Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Birthday at Pinac Heirloom Capampangan Cuisine

We recently celebrated the birthday of grandmother Nanay. Normally, I pick the place where we have lunch or dinner but this time, it was Nanay who suggested that we celebrate in PinΓ‘c Heirloom Capampangan Cuisine in UP Town Center. We had been there a couple of times before and we really enjoyed their food so Nanay decided she wanted to dine there again.

My aunt and my cousin got there firsts since everyone else was stuck in traffic so they decided to order for everyone to save time. Interestingly enough, a lot of what she ordered were some of our favorite dishes. One of my family's favorite salads here is the Ensaladong Pako with Fried Floss (P165).

The other is the Fried Kesong Puti Ensalada (P165). Both these salads are very good, with vibrant flavors and a great contrast in textures.

One of the most interesting items on the Pinac menu, and one of my personal favorites, is the Beef Caldereta Eggplant Parmigiano (P265), which puts a Spanish-Filipino spin on the classic Italian dish by filling the parmigiana with beef caldereta.

One new item we got to try in this recent visit was the Binagoongang Lechon Kawali (P345). The bagoong taste in this dish is actual quite subtle; it manages to elevate the flavor of the pork without overpowering it. The fact that it is served with vegetables adds great balance.

As there were a lot of us, we ordered many other dishes, including the Binukadkad na Tilapia (P255)...

...and the Inihaw na Liempo (P225).

One thing we didn't order this time but which we enjoyed in the past is the Lechon Kawali with Laing (P345). We had this on our previous trip and I remember the meat being very crispy yet tender - you could cut it up with a spoon - while the laing provided a wonderful contrast to the pork.

As we were getting ready to leave, we were pleasantly surprised when the waiters came out, singing "Happy Birthday" while bringing out a wonderfully and appropriately decorated dessert. I ended up leaving a larger than average tip to show my appreciation for this incredible gesture.

Pinac serves delicious, flavorful food and we have always found the service to be very good. The waiting time for our food is also pretty short, making every meal we've had here quite enjoyable. It surprises me that in almost all our visits, there are always a lot of available tables. I hope that more people eat here since it would be a shame if this place closes. Hopefully, my family can get to enjoy more meals and more celebrations here.

PinΓ‘c Heirloom Capampangan Cuisine
U.P. Town Center, Katipunan, Quezon City
Telephone #: (02) 775 9450

Monday, May 30, 2016


I recently got to visit another place in the Philippines for the first time - Baler. It started out as a conversation over drinks with my friends and we started planning for it and before we knew it, we were on our way!

Baler is known for being one of the most popular surfing destinations in the country, catering to both experienced surfers and to beginners. As luck would have it, I ended up visiting this beautiful capital of Aurora province without getting on a surfboard (all my other companions did).

My friends and I decided to just make the long drive from Manila to Baler and that meant I had to do driver duty. The problem was that the night before our trip, I couldn't sleep. I was in bed for a few hours trying to get some shut-eye with no success and before I knew it, it was almost time to get ready. I ended up making the 5 1/2 hour drive with no sleep at all. When we got there, everyone wanted to go surfing and I was just too tired.

In fact, I was so tired that I decided to skip the 5:30 AM assembly time to visit the Ditumabo Mother Falls one our second day. This, I heard, proved to be a great place to see as it turned out to be a very exciting outdoors activity. It involved a long trek before getting to the beautiful falls. Thankfully, after that, my friends went back to the place we were staying to pick me up, along with two other people who decided to sleep in that morning as well. First on the itinerary in the afternoon was a trip to Ermita Hill.

This hill has historic significance because in 1735, Baler was hit by a tsunami. Many of the families who lived on the coast survived the tsunami by going up the hill. Visitors can actually head up to the Healing Cross by climbing the 282 steps to the top, but since we were on a bit of a tight schedule, we decided to skip this.

