Buttered Shrimp fom Ate Choi

1 02 2009

Buttered Shrimp from Ate Choi. Photo taken by Spider-man, using his iPhone.

FRIDAY IS actually one of the days in the week when I shun rice totally.  I’ve incorporated rice back into my diet, but still, I’ve been keeping it at bay – about two to three times in a week, tops.


But last Friday’s lunch turned out to be extra special.  I felt that to not have my meal with rice would do the whole thing an unjustice.  You see, Ate Choi, one of the people I’ve known at work for over a decade now, had brought me Buttered Shrimp – her own recipe.  She and her team mates have been very kind to me, always bringing me food whenever they would have small gatherings at work.  They’ve counted me as their own.  And I can’t help but feel very appreciative of that.


I’ve actually tasted this dish of hers (buttered shrimp) long before – using either shrimps or black tiger prawns, depending on the catch of the day.  But this was the first time that she brought it exclusively for me!  It was a huge batch, easily over a kilo or even two kilos!


I wasn’t into running the risk of letting my blood pressure and cholesterol levels run into overdrive, so I opted to share these with some of my engineers and even friends from our Design Engineering Center.  Besides, there were really a lot.  Spider-man and I divided the whole thing into three huge bowls that we popped in to the microwave for a quick reheat.


The shrimps were really fresh.  And were perfectly cooked.  Not a single one had the shells clinging to the flesh, which to me is a sure indication of overcooking.  Each shrimp was a good medium size, with a really, naturally sweet goodness.  My engineers, even my other friends Jet and Ems, loved the shrimps.


I could surmise how Ate Choi must have made her buttered shrimp.  But realizing just how good she does make it, I couldn’t help but ask for the recipe.  I hope she got my e-Mail and that she would respond to it with the recipe attached!  I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Easy Entertaining with Darryl & Brenda Aragon-Gallo

29 01 2009


[Written on 27 January 2009, Tuesday, 5:32 P.M.]


One of my most favorite FoodNetwork TV shows is “Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello.”  It espouses the idea of making your dinner guests – family or close friends, or both – to be part of the cooking process.  At one point, I watched that show for a full year-and-a-half, non-stop.  And sometimes, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Are his guests really – genuinely – enjoying the experience of having to be part of the preparation and all that cooking?  Or is it just because the cameras are rolling and they have to put on a face?!”


I finally get my answer just right here, right now!


My good good friends, newlyweds of two months - Mr. & Mrs. Darryl Xerxes & Brenda Aragon-Gallo - our gracious dinner hosts!


I’m here at Hazel, Buls and Judy’s place where my good friends – the newlyweds Darryl & Brenda Aragon-Gallo – are whipping up what to me is dinner that is as Italian as Italian could get (I mean, on this far side of the metro)!  And I have helped.  Hahaha!!!  I give myself props for all the five cans I opened.  And all the tasting I get to do in the process.


The very lovely Judy Conti, checking out the progress of my blog entry so far!


I had to drop everything at 4:00 P.M. sharp at work as I, the perennial commuter, was at the mercy of those who brought wheels.  I shared a ride with the gracious hosts, together with Hazel and Allan.  One quick stop was at the grocery to pick up drinks and some more fresh chicken.


The housemates (clockwise from left) - Buls, Judy, the TJ, and Hazel.


Once here at Hazel’s place, Brenda made a quick dash to the kitchen, and like clockwork, launched to unleash her culinary prowess.  I’ve been friends with her for quite some time but seeing how adept she is at the kitchen, I feel like I’m being ushered into a whole new world about my friend that is so beyond all the numbers and all the spreadsheets she analyzes (like it’s nobody’s business) in her capacity as one of our Senior Finance Analysts – and an “Employee Of The Year” at that.


You know that I too have patted my own back quite a number of times already here on my blog.  But being here in Brenda’s presence, I feel I didn’t have any business to even fuss about with the ingredients, the knives, the pots and the pans.  So I’ve just been sitting here, taking the experience in.  And obviously, I couldn’t help but write about it.


