Sunday, March 29, 2015

What to do this summer




Summer has officially started and although I am sadly stuck in an office most days of my life, I DO have some suggestions of places to go to or what to do for the summer for those who are luckier than I am and have a lot of free time (Oh How I miss the freelance life!) If given the chance, these are the things I would do in the next two scorching hot months:

1. Hit the beach- But of course! This should be top priority for everyone because the Philippines has some of the best beaches in the world, and if you miss out this season, you will need to wait almost 6months for the rainy season to end to enjoy the islands at their best. Some of my favorite resorts? Movenpick (Cebu) Shangri-la Boracay, Costa Pacifica (Baler)  Lagen (Palawan) and Peacock Garden (Bohol) although there are some nice places closer by. I personally love Anvaya Cove as a day or overnight beach trip.

2. Get Fit- You don't do be cooped up in a gym to get fit this summer. In fact, I encourage you to get a lot of outdoor activity instead. Play some flag football on a late afternoon (so it's not so hot) or ultimate frisbee at the beach. If you want a work out and a bit of air-conditioning (it's ok, it's summer I know how hot it can be) try a few exercises designed to make you stronger but leaner, like yoga or pilates.

3. Travel Abroad- Summer here is spring in the Northern hemisphere and Fall in Australia and New Zealand. Either way, you get the perfectly cool but not freezing climate of these countries. Europe in particular can be quite crowded in the summer and if you go towards the latter months, you might be disappointed as a lot of shops and establishments close for the holidays so go earlier, before the hoards of people start joining in the fun.

4. Learn a new language- Learning something new is always a good call, and can only enhance your life. Learning a new language can be life changing (Hello being able to speak to servers in Spanish in Spain or understand a simple conversation in French while vacationing in France) It can even open doors for you as multi-lingual speakers always have job advantages when wanting to work abroad.

5. Change your look- Whether you want to try a new make up look or finally go for that chop you have been dying for, summer, although one can argue is like any other time of year, is a season that has such a happy go lucky vibe to it, that it seems like the perfect time to make a change- with no regrets!

6, Try a new hobby- in line with learning and growing, you can also finally take those lessons you've been dying to take- but were too scared, shy or busy to! If you aren't athletic but want to try capoeira, then by all means. do it! If you manage to burn eggs when you cook, then take that short culinary course you've always dreamed of.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Tarragon Chicken #WhatIAteToday


There is nothing more comforting for me than roast chicken. There are so many ways you can marinate it and the smell the permeates my entire apartment whenever I make one makes my mouth water. This one is a super simple, no-brainer one that tastes super duper yummy and if there are only a couple of you at home, it will last you a few days.

This is actually Ananda's recipe- something she got from a kids cookbook that she wanted to try and has become a staple at home, with a few adjustments. So so good!

Ingredients:


  • 1 whole chicken
  • 4 stalks tarragon, chopped
  • 1/2 stick of butter, softened
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 TBs liquid seasoning
  • 2 TBs Worcestershire Sauce
How to:

  • Combine butter, tarragon, garlic, salt and pepper and set aside. 
  • Cut slits on key areas of your chicken- thigh-leg part, breast etc. and stuff the tarragon butter mixture.
  • Use the remaining butter to rub directly on the skin and throw the rest into the cavity.
  • Pour liquid seasoning and Worcestershire Sauce on chicken- add more if you think you will need it.
  • Add half a head of garlic and any leftover tarragon to the cavity.
  • Roast at 350 for 45 minutes covered, and 10 more minutes uncovered to brown the skin.
Easy Peasy! Your kids can even do this, like Ananda does! :)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Restaurant Review: LOCAVORE #WhatIAteToday

Sizzling Beef Belly Sinigang- the sinigang part is in the gravy- so good I wish they put more of it so I can make "simot" with rice!


So this is the meaning of LOVE AT FIRST BITE.

I had heard so much about LOCAVORE for months before I actually finally got to try it- even if it's located literally 3 blocks from where I live. I was leaving for France for two weeks so I wanted to have dinner with my family prior, and I suggested this restaurant.

It was packed when we came in so don't forget to make a reservation for any of the 5-7-9-11 PM seatings, otherwise good luck lining up. Note that lunchtime and Sundays don't accept reservations so come early. Having a restaurant become that popular in the span of only a few months was impressive, so I had high hopes and expectations of the food.

The Street Food Platter is like an upgraded version of your street food faves- fish and squid balls, kikiam and kwek kwek.

