It’s six in the morning; do you know where your wife is?
She is in her pajamas, eyes half-closed, flour everywhere, a defiant mass of dough sucking viciously at her fingers as she valiantly tries to show it who is boss. She has made bread before…yeasted bread yes…but not with a recipe 10 pages and one day long. She mutters to herself…what possessed her to take this on?
Two things: 1. A not-so-little group of fabulous people called the Daring Bakers and 2. It’s Julia Child’s French bread…how could she say no?
And I didn’t.
When the challenge was first posted, fear and excitement competed with each other in my brain. Yay! Bread! vs Oh no! Baguettes! Ten pages! Would I have the guts? Would I have the time?
Finally, I set aside a day, set my alarm clock, and hunkered down to a day of trying to place my feet in Julia Child’s impressive footsteps.
Let me tell you, early morning is not exactly my best time to take on physical challenges (ok, I really have no best time for that). And this was a physical challenge, for me at least. Because this was the first time I was going to make French bread I wanted (bravely or foolishly, you be the judge) to knead it by hand. I struggled mightily but it seemed a long time before the dough resembled anything remotely respectable. It stubbornly stuck to my hands and fingers…refusing to lose grip! But I pressed on, determined not to be beaten. After much toil, it all finally came together and I was left to the long task of waiting.
This was the longest I have ever left a dough to rise (not that I have had many). At four hours for the first rise, and then two 1&1/2-hour rises after that, with a lot of slight kneading, folding, and shaping in between…this may be the most complicated bread recipe I have ever done! But like I always tell myself…I didn’t join the Daring Bakers to boil water.
And did I mention the hardest part? The three hours of waiting after the bread is baked before you can even take a bite? With the smell of freshly baked bread in the air??? A challenge from start to finish.
C made a roast chicken that night and we at last tried the bread. It was nice and hole-y, tasted lovely, and had a pleasant chew to it. Overall, taste-wise, I don’t think I did too badly. Perhaps it could have been less dense (any suggestions on how to make this happen are gladly welcome) but on the whole we were happy.
I don’t know…but this may just be the ugliest baguettes (or batards) I have ever seen. They are the ugly stepsisters of baguettes. Sigh...they don’t even deserve a pretty French name.
But I love them.
Because they are my baguettes :) And just like other parts of me (and I’m not naming names!), less then perfect, but still cute in a wobbly sort of way :)
And I think Julia would have been perfectly fine with that.
Thank you Breadchick Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of I Like to Cook for coming up with this month’s classic challenge! Please visit Mary or Sara to see the full (10 pages!) recipe :)
During the short time we were in Ilocos we didn’t waste a single moment. In 3 days we went from one point to another, dashing through the region with our trusty van and guide. We visited many a place, explored many a charming corner, and discovered as much of Ilocos as we could in the time we had. I enjoyed everything…as I am inclined to do when I am someplace new and I just want to take it all in with open arms and an open mind (I am a starry-eyed innocent when it comes to travel…and I fight to stay that way ;)). However, there will always be those things that tugged at my heart and imagination the most…those things that I know will always be the first ones to come to mind when someone mentions Ilocos.
Gorgeous churches, one after another
I had heard about Ilocos’ famous churches and was looking forward to seeing them. What I didn’t expect though was just how many of them there were, and just how charming and beautiful each one was! We visited most of the more well-known ones (like Paoay Church and Vigan Cathedral) but even during the drives from one place to another, as we passed many small towns, I would stare in wonder out the window at the churches and belfries flying by. Big, small, painted, brick, or crumbling rock. They were all there – standing guard over their flock, calling the faithful to mass, like time-worn sentinels who have weathered many storms and kept many secrets. I was mesmerized by them all (or perhaps it was just my gothic novel nature) but my favorites were Paoay Church and the Bacarra Church and bell tower.
The Paoay Church façade is old and crumbling but in no way worn out or weary. In fact, it is this very aged face that makes it a commanding presence. With buttresses extending past its walls, foliage growing through its cracks, and stories seeming to hide in every nook and cranny, it is just the kind of church that would draw me in and inspire all sorts of fantastical imaginings. The style of Paoay Church has been called “Earthquake Baroque”.
