, hence the shot below. Tourists were literally swarming over the place though. Hard to get a good shot.

Also visited the iconic Burnham Park (pictured below) to get a shot of the little swan shaped gondolas that they float in the middle of the man made lake. If I'm not mistaken, Php 250.00 gets you a one hour ride on the swan. I'm not too sure just how many people they allow on though.

Headed to the Tam-awan Village too. Located upon a lush hillside, this native village contains straw huts, native arts and installations that speak volumes about Cordilleran craftsmanship and culture. This village offers visitors to Baguio a glimpse at what life is deeper inside the mountains. They also have a mini-trail there which we proceeded to hike on.

The village is open everyday from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM and charges an entrance fee (for adults) of Php 50.00. You can check out their website here: LINK

No Baguio trip would be complete without horseback riding. We headed over to Camp John Hay to hit the trails. To rent a horse for an hour, we paid Php 350 per person. If you are in a small group, or even if you're alone, it is required that you hire a guide as well. The guide cost Php 350 per hour too. This trail was different from the previous ones I've been on since we tackled a very steep hill. Our horses were panting and bounding up the slope while we tried to keep up right in our saddles and refrain from falling off! 

One of the best restaurants we went to in Baguio was the Oh My Gulay! Restaurant in VOCAS (Victor Oteyza Community Art Space). This restaurant is a mix of both art exhibit and vegetarian cafe. Located on the top floor of a 4 story building, this cafe has all the elements of an eclectic wooden art showroom with quirks and oddities all around. (Refer to the second picture from below). Struck me as a large Hobbit hole.

The food was some of the best vegetarian fare I have ever tasted. They had us eating flowers and leaves. But, damn, they were delicious plants. Here are some things they served us. Their specialty, Anak ng Putanesca (around Php 150), which was vegetarian putanesca, Bulaklak Tempura (second from top, around Php 130, made from real flowers!) and Lumpia Salad (bottom, Php 130)

Here's a link from one of my favorite food and restaurant bloggers in the Philippines about Oh My Gulay! (LINK)

Took time to visit the Ben Cab Museum for the second time this year. (Actually, I need to write a separate post about this. Soon, hopefully.) The Ben Cab Museum is home and gallery of the national artist Benedicto Cabrera himself. "BenCab" as he is fondly called is a master at the visual arts. His paintings of his muse called 'Sabel' are beautiful and ethereal in my opinion.

His museum is located on a rather large farm lot along Asin Road near the town of Tuba, Benguet which is around 45 minutes away from Baguio City proper. This is one of the most beautiful museums I've been to. The museum is located on a hilltop overlooking a valley which has a river running through it. They have terraced gardens which grow organic vegetables along the hillside as well as ponds where fish and ducks roam free. Truly a beautiful place that goes together with beautiful paintings. (I need to write a post about this soon!)

BenCab Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays with Mondays off from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. They charge a fee of Php 100.00 for entrance. You can check out their official website here: (LINK)

Visited the famed Straberry Fields of La Trinidad, Benguet too. I wrote another blog post about that, you can check it out here: (LINK)

Basically, it's a 30 minute drive from Baguio and strawberry picking costs around Php 250-350 per kilo of strawberries.

Lastly, Christmas in Baguio wouldn't be Christmas without experiencing the beautiful decorations of some of the swankiest hotels in the Philippines. For me, the award for this year's most festive hotel would have to go to The Manor in Camp John Hay. Here are the decorations in their enormous garden.

It was a great trip. I can't wait to do it again sometime soon. Next Christmas perhaps? :)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Baguio: The Strawberry Fields of La Trinidad

The Strawberry Fields of La Trinidad

Probably one of the most iconic things to do while around Baguio City is to go and pick strawberries. The town adjacent to Baguio called La Trinidad in Benguet province provides travelers the opportunity to do just that. Fresh strawberries can be picked at your leisure and promptly eaten afterwards. Read on to find out more.

Okay, so you're in Baguio and you've done ze horseback riding in Camp John Hay, you've already gone to Mines View park and had your picture taken with those ginormous St. Bernards, and you're tired of riding around on those little swan boats they have in Burnham park. Question... What do you do next? You go pick some strawberries of course! (Na-na-na-na-na)

When one thinks of Baguio, one will definitely think about strawberries. These delicious little buggers are what moistens the taste buds of even the hardiest of food lovers this side of the country. It doesn't help that Baguio people make all kinds of stuff from these fruits like Strawberry cakes (Viszco's comes to mind) and Strawberry jams (Mountain Maid, anyone?) Heck, I've even seen some strawberry wine and I wouldn't mind trying that out either!