The first thing Brenda pulled out of the refrigerator was a huge Tupperware dish that contained a whole chicken that she has been marinating since last night.  She took off the container’s lid and instantly, I got a whiff of fragrance so good I could’ve almost asked for it in a bottle.  It was robust, warm, almost woodsy… but at the same time rounded with hints of citrus.  I just had to ask Brenda or otherwise, much like a restless kid, I wouldn’t be able to contain myself the whole night.  I think I’m actually going to end up asking Brenda almost everything about the night’s menu!


Ready for her close up... The marinated chicken that later became Brenda's glorious roasted chicken, oozing with the goodness of fresh oranges, garlic, onion, and cumin!


As it defnitely would take longer to cook, the chicken is first to get going.  Brenda put it in the broiler and as she told me (and as I saw as I took a peek), it was first marinated in her own recipe – a mixture of oranges (juice and rind), quartered white onions, whole cloves of garlic, some other seasonings (I suppose) and…  cumin!  How I wish you could smell the concoction as my words are seeming to fail me.  It is that good.  I knew the broiler has started a good job with the chicken when its savory aroma started to fill the kitchen.


Brenda has now turned her attention to the stove top where she turned both burners on and put the pasta pot on one (where the linguine is now cooking), and the large non-stick skillet on the other.  She melted some butter on the skillet and sauteed coarsely chopped white onions.  Then she added chopped chicken breast and continued the sauteing.  One thing I notice about Brenda is that she seasons her dish every step of the way (ever so carefully).  I’m not complaining – it is exactly how I do it!  After a while, she pulled out one ingredient I didn’t expect – white wine – a Paul Masson California Chablis, to be specific!  It is the kind Darryl drinks straight out of the bottle.  Now that’s an instant tip right there.  Use wine that you will actually drink from the glass.  Because once it heats up in the cooking process, the alcohol evaporates and the flavors concentrate.  So, start with good wine!  After a few more minutes and quick stirs, Brenda added in the sliced button mushrooms, and all purpose cream.  Once the lingune was done, she tossed it in to the sauce.  She adjusted the seasonings and with the sprinkling of really good parmesan cheese, the pasta is done!


Simmering to perfection... Brenda's pasta cream sauce!



While all the pasta cooking was happening, Hazel and Darryl started work on the bruschetta, using a contraption that I was so tempted to play with!  I was actually so amused that finally, I was in the presence of this food processor thing-y that I’ve only seen on home TV shopping.  Darryl proudly shared that it was a gift of his to Brenda, bought in the States.  Back to the bruschetta, I noticed that Brenda’s recipe (as executed by the Hazel) is made of sliced bread (she got a French baguette) which she tops with grated cheese (local cheese this time, not her usual mozzarella) and a special tomato “tapenade” of fresh plum tomatoes, onions, and lemon juice.  She popped the bruschetta in the toaster oven and in a few minutes, put on the table the perfect dish to whet our appetites and lure us to devour the rest of the dinner spread (ahead!).


The bruschetta-making machine. And I'm referring to the lovely Hazel. Hehehe.


I’m checking my wristwatch now and I realize that Brenda has been cooking for only about an hour.  And as I write, the dinner table is already being set.  Taking its rightful place in the center of the table is the pasta dish.  Brenda hesitated earlier when I asked if this is her version of the classic “Fettuccine Alfredo.”  She quipped, “Wala lang, recipe ko lang. (Not really.  I just put this recipe together.)”  As I have discovered in the course of this past hour, all that my friend is lovingly putting together are dishes she whips up in the comfort of her own home – from when she was still living with her family, to now that she is barely into her second month as a married woman (the Mrs. Gallo, no less!).  Right after the broiled (or roasted?) chicken was plated and put next to the plates of lovely bruschetta, everybody was called to the table.  And right on time, all of the guests – colleagues and friends – came pouring in, keeping the appointed time of 6:00 P.M.