The Bacarra Church is smaller but no less charming. Its red brick façade gives it an air of coziness and comfort – characteristics I think are important in a church, a place I like to believe offers solace and sanctuary. In its sunny side garden are the remains of the Bacarra bell tower, a lovely old belfry. The bricks are missing in a lot of places, and there seems to be a small ecosystem of plants growing right on its surface – of course this only further endeared it to me.
Windmills of the Gods
I knew the Bangui windmills were on our itinerary but never really thought much about how they would look. Windmills were windmills, I thought, and as I spent a 3-month work stint in the Netherlands, I figured that if I had seen one (and I had seen many) I had seen them all. I did not take into account however that I had never seen one up close, and I had never seen one in my native land. Both factors eventually leading me to be totally bowled over by one of the most surreal sights I have seen in my local travels. The windmills where huge white monoliths, standing in a row on a long deserted seashore. The emptiness of the beach and the crashing of those strong northern waves, coupled with the modernity of those huge, blinding white windmills set in a neat row down the shore’s long stretch…something about it looked slightly, for lack of a better term, alien-y. Like when the scientists discover the alien settlement on an ancient burial ground – yes, I know I watch too much sci-fi. But still! You had to have been there. It was surreal. I loved it. I could have sat on that shore forever…or at least until the mothership arrived.
An enchanted old town
Arguably one of the most popular destinations in Ilocos – Vigan’s famed cobblestone streets is a must see. The days-of-yore scenes you see in photos are actually just two small streets (Calle Crisologo and Calle Gen. Luna) and a tiny square. Not that this detracts from its charm at all. The two cobblestone streets are lined with old houses, a number which have been turned into shops selling everything from souvenirs to religious icons to antique furniture. You can also take a short kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) ride through the area. If you like puttering around old, antique-y looking doodads, in an antique-y looking setting, this is the place! My hands were so dusty by the time I was done but I did come away with a fork and a spoon…unlikely to be anything of actual monetary value, but they had initials engraved on them which I thought made them look quite special :) After a little wander up and down, we settled ourselves in Plaza Burgos (the square at the end of Calle Crisologo) for dinner al fresco.
Our romantic resort
Some places, like some people, you just immediately get along with. From that first moment, you just feel like you fit. That’s the way it was for me and Sitio Remedios. We arrived in the evening and the stone walkway at the entrance was lit with low, warm lights. Plants and all manners of herbaceous stuff fought for surface area over the rocks and the two shallow pools that flanked the path. The path opened up to a green courtyard, at whose head sat a small stone chapel, while the South China Sea crashed at its feet. At the sides of the courtyard stood seven balays (houses) built to look like traditional Ilocano heritage homes. I was brimming with delight as the realization sunk in…one of these houses was ours (well the upstairs part at least)! The houses where decorated simply using Ilocano furniture and material. The staff was friendly and helpful. We had breakfast by the sea and dinner by candlelight. The only downside is that we didn’t have enough time to truly enjoy the place. I would have loved to spend a couple of days hammocked there with a good book, going for the occasional dip in the sea, and daydreaming my time away.
***Read Nena’s post about Sitio Remedios here. She has more photos!
Standing on top of Luzon (well, almost)
When you live on an archipelago just a hop above the equator, beaches are a part of your life. It’s always about the next island, the next beach, the next strip of sand. Sometimes, you actually (gasp) grow tired of it and long for forests and villages and such. And that’s why, although much lauded, Pagudpud was not first on my list of things to see. When we got there though, that piece of my heart that will forever belong to the beach gave a little jump. White sand, blue waters, coconut trees lining the shore – this familiar landscape will always make me feel that all is right in the world. More then anything however, for me, Pagudpud’s appeal lay in the vigorous waves that crashed on the shore, the absence of the crowd that covers our more popular beaches, and that fact that I was standing at the northern-most tip of the Luzon mainland, with only the Babuyan and Batanes islands between me and Taiwan.
I have already gone on about the copious amounts of food I ate in Ilocos, but I have to say again – the food was really a highlight for me! :) You can read my Ilocos food posts here and here.
