Thursday, September 20, 2007

OFF to Thailand for a week

I'll be leaving this weekend for Thailand for official business. If I can, I'll find time for some interesting subjects for my future posts. Expect for a feature on authentic Thai Cuisine of course hmmm..., can't wait for that one. The picture above (courtesy of this site) is included in my itinerary for this trip. It's been 4 years since my last visit to this country. That was a year before Phuket was devastated by the tsunami, (we were lucky we've seen it's natural beauty prior to that incident). So it'll be interesting to find out what are the new offerings from this fascinating country. I'll make sure I'll bring some interesting posts when I get back, so stay tuned for now.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Blogging History told

Sixty three posts in 4 months and 8 days for a blog entitled Our Taste of Life. This is pretty much good already but I would still consider myself new in this world of blogging and this blog I'm maintaining, still at its infant stage. Am I enjoying it? Well, the fact that this post was created need I answer more? The question now really is where is this blog taking me? Yes, writing for a blog is sometimes tiring, taxing, time consuming what more for a working mom like me? It's like having another baby and another work to take care of. It needs to be fed frequently at most daily. It needs to be nourished and loved at the same time.
But how was Our Taste of Life created? It all started with a simple online search for some things our family loves: new foods to try; best restaurant for a special occasion; nice places to visit; great recipes to cook and so on and so forth. Sometimes, I get lucky I find exactly what I needed but more often than not it's just an exhausting page-browsing experience to no avail (real sigh!). So I thought, how many persons encountered this same experience and had the same "how I wish there was" remarks? Due to blogs' increasing popularity nowadays, it seemed to be the perfect venue to journal such needs. Besides, who else do not make an internet click these days? It's the most readily available, within hands reach highway of information. Coupled with the excitement to keep special family moments and milestones for our kids to enjoy and peruse in the future, I was more inspired and got sufficient reasons to create one. Before I know it, I was already browsing through the available domain hosts, learning html codes and widgets etc. And as they usually say it, the rest is history.

Again, where is blogging taking me? Do I have plans of monetizing this site? Yeah, why not? But I haven't got the time to seriously explore on it. I have taken the initial steps but not yet in the earning mode. Honestly, I never thought it would be as enjoyable, fulfilling and enriching pursuit such as this. To feel happy in knowing that there are actuallly people reading my posts and looking forward to them each day is an understatement. Learning that this blog's readership is slowly building up is more than enough reason to keep me going. Hence, to those who have appreciated it, thank you! For those who have just learned about it, read more and enjoy, have our taste of life.

Friday, September 14, 2007

CHOCOLATE (what we ought to know about it)

In a poll on what food people will likely indulge into, perhaps it will be Chocolate that will win the ballot. Don’t you think so? It’s considered the single most eaten food in the whole world in all stages of life. It is loved by a lot of people for so many reasons. Foremost to that is because we find pleasure in eating it. In fact, the book on Industrial Chocolate Manufacture and Use by C. NUTTALL stated that "through taste and texture there is probably no other product that gives so much enjoyment to so many individuals in so many countries except for Chocolate. Generally, Chocolate and sweets bring color and excitement into everyday lives and throughout adult life continues to symbolize gaiety, festivity and goodwill." Although it's hardly eaten on mealtimes, chocolate may provide an immediate source of energy anytime we need it. It can be the quickest and convenient alternative due to its small pack size, it's handy, can be eaten everywhere and any time at all. Other than taste and pleasure, we heart chocolate for some physical and emotive reasons. Do you recognize how chocolate transmit our feelings such as love, affection, gratitude and hospitality to the people we care about? Be it a celebration of love on Valentine's Day, a celebration of parenthood on Mother's Day and Father's Day or just a simple visit to a friend or dear ones, Chocolate is a valued gift.
But what other good do we get from Chocolate? Apart from pleasure, both macro and micro nutrients are packed in this tempting goodie. A typical "milk chocolate bar" will have carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals, all essential for human health. These are all provided by the ingredients that make up the chocolate. The most common of which are milk powder, cocoa powder, sugar or glucose syrup, vegetable fat (cocoa butter), nuts, fruits, flavors and colours. Thus far, although eaten largely for pleasure or as a convenient snack, chocolate does contain some vital nutrients. However, it's also not spared from some form of criticisms. It's for the same substances that it's often linked to hyperactivity, obesity, addiction and dental problems. But then again, countless times I've heard on the remarks that other than mother's milk, no other food contains all the nutrients in the right balance. Therefore, there are actually no good or bad foods, only good or bad diets. Any imbalance of nutrients in our body will result to real bad ailments. So you may indulge to your heart’s desire, but don’t you think to indulge responsibly is a wiser alternative?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Exploring LAGUNA (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second part of our LAGUNA Trek. Part 1 of this post showed the bounty and fullness of 9 municipalities, from Calamba to Lumban. Hence, without further a do let me share with you the other half of our journey.