I am the outsider in this gathering, earning my ticket thru my friendship with Brenda & Darryl, and Hazel.  And rightfully so, I’m quite contented staying here in my little corner as I observe just how beautifully food brings people close together.  As you can see, no matter how bad things are happening out there, so long as you still find the time to make a good meal, sit down, and share it with the people you really care about, all can be well in the world.


And I’m seeing that come to life right here, right now!  I don’t know who all these people are (except that they are Finance professionals from either Intel or Numonyx) but the way they relate to each other, and the way they even mention each other’s names (real or given by someone  / who the hell is Zelda?!  Hahaha!) – stressing the consonants and caressing the vowels – tell me these people genuinely care about each other.

Darryl & Brenda, Hazel, Dennis & Cindy (birthday girl, 28th of January), the TJ, the ladies of Intel Finance, and eNTeNG.

I’m already famished at this point.  But my hunger pangs are a bit abated by the celebration of friendship in front of me.  As Hazel sort of treats me like one of their own, we did away with the formal “this is eNTeNG, this is…” introductions and instead rattled off one another’s names.  I do remember some though (but I won’t spell them out here lest I commit mistakes!).




But reality has set in and the grumblings in my stomach can no longer be ignored.  As a matter of fact, I just got a plate full of the pasta.  It is so good.  And if you know me, I’m not crazy about cream-based sauces.  But this one is so good.  I love the hint of white wine in the background.  It sort of gives Brenda’s dish a depth of character once the richness of the cream subsides and the next layers of flavors explode.  Just one thing I wonder though is how nutmeg would fit into her dish.  Probably I will try at home or she may try it too.  See Brenda, I am going to make your dish at home!


Front and center - the masterpiece that is Brenda's Roasted (Mediterranean Orange) Chicken.



Now, something has to be said about the chicken.  I actually have been fearing nothing would be saved for me after the attack of the lovely Finance ladies (hehehe) but fortunately, I managed to slice a portion of the breast.  Right before I pierce the very tender meat with my fork, I’m playing in my head the high hopes I have for this roasted chicken, especially after I gobbled up all the caramelized onions that were left with the drippings.  And I’m not disappointed at all!  The meat is very tender, easily giving in to my fork.  It is so moist, oozing with its natural sweetness that only got further accentuated and heightened by the cumin.  Brenda, please do me the honor of sharing with me your recipe!  Please.  Pretty please!


I downed this lovely dinner with a couple of glasses of Sprite.  And with the last bites of the dessert (a very nice refrigerator cake), I felt a satisfaction in my tummy that extended all the way to my heart.  A very warm, friendly embrace on a chilly night (outside it is chilly!).


And with a tummy pleased to no end, I’m ready to take part in this board game they brought along.  If only I could figure out what it is called and what the rules are!  Hahaha!


Thanks Brenda!  Dinner was fabulous!




This was the board game we played. It was fun!

Lost in a swirl… and eNTeNG loved it!

27 01 2009

Cupcakes By Sonja's Choco Cream Cheese Swirl (served here without frosting... you may ask for frosting if you like it that way!)


As I promised myself last Sunday night, I went back to Cupcakes By Sonja on Monday evening – not only for my regular fix – but also to try one of their new offerings.  I trained my eyes on the lovingly handwritten cupcakes menu on the wall, and as my sights reached the end of the list, I felt as if a jolt hit my synapses, shaking me out my dreamy expectations for the feel of perfectly melding chocolate and cream cheese partying in my mouth.



With the look of desperation, I asked Sonja and her staff, “You’ve run out of the Choco Cream Cheese Swirl already?  I saw it on your list last night.”


Sonja, carefully puckering her lips, motioned to her staff to check the other end of their display.  And then I saw it!  The sight of nine cupcakes in the variant I was so lusting after, instantly put me out of my temporal misery.


I asked for one and, for yet another change in my routine, I requested for their Chocolate Madness Milkshake!  Clearly, I was ready for a chocolate overload!


The perfect accompaniment - the Chocolate Madness Milkshake!