My list of Ilocos highlights wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the wonderful people who, each in their own way, made my trip just that more special. All throughout and at so many points I was delighted by the warmth and willingness to help. I was tickled by sunny faces that were so quick to smile and strike a pose for the camera. I was captivated by scholarly voices that wove tales of adventure and intrigue. From the gallant owner of our resort to our endearing guide and driver who was never without a smile and an anecdote…I was charmed.
That’s it for my Ilocos trip! As I said, we visited more places than those mentioned here…these are just my personal highlights. If you have any questions about the trip details, feel free to drop me a line! For a more complete post-by-post account of our trip (and gorgeous photos to match) please check Ramblings From a Gypsy Soul :)
We interrupt the posts on my holiday up North to introduce a new member of our household! If you have seen this post, and this one, you would know that Moomin holds a special place in my heart. My best friend K (who can read my thoughts, make me smile, know exactly what bag I will like, and other such best-friend-ish talents) brought him back for me from a recent trip to Hong Kong (the biscuits in the background are Moomin biscuits also from K...double hooray!).
I know...Moomin comes from Finland, not Hong Kong, but I’ll have you know that he holidays in Asia quite often.
If you have your own unexplainable love for cute, inanimate objects such as cartoon characters and children’s toys then you know, and perhaps share, my joy. If you don’t, no fear, this will be short and the regular agenda back shortly.
Hoooraaaay! Thank you K!!! I love him :)
And that’s not all he can do…
You cannot imagine how brilliantly invigorating it is to see a light-up, color-changing Moomin after a stressful day at work. When the yoke of the daily grind bears heavy, be thankful if you are (like me) the type that smiles at small pleasures…you’ll never be down for long :)
More than just delicious dishes, eating in Ilocos was also about the experience. So I decided to divide my gustatory highlights there in two – one for just the dishes themselves and one that includes the people and places. Well, that and I didn’t want to bore you to tears with too long a post…
Batac Empanada at D’Original Glory’s – Much like the dishes I named in my last post, Ilocos is famous for their empanada. A savory “meat pie”, a filling of longanisa and various vegetables (shredded unripe papaya and monggo) surround a cooked egg (hard or soft can be requested) and is ensconced in a bright orange dough…the lot of which is then deep fried. Woo! Touted as Vigan empanda, it is actually sold in many places around the Ilocos region. We didn’t have much time for taste trials though, so we asked our guide to lead us to the best. And he did…in Batac. Here you will find a grouping of empanda stalls under one roof. At the back end of this group you will find D’Original Glory’s. And it is here where you will find the best empanda your money will buy (of course this is a matter of personal opinion and taste). We wolfed ours down, the steaming filling spattered with generous shakes from the bottle of basi (sugarcane wine) vinegar. I can’t say I tried all the empanadas Ilocos had to offer, but this one was the best I’ve tried…so good it almost made us miss our dinner! D’Original Glory’s - Riverside Centro, Batac City, Ilocos Norte.
Midnight Hot Chocolate at Sitio Remedios – We checked into our resort after dinner, tired but exhilarated from a day full of sight seeing. After lazing around in our canopy beds (yes! more on our dreamy resort later…), we decided to get showered, explore the grounds, and perhaps relax with a glass of wine. As we ventured out of our villa, we were met by the resort’s charismatic owner. “Come have some hot chocolate and biscocho with us!” A session of cozy late night sweets? The answer to that question is always yes :) So we followed him to an open-air eating area facing the sea. Soft warm lighting revealed a table strewn with native sweets, including the aforementioned biscocho, a pitcher each of hot chocolate and coffee…and sitting among the other guests, another local blogger! We excitedly introduced ourselves and immediately began chatting about anything and everything. Conversation, and hot chocolate, flowed easily around the table. We sat nibbling on the crunchy biscocho and sticky rice in banana leaf packets which had been boiled in a sugar syrup mixture, listening to another guest regale us with the riveting tales of Juan Luna’s life (Juan Luna is a national artist who hails from Ilocos). A night full of pleasant surprises :)
Biscocho from Pasuquin – Now, more on that biscocho. It was a crunchy golden swirl which made for good dipping (as in the hot chocolate). As we talked the night away, the guest who had brought the biscocho mentioned that he got it from a town two hours from our resort. Another guest also mentioned that they had a soft version, which is basically the bread before it gets toasted to crisp biscocho-ness. Our interest piqued, we made a mental note to see if we could sneak a visit to this town during our next day’s activities…and we did! When I saw the fluffy white buns that were the soft biscocho I already knew I would love it. It is a soft, chewy roll with just the very slightest hint of anise. We ate from our communal bag all day…the rolls keeping us fortified through intensive sight-seeing. Chewing on these soft buns and staring dreamily out at the Ilocos countryside had an almost hypnotic effect on me. I could have eaten a mountain of these! Pasuquin Bakery - Poblacion #3, Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte.
