Sunday, March 31, 2013

Katsu cravings - Yabu: House of Katsu

I wanted to post this during the break but it seemed inappropriate talking about meat during Holy Week so I postponed in until after Easter. The Clairvoyant and I were back at SM Megamall after what seemed like a very long time. I had rarely went to this mall while she was in Singapore as I didn't see it as necessary considering there were also malls (SM Marikina and Robinsons Metro East) along the way between my office and our home. I could do my shopping and groceries from these two as well as the Cherry supermarket near Masinag. Our purpose for going to Megamall was to have an old camera checked but we already anticipated having lunch there and try out one Japanese restaurant we've heard from friends.

Highly recommended by friends was Yabu: House of Katsu, a Japanese restaurant obviously specializing in katsu or deep fried breaded pork. I heard or read somewhere that the first branch of the restaurant in SM MOA was a hit and that encouraged the owners to expand. In fact, they are opening a new branch at SM Southmall this Easter Sunday. We were already tipped off by friends to come to the restaurant early or late as the lines were quite long. We decided to have early lunch and easily got a good table. We took a few photos here and there, and especially the katsu set we ordered. We will definitely be back!

The interior walls feature comic strips (manga)
Grind the goma (sesame seeds) and then mix with the katsu sauce
Kurobuta Katsu set - 90g katsu, unlimited rice, unlimited cabbage, miso shiru, fruit bowl
Kurobuta (literally black pig) comes from the black berkshire pig that is the source of the meat

Happy Easter to everyone!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Mango float for Easter

The Clairvoyant made some mango float last Thursday that we could enjoy on Easter weekend. The recipe is not so complicated and the ingredients are easy to get. Fresh mangoes are available throughout the year but are very much in season this March and April so we were able to get good mangoes that are just right in terms of sweetness and sourness. Cream and condensed milk are also readily available from the supermarket or even in convenience stores. Graham crackers, which would serve as the layers for what would look like a cake are also available from the grocery. We have a few Pyrex trays at home that we use for various dishes so we just took a couple out of storage and prepared them for use for the do-it-yourself dessert. I took a few photos of the final product that we sampled today after almost 48 hours in the freezer.

Fresh from the fridge freezer - the mango float was placed in the freezer for best results in integration of the ingredients.
The first slice of mango float for the taste test.
Success! The mango float tastes great and the layers of graham, mangoes and cream/condensed milk mix is seen in the photo.
I can say that the mango float is ready for Easter Sunday and won't probably last beyond Sunday if we let everyone indulge in dessert tomorrow.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Antipolo on a Good Friday

We had gone to the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage or Antipolo Church on Good Fridays the last 4 or 5 years. That mini-tradition was cut short last year when the Clairvoyant went to her mother's hometown in Zambales to spend a few days there while she was in the Philippines (she was still posted in Singapore at the time last year). This year we decided to go in part as thanksgiving for our future home near the shrine. Following are a few photos taken at the shrine this morning. 

The Shrine of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage
Main altar with the image of Our Lady enclosed in glass at the center
Another view of the main entrance to the shrine
There were many people as usual at the shrine this morning. Most were pilgrims doing the visita iglesia or church visits, often with the objective of visiting 7 churches and praying a novena for the stations of the cross or the rosary in each church. Some have themes of trying to visit only old churches like the ones found in the Rizal-Laguna area or in Pampanga, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija (similar visitas are in churches in Cebu, Iloilo and Negros, and so on). Some try to go to only major churches or shrines (e.g., Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Baclaran, Sto. Nino in Tondo, Manila Cathedral and San Agustin in Intramuros, San Sebastian in Manila, Sto. Domingo and Our Lady of Lourdes in Quezon City, etc.). The visita iglesia is usually a good time for bonding among family members or friends though its becoming more like that than for prayers or reflections on a holy day. Hopefully, prayer is not lost among those taking the road trip this Holy Week.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Questions and reflections on a Maundy Thursday

Three verses in the New Testament of the Bible have always caught my attention whether they are read during Mass, as part of a lesson from when I was in high school or when I happen to remember them for whatever reason. In Matthew 19:24, Christ says that "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." In Matthew 25:35-36, He says "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."

The first verse is something that seems to be biased against wealthy people and is often quoted (perhaps wrongly or incorrectly?) by those who tend to interpret these verses too literally. However, the second and third verses that I also cited have been used to explain the first one and probably applies to those who have so much and yet share too little of the blessings granted to them. What was the context of these verses and what was it like being rich at the time? Similarly, what was it like being poor during those times? Was it the same as being poor today? Was poverty as described the same poverty we experience at the present? It seems quite so obvious and yet if we delve deeper, it becomes much more than the financial or economic poverty we automatically associate with these verses. These days, we can extend our definition of poverty to psychology, to health, and even morality, respect and decency. One can be financially wealthy but morally poor. One can have so much property and yet be so corrupt and infamous. Blessed and few are those who have and are able to share their resources and themselves with the have-nots. But then do they give enough (until it hurts?) or do they just give excesses, surpluses that they could just as easily throw away rather than give away to the needy? A popular saying that is also based from the Bible (the story of Lazarus and the rich man) tells us that we cannot bring riches in the afterlife. And so the logic is that all the money and property in the world would not be enough for entry in heaven.

