Monday, December 26, 2016

Pasko at Parol 2016

We have always had a Christmas lantern (parol) diplayed in front of our home even before we had our daughter. We felt it just wasn't as Christmassy without the parol even if we had a nice tree and decorations in our house. Since I always have out of town trips for my projects, I had many opportunities to get a parol from Pampanga and Tarlac during fieldwork there. The first big parol we had was from Tarlac in 2004. I bought it at a roadside shop (MacArthur Highway) where they manufactured and sold lanterns. I actually bought two - one for the office and one for our home. The office lantern survives today and is displayed in front of our building. It just needs some repairs including replacement of many bulbs. 

We noticed our lantern was also already needing some repairs and it seemed not big enough to be prominent on our balcony after we moved into our new home almost 3 years ago. And so the wife made it part of my mission during a trip last November to find us a new parol. I did find one in Pampanga where they make really good lanterns. A roadside shop in Mabalacat was the maker of our new parol and my colleagues also got theirs for their homes from the same shop.

Here's a very short video of our new parol. It's attracted quite a number of admirers already and among them children doing their Christmas carol gigs around the village.

A Blessed Christmas to All!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Blessed Christmas to all!

I just want to greet all my readers a Merry Christmas!


May your wishes be granted and may you be safe and healthy with your family.

Peace on earth!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Chocolate review: El Rey - Chocolate Blanco Icoa 34% Cacao

I continue on the series on El Rey chocolates here. This time its about their white chocolate that was part of the box of bars given as a gift to my wife by a friend of hers from Venezuela. I wrote before that we didn't usually buy white chocolate as the Clairvoyant and I find white chocolates too sweet for our taste. This was an exception, not just because it was a gift, but because this was no ordinary white chocolate.

El Rey's Chocolate Blanco Icoa claimed 34% cacao, which we found to be unusual for info on a white chocolate bar.
Details on the chocolate is found at the back of the package
This includes the contents or ingredients of this chocolate bar as well as information on nutrition.
The chocolate claims a minimum of 34% cacao and there is information here about the origins of the chocolate and, I assume, about how it is produced.

I would say that this is among the best if not the best white chocolates we've tasted. [I remember that Marriot's white chocolates that they made for Christmas were also good.] The sweetness is just right though we anticipated it to be sweeter (of course) than the dark chocolates and even the milk chocolates we've had before. The wife also enjoyed this and found it not as sweet as the more commercialized or mass produced brands. I would like to have one of these bars again to enjoy in the future.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

No more village grocery store

One of the things that got our attention when we were looking for a place to build our new house on a few years ago was the familiar grocery store near the entrance to the subdivision where we now live in. Shoppersville was very recognizable to us because it was landmark along Katipunan Avenue and just across Miriam College. We couldn't believe at first that there was a mini version of the supermarket here in Antipolo. Aside from it being so convenient for us (you can just pass by for some items on the way home), the prices were less expensive than the typical convenience stores.

After we moved in, we did patronize the grocery store and saw that many people not just from our village but others from nearby subdivisions passed by to do some quick purchases here. Of course, they did have many of the same products you could buy at the 'main' store including their baked products like the pandesal and cheese cupcakes that we usually bought for domestic consumption as well as to bring at the office.

After the Katipunan Shoppersville perished in a fire a few months ago, we were happy that they continued to operate in Antipolo and that it seemed business as usual for them. Unfortunately, what seemed to be okay wasn't really so and they eventually announced that they would be closing the grocery. The business here probably couldn't sustain operations and, despite reopening their bakeshop on a converted container at Katipunan, there was just enough funds to operate. So perhaps the Katipunan branch was actually subsidizing the Antipolo one.

Now, the place is dark and seemingly sad with less people coming to what is known as The Village Corner. We're not even sure if there will be a new grocery there soon as the location may not be as attractive if it weren't for the familiar brand of its former occupant. Perhaps a SaveMore, a PureGold Jr., Rustan's or a scaled down Robinsons can take its place? I'm sure these large companies can afford to do so but then there won't be the feel of a neighborhood grocery store to them.

