NESBIT’S WORLD OF HORROR

Edith Nesbit came much later in my literary life. My list of gothic writers were relegated to the males who dominated the scene, beginning with the master of the macabre Edgar Allan Poe followed by his contemporary HP Lovecraft. Then a trip to Singapore and a visit to a bookstore resulted in this serendipitous find, “The Power of Darkness: Tales of Terror”. It was the only copy left, so I quickly grabbed it from the bookshelf.

Nesbit book

Most popularly known as a writer of children’s tales, Nesbit’s ghost stories and tales of terror take you on a psychological supernatural journey. Upon reading the first few stories, I was suddenly reminded of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, which is scary, but minus the graphic bloodletting that other writers are known for. It’s your imagination that takes you to a world of horror that, surprisingly, commingle with, depending on the story, pity laced with understanding. You find yourself nodding at the plausibility of the existence of angered spirits, spirits in limbo, and ilk. This pseudo-epiphany comes from reading the preface which discussed the background of Nesbit and how her failed relationships unwittingly became the foundation of the supernatural beings that figure prominently in the stories. The preface, I found, offers the answers to questions plaguing the mind, such as “Where did she come up with such an idea?”, “Are they based on personal experience?”, “What was in her life that pushed her to write in this genre?” It’s reminiscent of one’s reading of Poe’s writings – his tumultuous life beset by personal and professional problems alike that became the impetus for his pioneering macabre stories.

Over a flute of champagne or cup of Asian Dolce latte, a foray in Nesbit’s world of horror can be enlightening. Against the oxymoronic backdrop, one gleams an insight to the workings of the mind and psyche of human beings who, with their fragile lives, are embroiled in one catastrophe after another.

ICE CREAM MONSTER

To call ice cream monster is a matter of perspective. It is absolutely monstrous if you – being a pessimist – think of how it piles on the pounds. Now, if you’re the look-at-the-positive-side kind of person, you’ll focus on the good things of the ice cream such as its creaminess, its awesome flavor, and its overall appeal. Let us not forget the packaging and the meaning of monster is completely overhauled.

Sweet Monster opens its counter at 1030am.


Sweet Monster at Bugis Junction – right at the Malabar Street entrance – gives the hard message of monstrosity a deliciously soft spin to it. The Korean franchise translated it into soft serve ice cream creations with an oxymoronic twist. It begins with its cartoony monster mascots in Sesame Street texture and color that do catch your attention. A picture of a monster digging into a cup of ice cream takes grimness out of its character. Next are the monster selections of ice cream melded with popcorn: caramel, tangerine, strawberry, and many more that I can recall because the menu already had me at caramel. I am a purist; popcorn is eaten on its own at the movies or when you’re watching a movie at your home. Then I stumbled upon Sweet Monster on the night I met up with a dear friend in Singapore, who was game for ice cream, and I was an instant convert.

Presenting the Caramel Monster *applause*



The verdict: the Caramel Monster was not saccharine to the palate. The delicate balance of sweetness and milkiness was captured well that you are guiltlessly pushed to hit the bottom of the cup. However, if you are really conscious of calories or know your limits, sharing a regular cup with a gal-pal is perfect. If you’re feeling monster-mean about sharing, there is always the junior cup to go for. 

DESSERT HAVEN

Despite its penchant for cozying up to your hips for a long time, anyone with a sweet tooth will sooner cave in to the sweet cravings than resist. Resistance is absolutely futile. But futility aside, there is the cardinal rule of the sweet tooth association that does hold fast: it is sacrilegious to skip dessert. And so, taking comfort that my next workout session is the following day, thus easing the guilt of indulging in desserts, I entered dessert haven without trepidation.
First stop was Bottega Ristorante at Jl Prof. Dr. Satrio when Anto, and Theresia, and I decided to chill on a Friday night after a pick-and -shovel first week of school. Dessert was a unanimous choice, as it came highly recommended by Anto who had visited the place earlier on. The Nutella banana bread with marshmallow topping was a sweet, light-on-the-tummy end to our filling main courses. Cut into squares, each pastry puff was a heavenly blend of banana, chocolate spread that wasn’t cloying, and buttery-flaky pastry puff. *burp*