Before I dug my dessert fork into the cupcake, I told Sonja that I was really excited to see how this cupcake looked (and tasted) like, especially since one of my most favorite desserts is the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory, at their store on the top floor of Macy’s Department Store in San Francisco.  With the Sonja’s creation right in front of me, I noticed the most striking difference that also quickly reminded me how stupid I could be sometimes!  Sonja’s is a cupcake, not a cheesecake!  But don’t get me wrong, I never felt even an iota of disappointment.  As a matter of fact, holding the cupcake in my hand, what I felt all the more was how my appetite had been whetted.


Only the highest quality ingredients will do for a Sonja Ocampo cupcake! Don't you just want to devour this confection?!


Cupcakes By Sonja’s Choco Cream Cheese Swirl tempts with a crackly, marbled top that’s a throwback to the chocolate marble ice cream of my youth.  And this is not food color I’m talking about.  What it is is actual cream cheese, chunks of which were dotted on the cake and as these melt with the heat, they are swirled to create that perfect mabled effect.  Like puffy clouds I could just touch at more than 30,000 feet up in the sky, the cream cheese swirls work their way all over the top, bound clearly with the deep dark brown chocolate cake, at the same time bound with blurs of what appear to me as froths from a hot cup of cappuccino.



I worked my fork all the way thru the cupcake and I instantly got how it somewhat resembled a brownie – the perfect brownie.  But what I wasn’t prepared for was how my palate was arrested by the distinct and married textures and flavors from this swirl cupcake.  The cake itself has a packed, perfect crumb, boasting of melted cream cheese that made it (the cupcake) ooze with more creamy goodness.  I kept chewing and realized that the cream cheese not only accentuated just how good the chocolate cake is, but how perfectly it is kept moist.  Another quick piercing with my fork revealed another layer of surprise from this cupcake – it has a gooey center, generous with molten chocolate!  It is just so good.  Kim told me that I could request for cream cheese frosting on top.  And had I asked for it, that would’ve made my cupcake cross over to decadent – still, in a good way!


While I selfishly confine myself to my world of me, my cupcake and I, I didn’t forget to have some boxes put together for special people.  As usual, I made two identical 4-cupcake boxes – one each for Spider-man and Superman.  Each has a Melt-In-Your-Mouth Flourless Chocolate Cupcake, and three Choco Cream Cheese Swirl cupcakes – two with cream cheese frosting, and one without.


I asked for two sets of this box of 4 special cupcakes - one box goes to Spider-man, and another to Superman! It contains 3 choco cream cheese swirl (2 with cream cheese frosting) and 1 melt-in-your-mouth valrhona flourless chocolate cake. Superman likes chocolates a lot!


I could imagine serving this cupcake after a fabulous dinner.  And for sure, the moment it comes out of the kitchen, a hush would fall in the room, as its presence is acknowledged.  And with bated breath, each would grab his own cupcake, admire it for a short moment, and with the very first bite get transported all the way to dessert heaven… or la-la-la land.  With Sonja’s Choco Cream Cheese cupcake in my hand, I don’t need The Godiva Cheesecake at all (not just yet!).  I even totally forgot Giada’s chocolate cake!


Cupcakes By Sonja started offering the Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl this January 2009.  I think it is still a limited edition cupcake.  Their store is at 1 C03 Serendra Piazza, Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.  Tel. No. 856-0308.  e-Mail cupcakesbysonja@gmail.com.


New offerings from Cupcakes By Sonja!

26 01 2009

With a Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake and Caramel Hot Chocolate... all's fine in the world.


I woke up on Sunday morning with a hankering for cupcakes that just wouldn’t let up.  So off I went to Cupcakes By Sonja!


The very nice Ms. Sonja L. Ocampo, a very busy glorious presence in an understated little black dress, was again in the store.  She was in the kitchen, working with her baking staff, going over batches of cupcakes, fussing over her masterpieces.  I had to wait for my turn so I perched myself on one of the stools by the bar facing the beautiful counter display.  I saw that the limited edition Barack Obama Chocolate Surprise cupcakes were still available.  When I lifted my face up to check the handwritten menu on the boards on the walls, Sonja had already seen me and we greeted each other by waving “hello.”


