Friday, July 26, 2013

Cupcakes to Celebrate

So much has happened since my last post.

            As I write this, I am almost 5 months pregnant. Yes, it’s a miracle. After my ectopic pregnancy, it took Matt and I a while to get pregnant again. But, finally it happened, and right when we least expected it—I was just starting a new job and we were in the process of moving into our new digs. “Impossible,” I told myself when I was three weeks delayed. Not with all the stress and all the action. Finally, I ask Matt to pick up a pregnancy test at the drugstore, “I’m sure the result will be negative, but I just need to take the test already so I can consult with the OB-GYNE and see what’s wrong.”

            I go to sleep that night, planning to do the test the next morning when my HCG levels would be highest. But, I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and cannot bring myself to go back to sleep. I had to know.

            So, I go into the bathroom and do the test. The 5-minute wait for the results felt like forever as a mish-mash of emotions came over me. A part of me felt indifferent, telling myself that I KNOW it will be negative and its ok. Another part was afraid of yet another disappointing result, dreading the dull pain that it will bring. But, there was still that tiny part that was hopeful, that maybe this time a small miracle might actually happened. And as the two lines indicating a positive result appeared, it was a new set of emotions that took over: First, shock; then slowly, there’s that raw feeling of happiness reserved solely, I thought, for lottery winners. For the first time in a really long while, I felt victorious.

            I rushed to share this feeling with my husband, who was fast asleep and without a clue in the world. Half-awake, he mumbles asking what was wrong, and I said, “I’m pregnant.” He says, “Huh? How?” And I laughingly reply, “I don’t know! I just am. Isn’t that crazy?” Still half-asleep, he celebrates a bit with a small “yay” and tells me to go back to bed. Naturally, it all set in the next morning, when the reality of it all was too vivid to ignore.

            The journey since then has been long and sometimes scary, with the trauma of the ectopic pregnancy still very fresh in our minds. But so far, it has been close to perfect, with just a little nausea during the first trimester I had to endure. But its all good, I really cannot complain. We have prayed long and hard, and now we have been blessed. Sometimes we still shake our heads in disbelief, and I think that was the whole purpose to the ordeal we had to endure. Now, we appreciate every single tidbit of this pregnancy, every day that passes and I have this blossoming life within me. It’s the most amazing gift both of us have ever received, and we are so grateful.

            As Matt and I celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary this weekend, we continue on this premise of gratefulness. No, it has not been perfect: we have had our share of issues and “real world problems” that we’ve had—and continue—to deal with. But still, there is just too much to be thankful for. For one, we now know who our real friends are. Ordeals weed out the fun-time friends from those who will stick with you even at your lowest. Same goes with family—some have proven to be truly valuable components in our lives, while others apparently we can do without. But most importantly, these troubles made us realize that we cannot live without each other, no matter what. We fight, we argue, we shout, we cry—but in the end, one cannot be complete without the other.

            A few months ago, at the height of my trying first trimester, a craving for cupcakes hit me and I threw it out into the universe (Facebook, actually), waiting to see if my prayers would be answered. A blessing came in the form of a friend I haven’t seen in a long time that just happened to be in the same area as Cupcakes by Sonja and was headed towards the direction of my office. So, she sends me a private message on Facebook asking for directions to my building, and that was that. No, she wasn’t selling insurance or Nu Skin—she just gave me my half-dozen cupcakes, congratulated me on my pregnancy, we hugged, and she went on her way.

            And I think that’s what life is all about—you can plan as much as you want, but things hardly ever pan out the way you envision it. We just need to do our best, live and love as hard as we can, and hope that things turn out fine. It really is about faith, if you think about it. Then, when the powers that be decide its time, you get the love of your life, your dream job, your own family—or even your cupcakes. And when that finally happens, you will be so unbelievably grateful.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Quick Bites: Goto Monster's Goto Special and Tokwa't Baboy

Goto Special

 For me, nothing heals and soothes like a bowl of arroz caldo. My first memory of the stuff goes all the way back to when I was a pre-schooler. One time, my dad picked me up from my grandparents’ house in Mandaluyong’s Old Wack-wack area then we made the short drive to the old Good-ah in Greenhills. I remember walking across the small bridge that allows pedestrians access into the restaurant, which, to my 5-year-old imagination, was quite magical. Then my dad and I sat on the counter and he ordered—chicken arroz caldo for me, goto and tokwa’t baboy for himself. I must have loved it, because since then I would ask our yaya to prepare chicken arroz caldo every time I felt sick or when I needed some good coddling.