Heading straight from Lumban, the next town that welcomed us is KALAYAAN. This is the place for the well-known "EXOTIK" Restaurant. Incidentally, it was awarded as the cleanest and best landscaped restaurant in the whole province of Laguna. As the name implies, real exotic cuisine is offered here. Probably, the Pampanga of the south if one may call it. If you're a more daring foodie, you should not miss this resto. However, if you want a cooler ambiance, Caliraya Lake is waiting up in the mountain of CAVINTI. This is another nice place for a picnic. Fill that picnic basket with your own foods, rent a picnic table for P200, and presto! you're on to a great lunch! After that, you can hire a boat for a tour of the lake, otherwise there are other recreational activities and spots around the vicinity.
Then off we proceeded to PAETE, the homeland of finest wood carvings and papier mache. Most wood products and other interesting handicrafts can be found within the Poblacion area. Almost all of them are sold in the local's own houses. We bought our kids a horse papier mache for only P60 (see photo below). We also noticed that they have started selling Christmas decors and other novelties. A small hanging Santa Claus costs around P170. Indeed, Christmas is just around the corner!


If there's one thing that made Laguna very interesting to explore, it's the grandeur of all its churches and among my favorites is Paete's. The church's design including its paintings and murals as well as its sculptured images are truly remarkable! No wonder during holyweek most Filipinos have their Bisita Iglesia (Church Pilgrimage) in Laguna.

But aside from the predominance of religious artifacts and symbols, Paete is also home to sweet Lanzones (Lansium domesticum). The start of the ber months is the season for juicy, sweet fruits such as Lanzones and Rambutan. Apparently, the cost per kg of Lanzones is still quite high at P60 since the harvest season has just started. The best time to buy is around end September or early October. Not only the price will become lower but also the maturity of the fuit is just right and the sweetness is at its best.




Other equally fascinating towns close to Paete are PAKIL, PANGIL, SINILOAN and FAMY. However, we did not go to these places anymore. Instead, we decided to take the route back to Pagsanjan and head straight to MAGDALENA. This another countryside boasts of a magnificent church. There are very few things known about this town. In fact, I sensed a very simple life here. True enough, according to Wikipedia it was named as one of the cleanest, most beautiful and peaceful in the province.

