Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Home-made pan seared tuna

I'm closing out the year with a food feature. The Clairvoyant was experimenting on cooking some of the dishes we have enjoyed at restaurants before. I found a couple of photos of the pan seared tuna she made one October evening. It is something we had at a Japanese restaurant that we thought could be replicated at home with the right ingredients. And so we got sashimi-grade tuna, peppercorn, and lemons, and with a little help from our new kitchen instruments - voila - home made pan-seared tuna!

We wish everyone a wonderful 2015. May this New Year be a prosperous and productive one for everyone. May the year be filled with love, peace and healing!


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: A Year of Firsts

It's been a great year for us and we are so thankful of all the blessings that we have received this year. I like to say that it's been a year of "firsts" considering a lot of new things and "first times" that we experienced this year. We moved into our new home last March and had our first real garden and lanai where we could wile away our time enjoying the cool mountain breeze blowing in the area. We also have our mango tree and had our first harvest of sweet carabao mangoes last summer from which our help made mango ice cream and mango pudding - all home-made and unique delights.

We had our first LED television and our first satellite dish. We now have a real book shelf where we could put our collection of books and other stuff we've collected from all over from all the travels we've made in the last so many years. We now also have our own oven and the Clairvoyant has taken up baking as a new hobby. Our new home also allowed us to host lunches and dinners with family and friends - definitely not firsts but more comfortable (i.e., less crowded) than the previous lunches and dinners we hosted at our old home. Of course, we made new friends and acquaintances in our neighborhood and they include senior residents of our village as well as the Clairvoyant's new yoga instructor.

We took advantage of our living in the heart of Rizal province and went around a few places. It was our first time to really go around several towns in about a decade since we did a Visita Iglesia but we had to go around Antipolo first, and particularly to places that we wanted and planned to visit before but just haven't had the chance to go. Among these places were the Crescent Moon Cafe of artist Lanelle Abueva and the Petrolyphs in Angono & Binangonan. We also had new routes between our home and our workplaces with me having the option of going to the office via Sumulong Highway or Ortigas Avenue, and the Clairvoyant learning the use Circumferential Road 6 for a shorter trip to her office.

The new Antipolo Public Market opened this year and across it is a new Robinsons Place Mall. These are where we now usually and mainly get our groceries including food and drinks. We also now have a new neighborhood grocery near our home - a smaller version of Shoppersville in Katipunan where we could easily pick up items for the home.

This year we spent our first Christmas at our new home and celebrated on Christmas Day with our parents, siblings and nephew and niece. It was the first time we had both our parents celebrate Christmas with us as we usually went to our parents' homes on Christmas Day. We will be greeting the New Year here and already look forward to more "firsts" including new adventures in the coming year 2015.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

On Christmas caroling

The Christmas season isn't complete without caroling. Carolers are almost always welcome and I am referring to kids singing popular carols and Christmas songs and not the organized, fund-raising types that we turn down most of the time especially if we don't even know these people or their organizations. We do have a soft spot for kids compared to adult choirs or groups like this one from the church that we allowed into our home one evening.

I myself did my share of Christmas caroling with my friends back in the day when life was less complicated (at least for us kids at the time). People were less jaded and more generous. Well, at least, that was what most of the people in our middle class neighborhood were (Most gave us money in the range of 1 peso to 20 pesos - significant amounts back in the early to mid 1980's.). I would like to think that we did our part preparing for our almost nightly caroling by coming up with a good list of songs we could sing and practicing so that we had our lyrics right and sang in tune. We sang about 4 songs per home with mostly English carols or songs including "Silent Night," "O Holy Night," "Hark the Herald," and "Ang Pasko ay Sumapit."

These days, it's becoming rarer every year to hear kids singing complete Christmas carols or songs and we have heard some singing more contemporary yet seemingly inappropriate songs for their age (Pasko na Sinta ko? Christmas won't be the same without you? etc.). Most songs are sung without effort (no practice?) and usually are (much) shorter versions of popular carols including "Joy to the World,""Bago Sumapit ang Pasko" and "We wish you a Merry Christmas." Lyrics are often incomprehensible; revealing the carolers unfamiliarity with the songs (only the tunes). The singing also usually stops after 3 short songs or abruptly when "Patawad" or pamasko (usually money) is given. The "thank yous" to conclude the caroling are also hurriedly sang and without feeling (or sincerity).


