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Kathleen A. Llemit

High on love

Wednesday, 14 February 2018 00:00 Published in Life Style

Valentine getaways in Rizal and Laguna

Text and photos by Kathleen A. Llemit, Contributor

The town is now painted red. Red lanterns and heart-shaped buntings adorn most buildings, especially conspicuous in malls, hotels, and restaurants. It's a week of double celebrations — Chinese New Year on February 16 and Valentine's Day on February 14.
Candlelit dinners will still be the definitive or de-facto celebration on Valentine’s Day but it would be just another celebration that can be easily forgotten. How about doing activities that are more spontaneous and exciting?
Imagine spending a night under the stars and waking up enveloped by mist that look like clouds. Enjoy a couple's massage while looking out at the majestic Laguna de Bay in a Balinese-inspired resort and cap the night off with a romantic dinner for two with a bottle of wine overlooking the Manila night skyline. For the adrenaline junkies who define their usual Valentines' date as more exhilirating but at the same time artsy, how about a walk over an 80-meter hanging bridge and a stopover in a gallery full of the works of artist Otto Neri? Spend a night in a casita with its own hot spring tub directly connected to Mount Makiling.
A stress-free and unforgettable Valentines' Day celebration is just an hour or two away from Metro Manila. Neighboring provinces of Rizal and Laguna have these offerings for those on the lookout for more activities, perfect for those searching for day activities and a weekend escape not far from the city.

Thrilling date
Rizal has become a destination for those who love an adrenaline rush. Many of the resorts in the province named after Dr. Jose Rizal tag themselves as adventure parks, eco-parks, and leisure camps. They may have different names but all of them basically offer activities that excite the senses.Imbibing panoramic views of a city is always a romantic activity. At Cloud 9 in Sta. Cruz, Antipolo City, getting to this view is a labor of love. Before anyone can reach the 360-degree viewing deck, one must cross the 80-meter long hanging bridge, with an elevation of 80 feet above ground. The walk might be daunting for those who are afraid of heights but the reward is a breathtaking 360-degree view of Antipolo City, Metro Manila, Laguna de Bay, and the mountains of Sierra Madre. After taking in all those scenic sights, the way down affords one the latest works of artist-in-residence Otto Neri, popular for his impasto paintings. 

The more serious adrenaline-loving lovebirds will find Ten Cents to Heaven Leisure Camp in Tanay their haven. The 16-hectare leisure camp lives up to its name. Before dawn breaks, stay-in guests can view a sea of clouds enveloping the property in good weather.
The leisure camp does not make light of its outdoor activities. Their zipline is about 900 meters one-way, and for those who can't get enough, additional 300-meters going back. Those who opt to do the latter will land in the spot where the 150-meter hanging bridge is elevated. This bridge connects to the rock wall climbing and rappelling spot, a behemoth that stands 60 feet. The camp also boasts of a 15-course ground activities that include centipede walk, zigzag log, and Tarzan swing. (More information on activities and accommodations can be found in their web site:

Winding up with love
Pililla in Rizal might be popular these days as one of the settings of the recently ended popular revenge drama Wildflower, but the town is fast becoming the Bangui of Rizal. The town houses bigger wind mills than those in Bangui in Ilocos Norte, says councilor and designated tourism officer Diego Abueg.
The wind farm has become the town's number-one tourist attraction, drawing about 20,000 visitors during its peak season since it opened in 2016. The wind farm has 27 wind mills that can supply powert to 66,000 households.
For something Instagram-worthy, couple's can head to this tourist destination which actually has a sort of "romantic" trivia. Each of the windmills are named after the spouses of the current owners of the wind farm. Who knows, anyone can find the namesake of one's loved one etched on one of the turbines?

