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My mental health break |

Health And Family

My mental health break

HEART AND MIND - Paulynn Sicam - The Philippine Star
My mental health break
Bale Dutung’s Claude Tayag with Sheila Coronel, Karina Bolasco, author Paulynn Sicam, Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, Sol Juvida, Rochit Tanedo, JoAnn Maglipon, Ceres Doyo
Photo by Sol Juvida

It’s been two weeks since I last shared my heart and mind and not because I have nothing to write about. There is a lot on my mind that I would like to share, but it is not for easy relaxing reading on a lifestyle page. My thoughts these days have been, like Robert Frost’s woods, dark and deep, but they are far from lovely — and I have promises to keep. 

My mind has been troubled and my heart heavy worrying about so many things — friends, family and fellow citizens falling ill and dying — some from illness or from natural causes such as old age, and many others from acts of violence. Cases filed willy-nilly against friends and comrades for so-called crimes. Climate change and the horrible floods and heat waves all over the world, traffic, pollution and food security, with supplies of fish and rice — our country’s staples — running out due to wrong-headed policies.

The surveys tell me that I am not the only Filipino who is losing sleep over the situation we are in. These are not the best of times. Which is why it is important to take what I call mental health breaks whenever possible, by getting away from it all, even just for a day. I, therefore, welcomed an invitation for my women writers’ group to drive up to Bale Dutung, Claude and Mary Ann Tayag’s restaurant-on-demand in Angeles, Pampanga, for an adventure into Kapampangan cuisine.

It was Sheila’s birthday and she wanted to celebrate with the women, two others of who are July-born, Sol and myself, and Ceres who was born in August. Karina made the reservations, Neni provided the van, and with JoAnn and Rochit, eight of us had the Kapampangan meal of our lives, delightfully annotated by Claude  with his encyclopedic knowledge of the origins, history, geography, culture and politics of the dishes he served us.

Bale Dutung is located on the ground floor of a house Claude, who was an architecture student in UP, designed himself as a kamalig where, amid a variety of dining tables, his collection of old kitchen equipment (pangkiskis ng niyog, egg beaters, pangkiskis ng yelo and giant baskets and glass jars) and utensils are displayed along with his artwork as a “wood designer.” Nearby, in an enclosed room are his fabulous watercolor paintings many of which are compiled in a handsome coffee table book, A Watercolor Journey, autographed copies of which we were lucky to go home with. Outside is a garden where a giant rubber tree lords it over a small fishpond. All over the place are Claude’s works in wood. 

It was a day well-spent — we were relaxed and revived in the company of women friends of close to four decades, partaking of fine native cuisine and listening to Claude, the foodie, artist, writer, raconteur, in the artfully rustic setting of Bale Dutung. The dishes came in 10 plates, from salad (ensaladang pako) to soup (papaitan), to seven dishes served in what seemed like small portions, but the end result was a satisfying meal of Kapampangan tastes and textures that left us pleasantly full but not bloated.

Claude described each dish — grilled chicken pork and pork innards on a stick, four kinds of sisig, adobong pugo, Kapampangan sushi one of which is buro with fried hito wrapped in mustasa leaf, bulanglang, duck kaldereta, and kare-kareng lamang dagat, topped with creamy tibok-tibok for dessert — and peppered us with little known culinary facts, such as adobo, sinigang, kinilaw are not dishes per se, but methods of food preparation, which is why there are many kinds of adobo, sinigang and kinilaw. And “sisig” actually refers to “snacking on something sour” and a “salad,” which is why, along with the sisig we know made from parts of a pig’s head, he served us papaya sisig.

What a treat it was — the food, the company, the fascinating discussion at table with Claude.  When we got up to leave at mid-afternoon, Claude said we had to stop by the Holy Angel University to see its museum on the history and heritage of the province of Pampanga.  It was a side trip worth taking, if only for the recreated retablo in the lobby where beautiful replicas of old statues of the patron saints of all the towns of Pampanga are displayed. The museum displays pride of place, including an interesting timeline of the history of the province dating back to prehistoric times until the year 2000, and native trees endemic to Pampanga planted around the courtyard outside. What we didn’t have time to explore was Ambeth Ocampo’s book collection on the third floor that he donated to the museum.

It was such a pleasant day that during the ride home (even the traffic gods were with us), we realized that for five full hours, we did not think or talk about politics or politicians, decry the state of our justice system, despair over the recent State of the Nation Address, the effects of climate change on the future of the planet, and other aggravations. For one brief shining moment, we were just a group of women friends having a great time and such big worrisome issues were swept to the background.

It was, indeed, a mental health break.

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