But have you ever wondered where they grow most of these things? Well I have. During my recent trip to Baguio, our little group found out just where we could pick these red treats ourselves.

Located around 15 minutes away from Baguio City proper lies the little town of La Trinidad. This little town has the honor of carrying the title of 'Strawberry Capital of the Philippines' and it does carry it proudly for a good reason. Nestled within the center of this town lies the Benguet State University Strawberry and Vegetable Farm or the BSU-S&VF (just kidding, I totally made that acronym up :p). This sprawling farm is located in the heart of the valley. It is as though a large carpet of vegetables and strawberries are growing right in the center of a bowl of hill houses and mountains that form its flanks.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bacolod: Sipalay's Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach, Sipalay City, Negros Occidental

Many people know not of the beauty of the beaches of Negros Island. I hope this blog post about Sugar Beach in Sipalay City, Negros Occidental shows people that Negros is not only known for endless rows of sweet sugarcane, but it can also be known for the virgin and saccharine beaches that call this island home. During this trip to paradise, we stayed in Punta Bulata Beach Resort which was a safe and relaxing haven for would be adventurers because of its first class accommodations and soothing spas. 

Sugar Beach, Sipalay City, Negros Occidental, Philippines
Did I ever tell you guys that I lived in paradise? Well, here are the pictures to prove it.

Many people think that all there is to see in Negros are just field after field after field that are filled with sugarcane. What most of them don't know is that we have some pretty awesome beaches too. You just have to know where to look. Oh, and having a car to drive you out about 160 kilometers should do the trick too. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Building A Sandwich

So I've been wanting to build a sandwich lately... You'll notice I said 'build' rather than 'make'. By 'build' I mean I needed to construct a sandwich that was photogenic enough to be pictured. If you want your food to look good on camera, you must must must have it Food Styled. (Yes, there is such a word). Read more about it on the Wikipedia definition here: (Link)

In order to have your food styled, you'll need a food stylist. A food stylist works hand in hand with the photographer in taking care of the technical culinary details involved in preparing the food for the camera. (Example: Food Stylist takes care of the cooking, plating and props, Food Photographer takes care of the lighting, camera settings, picture taking, etc.)

A food stylist must be trained in the art of cooking as well as know the basics of photography in order to jive with the food photographer. He or she is absolutely essential to a food photography shoot.

But unfortunately for me, I don't know any food stylists around Bacolod so I had to be my very own stylist-slash-photographer. I really would prefer working with a stylist since running back and forth from the kitchen to the shooting area is tedious. Not to mention oil or food stains that can contaminate your camera from handling the food. Anyway, since this is just a pet project of mine, I dabbled and practiced my food styling as well. It was pretty fun! But a bit frustrating nonetheless. I need a more experienced food stylist to teach me the ropes if I ever hope to continue playing dual roles at one time.

Just to give you an idea of the process of food styling, I'll be posting a bit more about it later.

So to finish off this lengthy intro, allow me to introduce you to my manwich.

This baby is a Ham-Salami sandwich composed of a freshly baked loaf of whole wheat mixed grains, an immaculate bed of fresh organic lettuce and tomatoes, creamy cheddar cheese, gracious slices of Milano Salami and Farmer's ham, seasoned with horseradish (not in picture) and black olives. Served with a side of your regular Lays Sour and Cream chips and a huge bottle of Tsingtao beer. (I should've gone for a German beer [maybe Erdinger] but hey, that was the only thing in the ref.)

So here's the process that this sandwich underwent:

So you start off with a chopping board and a white background. I chose a wooden board for this since I wanted a more 'natural' treatment.

You toast and place your whole wheat mixed grains bread. Also place a piece of corkboard under the slice of bread for added elevation.

Add the Lays Chips via the use of a tweezer for greater accuracy.

Grab some fresh organic lettuce (make sure you put it in the chiller right away after you get home as this preserves the color). Dunk the lettuce in ice cold water, wipe it off, then place it on the bread. Make sure to spray some water droplets on the lettuce after placing to connote freshness. 

Note: Placed a corkboard under the lettuce for added elevation. 

Add some tomatoes. Also make sure to spray water droplets on them .

Add some of the cheese. I wanted the cheese to stand out here so I took one whole piece of cheese and sliced it into four parts so that I could make them overlap. (Note: cheese is hard to work with as it sticks on porcelain and has a tendency to break into pieces. Workaround: a cheese board perhaps? I don't really know)

Tried to add a corkboard to the cheese for added elevation. Didn't work out. Removed.

Arranged the cheese in an overlapping manner.

Added the Farmer's ham. Cut one piece into two slices, overlapping.

Added the Milano Salami.

Note: Brushed both the Ham and the Salami with cooking oil in order to make it glisten more. Connoting freshness.

