Sunday, June 26, 2016

Chocolate review: Valrhona Blanc Ivoire Raspberry 35% Cacao

It's rare that I feature white chocolates in this blog's chocolate review. Recently, we got a bar as part of a box of Valrhona chocolates we purchased at an airport duty free shop. The Clairvoyant is not a fan of white chocolates so she just tasted a bit as she usually does and then asked for more. That, to me, was an indication she liked this one compared to other white chocolates she's tasted before. Of course, I ended up eating the rest of the bar but over a few days. I still found this a bit on the sweet side and as they say in the Philippines, nakaka-umay, a term for which I don't exactly think we have a translation in English for.

Valrhona's Blanc Ivoire is basically white chocolate with raspberry bits
Details on the chocolate at the back of package
The chocolate claims to have at least 35% cacao. I thought this was par with the lower-priced or 'pedestrian' dark chocolates
This was where the price tag should have been if we got the bar per piece but then it was part of a box so there's no tag here. I estimate though that this bar would have been in the 200 to 250 PhP range, which is typical for this brand and weight (85g).
To be fair, I thought this is a good chocolate and should be quite enjoyable to many especially those who like white chocolates. I certainly wouldn't mind having this considering box sets of Valrhona basically provide a sampler of their chocolates, which include whites and milk chocolates.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Chocolate review: Munz Bittersweet Chocolate with Orange Flavour and Almonds

I interrupt my running feature on our recent trip to Baguio City with another post on chocolates. We've enjoyed Munz dark chocolates that I usually got from Santi's. I found this bar at a Santi's store and did not hesitate getting one for us to enjoy. We already knew that orange goes very well with chocolate and this was clearly one of the better ones.

Munz Swiss Premium Bittersweet Chocolate contains orange bits and almonds and claims 55% cacao.
Detailed information on the chocolate at the back
An interesting bit of information is about the 8% almonds
There's no price tag on this but I think this cost somewhere in the range of 130 to 170 pesos.
This chocolate was as good as we expected from the label alone. This is definitely one of those we will watch out for whenever we go to a store like Santis or the airport duty free shop. The chocolate is smooth with just the right amount of bitterness you'd expect from 55% cacao, and the orange and almonds content are significant and very enjoyable. You get to chew the orange bits and munch on the crunchy almonds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Fruits and vegetables shopping in Baguio

A trip to Baguio won't be complete without buying vegetables and fruits there. Baguio's location is very strategic as vegetables and fruits, primarily from the neighboring towns in Benguet Province pass through the city en route to other provinces and Metro Manila. Produce from neighboring provinces in the region (Cordillera Autonomous Region or CAR) and those in Regions 1 (Ilocos) and 2 (Cagayan) also find their way to Baguio where there is demand for them but with much less escalation in prices.

I used to go to the Baguio Public Market to get vegetables and fruits. But the last few trips I found it better not to brave the crowded market and purchase items instead from the roadside shops you will find along Marcos Highway. There are many farms along this major road and many of the shops are owned by farmers selling their own products. You can get veggies and fruits for significantly less than the prices in Metro Manila with less of the hassle when you shop at the market. And you get to buy directly from the farmers (hint: they have smaller shops along the road usually near their homes).

Roadside shops along Marcos Highway have all the vegetables and fruits you'll probably be buying for personal consumption or to give away as pasalubong to family and friends.
The produce at the shops seem to come straight out of the popular folk song "Bahay Kubo."
There are also other items on sale at these shops including the popular brooms. Most of these aren't made in Baguio though the city's name is on the brooms. There are also peanut brittle, strawberry jam, ube jam, chocolate crinkles and other stuff for those who want to do last minute souvenir shopping or perhaps add to the stash they already got earlier just so they're sure they have enough pasalubong.


Saturday, June 18, 2016

First out-of-town project - Baguio Flyover

Here's another throwback article. Baguio City is where I had my first out-of-town project. This was back in 1995 and just after I finished my master's at UP Diliman. The project was Baguio's first flyover or overpass and it was being proposed along Bokawkan Road, which is a busy thoroughfare connecting the city to La Trinidad, the capital town of Benguet province. Our task was to determine the best configuration for the flyover including the required capacity for it and the remain at-grade roads once it was built.