I guess it will be a wait and see but we hope it won't be so long a wait.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Chocolate review: Heidi Grand'or Dark & Florentine

Passing by Clark last month, we had some time to go to the duty free shop to get a few items for us to take home. As usual, I browsed the shelves for some dark chocolate. I remembered the Heidi chocolates I had brought before and sure enough I was able to get my "quota" of chocolate bars for us to enjoy back home. But then I also spotted a newer chocolate among the Heidi bars we've already tasted.

Heidi Grand'or Dark & Florentine showed
Details on this Romanian chocolate at the back of the package
This chocolate features a "crispy layer of caramelized almonds". Of course, that could be seen from the pictures at the front of the package.
This chocolate claims a minimum of 45% cocoa.
This 100g chocolate retailed for about 125 Philippine pesos or about 2.50 US dollars. I would say it was enjoyable partly because of the caramelized layer of almonds. But then it was a bit sweet for my taste. Of course, this would be a treat for others so I would still definitely recommend this chocolate. It still qualified as dark chocolate but with an additional treat that makes you chew a bit more than let the chocolate just melt in your mouth.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Pangasinan souvenirs

A trip out of Manila would not be complete without getting pasalubong or souvenirs. We were early enough to reach the visitor center (pasalubong center) at Lingayen beach. You can have a snack or meal here as there is an eatery inside the center.

T-shirts are among the more popular souvenir items with designs featuring Pangasinan towns and attractions like Dagupan, Hundred Islands, etc.
There are many shops at the visitor center selling typical souvenirs like handicrafts, magnets, pins, mugs and others that might catch a tourist's fancy.
Locally-made crafts on display
Map of Pangasinan showing attractions and landmarks in each town
Items for sale include furniture like this chair and the bar set beside it.
More handicrafts at the visitor center
We got ourselves a few shirts and and refrigerator magnets to take home. There are many other items including bottled and dried food and preserves, vases, magazine racks, boxes, etc. that may be of interest to many other people. We thought the prices were okay and competitive compared to what you can get at other souvenir shops or even the market.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Manaoag, Pangasinan

A trip to Pangasinan would not be complete if one did not stop by the town of Manaoag. Of course, I am referring to the Roman Catholic among us who know Manaoag for the miraculous image of Mother Mary. Devotees and pilgrims flock to Manaoag similarly as they go to Antipolo or Baclaran mainly to pray for help, forgiveness, assistance and other reasons including healing from serious illnesses, passing examinations, financial success, etc. Many of these have been granted by God through the intercession of Our Lady, which obviously led to more of the faithful coming on a pilgrimage for their wishes (desires?) to be granted. Those whose prayers have been granted come here regularly as thanksgiving and have declared they would do so as long as they can make the trip. This is what they call their panata or promise of coming back to offer prayers of thanksgiving. And they do bring with them their family members and friends.

Manaoag is not near Metro Manila and yet thousands (much more actually) come to this town despite the distance and a difficult travel. Of course, its easier now with three expressways and improved national roads making the travel faster, safer and more comfortable.

This sign basically says that if one has made the necessary preparations for the pilgrimage to Manaoag, a plenary indulgence may be granted to that person.
At the back of the church is a large area for those offering prayers through candles
You can purchase candles and other religious items like prayer books, scapulars and rosaries from one of the booths around this area. You can then light them here and say a few prayers before leaving or going inside the church.
There's this tub of water where you can place a floating candle. From the looks of it, a lot of people have lit floating candles as offerings.
The main altar of the shrine to Our Lady of Manaoag with the image at the center. Some say this is only a replica of the original one, which is kept and preserved by the church. This image, however, is touched by a lot of devotees who can get closest to the image via an access at the back of the altar.
A smaller altar at one of the church wings
A view of the front entrance to the church with the balcony above the doors.
Another view of the main altar from the middle of the church.
A view of the main altar and church dome
A less crowded area at the back of the church

The shrine has a big parking lot at the back of the church so travelers with their own vehicles need not follow those offering to guide you to a parking space. These are very much the same as those people who basically try to engage motorists in Antipolo to offer guidance on parking spaces near the shrine there. Of course, its best to visit during weekdays and what's regarded as off-peak seasons compared to other times when I'm sure its very crowded like Lent or before major licensure exams.

Friday, December 9, 2016

On Davao chocolates

Davao chocolates are among our favorites, and not because of who got elected from there but because we've found and enjoyed really good chocolates from there. I am talking about Davao's Malagos chocolates, which are single origin and, we believe despite having no mention in the packaging, fair trade.