There are so many new items to try out! And, YES WE CAN! Hehehe...


Going back to the handwritten menu board, I noticed that there were a number of “new” items!  I particularly took note of the “Chocolate Cream Cheese Swirl.”  I couldn’t help but wonder how this would be, knowing for a fact that one of my most memorable chocolate cream cheese cake experiences was the “Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake” from The Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco.  My friends and I would take the whole 215.88-miles round trip just so I could get that cheesecake!  Other new items are the Key Lime, Chocolate Tofu, Smores, Choco Chip Cookies, Caramel Pecan Brownie, Coco Blondie, Salted Valrhona Choco Bites, Nutter Butter, and Lemon Tea Cake.  They all sound so yummy!!!

With a smile, served by the staff – the Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake!



Caramel Hot Chocolate. Tsokolate Eh!


But as usual, I asked for my favorite of the moment – the Red Velvet Vixen Cupcake – though this time, I asked for a hot drink to go with – the “Caramel” Hot Chocolate.  You already know how much and how deeply I feel for this confection that is Sonja’s red velvet cupcake.  What I was kind of excited to try was the hot chocolate (which I later realized to be spiked with “caramel”).  It was good.  Really comforting even!  Very much like how a warm blanket would feel on a very chilly night.  It was a bit thick, enough to bring back thoughts of just how sinful and how rich and superior in quality the “Tsokolate Eh!” of our ancestors must have been.


Without question, I went through my cupcake in a breeze.  But of course, as I devoured this “piece of cake,” Sonja was kind enough to keep me company, so to speak (remember, she is always so busy!).  She asked me about the next places I’m planning to visit.  I rattled off a few names – of course, Thai at Silk was at the top.  I want to go back there and, as I had told her, take good pictures of the dishes.  Then, there’s Azuthai.  And then, I mentioned to her that I have wanted to go back to one of my years-long favorites, a restaurant I first discovered in the Magallanes commercial complex, where it was right next door to an art gallery.  Lately, I’ve been to both its branches in the Greenbelt 2 restaurant strip and at Corte de las Palmas in Alabang Town Center.


Bright-eyed and beaming with a smile so wide, Sonja said that she is part-owner of that restaurant.  Without hesitation, she gave me her number and said that should I decide to visit next time, she would be glad to have the chef meet me up and who knows, we could collaborate on a dish!  Wishful thinking…  Though right now, I already have in mind a (send-off) dinner plan for someone really important


Seeing that I am a years-long fan of their restaurant, I went on declaring my all-time favorites with unbridled enthusiasm.  I have a “holy trinity” of sorts (she already knows which ones!).  But during the course of our conversation, what I took away was Sonja’s palpable pride on her chef and her staff.  As another very successful restauranteur – Margarita Araneta Fores – once shared on an interview somewhere, one’s staff is key to a restaurant’s success.  And just like Ms. Fores’, some of Sonja’s staff from her other ventures have stayed with her, and one of them, Lucky, now works at Cupcakes.


Which brings me to a fitting close to this post.  A huge shoutout to the wonderful staff of Cupcakes By Sonja’s who always ensures that a visit to their store is such a pleasurable experience – Kim, Debbie, Lucky and Len!  Hi to the bakers too!



eNTeNG’s Mushroom & Cheese Snack

22 01 2009


AS I said in previous posts, I have started to go on a weight loss diet plan and have actually been on it since August last year.  With much encouragement from Superman and Batman, I have managed to stick to my self-imposed diet.  And so far, i have lost around 18lbs already.


But as the sage counsel of my superhero best friends goes, a sensible diet needs to be coupled with a regular exercise regimen for optimum results.  And that ‘s what I have just started!  I’ve revived my 4- to 5-kilometer fun runs after office hours!  I’m thinking two to three times a week will help a lot!


But I’m not really going to talk about jogging here.  I just thought about sharing with you one super simple recipe of a snack that has become a regular in my total weight loss plan (diet + exercise).  It’s “eNTeNG’s Mushroom & Cheese.”  I whip this up for a light mid-afternoon or early-evening snack.  A number of times already, this has actually been dinner for me!