Matthew 19:24 seems in conflict with the "Parable of the Talents" found in Matthew 25 where a master rewarded two servants who used the talents granted to them to produce more while scolding and punishing one who did not use the talents given him. But then one perspective is that perhaps God gave us each different talents and at different amounts. Maybe wealthy people were given the talent to make wealth while less financially fortunate people were granted talents like being able to design things, build things, repair things or maybe a green thumb to grow things for food. I would like to think that these verses from the Bible presents us with a challenge for us to try to understand and extend our concept of sharing. If we are good in making money, could we be good at tilling the fields to grow rice and vegetables? If we are adept in the stock market or trading, could we also be good in fishing? Indeed there are always exceptions to the rule and success stories where the results seem to state that its possible to have multiple talents. But that is not an aberration but rather a sub-case of the same parable. These multiple talents can be harnessed to produce more but the challenge is also to share more with others. 

But we should not forget that this is not a one way thing. Even for those who have less, there is also the challenge to give and not just to take. The problem we often have is something of a mendicancy mind-set. Some less fortunate people have come to believe that they should receive financial and other assistance from the government and those who are better off. The tragedy here is when they become selfish in the sense that they no longer want to use their own talents, to work and improve themselves. And there are so many of these people now who take advantage of other people's goodness and generosity that the former become abusive and the latter jaded of their efforts. These set to motion a vicious cycle that is leading us to becoming uncaring and indifferent and perhaps unbelieving or faithless. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Some thoughts on the STFAP and surviving the rising costs of education at UP

We were among the first batches to experience the Socialized Tuition Fee Assistance Program (STFAP) back in 1989. I was among the last batch of students to experience 40 pesos per unit tuition when I was a freshman in 1988. At the time before the implementation of STFAP, I remember that there was a lot of talk and some confusion about how the program would go considering it was a first for the state university and all sorts of documents were required to be submitted by students in order for them to be classified according to the brackets formulated for STFAP. 

At the time, Bracket 1 was the lowest bracket and entitled students classified under it with free tuition plus a monthly stipend (I forget the amount.). Bracket 9 was the highest bracket and the default for students unable to complete the requirements or not applying for STFAP. As we were compiling documents for submission, hopeful that we could qualify at least for the brackets lower than 9, my father decided not to pursue the application and just pay the tuition during my sophomore year. With STFAP in place, UP was also raising tuition to 100 pesos per unit and it still was much cheaper than the costs in other schools like Ateneo and La Salle. Unfortunately, tuition steadily increased from then at 200 pesos per unit during my 3rd year and 300 pesos per unit by my graduating year. 

I can still remember Tatay saying to me: "Hayaan mo na lang. Huwag mo na isipin yan. Problema na namin ni Mama mo yan. Basta mag-aral ka na lang mabuti." This came from a person who had struggled with poverty during his childhood days and put to school by the hard work of my Lola and his elder siblings. This came from the same man who, after getting a job and his first paycheck after college, helped his siblings finish their studies and supported many other relatives through their schooling.

Coming from a middle class family with Tatay working and Mama a housewife, my siblings and I were quite fortunate to get our education from private schools. I can only imagine the costs of putting all three of us through grade school, high school and university as we were not wealthy and depended on the fixed income of my father for sustenance. We are thankful for these gifts from our parents and definitely appreciative of their sacrifices for us. If Tatay had lost his job at a time their company was laying off workers due to the difficulties in the 1980's, I am quite sure now that he would have done whatever it took to give us a good education as well as put food on the table for our meals.


Forward to the present...I can only imagine the circumstances of the family of the UP Manila student who took her own life likely out of despair and depression brought about by her being forced to take a leave of absence. But I must admit that I was bothered by the way the student's father seems to be all composed in front of the camera with statements that seem to be scripted and even rehearsed. Surely this would not have been the reactions of other people in similar situations. Placing much of the blame on the school (I maintain that UP was at fault here and that such policies like the forced LOA is inconsistent with a state university's mandate and therefore immoral.) is a way of washing your hands on something he is very much a part of.