Two of the Malagos chocolates we've tasted so far are the 65% and 72% dark chocolates. The 65% is the more common one of the two and we only were able to taste the 72% recently (and I will write about this soon).
We found this chocolate at the Echo Store and I decided to buy one of the three variants from the same company. We have yet to open and taste this but we do look forward to knowing if this is at least as good as the Malagos chocolates.

Davao and the regions around it produce very good quality cacao, which despite the demand is not produced in large quantities in the Philippines. In fact, Philippine cacao is not well known and which is why the success of Malagos and other chocolates are very important from the marketing viewpoint. These help put the Philippines in the chocolate world map and hopefully, the country can become a major player in both cacao production as well as the chocolates that come out of these.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Hossein, Serendra, BGC

We had a craving for Indian food one Saturday. We ended up going at Hossein at Serendra in Bonifacion Global City. We had wanted to try out the restaurant as we missed eating kebabs and curry but we kept on putting it off as we didn't know if our daughter would like this food. Since our favorite Indian restaurant closed shop a few years ago, we had tried several restaurants for our tandooris, tikkas, kebabs and other dishes we enjoyed.

Chicken tikka
Shish kebab
Basmati rice
I also had lassi to go with our food. We were not really surprised that our daughter liked the food we ordered as she likes to eat flavorful food. I think she became curious about the food partly because of the fragrance and when she tasted the dishes she instantly was able to appreciate the taste. The food was good and the service, too. Their staff were attentive and helpful, which we liked because we had our little daughter with us. She can be a handful for a girl turning three this January. We will definitely be back for our Persian/Indian food cravings. Of course, we will be on the lookout for other restaurants offering this food as well and hopefully one closer to home.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Happy birthday Tatay!

Today is my father's 78th birthday. As he has done every year, he started his day by going to church to pray and express his thanksgiving to God. I called him this morning but initially wasn't able to greet him and talk to him as he was at church. A few minutes later, he made a return call but I was in the bathroom. So it took a third call between us before I finally was able to speak with him. I actually wanted his apo to sing "Happy birthday!" to Tatay. His granddaughter was looking forward to it after we had told her it was her lolo Tatay's birthday. I guess it brought a lot of joy for him to hear his apo greet and sing to him. I believe it was a very good start for the day and we look forward to our celebration of Tatay's 78th this coming weekend at my parents' home in Cainta.

Tatay with my first cousin Manang Ayo during the wedding of my nephew Ariel


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Sunday comics

I used to look forward to the newspaper delivered on Sundays at our home in Cainta. Tatay subscribed to a daily and still purchases newspapers though not everyday but usually on weekends. Though there are many good articles to read on weekend issues and some probably look forward to the Classified Ads of one newspaper, I always first try to look for the comics section.

The Philippine Star's Sunday Comics section makes my day.
I remember that there used to be a lot of good strips and not just the syndicated ones from abroad (Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, Dilbert, BC, The Phantom, Garfield, etc.) but those by local cartoonists including Larry Alcala, Nonoy Marcelo and, of course, Pol Medina, Jr. More recent is the strip by Manix Abrera. I still enjoy these strips a lot though I now go to the internet for my daily diet of humor.

Patis and bagoong

I mentioned in the previous post that I have a backlog of posts about chocolate. Another backlog it seems are about recent travels I made that included side trips to places not usually frequented by tourists. Our recent trip to Pangasinan also took us to the bagoong (fermented fish) or and patis (fish sauce) factories in Dagupan. My colleagues wanted to go there to purchase not several bottles but several boxes of bagoong and patis. It turned out that other office mates asked for them to buy bagoong and patis for them. One had requested 2 bottles, another 5, and so on. Nothing beats buying from the source itself as it is usually cheaper and you get to see how they make it.

Fish sauce or patis as it is called in the Philippines is a very popular condiment. You can use it for cooking or for dipping. I usually use it for dipping especially for nilaga or sinigang. For me, it seems to go well with beef, pork, chicken or fish. But I don't use too much of it as it can also overpower the taste of food. As they say, do everything in moderation.