Dinner at Sitio Remedios – I’ll going into more detail about our resort in the next post, but for now let me just say that it totally won me over in the ambiance and vibe department. I only wish our trip was longer so we could have spent more time there, lying about and day-dreaming…because if you had been there, you too would see what a perfect spot for day-dreaming it was. It was in this setting that we had, what was in my opinion at least, the most magical meal of the trip – atmosphere-wise. The courtyard was awash in the warm glow of a multitude of candles, on one end was the small stone chapel all lit up, on the other end was the sea with its waves providing their calming symphony. We had Ilocano specialties for dinner, some of which I have already mentioned in my last post. To think we were just two tables (one table with the 3 of us and another with a group of 5 or 6) amidst all this loveliness! This meal was truly a sum of all its parts – good food, gorgeous setting, and great company :)
Seaside lunch at Pagudpud – Although yummy, I wouldn’t say our food at Pagudpud was the highlight of our meal there. It was good yes…we had bagnet, which of course I thoroughly enjoyed (again!) and kilawin, a fish ceviche, which was pleasantly cool on that sunny day. We also had fried fish and grilled eggplant salad…food that tastes extra good when you have it by the sea. We washed everything down with fresh coconut water, sipping from coconuts that were just cut down as we placed our order. Yes, a very good lunch. But the highlight for me was having it all in a hut by a pristine white beach, without the masses of people that crowd our more popular beaches, knowing that I was at the Northern-most tip of the Luzon mainland, the waves crashing on the shore with the energy of currents very different from those of the sheltered coves I’m used to. It was very calming but at the same time had a kind of final-frontier-ish feel about it – not the kind of ambiance you can find at a city restaurant.
The Markets and our take home stash – My food highlights would not be complete without mentioning the markets we visited and the bounty we brought back home with us. At the Batac market we picked up native hand towels, table napkins, and runners made with local Ilocos cotton. To get a small glimpse into the local food shopping scene, we went to the San Nicolas Market. There you can find everything from fish and meat, to piles of fresh vegetables (and local seaweed!). They have a special room for the stalls selling bagnet and longanisa. I think I got a little star struck from seeing so much bagnet in one place! Mmm :) We didn’t buy anything there as we had already commissioned the kind staff at our resort to buy bagnet and longanisa for us to bring home. Among our loot were also garlands of garlic and shallots, sacks of sea salt, and liter-bottles of basi (sugarcane wine) vinegar – all typical specialties of the region. Now I can enjoy a little Ilocos at home :)
I’ll be posting my non-food highlights next…I wouldn’t want you all to think that all I did there was eat, now would I? ;)
Ilocos is a region with a distinct cuisine and a lot of history surrounding it. It is also a very popular cuisine…having spread its delicious influence southwards so that non-ilocanos, like me, are lulled into believing a dish like pinakbet (a steamed/braised vegetable dish) was ours all our lives. One such dish of Ilocano provenance is bagnet, what I like to think of as a chicharon/pork belly confit hybrid. To a pork-chick like me, a kind of holy grail. So, aside from all the famous sites of that region, I was also very (very!) much looking forward to the food. Here are my highlights:
Bagnet –This was the number one dish I was itching to try right in its homeland (I have had a number of times before in Manila – like this time!). Bagnet is made of pork belly (other choice cuts are used as well) that is boiled, then rested, then put in a slow deep fry, then chopped up and deep fried again quickly to crisp up. Scary to some, almost unbearably divine to others (i.e. me). We had it at three places and I enjoyed it every single time. It is served traditionally with KBL (kamatis, bagoong, lasona) – tomatoes, fish sauce, and onions. Bagoong in Manila is usually shrimp paste, but in Ilocos it is unrepentantly powerful fish sauce. This, for me, is the best condiment to have with bagnet, the strong flavors cutting through the fattiness of the pork like a culinary light saber.
