Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Baked cream dory

The Clairvoyant continued to experiment on our dinners by baking cream dory one weekend evening. Here are a few photos of the preparation for the baked cream dory.

We get our cream dory from the supermarket. It is the vacuum packed kind produced by RDEX, which is based in Davao.
The dory is grilled lightly and placed on a pyrex pan. This is to make sure that the fish is already partly cooked.
Lemon butter sauce with parsley is added to the fish.
A close-up of the lemon butter sauce. The parsley came from a pot we maintain at home among other herbs like rosemary and basil.
A close-up of the fish before it is placed in the oven to bake.
I was not able to take a photo of the fish as it came out of the oven and when we already had our dinner. We were probably too hungry that we just sat, said grace and enjoyed our baked dinner. I do remember that we liked what we ate and there will be a next time for this dish and so that will mean another opportunity for a few photos of the finished product.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Cafe Mezzanine

We were in the Binondo District where Manila's Chinatown, the oldest in the world, is situated. I had not been to Chinatown for quite a long time. The last time I had been there was when a grandchild of mine (I have "old" blood among our relatives.) was baptized at Binondo Church many, many years ago. But at the time, we went straight to a restaurant for the reception and I didn't get to walk around a bit. This time, I was able to go around and have a short walk. This short walk took us to a restaurant we passed by during our drive to take a look at the roads for a study we were doing.

We spotted Cafe Mezzanine just as we were driving along Ongpin Street and were trying to look for familiar establishments like the Eng Bee Tin shop famous for its hopia and other savory treats. It was not hard to miss and there was even a sign identifying it as a landmark and a place to go to for a good meal.

Cafe Mezzanine is well known as the hangout of the famed volunteer firemen of Binondo's Filipino-Chinese community. Their donation of all revenue to a worthy cause adds to the charm of this restaurant.
Menu cover
Lechon kawali
Pork and shrimp siomai
Wanton noodles - was just right and we didn't feel dizzy after slurping the soup; an indication that it wasn't loaded with MSG
Beef steak - the beef was soft and easy to chew, and the sauce was enhanced with the onions on the cafe's take on the popular bistek
Xiao long bao - I haven't tasted this favourite dumpling since we were living in Singapore and had easy access to really good xiao long bao with Din Tai Fung restaurants all around the city state.
Poster showing some special dimsum available at the cafe
We had very good meals at Cafe Mezzanine and would likely eat again there the next time we were in Binondo and Chinatown if it weren't for the many other places where you can eat good food in the area. Still, the cafe is a must for visitors especially those who are in Chinatown for the first time. I would strongly recommend also the walking tour of Chinatown, which I haven't tried but which the Clairvoyant has gone with our friends before.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Decadent home-made brownies

The Clairvoyant baked some brownies over the Christmas and New Year holidays and came up with what we thought were the best brownies she's made so far. She didn't make it from scratch but I was the one who bought the brownie mix from the supermarket so I got to pick what I thought would probably produce the desired result. The mix was Maya's Decadent Brownie Mix and it had easy to follow instructions for whether you wanted your brownies fudgy or cake-like. We like our brownies to be on the fudgy side, siksik or thick, and not moist (e.g., devil's food cake) or fluffy (e.g., chiffon cake). For a real comparison, I prefer brownies the likes of what you can get from Mrs Fields over the typical neighbourhood bakeshop brownies that seem to be confused with chocolate cake with peanuts mixed in and on top.

The wife sprinkled (more like poured) a lot of pecan nuts and chocolate on top of the brownie after it came out of the oven. This turned out well even though there were already nuts mixed with the dough when it started baking.
Sections of the brownie on the Pyrex tray reveal what I mean by "just right" when it comes to my preference for this baked treat.
Pyrex is transparent, allowing for a view of the brownie a la "ant farm." 
A brownie square = 1 serving
The Clairvoyant promised to bake another batch soon. I took a mental note of that and would be getting a box or two of the same brownie mix. The wife says she will get some macadamia nuts to try it out with the brownies. We both like cashew nuts and these are easily available from roadside shops along our work routes so that should not be difficult to get. I already look forward to the next batch of brownies!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Baked rosemary chicken

Another first time treat during the Christmas and New Year holidays was the Clairvoyant's first crack at making rosemary chicken. While we have enjoyed the roasted version in a couple of restaurants before and wondered if we could make a similarly tasty meal. The Clairvoyant instead did some research on the internet (a very useful resource for cooking and baking these days) to get a recipe that involved baking.

We got our chicken from the nearby supermarket. Most parts were chicken breast with the bones. The other major ingredient was of course rosemary, which we happened to have a lot of because of the different pots of herbs we got when we had our new home landscaped. We now get most of our herbs (sweet basil, Thai basil, rosemary, lemongrass, tarragon) from our garden. I won't delve into the details of the recipe and how the dish was made. Instead, I'm just posting a couple of photos of the baked rosemary chicken that we enjoyed on one late December lunch.