Instead of surfing, the highlight of my Baler trip ended up being my visit to Diguisit Beach. Friends of mine went there before and they took some pretty interesting photos. When I got to the beach, I decided immediately that I wanted to go up the peak of one of the big rock formations (I think only one of them can be climbed). I asked our guide if people could go up and she said we could.

The challenge was that there was no clear path going up. And in parts, it felt like a rock climb without any safety equipment. I made it halfway up before I started to worry how I would get down so I stopped.

Thankfully, two of my more adventurous companions decided they wanted to go up as well. I still didn't know how I was going to get down but I figured if other people have done it before, then I should be able to figure out a way to do it as well. Thankfully, I pushed myself because getting to the top was very exhilarating!

My climb to the top of the rock formation left me a bit exhausted so I decided to skip the surfing afternoon again. However, when I think about it, I am still very happy that I joined because even if I didn't get to surf myself, I ended up being the unofficial photographer for my friends who went surfing. I actually got great photos of all my friends while they were up on their boards. My 20x zoom proved to be exceptionally useful. It did require a lot of patience since there were so many of them so I had to really be on the watch-out in case one of them would manage to get up on their board and ride the waves. The effort paid off and my friends were happy that each of them had at least one good picture.

Our initial itinerary was supposed to include only one afternoon of surfing but since my friends decided to surf twice, it was agreed that we would skip the historic tour of Baler. I would have wanted to visit the Baler Church, the Museo de Baler (we got to see this only from the outside and have a photo op), and Dona Aurora Aragon Quezon's house, a replica of the house where the Manuel L. Quezon and his wife Dona Aurora lived. Nevertheless, before heading home, we did get to pass by the Balete Tree in Maria Aurora, which is supposedly the largest Balete tree in the whole of Asia.

Visitors can actually go through the tree, but I think you need to have a guide with you to do so.

I have to say, the guides here are pretty awesome and very experienced with camera using the vertical panoramic shot of the iPhone, which allows them to take photos of the tree from top to bottom. They also know a whole lot of tricks to do with these panoramic shots, and we ended up with a variety of really cool and fun shots.

Some final thoughts:

  • We stayed at Baler Safe Haven, which is ideal for a big group of about a dozen people. The cool thing about this place is that the owner actually allows guests to enjoy alcoholic beverages and there's a really chill area where people can just lay back and hang out. It's also pretty cheap.
  • I got to ride on the back of a pick-up for the first time since I was a kid. My friend brought a pick-up and we used that to get around Baler once we were there. It was the best option since people who were wet could just sit at the back and not worry about getting the car seats drenched.
  • I also go to drive along TPLEx (Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway) for the first time, albeit for only about one exit. We missed a left turn somewhere and for a while, even Waze got confused. Waze eventually recommended a route but it was telling us to go through TPLEx. Since none of us knew any better, we decided to follow that. :) Our drive home ended up being longer - it must have been 6 1/2 hours in total - but at least we got home safely.
  • Based on our experience, two of the best places to eat in Baler are Yellow Fin Bar and Grill and Isa Virginia 2 (both serve great food and are pretty affordable).

Given that I missed out on surfing, the trip to the Ditumabo falls, and the historic tour, I would love to visit Baler again. But maybe this time, I will make it a bit longer so I don't have to worry about being too tired. :)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

I Will Find You by Clannad

This song has been around for more than two decades - it was written in 1993 for the film The Last of the Mohicans - but I only discovered it recently when listening to one of my compilation CDs (Pure... Movies). Since then, I have been hooked. The vocals (both lead and harmony), the melody, and the instrumentation all combine to make this song mesmerizing, moving, and hauntingly beautiful.

video uploaded in youtube by ClannadOfficial

Clannad, the artists behind this song which features lyrics in English, Mohican, and Cherokee, was formed in 1970 and they are still around today. Talk about longevity.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Nadal pulls out of the French Open

Wow, this sucks. Rafael Nadal pulled out of the French Open with a wrist injury. I had relatively high hopes for Rafa. Not only did he have a solid showing during the claycourt season, winning Barcelona and Madrid, but he also won his first two matches pretty easily, showing the form that allowed him to win 9 trophies at Roland Garros. His most recent battle with Novak Djokovic was also the closest match the two have played against each other in a long time, and that had to have been good for Nadal's confidence.