Start off with the Street Food Platter, a typical Manong Fishball spread with home made sauces and a cute little kawali to boot. I wanted to order this just for the cuteness factor but I mean, who doesn't love fish balls anyway? We devoured the entire order in about 60 seconds. Nom nom nom. <3

What's better than sisig? LECHON AND OYSTER SISIG, that's what!
I first tried Oyster Sisig at Two Seasons in Boracay and I was already blown away. How can one improve such a perfect dish? Well, Locavore managed to with the addition of crunchy lechon chunks. To those planning to dine here, forget your diets for a few hours because that word does not exist in the borders of this restaurant. Nevertheless, the calorie explosions are definitely worth it. I had absolutely no regrets eating this, AND the street food platter, AND the Sizzling Sinigang WITH garlic rice, a cocktail, fried chicken and Tortang Mangga for dessert. Judge me, I don't care!

A layered mango tarte, the Tortang Mangga has merengue, Dulce de leche, Fresh mangoes and cream and is a sweet ending to a rich meal.
I have to say, my FAVORITE item on the menu is the Sizzling Sinigang. I actually don't like traditional sinigang with the soup, but I like how I make sinigang roast chicken- where the sinigang flavor is in the gravy. This dish reminded me of that somewhat so it was an instant hit to my taste buds. The tender beef belly, haricot vert, tomatoes and roasted garlic cloves are just a perfect medley. Please LOCAVORE, add more of the gravy because I could eat just that with rice! 

So lucky that I live really close to this establishment but since it's so popular, it's still not that easy for me to get a table all the time. Reserve one well in advance so you aren't disappointed! LOCAVORE is located at # 10 Brixton Street, Pasig. Call 6329600 for a table. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Travel Diaries: Alsace, France



Clockwise fro top left: Petite France; View from Mont Sainte Odile- the highest peak in Strasourg; Village Riquewhir and Colmar

When I am not traveling for work, I am traveling for myself- I don't want to say it's either work OR pleasure because my work is fun and never feels like it. I have been lucky enough to have stumbled into an industry that allows me to do lots of it, and I'm nowhere near done.

I decided to go to France on a personal trip las January and although I was a bit iffy because it was winter, and I don't do too well in extremely cold temperatures, I decided to give it a go. I had never experienced a European winter before and what better place to do so than France? What I could not get in good weather, I knew I could make up for in good food (Seriously, French BREAD and French BUTTER- forget about all the rest! I could eat just that forever) and nice architecture- and also WINE!  SO off I went in the dead of winter, not really knowing what -2 C really meant.

Bam. It hit me like a high speed truck. The cold was hard to ignore and even with my layers of clothing, wool tights and thick scarves, I could still feel myself shivering under everything. I was definitely not in the islands anymore. Nevertheless, I managed to spend the day AND enjoy Disneyland Paris, before the four hour car ride to Strasbourg, where I was to spend most of my trip.

Strasbourg is closer to Germany than it is to Paris, and even the look and feel of the city is more German than French. The architecture will remind you of Beauty and the Beast, and everything about it seems of a different world- or out of a movie. Paris may have all the glitz and glam, but cities all over France all have different looks and personalities, and this one definitely has an old world charm to it.

My favorite part of the city is Petite France, the town center where they kept the old look of the city. It's like a post card and almost too pretty when you see it in pictures. Here you will find traditional French restaurants, patisseries and cafes studded between boutiques and high street stores. When you see the traditional buildings/ houses, you would think it's just for show but people actually live in them!
Clockwise from top left: Village Riquewhir an hour away from Strasbourg is on of the most beautiful villages in France-officially; Foie Gras in a gingerbread spice mixture and pan fried; In front of the European Parliament, whose home is in Strasbourg and Mont D'Or- the only cheese you need to eat for the rest of your days.

The food in the Alsace region is something to note as well. First of all, I tried foie gras for the first time breaded in this spiced bread mixture that was like gingerbread flavored and pan-fried. I don't think I should have eaten as much as I did that day because I food coma'd immediately after but it was something I had never tried before and it was so delicious. They also have something called Tarte Flambe that I love- it's dough rolled flat, and topped with creme fraiche, lardons, onions and cheese- pizza if you will, but not really. If you are a cheese lover, DO NOT miss Mont D'Or if you are there in the colder months- it would be a crime not to be able to enjoy this melty goodness.

