Sunday, August 31, 2014

Last week, in desserts: sinful cookies and puto flan

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My dad often jokes about my mom being too thrifty, too tipid with everything. When preparing a sandwich and he knows she's within earshot, looking all miserable, he'd spoon sandwich spread too thin onto the bread and mumble something about not wanting to get scolded by her if she finds out he had done otherwise. My brother and I, and even my mom herself, would laugh because we all know that's exactly how she makes our sandwichestipid sa palaman. I thought of this after I tasted the cookies my friends Cams and Claire had sent me to pick up in Eastwood last Tuesday, but not for the same reason my dad would mock my mom's sandwich-making. The cookies were from Felize's Baked Specialties, a home business whose proprietress is Liza Valente. They were not at all tipid in ingredients, I tell you. And they're the best homemade cookies I've tasted so far.

Chocolate chip oatmeal and Oreo cheesecake cookies by Felize's Baked Specialties

Cams and Claire ordered two cookie varietieschocolate chip oatmeal and Oreo cheesecake. The chocolate chip oatmeal cookies were sufficiently chewy and had walnuts and big chocolate chips, unlike the ones too meagerly sprinkled on store-bought variety. They have to be consumed quickly (wasn't a problem for us) or else the chocolate chips will melt. The Oreo cheesecake cookies had Oreo filling and cream cheese mixed together and covered in crushed Oreo sandwiches. They were very sweet, just the way I like itand I have a really high threshold for sweetness.

Look at that cream cheese filling. Sinful.

Felize's Baked Specialties got its name from its proprietress' complete first name Feliza, with the "a" turned into an "e" for a twist (her kids' idea). The business started in 2008 as Ms. Liza's solution to her mom's Christmas giveaway problem of giving to about 25 people with only a limited budget of P2,000. Ms. Liza had been baking banana loaves and cookies at home for her kids, so after scouting around with her mom for the giveaways and finding that nothing fit her mom's liking and budget, Ms. Liza offered to just bake some banana loaves for her. They were a hit. Her kids had also been bringing her cookies as baon to work and after they shared them with their co-workers, the orders began pouring in. They've been busy in the kitchen every weekend since.

In 2010, Felize's opened a shared booth at Mercato for a weekend, joined weekend bake sales and started delivering to a theater, a coffee shop and offices. Since 2011, the months of February and December have become dedicated to baking. The rest of the year, Ms. Liza works as a market research translator.

A box of ten chocolate chip oatmeal cookies by Felize's Baked Specialties costs P400, though you may also purchase a box of six for P240, putting the cost per cookie at only P40. The Oreo cheesecake ones cost P410 for a box of ten and P250 for a box of six. Not bad prices at all for such delicious treats.

Felize's Baked Specialties still makes banana loaves, along with food for the gods and four other cookie varietieslemon macadamia, rocky road, chocolate Reese's and Tobleronethough said varieties are usually only available during Christmas season, unless perhaps you place a large order. Can't wait to try them come the holidays. You may visit or contact Ms. Liza Valente herself at 0917-408-5657 for more info.

Another new treat I got to sample this week was something my good friend Hannah made. I'm still sad that she quit her job and I don't get to see her in the office anymore, but she seems genuinely happy, especially having found a hobby she can earn money from: making puto flan. I googled it and apparently it's more known as "leche puto," but one gets the idea with either name anyway, that it's a fusion of puto and leche flan. And "leche puto" sounds like an expletive to most Pinoys.

Hannah's puto flan...or leche puto, whichever you prefer.

I've never been a fan of puto, the classic Filipino steamed rice cake, no matter the color or size. Unless there's a really thick strip of cheese on top. Or a slathering of creamy custard, as it turns out. Leche flan I am very much a fan of. So puto flan works for me.

Hannah has made both miniature and medium versions of the puto flan but says she can't make them big because she'll have a problem with the custard. She plans to experiment with more puto fusions, which I'm naturally excited about. For now, she's accepting orders for the puto flan, priced at P60 per eight medium pieces or P100 per fifteen. If you live in Quezon City, I'm sure arrangements can be made for orders to be picked up. Do get in touch with Hannah at 0998-558-7840.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Boracay first-timer

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After a long, long time of treating with indifference the idea of visiting Boracay, I wanted to finally give the popular summer destination a shot, so when my college friend Mines invited me and another college friend Mark to her colleagues' beach outing there, I said yes.