Alas, the dream, at least for this year, has ended. Nadal announced that he was pulling out of the tournament. I wish him a speedy recovery and I hope he gets back to full health in time for Wimbledon and the Olympics.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Jaclyn Jose wins Best Actress in Cannes!

Wow, this is incredible news. Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress in the Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Brillante Ma Mendoza's film Ma' Rosa, making her the first Filipino to win this award.

Ma' Rosa is the 4th film by Director Brillante Mendoza to be featured in the Cannes Film Festival. I hope it gets shown in. Or better yet, I hope that it can be released on DVD.

Congratulations Jaclyn!

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hanging out

The last week has been tremendously busy but thankfully, I still managed to spend time with three different sets of friends.

On Saturday night, I met up with Zaza and Doms, both of whom I worked with very closely for many years as part of our Corporate Social Responsibility organization at work. We hadn't seen each other in a while and we all had a lot of stuff to share with each other so we decided it was time to meet up. We had dinner at Torch in Greenbelt - it was my first time to eat there and I thought the food was pretty good - before moving to Chateau 1771 for coffee and dessert. It was amazing to hear what each of us had been through since we last saw each other so there was a whole lot to catch up on. Apart from the amazing conversation, another memorable moment that night was that we saw a man propose to his now-fiancee. It was like what you see in the movies and everyone in the restaurant clapped when she said yes.

A few days later, I met up with my college friends for dinner at Uptown BGC. It was a bit random and it was actually the first time we met up without a special occasion but since we all had been chatting a lot with each other due to the recen; tly concluded Philippine elections, Jed suggested we meet up. Hes organized dinner and despite it being a working day, several of us were available. Uptown BGC is quite new so it isn't surprising that it was my first time there. I did find the parking a bit confusing since there were no exit signs. I guess there is still some work that needs to go in finishing this new mall.

Finally, I met up with some of my best friends from high school and college. I realized recently that every time that they would schedule a get-together, I had a conflict. That meant that I would arrive very late, I would have to leave early, or as was the case a few weeks ago, I would miss it altogether. As such, I identified a day when I was fully free and asked if any of them very available. As it turned out, everyone based in Manila was free that day. The plan was for us to meet up at Mitch's place in mid-afternoon before going to Estancia Mall for dinner but when we were all there, we felt so comfortable already that Mitch suggested we just have food delivered. So we did. After our Thunderbird out-of-town trip, Mitch got a Splendor game for her family so she suggested that we play it while we were there. It has been months since I last played Splendor but I still did quite well. We ended the night saying that we should all meet up again soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse is the first movie since Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I got to watch in its first few days of release. In fact, I got to see it on its second day. (Normally, I only get to see a movie towards the end of its cinematic run in Manila.) My friend Joyce invited me to watch a special screening organized by her sister's class. As it turns out, I was on leave on that day so I agreed to accompany her.

SPOILER ALERT: stop reading now if you don't want to be know anything about the movie.

I gotta say, I really enjoyed X-Men: Apocalypse. From the pulsating opening sequence to assembly of the Four Horsemen to the incredible fight scenes, this movie was fast-paced, suspense-filled and action-packed. Which is why I am tremendously shocked to see that it has only a 51% critics' score on Rotten Tomatoes. Everyone I know who has seen it enjoyed it. Probably one of the reasons I enjoyed this movie as much as I did was that the characters all showcased their powers very well. It was extremely exciting and entertaining to see the mutants go head-to-head against each other and watching all the X-Men battle Apocalypse together. Despite the mediocre critical response, I personally highly recommend this movie.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Celebration time

In the last couple of months, I attended a few milestone celebrations. First of these was the wedding of my friends Kent and Sheila. The church ceremony was held in Paco Park Church. My friends asked me if I could be one of the readers and I naturally said yes. The reception was held at Sampaguita Gardens (my first time to visit this place). What made this reception a unique experience for me was that it was the first Japanese-style wedding reception I attended.