Nutella banana bread with marshmallow by Bottega Ristorante


Second stop was Kitchenette at Senayan City during a catch up session with two of my former students who were about to embark on a new chapter in their lives – university life. It was my first time at the bistro-ish, which exuded a grandmother’s-kitchen vibe with its wooden-silver interior and furnishings, and a stunning dessert display counter filled with delectable sweet stuff. Typical of women, we three decided to share the calories by ordering three desserts: tiramisu, banana crepe, and Ferrero Rocher pie. The tiramisu, my choice, was a balance meld of cream, cocoa, mascarpone, and caramel and chocolate sauces. On the other hand, the banana crepe – Indira’s choice – added a fruity taste to the caramel undertone while the Ferrero Rocher pie – Nadia’s choice – was the perfect reworking of Ferrero Rocher. Imagine – the elegant chocolate ball was turned into a divine slice of pie that was, surprisingly, a fitting end to the dessert binge. *food coma*

Clockwise: tiramisu, banana crepe, Ferrero Rocher pie


Finally, the last dessert stop was at Arts Cafe by Raffles. Adjacent to Lotte Shopping Mall on Kasablanka, it is a buffet place specializing in local and international cuisine done up against the eye-catching artworks of Hendra Gunawan. After a satisfying buffet meal – the dishes can be delivered to your table if you wish – it was certainly illogical not to head to the dessert station teeming with exquisitely created desserts. I missed the chocolate fondue fountain due being absolutely taken by the cake station. The choices were overwhelming, but after having circled the station twice, I made my choice: black forest, petite choux, and tiramisu. It was festival on the palate of cream and chocolate that tangoed in perfect harmony. *yum*

Clockwise: black forest, petite choux, tiramisu by Arts Cafe by Raffles


It was obvious that I had to make a few more trips to these dessert havens again to savor the rest of the menu. For instance, I still had to douse fruits and marshmallows with the gooey chocolate sauce from the chocolate fountain at Arts Cafe. Then there’s still the, to name a few, carrot cake with salted caramel sauce and the Nutella mousse cake at Kitchenette. Lastly, another round of the Nutella banana bread with marshmallow is never a bad thing.

CUP OF TEA

I am not one to argue with a sage if I don’t know any better. The Sage of Tea, Lu Yu, is someone I won’t question about tea. He wrote the compendious book on tea, The Classic of Tea, and I do agree with his thoughts on tea, such as it has a calming effect. I drink chamomile when I want my thoughts to quiet down and relax the knotted muscles. I normally have a cup at night for a good night’s sleep. Now, peppermint is good for when my stomach starts acting up again; it is better than popping a tablet. While dining in a Chinese restaurant, I normally have chrysanthemum or jasmine tea (no sugar) with the meal. It aides in digestion I was told. As for green tea – I am biased towards the genmaicha green tea – it is perfect when I am marking papers, as it gives the brain power an extra boost. Adding to the efficacy of green tea is it helps one with pulling down the weight.Then I had a cup of peppermint one fine afternoon at Hotel Ibis Bencoolen in Singapore. Now, I dare add to the Sage of Tea’s quotes on tea. I am thinking “Tea can make you laugh.” Or “Tea is perfect for exercises on malapropism.”

GLORIOUS FOOD & MEN

When you’re a single woman and on holiday, two things figure prominently in your holiday: men and food. With the first aspect, it’s not like you’re on the prowl for pulchritudinous males (unless you are), but it’s more like the scenery is all of a sudden beautifully peppered with gorgeous eye-candies that make you light up like a Christmas ornament. The drabness of your former surroundings has magically transformed into a veritable backdrop of vibrant colours, all sparkly and spectacular. And since you’re feeling good and tingly inside, your attention deviates towards exquisite food, the other striking facet of the holiday. I was very fortunate to have experienced both facets in and out of Los Angeles.

