One of my dearest friends, Thea, holds the genuine title of a Creative-Genius-Domestic-Goddess. She is a true renaissance woman, who excels at the art of home cooking, the art of drawing and painting, the art of interior (hobby) and fashion (profession) design.
Working as a designer for Ralph Lauren, she spends her days envisioning and creating collections that I can only dream of! She then, comes home to unwind with a whisk in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.
Growing up with Theadors, I was always inspired by her artistry and her profound curiosity and drive for creation. She was a friend who was (and still is) ahead of the trend. Err, in fact, she usually created them!
I recently attended a beautiful gathering my dear kaibigan hosted, and as to be predicted, I was insanely inspired. She made a decadent Korean beef stew (that cooked for over twenty-four hours) with a mound of white rice (no gathering, in my opinion, is complete without some white rice), and a delicious winter salad. The table was set to perfection, and the pica pica – a REAL winner.
Immediately upon leaving her cozy abode, I thought – I MUST ask her how she does it. Here are a few words of Thea-wisdom – I hope she inspires and awes you as much as does me!
Every time you host a gathering, your table is set to perfection, the food is decadent and delicious and the guests feel so at ease. With a full time job, how do you do it all?
Planning ahead! I love to make lists and I like to break my tasks out by day the week before the event. Also, a lot of the prep turns into my de-stressing time after work. I legitimately enjoy setting a table! I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to tablescapes that inspire me! My next gathering at home is always at the back of my mind so when I have downtime, or am doing everyday things like waiting for the subway, I like to think about how I can add little details to the event to make it more special. But in general, it’s always more work than you think it is so I try not to leave anything undone the day of.
You have always been someone who enjoys working with her hands. I remember our high school days when any surface was a canvas. You’ve since graduated from RISD and are currently working as a designer for Ralph Lauren – how has your love for creation evolved? What personal creative projects are you currently working on?
I get to be creative at work designing womenswear, but I have recently been really enjoying decorating my apartment, and I feel like everything inspired that I do on my personal time relates back to that. I have been reading a lot about interior decorating and I have done some mixed-media burlap paintings for the apartment that have inspired me to go back to school and take figure-drawing classes at the Art Students League of New York. I have been taking an evening class once a week and it’s been my favorite way to wind down after work. It’s a nice deviation to the daily grind that is working in the fashion industry. Doing something fun like this helps me to continue to realize that being creative isn’t limited by the confines of my day-job.
What is your go-to entertaining menu?
I love my slow cooker! I just discovered it and it is a total game changer. We have been making Korean Beef Stew and it’s a breeze! You literally just put everything in and completely walk away for hours (or a full work day) and it comes out perfectly every time. It’s also great in the warmer months because it doesn’t heat up the entire kitchen before all the guests arrive, which is my biggest pet peeve with my oven. Because I’m Filipina, it’s a must to serve it with rice. And to make myself feel better, I serve it with a salad too. But in general, I have some staple entrees and I work towards building a menu around them.
As a twenty-something living in New York City, entertaining can certainly be daunting and tricky, especially on a budget. What are your tips on creating a tablescape and menu that look and taste indulgent?
I have a lot of little glass votives that are very versatile. I like to buy a bouquet of flowers at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s and spread them throughout the middle of the table. Candles also make everyday meals special. I buy candlesticks and tea lights in bulk becausethey are more practical and is an instant pick me up, even on weeknights. I also keep stock of pretty paper napkins because I don’t have the time or the patience to deal with cloth napkins (yet)!
I’m always wow-ed by the juxtaposition you create when you host: everything is so simple yet looks so complex, elegant and decadent! What are your tried and true rules for any gathering, big or small?
Flowers, candles and cheese! And a really good playlist. I love 60s music and have been slowly compiling my dream 60s playlist. It’s a mix of 60s pop and bossa nova.
The Filipinos are known for their cosmic smiles, genuine hospitality and natural grace – characters all of which you exemplify! As a Filipina living in the big apple, what inspirations do you bring from the pacific and incorporate into your daily routine, lifestyle and entertaining?
I love Filipiniana style. I didn’t appreciate it as much growing up in Manila but now that I am a little older and living in NYC, I love being able to have lots of little things to remind me of home. Like woven placemats, bone inlay trays, Acacia serving bowls, silver bamboo flatware, and of course, wooden serving spoons and forks. I wanted the apartment to feel as warm and cozy as possible and to me, having these little luxuries and details make me feel like I’m at home with my family in the Philippines.
What Filipino staples do you always keep in your pantry?
Tinapang Bangus (smoked milkfish in a jar) – my absolute favorite.
Garlic flakes – I just sprinkle them on to my rice and it’s instant garlic rice without the hassle!
Bottled calamansi concentrate – great for getting the calamansi juice fix and also as a cocktail mixer.
Where/What is the place (physical location, magazine, digital) that most inspires you?
I don’t have one favorite but one of my current obsessions is Jamie Meares of www.isuwannee.com and www.fursbishstudio.com. I am really in to her colorful and happy boho style. I am also really enjoying discovering Rita Konig. I love reading her old articles and looking at the homes she’s done. I especially love her old rentals here in NYC. I just think that her style has so much charm!
Could you share your secret recipe for that mouthwatering Pavlova you’re so known for?
Of course!!! Here it is:
Thea’s Pavlova Recipe
(based off of Nigella Lawson’s Mini Pav Recipe)
Ingredients for the Pavlova:
· 8 large egg whites
· 1 pinch of salt
· 2 cups superfine sugar (very important that it’s super fine, you’ll get lumpy pav otherwise)
· 4 teaspoons cornstarch
· 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
· 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
· 2 cups of strawberries, sliced and macerated in a tablespoon of sugar
· 1 cup blueberries
· 1 sprinkling of confectioners' sugar (for dusting)
· 2 cups maple whipped cream (recipe below)
· ¾ cup strawberry sauce (recipe below)
You will need 2 baking sheets, lined with wax paper.
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until they're holding firm peaks but are not stiff. Slowly add in the sugar, one spoon at a time, until the meringue is shiny and comes to soft peaks. Sprinkle the cornstarch, a few drops of vanilla and the vinegar on top and gently fold in to combine.
3. Draw two circles on each of the wax paper lined baking sheets. You will have four total.
4. Spoon the meringue onto the baking parchment into the delineated circles, and spread and smooth to fill. You want to make the meringue slightly higher at the rims, or just use the back of the spoon to make an indentation in the center to hold the cream and fruit later.
5. Put into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 300ºF. Bake for 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and leave them in for another hour or even overnight with the oven door slightly ajar. The important thing about pavlova is having enough time for it to dry out so that the middle is a like a wonderfully squishy marshmallow and the edges are crunchy and airy.
6. I like to make them the day before but they last up to a week in an airtight container. When you want to assemble them, dollop the maple whipped cream into the indentation in the middle and smooth it with the back of a spoon. Pour on sliced and macerated strawberries and fresh blueberries. Drip strawberry sauce on top and dust with confectioners' sugar.
Maple Whipped Cream
2 cups heavy cream/ whipping cream
¼ cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Beat all ingredients in a bowl until soft peaks form
½ cup of your favorite strawberry jam
½ cup fresh strawberries sliced
1 pinch of salt
½ cup of sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup of water
Put all ingredients in a saucepan and cook over low heat until it reduces by a third. Once cooled, blitz in a food processor and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to assemble the pavlova.