This made sense because Kent is part-Japanese. While their wedding still featured many of the traditions that we are generally familiar, the reception featured a few activities that are inspired by Japanese culture. This included the San San Kudo, or the ritualized drinking of sake by the couple. One of the wedding games also involved participants playing with a Kendama.

The wedding emcee also mentioned that at the back of the reception venue was a wall that had one thousand paper cranes, all of which were made by Sheila. That was pretty awesome!

The second milestone event I attended was Raych's golden birthday celebration. I got there quite late but thankfully, the program hadn't started yet. The highlight of the evening, apart from getting to catch up with our set of friends whom I hadn't seen in several months, was watching Raych and her siblings perform a dance number to a medley of music taken from different decades. The celebration was held in SOLAIR or the School of Labor and Industrial Relations in UP. That was actually the first time I had set foot in SOLAIR.

The third and most recent celebration was the wedding of my colleague Robbie and his now-wife Sheena. Their wedding was held in Palazzo Verde, which was previously known as Fernbrook Gardens.

The ceremony started in the late afternoon. It was supposed to start in the mid-afternoon but because this was a garden wedding, the couple decided to start later because it was tremendously hot under the scorching summer sun.

Despite the heat, the guests still showed their support and sat outdoors during the ceremony. Many people got some refuge from parasols which I think were provided by Palazzo Verde.

The reception started in the early evening. Finger food was served to the guests while we waited outside the ballroom and Robbie and Sheena had a Starbucks stall set-up where guests could enjoy a Frappuccino. (I decided to wait until dessert to have mine. :))

It was really cool hearing how Robbie and Sheena became a couple and how their love story unfolded over the years. The coolest thing during the reception was when some people from the entourage joined the couple onstage to perform a song number that was written by one of Sheena's closest friends I think (or maybe it was her sister). As if that wasn't enough, both Robbie and Sheena actually joined the band and played guitar (or was it a bass guitar?) and keyboards respectively. That was just such a special moment. (Oh and the food we had for dinner was also very good.)

I am really happy that I was able to celebrate these important milestones with my friends. My best wishes go out to Kent and Sheila, Raych, and Robbie and Sheena and I hope their lives continue to be enriched.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Hodgepodge again

I have quite a few clothes that I haven't been able to fit into over the last few years now but they have stubbornly stayed in my closet, probably because I was still hoping that I would one day be able to wear them again. :) However, my nephews had recently gotten a lot taller and we are now all about the same height. Rather than having them buy new clothes, I decided to give them many of my shirts that don't fit me anymore, all of which were still in pretty good condition.

This meant that I now needed a bit of a wardrobe update. My new rule when trying on clothes is to sit down while trying them on and make sure I am not subconsciously pulling my stomach in. :) I found two button-down shirts that fit me quite comfortably - one from Aeropostale which was on sale and the other from American Eagle. I also realized that of the collared shirts I own, only one of them is not a solid color. I decided I needed more prints so I also got one new collared shirt from Springfield and four new ones from Nautica (all of which were on sale too). Most of the relatively new brands tend to be slimmer so I was really happy that Nautica was on sale because their shirts are not as slim. :) (Springfield is a more affordable brand than Nautica but only one shirt there fit me decently LOL.)

As if new shirts weren't enough, I also ended up getting a new pair of shoes. I actually didn't intend to and I only had a mild need for new athletic shoes. I was just looking around at Nike and just randomly trying on shoes when the salesman suggested Metcon 2. He said it was very highly rated. I thought he was just trying to make a sale but when I tried them on, they were a perfect fit for me. I had enough self-control not to buy them right then and there but I did research and apparently, these shoes have really good reviews. I ended up getting them the week after. They are quite expensive but I will say that they feel very comfortable. And they look good too. :)

Of course, life wasn't all about shopping. I also recently got to meet up with some friends. Raych was in town to celebrate a milestone birthday and since there wasn't enough time to catch up during her actual celebration (I will write more about this later), she wanted our set of friends to meet up for dinner. As luck would have it, I ended up having to deal with a couple of major issues at work that day so I ended up being very late but I still managed to catch up. We had dinner at Dong Juan and we were having such a good time that we didn't realize the place was already closed. In our defense, we were on the second floor and none of the waiters told us that they were already cleaning up.

