Friday, January 31, 2014

Eat or Be Eaten: Cafe Jeepney

No, the family is not quite done with our un-diet diaries that started last year.  As long as we can keep getting good deals from Deal Grocer and the like, we are so keeping up our search for The Best Buffet in Town.  This year, we're going by the words of wisdom of Sandy from Spongebob, as quoted to me by Boots:  Eat or be eaten.    

We tried Cafe Jeepney in Intercontinental Manila this time.  Intercon is the site of MWC's annual shareholder meetings for the four or so times I was part of the team that worked on the event.  Thom and I and the rest of our gang would already sleep over in the hotel the night before, but we'd be too stressed with all of the activities of the day ahead to enjoy the breakfast buffet.  This time was going to be purely for leisure and family bonding; there was no toxic work in sight to keep us from savoring our food.        

I binged on the usual suspects:  salmon, lechon, sashimi, soups, desserts.  What stood out for me were the caesar salad (which I lathered with bacon, of course, hence defeating the whole purpose of a salad), and the bread pudding, which had just the right consistency and creamy milky sweetness.  The spread is not as extensive as most other five-star hotel buffets, but the service is impeccable, and I've always liked that Intercon is bright, wide, and airy, not at all stiff or stuffy as some snooty hotels go.

I also love the whole jeepney theme.  So unique and colorful.  Of course, the lot of us who have actually taken jeepney rides can attest that the experience is not all happy and exciting as it is touted to be - it is actually pretty dreary, with way too much pollution out in the streets.  But the jeepney is as Pinoy as can be, so we should just go along and support its promotion all the way.  As my friend Dr. G likes to say:  for nation-building!  Hahaha.    

It happened to be the Chinese New Year when we were at Intercon, so there was a dragon dance that snaked thru the tables, and the place was all decked out with red lanterns and wooden horses.  I am not fan of chinoiserie, but I did love it when we were in Beijing.  I needed that whole context of the forbidden city and the emperors' lives and building the great wall to appreciate chinoiserie.   

The boys wanted to check out the park across Intercon.  Boots saw the fountain, dolphins, and horses when we passed by the park on the way to Intercon, so off we went after our heavy lunch, to walk around and try to burn some of all that food down.  Hahaha.

I'm glad we have these pockets of breathing spaces across the metro, but it's sad that they are not much more than just that.  Too puny and not enough culture and heritage, sometimes overcrowded and not even thoroughly clean and well-maintained, nowhere near the level of Boston Public Garden or Central Park in NY.  In fact, this little courtyard in Glorietta is in all likelihood owned and maintained by the Ayalas, and not even actually a public park.  It's third world pathetic all around.  I walk in these parks and hope this is where my taxes would go.  Sigh.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Balikbayan Box

Ever true to her Pinoy ways, Ate regularly sends us balikbayan boxes overloaded with 'state-side' goodies. The last time she sent us was middle of last year, but we didn't get to enjoy that as much bcoz it arrived on the night Ches and I checked in at the hospital for his surgery.  Sob.  My favorites from that box were these Cape Cod/Massachusetts publications.  Ate actually asked the author of the Cape Cod Wildflowers book to autograph it for me.  Oww.  Ate LOVES me like that.

This time we have no health dramas to stress us out (thank you, Lord!), and so nothing could keep us from truly enjoying our post-Christmas loot from Ate.  Ches loved his Boston shirts and Reeses, Yoshi his board games and food, and Boots his Halloween costume and drinks.  He is excitable and hyper any given day, but that night he was on major overdrive, even putting on my funky boots from Ate (that I borrowed when we were in the Cape and which she has decided to hand down to me) and running around the house yelling 'Goodies galore!!!'  Hahaha.

My favorites were my Boston Strong shirt and silver necklace with a ballerina pendant.  They made me cry. Boston Strong came out in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing early last year.  Ate was devastated by it, and I was also affected bcoz I LOVE Boston, and I actually know people who join the prestigious marathon.  Since then, Ate has kept me updated on all Boston Strong-related news, such as when the Boston Red Sox dedicated their championship win to the bombing victims and survivors.  My favorite story is about this woman survivor who ordered two pairs of artificial legs: the ordinary one that everyone else got, and a special one that would allow her to wear high heels.  That's the spirit, right?  I told Ches he so needs to take me somewhere special so I could wear my Boston Strong shirt and ballerina necklace.      