To this day, I still pine for my yaya’s classic chicken arroz caldo when I’m under the weather (or just feeling blue). Although, recently, I was just as comforted by Goto Monster’s one-of-a-kind Goto Special. The porridge itself was rich, thick, and flavorful. You pick up the essence of a robust, aromatic broth used in cooking the short-grain rice and malagkit—an heirloom recipe from owner Jean Hill’s grandmother.

Jean added her own twist with the toppings and you can be assured that each ingredient was deliberate. Of course, there was tripe—because any self-respecting goto has got to have it. Goto Monster’s was tender and didn’t have the gamey, barnyard taste from sub-standard preparations. Instead of the usual hard-boiled egg, Jean decided it made more sense to use half a salted duck egg. “Plain chicken egg is just as pretty,” she imparts. “But, you don’t really get much flavor from it.” She then adds another dimension with some shredded tinapa, and rounds it all up with the traditional garlic crisps and green onions. What you get is a blitzkrieg of flavors, elevating the homely porridge into something that would induce cravings from any time of the day.

Tokwa't Baboy

 With all of that already going on in the goto, you will probably think that an order of Tokwa’t Baboy is excessive. Perhaps, but you will be missing out on something pretty darn good if you cast it aside. The fried tofu is crisped up and sliced, and then tossed in a bowl of cubed pork and fresh onions. But, instead of the usual cartilage or kasim, you get juicy bits of bagnet—that fabled Ilocano crispy pork dish marinated in sinamak and spices. With the flavorful meat, the sauce does not have to work overtime, though it is a study in sweet/sour balance in itself. No matter how filling the goto is, I will always have space in my stomach for this.

People always wax poetic over their favorite comfort food, and I am obviously no different. Goto Monster offers a jazzed-up alternative to the classic Filipino dish but still gives you that feeling of coming home. Its not trying to be fancy—it’s the same roadside preparation served amidst down-to-earth surroundings. But it is better, and it makes you want more.  

Goto Monster 
P. Ocampo corner Dungon Sts. 
San Antonio Village, Makati City 
E-mail address:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Let the Sunshine Through

Girls who do not eat are very foreign to me. I respect their choice—they obviously prefer to look good in skinny jeans over indulging in a cheesy, carb-y pizza, and that’s ok. Once in a while I do catch myself admiring their lithe physiques and hoping that I, too, can fit into those tiny size-2 dresses. But I made my choice, and I chose to eat well. Therefore, I will live with the results, which is the “junk in my trunk.”

But the ladies of Sunshine Kitchen are freaks of nature—they cook and eat delicious, rich comfort food without gaining an inch around their mid-sections. From the lovely chefs (co-owner Tanya and my baby sister, Sansan) to the bubbly part owners, all of the ladies involved look great in their sexy denim cut-offs. Don’t be fooled though—these hotties know their food.

When I eat at Sunshine Kitchen, I like to prep my stomach with one of their healthy salads. Their dressings—such as the Mediterranean Salad’s red wine vinaigrette—are light yet flavorful.

The pizzas here can definitely give those of the surrounding establishments a run for their money. The crust is thin and crisp, but with a bit of a bite. Old-school, Neapolitan-style. My favorites are the Cristal’s Choice, which is their version of the pizza Napolitana. But for something that is uniquely SK, go for the Sunshine Pizza—garlicky Cabanatuan longganisa, juicy porchetta, peppery arugula, topped with a runny egg. A spattering of yolk adds just enough richness to an already decadent dish. Not for the calorie-counting, but then again, you only live once.

Matt the chicken lover swears by their Fried Chicken. Crisp, juicy and flavorful, it has all the winning components. Their gravy is what I imagine good Southern-style cooking must be. Creamy and rich, but not overtly so.

Another bestseller is the Longganisa Paella. The dominant flavors are classic Spanish, but with familiar flavors of local sausage and eggs. Very festive and perfect for sharing.

Their lust-worthy Porchetta is served with rice pilaf and French beans. This, along with their pizzas, is what will set this establishment apart from all the trendy grub spots in the metro. The skin is chicharon-level crunchy, and the moist pork is soft and perfectly-seasoned. Everyone from husky males to Cohen-cheating waifs swear by it.

Sunshine Kitchen also makes their own ice cream, and one time I got to try their Key Lime Pie Ice Cream. And that is exactly what you taste when you have a spoonful. A cool touch would be the sweetened breadcrumbs that add texture for a well-rounded dessert. It’s an ideal place for pretty much everything—from quiet brunches, to power lunches, to boisterous family dinners. Or just come by when you want to be cheered up by some straightforward, delicious food.

