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There are times when I wish I was back in grade school or high school, or even college.  Learning seems to be a lot easier today, information overload via the internet notwithstanding.  There's just so much variety and resources and interactive learning coming from so many sources that it seems kids are spoiled nowadays.

I just recently discovered The Kahn Academy, BIll Gates favorite teacher online.  Suddenly chemistry and physics doesn't seem as hard as it was for me back in high school.  Mr. Salman Kahn is truly a gift to all students everywhere no matter your age. 

Now take an organization like Mad Science, whose goal is to "instill a clearer understanding of what science is really about and how it affects the world around us" in a fun, captivating, and interactive way through "cutting-edge programs" and "high energy demonstrations of science experiments."  It complements classroom learning and breaks down barriers between a formidable subject and students by linking it to the world around us.

Last Wednesday, Mad Science Philippines took their shows to Robinsons Supermarket for the schoolchildren of the BF Barangay Child Training Center and the Neo Brightside Christian Academy and to the Veritas Parochial School for its elementary and high school students.

Now on its 9th year in the Philippines under Funworks Inc., you may find the organization's Mad Scientists teaching kids and making them ooh and aah almost anywhere in the Philippines almost everyday.  They certainly take their mission to "amaze, educate, and inspire kids of all ages," to heart and put on a jolly good show. 

Count this kid as a fan.
 
 
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"Pope Benedict XVI, on the 150th death anniversary of St. John Mary Vianney, the Patron Saint of Parish Priests, had proclaimed June 2009 to June 2010 as the Year for Priests, with the theme:  'The faithfulness of Christ, the Faithfulness of the Priest.'  The Pope said that the year was meant to deepen the commitment of all priests to interior renewal for the sake of a more forceful and incisive witness to the Gospel in today's world.... "
 
 
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Have blog, will travel - even if it's just to your neighborhood shopping mall. 

Last April, the Robinsons Retail Group opened its first community mall in Metro Manila right here in the BF  Commercial Center, the 3rd mall under its wing (the other two are in Pulilan, Bulacan and Cabanatuan City, and a fourth one being developed in Davao City.)  What many do not know is that Robinsons Supermarket is actually a mall.

To get us better acquainted with the mall, they organized their first Bloggers Meet and invited us.  We met up with its Mall Marketing Officer, Ms. Eileen Navarro, who shared with us its backgrond and services.

Although it is a mini-mall, it comes by the name of Robinsons Supermarket because the supermarket is its anchor business unit together with Handyman.  Its other regular units are the Robinsons Appliance store,  the department store, and its regular tenants like the Sun Shop, Sanries, Lechon Ahoy, and the Big Apple Pizza Co.

Robinson's Supermarket has a special focus on wellness --calling this The Wellness Generation--and has developed an in-house brand called Healthy You.  Its specialty areas also include Super Savers and Island Favorites, with the latter bringing local brands from all over the country under one roof. 

Handyman also has its own in-house brands like Bow Wow, the most popular dog food brand, and Wishy Washy, for soaps and disinfectants.  Every month, it features different themes and different sale items.

The Robinsons department store specialty on the other hand is bringing in all sale items, which are given exclusively to the BF branch.  Currently, it has its Big Bag Sale.

And finally, the mall has a wifi-free dining area cum events area cum activity area on the second floor for events like this Bloggers Meet and other future events (The Grand Wellness Week for Grandparents' Day, Mad Science, and Krissy and Ericka to follow this September).  The area also hosts Camp-1 Playland where parents can drop off their toddlers (for a fee) while they go shopping.

To cap off the day, they brought in the youthful band, Up Dharma Down, featuring Hana Flores (the daughter of Homer Flores).  I noticed that not all the people in the audience were young 'uns.

Special Mention must go to Big Apple Pizza Co. who provided our lunch of pizza (of course) with four different toppings.  I hope they stay around for a long time because I really like their offerings.  Pizza houses have come and gone and I find myself going back again and again to the oldest one, still my favorite; but Big Apple Pizza can give it a run for its pizza, especially with its white cheese.  The crust of their pizzas is not as thin but thin enough so that even after a day and a pop in the toaster, the pizza still tastes great.

Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.
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Robinsons Supermarket

 
 
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Photography truly has a way of opening new worlds to us.  Seeing a a strikingly photogenic hijab-clad girl sitting on the steps of the musallah (small prayer center) in BF Northwest led me to befriend the Muslims who go there, who then invited me to attend the Eid ul-Fitr celebration in their masjid (mosque) in El Grande.

I jumped at the opportunity to make a photo essay of the occasion.  So early Friday morning I hied off to the address, which turned out to be a house that was converted into a mosque with only the hand-painted words, The Masjid, to indicate that it was one.

BF security personnel were doing a good job of warning vehicles to use another route; the celebration was, after-all, some kind of a street party with attractive prayer carpets laid end to end in front of the masjid and crowded with men, women, and children in festive attires.