From Magdalena, the road will lead you to either MAJAYJAY or LILIW. If you opted for the former, the natural wonder of Taytay Falls and the breathtaking sceneries from the bell tower of the town's church await you. But if you preferred Liliw, you're on your way to the shoe capital of the province. Lots and lots of shoes, sandals and bags are sold here at very affordable prices. You can get a good pair of shoes for less than 500 bucks (Php) and 3 for P100 slippers. Real good buy huh?! Good deals of Lanzones and Rambutan are likewise traded here in bulk (kaings). The same thing is being offered in the subsequent town, NAGCARLAN. This locality is also famed by its low prices of meats (pork, beef and carabeef). Residents of other towns normally flock to the Nagcarlan Market even at the crack of dawn for a great buy. It's also well noted for its growing candy industry. Oh, and another not to be missed spot here is the Underground Cemetery. Try to discover its own mystery. A small town of RIZAL comes next after Nagcarlan. However, there's not much to buzz about the town except that it was named after the Philippines National hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. So, off we went directly to my birthplace, SAN PABLO CITY, known to many as the City of 7 Lakes (Sampalok, Palakpakin, Yambo, Bunot, Pandin, Muhikap, and Calibato). I truly missed the heritage trail of these lakes. How I wish I could visit them all with my own family soon. I am proud of how San Pablo has become an attractive tourist destination nowadays. It’s no longer just home to coconut products and innovative jeepneys. There are new things to experience and savor such as CASA SAN PABLO, a country inn set amidst sprawling lawns with a very relaxing atmosphere. It's a nice place for a weekend getaway. What's more there's an increasingly popular eating place, KUSINA SALUD owned by world renowned fashion designer Patis Tesoro. The exquisite modern Filipino cuisine it offers rightly match the resto's enchanting ambiance. The sunday lunch buffet is becoming a best out-of-town dining experience. On the way back to South Expressway, the must stop overs are the fruit stands selling Lanzones, Rambutan, Coconut, Corn, Atis, Avocado, Papaya and many others (depending on what's in for the season) and of course Collette's and El Mare Buko Pie. The last stop to our trek is the town holding the boundary between Laguna and Batangas, ALAMINOS. This town is prominent for its wonderful tourist destination, Hidden Valley Springs. A private resort that's synonymous to paradise. To know how to get there and the facilities it can offer, check here.

We traveled a total of 182 km, spent almost a day to commune with this amazing province. With its many product offerings and majestic beauty, I'm simply lost for words. What more with the experience and the bonding that our family had? Priceless!

(View map of Laguna here from globalpinoy.com)

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Exploring LAGUNA (Part 1 of 2)

Do you have a day to unwind? How would you like breathing some fresh air while enjoying sceneries of lush greens? How about savoring some of the best delicacies in the country? They all sound great! So, drive down south and experience these wonders and gifts only in LAGUNA! My family just did last weekend! Laguna is my hometown and I take pride in our province's richness and beauty. So read on, let me tour you around...
From South Luzon Expressway (SLEX), our first stop is the home town of our National Hero, CALAMBA CITY. Apart from being the home town of Dr. Jose Rizal, this town is also famous for its numerous hot springs and resorts. The road of Barangay Pansol normally creates huge traffic at summer time (March - April). Some good finds that you may see along the national road are wooden furnitures, little nipa hut (kubo) that's perfect for a garden, potted flowers and plants.


Next town to Calamba is LOS BAÑOS. When we hear about Los Baños, perhaps the best thing that comes to our mind is BUKO PIE! But of course, it boasts of two of the country's best Buko Pie - Lety's and The Original. Apparently, the third popular brand, Collettes originated from San Pablo City. Personally, when it comes to texture I'll give my vote to The Original. Perhaps they use truly young coconut meat in their recipe. I also find that the sweetness is just right. However, Lety's overall taste cannot be discounted on. In fact, I heart it so much in my college years that it's become a favorite family pasalubong on weekends. But there's more to just plain buko pie in Los Baños. Other must try here are products from UPLB's DTRI (Dairy Training and Research Institute). They have rich, creamy Choco-Milk, Fresh Cow's Milk, Kesong Puti and Pastillas among others. Hmmm... real yummy! I also heard about the recent buzz on Mernel's Chocolate Cake. It has already gained popularity and slowly building its name in the south. You can check their bakeshop at Grove, College, Laguna (near UPLB Main Gate).

Other than food, it is in Los Baños where the infamous Mount Makiling is situated. If you're in the mood for a hike, you'll certainly pass by my beloved alma mater, UPLB (University of the Philippines in Los Baños). It's another good place to commune with nature! Botanical Garden, Museum of Natural History, Jamboree, Natural Arts Center (NAC) etc. await all adventurers. Our big freedom park also expects sports enthusiasts. It's such a nice ground for that morning jog or family picnic! If you want some adrenalin rush, why not challenge your feet and legs with the climb of the Carilion Tower? I haven't tried it yet. But I'm sure it will be a good exercise to burn some calories.