Let’s start with Disneyland Anaheim where I stumbled upon Death by Vader, a cup of chocolate upon chocolate – chiffon, syrup, chocolate bar, and ganache – from Galactic Grill in Tomorrow land. The play on words piqued my interest –no one really escapes Darth Vader! The chocolate sensation – killer of hips most certainly cranked up the happy level to another notch while I watched with amusement the young Jedi trainees (children who signed up for Jedi training earlier on) test their mettle against the crème de la crème of Jedis.

Death by Vader

Death by Vader – glorious chocolate overload in the mouth and hips

Meanwhile, at the western side of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, lunch was a most pleasant surprise on a Fourth of July weekend. After walking around Eagle’s Point, Jeanné and I went to the opposite side of the Grand Canyon for some much needed repast. The place was packed to the rafters with hungry canyon trekker-tourists. Served up canteen style, each guest, who paid extra US$15 to our tour guide Angeline, got a plate of corn on the cob, grilled chicken, salad, corn bread, mashed potato with gravy, and a bottle of cold water. Walking around the Grand Canyon in the dry heat of Arizona does really work up an appetite, but the lunch plate was truly flavourful. The corn was sweet and buttery, and the tender chicken was savoury, be it white or red meat. Adding to the superb dining experience was the breath-taking scenery of the majestic canyon and a tree looming where Jeanné and I sat. It became the watering-hole of the gargantuan crows that zipped and dipped through the clear blue skies of Arizona. Gawking at the crows while nibbling on the corn, I half- expected Maleficent to come swooping down and acquiring newcomers to her crow entourage.

lunch at the Grand Canyon

Lunch with a view at the Grand Canyon (west side)

Back in LA, it was one huge dessert festival. Being passionate about cupcake, it was mandatory to pay homage to Georgetown Cupcakes and its friendly rival, Sprinkles. It had been five years since I last sank my teeth into Georgetown’s iconic cupcake, Red Velvet, so it was like a homecoming for me as I savoured the moist cupcake hugged by smooth cream cheese frosting on my tongue. The lightness of the velvet chiffon cake and non-cloying frosting helped ease my guilt feeling of missing my workout sessions. With Sprinkles, Red Velvet and Black and White cupcakes aside, I tried their cupcake ice cream, or a junior cupcake sandwiching a vanilla ice cream. Delectable!

Mermaid vanilla by Georgetown Cupcakes

Mermaid Vanilla – one of Georgetown’s summer flavours

Red Velvet by Georgetown Cupcake

The iconic Red Velvet by Georgetown

cupcakes by Georgetown

Cupcakes by Georgetown – love in a box

Sprinkles

cupcakes by Sprinkles

The sweet fest continued with a mad dash to Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar on E Union Street in Pasadena one Wednesday night. We were running late but with Mayeth’s adroit driving, we made it before it closed for the night. Seated to the right of the entrance, perusing the menu was one luscious affair as my eyes scanned the page replete with myriad choices. Our palates were eventually treated to a tango of sweetness, zest, and creaminess, as the flute of champagne with a twist of orange fused with the vanilla crème brûleé.  Impressive!

classic champagne with a twist

Classic Champagne with a twist by POP

vanilla creme brulee by Pop Champagne and Dessert BAr

Vanilla crème brûleé and champagne make perfect partners

Speaking of Pasadena, Urth Café, located on the corner of Madison and Colorado, is a fantastic café for pastries, organic drinks and light-to-heavy meals. My instant favourite was the green tea latte that was smooth on the throat, which, shockingly, made a great pair with the café’s chicken soup. Splendid!

green tea latte by Urth Cafe

A cuppa of goodness from Urth Cafe – green tea latte for one

chicken soup _Urth Cafe

Who would have thought that chicken soup and green tea latte can go together?