I remember it was very rainy when we were there and our accommodations (which was volunteered by our client - their family's vacation house in the city) turned out to be quite inhospitable. We had to buy blankets and make our own beds as we had practically no budget to stay at a hotel. I recall the house was a bit creepy especially for the last few days I stayed there by myself (my mentor had to go back to Manila) to supervise the traffic surveys at the proposed site of the flyover. That was quite the adventure for me then as I also tried to explore the city on foot. I walked the entire stretch of Session Road when it was still the Session Road (old) people reminisce about. I also walked around neighborhoods in the Gen. Luna area where the house I was staying at was located.

Here are some photos of the flyover now and the area where I supervised traffic surveys together with the bridge engineer who was from Baguio.

The flyover as seen from one of the side streets in the Trancoville district
A closer look at this almost 20-year structure
Traveling along the service road along the flyover and towards the direction of La Trinidad. Shown also in the photo is one of the pedestrian overpasses in the city. I actually like the architecture of these overpasses that seems more apt compared to Metro Manila's steel structures.
I included this photo past the overpass to show how crowded Baguio is already with houses having replaced trees in many mountains and hills. These used to be all green with trees back in the 1990s with only a few shanties that had started to sprout back then.


Friday, June 17, 2016

Rose Bowl Restaurant, Baguio City

One place I have never failed to go to whenever I was in Baguio is the Rose Bowl restaurant. Specializing in Chinese food, I first dined there during my first trip to the city in 1995. The old Rose Bowl restaurant was near the corner of Magsaysay and Harrison, and just a short walk from Session Road. Now it is along Gen. Luna in what is a larger building and in a less congested part of the city. Here are a few photos from our recent trip to Baguio. I wasn't able to take more photos as we were all hungry and had a late lunch upon arriving in the city after about 5 hours of travel from Quezon City.

Restaurant sign with Chinese translation
I first ate at the restaurant with friends from Baguio. One classmate was with the regional office of NEDA and hosted us for dinner.
The restaurant now has a much more spacious interior and this afforded them some space for receiving customers. This scene greets you when you enter the restaurant.
The dinnerware appears to be the same ones used in the last so many years? If so, then these probably may already be considered as antiques.
Of course, we also had fried rice and most of us ordered juice to go with our food. I look forward to eating at Rose Bowl again. You can't really have everything on their menu so the next time you can try other items with family and/or friends. There is also something about the ambiance and staff of the restaurant that somewhat brings you back in time. Nostalgia seems to be the best word for it and its something that always feels good about eating there.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Chocolate review: Godiva Extra Dark Santo Domingo Chocolate

I interrupt the series of posts on Baguio to continue on the Godiva chocolates we've recently sampled. This time I write about the Godiva Extra Dark Santo Domingo, which I also got from the airport duty free shop.

This Godiva chocolate claimed 85% cacao.
The details on the chocolate at the back of the box.
Ingredients and nutrition information including the disclosure of the chocolate bar containing nuts and milk.
Nutrition facts and the price tag

This is an expensive chocolate at 10.80 USD (about 497.42 PHP) but really worth the price. This chocolate is quite smooth for something rated at 85%. There is only a slight bitterness and a distinct sweetness that isn't sugary. I asked the Clairvoyant to get a couple of these bars in her recent trip abroad so we are going to enjoy the chocolate again soon.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Chocolate de Batirol at Camp John Hay

We were talking about where to have breakfast the following morning when we arrived in Baguio. One idea was to buy food, heat it and eat at our hotel suite. The decision where to have breakfast became simple as we saw the Chocolate de Batirol restaurant along the road to The Manor in Camp John Hay.

The place had a makeshift but homey feel about it.
A closer look at the structure shows outdoor tables for those who want to have space to themselves.
There are also chairs and tables inviting people to sit around (tambay).
There are many plants around the garden restaurant.
The view from the cafe to the main entrance and parking for vehicles.
Restaurant interior with locally made tables and chairs adding to the ambiance.
People come here for the native hot chocolate ground using a local implement (batirol).
Our order of Vigan longanisa, eggs and rice with tomatoes on the side.
That's our daughter Ally running towards the cafe. She was quite curious of the place and had some fun picking up rocks and twigs around the cafe grounds.
Chocolate de Batirol is located strategically along the main road in Camp John Hay. There are many people walking or driving around and so they have a steady stream of customers, particularly those wanting to have a cup of hot chocolate to drink and enjoy in Baguio's cool climate. You don't really go there for the food. It is okay but, to be frank, nothing spectacular. But the hot chocolate is really good and worth the visit.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Baguio Cathedral

I make it a point to visit the church in the cities I go to especially when it is my first time there. I did this with my first trips out of Manila, including Baguio and Cebu in 1995 but with the exception of Bacolod and Tagbilaran when I had quick trips there back in 1996.