Inside the bagoong and patis factory, it doesn't actually smell of fish sauce. The factory is very clean and everything is orderly despite the staff looking like they aren't handling food. I guess that's the only thing not right about this image. The staff should be dressed in a more suitable attire for such an operation. The blue plastic containers (drums?) contain the concoction that turns into fish sauce. There is fermentation involved here and yet it wasn't at all stinky in the factory.
Staff were also sorting bottle caps. These factories don't manufacture bottles and they get the used bottles of ketchup, clean (and I hope sterilize) them before they're filled with either bagoong or patis. As bottles don't have caps when they are delivered to the factory, these have to be sourced and sorted by the factories.
Boxes containing bottles of patis and bagoong are stacked inside the factory, ready to be loaded unto trucks for delivery or distribution.
A closer look at the boxes of patis and bagoong.
More about or Pangasinan trip soon!

Friday, November 25, 2016

Chocolate review: El Rey Chocolate Oscuro Gran Saman 70% Cacao

I have a backlog on posts about chocolate so I decided to feature one more as a follow-up to the recent one on El Rey chocolates. I actually have something like four chocolate bars in this series of sorts and this is the second part.

The Gran Saman dark chocolate claimed to contain at least 70% cacao.
Details about the chocolate at the back of the wrapper.
Ingredients and nutritional information were in Spanish but one can figure out what are stated here.
Description of the cacao variety and the region where in came from in Venezuela.
The Gran Saman bar also did not disappoint. It was a dark chocolate with a higher cacao content than the Mijao. We thought it had only a slightly more bitter taste than Mijao and came out as smooth as any high quality dark chocolate should be. Of course, the time it spent in our refrigerator could have affected how it tasted for us. Note that the ideal temperature for storage according to the info on the packaging is 16 to 20 degrees C. We usually eat our chocolate not too long after we get it from the fridge so my readers should also take note of that. :)

Chocolate review: El Rey Chocolate Oscuro Mijao 61% Cacao

I didn't realize how much of a backlog I had for posts on chocolates until I checked my other computer for photos I downloaded from my phones. As it turns out, there have been a lot that we've enjoyed over the past months that I wasn't able to write about. 

A colleague of the wife gifted us with a box of chocolate bars from Venezuela. El Rey chocolates are supposed to be very good and we had tasted the small blocks that we found to be really quite good. The chocolates are from Venezuela where they grow very high quality cacao; these having originated in that region and taken to Europe where it eventually spread thanks to the Europeans colonizing much of the world. This time around, the wife's Venezuelan friend gave us quite a treat and I will be featuring these chocolates in a few posts.

We had tasted Mijao before and enjoyed a block of this 61% cacao.
Details about the chocolate may be found at the back of the wrapper.
Ingredients and nutrition information are in Spanish but one can discern what they basically mean including storage conditions for the chocolate to retain its characteristics and quality. That is, the chocolate should ideally be kept at temperatures of 16 to 20 degrees C and at 60% humidity.
There is also information here about how the cacao is produced and probably where in Venezuela it is grown.
Mijao's definitely a top quality dark chocolate and the 61% cacao had just the right bitterness to it while being somewhat sweet. The chocolate is smooth and can be eaten as a standalone; not requiring some wine to wash it down or for mixing tastes with. Since this was part of a box given to us as a gift, I am not aware and didn't check for the prices but I thought it was well worth its price for 80g of this chocolate. Grab one if you can find one at a shop but then I don't think these are available in Metro Manila. So perhaps we'll just look for it during one of our future travels abroad.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A tale about two good people - Part 2

After I brought Manang to the airport, I went straight home in order to catch up on some sleep. I was only 3:30AM then and I sped along C5 and was making good time when the tire alarm went off. This indicated at least one tire was loosing air and so I had to make a stop somewhere. I ended up at a familiar Caltex station just after the overpass above the Pasig Boulevard. There I discovered my rear right tire was flat and I just had to change it with the spare.

After jacking up the car, I had trouble removing the wheel with the flat tire. I knew I needed a steel pipe so I could easily loosen the screws of the wheel so I walked towards the nearby junk shop where I found a small group of scrappers just finishing their transaction with the shop. I asked if I could borrow a steel pipe and one scrapper volunteered to help me change tires. We ended up with him doing all the work while he constantly told me it was okay and that I was probably tired from the driving and that I was lucky the tire didn't blow up while I was driving.