If you have a few days to spare, ride about an hour out of the city to experience more of the region. Village Riquewhir and Colmar are only an hour car ride away and are like Petite France on crack. You seriously expect someone like Belle to open a window and start singing and you want to knock on the walls to check if they are real and not made of wood or cardboard like they do on sets. Really worth a visit and I'm sure even more beautiful when they weather isn't so biting cold. Mont Sainte Odile is also a great place for photos as it has an awesome view from all the way on top. I must say that in this case, winter probably works in this location's favor. The old monastery looked gorgeous in a blanket of snow.

You can reach Strasbourg through Paris and a 2 hour train ride or 4 hour car ride or Frankfurt through a 2 hour car ride. I love France and am thinking of going back this year, possibly in August (Yay Summer) but this time to Bordeaux on the other side of the country. Fingers crossed I can leave work, and YOLO my way to another personal trip in a few months :)


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Travel Diaries: City Garden Grand Staycation



I'll be completely honest. I'm not used to this whole 9-6 job business. It's a struggle for me to be cooped up in an office every single day, mostly because I've lived a life of a freelancer for way too long, and even when I was working full time as a magazine editor, there was no such thing as a "regular" day at work. Sometimes a work day would mean a shoot in the morning, an event for lunch and a spa review in the afternoon, and then churning out all the writing in bed late at night.

Now that I have a "normal" job, my weekends have become absolutely SACRED. I plan what I'm gonna use them for ahead of time and make sure they are activities that will either help me relax or act as a creative outlet because as much as I do love building the site I now manage and watch it grow, the hours of free time I used to have for personal growth are sorely missed.

When City Garden Grand asked me to staycation at the hotel, I jumped at the opportunity. I'm leaving for Sydney this week, so I could not take any days off to do a long weekend out of town. So I packed an overnight bag, called an Uber and went to the hotel for some much needed R&R.

I didn't even know this place existed (Goes to show how little I go out nowadays!) so I had no idea what to expect. When I was ushered into my suite on the Penthouse floor, I was happy with how spacious it was. It even had an electric stovetop and full sized refrigerator! None of that bar sized mini fridges that hotels usually have!


The living and dining area was good enough to have a small wine and cheese party had I wanted to invite a bunch of friends over. The design is that of a typical hotel but cozy, and room service has a pretty good selection of food. I think my daughter ordered their blueberry cheesecake at least 4 times in 24 hours.


The bedroom is huge! I like that little reading corner by the window and the king sized bed of course. For those who travel with kids that move around a lot in their sleep, the king sized bed is a godsend. It's like having two separate beds and your kid can move around as much as they please without ruining your sleep.



The rest of my stay I just lazed around, had a few gin and tonics and tanned by the pool. For people hustling on the daily like I do, this is sometimes the only thing on the agenda on weekends. Some may argue that you can do this at home- true, but sometimes, not having to do the mundane things like make your own bed or cook your own food, or getting away even from your own home, is awesome. I do it every chance I can get.

City Garden Grand is located at the corner of Makati and Kalayaan Avenues, Makati. Check out www.grand.citygardenhotels.com for more information. Follow them at @citygardengrand on Instagram and Twitter and City Garden Grand Hotel on Facebook





Saturday, March 7, 2015

FRENCH CONNECTION PART 2: FOIE GRAS WITH APPLE CHUTNEY #SOULFOODSATURDAY


I don't care what anyone says about humane animal practices- ok I do, but I just really love foie gras. If that makes me a bad person then I accept it wholeheartedly. I could eat this every day if I could afford to and if it did not mean I could possibly die within a week. LOL.

In Manila, a lot of foie gras is eaten seared/ pan fried with a salad or with steak, but the French eat it in so many other ways. I got a whole block of foie gras as a present while in France and decided to eat it with one of my best friends last week. The box suggested that I accompany it with an apple chutney ( and I only knew this because I saw the words pommes, oignion and raisins blond moelleux) and so with my very limited French, I followed the recipe (but kind just made it up along the way) and went to Eric Kayser to buy a proper baguette ( Side Note: i would live in France just for the abundance of boulangeries and fresh baguettes for cheap)

Ok so here's that recipe, in case you ever find yourself with a block of foie gras ( the ones eaten cold) a terrine or a pate. It's so yummy if I do say so myself.