I also caught up with some of my other friends at DyceNDyne. Denise was first to arrive in the early afternoon so I taught her how to play Splendor. We went through a few rounds of this game until Katco arrived. We then switched to Fresco. I had played this game only once before so I needed the help of the owner of DyceNDyne to teach my friends how to play this game. Mike arrived midway through the game but he said he could only stay until early evening and as we were wrapping up Fresco, Melody arrived. Mike then taught us how to play Camel Up and it was actually quite interesting and fun. Once we were done, everyone but Melody had to leave so I played a couple of rounds of Splendor with Melody before we moved on to Imperial Settlers. We played a couple of rounds of this before calling it a night. I realized that Imperial Settlers is not a very balanced game; in my opinion, the Barbarians tend to win quite easily over the Romans.

That wasn't the only game day/night I had. I also met up with a few friends and met a couple of new ones to play three different games: Viticulture, Politricks (a local card game), and Concordia. Of these three games, I found Viticulture to be the most interesting. In the first round, I was in the middle of the pack and in the second game, I started out tremendously behind everyone. But a key move I made prevented someone from finishing the game early and I managed to rack up several points in a row to finish a close second. That was a very satisfying come-from-behind second place. :) Politricks is a fun card game and we played one round of it while setting up Concordia. I won that game, but more by luck than through strategy LOL. We started playing Concordia after midnight, we realized very late in the game that we made a mistake in interpreting one of the rules that caused our game play to be extended. People were tired so we made a call to end it prematurely, which sucked for me because I wasn't able to optimize the engine I built over many rounds to help me start racking up points. I am hoping we can play this game again soon - this time the right way - so that I can redeem myself from my not-so-good result. :)

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Movie-watching 2016 part 2

Captain America: Civil War

I made sure to watch Captain America: Civil War this week since I was started to get exposed to a lot of people talking about it and I didn't want to be spoiled. Civil War has been getting a lot of very positive feedback from its early viewers so I was expecting a lot from it. Now that I have seen, I will say that from a personal standpoint, it didn't quite live up to the hype. Not to say that it's not good (it definitely is) but I guess this was one of those instances where the movie didn't quite live up to my very high expectations. Still, it's a good movie and it is interesting how succeeding Marvel films will play out given how this one ended. Note that there are two bonus scenes - one early in the credits and one at the very end.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

While Civil War has been getting tremendously strong feedback from critics and viewers, the opposite is true for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I watched it as its theatrical release in Manila was ending. In this case, I don't know if it was because my expectations were so low but I actually really enjoyed this movie. I loved Wonder Woman's introduction (the theme is kick-ass) and naturally, I also love the part where Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman worked together to face off against Doomsday. Maybe it's because I grew up watching these three superheroes so seeing them in the same movie was really exciting for me. I am actually looking forward to next installment.

Jungle Book

I initially wasn't that interested to see Jungle Book until I saw the reviews - on Rotten Tomatoes, it is rated 95% by critics and 92% by audiences. As such, I felt I should go see it. As I watched it, I realized my initial instinct was correct. The imagery is just absolutely stunning - this should be a contender for best special effects and it might actually be a great film to watch in 3D - but apart from the amazing CGI, I found it to be slightly underwhelming and I thought the story flowed a bit too slowly. Apart from the visuals, what I found equally impressive was that Neel Sethi who played Mowgli was the only live actor in movie. For a 12-year old to be by himself throughout the entire movie and act as if he was talking to animals while moving around in a jungle landscape shows incredible maturity and creativity.