Almost perfect weather

As is my usual luck, however, and since summer had already ended, there was bad weather involved. There was a typhoon whose name I cannot recall for our Mount Apo climb last August, and there was Typhoon Yolanda for our hike up Mount Pulag with co-workers last November. This time for our Boracay trip, there was Typhoon Florita (Neoguri)...or at least its outer rainbands because it never really made landfall in the Philippines.

Mark and I flew with Air Asia Zest to Kalibo last Friday night, a decision which we regret in hindsight because we could have saved a lot of time flying directly to Caticlan. Island Star Express took care of our bus/boat transfers to our hotel La Carmela de Boracay in Station 3, where we arrived in the evening with the rain already upon us. Mines later on met with us at the hotel after Mark and I have had dinner and asked around for good deals on the usual touristy island activities. The three of us agreed on going with one John of Boracay Tours & Adventures who offered us helmet diving (complete with a CD of our underwater photos and video), parasailing and island hopping in Crystal Cove, Crocodile Island and some place we could go cliff diving, all for P3,083 per head for the three of us, spanning our entire day, with a bounty of fresh seafood provided for lunch. Come Saturday morning, though, it was pouring hard, so despite John's attempts at convincing us through text to still go through with the plan because the activities will be held in another part of the island anyway, we had to cancel.

Having nothing else to do because of the dreary weather, the three of us frolicked in the water, fought the huge waves while playing dugtungan ng kanta, and buried each other's limbs in wet sand at the shore while catching up. After several dugtungan rounds and rule revisions, Mines lost, so she had to treat Mark and me to some McDonald's sundae according to our agreement.

Gloomy weather in Station 3

We decided to reserve some calamansi muffins at Real Coffee & Tea Cafe to take home. The first taste that I had of the muffins was through pasalubong given to me last year—odd, initially, but delicious, almost like lemon, but very distinctly calamansi-flavored. A box has 6 muffins and they cost P320 (individually bought, a muffin is P60). Mark, Mines and I each reserved two boxes for pick-up on Sunday.

Real Coffee & Tea Cafe is in Station 1 of the island and because it was a long way from our hotel in Station 3, the weather was actually better in the area. Made us actually think we should have pushed through with our island tour package with John. I made a mental note to book a hotel in Station 1 for when I go back to Boracay.

Station 1 weather, which was better but still cloudy

Probably the only thing I didn't like about Boracay was the ridiculous number of vendors and travel coordinators waiting to accost you at every corner to sell you tour packages, raincoats, monopods and sunglasses. Mark, I didn't know, was prone to vendor charmspeak, and Mines, always the polite one, often ended up by Mark's side during sales pitches. I, on the other hand, avoided any interaction with vendors because even the slightest eye contact could lead to them covering my eyes with fake Ray-Bans or hanging a waterproof gadget container around my neck. Mark and Mines were accosted by a lady representative of Astoria Hotels who enticed them with a 420-peso 3-for-1 lunch buffet and accommodations at their newly built Astoria Puerto Princesa hotel if they listened to a sales presentation over dinner. The lunch buffet promo was very enticing, but since after seeing the weather improve a bit we had decided to join Mines' colleagues in the afternoon on an island hopping tour they got on their own, we simply had lunch at Hap Chan.

Hap Chan's fried squid with salt and pepper, which was sinfully good especially with their vinegar

The weather turned sour after lunch so we canceled the island hopping tour again and opted to take a stroll. We went past Station 1 and reached Willy's Rock, which had a grotto of the Virgin Mary.

Grotto of Virgin Mary at Willy's Rock

On our way back to our hotel, Mines wanted to buy a cocktail at Beach Hut Boracay. Their crazy-tall drink containers were so cool I considered buying too, especially since you can have them refilled whenever for a hundred pesos less than the original drink price. "Alcohol in the afternoon?" I contemplated aloud in front of the cheerful female staff of Beach Hut. "You're on vacation anyway, sir," she said with a smile. That convinced me enough.

