Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

On Halloween

Halloween Child's Chair, Basket and Scoop
Acrylic on Wood
by jojo sabalvaro tan

I'd like to share with you my  painting of a child's chair and trick or treat wood bucket/basket and scoop for Halloween.  The air here is getting cooler and the leaves are starting to change their colors. Although I love spring with its promise of warm days ahead announced with the budding of flowering trees of pinks, yellows and lilacs in a background of verdant greens, I looks forward to the earthy scent of fall and the glorious yellows, oranges and reds that herald autumn and the coming of the 'Ber' months which for my family is a time of celebration and great joy - birthdays and the holidays of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Here in the US, Halloween is a holiday observed on October 31. It is now one of the most commercial holidays, next to Christmas. Many folks decorate for Halloween with items such as jack-o-lanterns, witches, scarecrows and haunted houses. Often in celebration, a costume party is given where the guests dress up in various costumes and almost all homes participate in the ritual of trick-or-treating.

At the cemetery on All Saint's Day in the Philippines
In the Philippines, we celebrate All Soul's Day on November 1st. There is a practice pretty similar to trick or treating, where I remember as a child, a group of us would go door to door in a ritual called Mangaluluwa (Calling to the Souls) serenading the houses with a threat that if the homeowners do not give a treat or alms the dead will come back to haunt them or a prank is pulled on the household. This, of course, is part of honoring the dead which includes family and friends visiting our dearly departed at the cemetery on All Soul's Day. Food, flowers and candles are brought to the tomb and prayers are said for the dead. It is one of the family reunion times of the year, where relatives from all over will congregate at the cemetery where family tombs are located and pay their respects. During this cemetery vigil, songs are sang, food is consumed and scary stories are told along with memorable tales about the dead family members. November 1st is a big family holiday in the Philippines and feels more like a party at the cemetery than a solemn religious ceremony.

Detail of Chair

I painted the chair, basket and scoop  in a decorative painting class. The surface used was wood. I used acrylic paints. Acrylics are ideal for decorative painting since they dry fast. For a while there, I was really into decorative painting and it marks one of my most prolific times when it comes to arts and crafts, only to be superseded now by my watercolor paintings. You can see the obvious influence of the decorative painting techniques and the use of acrylics in my watercolors as my work tend to be more opaque or semi-transparent than the transparent quality seen in most watercolor paintings. I still do decorative art but not as much as I used to but I will for sure feature some of my previous, current and future deco art projects on this blog.

Front Detail of Wood Basket

These pieces were done under the tutelage of a talented decorative artist Sue Gualillo and is based on the design of master decorative artist and author, Helan Barrick, one of my favorite decorative artists. I like her scenes with children and the nostalgic quality she imbues. The chair pattern, entitled Spooky Nights,  is from her book, Angel Twigs. I think the bucket and scoop are designed by Helan Barrick also. For more info on Helan Barrick and her patterns, please visit www.helanbarrick.com

Normally, for a class project, we are given the wood surface which we would finish by smoothing with sand paper and applying wood sealer so that the acrylic will adhere to the wood surface without getting absorbed. Then, the pattern is traced and then a base coat is applied accordingly. Often, the instructions include exactly what color to use. At the time, my acrylic colors of choice was Ceramcoat by Delta which are available in 2 fluid oz. bottles in a myriad of shades and hues which precludes a lot of mixing. After the base coat dries, highlighting and shading is done to give the painting dimension. After that, detailing is added usually with a liner brush. In every stage, the paint is left to dry first. After the painting is completed, the whole piece is varnished, sometimes antiquing medium is added to give it depth and a vintage feel.

As you can see, decorative painting is more like paint by numbers than the actual creative process required with 'true' fine art such as oil and watercolor painting. It is an easy and satisfying craft to learn and in the end, I believe it rises up to the level of fine art especially once you start making your own designs,

Happy Halloween, Folks!!

Back Detail of Basket

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Churros con Chocolate ala Dulcinea

Dulcinea Churros con Chocolate

Here I am again on a food search, trying to find some churros dipped in thick chocolate like those found in Spain or the ones from Dulcinea Restaurant in the Philippines. Whenever we go home to the Philippines, one of the first places we eat at is Dulcinea where they serve hot Churros con Chocolate that are very similar to those found in Spain. Here in Chicago, my hunt for churros produced the Mexican-style ones. The difference: the Spanish-style ones are lighter. If you compare it to Dunkin Donuts doughnuts, the Mexican-style churros are similar to old-fashion cake doughnuts while the Spanish style ones are like French crullers - without the sugar coating. The Mexican churros are normally long and straight, while the Spanish ones are served curled.