I struck a conversation with  Hans Pamplona, a visitor with a very un-Muslim name, who turned out to be not only a fellow Ilonggo, but also a fellow photo enthusiast.  He ended up being a very supportive guide, cueing me in on what was happening and accompanying me inside the masjid, although we only got as far as the entrance as it was a packed house.  Sheik Abdul Razzaq from Pakistan led the prayers and and gave the khutbah (sermon), followed by the dua (supplication).  And then food was served.

Not only did I come away with a lot of photographs of Eid ul-Fitr as it was celebrated this year in BF Homes, I was also given a gift of a pack of dates.  More importantly, I felt they had also given me a gift of themselves.
 
 

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“I was fascinated with the Salcedo and Legaspi weekend markets.  I figured that there’s nothing in BF like it and since I’m a resident here I decided to organize one,” Andrew Yu revealed to me.  And so he did; so today we have the BF Homes Weekend Organic Market.  It takes a lot of optimism, chutzpah, and perseverance to transform an audacious idea like this into reality but the affable and personable Andrew seems to have plenty of these traits.
 
Replicating the business model of the extravagantly successful Salcedo Market and its lesser-known sister market may not be too hard, but duplicating its success may be the real challenge, as Andrew has found out.  From an initial 33 concessionaires--many of them drawn from these two bazaars--when he first started last November 6 inside the basketball court, it is now down to around just a dozen.
 
His Friday experiment lasted all of four months.  Undaunted, he moved it to the weekend starting in March.  “People prefer to go on Saturdays,” Andrew explained. Unfortunately, many of his former concessionaires had conflicting schedules elsewhere so he ended up with fewer sellers but with more buyers.  He figures it is just a matter of time--and enough publicity--before he gets the right balance.
 
Despite its name, it is not limited to organic products--although that is its central focus, in accordance with Andrew’s health and wellness motif.  His concessionaires are not limited to BF residents either.  His only criterion is that there should be no two sellers of the same product.  He provides the tent; you bring your own table and chairs or you could rent from him; and  electricity is free.  
 
I had been eyeing the Organic Market ever since I saw his ads around the BF commercial area and Dariel and I finally had the chance to visit one Saturday.  Even with only eight concessionaires present that day, we had no regrets dropping by.  After all, you go to any bazaar to find stuff you cannot get in your regular supermarkets.
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Rico dela Fuente of Mambos
Take the specialty cheeses of Mambos.  Entrepreneur Enrico dela Fuente, who comes all the way from Quezon City, has come up with his own Neufchatel cheeses from carabao’s milk and fromage de chevres from goat’s milk.  Then there is the more familiar kesong puti and the smoked kesong pinoy, which I got on my second visit.
 
The latter promised to be very interesting, as it was carabao's milk kesong puti treated to a native smoking process, hence the darker hue and the name, kesong pinoy.  How was it? As good as we had hoped, and even better!  The smoke flavor is sharp and clear, but not overwhelmingly heavy--it must be the wood used.  I discovered a great way to enjoy this cheese, by microwaving it on High for a few seconds.  Heating the cheese thus renders it into a flavorful and wonderfully not-so-gooey mess that's perfect on hot pan de sal.  I guess that shouldn't be a surprise--after all, it's made from the same kind of milk as mozzarella.
 
Why cheese?  I asked Rico.  “After my masters I was already thinking of having my own business.  Someone from the government just mentioned it to me, if I wanted to make my own cheese,” he explained.  “I looked at the internet, did some little research then I looked at how cheese was made and I found it kinda doable.  I just studied on my own; did research; bought books and after making the finished products, I gave it to my friends; got feedback; tried selling it in small markets then I got feedback again and made research on what other cheese products people might buy as well.  I also consulted some people in the know.”
 
Why Mambos?  Rico laughs as he recalled the origins of his brand name. “When I was trying to figure out the brand name for my products, it had to have a strong brand name recall. I thought of using the name that my former officemates used to call me, which was (Rico) Mambo, that's why I came up with Mambo.  I just added an “s” just like when you say Mambos green tea, Mambos guyabano juice, Mambos goat cheese.”  It may be a little, uh, cheesy, but hey, it works.  
 
He started experimenting with regular cream cheeses in 2005 but only in mid-2008 did he put up his dairy operations to complement his fruit processing business. Today, he has fresh cheeses and the regular processed ones.  Rico gets his supply of carabao’s milk from the Philippine Carabao Center and his goat’s milk from suppliers in Pangasinan.   At the start, he used garlic powder but is now growing his own fresh garlic (and other herbs) from which he extracts the juice.  
 
We pause in our conversation as Rico entertains a customer who buys his other bestselling cheese, the fresh Herb and Garlic, which comes in both carabao’s and goat’s milk versions.  This cheese, he says, is a favorite of foreigners; Filipinos have taken to it as well.  He also has pimiento and ricotta cheeses.  Another customer drops by to give him praise and some encouraging words. 
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Even as he is already supplying some restaurants and deli shops and is looking to expand his market, he still does his own marketing, purchasing, delivery, and selling while supervising his people at the same time.  And he has not forgotten his original products, his processed fruits--blueberry and mango balls that are excellent for ice cream, cakes, and crepes--and his fruit juices, the most popular of which is the guyabano juice, which for him is also the most difficult to produce.  
 “It’s the most popular, kasi walang tangang gumagawa ng guyabano juice, ako lang,” Rico jokes.  “In terms of quality of fruit, it's so hard to find guyabano fruits that are really perfect--nice-looking on the outside and good and nice-looking as well on the inside; most often, they’re nice-looking on the outside but bad on the inside.  Maybe that's why hardly anyone is making the juice or you seldom see it,” he explains, shaking his head as if to wonder why he was doing it at all.
 