Bcoz Ate and I are The Infamous Hello Kitty Sisters, no balikbayan box is ever complete without Kitty cuteness in them.  Ate got me something from the kids' section as usual - a dainty tackle box, and a leggings/skirt combo.  (The snakeskin flats are from Nine West.  Happiness!)  Ate also gave me 60 million Kitty tank tops with matching boylegs.  Some of the tank tops were marked Hello Kitty USA, Japan, Italy, etc.  Omg, it's like the Hello Kitty United Nations Sleepwear Collection!  HAHAHA.  (You already, Ate!)  

Ate filled up the box with our favorite chocolates, the boys' mac and cheese and Spam, and only 11 flavors of Oreo.  I didn't even know there were that many!  Ate actually felt bad she ran out of time to complete 12 flavors, bcoz the shipping company picked the box up from her house already.  Hahaha.  Crazy Ate.    

Ate usually sends us goodies that are not available in the groceries or duty-free shops here. What's the point, right?  We used to laugh about normal stuff like soap and corned beef in balikbayan boxes - as if walang sabon at corned beef sa Pilipinas!  Hahaha.  But your whole perspective changes when you become a mommy - whatever you want to send me from abroad, even if it's just friggin' Colgate that I can easily get at the neighborhood Savemore, that equates to savings in my grocery bill, hence, send them all in, I'm so not complaining!  Hahaha.      

Ate got me my favorites - three kinds of clam chowder, Friday's chips, chocolates, nuts.

Me, to the three boys:  See, Ate marked the Almond Roca 'For my baby sister'.  That means it's all mine!
Ches:  That's why she put 'Baby Sis and Ches' in the pistachios - bcoz she knows if she didn't put my name you wouldn't share!


Ate knows exactly what I want.  No surprise, tho - she's my Ate.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Los Banos

One of my favorite office friends Doc Gani celebrated his 40th birthday in his hometown Los Banos and invited us over.  He is UPLB all the way, both his parents are stalwarts in the UP academe, and whenever we go to Laguna - for work or otherwise - he has all these stories of what pranks they used to do in the campus, where to get the best carabao milk pastillas, which building is haunted, etc., all in his trademark Pinoy pride and humor.  We love Doc Gani.  (Too bad our other best friend Doc Boyet could not make it to the party bcoz he had just come back from Chicago and was still reeling from the polar vortex.  Hahaha.)    

We took the chance to go around UPLB after the lunch birthday bash.  We had wanted to visit since last summer when Princess was staying with us, but we didn't get the time anymore.

I love UP Diliman and am loyal to it all the way, but LB seems a lot more picturesque than Diliman.  Or maybe it's just that I don't get to see it often, whereas we actually live in the Diliman neighborhood and can visit the campus any given day.

Boots LOVES this tree.  He says it's 'the most gigantic tree' he has ever seen.  He's amazed that their six arms outstretched are not long enough to cover even half of the trunk.  It is a magnificent tree.  Must be hundreds of years old, too.

Our beloved AS in Diliman is officially named Palma Hall.  In LB the former UP president got this bridge named after him instead.  Romantic, especially on this deserted weekend.

The boys spent most of the time climbing trees and rolling around on the grass.  They are deprived of greens and soil in the city, so we let them get down and dirty every chance they get.

Even the benches have the UP mark.  Love it.  We don't have these in Diliman.

This is their equivalent of the Sunken Garden, I guess.  It is not quite as sunken as the one in Diliman, nor as crowded.

Yoshi:  Mommy, parang mas konting jeje dito kesa sa Diliman.
Me:  Hindi, mas malaki lang yung campus dito.


This is Baker Hall, which Doc Gani says is the most haunted building in the campus.  It was used by the Japanese as a prisoners' camp during the war.  It looks eerie even in the daytime, but it has actually been converted into a gym of sorts.  There was a basketball game going on when we ventured inside to use the toilets.

And bcoz this is UP, someone just has to ruin the perfectly serene landscape with tibak graffiti like this.  Sigh.

