Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap year 2016

It is actually a rare day today and literally because it is a day that happens only once every four years - a leap year. I consider leap years as good years and partly because I had been born on a leap year back in 1972. It is my 44th and it has been a wonderful year so far. It is a year for reminiscing, a year to be sentimental. I look forward to the rest of the year and the surprises it has to offer. Never mind the mixture of emotions including sadness (a few dear friends have passed away). These are all part of life and its diversity helps us build character. These are the so-called spices that make life interesting and worth living.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Anniversary of first overseas trip

Yesterday was 20 years to the day of the first overseas trip I had. That was back in 1996 when I was given an opportunity to travel to Japan under what was called a Core University Program funded by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). I was actually some sort of a last minute fill-in as there was budget remaining and available for a short term Visiting Scientist. Fortunately for me, a former mentor, Prof. Shigeru Morichi, who was himself a Visiting Professor at UP Diliman from 1992-1993 agreed to host me at the Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Kogyo Daigaku, which at the time was also called Tokodai - now it is preferred to be called Tokyo Tech) despite his impending transfer to the University of Tokyo. 

It was a very eventful 35 days from February 26 to March 31 and a stay where I was able to familiarize and acclimatize myself to a new environment. That included going to Yokohama National University to personally submit the final document for my autumn (October 1996) admission to the university to Prof. Tomoya Shibayama, who was the Foreign Student Officer at the time. I was also able to meet with my baptismal godmother (Ninang Mila Takashima who later was also my godmother on my weding) who was residing in Yokosuka-shi in the same Kanagawa Prefecture where Yokohama was located.

Every single day was an exciting one and it seemed to be a different adventure everyday. This was capped by my first sakura or cherry blossoms in late March. Of course, it helped that I already had many close friends in Tokyo at the time, of whom I remain close to this day. I have lost most if not all the photos in my possession from that 35 day trip. Fortunately, there are many photos with my friends and sometime in the future, I hope to get a few copies to scan and preserve electronically. 

More on events in 1996 in succeeding posts...


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Comfort food: minatamis na saging na saba

It's my birthday today so I thought it appropriate to feature something I consider comfort food. For one it is among those that my mother made in her kitchen when my siblings and I were kids. It's a simple treat you can have for dessert or even merienda. It is made of a variety of banana that we call saba. This variety is typically used for cooking like for pochero and the very popular banana cue (skewered saba fried or grilled usually sprinkled or bathed with caramelized sugar) and turon (fried saba wrapped in dimsum wrapper that's also used for lumpia).

My mother's version of minatamis na saging na saba is basically the banana cooked (boiled) with vanilla and muscovado sugar syrup as topping or as viscous sabaw (soup). The version we had as kids were without sago (tapioca pearls) but Mama improvised a bit as my niece and nephew only ate this when it had sago. I like this version though I'd pick the original one if my mother were to make a batch for me.

Minatamis na saging na saba with sago right out of the fridge


Monday, February 22, 2016

Chocolate review: Valrhona Noir Alpaco

We still had a few bars of Valrhona chocolates from the Clairvoyant's last trip overseas. We thought we should already start eating the bars as the expiration dates neared. Also, we had some overseas trips coming up so we could replenish our chocolate cache. It didn't hurt that we had a lot to celebrate this January and February and we usually celebrated with good chocolate and a good bottle of wine.

Valrhona Noir Alpaco is made from single origin cacao from Ecuador.
Details at the back of the box
Alpaco claims to contain at least 66% cacao
This bar's expiration date is March 2016
The chocolate is described as floral and oaky. I'm not sure about how floral and how oaky it should be but this bar definitely didn't disappoint. There was a hint of bitter and a good blend of sweetness and woodiness that's probably the oaky aspect of the chocolate. Alpaco certainly lived up to the Valrhona reputation.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Snack time at Dunkin Donuts

The wife and I decided to have merienda while waiting for our dog being groomed at the shop beside our vet. Our search for a place to have a snack at led us to a Dunkin Donuts among a bunch of restaurants along Marcos Highway. Dunkin Donuts serves good coffee and the wife wanted to have a cup to go with a donut (we are at a donut shop after all). While looking at the donuts on display, I spotted their sandwich selections and we ended up getting a couple of tuna sandwiches on ciabatta bread.

The branch was made up for Valentine's Day and they had some promos for boxes of donuts

Our sort of a Valentine's date with tuna melt sandwiches, a donut each, coffee for the wife and hot chocolate for me.
The donuts, coffee and chocolate was as expected and satisfying. We were actually surprised that the sandwiches were good. It was a good heavy merienda for us and we had fun talking about how we didn't go on actual Valentine's dates since we got together. It was February the 13th and so we continued with our streak of not dating on the 14th.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Off-season delights: puto bumbong

Two Sundays ago after Mass, we decided to pass by the food stalls beneath the church to get our Ally some treats. There are usually home-baked cookies available in at least one stall and these are the chewy kind that are a pleasure to munch on. There is a very popular stall that offers bibingka (grilled rice cakes) and puto bumbong, which are steamed rice cakes cooked in small cylindrical containers (bumbong)that give them their characteristic shape. Puto bumbong is usually something that was sold during the Advent season during Simbang Gabi (night or early morning masses) but now is sold in many places and not necessarily at churches on Sundays. I got a couple of orders of puto bumbong for merienda at home.