I would like to think that the parents of the student did not try their hardest even given their circumstances and resources. For one, uprooting your entire family of six to go to Manila because their eldest would be studying at UP Manila is not the best strategy. And I have seen some comments on social media asking why they had four children when they didn't have the resources to raise them, put them in school much less be able to have some savings for emergencies given that the breadwinner had work before. Also, from experience I know that there are also many other opportunities for financial assistance in UP. Were they able to explore scholarships or other types of loans including those that can be availed from the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) or the SSS? Meanwhile, based on copies of the suicide note, the student didn't even mention her being forced to take a leave of absence as the reason for committing suicide. Rational people can now only think about the "what ifs" or real reasons of the act.

Meanwhile, UP should definitely do some soul searching, starting with the administration, with how it should and not just intend to address the issues concerning STFAP. Definitely, more state subsidies for education will not be coming in the near future and so there should be other ways to address the concerns of students coming from the lower income families but are highly deserving of a UP education. Surely, the many who have reacted to the tragedy that is the suicide include UP alumni who have the means and/or the influence to put up funds to assist those in need and not just the ones with cum laude and above grade averages.

Friday, March 22, 2013


We were watching the news last night and were expecting updates on Sabah as well as the suicide case of a UP Manila student. We were also expecting some news on Pope Francis as well as information on the goings-on for Holy Week (next week). Instead, we were treated with an overextended and unnecessary interview with the sister of the highest public official of the land. She was relating her version of what happened between her and her ex, whom media reported making sexual advances at her and in the process also offending and abusing (mentally and psychologically) their child.

While such news are usually relegated to local news or the tabloids if involving normal people (read: general public), this case was different because it involved a popular personality who also happens to be the sister of a high ranking public official. The result was tremendous but unnecessary attention from the media starting with her home outfit and eventually including its rival stations. Is this of national concern? Is this what's supposed to be prioritized over other more important news on events and situations happening around us? In practically a couple of days, what should have been a private issue had practically obliterated news on more important affairs like Sabah, socialized tuition and reforms in the Catholic Church. Even the status quo ante order on the RH Act was buried under what's supposed to be classified as showbiz fodder. I think there's something terribly wrong with our media if they continue to stoop to this level and take the bait (hook, line and sinker) for such distractions to more pressing issues.

I was actually rooting for the lawyer of the personality's ex, who is also a popular athlete. The lawyer found a way to express her opinion (similar to mine) that the affair is a private one and something that needs to be private instead of being featured on front page or getting too much treatment on TV. I was agreeing with her as she sort of embarrassed the seasoned journalist interviewing her by stating that there are more important issues including Sabah and the UP Manila suicide that needed more attention than the case she is handling. Perhaps media should heed the lawyer's call and pay less attention to distractions that tend to trivialize more pressing concerns that need to be addressed by a country needing to learn to prioritize among the information it is fed by media.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Katsu cravings - Katsu Cafe

My good friend Karl had a sudden craving for katsu one day last week. He related that he had enjoyed eating katsu at a restaurant in UP Village and that the taste and presentation was authentic enough that it reminded him of meals he had while also still studying in Japan in the 1990's. Recently, however, the quality of the katsu had deteriorated and it seemed just like any other breaded pork meal you could get in a typical canteen or eatery so he stopped going there. Of course, there were many Japanese-themed restaurants around especially in the malls, which served a variety of katsu meals but many tasted too commercial for him.

I mentioned we could go out and try a restaurant I spotted along Katipunan Avenue. And so we drove to Katipunan and parked at a pay parking facility not far from the restaurant (it didn't have enough parking spaces). We ordered the set meal we saw in the menu for our katsu fix and reminisced about life in Japan as we ate our lunch.

Katsu set including two lean breaded pork cutlets (hire katsu) over thinly sliced cabbage, Japanese rice and miso shiru

Katsu Cafe along Esteban Abada near the corner with Katipunan Ave at the ground floor of the old Burgundy Condominium is a nice little restaurant. The food is good and authentic but this is based only on our one time lunch there. There were many customers at the time we ate there, and the turnover was quite good so I would assume that the food quality was also good and priced competitively. The menu is quite limited but I guess is just right for a small restaurant specializing in katsu. Will we return for another meal? Highly likely but not so regularly considering the traffic along Katipunan around lunchtime.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

A renewed hope

We have a new Pope in Francis, the first to adopt the name which the Pope himself says is after St. Francis of Assisi instead of St. Francis Xavier. The latter and the Pope are both from the Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits. I must admit this came as a surprise as I read the explanation that adopting the name Francis alludes to a message or a statement being made by the new Pope of how he intends to lead the Roman Catholic Church and the possible policies and practices that he will advocate.