The churro or Spanish doughnut is normally served for breakfast dipped in thick hot chocolate. They have a ridged surface as as result in being piped directly unto hot oil through a churrera, a syringe with a star shaped tip. Churros are normally sold by street vendors who make them fresh in their stand and serve them hot. Here you find them in restaurants as part of their dessert or snack offering. One of the most popular restaurants serving churros in Chicago is Rick Bayless' XOCO with a menu is based on street food in Mexico.

Alas, I could not find a place here in Chicago that serves the Spanish-style churros that I prefer. And travelling to the Philippines or Spain everytime I have a hankering for churros is not an option. So my hunt for a recipe on the internet and recipe books began in earnest. I tried several recipes and found the ingredients simple, mostly stuff you have in your pantry - flour, sugar, water, oil. After a few experiments - some successful, some not - (at one point I ended up with what looked like funnel cakes), I had a "light bulb" moment when I figured out that I can use a modified pate choux dough recipe (the one used to make cream puffs and eclairs) to make my dough. That batch came out closest to what I was looking for. The pate choux recipe I used came from my Auntie Nita who used it to make cream puffs, one of the first of many baking lessons she taught me

My first attempt at making Churros con Chocolate
Spanish-style Churros

1 cup water
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/8 teaspoon salt (the basic recipe did not ask for salt but I think it enhanced the dough)
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 small/medium or 3 large/extra large eggs
1/4 cup sugar
Light vegetable oil for frying

Heat oil in a deep pan to fry the churros. The oil should be about 1 1/2 inches deep and 350 to 360 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you don't have a thermometer, you can tell if the oil is hot enough when a small piece of dough is dropped into the oil and small bubbles form around the dough as it starts to rise to the surface. If the oil is too hot, the dough will just lay there.

Heat water, salt and butter to a rolling boil in a sauce pan. Add flour all at once and stir vigorously over low heat until the mixture forms a ball (about 1 minute). Remove from heat. Beat eggs all at once until smooth and then add to saucepan stirring the mixture until smooth and shiny.

In lieu of a churrera, spoon mixture into a large pastry bag with large star tip (I used Wilton's # 21 and since I did not have a coupler large enough for the tip, so I just taped the tip to the bag). Squeeze 6-inch strips of dough, forming a small letter e or curly-q into hot oil. You might need someone with strong hands to help you out with this process as it is a little hard to squeeze the bag with this thicker dough. (At this point, I was seriously contemplating buying a churrera as it may be easier to extrude the dough. But then again, I will need to remodel the entire kitchen to find space for it or worse, dispose of some of my kitchen tools and equipment.;-() Fry 3 or 4 strips at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle sugar on the hot churros.

And now for the thick hot chocolate for dunking. This calls to mind the "tsokolate-eh" referenced in one of the most famous and beloved literary masterpieces in the Philippines, Noli Me Tangere by national hero Dr. Jose Rizal (June 19, 1861- December 30, 1896 - Happy 150th birthday!!). This book was required reading in high school all throughout the Philippines. In one of the scenes in the novel, Rizal pokes fun at the friars and their hospitality. In this particular scene, stern-faced Franciscan Padre Salvi would gives a coded order for "tsokolate-eh" and the housemaid will serve a rich and thick chocolate drink but on the other hand, if the instruction is to serve "tsokolate-ah", a diluted, watery chocolate drink would be served.

I made the chocolate while I was frying the churros so that it will be ready while the churros are nice and warm.

Churro dipped in Chocolate.
The canister of Angelina chocolate in the background.
Chocolate for Churros


4oz dark chocolate, chopped or powdered (I had purchased some from Angelina in Paris and it was great with the churros)
2 cups milk
1/2 tbsp cornstarch for thickening
4 tbsp sugar (I adjusted the sugar based on the chocolate I used for the Angelina powdered chocolate, I only used 2 tablespoons sugar)

Place the chocolate and half the milk in a pan and heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is thickened, Pour in cups or bowls for dunking the churros. Served warm. Dunk churro in hot chocolate and the taste will surely take you to Spain or Dulcinea in Manila. Kain na!! Ole!!!