We had bagnet in La Preciosa Restaurant in Laoag, at Sitio Remedios our resort, and in Saud Beach Resort Pagudpud. I like the one in La Preciosa the best, although really I enjoyed every one.
Poqui poqui – Strange name, simple dish. Touted as the Ilocano version of tortang talong, it is made up of eggplant, onions, tomato, and egg. Now, I love tortang talong, not just like, love, so I was certainly going to try its northern cousin. As expected, when the combination of egg and eggplant are involved, I loved this too. Grilled eggplant is sautéed with tomatoes, onion, and egg. Simple, yes, but at La Preciosa restaurant it was so sneakily tasty that I unconsciously kept going back to it until I realized just how much of it I had eaten! This is definitely a dish I will recreate at home!
Dinendeng – I wanted to try dinegdeng because aside from being a typical Ilocano dish, it wasn’t as popular down here as, say, pinakbet, which can almost be called a staple in many Filipino tables. Either a vegetable soup with fish, or a fish soup with a whole lot of vegetables, I honestly wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. But I did! The broth is flavored with fish sauce (bagoong isda, not patis) and a few pieces of fried or grilled fish. The star of this soup for me though is the vegetables. They are vibrant and green, if cooked just right…bright, sweet-grassy notes in an otherwise mild fish soup. Mostly green vegetables are used – ours had okra, ampalaya/bitter melon, sitaw/long beans or snake beans, squash flowers, sigarilyas/winged beans, and these little pods that come from the malunggay plant. We had this at La Preciosa and at Sitio Remedios. I like the one at Sitio Remedios better but both were very good.
Vigan Longanisa – In the Philippines there seems to be a longanisa (like a sausage or chorizo) for every region…even some cities boast their own. I count myself lucky as I adore longanisa and, thanks to all these regions churning out their own versions, always have a nice selection in the freezer (right now it’s Lucban, Vigan, Zamboanga…and some made by a friend right here in Manila!). So it goes without saying that I would be trying my share of Vigan’s version. I enjoyed this savory, garlicky, longanisa every morning for breakfast at our resort, but the Vigan longanisa I enjoyed most was the one I brought back home with me…fried by C that same night :) Maybe because it really is best freshly fried? C loved it too so we are jealously guarding our stash…
Pinakbet – No trip to Ilocos would be complete, food-wise, without trying pinakbet. Pinakbet is a braise (well, technically I think it’s steamed) of various vegetables native to the region, flavored with fish sauce (again, not patis but their own “bagoong isda”). Vegetables commonly included are ampalaya/bitter melon, eggplant, okra, and sitaw/long beans. Other vegetables, depending on what’s available, are also tossed in the mix. Where I come from, we also add squash. As a child I would try to pick out the ampalaya pieces behind my mother’s back. In Ilocos I gamely took them on…even if the mini ampalaya they use is stronger in flavor. I got a few good pieces down though and it was not as bitter as I feared. Am I outgrowing irrational childhood food traits? I hope so! :) We had pinakbet in Sitio Remedios and Pinakbet Pizza in Plaza Burgos in Vigan. I still prefer my pinakbet with rice though, thank you :)
La Preciosa Restaurant - Rizal Street, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte
Sitio Remedios – Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Saud Beach Resort – Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Plaza Burgos – Vigan, Ilocos Sur (walk up Calle Crisologo and you will hit it); there are a few restaurants surrounding the plaza but you can sit at a table on the plaza itself and they can serve you there.