I confess I am no fan of the fruit; but anything that is touted to be cancer-preventive is worth a try (plus I tell myself that Dariel and Dad do like it) so I buy his last bottle.  After I drain my glass of the guyabano juice shortly after coming home, I want Rico to know that, notwithstanding the danger to his sanity, God put him on this planet to keep on making this wonderful health drink.  I have become a fan--it just had the right amount of sweetness.  He says it must be consumed within three days after opening.  No worries there because I tell you, you’re going to finish it within 30 minutes after opening the bottle.
 
One juice that he started producing this summer is his pure cantaloupe juice.  Rounding out his drinks is his Green Tea using tea leaves from Taiwan.  Other than that, he sources all his ingredients locally, like the sea salt from Zambales.  He avails of a natural sweetener, stevia, and does not use preservatives.  Rico hopes that the health fruit juice industry will be given proper attention by the government to make them more competitive.

Now on her fourth week in the market, Ella, a BF Homes resident who is originally from Baguio, has partnered with a sister who helps her identify products from the north and sends it over for her buyers here.  This mother of two finds the Saturday market a perfect venue for her entrepreneurial spirit.  “I just left my job last year and I'm a full-time mom and on the side I'm trying to find things to do,” she tells me in a lilting voice.
 
Although her products may differ from week to week depending on their availability, she nevertheless has found some staples, like the malunggay- or spinach-enriched pancit canton that have found her steady buyers.   On my second visit, she showed me her other products for that day:  The fragrant bananas that were the best variety for making banana bread; the “kinuday” or Cordillera bacon; the Ibaloy native red rice; bugnay and coffee wine; native corn; and even dayap “from my mom’s tree.”
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[clockwise] Ella's table, AusZeal's Louie Ceniza, Marilao Puto from Bulacan, Ginny
I decided to go for two of her products that had intrigued us on our first visit--the  yacon and the camote chips.  Known also as the “apple of the earth,” the yacon is slowly penetrating the Filipino consciousness.  Originally from South America, an enterprising missionary brought this tuber to Benguet where it has thrived in the Cordillera climate; today, yacon is offered in agri fairs and bazaars and even some supermarkets.  
 
At first glance this new vegetable is something of a puzzle; it looks more like a smooth ginger or taro root, and my husband and I were expecting it to be like a potato inside, but cutting it open reveals an inner texture that is not starchy at all.  It's more like a turnip (singkamas), sweet and crisp with a hint of something peppery and minty, or a bit like ginger.  
 
The flavor is very refreshing, and we could easily imagine this new vegetable going well with fresh salads, or cut into finger-size bites and served with a dip for appetizer. As a health food, yacon is a must-have item on every diabetic’s table according to some websites.  Ella advised me to wash it only once--“It isn’t that sweet so do not wash it again after you peel it or it might dilute the sweetness.”
 
I have always liked banana chips but Dariel finds that many are cut a bit too thick to be enjoyable, especially as they harden in sugar.  The camote chips have a sweet flavor very much like banana chips--camote and saba being practically synonymous to many taste buds--but with the light flaky crispness of Pringles or Lay's chips.  They're crunchy and have just the right level of sweetness without going overboard with the sugar, and they’re very addictive!  

Another hearty merienda that did not go overboard with the sweetness is Ginny’s ginataang matamis.  This Filipino snack is one of my favorite native merienda and I was glad that it did not disappoint.  Another of her staple offerings is her tulingan cooked in gata, which I promise myself to get in the future.
 
Also on my second visit, I saw a new entrant to the market, South Fil-Zeal, headed by young entrepreneur, Maria Lourdes Ceniza.  Less than a year old, South Fil-Zeal is a direct importer of New Zealand meat products.  Louis has a lot to say about her company's competitive edge:  "Our meat products are lean, nutrient-rich, and are healthier as they are grass-fed, not grain-fed (which is what is usually done.)  The animals are reared in the fresh, open doors, on their natural diet of abundant grass, making them free of diseases like FMD and harmful residues."
 
Her company’s bestsellers are the sukiyaki cut, the oxtail, and the ground beef but for today, some cuts were not available.  “We didn’t really know which cuts would click; we just listed them down so that next week we could have them available,” she states.  Judging from her list, she already has attracted a market in BF Homes on her very first day.  

While the BF Weekend Organic Market may not yet match the popularity of its Makati counterparts, there was a steady stream of patrons as the day progressed, enough to bode well for Andrew’s dream of creating a go-to webazaar for the BF Homes community.  With a populace as large as BF Homes and its neighbors, there is no reason why it should lack for buyers and sellers alike.  Dariel and I only know that we will definitely be back for more.

BF Homes Weekend Organic Market