The food, a fan, and THE book...
Being a longtime fan of Lori and her writing, I was especially ecstatic upon learning of her newest and biggest project yet: Dessert Comes First, The Book.
I love books, and though I acknowledge the convenience and practicality of e-books, I remain buying the physical ones especially if it's for my collection: food (no, not cookbooks) and food writing; business, marketing, and finance; self-help; spiritual and inspirational. Nothing beats the paper perfume emitting from the pages, the feel of it as you stroke the page with every turn, the comfort only holding a book can bring, and the pride beaming from within as you gaze at your ever growing library.
Naturally, I must get a copy of this DCF book. E-book was definitely not an option; not that it's available in electronic form anyway. I needed to see it in my bookcase along with my other prized possessions. The 5th of September saw me going into Fully Booked Alabang, heading straight for the display table overflowing with copious copies of Lori's book, and after staring at its beauty and heftiness for a couple of seconds, falling right in line at the checkout counter.
For days and weeks thereafter, I devoured the book slowly, taking my sweet time poring over the pages, examining the photos, and digesting such poetry in prose. I dare not say this is a culmination of Lori's achievements and hard work for it seems so conclusive of a term, not when I eagerly await her next exciting endeavors. It is definitely a milestone, and a major one at that; the product of 14 months of blood, sweat and tears. This leap from blog to book is one of the many apogees in her career, and certainly not the last.
The 21st of September saw me going into Fully Booked's flagship store in Bonifacio High Street. With fingers crossed, I went up all the way to the Top Shelf where the book signing and food bazaar event would be held, praying that there would still be a "golden" ticket waiting for me. My lucky stars must have been aligned, as I took my ticket that would allow me to eat all the sumptuous savory dishes and delectable desserts in the house that afternoon.
People were milling around, the room abuzz with everyone's excitement at the prospect of meeting Lori and other famous chefs and food purveyors, some of whom were also featured in the book. I got right to taking photos of the food; blogger instincts I suppose.
There were 13 booths all eager to let people have a sample of their wares. Pastries were everywhere, and confessedly, I didn't get to try every one of them. One of the more memorable ones was the triangular piece from Karen's Kitchen with a sheen of deep brown hue, just like a pillow that caresses the tongue and meets your chocolate requirement for the day. It's as sweet as Karen Young herself, a lovely woman I got to meet thanks to Spanky Enriquez, esteemed blogger behind The Daily Spank.
I do remember being fascinated with the Twix Stuffie from Cookie Bar. Unevenly round and chewy in every bite, it enshrouds a chunk of chocolate-covered wafer and caramel. I don't recall enjoying a cookie as much, enough to make me hanker for more.
I've professed my love for Bono Gelato quite numerously, and I reveled in their take of The Lori: a combination of dulce de leche and flambéed bananas, topped with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and a smattering of peanut brittle crumble. Bananas cut through the peanut brittle's sweetness, while its richness compels you to pucker your mouth and flatten out everything with your tongue, leaving you wanting for more of this that bears all things sinful and addictive.
Thank goodness for a number of meat dishes. As much as I share Lori's enthusiasm for writing about food via words and light, I don't have her penchant for desserts and all things sweet. While I do enjoy the occasional slice of sans rival peppered with macadamias or pistachio, or a cheesecake laced with grated queso de bola, I'd take steaks or foie gras or unagi over pastries any day. She may have sweet teeth, but I prefer to keep my savory ones, thank you very much.
Fork-tender short ribs already good enough on its own is paired with an eyes-rolled-toward-the-sky inducing quail egg that screams sensual and sultry. Meanwhile, coldness washes over your mouth like a tidal wave as you bite into this Mango Torte which treads on a fine line between sweet and tart; a perfect conclusion to good meat, I'd say.
I was saddened to learn of Tina Raines' passing, and I sorely miss her Prawns Aligue Tart and Callos. Savory pies are scarce here in Manila, so the fact that Chef Ed Bugia's newly-opened restaurant, Pi: Breakfast and Pies, now serves them (like the left one in the photo above whose name eludes me) is good news indeed. Another lovely meal ender was the Banana Cream Pie, a blanket of cream concealing a trove of bananas on a bed of crushed graham, which comforts like a dear friend's hug.