The weird thing here is that among these three movies, I enjoyed the lowest-rated one the most and the highest-rated one the least. Go figure. :)

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Congratulations, DLSU Lady Spikers! S78 Champions!

Wow, what an amazing result. After two years of heartbreak, the DLSU Lady Spikers reclaimed the UAAP Women's Volleyball crown in the winner-take-all game 3 of the finals against chief rivals Ateneo Lady Eagles. Congratulations!

photo taken by Ryan Ong of Go Archers

This was an epic season for the Lady Spikers. They became a frontrunner after beating Ateneo decisively in round 1, their first win against the Lady Eagles since Game 2 of Season 76 (a streak of 6 straight losses). However, losses to NU and UST and then later on to Ateneo in the 2nd round meant they had to face off against FEU in the final four. When FEU came back from 0-2 to beat DLSU in their first semifinal game, nullifying DLSU's twice-to-beat advantage, I was worried that the Lady Spikers would suffer a lapse in confidence. My concerns were all for naught as they managed to steady themselves and beat FEU to meet Ateneo again in the finals for the fifth year in a row. They won the first game in straight sets and it looked like they were going to thrash the Lady Eagles after taking a 2 sets to love lead in game 2. Unfortunately for the ladies in green, the legendary phenom Alyssa Valdez shifted gears and the Lady Spikers couldn't keep up, causing them to lose another 5-set match after leading 2-0. When Ateneo won the first game set of the final game, I got worried since it was the first time that DLSU lost the first set against Ateneo this season. Maybe it was their experience playing FEU that helped them remain steady and focused, but after they took the 2nd set, it was Ateneo who looked out of sorts as the Great Wall of Taft proved quite impregnable. While the DLSU Lady Spikers have looked shaky in parts this season, their true strength has been their ability to find ways to beat teams that had beaten them. They never lost two games in a row against the same team this season. Talk about intensity and competitiveness.

Quite possibly my favorite clip from the final. Look at the ferocity from Cyd Demecillo and especially Mika Reyes. Even Doc Ian Laurel was impressed. 

The great thing about this win is that it allows them to give an amazing send off to their senior players: Mika Reyes, Ara Galang, Cyd Demecillo, Mika Esperanza, and Carol Cerveza. I am happy that all these women started out as champions and ended their UAAP careers as champions. It's also sort of a great comeback for Ara Galang who suffered a horrific knee injury towards the end of last season, resulting in her not being able to play in the finals. The tough thing for DLSU now is that they are losing more players this year than any other UAAP volleyball team. On a positive note, the squad that plays next year will still include this year's best blocker (Mary Joy Baron), the best digger and best receiver (Dawn Macandili), the finals MVP (Kim Dy) and possibly the best setter (Kim Fajardo, who I think hasn't made up her mind yet whether she wants to play on her 5th playing year). Still, I will miss seeing the graduating players of DLSU, most especially Mika Reyes and Ara Galang who, along with Kim Fajardo, formed the Taft Trio.

I will say though that as happy as I am for DLSU, I feel bad for Alyssa Valdez. Quite possibly the greatest female player the Philippines has produced so far (3 MVPs, 1 Finals MVP, 4 scoring titles, 3 best server awards, and 2 championships, you can't argue with those stats), Alyssa was also playing in her last season. I'm sure she and many of her fans would have wanted her to end her UAAP career with a win, but DLSU just played stronger as a team, with all attackers scoring at least 9 points each in that last game and even setter Kim Fajardo getting 6 points of her own. I think there's an online clamor for Ateneo to retire Alyssa's jersey and I completely support that.

A couple of my favorite moments this season:

Reyes... to Fajardo! (In a classic case of role reversal, Mika Reyes sets to Kim Fajardo who scores a spiking point from a set play.)

Dawn Macandili's legendary kick save

Congratulations once again to the DLSU Lady Spikers! To the graduating players, good luck in all your future endeavors.