Nostalgic compound
Lovers of antiques or anything old will find solace in Sulyap Gallery Cafe and Restaurant. It's three hectares of nostalgia and old-world cliff. Ramon Mariñas, whose family owns the property and serves as its managing director, boasts of their unique location.
Luljetta is the more exclusive and intimate destination within the bigger Loreland Resort. The latter is more family-friendly where picnics and activities can be done. But Luljetta, named after his mother and which opened in 2013, is a more quiet place. It offers a breathtaking view of Antipolo City and Metro Manila.
It's cliffside view affords the guests a cooler temperature, which makes their spa treatments even more enticing. Guests roam around the property wearing fabrics from South Cotabato while they enjoy the resort's facilities which include heated jacuzzi, hydro-massage pools, infinity pool, fish spa and saunas.
Mariñas highlights that unlike other similar properties, their spa facilities are not auxilliary features. Their spa offerings are their core offerings. It includes their signature massage (P750 for one hour), all-natural scrubs (coffee scrub, sweet calamansi scrub, chocolate scrub, and red wine scrub) for one hour ranging from P1,200 to P1,520.

Direct access to the hot spring
Lotus Pod is luckily situated in the barangay of Puypuy in Bay, Laguna. Its 3.2-hectare property has a good view of Mount Makiling and Mount Banahaw, two mountains that provide geothermal activities in the places that surround them.
The property is owned by renowned broadcaster and journalist Cheche Lazaro. The former Probe Team host’s love for traveling and the holistic lifestyle made her decide to finally open her sanctuary to the public in May last year.
Farm manager Melanie Monton shares this information, and thus, her frequent travels shows in this Balinese-inspired bed-and-breakfast place. It currently has eight casitas, or more like villas, with a hot spring tub that is connected to Mount Makiling.
Guests of the B&B not only have their own hot spring but can also drop by the spa and meditation lounge which has a calming view of the lotus pond, which the resort is named after. They can have the in-house signature combination Swedish and shiatsu massage for P800 an hour.
Lotus Pod also boasts of its organic menu, with much of its green and produce harvested from its own garden. (More information can be found in this web site:

Sleeping under the stars
Nothing spells more romantic than being close to the heavenly bodies. Stargazers will definitely fall in love with Haranah Eco-Park located in Tanay, Rizal.
The 16-hectare property sits on an elevated part of Tanay. It has the most basic of accommodations for now. Tents can be set up at across its property laden with colorful ornamental flowers and trees. Sunsets are most breathtaking when its rays gleam over the property. Come night time, campers can just lie and gaze endlessly at constellations that dot the midnight sky.
Temperatures can drop, especially at early morning, when fogs envelop the entire property. But it’s what makes the property extra special, with its remote location. Only the sounds of crickets dare disrupt the tranquility of the place.
It may be basic but the food is fantastic as its cook Romy Furio prepares some of the cleanest yet savory dishes. He farms his produce from the property’s garden and whips up the meanest-tasting Pechay dish—steamed pechay drizzled with a concoction of olive oil and garlic. He has been a cook for many comedy bars in the country until he met the property’s owner. He was tasked to oversee the property since it opened to the public three years ago. (More information can be found in their web site:


The Lyttles: Growing in food and business

Saturday, 27 January 2018 00:00 Published in Life Style

It's going to be the year of the poke.

Food critics and purveyors have weighed in and declared that the well-known Hawaiian raw fish salad is among the biggest food trends of 2018. Microsite InsiderFood has included it in its list alongside ube and Filipino food, while has called poke "essentially sushi without the fussy presentation." It has also hailed it as something "customisable and economical" and "will most likely cross over to the mainstream."
If anyone would be overjoyed by this, it would be the husband and wife tandem of Speedy and Alta Lyttle. The couple, after all, had begun their poke craze in 2016.
The Lyttles put up their first store in Estancia Mall, Capitol Commons, Pasig late that year. It was a rather mundane topic for both. Alta recounts that Speedy had been thinking of reviving the Mongolian food craze. She recalls having considered it as she a Mongolian feast was what she would prepare for him and their four children whenever she had time. After she had a chat with her sister, however, who was based overseas, another idea came to mind. Her sister thought that Mongolian bowls had had their time and suggested that they introduce poke bowls to the Filipinos.
"Luckily, he had it once," shares Alta. Speedy, being the one with the "better tongue," says he, to which Alta concedes, adds that it was a refreshing bowl of just raw fish with soy sauce and seaweeds.
And so, like the entrepreneurs that they are, they opened their first Poke Poke store with a twist.
It was a confluence of things that they love. Their take was their own tongues at play. With the hands and experienced tongue of chef Mikel Zaguirre, the humble Hawaiian poke was creatively interpreted to suit their Mongolian preference with the introduction of seared fish or meats, a Japanese favorite in the form of Alta's favored chirashi bowls, and Filipinos' love for a medley of flavors.
Their poke bowls can be customized where diners are given the option for their base to be either white or brown rice, quinoa or mixed greens. They then choose their toppings and drizzle it with a selection of sauces and dressings that includes shoyu, sriracha, nori mayo and mangonnaise. The customizable bowls start at P350.
Those who are not as experimental as Alta and Speedy, who share that their travel itineraries usually put a priority on food trips that have them trying anything from isaw to foie gras, can choose from their selection of nine signature bowls.
Among these are the deconstructed California Maki with Cali (P300) and a richly textured and flavored For The Rich (P480), a bowl of rice topped with beef tenderloin, bacon, soft boiled egg and drizzled with garlic yogurt and truffle oil. Their signature bowls range from P280 to P480.
Their experiment has certainly paid off. Today, Poke Poke has four branches, with branches in SM Aura, SM Megamall and 8 Missouri in Greenhills.