With a jolly aura, Chef Stevie Villacin handed me a takeout box containing his famous Hainanese Chicken and Chicken Rice---which are reputedly the best in Manila---lavished with a combination of sweet soy, ginger and chili sauce. One bite and I have to agree with the aforementioned reputation.
It was right this instant that Spanky passed by me, but not before pointing out the obvious, "You're still eating!" "Of course," I say, and how could I not with such good food? "Ibang klase ka talaga," he retorts with a chuckle, and I answer with a laugh and another forkful of chicken rice.
The good news: I got to try Spring by Ha Yuan's today-only special -- the Lucky Duck KaPao wherein soy-ginger braised duck and shiitake mushrooms slathered with Chinese plums slaw and duck cracklings are sandwiched between soft, Chinese steamed buns. It was a nice interplay of sweet and earthy flavors in the mouth riding on the back of savory duck meat. The bad news: I forgot to buy their mooncakes, and with such intriguing variants like Durian, Green Tea with Cranberries, Orange Cookie Butter, and Dark Choco Salted Caramel Truffle, I silently berated myself for doing so.
A single piece of Wagyu beef sits in the center of the bowl like an island amid a sea of milky broth. Undulated noodles peek out from beneath, firm to the bite, and bringing with it a subdued character to curb the robustness of the celebrated melt-in-your-mouth beef cheek. Sup, bite, savor, repeat. And don't forget to take in some of the nori between bites.
Asked what I wanted to have, my mind went completely blank. I failed to notice the caffeine choices written in front of their counter; admittedly still transfixed on his demonstration of his pour-over skills. Jonathan then suggested the Belgian Heartbreaker, their own version of a café mocha (my usual cup when in a relaxed mood). It was fascinating to watch him prepare it -- one minute he was intensely pouring some milk (with melted chocolate apparently) from an orange vessel to a coffee-filled paper cup, his hand surreptitiously moving from side to side; next thing you know, he places the cup in front of you complete with a heart-shaped latte art. I was impressed.
Velvety with a certain viscosity a melted chocolate lends, it's a coffee like no other. I wallow in its comforting warmth while observing the throng of people eating and chattering about, lost in my own thoughts and in appreciation of truly fine coffee. Like liquid gold, I drink it with care, sipping slowly---slurping even---making sure to fill my palate with its flavor that's tinged with sweetness, before letting it go down my throat. Totally the smooth operator, I think I left my heart at the Top Shelf that afternoon.
"Seriously?!?" Bin asked in a bewildered tone when I requested that he sign my copy of his wife's book as well. "Yes, please," I answered meekly, albeit determined to have his autograph. I think I kept blabbering about how I loved his Valentine's piece in Lori's blog, and how it was nice to finally meet the man behind the famed "my Bin" moniker; hence, the dedication shown in the photo above.
True to her word, as how it goes in these DCF events, you never leave hungry. In fact, people---including me---bring most of the food home. I knew this to be true the last time I attended Lori's DCF party. Note to self: next time, don't forget to bring a box for all the goodies I cannot anymore consume because of extreme satiation.
And the icing on the cake? "I meant every word," she whispered as she handed the book back to me before enveloping me in a hug.
Dessert Comes First, The Book is surprisingly big with 300 pages of thick, matte paper thereby weighing about 1.5 lbs. Small photos from Lori's best posts online now come alive in these colored pages with a vintage feel. Interestingly, the content of a page is determinant of its shade: essays and memoirs use a mix of cream, gray or sienna; chefs' profiles are donned in olive green; the recipes right after it are in somewhat ecru or khaki of different tones; and Lori's own recipes have an ochre background.
There's a certain "order in chaos" sense evidenced by the lack of de rigueur table of contents. In its stead is a sort of Content guide outlining essays and memoirs, chefs' profiles and their recipes, and Lori's own recipes including that of her very famous Cheesecake. Endearing is what it is, as you follow along on the road to her past, her life as a food writer, and her memorable travels, with some of her favorite food personalities' profiles and recipes providing delicious respite every now and then.
The tales will enchant you, the photos will captivate you. But more than the recipes, more than the profiles, more than the stories, it's the way Lori writes that will leave you mesmerized. For as she strings words into sentences and paragraphs, she invites you in, gives you a front-row seat, and lets you experience all the mouthwatering wonders in her world.
If you still haven't, go get the book, available exclusively at Fully Booked for P1,499. For something you're bound to read over and over again, it's worth every peso.