BUEN APETITO, mi amigos y amigas!!!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Swan Song - a short story

I wrote this story based on a scenario a classmate and I were discussing of an old flame showing up out of the blue many, many years after their estrangement. I thought it would be a good addition to the reunion stories I have been drawn to writing. Since my husband was my first and only boyfriend, I tried to imagine what it would have felt like if we had broken up unexpectedly (before we were married) and never see each other for 40 or so years. The story is also partially inspired by the boys in my high school class who seem to have the need these days to confess their secret admiration to their crushes in high school and college. This, of course, is a work of fiction and any similarity to people, places and situations are purely coincidental and just a product of my imagination. Hope you enjoy The Swan Song.

The Swan Song
A swan song is a metaphorical phrase for a final gesture, effort, or performance given just before death or retirement. The term is derived from the legend that, while they are mute during the rest of their lives, swans sing beautifully and mournfully just before they die. Swan picture is from Internet. I do not know who the artist is)

'Monica!' I heard my name being called. I turned around and tried to put a name to the vaguely familiar face standing in front of me.

"'I'm sorry," I said still trying to connect name to face. These days it gets harder and harder. I swear when I turned 60, half my brain died and every year that followed, my memory is being exponentially erased. I stood there, feeling awkward, smiled and tried not to be rude. My heart started racing.

This man dressed casually in a baby blue La Coste shirt and black linen chino pants stood in front of me expectantly. He looks so familiar, I thought.... so familiar.  I felt very awkward. I should  know this guy; but I’m struggling to remember from where. My brain started spinning and ticking off names, like going through a Rolodex, searching through the database of my life. The process is much slower now that the memory banks are crammed full and the engine is suffering from years of wear and tear.

"'Monica," he said, "It's me…Wi….”

"Willy???...I said, before he could even finish saying his name...Willy!!" "Wow!!! What are you doing here? It's been years!” automatically, giving him a hug.

In a span of seconds, an alarm went off in my brain, and I am filled with trepidation. I took a few steps backwards, uncertain now of what to do, how to act, what to say. I wanted to turn around and bolt.

Smiling brightly, he looked in my eyes, the intense 'taking it all in' way I always remembered he used to and said, " I came to see you. "

My heart began to dance around my chest. I feel my knees going weak. “Oh, please don’t faint,” I tell myself. I am excited and guarded at the same time. I have not seen or heard from Willy in more than 40 years... And now, here he is standing in front of me, at a mall, of all places. This is not what I had expected when I ventured out to treat myself to a new blouse this morning. I brushed my hair back with my fingers, all of a sudden conscious of how I looked.

"How have you been, Monica? You look great.” I did not feel my best in just my jeans and sweater. I'm sure the make-up I applied  before I left the house has worn off by now. I felt downright dowdy.

I stood there speechless, trying to gain my composure and hoping my dread did not show. 

“Would you like to grab some coffee?, " he said.

I nodded in assent, deciding to trust in the moment and indulge in my curiosity.

He offered to take my shopping bags. We walked towards the Starbucks just around the corner. My heart seemed to be beating louder than the squeals and screams emanating from the children’s playground nearby. I am near panic so I tried to surreptitiously draw slow deep breaths. Starbucks was crowded with the usual clientele - students on their laptops, office workers on break, housewives pausing from their morning run. We bee-lined towards an open low table and Willy helped me settle in one of the comfy stuffed armchairs.

"What would you like to drink? Anything to eat?"

"Just a vente caramel macchiato, please," I said.

My head is buzzing with so many questions and memories as I watched him as he went to the counter to place our order and waited for our coffees to be done. It is the same Willy, the same smile, same eyes, same voice, same face - older, of course. His thinning hair is salt and pepper now. In spite being an additional 40 or so pounds heavier since I last saw him, his face seemed gaunt.

A college pal introduced Willy to me at a party. I was 19 then. I guessed him to be 2 or 3 years older. We hit it off immediately and liked each other from the first second we met. After that evening, we became very good friends. He became part the regular gang of close friends I usually hang around with in campus. As a group, we did everything together, movies, shopping, fairs, dances, and joy rides. Willy and I talked on the phone every day. No subjects were taboo, no secrets unshared.