A trip to any UP campus is not complete without a visit to good old Oblation, of course.  Unlike in Diliman where Oble takes center stage at the end of University Av., in LB he is tucked in a quiet corner in the middle of a row of small buildings.  Which is not to say that he is any less imposing here.  I think you can put Oblation anywhere and he will stand out proud and mighty as he always does.  

Saturday, January 18, 2014


Ches and I could hardly believe that, after all these years of us taking them on their school field trips, the boys have never been to Intramuros.  Isn't that one of the most educational places you can take students to? It's right in the city, too.  Apparently the schools deem it better to take them as far away as Laguna or Cavite to visit truly life-enriching sites like the Gardenia or Goldilocks factories.  Smart.

(This all reminds me of Ely Buendia's lines in Wag Mo Nang Itanong:

Field trip sa may pagawaan ng lapis ay katulad ng buhay natin
Isang mahabang pila, mabagal, at walang katuturan ...

I've always thought that Ely was an astute observer of Pinoy culture.  I think we did visit a Mongol factory in one high school field trip.  The Yakult plant, too.  I carry with me all the valuable lessons I learned from those trips to this day.  Not.)  

In any case, Ches and I figured we'd take matters into our own hands and just bring the boys to Intramuros already.  We started at San Agustin Church, which only happens to be, hello, the oldest stone church in the Philippines.  It is one of four Baroque churches in the Philippines inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.  (I can easily name the other three but I'm not in the mood to show off just now.  Hahaha.)      

The interior of the church is astounding.  It has one of those grand ceilings with every inch of space covered by intricate artwork.  Everywhere you turn there is an ornate detail that would make you want to take a closer look.  That phony term writers like to use, 'an assault to the senses' - it so applies to churches like San Agustin.  And to think it is already 400+ years old!  Gasp.

We told the boys beforehand to watch out for the names of dead people on the church floor and walls.  We tried to locate the most ancient ones in terms of the dates of their births and deaths.  

Boots:  I thought we were going to be stepping on real dead people on the floor!  These are just names!

HAHAHA.  Boots is our daily riot.

Yoshi:  Seriously, Mom, you can only confess in English or Spanish?  Magco-confess ka na nga, mano-nosebleed ka pa!


We also went to see the Manila Cathedral but it's still under renovation.  I was happy that at least someone's still taking care of our beautiful churches.  I have absolutely no objections to my taxes money going to this cause.  

The highlight of our little trip was Fort Santiago, of course.  There were quite a few parts that were run down and fenced off, and there was some furniture exhibit that for me did not make any sense in a place like this, but for the most part the fort was clean and well-maintained.  It looked like peak season for tourists and we saw a huge group of young Koreans and several Caucasians who all seemed to be enjoying themselves.  If nothing else, the fort is a breather from the otherwise crowded and dirty side of the metropolis.  

According to its historical marker, this part is the oldest ruins in the Philippines.  I love those red bricks. They are hundreds of years old and still look so tough and compact.  It's hard to find these authentic bricks anywhere anymore.

Unfortunately the Rizal Museum within the fort was closed for renovation.  I remember going there ages ago and being enlightened on the life of our national hero.  It would have been useful for the kids, too.  All they got to do was retrace Dr. Jose Rizal's last steps before he was shot in Bagumbayan.     

The boys had fun running around the walls, tho, and playing with the World War artifacts.  Boots remembered we saw similar weapons in Corregidor.  They are such boys.    

Lunch was at Ilustrado, which was also the venue for our friends Jervin's and Bubbles' wedding reception.  It is famous for having been named one of the best in Asia by the Miele Guide, and apparently it is where the king and queen of Spain dine in when they come to visit.  Snooties.  At least the boys won't be able to complain when they grow up that we only ever took them to McDo and never exposed them to fine dining where they get to use heavy silverware and table napkins made of cloth.  Hahaha.  

We started with this salad with native ferns and tinapa flakes, and for mains we ordered the Paella Ilustrado and Paella Negra, together with - get a load of this - adobong bagnet at sugpo sa taba ng talangka.  Whew.  A dish with a name like that makes no pretense about being healthy, right?

The courtyard held as much old world charm as the resto interior.  It could maybe use a little grooming of the drying leaves and overgrown vines, but  I think that actually adds to the whole rustic ambiance of it. Ilustrado fittingly capped our day of going back to the 15th century and visiting this place so rich in our heritage and so near our home.