In terms of breakfast, cheese roll from the famed Cuban pastry store, Porto’s, partnered with Starbucks cappuccino made a great morning meal. Each bite of the flaky croissant-like pastry enveloping the sweetish cream cheese was a bite of heavenly goodness washed down by coffee. It was a perfect balance between butter, sugar, and cheese. Magnificent!

 

cheese roll by Portos

One cheese roll is not enough

There was another breakfast place I managed to visit in North Hollywood except I can’t remember the name of the place. However, I do undoubtedly remember the wonderful man I was with whose choice of breakfast place was right up my alley. Vaguely recalling details, the décor of the place is contemporary: silver commingling with a black and white colour scheme that sort of blended together but not completely, a wide counter where you go to place your order plus a collage of high tables paired with “high chairs” and regular tables. He ordered the salmon benedict lying on a bed of shredded potatoes while I had buttermilk pancakes. My pancakes were good – thin pancakes dusted with powdered sugar and topped with strawberry was a flawless harmony of sweetness and fruity flavour. His salmon benedict?  It exploded in my mouth – the flavours were intense and oh-so good. But on hindsight, I wonder if the explosion was solely due to the food or how I was feeling about the man sitting in front of me. One thing is certain though – the man across the table from me was undeniably breath-taking.

salmon benedict and buttermilk pancake

His salmon benedict and my buttermilk pancakes

Food and a man – singular or both – definitely add pizzazz to your holiday turning the pedestrian into the exceptional and the dull into the exciting. They  certainly made my holiday more than memorable.

THE SAXOPHONE PLAYER

Some are smitten by men in uniform, while some are enchanted by musicians. I belong to the latter group, a knowledge that came much later when I packed my bags for LA to change my routine and the scenery. It dawned on me when I arrived in LA from Arizona.

“Do you know Ric Junasa?” asked my Uncle Rowen, who is pretty good with the guitar himself, as we drove to Plate 38, a gastro pub in Pasadena, one July night.

“Can’t say I have.”

“He was with the band South Border. You know South Border, right? Anyway, we’re going to meet him at Urth Café, one of my favourite places in Pasadena.”

South Border? The floodgate of nostalgia opened and I was thrown back to the days of listening to the ballads of South Border while at work, and the solos of the saxophone player especially in “Kahit Kailan” that had me cresting imagined and real emotions of love.

Of course, I knew of South Border. To not know of South Border was bordering on it being a sacrilegious act! It was the quintessential local jazz-pop-R&B band that my generation and generations after me listened to. The band captured the attention of adults and adolescents alike – uniting the fragmented Filipino listeners divided by social class – and banished the general perception that Filipino love songs were kitsch, low-brow, and maudlin. South Border’s arrival in the music scene with their collage of English and Filipino love songs crooned by a vocalist, whose voice range remains unparalleled in the local scene, changed the music landscape of the youth who were now singing to local songs like South Border’s mega hit “Kahit Kailan” and the iconic “Love of my Life”. An appreciation for local ditties began to take hold – ditties that, naturally, were infused with elements of jazz, pop, and R&B a la South Border which elevated the banal to the sublime, the trite to something fresh.

South Border’s vocalist was one of the factors that drew admirers like moths to the fire. He made it seem effortless to hit those glass-shattering notes which didn’t make one cringe at the forethought that he might croak. He never did. The other is saxophone player Ric Junasa, whose name eclipsed me through the years until my Uncle Rowen dropped a bomb on me by saying they’re friends. The fan girl in me stirred from its deep slumber. Who would have thought my LA vacation would have me hobnobbing with one of Manila’s finest musicians?