Puto bumbong just the way we like it - with grated coconut, butter and sugar

Puto bumbong is among those that I categorize under comfort food. The ones I get at our church are good and definitely brings back a lot of memories when I was young and going to simbang gabi with my friends. I associate such food with Christmas, which is always a happy season for me. It certainly does not hurt reminiscing about Christmas any time of the year.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Dorissimo cafe, Malingap Street, UP Village

A couple of friends and I had lunch at one of the restaurants in UP Village and decided to have some coffee afterwards. I mentioned that there was this coffee shop along Malingap Street that we always passed but never got to try out. We decided to have our coffee and dessert there. Dorissimo cafe is just across from Bayantel and offers mostly pastries and light meals, which can go with a beverage of your choice.

The cafe is a nice cozy place across from Bayantel near the intersection of Malingap with Maginhawa
The chalkboards and the writings on them easily caught our attention and you can't help but try to read what's there. The books were also interesting and I spotted a newer edition of our college calculus textbook in one of the shelves.
Tables, chalkboards and bookshelves
Dorissimo's version of frozen brazo de mercedes made with muscovado sugar
The coffee was good and strong, and the brazo was curiously delightful. The prices are also okay and will not hurt your wallet. The place seems to be a cozy place where you can do some work, reading or meetings. The only hitch is the parking for those coming with their own vehicles. Dorissimo is a small place and  basically only has space for one vehicle to park in front of the cafe and along Malingap Street. One is better off taking public transport or walking to the cafe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Romeo's Spice and Steak, Robinsons Place Antipolo

Our "neighborhood" mall is slowly but surely adding restaurants and cafes for its customers' dining pleasure. Among the recent additions are S&R New York Style Pizza and Costa coffee. But I am not going to talk about these yet. Instead, I am featuring what I will refer to as a family restaurant, a term that I encountered in Japan to refer to full service restaurants that cater to families or groups of diners. We thought at first that Romeo's was going to be an Italian-themed restaurant but I already recalled seeing the name of the restaurant somewhere. That turned out to be their branch along Sumulong Highway near Padi's Point and Cloud Nine.

Romeo's version of chicken inasal - tasted good but we thought it was closer to the typical chicken barbecue than the Visayan (or Bacolod-style) inasal or inato.
Chop suey - it was average at best but our daughter loves veggies so it didn't matter to her as long as she had her sweet peas and carrots.
Ribs - obviously we already had more than some of it by the time I decided to take a photo
Leche flan for dessert
We were not disappointed for the food that we ordered. All were cooked well and we felt these were presented nicely, too. The servings were basically to share between two people so you can order maybe two to three dishes plus rice in order to have a full tummy. Their ribs is good and I guess this is along the line of their specialty - steaks. The inasal was also okay though not as good as the ones served at inasal restaurants. The chop suey was average so they probably need some help there to make it more appealing as well as tasty. But for dessert, one must definitely go for their leche flan, which we thought was just the right texture and sweetness. Cost-wise, Romeo's items are reasonably priced and friendly to the budget. That's another side of being family-friendly and definitely a come-on to many people.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A bit of neighborhood history

We transferred to our current residence almost 2 years ago. We have made friends and acquaintances in our neighborhood over that time and when we go around for walks or jogs, we already have a healthy number of hello's and hi's among the people we meet along our route. There are many foreigners in our village and it seems a lot of them are here not only because they work or have schooling (many are missionaries working and/or taking courses in a nearby seminary) but also because its a good neighborhood with a very nice environment. In fact, we've seen many homes with cars bearing diplomatic plates so I guess these are families whose members are working for embassies or agencies like the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank. The wife and I even joke among ourselves that we seem to be living in a white neighborhood. :)

The more interesting neighbors are the elder residents of the village. We always greet them when we pass them during our walks and they almost always are eager to have short conversations. We have one neighbor who is of Spanish descent and she is always cheery and has a lot of stories about the old neighborhood. She's very proud of her grandchildren and is always malambing to our daughter.