I just need four ingredients.  And freshness is key!  I use two kinds of fresh button mushrooms – the classic white and swiss brown – which I slice rather thickly.  For white button mushrooms, I buy Tuscan Fields, and for swiss brown, I get the ones from Malaysia, which come with an orange-and-white sticker on the package, saying “Swiss Brown.”  Both scream: “pesticide-free!”   You may use just one kind of button mushrooms but I find the combination of the white and the brown interesting, perfectly marrying even… to give a robust, well-rounded mushroom flavor.  On its own, the white button mushrooms are tender, with a really really intense flavor.  The swiss brown mushrooms, on the other hand, are a bit tougher, though with a really subtle – almost faint – flavor.  These mushrooms are so good that I end up munching on almost half of them before I get to completely slice everything!  And by the way, NEVER wash fresh mushrooms or they’ll become tough.  I use a folded paper towel just to wipe the caps of each mushroom.



The other two ingredients I need are Bertolli® Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Coon® Light & Tasty Shredded Natural Cheddar Cheese, with 25% less fat!



In a well-aged skillet (non-stick works well too!), heat a little extra virgin olive oil.  Put the sliced mushrooms on one layer, and heat through.  DO NOT STIR FRY, unless you want to end up with a soupy dish!  After about a minute, when the heated sides of the mushrooms have been seared, with most of the mushroom’s natural juices kept, you may give them a light stir.  If you’re patient enough, you may flip them one by one.  Hehehe.  And in just one more minute, you may remove the mushrooms from the heat and you are ready to plate the dish!


I put my mushrooms on my Lenox Temper-Ware® ‘Freezer-to-Oven-to-Table-to-Dishwasher’ Silhouette plate, and immediately sprinkle on top of them a generous amount of the shredded cheese.  I mix them and the residual heat melts the cheese beautifully!  The resulting mushroom & cheese medley tastes so good and comforting.  This particular light cheddar cheese complements the mushroom well.  And I couldn’t stop getting forkfuls, using my favorite Oneida® Silversmiths fork that is just so pretty.


Whenever I have the time, I make a mean all-eggwhite omelet with this mushroom & cheese as filling.



Life in the time of bailouts

21 01 2009

“This too shall pass.”


The optimistic in me has been telling that to myself.  Four words.  Four wise words to live by in these times.  But I myself will be the first to admit that these words do sound preposterous to anyone who may be, right now, already smarting under the lash of this global financial crisis – the worst in a century.  For me, it has started to really hit close to home from the very moment the holidays were over.  News and even talks over coffee with friends have been rife with accounts of drastic measures being taken by almost every business, in order to survive.


That explains why it was the optimistic in me – the operative word being “optimistic” – that was talking.  In what is the worst of times in recent years, we could all benefit by starting with the mindset of expecting the best.  And then, we need to take it from there with a concrete plan of action.


I was talking to my own staff earlier today and I, too, have started advising them about being wise with their money.  And this was a bit of a challenge for me.  I couldn’t keep a straight face as I said words like “spend wisely,” “needs over wants,” “eliminate needless spending.”  If Brother were there, he would’ve cut me short, and with stentorian histrionics would declare what little credibility I have on the matter.  You see, in the 11 of the 17 months Brother and I spent together on assignment in the States, all that he remembers me for was the ginormous amount I deposited in – of all “banks” – Kenneth Cole!  And Banana Republic.  And Ralph Lauren.  The list goes on.  Brother still jokes about it to this day.


But credibility be damned.  I myself do feel the crunch looming.  And over a fabulous dinner at Cyma Estiatorio at Greenbelt 2, all that one of my best friends – my go-to guy on matters financial – could say was, “Pikit mata na lang (I just closed my eyes and let it rip),” when I asked him how he was taking the then recent stock market crash.  Good thing that he, Batman and I went out to dinner that night.  At least we were languishing at the thought of tough financial times ahead over kakavia, roka salata, solomos angel hair, and steak souvlaki.