'We know food'
Poke Poke comes at the heels of the much-talked-about and much-loved Locavore Kitchen x Drinks food concept they opened with friends/partners sisters Tin and Carla Magsaysay back in 2014 at Kapitolyo in Pasig.
Alta shares that their first food venture came about simply because of their shared passion for good food. All lovers of good food, they had been going out, scouring the town for the best restaurants.
Speedy shares that when they initially thought of putting up the business, they asked Tin if she would like to man the kitchen. She had begged off so they hired chef Zaguirre.
They went on to win the hearts of foodies with their "locally sourced" initiative and inventive dishes such as Sizzling Sinigang and Oyster Sisig.
"Marunong kaming kumain (We know how to eat)," proudly shares Alta, adding that it is their discriminating tongue that gives them an advantage in their food business.
Of course, it was not all easy, she recalls. Speedy had a regular 8-to-5 job plus some business on the side. He had always been a little money-savvy, starting with selling perfumes that were not yet available in the country when he was still in his teens.
Alta, meanwhile, thought of business as "laro-laro lang (play)." She was inspired by her mom who had been a retail supplier of a big shopping mall brand. She started selling Chinese jackstones, stationeries and stickers in elementary school.
Their serious venture started with Xtensions Salon, which now has 11 branches.
When they opened Locavore, she had to man the cash register, while Speedy waited ables. They had to put all their hands and heads together to make Locavore float.
Their hands-on management style and learned tongue resulted in the success of Locavore, which opened two more branches, one in Bonifacio Global City and another in Makati.
"If it's something that you look for after you eat it, that's it. It passes our taste. We want to make food that gives that kind of craving. That's what we're looking for in food," explains Alta.
Now that their love for good food is paying off, they talk of expansion with the acumen of a visionary and realist. Locavore, understandably, will have to be thought of carefully. They have to take into consideration the brand equity it has become synonymous with -- locally sourced inventive dishes. That means they have to fully trust the people who will man the next branch if ever they decide to open another Locavore.
For Poke Poke, however, Alta shares it is easier to standardize the recipes since they only have a handful of it. Thus, its expansion, including franchising, can be put into action sooner. She estimates that they can open four to five branches more in a year.
"I put things together, she puts everything in motion," admits Speedy, when asked who the better entrepreneur between them.
Their synergy works well for each other, and even their names are fortuitous. He was named Patrick Daniel and christened himself Speedy after his initials P. D., combining it with then popular cartoon character Speedy Gonzales. She was simply named Alta, which means "high" in Spanish.
Such an aptly named duo.