Sunshine Kitchen
2/F Fort Pointe Building (near Urbn)
Bonifacio Global City, Taguig
Mobile no. 0929-8139775

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Quick Bites: La Nuova Pasteleria's Profumo di Tartufo

Recently, I was half-heartedly watching an interview with legendary fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg on TV while the hubby was distracted with his fantasy basketball league on the iPad.  As she luxuriated on her plush couch, dressed in one of her coveted wrap dresses, she said something that deeply resonated with me and caught my attention.  When asked by the British interviewer what it was- with the organized chaos brought about by astronomical success- that kept her sane, she imparts: “Solitude.  Sometimes, we owe it to ourselves to just be alone.”   

            In this frenetic, modern lifestyle, we have taken huge pains to stay connected and be constantly “in the loop” with whatever new gadget that does the job fastest (and makes you look cool while doing it).  But despite the constant need to be in touch with each other, there is that little voice that says when you need a little time on your own.  Just be still and quiet, allow yourself to clear your mind.  Or think.  Whatever it is that you feel you need to do for yourself.  Even as a young girl, I cherished these moments alone where I am allowed to dream and wish and wonder.  And now, when the young girl’s daydreams are replaced with harsh realities, these little pockets of solitude are all the more precious. 

            Last weekend, I spent some of this sacred alone time with a plate of Profumo di Tartufo at La Nouva Pasteleria- a mountainous pile of tagliatelle in truffle-perfumed cream sauce and porcini mushrooms, topped with wide films of prosciutto.  That rich cream, coupled with the dense earthiness of the mushrooms and the heady aroma of truffles, acted like a healing elixir for my soul.  I tear off a little piece of ham as I roll the wide, flat pasta around my fork, and it imparts just the right amount of salty, porky flavor to an already highly immoral dish.  I derived so much pleasure from it that, as I sat there alone, I was wishing that I had someone to share it with.

            And enough for two, it truly was.  I wrapped the remnants of the pasta and hurried home, feeling revived, my mind clear.  I felt it in my bones that I was ready for a fresh week and the new experiences it will bring.  Watching Matt scarf down the other half of the Profumo di Tartufo, hearing his grunts of approval (punctuated by the occasional commending profanity)- I count my blessings:  I am only alone when I choose to be.

La Nuova Pasteleria
G/F San Antonio Plaza
McKinley Rd., Forbes Park
Makati City
Tel. no. (632) 867 2370

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Remember Your First Chocolate Kiss?

College gave me my first taste of the real world- meeting people outside my usual circle; encountering challenges (both in school and in life) that tested my mettle; basically, I learned that the world could both be loving and cruel.  But aside from waking up to these harsh realities of life, it was during my university days that I got to really experiment with food. 

            There are many blissful food memories of my time in the Katipunan area, and quite a number of them had something to do with The Chocolate Kiss CafĂ© at the Bahay ng Alumni in UP Diliman.  I recall how excited I was to be able to enjoy generous portions of my favorite pastas, followed by huge slices of beautiful cakes.  To my young, unexposed palate, it was my haven of good food, away from the poorly ventilated grills and fast food joints that college runts like me used to frequent. 

            One weekend, Matt and I were in the QC area and I spotted the branch of Chocolate Kiss along Roces Avenue.  Excited, I decided to grab a quick snack just to see what has become of this old favorite. 

            I loved their Fettuccine Carbonara, but having since outgrown pastas with creamy white sauces, I ordered their Aligue and Prawn Pasta.  The linguine was nicely cooked (al dente), and the aligue (crab fat), although fundamentally rich, was not oily.  There were notably more than a handful of prawns in my bowl.  Most aligue pastas tend to be heavy on the garlic, but CK’s version seemed to have practiced restraint.  I think I like it more this way. 

Matt opted for the Salisbury Steak with Mashed Potato- his idea of comfort food.  I believe he enjoyed it, particularly the thickened, home-style gravy.

            For dessert, I had to have a slice of a classic- Devil’s Food Cake.  Stark white peaks of marshmallow-like frosting enveloped a rich, fudge-y chocolate cake- there’s a reason why it made an impact back then and was burned into my memory.  It’s still good.

            Matt also had to have his cheese fix- this time in the form of a Blueberry Cheesecake.  The blueberry topping was obviously canned, but the cake itself was good enough- thick and dense, but not cloying. 

