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.


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Disruption and entropy in November.

November 8, 2016 will be a most memorable day. It is memorable in the Philippines due to the infamous decision by the Supreme Court paving the way for the dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. This was historic due to many aspects of the decision and the eventual burial of Marcos at the cemetery that is supposed to be reserved for people recognized as heroes including past presidents, war heroes, national artists and others who were found to be deserving of the site. 

While Marcos was a soldier, an officer in the USAFFE during World War 2, his claimed exploits and decorations have been found to be bogus. It is a wonder how the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine government continues to recognize him with its highest Medal for Valor when he was proven to have faked his accomplishments during the war. 

Marcos was also a former President of the country. He was supposed to have presided over a country during a period when the Philippines was second only to Japan in Asia in terms of economic development. What many apologists and fans fail to mention though was that it was all downhill from that position in the 1960s not just because of turmoil at home and abroad but because of the rampant corruption and abuses of the government under him. 

While it is true that a lot of infrastructure were completed under his term, many of these were implemented under shady conditions and usually with costs that included much that he and his cronies pocketed and benefited from. The brilliant minds he surrounded himself in the form of cabinet officials who appear to be only too willing to collaborate and do his bidding for them to attain their own glories have no excuses for the horrors of Martial Law. It is sad to know many including relatives and friends denying the murders, corruption and other atrocities during that time simply because they did not experience these first-hand. I can only pity them while trying to understand their position and lack of empathy and perhaps even humanity and critical thinking.

November 8 is also memorable in the United States, a country with whom the Philippines seems to share similar fates with in the past 100+ years. The US just elected Donald Trump as their President, trumping (pun intended) the country that elected a self confessed killer, womanizer only last May 2016. I won't delve into the so-called qualities of Trump but history will now record the US as a nation still unprepared for a woman to lead them, instead choosing a person who has yet to serve in any capacity (he has no previous elective or appointed posts in government and he is has not served in the US armed or police forces) that country, and likely one who has also cheated in his taxes.

These two are already realities people have to face even if it seems to many that these were like something shoved up their asses, forcibly and painfully. The only positive thing I see here so far is that these events should be wake-up calls to those who consider themselves progressives but who have also let their guards down to allow these people to rise in power. Disruption and entropy should be considered as likely blessings for us to learn and become more proactive in education and be protective against revisionism of our history.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hapag Heritage Cuisine, Maginhawa Street

There's a newly opened restaurant along Maginhawa Street in UP Village just past the intersection with Malingap Street at a similarly new building. We spotted Hapag Heritage Cuisine one time we were eating at a smokehouse restaurant across from it. Our curiosity eventually led us to try out Hapag one time we had another lunch out.

A view of Maginhawa from inside the restaurant
The interior is clean, well-lighted, and therefore is very conducive to having a good meal
I was appreciating the many artwork on display at the floating shelves. One of the owners of the restaurant noticed this and kindly explained to us that the art was by special children at an orphanage the owners were helping.We thought that this was a good cause they were supporting.
The menu is cleverly part of the interior design
Typical table setting
Their suam na mais was so delightful for starters. The soup was thick without being too filling for the stomach. And the tomato blended well with the corn, which we thought was cooked just right.
Manok ng Hapag is their specialty chicken on the menu. This is real good fried chicken and tastes great because of the chicken apparently being marinated before being fried. We only ordered half a chicken but could have easily finished a whole chicken as it was that flavorful.
Their take on the classic Bistek Tagalog was, for us, perfect. It had the sourness (asim) that we thought was the signature of home-cooked bistek (beef steak, Philippine style).
We have only eaten at Hapag once and that was about a month ago when they were still on soft opening. Perhaps it is no longer on soft opening mode now. Nevertheless, we thought the food was really good and the service was, too. Cost-wise, we thought they weren't too expensive for the occasional lunch or dinner like our lunches out during the weekdays. We'll definitely be back sooner than later.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lingayen Beach

My recent trip to Pangasinan afforded me a change in environment. I think I've been in the office too long and despite the outdoor environment provided by the university where I work, I longed for some fieldwork outside Metro Manila. Pangasinan has so many interesting places to visit that you would have to be satisfied with going to a few for such a short trip. Near Dagupan is the provincial capital of Lingayen, which is also along the sea, sharing the coastline with Dagupan. Lingayen Bay is both life giving and historic. Life-giving because of the bountiful seafood it provides a lot of fishermen, their families and other people who benefit from marine resources. Historic because it has been witness to a lot of events including those in World War II when Japanese forces landed here to start their invasion of the Philippines. The beach is now a public space and enjoyed by many who come here to relax or perhaps contemplate (mag-muni-muni).

The main road from the provincial capital makes the park and beach accessible to the general public. Parking is along one side of the road while the other side is occupied by food stalls. Either side of the road is lined with coconut trees.
The food stalls are mobile - most are carts like this of a coconut juice/water vendor
There's a lot of street food here and they are very popular.
Popular street food includes fishballs, kwek-kwek, isaw, etc.
We spotted this corn vendor and decided to get some for our healthy snacks. We went for plain corn instead of what seemed to be a popular order with grated cheese toppings.
I remember scramble being quite popular after school during my grade school years. Scramble though has taken a lot of bad PR as it has been associated with food poisoning, bad stomachs, diarrhea and has generally been regarded as dirty. Though we didn't sample the scramble shown in the photo above, we thought that scramble has gone a long way and remains popular. This version seems to be clean (read: prepared under sanitary conditions) and a lot of people enjoying it likely means no one's getting sick from consuming it.
Its not white sands but it is clean and cool to the touch. A lot of people weren't swimming despite what we saw were clean waters. Most people just stood and looked beyond, enjoying the cool wind and perhaps the ocean scent.
I was able to capture this beautiful sunset with what looked like the mountains of Zambales in the background.
The sound of waves hitting the shore is relaxing for me.
Footprints in the sand
The main access road to the beach is clear of motorized vehicles.

Lingayen beach is something that many people should be envious of. Not many towns can boast of access to the sea nor of clean beaches and waters. Not many towns have public spaces like Lingayen's beaches and parks. I think local governments should make a good and honest effort to develop or maintain public spaces.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Tsokolate from tableya

With my social media news feeds full of people on vacation in their hometowns or in some resort, or of people camping out or visiting loved ones who passed away, I thought I would have a different take for All Saints Day. It rained last night and it was gloomy and cool this morning. It seemed to me like the perfect morning for hot chocolate and pandesal, which are popular morning fare in the Philippines. The hot chocolate though is not the instant one like the Swiss Miss dark chocolate that we have at home. Instead I decided to make hot chocolate from tableya or the cacao tablets that we had. There was a small box of it that was good for 3 to 4 mugs of good old hot chocolate like what we had during our childhood.

I boiled water and added the tableya. Once melted, I turned down the heat a few notches for a slow boil while I stirred to make sure all the cacao had been diluted. The result was a little viscous so I had to add more water (some of course evaporated as the chocolate was cooked).
We had enough chocolate for 3 and a half mugs. The half was served to our daughter who had a smaller mug. We added muscovado sugar and milk as the chocolate was on the bitter side. The wife and I were actually surprised that our daughter liked the concoction. We also had some oatmeal while we put some emmental cheese for our pandesal before I heated them. The cheese melt sandwiches were a hit on this gloomy morning.