Approaching the cathedral after going around via Session Road. You can actually see the cathedral from afar as it is still a prominent landmark in the city cum mountain scape. Unfortunately, a huge mall now is the more dominant landmark from afar and the surrounding mountains are now full of houses.
The interior of the cathedral is basically according to how I remember it. The stained glass windows are impressive and look well preserved. There has been no major earthquake to affect the city since the 1990 big one that destroyed much of the city.
Baguio's Roman Catholic Cathedral is located on top of a hill near Session Road.
A view of the interior from the main door reveals a long aisle (I guess nice for brides marching on their wedding days) towards the altar.
A view of the cathedral as we leave to go back to our hotel. This was taken as an opportunistic shot while our vehicle was turning towards Session Road.
It rained just after we alighted from our vehicle to go into the church and the drizzle continued until just before we left. We liked to think the rains were blessings and we were very thankful for this family trip and that Baguio and its attractions weren't as crowded as we thought (or read about) it would be. We were actually lucky that the weather also cooperated and we were able to get enough sun to go around Baguio and La Trinidad. We enjoyed the cool climate (Our daughter was very happy and was in her element the whole time.) and the good food. We should be back sometime in the future but hopefully the city won't deteriorate further.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Off to Baguio!

I haven't been to Baguio since 2010. That's 7 years since my last trip there when we had a workshop to promote environmentally sustainable transport (EST) in the region. Baguio holds a special place in my memories as it is the first city I visited for my first project as a junior transportation engineer back in 1995. I was apprenticing under my mentor and very good friend and the project required us to do data collection and evaluation of a proposal to construct overpasses along Bokawkan Road connecting Baguio City to La Trinidad. That was the first time I've been to Baguio and I made the most out of my first out of town project.

I remember that it was very rainy when we were there and it was a bit difficult to do field work. It was also quite foggy and I remember our accommodations weren't that good. Our client volunteered their family's vacation home in Baguio. However, it turned out that the caretaker was sick and no one was put in-charge to at least provide us with decent beddings. We ended up buying blankets that also doubled as souvenirs for our trip. I had a nice time then going around the city center on foot. Baguio was not as crowded as today and Session Road had a lot of local restaurants, shops and pubs (combo anyone?). Baguio was and is still a melting pot of people from all over including many students as Baguio then as now is home to a lot of schools. 

I look forward to tomorrow's trip and our vacation in Baguio. It may not be the same as the Baguio I remember from 21 years ago. It will be the Clairvoyant's and our daughter's first trip there so we hope to be able to maximize whatever we can do during this trip.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Chocolate review: Maestrani Espresso 72% Cacao

We open June with yet another write-up on chocolate. I have said before that chocolate goes well with coffee. And so when I saw this chocolate I made sure to get at least one bar to try out with the wife.

Maestrani Espresso 72% Cacao
Details on the chocolate at the back
This chocolate also had 72% cacao so we expected it to be a bit on the bitter side. It wasn't as bitter as we thought it would be. I think it is because of the coffee, which blended well with the chocolate.
The chocolate had the 'myclimate' logo. This meant the chocolate was made of ingredients (cacao) that were produced under climate neutral conditions. There was also information stating that the cacao used for this chocolate bar was fair trade (logo also in the previous photo). Such info likely translates into an environment-friendly production and socially responsible farming to produce and harvest the cacao.

Like the other Maestrani chocolate I featured in this blog, I got this chocolate at Santi's in Paseo Sta. Rosa, Laguna. The 80g bar cost about 250 pesos and so is on the expensive side of chocolates we have purchased. It is, however, worth its price. I also only got one to try out and will be looking for this chocolate the next time I am at Santi's.