After changing the tire, the person stood up, took my leave and started to walk away. It was clear to me that he wasn't playing coy and he even gave the parting "ingat po" as he walked away. And so I did what I thought was the right thing to do, offering food to my good Samaritan as I asked him to join me inside the pandesal shop at the station. I told him to get whatever he wanted to eat and drink and he was quite shy about it so I told him he deserved it for the help he gave me. I also gave him some money as we parted ways. It wasn't much but he did good, honest work and that deserved a good reward.

Rare are these people who extend their help without asking for anything in return. I thought I had met just one of those people and so I rewarded him generously. I hope he's well and doing good.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

A tale about two good people - Part 1

I had wanted to write about a couple of experiences very early in the morning during the last day of October. I just could seem to get into the mood though and could only manage a very rough draft. There have been a lot of other stuff to do including some catching up at work where there had been many deadlines for reports as well as on my lectures. Then, of course, there is the temptation to write about the heinous burial of a despicable (to be somewhat kind in the use of the word) person. I write this as a sort of pambawi since this is about two persons who did good despite their situations.

Our helper for about 8 years whom we affectionately call Manang finally went home last October 31. She had wanted to go home last year after some difficulties with the situation about her daughter but she was able to make arrangements during her trip there and came back hopeful about that matter. Manang has a special child who is already in her teens. Most of her closest relatives including her own children didn't want anything to do with this special child. This caused a lot of pain for Manang as she grappled with trying to understand why this is so and interpreted this as her own personal challenge in life. Still, she gave her 100% to our household and was selfless in her service. She was the kind of person who will not ask for a day-off so we had to "force" her not to work on certain days. 
I believe her faith allowed her to keep her composure and even sanity throughout what she considered as trials in her life. She wasn't overly religious but she was very happy to be in Antipolo and be able to go to Sunday Mass at the Shrine to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage. She also mentioned to us several times that she prayed for us and we thanked her and expressed our appreciation that she included us in her prayers. We can only imagine her being so generous this way.

One of Manang's most challenging moments came early during her tenure when, in 2009, she experienced first hand the terrible floods brought about by Ondoy (Ketsana). She actually also asked us if she could go home after a few months and we only requested for her to find a replacement despite what we observed were signs of depression brought about by the floods. She recommended one of her daughters who wanted to come to Manila at the time. Inday, worked for us for many months until Manang decided to come back. The former transferred to my sister where she became yaya to my niece and nephew. She is back with us now as nanny to our daughter after a stint in Tagaytay where she worked at a store. Meanwhile, Manang has returned home after also finding her replacement. But of course, she will never have a replacement. You can never really replace a person whom we considered more as a relative, a loved one whom we've become close to. Our daughter affectionately refer to her as Nanay and Manang always had a soft spot for our daughter.

Thank you for taking care of us Manang Aileen Taipen. We wish you all good things especially with your family and specifically your daughter Cutie. We hope to see you again soon perhaps when our own daughter can already travel and maybe go to your hometown in Kabankalan, Negro Occidental.


Friday, November 11, 2016

Chocolate review: Venchi Dark Chocolate 56% Cacao

It's been a while since the last chocolate feature in this blog. There's just a lot more to write about and it could be easy to not have a write-up on chocolate during the month. Still, there is the temptation to write one and I have several chocolates that we've enjoyed that seems to warrant a post. I already featured part of my stash of Italian chocolates that I bought from a prominent wine shop in Alabang. We decided to open another one night we felt we wanted to have some comfort food after dinner. The Venchi dark chocolate did not fail us.

I like the images on the wrapper on this chocolate depicting women preparing cacao fruit
The back of the wrapper contains a lot of information about the chocolate and its maker
The chocolate is claimed to be gluten free with 56% minimum cacao
Nutrition information
The chocolate was smooth and had just the right bitterness for a 56% cacao content. We thought it could have been good to pair with some red wine but then we didn't want to open a bottle of good red wine that we could end up consuming over several days (we aren't really into drinking). This 100g bar retailed for 125 pesos so its good value for money for a really good dark chocolate bar. I would likely purchase one or more of these if I can find them in a shop somewhere.