NOTE: Nena has put up her first post on our Ilocos trip! She will be doing a whole series on our adventure, so keep checking back at Ramblings From a Gypsy Soul for her wonderful travel writing and beautiful photos! :)
After a week of voting we finally have a winner for this round of Hay! Hay! It's Donna Day! - Pizza :) It is with great pleasure that I annouce that the winner is Bordeaux of Marita Says and his fantastic Spanako-Pizza! This is his pizza-version of the famous and much loved Greek spanakopita.
I must say the voting was very exciting! With so many delicious entries, the votes were cast far and wide. As the days wore on though, more and more votes zeroed in on this ingenius Spanako-Pizza.
Congratulations Bordeaux! Bravo to you! :) I will be sending you your prize, the cookbook Pizza by Diane Morgan & Tony Gemignani, soon! I'll be slipping in a little book on some of our native goodies too :) You also have the honor of hosting the next round of HHDD! Plus, of course, the bragging rights as an HHDD winner ;) Woohoo!!!
Thank you to everyone who took part in this round of HHDD! I enjoyed making pizza crust from scratch for the first time (and finally using that pizza stone!)...but not as much as I enjoyed getting all your fabulous entries! I'm sure I speak for many when I say that the round up was one phenomenal collection of pizza delicious-ness! I am already planning pizza parties in my head where I can showcase (show-off? heehee) these pizzas :) A big thank you to everyone!!!
In line with my goal of exploring more of my own country, I keep my eyes open for good deals and promotions that give me the opportunity to do so without stressing my wallet nor my boss :) So when my good friend and travel buddy, Nena, called to say a local airline was having a seat sale for Laoag (a city in the extreme North of the Philippines), and that I wasn’t even going to miss work (always a plus), I jumped at the chance.
Laoag is the capital city of Ilocos Norte (a province in the northern-most tip of the Luzon mainland). We stayed in Currimao, a short drive south of Laoag, along the shoreline of the China Sea. I feel we couldn’t have picked a better place. I was a great jumping off point for the rest of the region, but more than that, the resort where we stayed was just beautiful – a dreamy sort of place that you would (or at least I would) imagine came from the pages of an old Filipino storybook.
With our endearing guide and driver, we wandered around Laoag, Vigan, Pagudpud, Badoc, Burgos, Bangui, Paoay, Batac, San Nicolas, and many towns in between!
I was so excited for this trip because I had never been this far North. I wondered what to expect. Would it be different from other provinces I had visited? Would it have something, some special quality, which I had never seen before?
Ilocos is a region bursting at the seams with beautiful churches, each town smugly sporting one, from charming red brick to commanding “earthquake baroque”. The sun here is bright and intense, making everything look like crazy Technicolor and lulling you into a blissful sense of well-being. It has endless roads flanked by tobacco and corn, the foothills of the rugged Cordillera mountain range on the east and the deep blue China Sea crashing on the west. It was the birthplace of our infamous dictator who slammed martial law down our heads, as well as of one of our national artists around whom swirled a cloak of intrigue, scandal, genius, and immense talent. It is a region whose cuisine has made its mark on the rest of the country…as fans of pinakbet and Vigan longanisa would agree. It is also the home of bagnet – halfway between a crispy pata/lechon kawali and chicharon – our own pork belly confit and a big part of this journey for me. It is there that the first modern windmills in South East Asia were built – standing sentinel on a bare, windswept beach. For those who believe the ghost stories that have shrouded certain places there, you can always buy a garland of garlic from the many roadside vendors, the garlic small and intense in flavor. It boasts gorgeous beaches, quite literally at the top of the country, where only a few faraway islands separate you from Taiwan. In Ilocos, busy city centers make way for enchanting old towns with historic buildings and cobblestone streets, where you can buy any manner of antique, whether it be a frame for your doorway, a religious icon, or an old initialed spoon for your “props” (if you happen to be a foodblogger).
Did Ilocos have some special quality that I had not seen before? How could the answer not be yes?
I’ll be sharing my highlights from this region, both gastronomic and otherwise, with you soon! Meanwhile, don’t forget to vote for your favorite pizza from the Hay Hay it’s Donna Day round up! :)