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas greetings

We wish everyone a Blessed Christmas! May everyone in one way or another experience peace and love this day and all the days in their lives.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Preserving views - some thoughts on history and heritage

Much has been written about the Rizal Monument in Manila and the view of the monument being ruined by the construction of a high-rise condominium behind Rizal Park. While it is a very sensitive issue to many people especially those who are concerned with heritage conservation, some people tend to take the issue for granted; likely due to an ignorance or the utter lack of appreciation for history and heritage. So when I had the chance to take some photos of the monument I did so even though it was just a quick pass along Roxas Boulevard on board a vehicle.

A photo of the Rizal monument as we traveled along the northbound side of Roxas Boulevard
Another photo of the monument moments after the previous one and showing DMCI's Torre de Manila in the background
While the approval of the high rise condominium speaks volumes about how bad land use or zoning controls are not just in Manila but in many parts of the Philippines, it also says a lot about contractors, architects and planners in this country. Perhaps this is indicative of the times with people generally not giving a damn about history and heritage? Are people in general and professionals like architects and engineers in particular needing more education about history and heritage conservation?

I also chanced upon another view that was ruined by the same condominium. The same condo can clearly be seen in the background of what is an iconic view of Manila City Hall's clock tower. I don't have a photo of it yet but I will likely get one the next time I pass by the area. This is basically the same if not a worse case compared to the high rise condo behind Quezon City Hall, which for a long time remained unfinished due to many issues that hounded the developers. Have we learned our lessons from these experiences or shall the same mistakes be made once again elsewhere?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stellar Stella at Bonifacio High Street

The Clairvoyant and I were looking for a place to lunch after a mid-morning meeting that had us driving to and from Pasay City. We left our home early and the drives were longer than the meeting and so we felt we deserved a good lunch to make up for a quick breakfast. I asked her to recommend a restaurant because her office is at Bonifacio Global City and there are a lot of good restaurants around including those near her office. She did mention several restaurants that she and her office mates had tried before and it was only difficult to choose a place because there were many choices.

We ended up at Stella, which is located at the Bonifacio High Street. The restaurant had just opened that morning so we were practically the only customers for our early lunch. We had a great lunch at Stella, ordering their wood fired pizza and pasta, and having fresh lemonade to wash down our food.  I guess the place is good for groups as well as a big group of seniors came in just as we were finishing our lunch. They also have a tapas bar and I could imagine the place to be quite popular evenings and nights at BGC. Following are a few photos at Stella. The photos do not do justice to the quality of the food so I strongly recommend the reader to just go there and try out their food.

The wines on display are impressive
The staff were already busy working despite the restaurant just opening for the day
I forget what this is called but it's really good (roasted sun dried tomato?)
Smoky bacon and roasted rosemary chicken pizza
Wood fired garlic mushroom cream fettuccini


Friday, December 19, 2014

Dulcelin at UP Town Center

We had dinner with an good friend of ours from when he was visiting professor at the university care of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). It was only fitting that we took him to dinner after a short discussion during his very brief visit to Manila. We decided to take him to the UP Town Center as he has not been there considering that the development had not started construction the last time the professor was in Manila. At the UP Town Center, we selected a place to eat based on what we've tried and what we have yet to try among the restaurants. Walking around and looking at the menus displayed in front of the restaurants, we decided to dine at Dulcelin.

I have heard very good things about Dulcelin's mango torte (their specialty) and wanted to try it out. But I have also been told that Dulcelin's food was good so I thought was a good choice. We were not disappointed with our choice.

Red rice shiso
Beer batter onion rings
Their pumpkin soup is good and the serving is generous and really filling. We made a mental note not to have this soup if we weren't so hungry as it will make you full (perfect for those on a diet?) before you even have your main course.
Paella - you have to order this in advance (if you have reservations) or immediately as it takes time for the staff to prepare this. We enjoyed this very much and would highly recommend this to groups eating there.
Roast beef belly was just right and should be perfect with mashed potatoes or rice.

A good indication that their food was good were the many people already seated and eating at the restaurant. We thought their prices were reasonable though maybe a bit expensive for the typical UP student. However, the servings were on the generous side so I think that justifies the prices. Anyhow, typical students won't likely be eating lunch here everyday of the school week. Once in a while is the more likely dining frequency.

