EST. 2009

May 21, 2015

Those Crowning Moments

"THEY ARE NOT LONG, THE DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES." reads the first line of the second stanza of Ernest Dowson's appropriately short poem. Neither are the nights, if I may add, in which friends and flavors go so pleasurably together, and before you know it, the night has run out with the wine. That wasn't entirely the case however at the Viñedos Singulares dinner party, where wine outlasted the whole bunch of us who had to head back home.

Celebrated at the brand's cellar, dressed to the nines for a night, the dinner was dedicated to the pairing of flavors in the company of friends. Degustation kicked off with a teriyaki tuna tataki paired with the clean and brillant Vino Afortunado. A pear and salmon canapé accompanied a second white: the fresh, easy Albariño-varietal Luna Creciente. Iberian pork with cranberry sauce came with the lightly mineral Corral del Obispo, sirloin tartare with the fruity Jardín Rojo, and oxtail in raspberry sauce with the intense Entrelobos. Big Band tracks encouraged dancing, interrupted only by cheese platters served with the subtly spicy El Veïnat.

Pairing seemed recurrent that evening. With dishes prepared in Caravan Made's vintage roving kitchen, and wines seemingly plucked fresh from Viñedos Singulares' warehouse shelves, there is a sense of matching old and new, vintage and young. Resurrected from the 1970s, Caravan Made's food truck literally brings gastronomy to markets and festivals dominated by a hashtagging crowd. Viñedos Singulares dedicates to the same set, with fresh, easy flavors that stay essentially true to their Designation of Origin. Never more than a couple years old, the wines move at the same pace as its consumers, driven by trend culture and the natural restlessness of youth.

Founded in 2007, the cellar works with six wineries in La Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Bierzo, Rías Baixas, Rueda and Montsant, visiting each zone to administer the winemaking process from birth to bottle. On this particular night they followed through to the table and on the dance floor, joined by some of Barcelona's food and lifestyle propagators. Such was the night of "wine and roses", or in this case, wine and grapevine, which made for excellent crowns. After all the careful prepping and pairing, what food and wine really provide us are a few delightful and fortunate moments. Here's to the next!

Vino Afortunado, Luna Creciente, Corral del Obispo, Jardín Rojo, Entrelobos and El Veïnat by Viñedos Singulares, Gastronomy by Caravan Made, Photos by Raúl Muñoz.

May 14, 2015

That Pleasure of Your Company

IT’S MOST NOTICEABLE JUST BEFORE THE START OF A TRIP, after the pet sitter had picked them up to stay with him at his farm. Once the pets have gone, gone too are the rustlings, the rolling around, the relocating to and from different corners of the home, and the nuances that have come to make the house whole. "I love cats because I enjoy my home; and little by little, they become its visible soul." said Jean Cocteau. Indeed, for creatures who spend half the time sleeping, pets sure know how to make both their presence and absence felt.

We’ve had Sunny and Kitty since puppy and kittenhood in three apartments across two continents. Sunny is a seven-year-old golden retriever and Kitty Bang Bang is an eight-year-old Persian cat. Like all well-loved pets, they are very much family, taken into consideration for most any decision on lifestyle and living. The color of our linens camouflage the cat hair. The Roomba deals with both pets shedding. Having a terrace and a nearby park were decisions made mostly with the dog in mind. The country we live in too had to have permitted their entry. Waste is a chore. Travel is a chore. As we are a household of two, both of us going on trips means the pets need a sitter able to watch them. We’ve grown accustomed to the planning and expenses by now, but more and more with each new trip, the attachment grows.

It would be stating the obvious to list the joys of pet companionship. But studies do in fact show strong points for having a pet, on top of the pleasure their company brings to our lives. A study by the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition and the United States Food and Drug Administration revealed that the heart rates and blood pressures of pet owners increased less when they had to solve math problems with their pets around. Another study by the State University of New York at Buffalo found that when people with hypertension adopted a cat or a dog, they had lower blood pressure readings in stressful situations than did those without pets. Cat purring has also been found to help lower stress and blood pressure, while playing with both cat and dog species elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine, which calm and relax.

The positive effects pets have on humans make you wonder why society hasn’t set up life to maximize the benefits of animal companionship. Why can't we have pets around during job interviews? At court hearings? At airports? Or during exams? Perhaps if we were all a little less stressed in our daily dealings, the world would be a happier place to live in. Until then, we can head home for some cuddles.