Passion pays off

Friday, 26 January 2018 00:00 Published in Life Style

If there's one description for Julie Anne San Jose's singing career, it would be steady. She had her biggest break when social media noticed her YouTube covers. From there, her struggling career as one of the promising young singers who had to do the rounds of reality TV, ended. She created a strong and loyal following; an army of supporters firmly holding on and valiantly defending her through all the malicious attacks and gossips hurdled her way.
It is no surprise then that though physical albums may be facing their waning years, and digital ones are hardly able to stop piracy, Julie Anne's music remains afloat.
It was recently demonstrated when she released the first single "Nothing Left" from her upcoming first album under new label Universal Records.
It debuted at the top chart of iTunes Philippines, with stiff competition from Kpop groups and Hollywood acts.
On top of it, she just recently headlined the first leg of the series of concerts entitled “3 Stars, 1 Heart” with seasoned singers Regine Velasquez and Christian Bautista in Cebu last week. And she happily announces that it will have its second leg in April in Dagupan, Pangasinan.
This year, she says, she will be busy. But for those who have been following her, it had always seemed that way. Year after year, if she's not releasing an album or single, or lending her voice to theme song of a drama, or mounting her birthday concerts, she's starring in sitcoms or dramas.
It is safe to say that San Jose is relatively blessed given the short life span of singers and actors in showbiz.
And her lucky breaks have not stopped. There's that recently released single, which will be part of the new album targeted to be released during the third quarter of the year. It will include two of her compositions including her own mellow Tagalog creation. She has yet to release the title of the track, but she says it has the same vibe as the Marcus Davis-written and produced "Nothing Left."
And then tomorrow, January 27, she will be headlining anew a solo concert entitled #Julie to be held at The Music Museum. She reunites with Marvin Caldito, who directed two of her past concerts, In Control and When Julie Meets Christian.
Julie says it's a more intimate and mature show where she will sing songs that will fit with her concert's theme of "stages of love.”
She hopes for more concerts and songs to sing in the coming days. But with the way she has been busy for the past years, it seems like these will come naturally for her.

I admire Culturtain Musicat Productions's spunk and determination to make it on its own.
It was a gamble from the start, but it paid off, to produce a movie musical led by an ensemble of notable theater actors. If this were New York or London, this would have been labeled as an illustrious and winning billing.
But, unfortunately, this is the Philippines and Ang Larawan opened in a film festival often panned for its preference for commercial films.
Commercial films aren't bad per se; in the Philippine setting, however, many are often considered subpar in terms of direction and storytelling, more glaringly so come the annual Metro Manila Film Festival.
But Ang Larawan continued to go on and fight and did not back off from joining after several other films produced by small studios "backed out" after learning of the reinstated criteria for last year's film selection.
The fears of those who backed out where confirmed after Ang Larawan was reduced to more than half of its screens on the second day of the festival's two-week run. But lo and behold, word-of-mouth, glowing reviews and awards night recognition revived the film until it ended its run with 80 screens.
Were they discouraged? "No, in fact we were encouraged," said Girlie Rodis, with emphasis on the last word, to this writer during the thanksgiving party hosted by Solar Pictures, the distributor of the film.
Rodis, co-partners with Rachel Alejandro and Celeste Legaspi, shares that they knew what they were getting into. They had envisioned their production house as a cultural enlightenment tool. This comes as no surprise for the longtime showbiz insider, who has partners in Alejandro and Legaspi, who are seasoned singers and actors.
"We want to inspire people. We want to help people through their minds by exposing them to films that they've never seen before. A lot of them haven't even entered a theater or a stage theater. We wanted to bring the stage to them," she said.
This is no mean feat. Rodis disclosed that the production cost alone for Ang Larawan was around P25 million, excluding promotion of the film. And yes, she valiantly admitted that they "probably won't break even.”
This might be true after MMFF did not release the figures for all film's individual grosses and just released a statement that last year's gross is triple the amount of the previous year. They added that it breached the P1-billion mark.
But raking in the millions seems not to be a problem for them. Rodis had a point when she said that she's not fearful about Ang Larawan's fate. Unlike the top-grossers whose film screenings had ended, Ang Larawan continues to be screened until the second half of the year.
Just this month, they've had screenings outside of the country specifically in several states in the United States. They also had inquiries for screenings in London and Copenhagen.
In the Philippines, several universities have expressed their interest to do block screenings for their schools. Micro cinemas are still showing it including the UP Film Center Cine Adarna on February 5, with Sunday Beauty Queen as a double feature.
And with February as the National Arts Month, there are bound to be more screenings for the film adaptation of Nick Joaquin's play A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino.
Whether her realistic expectations come true or not, Rodis says they will continue producing movie musicals. These include Katy, Kenkoy Loves Rosing, Alikabok, Saranggola ni Pepe, Sino Ka Ba Jose Rizal? and Firewater Woman.
I hope they continue to pursue their passion with the same fervor through all the challenges that may come; after all, passion pays off in the long run.


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