Beach Hut Bar's crazy-tall drink containers

A liter of draft beer for me (only because I wanted the beer bottle which unfortunately doesn't come with cocktails) and a liter of margarita for Mines

We dropped by Mari-It Artworks, a nipa stall that sells native-inspired decor and accessories. Mark saw a beautiful necklace with a small, irregularly shaped, translucent white crystal which she planned to give to her girlfriend. It was P1,500, which immediately made Mark lose interest in it. I can only imagine how much more the animal skull staffs cost.

If you're into native-inspired decor or accessories with gemstones or animal skulls, visit Mari-It Artworks

Skull staffs, gemstone pendants, animal spine bracelets, etc.

I'm normally against staying too long inside the hotel room during vacation because it's a waste of time. But the weather being bipolar, rainy and windy one moment and sunny another (sometimes even rainy, windy and sunny all at the same time), we had no choice but to spend more time inside our executive suites. Thank goodness for cable and the bathtub with running hot water.

Bipolar weather at Stations 2 and 3

Spirited Away on Disney

For dinner on Saturday night, Mines and I tried the Astoria dinner thing offered to them in the morning. As it turned out, it was not at Astoria Hotel but in Casa del Pilar's buffet resto. We were sat down by this really pushy guy and asked to sign a registration form. I was already really grumpy because of the weather and all the earlier salespeople encounters so when I got to the part where the form essentially asked, "Would you agree to attend a 90-minute presentation where we yap about one of our hotel projects while we show you boring Powerpoint slides in exchange for gift certificates to Astoria Puerto Princesa?" Mines and I had to politely decline. Mark was not feeling so well anyway so we just bought pizza and pasta at Yellow Cab for take-out and ate in our hotel room. We didn't get to party at a bar or go pub crawling, although we got to binge on Beach Hut refills and some of my own vodka mix in the hotel. Aside from the hot shower and bathtub, the only other great thing about La Carmela de Boracay was the elevated seating area they had by the beach, so we took advantage of that, hung out by ourselves and slept late.

The next morning, we had buffet breakfast at the hotel again at around 9:30, and seeing that the weather was fairer, we decided to actually allow an island tour coordinator to accost us on our way to pick up our calamansi muffins so we could go helmet diving before check-out. Mines had an earlier flight back to Manila, though, so we didn't have time for parasailing anymore.

We didn't get to try any local delicacies in Boracay—or any food that couldn't also just be bought in the city, for that matter—although right outside Kalibo airport Mark and I got to enjoy a pre-departure feast of fresh mango shakes, binakol na manok (native chicken cooked in bamboo) and grilled boneless bangus. I wasn't able to take note of the restaurant's name, but all the food served to us were delicious.

Fresh mango shakes

Binakol na manok, which was like a better-tasting tinola

A red fish and Flounder from The Little Mermaid staring happily at a grilled boneless bangus (milkfish)

All in all, Boracay was able to redeem my perception of beaches. Sure, I might appreciate subpar beaches even less now, but at least Bora's one more thing I YOLO-ed and could now cross off my bucket list this year.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Rak of Aegis rerun

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You can't call yourself a Filipino if you don't know at least one Aegis song. Few would admit it, probably because the local band's brand of rock music is considered pang-masa, but ask anyone, even the affluent (save perhaps those from the younger generation), if they know at least the chorus of "Halik" or the melody of "Basang-basa sa Ulan" and you're likely to get a yes. I grew up listening to some OPM but mostly by bands such as Eraserheads and Parokya ni Edgar. Commuting to and from my high school alma mater more than a decade ago, however, I would always hear Aegis' music on the "baby bus" or tricycle. Even when I wasn't taking public transport, some sari-sari store's radio on my way somewhere would be blaring "Luha," or some family, finding the afternoon weather unbearably hot, would be leaving their door and windows open as they watched a singer-wannabe belt out "Sinta" on a noontime TV show's talent competition. Aegis' music is inescapable.

Proving exactly how big of an impact Aegis' music has made in Filipino culture, Rak of Aegis was created and had its first run of 42 sold-out shows earlier this year. The hit comedy musical due to popular demand started its second run on June 20, with shows until August 31, still at the PETA Theater Center, New Manila. And it is fantastic.