I actually purchased a whole mango torte, which I brought home. It was better than other mango tortes we have tasted before so its two thumbs up for their specialty. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to take a photo of this dessert but then perhaps this can be an incentive for my readers to go to Dulcelin and taste their excellent mango torte.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Something on "purpose in life"

A former student of mine just gave birth to a girl last night and we were very happy for them as they are truly blessed this Christmas and the coming New Year. She has been a most dedicated student during her undergraduate and graduate schooling and she is currently one of our most hard-working technical staff at our office. She has chosen to defer more advanced studies in order to have a family, and I think she made the right decision - she is now a mother. I am writing this as I recall a comment a good friend and colleague of mine at the university made with regards to batch mates of my student. 

My friend stated that she felt that our former students who are now taking advanced studies abroad seem to have no purpose in life. She made the observation that it seems that the end itself for these people seem to be to go abroad, study and get advanced degrees but not necessarily for any noble objective. I think I replied that that was indeed sad if it were true. I shared some of this sentiment as I see former students here and abroad who appear to be getting to the proverbial nowhere despite careers or scholarships affording them to live quite comfortably if not exactly luxuriously. Traveling and acquiring this and that is good but ultimately, how are they spending their times and lives now and in preparation for the future? Are they living fully or just wiling away their times not really knowing what to do or where to go?

This is why I feel happy looking at those who seem to be living their lives to the fullest by also sharing themselves, especially in terms of having a family and raising children. [Note: sharing yourself to others is not defined strictly to having a family and/or having children. You can also be sharing yourself by devoting time to worthy causes or initiatives.] I think this is a big difference between people who appear to be enjoying themselves especially with material things and those who give themselves to others. I think the latter type of people who are living their lives to the fullest and who have come to know their purpose in life.

What is your purpose in life?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Chocolate review: Valor Dark Chocolate 70% cocoa

I picked up a couple of bars of Valor Dark Chocolate 70% cocoa at the grocery about a month ago not just because of my curiosity for it being branded as sugar free but mainly because the sugar substitute was stevia. There is another Valor dark chocolate bar in supermarket shelves that's also sugar free but it uses a different substitute, maltilol, which is an artificially produced sweetener.

Prominent information on the bar for me were the 70% cocoa and the use of stevia as sugar substitute
Nutrition facts and other details at the back of the package
Stevia leaf extract is mentioned as the sweetener for this chocolate and like others that use sugar substitutes, there is a warning against excessive consumption (may have laxative effect).
Stevia has been hailed as a very good sugar substitute and one that is safe for people with diabetes. I don't have diabetes but I have friends who have it and are quite conscious about their intake of sweets. They, too, are curious about chocolates and other sweets that are okay with their condition though they don't look forward to indulging in sweets.  

As for the chocolate itself, I would say that this bar is good with or without the information on the sweetener. The Clairvoyant and I agree that the bitterness is just right and it was smooth enough for a 70% cacao bar. Of course, our taste buds couldn't really tell us if the stevia affected the taste. I leave it up to the connoissuers to figure that out. The bar currently retails for 143 PHP but I got one at 30 PHP off a month ago. That's a good price for a 100g bar.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Bazaar

We went to the Kubo ni Maria Bazaar at the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary along Taktak Road in Antipolo last Sunday. It was held at the Magnificat Hall just beneath the church so people didn't have to worry about the rains. There were more than the usual Sunday sellers of food and drinks at the bazaar (we regularly buy salad vegetables, salted egg and Bayani Brew tea after Mass), and we took advantage of people selling handicrafts and other items to do some Christmas shopping.

There were a lot of people at the bazaar as many coming out of the Mass decided to check out the goods.
A nice find was Abuelita's, which sold chorizo, pasta sauces and various dips. The chorizo is really good and we will be trying their pasta sauces next.
Handicrafts on sale included bags, baskets, bayongs, accessories, mats and other stuff.
The bazaar is a good opportunity to mingle with people in the community including our "suki" sellers. Hopefully, too, there will be more of these mutually beneficial bazaars in the future and that these activities are able to support programs of the parish.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pleasant ironies

We found it quite ironic that we had to postpone a vacation we had planned and made reservations for many months ago because of an approaching typhoon only to find out that the weather was actually quite okay in our destination. Of course, much information about the actual track and strength of the typhoon was unknown (given the uncertainties associated with typhoons) and so we just couldn't take the risk of being stranded in Cebu while a typhoon pounded Greater Manila and our home. We are quite glad though that the fair weather has allowed us to enjoy morning jog, a good lunch out and an evening walk with our dog. It helped, too, that we had a cool breeze blowing and a nice moon to brighten up our path around our mountain home.