Seriously now, I couldn’t muster enough courage to tell anyone to stop spending.  My blog alone is a testament to what I shamelessly push – good food  good dining experience.  That means having to spend.  And since my vision board brandishes my pent-up wishes to someday be a restauranteur, I do feel for these entrepreneurs and their workforce should sales take a dizzying nosedive.  So clearly, I’m not for a total stop to eating out.  But one step I have taken is being wiser in my epicurean foodie adventures.  Now is not the time to risk my hard-earned money, only to end up feeling shortchanged, or worse, duped.  Not only do I make a conscious effort to go only to places I do love, my dinners out have now been few and far between, with only special occasions given top priority.  And lately, I no longer ask for everything on the menu as if every dinner was a degustation event.  These times call for and uphold the “no leftovers policy.”


For now, my short list only has Thai at Silk, Cyma Estiatorio, Café Bola, Fely J’s, The Soup Kitchen, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, and Cupcakes By Sonja.  And repeat after me – “few and far between.”  And yes, don’t discount good hawker food (as long as they’re prepared under sanitary conditions!).  The best Hainanese Chicken Rice and Stir-Fried Noodles I’ve had were those I got from a cart parked on the alleys right beside The Shangri-La Hotel in Penang, Malaysia.


Aside from dining out, there are a couple of other items I have put in check – clothes and wristwatches.


It was actually a banner story atop the masthead of the December 26, 2008 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that gave me a nudge – okay, more like a push – in the right direction.  It screamed “’Recessionista’ must-haves,” where recessionista is the contraction of “recession-chic fashionista.”  I don’t consider myself somebody really well-dressed.  Though my good friend Darryl Gallo called me a fashionista in the testimonial he gave me on Friendster®.  All I know is that fortunately enough, I have been able to build a wardrobe that could see me through this crisis.  I’ve long stopped shopping for clothes.  Seriously.  All the shirts I’ve amassed from way beyond five years ago are still in good condition.  And I don’t really care whether or not they are the “in” things right now.  The sense of luxury I get from the clothes I put on come more from my refusal to conform to what is “in” or “hot,” and never from the desire to put coordinated outfits that scream with logos from head to toe.  But if logos are your thing – and you CAN afford it – then go ahead.  But I’m at awe at people who exude great, quiet confidence, as they remain comfortable in their own skin as much as in any item of clothing they put on (branded or otherwise).  And I need not look far or turn to celebrities for role models.  Four people I interact with almost everyday breathe life to this confidence and innate sense of style – Leah, Ken (the Karen Ann), Spider-man, and Superman.  Superman can put on any shirt and it would always look nothing less than what you’d get fom A|X or Lacoste!  And Partner  Partner is a hall-of-famer!  Even cheesecloth would look a million bucks if it would hang from her body.


I’ve never put my being a recessionista to the test any more than in what I decided to wear to my good friends Bom & Rizzie’s wedding.  Eversince I got their invitation, I had agonized (in a good way) over what to wear.  And when a couple of months before the wedding, Bom & Rizzie asked me to be their wedding reception emcee, I felt the pressure (to dress properly) all the more.  Should I go the three-piece suit route?  Should I be less formal and more cutting-edge?  Should I really buy that coat-and-tie ensemble on sale at 30% off?  I kept on answering no to these questions I foisted on myself.  Days before my friends’ big day, I spread my more formal wardrobe in a fanlike fashion on the bed.  And with the critical skills needed to raise clothes on hangers and put them in front of my body while staring at the mirror, I ended up picking my white Kenneth Cole long-sleeved shirt with thick black stitch details (collar and cuffs); my charcoal gray Prada pants; and my G2000 black jacket.  The only thing new I put on was the necktie in Bom & Rizzie’s color motif (purple / plum) – a tough-yet-easy choice from a wide array of Paul Smith, Nautica, Izod, Topman, and Rustan’s Black Label Homme neckties I’ve collected all these years.  What I did here was just put together staples (each of which I’ve used time and again in separate occasions) and threw in a fresher twist, an accessory (which was the new purple necktie).