Added the sliced and pitted black olives via tweezer.

Placed 2 toothpicks on top of the salami for foundation then added the bread.

Added one more tooth pic in order to elevate the top layer of bread.

Placed the green olive with tootpick above for added aesthetic value. 

Chopped some parsley into fine bits then garnished on the sandwich. Adjusted using tweezers.

Now to add the props. Took out a green beer bottle (Tsingtao) Added to the background. 

Added table napkin with contrasting color pattern to the foreground to fill empty space. Voila! Finished.

Here's what the setup looked like:

Items Used:
1. Foldable Light Tent - Perfect for small dishes and very portable.
2. Nikon SB-700 with lightstand and bracket for main light.
3. Tweezers - for moving small objects around.
4. Scissors
5. Toothpicks - for holding things into place with soft foods (like bread)
6. Corkboard - for elevation.
7. Swiss Army Knife - never leave home without it. In this case, used as a paper weight lol
8. Small Standing Mirror - as a mini reflector.
9. Reflective paper - stuck to the side of the light tent with adhesive.
10. Modeling Knife - to precisely cut small foods (like cheese)
11. Toolbox - to keep the rest of your magic tricks.
12. Bowl with Brush and Cooking Oil - apply cooking oil to meat via brush to add the glisten that connotes freshness.
13. Blower with Brush - to get rid of small specs of dust on the set.
14. Painter's Spatula - to spread sauces.

Exif Data:
Nikon D7000 with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 @ f/8, 1/125, ISO 100
Also used Nikon 40mm f/2.8 Micro

Post Processing Data:
Minor tweaks in Lightroom. One focus stacking done with Photoshop.

Whew. Well that's that! Haha

Sunday, September 29, 2013

This My Jam!

No wait, this literally is 'my jam' haha So aside from growing sugarcane on our farm, my dad decided to experiment with some things and planted an orchard filled with mangoes about 7 years ago. It was only until recently that the trees started to bear fruit. Not expecting much, we hauled them back to our house and proceeded to sample the literal 'fruits of our labor'.

Boy, were we surprised when we tasted our mangoes.

Sweet nectar of the gods. I ain't exaggerating. It was like the mango trees sucked up the sugar from the sugarcane stalks growing beside them and greedily loaded them up in their fruits. Ever since that fateful day a few years ago, we've been planting more and more mangoes in hopes of turning this into something bigger than a backyard project.

Now one of my little experiments ever since coming home to help with the family business is to look for alternative ways to sell our mangoes. My problem is this: we don't have a stable bulk buyer yet. This means that we usually sell our mangoes at 'farm gate' ( a.k.a. really cheap) price to middle men who come from the towns that surround our farm. Don't get me wrong, we usually sell out within the day that the fruits are harvested, but the thing is we have to sell it to them cheap since we haven't been able to find a bigger buyer.

Anyway, I'll get to fixing that buyer problem soon, but in the mean time, I wanted to develop an alternative to selling mango fruits. I was looking for something with the following criteria: (1) Must have a long shelf-life (mango fruits usually only last 2-3 weeks in fruit form), (2) Must be able to be branded and (3) Must be able to be exported easier than exporting fruits (export laws are friggin' hard!)

With these three points in mind, I set out to look for alternatives. After spending some time researching, I was able to come to the conclusion that mango jam fit all three criteria quite nicely. I found a good recipe and I set out to make my own jam.

It was a bit challenging at first since I'm not that good in cooking, but with enough hard work and perseverance, I was able to come up with my first batch of jam. It was as sour. How sour? My family mistook it for calamansi jam. Oh well. Back to the drawing board, on the second try, I was able to get the general taste of what I was going for in the first place: jam that isn't too sweet that it'll instantly give you diabetes, but jam that has just the right amount of cloying sweetness as well as a nice little hint of tartness to it. And thus, my jam was born.

You can now see my jam below, chilling on some toasted whole wheat bread that has been generously slathered with delicious creamy cheese.

Up next, refinement of the recipe, the need to consult a proper food technologist, and branding & packaging :) Oh and taste testing of course! Any volunteers?

In case you're wondering how I shot this, here's the set up below:

Camera Info: Nikon D7000 with Nikon 17-55mm f/2.8 & Nikon 40mm f/2..8 Macro
Exif Data: For most shots, Aperture: f/8, Shutter Speed: 1/160 or 1/200
Strobist Info: One Nikon SB 700 @ 1/2 power located behind a collapsible light tent. Reflective Paper on light tent as well.
Post Processing Info: Minor enhancements in Lightroom and Auto-Alinged and Auto-Blended for Focus Stacking in Photoshop.