This version of rosemary chicken was baked using a Pyrex tray
A closer look at our savory lunch
There were only 4 of us at home so we were not able to finish the entire tray over lunch. We ended up having the same during dinner and some leftovers were still good for meals the following day together with other viands.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Chocolate review: Toblerone Swiss dark chocolate

One of our all time favorites is Toblerone chocolate. I have very fond memories of eating Toblerones brought or sent by relatives who were abroad. This was in the 1980s when chocolates like this along with Hershey's, Cadbury, Kitkat and Snickers. These were not readily available on local supermarket shelves and were usually "imported" as pasalubong or souvenirs. Not everyone had access to the "PX goods" stores that sold these chocolates at premium prices and not everyone had relatives from abroad (balikbayan or OFW) whose arrivals are also associated with duty free shopping. Later, as these chocolates became available everywhere I think many had lost their appeal as people wanted to get the "not so easy to get" bars, especially with information now available on the internet.

Recently, I got reacquainted with Kit Kat due to the new variations that came out of Japan (e.g., orange, sakura, and macha or green tea). These were a welcome twist for the chocolate and have become very popular. Last December, I decided to get a couple of small Toblerone dark chocolate bars. We had missed the taste of Toblerone and wanted to have some for old times sake.

Toblerone's version of dark chocolate
Nutrition information and expiration date on one side of the distinctive triangular-shaped package.
The information states a minimum of 50% cocoa for this bar, which is higher than other regular dark chocolates in supermarkets.
Toblerone Swiss dark chocolate contains more cocoa than other regular dark chocolates in local supermarkets. However, it retained its very distinctive nougat from the original Toblerones. That makes us enjoy both the taste of slightly bitter chocolate with the delightful, classic nougat of Toblerone chocolates - definitely something good that makes us reminisce about childhood treats from abroad.
A few years ago, I found that Snickers, too, had a dark chocolate variant and had bought boxes of these from a supermarket at the former Clark Air Base. I have yet to find these again locally but will write about them in another post soon.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Christmas well-wishers

The number of well-wishers typically swells during Christmas Day itself. People you don't know suddenly appear in front of your home and greeting you "Merry Christmas!" usually without the sincerity but seemingly as a substitute to a demand to be given money. We are no scrooges and we even prepared a budget for carolers and well-wishers based on the people who typically showed up in the place where we used to live but then we expected mostly kids in the neighborhood, the same ones who probably went caroling the previous nights. 

We did not expect to see entire families going around and stopping by each house to ask for pamasko.  It was not like this when we were young (i.e., our childhood years). There seems to be a lot more namamasko these days and this mendicancy has become a bit if not quite invasive. Given, it is a sad sight and a sad commentary on Philippine society. And I am sure that parents who brought  their children (and in many cases even carried their babies) probably meant well but then there are deeper issues pertaining to these that seem to be beyond our understanding, and pure and simple compassion should not be the sole basis for dealing with them. It made me wonder if the social welfare department was really doing their jobs and if this was another case to support the push for more liberal if not radical reproductive health laws in this country. It was obvious that the couples were not in the best position to raise and support their children, and relying on the charity of others seem to be quite unfair and even unjust.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

UP Town Centre: Liberty New York Steakhouse

The Clairvoyant and I had to cancel our trip last December because of stormy weather and the threat of heavy rains that we thought could probably ruin our vacation. It didn't rain that weekend but it was gloomy for several days as one of the slowest typhoons to pass through the country practically camped between Luzon and the Visayas for several days. Not to be affected by the weather, we decided to go out and have an early lunch at the UP Town Center. After looking over menus displayed outside the restaurants, we decided to go for a steak lunch at Liberty New York Steakhouse. 

The place wasn't crowded and we were able to get a good table. We ordered our steaks and enjoyed a very nice lunch along with our usual kwentuhan of how we were to spend the holidays. Of course, we also planned out the "make-up" for our vacation trip. Here are some photos of what we had at the restaurant. We didn't go for the expensive steaks on their menu as we just wanted a straightforward and relatively inexpensive steak lunch. 

French onion soup
Fresh lemonade
Wisconsin tenderloin steak with fried rice and side salad
Wisconsin tenderloin with plain rice and side salad
The steak was certified Angus beef and we had ours done medium rare 
Table by the window by the escalator
Restaurant interiors
Some interesting retro stuff on display in the restaurant
Photos and prints on display at the restaurant
Liberty's menu on the place mat
Judging from the steaks that we got, I would say that the restaurant is a good find and a place we will be going to again in the near future should we have a craving for steaks. They do have specials and sets that I think would be affordable to students (yes, including the typical or average student from UP) but not for everyday lunches or dinners. Their selection in the menu is also quite good so you don't really have to go for steaks. The service at Liberty is good and I think it is a good thing to have a good steakhouse nearby the office and accessible for when you want to have that special lunch or craving for meat (apologies to my vegetarian friends).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy birthday Troy!