Ingredients:

Half a bloc of Foie Gras
Baguette

For Apple Chutney:

One apple, diced
One meidum red onion, diced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
pepper, to taste
1/2 cup brown sugar

How to:


  • Sautee onion until soft then add the apples.
  • Wait for apple to soften and release natural sugar.
  • Add balsamic vinegar, pepper and brown sugar. Cook until reduced and caramelized.
  • Add a heaped helping of foie gras to a slice of the baguette. Top with a teaspoon of apple chutney.
  • Enjoy with some white wine! I like Riesling or Gewurztraminer.

Friday, March 6, 2015

CRYSTAL LOUNGE, CROWN TOWERS, CITY OF DREAMS #TGIFTOAST


Because sometimes only fancy cocktails will cut it.

Imagine having a long work month or working on huge project and finally finishing it. I bet none of you want to go home and open a cheap bottle of wine or a the Philippines' finest Tanduay ( FYI I have nothing against Tandueezy, I actually find it good but c'mon, it's a special occasion and you deserve more than a P70 bottle of liquor, right?)

Head over to Crown Towers and have a cocktail or two at Crystal Lounge instead. Actually, if you want, you can start with high tea and 3 pm and slowly transition into cocktails at 6 pm, which is what I did. The high tea set comes with sweet and savory options for their traditional or asian sets and a few pass around treats as well.

The cocktails are something else, with some of them shaken and poured table side such as the Crystal Daiquiri in the photo above. They are a bit on the pricy side, but it is expected at a high end hotel, and also I think it's worth it because they use quality liquor and are not stingy so you will definitely feel the buzz with even just one drink.

I also loved this! The Clover Chocolate Club.


Hello Lovely! This drink is gin based and is mixed with raspberry liquor and topped with a frothy egg white foam. The big plus here is that it is served with a side of dark chocolate- and a substantial amount of it. This made me so happy! The drink and the chocolate were a match made in heaven and I would go back for this.

Crystal Lounge is located inside Crown Towers, City of Dreams, Aseana Avenue corner Roxas Boulevard, Manila. For reservations, call 800 8080.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

FRENCH CONNECTION PART 1: MONT D'OR #TRAVELFEATURE


Calling all cheese lovers out there. You haven't had cheese until you've had this.

On my recent trip to France, I had the great pleasure of trying out a cheese I had never had before- MONT D'OR- a French raw cow's milk cheese that is only available basically when the weather is cold. You start seeing it in the shops around September- October and it slowly becomes more and more scarce after March as the weather gets warmer.

Cheese laws are apparently getting stricter and it's not very common to find cheese ripened in wood, but Mont D'Or is protected and allowed to ripen for three weeks in spruce containers.

It's easy to cook at home and even easier to eat. It's cooked in the oven until liquid and almost sludgy- i know that sounds gross but trust me- all you need is this and a baguette- for the rest of your life.

I highly doubt we will ever see Mont D'or here in Manila (If anyone knows where please let me know ASAP!) but here's a recipe you can use if you ever get to try it.

Ingredients:

1 500g Mont D'Or
1 clove garlic, sliced thinly
1/4 cup white wine

How to:


  • Cut a few slits into the cheese. Fill with garlic.
  • Pour wine over the cheese.
  • Bake in oven for about 30 minutes or until cheese is liquid with a crusty top.
  • Serve with sliced baguette.
  • Don't Share.

Monday, March 2, 2015

FOOD HACK: Not Really Bon Chon



When my daughter asked if we could eat at Bon Chon for dinner, I said no. As much as I loved it back in 2009 when I first tried it, I really try not to eat anything too junky or fast food, with her especially. I prefer to try and copy it at home so at least I can control the ingredients that go in it. So she asked me if I could make something like it instead and I happily obliged.

This recipe is not exactly like bonchon, but it's has a very Asian tasting soy glaze that is very similar. My food critic of a daughter gave it an 8.5 out of 10 so I guess she found it pretty good. This is great as a starter, a snack while watching the game on tv or even as your main course at dinner if you are ok with finger food as your main.

Ingredients:

1 kilo chicken wings, cut into 2 parts- the drumette and the wing
flour, to dust chicken wings
1 medium red onion, chopped
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
juice of 1/4 lime
pepper, to taste
cilantro, to garnsh

How to:

  • Dredge the chicken wings in flour and some salt and pepper and fry until cooked. Set aside.
  • Add onions to a pan and cook until soft, then add fish sauce, soy sauce, lime and brown sugar and simmer until caramelized. Add pepper. 
  • Add the chicken wings into the glaze and mix in some cilantro. Make sure you coat all the wings!
  • Sprinkle with more cilantro on top before serving.