The next town after Los Baños is BAY. This small town is known for its sweet, creamy and filling bread locally named as "Monay". It's an oval shaped bread with a "slit" at the center. It can be consumed as is or with other spreads. Make sure you drop by at Tenorio's Bakery for a sample of this delicious bread.



Off to the next municipal, CALAUAN, home for the sweetest pineapple in the south! If you want to buy some you need to go to the town proper as you can rarely find people selling pineapple along Barangay Dayap (i.e. if you'll use this route to the other towns of Laguna). Along the road, you will see a lot of flowers and potted plants for sale. There are also ceramic pots and clays that will surely enhance the beauty of any landscape at home. Sometimes, there are fish and crabs being sold down the highway. If you started your Laguna trek too early or too late, you may have your breakfast or lunch respectively at Kamayan sa Palaisdaan. It's a nice Filipino restaurant. The resto is actually located between Calauan and Bay.






Then, off we continued our drive to VICTORIA. The town that is a wealthy pot of ducks and of course eggs! This town was featured in one of the amazing race series (if my memory serves me right, it's Season 3). The contestants were tasked to plough the rice fields with our National Animal - Carabao to find their next clue. It was such an exciting task to see.



After Victoria, you'll pass by PILA. There's really not much to say in this place except that its popular for some ancestral houses and historical landmarks. Check Wikipedia if you want to know more. What I really enjoy whenever I pass by this place is the sight of huge trees lining the road that somehow gives a relaxing ambiance. There are also few fruit stands down the road.

The next stop will be the capital of Laguna, STA. CRUZ. This is where you will find the governor's office. This place is known for its Kesong Puti. It's a white cheese, tofu like in appearance, soft in texture and salty in taste. It's normally sold in banana leaves. It's the best partner you can have for a hot pandesal. Real different and yummy in its own way. Your pandesal stuffed with kesong puti will go well with congee or sweet and sour tofu and pork (tokwa't baboy). Can you see them complementing each other? Try it!


Then off we went to the tourist capital of Laguna, PAGSANJAN. Visit this place and you'll be taken to an exciting adventure. There's no, more thrilling and more daring activity in the province than shooting the rapids of the Pagsanjan Falls. When trying it, just take note of the local government's advisory as there are some alleged bad businesses happening around here. Still, have a great ride!

















The next town is the "embroidery capital of the Philippines", LUMBAN. Most households here depend on the Piña and Jusi Cloth Business for a living. My husband and I had our wedding gown and barong cloths woven and embroidered here. If you have a big event to attend to or host and you'll be needing such type of clothing, there's no better place than here. The price is definetely cheaper than in any store you will find in Manila. Likewise, the designs are very intricate and exquisite. Lumban is also a favorite location for filming or shooting. It owns the infamous river connected to the Pagsanjan Falls. Do you recognize the river on the picture below? You might have seen this in a number of TV shows or movies.
Still half way through our Laguna Trek, but I'm already astonished with the many great things the province can offer. There are so much to see, so much to enjoy and definitely must to take care of!


**Read also Part 2 of this post



Saturday, September 8, 2007

CROCS & HAVAIANAS - are they really WORTH the purchase?

