The thing of course, is to make yourself alive. Most people remain all of their lives in a stupor.
The point of being an artist is that you may live.
You won’t arrive. It is an endless search.
–Sherwood Anderson, American novelist (1927)
Every artist, no matter what his or her medium may be, will eventually fumble and fall. Fuel tank empty, fervor falters as passion goes unfulfilled. The “tortured artist” who seeks stimulus in angst is only half-true; for me, I’d rather celebrate life than lament it. But oy, it can be hellishly difficult to do so. Much easier, methinks, to flip my middle finger at it all.
My primary infusion for inspiration comes from travel. Destination set, bags packed, and off I go. Sometimes it’s that simple but when the dirty “R-word” (responsibilities) gets in the way, motivation is spurred from sources closer to home. The things that get me fired up again are those that already fascinate me in the first place: food, tableware, kitchenware, baking, and books. So it’s unlikely that I’ll regain my center by strolling through a museum, becoming vegan, or getting a tattoo. (I’m not hip to pain, physically and otherwise).
Aside from considering dyeing my hair red, my search for inspiration – for now – takes me to:
Delving into Dapitan
Since I do all the styling for my photos, I’ve become quite enamored with plates and all things for the table. I scour markets and tiangges with the same frenzy that a fashionista will ravage an ukay-ukay looking for a used but decent pair of Louboutins. Since beginning DCF, I’ve obviously amassed quite a collection so I’ve also become very picky about what I’ll buy. I don’t mind rummaging around in bodegas but I don’t want my home looking like one.
In 2008, my good friend Kaie, brought me to Dapitan. To combat the current ennui I feel, I go back recently, also with her. I don’t buy any plates this time around but I do find something else.
I spend the most time at a stall selling all sorts of beautifully tinted bottles. I have an unhealthy fascination with them. I’ve been known to buy liquids of questionable quality just for their containers. Once holding alcohol but now discarded for reasons unknown, they’re borne into a new colorful life. I buy a few, their vibrancy stirs something in me.
Wet markets are a morass of stink, yes they are, but push past it and treasures abound. Kaie and I stop by the market just like last time to look for some duck eggs. On the way over, I spy some Royal Gala apples, their stems still intact. They’re so tiny, two fit into my palm. A petite and pretty pleasure.
It’s late morning so most of the duck eggs have been sold. But look at what we have here…
Organic egg, double yolk the sign (held up by Kaie) says. Large and locked into a lightly tanned shell, these eggs are a find. I choose a few, savoring the smoothness of each shell and wondering what I’ll make with them. There’s inspiration to be found in imaginings.
Baking to bolster spirits
I’ve recently started making a dessert that believe it or not, my Bin likes as much as my cheesecake. It’s a simple Banoffee Pie, the recipe of which is given to me by a chef-friend. I tweak it to how I want it and so much so to Bin’s liking that it’s the dessert he asks me to make for his birthday.
Bananas sliced thickly, are set into a cookie crust. The slices of sunshine glint temptingly before being lavished in a layer of ganache. Cookies, two kinds of chocolate, caramel, bananas, and cream: carefully considered layerings of flavor and fragrance. I bend my head over the pie and inhale deeply.
When energy lags, I turn to my cookbooks. They are reminders bound in between hard covers of why I fell in love with food to begin with. In between reveries of vanilla cake and fudge frosting, I remember with a jolt just how long it’s been since I last made scones. Deviating only slightly from my original recipe, I ply this dough with roasted hazelnuts and almonds, their earthiness tempered with glugs of heavy cream. Knead gently, pull together, rest, then brush with maple syrup and butter. A scattering of sanding sugar on the scones’ surface before being embraced by the oven’s warmth is the final touch.
Multi-textural and elemental, sometimes inspiration comes with the ingredients at hand.
Food for Fuel
Wrenching myself free from my house-bound state, I look for tastes that please and promise bliss.
Guanciale in Italian but divine in any language, the Pork Cheeks served at Ramen Santouka appeal because of how they’re portrayed: “… is very rare and only 200-300 grams can be taken from each pig,” goes the urgent wording on the menu.
Richly flavored but tough, pork cheeks require long, slow cooking to coax out their inherently melting texture. Striations on strips of cheek, they initially taste like tuna before smokiness sets in pointed up with streaks of salt and an unbearable, but oh so pleasurable smoothness. Satin on tongue, the beginnings of a story in my mind.
Growing up, katsudon was my default Japanese dish. Now, finding myself all ramen’ed out and fed up with fancy-pants food, it’s back to the basics. It happens that I only eat rice about twice a week but the Gyudon at Tokyo Bubble Tea is my kind of no-holds-barred, bring-on-the-rice bowl. The distinctive difference of this gyudon above all others of its ilk is that it’s wet. The beef strips – soft, alternating between stringy and supple – are already slick with a marinade. Added to that is the rice, springy and moist. Wending its way through all are drizzles of a punchy teriyaki sauce and the crowning glory of an egg, yolk only. Pierce and release its puddle of gold.
Mornings work their magic on me because of breakfast, my favorite meal of the day. At Toast Box, they’ve done away with their mountain of butter but their food has thankfully, remained the same.
The kaya toast set never fails but then I see the Condensada on thick toast. The thick and syrupy milk was a childhood staple of mine – swirled over Skyflakes, oatmeal, and bread. Toast Box does this one better: by gilding the bread with butter, grilling it to golden, then letting loose lazy trails of condensed milk over all. I am eating nostalgia to the soundtrack of crunchy crusts.
There’s an almost trangressive joy to be found in letting my hair down with my girlfriends / gal pals / besties. We eat like men and talk and titter over topics too dirty for general consumption. I introduce them to The Cake Club’s Foie Gras Macarons, a fitting sweet for an afternoon of decadent frivolity.
The partnering of porcini and foie gras is unparalleled. Perfuming and speckling the tan shell is porcini mushroom, and its partnership with the filling, the foie gras, is exotic and exciting. Feral and gutsy, the flavors flutter tantalizingly at the intersection of inspiration and fervor.
Addresses of establishments mentioned
Kanlaon corner Dapitan Street,
Sta. Mesa, Quezon City
Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
G/F Glorietta 4
Hotel Drive, Ayala Center, Makati (in front of SM)
Tokyo Bubble Tea
The Cake Club
UG/F Bonifacio High Street Central
East Superblock, 7th Ave corner 29th St.,
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig
(02) 621 3176