Wednesday, May 22, 2013


some of the moors costumes

    Araquio festival is a celebration traditionally held every May in Nueva Ecija. The festival dates back to the Spanish colonial period and is celebrated with a theatrical/religious presentation similar to Spanish zarzuelas, dramatizing the spread of Christianity in the country and the war between Christians and Muslims.

Some of the Costumes

History and Customs

    The name Araquio is said to have come from "Heraclio", the name of a bishop during the time of Constantine the Great. The first Araquio presentation took place in the town of PeƱaranda, Nueva Ecija over 120 years ago. Before modern musical instruments were available, the bands used instruments made from indigenous materials like bamboo. According to Francisco Vergara Padilla, director of the Araquio group in the barangay of St. Tomas in PeƱaranda, during his grandfather's time they used basins and utensils as substitutes.

    Araquio is usually presented in May, during the feast of the Cross. The date of the feast varies from one town to another. This festival starts with a mass and ends with the elaborate Flores de Mayo celebration. Each performing group is given a day or two to perform in the town plaza, making it a weeklong presentation. Local wealthy families usually make it their spiritual duty to sponsor the festival, sometimes giving no less than fifty thousand pesos.


    Festival performers sing, act and dance while a brass band plays. The choice of songs and choreography varies, but the script has remained the same since the tradition started. It tells of the feud between Muslims and Christians that started over territory. In the play, Christians use the power of the cross, symbolizing their faith, to defeat the Muslims, who later retaliate by stealing the cross. After many battles, the cross is recovered, and the Muslims are Christened.

    Normally, there are 16 performers in each Araquio group. Nine of these play Christians led by Reyna (Queen) Elena and Haring (King) Constantine. The Reyna Elena has two servants, Laida and Blanca. The rest are soldiers named AlbertoArsenio, Rosauro, Fernando and Leonato. The Muslim group, on the other hand, is composed of seven people, led by Ordalisa or Erlisa and the Emperor. Their soldiers are Emir, Dublar, Marmolin, Engras and Sagmar. The male Muslims wear red costumes with feathered headdresses, while the male Christians wear either blue pants and white top or black pants and blue top. The female costumes are similar for both Muslims and Christians, except that the Christian women wear a sash or "banda" while the Muslim women wear feathered headdresses similar to their male counterparts.
    The players stand on an elevated stage, either wood or concrete, during their performance. The presentation also allows for crowd participation. The band plays on and the performers continue their choreography but pause their dialogue to give way to the dancing audience.


Christmas Candy Cheesecake

Each year around the holiday season I get the sensation that time is speeding up. Today I'll be RSVP-ing to Christmas parties and tomorrow I'll be wishing you a Happy New Year! So, even though it's not yet December I've decided to start my Christmas baking full force.

One sweet treat I love to take to holiday parties is cheesecake.  It feeds a crowd and is always well received. This is probably the fluffiest baked cheesecake I've ever made!  I was really surprised because it wasn't as dense as others I've retrieved from a water bath.  It has a shortbread cookie crust and a sweetened sour cream layer on top that holds on your choice of Christmas candies.

You can really put your own individual stamp on this cake by using a mixture of your favorite candies. Kids will love to help with the decoration and there's really no way to mess it up!  

I used dark chocolate M&M's, Sixlets, coconut Ferrero Raffaello confections, gumdrops, jelly beans, jimmies, confetti quins and soft puffy peppermints. Even though I fully encourage you to go crazy with the adornment, I would like to recommend using candies that are all relatively soft.  Hard candies are not welcome to this party.

Cheesecake isn't the only Christmasy thing I've been whipping up lately! I've been on a very special project  for Sony Pictures and their Arthur Christmas Blu-Ray, DVD release that happened on November 19th.   You can find a link for the full Arthur Christmas cake tutorial on their Facebook page HERE.

I had a blast making this cake, and the movie could not be more adorable. Even if you don't have kids it's a lot of fun to watch (I appreciated some of the adult humor that kids might not catch). Bryony the elf especially captured my heart - I highly recommend!

A few more words about the cheesecake. A good leak-proof springform pan is important! Otherwise you'll end up with a soggy mess, no cheesecake to eat and ultimately time wasted. I use this 9-inch Nordic Ware Leakproof Springform Pan for most all of my cheesecakes.

I also use this roasting pan with a rack insert made by Martha Stewart (only at Macy's) for the water bath.  The cheesecake pan can sit level on the rack while I pour in the hot water to the suggested depth. After the cheesecake has baked, I don't have to risk burning myself with hot water - I can just lift out the rack and allow the cheesecake to cool on the rack insert on my stove-top.  

Christmas Candy Cheesecake

This recipe is adapted from Taste of Home 100 Best Desserts. I've changed the graham cracker crust to a shortbread crust. If you prefer the former, you can substitute the 2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs for 2 cups graham cracker crumbs. I used Walker's brand shortbread cookies and a food processor to make my crumbs.
**This cheesecake should chill overnight, so plan ahead.
                                                                                                                                [click for printable version]


2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
6 tablespoons butter, melted

  1. Preheat oven to 350°
  2. Securely wrap two squares of aluminum foil up and around the sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan.  The crust is very buttery and the aluminum foil will prevent butter from seeping out of the pan and onto your oven floor.  It will also be extra insurance against water seeping into the crust when it's baking in the water bath. 
  3. In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, brown sugar and cinnamon; stir in butter. Press onto bottom and 1-1/2 in. up the sides of the spring-form pan. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack.  Let cool completely.

Cheesecake filling:

4 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 eggs, lightly beaten

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add beaten eggs and mix on medium-high speed until incorporated. Pour into the partially baked shortbread crust. 
  2. Place cheesecake pan in a larger baking pan and add 1 in. of hot water to larger pan. Note: I used the hot water that comes from my tap because it is very hot indeed.  This is a short-cut I use sometimes, but I usually put on a large pot of water to use for the hot water in the water bath.
  3. Reduce oven heat to 325° and bake for 1-1/2 hours or until center is just set. 

Sour cream topping:

2 cups (16 ounces) full fat sour cream
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Your choice of Christmas candies

  1. In a medium bowl, combine sour cream and sugar and stir until smooth. Spoon the mixture over the surface of the hot cheesecake and spread with the back of the spoon to cover.  Bake for 5-7minutes longer.
  2. Remove spring-form pan from water bath.  Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Loosen cheesecake from the sides of the pan with a knife, but do not remove the collar. Refrigerate overnight. Open the collar of the spring-form pan and remove.  Garnish with your choice of Christmas candies.

Ferrero Rafaello 15PC
Wilton 6 Color Christmas Sprinkle Mix
Sixlets in Jars Holiday Set - 3 Colors
Trader Joe's Citrus Gum Drops
9-inch Nordic Ware Leakproof Springform Pan