If there's one craze invading the Philippine Market for footwear and fashion these days, it's about that all purpose shoes, CROCS and that stylish flip flops called HAVAIANAS. What exactly are in these footwears that a lot of Filipinos are willing to spend more than the usual for a simple "tsinelas" (thong) and rubber clogs?! According to Croc's website, "originally, Crocs™ Shoes were intended as a boating/outdoor shoe because of its slip-resistant, non-marking sole." In their history page, Crocs manufacturer stated that "despite our rapid success, we will still stand behind the core values of Crocs™ Footwear. We are committed to making a lightweight, comfortable, slip-resistant, fashionable and functional shoe, which can be produced quickly and at an affordable price to our customers." In the Philippines, we know that more than a thousand bucks is not an affordable sum. That's why, there must be more to this product for a customer to patronize it. For this reason, it's just not fair that there are a number of accidents happening around the globe associated with this shoes. I heard about the escalator accident not only once, or twice or thrice, but even more! What is so alarming is that kids are the ones involved. Thus far, the safety issue of this footwear is becoming more than serious. It's high time for the manufacturer and other trade authorities to make the necessary actions to prevent these things from happening. I wonder why safety is not mentioned in the company's core values? When in fact, this should be of prime importance for any consumer product! Why was a simple warning or a violator of some sort not printed on the product tag? It's so ironic how that essential thing was not considered by such a HUGE, global manufacturer.

Honestly, I find this product interesting. I am amazed with its functionality, beautiful colors and design. In fact, we are planning to buy an original one for our son. But I did not give in easily. There's this mother's "practical conscience" so to speak that came in and allowed me to have some second thoughts. Reasons such as most kids' feet grow increasingly fast and that the shoes' price equates that of a 2-wk supply of infant milk, kept me from buying. Until I saw in one of the sports depots near our home a pseudo version of Crocs under the brand Reva. For a cost of P199 with 6 free fun rubber pins, why not?!! If it's just for the purpose of daily home footwear, this is actually not bad at all. It might also be a trial period for our son. If he'll really like it and we'll find it useful for him, I and his dad agreed to buy him an original pair soon. Then, multi media aired these not so good product reviews. This time, more worthwhile thoughts came in. If a branded one exhibits such danger, what more the other imitations? Recently, I also read the same incident with Havaianas. A local actor's son had his own share of this traumatic escalator experience. OMG! I and my daughter own a pair of Havaianas. It only proves then, that it can happen to practically any type of footwear. So far, we're lucky we were spared of such accidents. Whenever we visit any establishments with escalators, we normally lift our kids on the first and the last few steps, better yet we carry them. Whether it's the parents' or the manufacturer's responsibility that determines the safety of our kids, it's important to have all the necessary precautions any time, every time! What's real intriguing is how cost does not guarantee safety and quality these days. Now, tell me does quality really come with a price?

Presto Pasta Night 28 - Creamy Spaghetti Noodle Soup

For this week's Presto Pasta Night, I prepared a very simple, family favorite pasta recipe. This is a very popular Filipino noodle soup locally known as "Sopas". It normally frequents Birthday Party tables. If you go to one Filipino household to another, you'll find many different versions of it. It's really interesting how this simple dish had evolved through time. Now, it comes with many different twists. In this version, I used spaghetti instead of the typical macaroni noodles. Thus, the name Creamy Spaghetti Noodle Soup. I also added hard boiled eggs and chicken liver to enhance the creaminess and round the meat taste. I hope you'll love this as much as our family enjoys it! Oh, and of course this comes with some trivia. I have to say that this recipe was inspired by a colleague's own kind. Again, I just made some modifications to suit our own palate :-)

Preparation time: 15 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins
Serves 8

Ingredients:
1/2 of 250 g pack spaghetti noodles
250 g chicken breast, cooked and shredded
250 g chicken liver, boiled and chopped
1 small can vienna sausage
1 154 ml can evaporated milk or creamer
1 small carrots, julienne
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp butter
2 hard boiled eggs, quartered
4 tbsps fish sauce
2 tbsps canola oil
7 cups water
salt and pepper to taste


Procedure:
1. Boil chicken breast and liver in 4 cups of water. Shred the chicken meat and chop the liver when cooked, set aside including the broth.
2. Cook Spaghetti noodles according to package instructions.
3. Melt butter in a pre-heated pot. Saute onion, garlic, chicken, liver, sausage and carrots. Season with salt, pepper and fish sauce.
4. Add cooked spaghetti noodles and broth. Adjust the amount of water by adding 3 more cups. Bring to a boil.
5. Add the milk or any creamer and simmer for 3 more minutes. Top with hard boiled egss before serving.