Illustrations from Fantasio, by Jacques (Lehmann) Nam, Vald'Es (Valvérane & D'Espagnat) and René Préjelan. Available on

May 4, 2015

That Monastic Beauty

FASHIONABLE PORTRAYALS OF CHARACTERS IN NEW YORK, PARIS AND ROME have become definitive of Audrey Hepburn, the sprite-like style icon in Givenchy. But it was her role as Sister Luke in The Nun's Story that film critic Henry Hart was determined "will forever silence those who have thought of her less an actress than a symbol of the sophisticated child/woman" she continues to be regarded as.

No funny face. No little black dress. In The Nun's Story, Hepburn relies on neither elfin frame nor iconic pixie cuts to sustain a 149-minute presentation of life as a nursing sister in 1920s Belgium. Based on a book by Kathryn Hulme, which was based on the life of Marie Louise Habets, the film follows the experiences of Sister Luke as she struggles with the obedience and humility stipulated by her vows. A brilliant nurse exceeding her peers, she grapples particularly with pride and self-will, confessing that "When I succeed in obeying the rule, I fail at the same time by having pride in obeying."

Challenges and disappointments plague Sister Luke's experience, including an instance of being ordered to fail her medical exams to prove humility. She was also to maintain neutrality during the war. After years of inner struggle, Sister Luke realizes she is unable to attain the obedient perfection of monastic life, eventually deciding to leave it altogether. Music was a point of discussion for the scene of her departure; after all, what tone is appropriate for a nun walking away from her vows? Of the film's writing, Dominican advisers were said to have reviewed the script thoroughly, debating between such phrasings as "against nature" and "above nature." The Nun's Story nonetheless depicts the dictates of religious life to be both.

Hepburn received an Academy Award nomination for the role, as did the film in seven other categories. Although it failed to win in any, it is considered the most financially successful of Hepburn's films, not to mention her favorite. Today being the actress' birthday, it's perhaps not a bad time to spotlight the character often eclipsed by Holly Golightly, Sabrina Fairchild and other far more popular nun movies that involve a lot of singing.

Long before Maria von Trapp left the abbey, Sister Luke had already been there, done that.

The Nun's Story, 1959. Directed by Fred Zinnemann.

April 21, 2015

That Sabah Sensational

WITH JADE FORESTS, SPRAWLING SHORES AND A HEAVY TROPICAL HEAT that encourages summering of the most indolent sort, Sabah draws tourism as a resort and wildlife destination offering recreations of plenty. Home to Southeast Asia's second tallest mountain, as well as the world's largest flower, the state also shelters one of two species of orangutans, native to Borneo and currently found solely in its rainforests.

Two friends and I whiled away a weekend at Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort in Tuaran, just 45 minutes north of Kota Kinabalu. The resort features an impressive stretch of beach and 400 acres of tropical forest, in which the hotel has established a nature reserve with Sabah's State Wildlife Department. We spent an afternoon there, viewing orphaned orangutans idle about like off-duty acrobats. Visitors didn't appear to bother them, though they shooed away approaching deers, eventually feeding them some fruit. "Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints." states reserve policy, though it didn't quite apply to the monkey crew that came after the orangutans had fed.

Once at an appropriate stage, the orangutans are rehabilitated into the wild, as they are otherwise unlikely to survive. Until then, the nature reserve provides sanctuary to the apes, sheltering them from the risk of human-induced injury and domestication. Other activities at the reserve include a walk through the 10-meter-high canopy bridge, breakfast at the summit, viewing of over 60 bird species and night visits for viewing nocturnal fauna.

Outside the resort, we made a trip to Kota Kinabalu's Masjid Bandaraya, or City Mosque, on Likas Bay. The building features four minarets and a dome, with an overall design inspired by the Nabawi Mosque in Medina. Bare feet and traditional hijab is required to enter the building, with robes and headscarves available for rent at the grounds. For those unaccustomed to the layers, ceiling fans fortunately abound inside the mosque, providing a semblance of ease from the tropical swelter.

Back at the beach, foliage keeps temperatures reasonable. Of course I speak for myself, a native of the tropics reared in humidity of up to 90 percent. But if sticky heat is something foreign to you, sunset cocktails should make you feel right at home.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque and Shangri-La's Rasa Ria Resort and Spa, Sabah. Photos by Lady San Pedro, Lara Santico and Jennifer from the car service.