It's our Troy's birthday today. He would have been 11 years old (77 in dog years) today instead he is spending eternity in dog heaven. Do dogs go to heaven? We believe so with this gentle, kind creature we called friend and family.

Happy birthday Troy! We know you're having a blast with Our Creator in heaven!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Senti: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

The Clairvoyant and I were just talking about some childhood memories and our reminiscing got us talking about cartoons and animated features that we loved when we were children. These included a stop motion animated feature that we enjoyed watching on TV back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I am sharing the very same feature on Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer that originally came out in 1964 and was recently digitally remastered. Here it is on YouTube for all posterity:

We will never tire of watching this with its simple story that's basically based on the song about this misfit reindeer. We enjoy the songs and the memories of times when life seem to have been less complicated.

Friday, January 2, 2015

More firsts and restoring hope in time for the new year

I wrote about a lot of firsts happening in the past year. I forgot to write about a few experiences including one that had me writing successive posts in tribute to a friend lost. It was indeed an eventful year and I just wanted to recap a few other firsts and then some other experiences last 2014.

A few months after moving to our new home, our beloved Labrador Retriever Troy was diagnosed with cancer. We had to monitor his condition and for two and a half months we had our weekly visits to the vet for his blood work and medication. We ruled out going to a high end clinic and relied on our vet and the UP Vet Hospital to administer the tests and medication. Troy was ruled out of a certain viral infection but was positive for another that probably affected his immune system and weakened him a lot. We spent a lot of sleepless nights before he given steroids and pain killers to ease his condition. He passed away last August as we said tearful goodbyes before he was put to sleep by his vets who were also teary eyed during the procedure. Prior to his passing and to ease the pain of the loss we had adopted a puppy, a Golden Retriever whom we named Mocha but also call Mokey. She is now almost full-grown but still very much a puppy at heart.

Our Mocha enjoying the morning sun
We had to attend to several government transactions last year including those that required us going to city hall to have our homes appraised for real estate taxes. I say "homes" because I was referring to both our old and new houses. The Clairvoyant had attended to the payments for 2014 and those were made at the temporary site at the provincial capitol. The payments for 2015 had to be made at the newly renovated Antipolo City Hall and we did it in mid December to avail of the incentive of a 20% discount on property taxes for people paying before 2015. It was a bit chaotic when we arrived (a lot of other people were thinking about the same incentive and flocked to city hall) but things eventually calmed down and with a system in place it was smooth sailing for our payment.

Earlier in December, I had to book an appointment with the Department of Foreign Affairs to renew my passport. Fortunately, their system was one of the more efficient ones in government and their satellite offices allowed people to go to a more convenient venue for consular services. It was my first time to renew my passport in one of these satellite offices and it took me under 3 hours including and mostly due to the long queues because of additional people who came in after missing their appointments the previous 2 days because of foul weather (There was a typhoon early in  the week and government offices were closed.). The DFA did their part in releasing my passport a week before Christmas (I paid extra for the rush.) but it was the courier service who failed to deliver my passport before the Christmas break. Tracking my passport online, I was angry about the report that the package could not be delivered because of "incorrect address" and "no one in office." These were flimsy excuses for a major courier company especially after they sent me messages on two occasions asking for directions to my office, which I promptly replied to and with details. I ended up getting my passport after Christmas and just before the New Year break. 

We always hear and read about horror stories involving services rendered by government and private entities. There are just too many and these happen to often to a lot of people despite the availability of tools such as IT to make things more efficient. The Clairvoyant had the misfortune of experiencing one of the still inefficient transactions - getting a clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). A lot of people have to go through this as a requirement for job applications, visa applications and other matters requiring the NBI Clearance. Yet, despite their efforts for electronic transactions, their system still falls short of the efficiency required for such an important requirement for employment, travel and other matters. Clearly, they need to double their efforts as the procedure and the queues for NBI Clearance has become a poster image for government inefficiency notwithstanding the kilometer-long queues for the EDSA-MRT.

We look forward to a lot of things, mostly improvements to basic services that government and private entities owe to people. We do pay for these with our taxes and the fees that we agreed to based on services they have promised to deliver. More often these are expensive fees and thus we expect to get the most out of the hard-earned cash that we turn over as payment to these services. That is only right and fair and what many of us have seen as being delivered with efficiency in other countries. Having lived in Japan and Singapore, we have seen how services can be rendered efficiently and effectively and how such delivery enhances the quality of life in those countries. We are hopeful that we can get that high quality of services from bot government and private companies who are in-charge of utilities and other services.