I do not recall how and when our friendship developed into something different. Our friends were the first to notice and started teasing us. We laughed in denial, Gradually, I found myself anxiously waiting for his calls, my insides did flip-flops when he brushed against me or held my hand. It felt that every song on the radio was written just for us. I noticed that when Willy looked at me his gaze felt like a soft caress. There was certain tenderness in how he treated me. He brought me little gifts, flowers, chocolates. I blossomed in Willy's attention. No words of love were exchanged, it was just understood, just like the earth rotating around the sun everyday. Each moment of those years was magical, an endless string of sunny days and starry nights.

Then, abruptly, the phone calls stopped. I never saw Willy again. I had no idea what was going on. I worried he was ill.. All my friends could tell me was that they have not seen him around.  I wanted to find and confront him but my pride stood in the way. I finally found the courage to call him at home. His father answered and told me he was not home. I became clear to me that Willy wanted me out of his life for I can hear his voice beyond his father's voice refusing to talk to me.  I was brokenhearted and inconsolable The rejection left a wound in my heart that could never be healed. Soon enough, in spite of it all, my fickle heart moved on. I convinced myself that there are things in life that are flitting and not meant to last. Willy will be one of many who will occupy a spot in my heart to make me a little wiser for the next time.

Willy came back to the table, handed me my drink and a chocolate croissant. '"Just in case. I remember you love chocolates,” he said, with a wink. I pulled myself from the memories that once started, wouldn't stop. I was feeling the long buried pain in my heart resurfacing and unbidden tears rimming my eyes.

I took a much-needed sip of my coffee to calm my nerves. The cup was soothingly warm as I held on to it with both hands to prevent them from shaking.

"How did you find me? "

"It is easy with the Internet nowadays." 

"No, here in the mall. Don't tell me you've been stalking me, " I said, with a laugh, hopefully sounding nonchalant.

"The truth is I've kept tabs on you all these years through old friends but stayed away. I've seen you around many times over the years. Today, when I saw you here at the mall, I could no longer resist not talking to you."

Five hours have passed; Willy and I are still sitting at Starbucks catching up about each other's lives. I was gradually feeling more comfortable, my barriers slowly coming down. He works at a bank; he married in his 30s, which ended up in divorce, no children. I married at 21 and showed him pictures of my husband, children and grandchildren. We laughed at the remembered antics of our youth and cried for the friends now lost to us. We marched back through the years, eventually leading up to our time together in college, a subject we both seem hesitant to unravel. It is palpable how long forgotten emotional attachments were held in check as they simmered on the surface, threatening to bubble over. For the time being, we tried to pretend  that we were just old friends that got separated by time and reconnected. There was magic in that and we both did not want to break the spell.

I looked at my watch, "Oh, it is getting late, and I have to go. My husband will be home soon." We exchanged phone numbers, email addresses and promised to keep in touch.

"Thanks for the coffee and croissant," I said as I gathered my purse. He stood up and helped me with my shopping bags, and asked, "May I walk you to your car." I nodded. We walked to the parking garage in companionable silence both lost in our own thoughts and retrospections.

As we loaded up the trunk, the nagging question at the back of my mind resurfaced and I can't seem to let it go this time.

I steeled myself, turned around and asked " Why are you really here, Willy?"

He looked into my eyes and I purposely fussed with my keys, avoiding his gaze. I did not want Willy to see the changing colors of my feelings.

" Did you ever think about me all these years?" he asked.

"Of course," I answered truthfully, curbing my emotions, as my heart constricted from memories wrapped in hurt, fresh wounds opening up again.

" I shouldn't have stopped you today but I could not help myself. I am glad to see you so well and happy, Monica. I wanted to let you know that stole my heart back then and I never wanted it back. It has never been over for me."

"But why....? I started to ask.

Willy went on to say, " Not a day goes by without regret over the hurt I caused you. I just wanted to ask if you could forgive me and allow me to be your friend again. I care about you deeply and will be content to be someone you can reach out and hold on to when you need a friend anytime, anywhere."

More questions crowded my mind, foremost of which is why he dropped off my life before. He has offered neither explanation nor apologies. I wanted to lash out, hit him  with all the pain and anger I did not realize I kept bottled up all these years. But instead, I just stood there mute and wavering. Instinctively, I touched my fingers to Willy's cheeks, now wet with tears and he held it there with his hand for a few seconds more.

I got in my car and drove away. I could not fight back the tears. I could not hide the pain and... yes, if I was honest to myself, the joy. On the radio, a songstress repeats her plaintive refrain, "Those wise men that said time heals all wounds forgot about my broken heart. Yes, they forgot about my broken heart."