I learned about St. Francis of Assisi during my grade school and high school days at Lourdes School of Mandaluyong, a school ran by Capuchin Franciscans (Order Friar Minor Capuchins). There we learned much about his life and works including popular stories of his works with the poor and animals. St. Francis lived a very simple life after giving up his possessions and taking a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience, and forming the order of Franciscans. It is said that Christ spoke to him and asked him to "rebuild my Church." Perhaps, despite all the reports citing the Pope for his being a conservative during his time as Bishop of Buenos Aires, the new Pope will surprise us and become active in rebuilding and reconciling the Church with these modern times.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Just desserts... again

Our most recent trip to Tagaytay led us to lunch at Buon Giorno again. We enjoyed our last lunch there and wanted to try other items on their menu and so decided to go there for an early lunch. The restuarant was already quite crowded when we arrived but managed to get a table as most of those in line were groups of more than 2 people and had to wait for other groups to finish before they were able to get a table. After having a delightful lunch, we also decided to have some dessert at the restaurant and chose a serving of their sans rival. We were not disappointed and were tempted to order another one.

Chocolate sans rival at Buon Giorno
As we drove around the city, we noticed a sign along the road that pointed us to a place that has become quite popular recently but is quite off the beaten path as it is about 10 minutes drive from the national highway. We first learned about Chateau Hestia from a close friend and got more info from their website. Though curious, we forgot about the cafe and didn't even check the availability of a room as they were also a "bed and breakfast." When we arrived, we were asked by their staff if we had a reservation. As we didn't have one, we decided to browse their deli and found some interesting wines on the rack. The Austrian owner brought wines directly from his trips from Europe and the Clairvoyant spotted tempranillo. Meanwhile, the cafe's staff were able to get us a table and ordered coffee (for the Clairvoyant) and tea (for me) and a serving of their chocolate souffle, which the staff recommended. Though it was our second dessert in just over an hour, we were quite surprised of the quality of the warm treat. We will definitely come back to Chateau Hestia for a full meal the next time we are in Tagaytay.

Chocolate souffle at Chateau Hestia
More on Chateau Hestia in a future post...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Japanese inspired room

Back in Tagaytay, we were made to wait awhile as our room was still being made up when we arrived at the hotel. The wait was well worth it as we were pleasantly surprised by our room. The Clairvoyant already told me before the trip that we had upgraded as a regular room was not available during our stay in the city. We didn't expect the upgrade to be quite luxurious, even having a Japanese influence. Following are a few photos I took of the Japanese elements in our spacious room, aplty named Nara, during our last visit to Tagaytay.

Japanese dolls on the console table
A closer look at one of the dolls on display at our room featuring a girl dressed in kimono and holding a paper parasol
Tatami flooring and a small table that reminded me of my time as a student in Japan
Another doll holding what looks like a ceremonial kabuto (helmet)
Another doll, this time holding what looked to me as a toy or musical instrument
Lacquer boxes like the ones you could get in Kamakura or Kyoto
Porcelain jars usually used to hold tea

Monday, March 4, 2013

An alternate route to SLEX

The Clairvoyant and I were back again in Tagaytay during the last weekend of February to celebrate my 41st. It was an adventure of sorts as we explored an alternate route to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) via Circumferential Road 6. I suggested this for us to be familiar with this alternative route from Rizal to Bonifacio Global City, which the Clairvoyant would likely be taking between our future home and her office. The route has been mentioned as already being used by UV Express vehicles plying routes connecting Rizal towns and Global City and the Makati CBD. I have found it to be relatively uncongested with light traffic throughout the day. 

The alternate route starts from Taytay where one takes the Highway 2000 road from the Manila East Road. Highway 2000 leads to the Barkadahan Bridge, which spans the Manggahan Floodway, connecting the East Bank Road with the West Bank Road of the floodway. The road become Ejercito Avenue, which leads to another bridge across the Tapayan River, which is a tributary of the Marikina-Pasig River system. Crossing the bridge takes the traveler to a junction where C-6 begins, near one of the pumping stations that help control flooding along this dike road. C-6 passes through a densely populated area that is supposed to be a relocation area for informal settlers. The road is higher than the adjacent land, indicative that the area is prone to flooding. The road eventually leads to another bridge at the mouth of the Pasig River at Nagpayong where it proceeds all the way to Bicutan where it ends at the junction with M.L. Quezon Avenue, and where it becomes Gen. Santos Avenue. The latter ends at the Bicutan interchange of the SLEX. All in all, the route stretches across the towns of Taytay and Cainta in Rizal, Pasig City, Pateros, and Taguig City in Metro Manila.

From Taytay to Cainta: Barkadahan Bridge across the MangCainta
From Cainta to Pasig: Ejercito Avenue Bridge across the Tapayan River
Circumferential Road 6 starts in Pasig City from its junction with Ejercito Avenue
Part of C-6 is a coastal section where one could see the water lily-covered Laguna de Bay
Some sections are within Sitio Tapayan and it is obvious that the road was built to be higher in elevation compared to the surrounding areas. At left is a school building.
C-6 section approaching the bridge across the Pasig River at Nagpayong