            The service was a tad “too relaxed” for my taste- boisterous banter (and singing!) among the staff is a no-no in my book.  Save it for your yosi break, guys.  Still, it was a fun afternoon of reminiscing, especially having discovered that this old favorite has maintained the pleasantly homey quality of their food.

The Chocolate Kiss Cafe
G/F Korben Place
Roces Ave. cor, Sct. Tobias St., Q.C
Tel. no. (632) 412 7876 

Friday, January 25, 2013

A Taste of the Holy Land

I have never had Israeli food before. Not because I didn’t want to- the Philippines is not exactly a hotbed for Jews. However, one of my hunger-induced Facebook statuses (something like “this country needs a good Jewish deli!”) caught the attention of a friend who has Israeli connections and told me about a remarkable Kosher meal a friend of his prepared recently. It was not the New York-style corned beef sandwich I was craving for, but it definitely aroused my interest. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was sitting down to a beautifully laid-out spread of Israeli dishes with Matt and a few friends.

 Our friends Dudu and Marie O. introduced us to young and charming Iyar, a Jewish expatriate based in Manila. For us (and a few other food lovers we brought along), he gamely prepared a lovely meal featuring the popular Israeli dishes he used to serve in his own restaurant back home.

The meal began with Moroccan Spicy Fish- maya-maya flavored strongly with cumin and coriander. Iyar admits to being adverse to salt, and it was most evident in this particular dish. However, it was a fitting prologue to this exotic meal as it features a flavor profile that I admit is surprisingly unfamiliar to me despite the use of common ingredients. Fine, it’s Moroccan, but its good and he prepared it well, so no complaints here.

 Iyar explained that a traditional Israeli meal features a wide assortment of salads- ranging from savory dips to refreshing chopped vegetables. Although he has expressed his disdain for locally-produced pita bread, he found the ones at Arya Restaurant to be quite good so he bought some from them to accompany the salads.

Our host is most proud of his Hummus, and rightfully so- the chickpeas are pureed until silky-smooth (sorry, I couldn’t resist the “Zohan” reference) and mixed with high-quality Tahini (sesame paste) that he brings in from Israel. Topped with spices and some pine nuts for extra flavor and texture, it was a hit, especially with a friend who admits to being a hummus addict.

I love Moutabal, and I have to admit that Iyar’s was one of the best (and prettiest) I have had so far. It has that perfect balance between the roasted eggplant and garlic, not one overpowering the other.

The most talked about salad/dip that evening would have to be the Matbuha, painstakingly prepared by cooking down huge, ripe tomatoes (the best he can find, Iyar shared) until rich and concentrated like a paste. This is traditionally served alongside grilled meats as a condiment, lending a sweet and tangy flavor to the dish. It really was quite addicting, even just slathered on pita.

As a side dish to grilled meats, a light but tasty accompaniment would be this Cucumber, Tomato and Carrot Salad. Mildly-flavored with lemon and some herbs, it lends textural contrast alongside the pureed dishes.

Matt the Cheese Lover was infatuated with the Fresh Cheese. I mean… It’s fresh cheese. How could you not, right? Made from thick yogurt, it is slightly tangy but creamy. I found myself wishing there was more of it, or perhaps less people to share it with.

Falafel is one of the most popular middle-eastern dishes, and as a result, probably the most bastardized. I was really excited to try Iyar’s version, knowing that this is the closest I would ever come to an authentic falafel. However, with our generous host’s desire to serve us a wide array of dishes, his falafels have grown cold awaiting its moment in the spotlight. Hopefully, I would get another chance to try them when they are freshly-cooked.

Thankfully, the Grilled Meats (an assortment of chopped chicken meat, hearts and liver) more than made up for the void left by the falafel. It was flavorful and pungent- “like kofta”, the chef in our group shared. This is typical Israeli fast food, stuffed in a pita with salad and hummus. Delightful!

The centerpiece is definitely the Maloube- a rice dish stuffed with lamb chops and eggplant. The rice on its own was so buttery and smoky, flavored with the juices of the tender lamb. Iyar admitted earlier on that the rice in the middle might be undercooked, but fortunately I had none of that on my plate. If I wasn’t watching my carbs, the rice on its own was so tasty I could have definitely had more of it.

 What a blessing it was to have been invited to this dinner. I learned so much about Israeli food, not only from the actual experience of eating it, but also from the discussion among foodies that ensued after. Thank you so much to our gracious host!