I've seen the set before on my friend Koji's blog, but it still wowed me when I finally saw it in person. The setting of the musical is an impoverished barangay called Villa Venizia, appropriately named because the houses are raised above shin-deep polluted water and the only way to get from place to place is either on foot traversing makeshift planks or by boat. What might initially appear as bird houses in the background are actually the distant homes of other villagers. When it rains, it isn't just special effects but actual water pouring from above and from the eaves of the main character Aileen's family's house and Jewel's sari-sari store. Kudos to Mio Infante for the production design.

The set (photo taken before the show)

Aicelle Santos was great as wide-eyed international singer-wannabe Aileen, who has a dream of getting a music video of her to go viral on YouTube and eventually get noticed by Ellen DeGeneres. Isay Alvarez-Seña was, of course, brilliant as Mary Jane, Villa Venizia's barangay captain and mother to Kenny, played by Myke Solomon. Isay's real-life husband Robert Seña portrayed the role of Kiel, Aileen's proud dad. Arnell Pineda's acting for his role as Fernan sort of reminded me of his portrayal of Gomez in The Addams Family, only in Tagalog. Cacai Bautista as Mercy, Aileen's mother, was utterly hilarious (I had to have a photo taken with her after the play), and so was Jimmy Marquez as Joel/Jewel, Aileen's best friend. But the real scene-stealer was Pepe Herrera who played Tolits, ferryman and third member of the Aileen-Kenny-Tolits love triangle.

Most of the cast of Rak of Aegis, letting photos be taken of themselves and with fans

I got teary-eyed during the show, not because of the dramatic scenes but because the musical somehow manages to encapsulate what's going on in our country right now. Contrary to what most articles have said about Rak of Aegis, it is not just about the Filipino people's resilience in the midst of calamities and our perpetual need to sing eardrum-splitting karaoke that can be heard barangay-wide. Rak of Aegis is everything Filipino, which includes our bad side. There's poverty. Corrupt, wealthy people who mistreat the weak and the less fortunate. The "I'll buy an expensive living room rug for show and so I could feel good about myself, but won't let guests at my house step on it" attitude. Our inclination toward get-rich-quick schemes, which in today's Facebook and YouTube age have been replaced by get-viral-and-hopefully-rich-thereafter-quick schemes. Our tendency to turn handicaps (e.g the flooding in the story) into emotional crutches (e.g. something we can milk for all it's got so we can earn money). And our penchant for looking toward the government for solutions, sometimes rightly so but more often than not incorrectly when we can be the solutions ourselves.

But yes, there's also a lot of good in the musical's being everything Filipino. Our creativity and resourcefulness. Our love for social media and music. Close family ties. Pride. Unity in times of desperate need, particularly when our community or country is being taken advantage of by someone from the outside. Our great sense of humor. The title itself—a pun on the hit Broadway musical Rock of Ages—shows our sharp wit and knack for copying or imitating stuff, which is not necessarily a bad thing because having been conquered many times, it is quite understandable for our country to be once in a while confused with its own identity...just as long as in the end we get back to being sure of who we are. Aside from the title pun, however, everything else about Rak of Aegis is original. I hope we could create more plays of this sort in the future.

Rak of Aegis was written by award-winning playwright Liza Magtoto and directed by PETA Theater Center's artistic director Maribel Legarda, with musical arrangement and direction by Myke Salomon. Also lending to the beauty of the entire production are Jonjon Villareal (lighting design), Carlo Pagunaling (costume design), Maco Custodio (shoe design), Joan Pamintuan (accessory design) and Gio Gahol (choreography). I enjoyed everything from start to finish, from the comedic pre-show and intermission reminders and the snappy scene transitions, to the witty one-liners and the singing (pretty sure I'll be LSS-ing on Aegis songs for a while). I was lucky to have seen Rak of Aegis during its second run (oddly enough, just like I was lucky enough to have seen Rock of Ages during its second run last year). Don't miss it. You may buy tickets over the counter or online at TicketWorld...while they're still not sold out.
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