IMG_1205

L-R: Ric, Minnie, moi, Mayeth, and Uncle Rowen at Urth Cafe

So, decades later, there is a name for the saxophone player – Ric Junasa. The first meeting was at Urth Café, shortly before it was closing for the night. Ric was cool as a cucumber as he strode, in jeans and shirt, to the table. He shook my hand, sat down, and pondered on what drink to have. Coffee with milk it was. Stories between him and my uncle filled the conversation, while I wondered how and where I could possibly hear him play. Like a wide-eyed school girl seeing her crush in the hall way, I sat  across the table dumbfounded , watching him banter with my uncle about their tepid coffee. Meanwhile, I got to talking to Minnie, Ric’s wife, whom I immediately bonded with because of her knowledge and like for the famed caramel chiffon cake of Estrel’s.

photo op with Ric

Photo op with Ric (in sunnies) at Monterey Park

Ric and family migrated to LA a few years back. Minnie helms the household while Ric is at work (the occupation elided me being so focused on him as the sax player I listened to), and also manages his gig bookings in and out of LA. She also moonlights as a tour guide to relatives coming over for visits. Ric, I learnt, played at my Uncle Rowen’s wedding about two years ago.  (Aside: He can definitely play at my wedding if and when I find a groom.)

I was still fixated with the thought of hearing him play when Christmas came in June. My Uncle Rowen invited him to play at the picnic of the Oriental Mindoro Association at Monterey Park. Fast forward to Monterey Park, Saturday: We greeted each other like long-lost friends. The day was going well, but not fast enough. My cousins, who drove all the way from Gendale, Arizona, and South Border enthusiasts, too, were likewise getting antsy of hearing him play. Finally, the host of the picnic introduced Ric. *applause*

Calm and collected, Ric sauntered to the side. He took a swig of water. He unlocked his saxophone case and, in seconds, the theme song of Titanic circled above the picnic shed of Monterey Park, silencing everyone until the last note.

Ric on the sax 1

Play it again, Ric. *applause*

JUST DESSERTS 

There was certainly nothing going to come between us – Mayeth and I – and our desserts, as she (Mayeth) wound through the streets with an F1 driver’s dexterity and calmness. Reservation was at 930pm, but, running late, we would reach Pop at 945.

Welcome to Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar

Pop is a champagne and dessert place over on Union Street at Old Pasadena. Housed at an old, historic building, it featured, I learnt, its original brick walls, plank walls, and high-beam ceiling. For interior decor, empty bottles of champagne have been turned into vases for golden rods imitating champagne bursting from the bottles that lined the windows at the entrance. This eight-year-old dessert haven pairs luscious desserts with champagnes, and also offers warm meals of which the last order taken is at 930pm.

“Welcome. Our bar is still open and our desserts are still available. But our kitchen is already closed for dinner,” explained the staff who met us at the door.

“That’s alright. We are good with desserts,” answered Mayeth.

Waiting patiently behind Mayeth, I mumbled to myself: “Dessert can be dinner, too.”

Showed to a table near the entrance, it was a sweet but difficult task of perusing the menu given the variety of dessert dishes which, by the way, are made in house. The dessert menu is heralded by souffle du jour, Pop’s signature dish, which I glossed over (I can’t say why) for the vanilla creme brûlée with fresh berries and chantilly cream instead.

That was followed by the mixed berry nutella crepe swirled with caramel, sprinkled with graham crackers, and completed with the ‘Dessert Special – “Coffee and Donuts”‘, a gargantuan mug filled with buttermilk choco and vanilla donut holes, a scoop of ice cream, and chocolate- covered espresso beans.

vanilla creme brulee

mixed berry nutella crepe

Dessert Special – Coffee & Donuts

That the flavors are heavenly is an understatement. They come together in this thrilling dance on the palate, such as the mixed very nutella crepe and creme brûlée’s sweet, creamy, and fruity flavor that makes everything copacetic – including the calorific nightmare and grueling burpees – with every bite. The ‘Dessert Special’, on the other hand, reworked the standard-issue doughnut into something extraordinary, punched up texture and taste boosted by the homemade ice cream and chocolate espresso beans. Further upping the flavors of the three desserts were the intermittent sips of the Classic champagne with a twist of lemon.

The heady triumvirate of desserts and exquisite champagne makes missing the hot meals more than fine. Actually, having just desserts at Pop Champagne and Dessert Bar is perfect. Go ahead- you can faint now.

Classic Champagne

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