Recently, we met an elderly man who was clearing his front yard of dried leaves. He also has a lot of stories about what the old neighborhood looked like and how it was with residents. I mentioned my old grade school buddy who lived along the same street the old man was residing at. He knew their family and pointed to a new house where my friend's family's home used to be. It is always nice to know about the place where you live. Ours is one of the oldest if not the oldest residential subdivision in Antipolo. There's been a recent wave of homebuilding and relocations in the village; infusing new residents and young ones to the neighborhood. We like our home and our daughter enjoys her walks and her interactions with new friends - young and old.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Nadai Fujisoba, Bonifacio High Street

There's another restaurant in Bonifacio High Street that we go to for lunch with our daughter. So far, she also likes the food we have ordered there. We also discovered that it is part of chain of restaurants that originated in Japan. Nadai Fujisoba in Bonifacio High Street is beside Kimukatsu and near the Serendra end of High Street and across from Italianni's. We initially thought they specialized in ramen, which is still very popular in Metro Manila (and has spawned a lot of ramen restaurants). It turned out they have more than ramen and they do serve my favorite zaru soba (cold soba). Here's some photos from one of our lunches there.

Paper place mat
The wife ordered tendon (rice topped with tempura), I got cold udon with tempura and we ordered gyudon (thin beef strips over rice) for good measure.
The display of food looks real. Tthat's how its presented in many Japanese restaurants in Japan to entice people to eat there. There's a special way of making these displays, which is considered an art form in Japan.
Menu presented just outside near the door shows a variety to choose from especially items that are neither ramen nor katsu, which seem to be the most popular fare these days in Manila
The restaurant is child-friendly as aside from us, we noticed other families with children eating at the restaurant. The staff are also kind and attentive. The kitchen is quick in coming up with your orders and they are not an expensive restaurant. Did I mention the food we have ordered so far in our few lunches there were all good tasting? No wonder they have lots of customers. We'll surely be back for another meal and I do recommend the restaurant to those who love to eat Japanese food.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Chocolate review: Valrhona Manjari

We almost forgot the Clairvoyant bought a pack of Valrhona chocolates during her last trip abroad last year. We were actually reserving the chocolates for special occasions like milestones with our daughter Ally. That turned out to be quite frequent as it seems that milestones are not hard to come by when you talk about raising a child. This also means we would probably have to stock up on our good dark chocolates to help us celebrate these milestones.

The label says it all - Valrhona's Manjari dark chocolate is supposed to contain 64% cacao that's from a single origin (Madagascar), and taste fresh and tangy
The mandatory photo of the back of the box showing details on the chocolate
Close-up of the back showing a breakdown of the ingredients and a more eloquent description of the chocolate: "The rich soils of the Sambirano River valley encourage the release of acidic notes of red berries and dried fruit, offering a unique expression of the aromas of the ancient Trinitario Tree, found in northern Madagascar."
Bar codes and production and expiration dates

We thought this bar lived up to the Valrhona reputation. It was indeed fresh and tangy, as smooth as one would like for a 64% dark chocolate. It is a pleasant chocolate you can enjoy after a meal or perhaps by itself (though I wouldn't recommend you make a snack or meal out of chocolate bars no matter how good they taste). It's definitely a must buy on the next opportunity to encounter the chocolate.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Kimukatsu, Bonifacio High Street

There's a couple of Japanese restaurants at Bonifacio High Street that we usually go to to have early lunch on Saturdays when our daughter has a play school session nearby. One of these restaurants is her favourite and we could say so because among the restaurants along Bonifacio High Street that we have gone to the past few months, this is the one where she ate the most and we didn't have any trouble in feeding her. It also helped that there were usually few customers for early lunch so we practically had the restaurant to ourselves and the staff's attention.

Kimukatsu is a Japanese restaurant specialising in katsu, the popular fried breaded pork cutlets. Their best-seller is the titular kimukatsu, which is a 25-layer mille-feuille katsu that comes in different variants. Our favourite (also Ally's favourite) is the black pepper and we did enjoy their kurobuta. They have sets and so we usually order one set each for the Clairvoyant and me that we just share with our daughter. 'Unlimited' rice is served on a big bowl, which we thought was good so the staff need not frequently check on customers if they wanted more rice. A generous amount of shredded cabbage was also served on a plate and you can always request for more if you are able to consume what was first provided.

The restaurant has a nice interior that states 'modern' by the design including the lighting. 
Typical table setting
A replica samurai armour sits at the front door, symbolically guarding the entrance
Stone ware plate, chopsticks, rice bowl and sauce plate. You also have to grind your sesame seeds for your katsu.
Pickled vegetables just the way I like it - the wife doesn't like to eat these so I ended up eating both servings
Cheese kimukatsu
Black pepper kimukatsu
We really enjoy eating here and don't really mind having having Saturday early lunches here. The staff are attentive and based on the many times we have eaten here, the kitchen has been very consistent with the quality of food. The prices are just right even for those who think eating at restaurants in Bonifacio High Street is expensive. I personally recommend the place to anyone who would like to get out of their katsu comfort zones (yes I'm referring to you Yabu and Ginza Bairin diehards!).