** You can use any type of sausage or franks. You can even replace it with hotdog if you want.
Read all entries to the 28th Pasta Night here.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Weekend Herb Blogging # 99 - Scallions and Mushroom

Whenever we dine at a Chinese Restaurant, one of the most preferred soups to order is Hot & Sour Soup. It never fails to start a good meal. But due to its inherent sourness, liking this soup may be very selective. Even so, since sour is deemed as another important taste driver for Filipino Cuisine it’s also likely that this soup will entice many. What I particularly love about this soup is that it has two of my favorite culinary herbs - scallions and shitake mushrooms. It does sound good to be an entry for this week's WHB. Hosting the 99th Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB) is Katie from Thyme for Cooking, the Blog. Tonight's food to savor on our humble dining table is Fried Tilapia (the most popular farmed fish locally). So I thought of complementing it with a soup and instantly our pot started steaming with this recipe.

Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 15 mins
Serves 8

Ingredients:
4 cups chicken broth or any meat stock
250 g pork, cut into strips
1/2 cup vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup shitake mushrooms, julienne
1/4 cup scallions, cut in angle
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tbsps ginger, minced
1 tsp chili garlic sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
a pinch of chili flakes
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of salt
4 tbsps cornstarch dissolved in 4 tbsps water
1 whole egg
2 tbsps canola oil

Procedure:
1. Add oil in a pre-heated sauce pot. Saute garlic, ginger and white part of scallions, do not brown.
2. Add mushrooms and pork. Allow the pork to be cooked a little bit.
3. Add the chili-garlic sauce, oyster sauce, broth or soup stock, chili flakes, soy sauce and vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Season with salt and sugar. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture with constant stirring. Simmer for 2 more minutes.
5. Crack the whole egg into the soup and stir. Add remaining green parts of scallions. Serve pipping hot.

** If meat stock or any broth is not available you can substitute it with 2 broth cubes dissolved in 4 cups of water. By the way, I learned this recipe when I took a short course on Basic Cooking at the Center for Culinary Arts Manila (CCA).

Thursday, September 6, 2007

CheeseCake Cafe

After attending the AFEX 2007 in its opening day, an industry colleague invited us for a snack at the nearby Mall of Asia (MOA). As most Mall enthusiasts know, MOA boasts of vast food establishments that it's simply difficult to decide where to dine at any given time. What more with our already aching feet due to more than 4 hours of roaming around booths in the Food Expo? Thus, we just decided on the closest resto that our eyes have spotted. So Cheesecake Cafe, it was!
Being a part of the Cheesecake etc. company, without a doubt this is the place to be for cheesecake indulgence. But wait, this resto is up for more. Since it's a Cafe it has extended its repertoire to pasta, salad and coffee drinks among others. It has a typical ambiance of a cafe with an accomodating service. However, I've got mixed reviews of their food.

Sadly, the pastas are plain so-so. Just acceptable, okay to try but not something you will order again the next time you visit.

The salad is something you can easily prepare at home. There's nothing special in the dressing but at least good enough to start with.



Fresh green salad with choice of caesar or balsamic vinaigrette dressing.


This Mango Passion Cheesecake is a little airy flavored with fresh mango puree. You would savor the presentation more than its taste.

Perfect combination of fresh strawberries and tangy raspberries so the menu states. But where are the real fruits? It's just another average cheesecake. Still, nothing beats Italiani's Strawberry Cheesecake.

House specialty! Velvety smooth cheesecake on graham crumb base topped with sweet and sour cream mixture. This one, I'll keep coming back for more! The sweet and sour notes blend so well and the creaminess is just right. More of this kind please.

Amareto cream, chopped chocolate and cashew nuts, encased in a tender nut cake, lavished with white chocolate ganache. This one is truly regrettable! Too waxy and there's this soapy / rancid character noted either from the nuts or the chopped chocolote. The product presentation will not in anyway save its not so good taste.