The Clairvoyant with our 8-month old golden retriever
The wind is starting to increase in strength as I write this post. Perhaps its due to the approaching typhoon? Very likely though we expect even stronger winds and rains by early morning or perhaps noontime tomorrow when the typhoon is expected to be traversing along the Bicol Region (at least according to one possible track). It could definitely affect our return flight and we didn't want to be stranded where we were vacationing and with us worrying about home and relatives worrying about our whereabouts.

Friday, December 5, 2014

No PAGASA? No problem!

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) website has been down the past two days at a time people are anxious on information about a typhoon affecting the country with potentially catastrophic outcomes. The Philippines' weather bureau has put up an alternative site to provide information on the approaching typhoon. Ruby (International name: Hagupit) had developed into a super typhoon yesterday and its Category 5 attributes reminded people about how destructive such forces of nature can be barely more than a year after Yolanda (Haiyan) lay waste several provinces. It seemed that the international name of the typhoon itself was apt for its potential. "Hagupit" is Pilipino for "to lash," and it would seem to be something like a scourge of God if the typhoon were to make landfall like Haiyan last year.

I have not been too dependent on the PAGASA site despite all the information it provides including real time information on the water levels of major rivers in Metro Manila. I take exception of DOST's NOAH project, which to me is technically not PAGASA and very useful for their Doppler data and visualization. Two websites that I highly recommend to people for information on the weather are the following:
For those interested in modeling and the forecasting of typhoons from their formative stages the website by the National Oceanic an Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the US is a very interesting site.

Following are sample visuals from the three sites I mentioned, which can be good references for the weather. I highly recommend Wunderground, which also has an app for your smartphone, for daily or even hourly weather information.

JTWC's latest information on Hagupit
Wunderground's latest 5-day forecast for Hagupit

NOAA storm tracks showing current and potential weather systems in the Western Pacific

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Ka Lui, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

We made sure to go to Ka Lui, the top restaurant in Puerto Princesa, when we were in Palawan last September. It was the first time for our guest, a Japanese professor, in Palawan. I will talk about the food on another post later. Suffice it to say that the food is really good and we had a great time dining there and enjoying the mostly seafood that we ordered.

Interior of the restaurant as seen from our table
There are low tables for those who want to sit on the floor in the traditional way
Colourful dinner plates on display
A reserved table - all tables are practically reserved as there is a high demand for the restaurant
The receiving area upon entering the premises of the restaurant
Guests are required to deposit their footwear at the reception where there are baskets and an area for storage
The inner areas of the restaurant has a small shop, an exhibit area, and a small stage
Artwork on exhibit at the restaurant are mainly by local artists
The small stage is for parties and other functions that may require it
Other artwork on display near the comfort rooms
Inside the male comfort room, which is clean and with a design consistent with the theme of the restaurant
The small bridge connecting the main dining area and the more private areas at the back
There are lots of items (of curiosity) on display inside the restaurant including mostly native crafts

Ka Lui is almost always crowded and it is usually almost impossible to get a table for walk-ins. The dinner schedule is quite strict and you have to call in for a reservation either for the 6:00PM or 8:30PM time slots. Price-wise, it is not so expensive and just right for a full service restaurant. No Michelin stars here but who cares? The food is really good (and the service efficient) and that is what really counts. 


Monday, December 1, 2014

Chocolate review: Lindt Dark Gourmet Selection

We start the month of December with a chocolate review. But unlike previous reviews, this one's on a selection of chocolates. Lindt Dark Gourmet Selection consists of tablets of four chocolates: Orange Intense, Dark 70%, Dark 85% and a touch of Sea Salt. The orange and sea salt tablets contain at least 47% cocoa. All are smooth including the 85% cocoa tablets and are perfect as after meal nibbles. In Filipino, we say "pantanggal ng umay" to refer to the need for something sweet to clear the palate of the (savory) taste of viand that usually goes with the staple rice in our meals. The tablets are supposed to keep one from indulging in the chocolates.

Tablets of four kinds of dark chocolate in Lindt's Dark Chocolate Selection
Another look at the box
All four types of chocolates

The Clairvoyant got the chocolates at an airport duty free shop as she was coming home from a trip to London. It didn't have a price tag on it and she couldn't recall how much it cost but you can probably just google the price. It shouldn't be too expensive but it won't be cheap given the brand. The bottom-line thought is that it is good quality chocolate and something I'm sure would be enjoyable to nibble on. Chocolate will always be popular no matter what time of year it is. Christmas though is one of those times when one probably looks forward to chocolate especially the hot kind that you can enjoy on a cold morning.