And the very last-minute decision I made before darting out the door to go on my way to Bom & Rizzie’s wedding – choosing which wristwatch to wear – opened my eyes to another area I can be wiser on nowadays.  After staring at some of my wristwatches in disarray on one of the shelves of my study table, I haphazardly grabbed my Technomarine sports watch with orange straps.  And before I unceremoniously put it on, I grabbed a couple more wristwatches (for options) which I stashed in one of the pockets of the Esprit leather carry-on bag I was bringing with me.  In the car ride to the church, I asked myself, “Just how many wristwatches does one person need?”  I dare not answer this question in length here.  Because I do have a lot of points to make on why I would buy the next wristwatch on my list (I have a list!).  Suffice it to say, my own rhetorical question put a damper on my own plans to buy more wristwatches – at least within the first quarter of the year.


But lest you get the idea that I’m thinking being selfish will mean survival at this point, then you are wrong.  I believe that generosity does have a place in these trying times.  Moreso, meaningful generosity.  Should we still give gifts?  I answer that with a resounding yes.  But instead of just buying and buying these gifts, why not make something with our own hands?  Remember, some, if not all of the best gifts are those that give a portion of your time and of yourself.  Whenever someone makes something for me, words would never be enough to express my appreciation.


Again, these are decisions I have decided to make.  And I’m pretty happy with them.  Hopefully, these will help tide me over, so to speak, keeping me afloat on the downstream current of this worldwide recession.  What you may need to do in your situation, is all up to you.  You’ve read my inputs and you can take a look at them from my point of view.  But ultimately, the decision belongs to you and is for you to make.  I wish you to be able to weather this storm in full fighting form.  And without a doubt, you will come out of it alive.  There’s no need to just hunker down and pray for daylight.  With your own personal plan of action you should remain in good shape and before you know it, it’ll be like the good ol’ days again.  Remember the four words we started with:  “This too shall pass.”

It’s Official – Monday Nights are for cupcakes (at – wherelse?! – Cupcakes By Sonja… with Sonja!)

20 01 2009

In (coincidentally) matching orange outfits - eNTeNG and THE Sonja L. Ocampo, (pastry) chef/owner, Cupcakes By Sonja.


In this age of everything cutting-edge (or are we past that age already?), I find comfort in my spontaneity and ability to deal with ambiguity – a couple of things that have helped me keep up with life’s crazy pace.  Even the 14 people in my team in the office can probably attest to the fact that I could be the most unpredictable person there is.  And so far, as I have said, people not really being able to foretell how I would do or keep doing things, has served me well.  And I love not confining myself to a routine.


Except for one.  Which now, I’m sharing with you.




Nothing says it any better than this!


Lately, whenever I get the feeling that I’m so cold and everything seems sad – that the blanket I love to snuggle in is wet and is still tumbling in the dryer – I have sought comfort in the company of the simplest of things.  A tall glass of freshly squeezed lemonade (or a pot of simmering chamomile tea), a dessert fork, and a pastel-lined dessert plate, on which would be sitting the prettiest confection there is – a cupcake.  It started that way, and eventually, I realized that I would keep going to that place even when things weren’t really cold or sad.  Before long, I had started a routine that I could confine myself into.


It’s official, my Monday nights are now reserved for cupcakes.  And this being my third post already about cupcakes, you should very well know where I seek this comfort – yes – at CUPCAKES BY SONJA.



Earlier tonight, I felt really good going to Cupcakes By Sonja.  I was really excited to subject my gustatory senses, yet again, to either the satisfaction of the familiar (Bunny Huggers Carrot Cake, Red Velvet Vixen, Vanilla Sunshine, Melt-In-Your-Mouth Flourless Chocolate Cake) or the thrill of the unknown (everything else on display!).  Right before entering the place, I had also just spoken to Batman on the phone.  He had just awoken from slumber, somewhere out there on the U.S. East Coast.  He called up to ask help on some details he needed for his MBA.  And of course to check on where I was hovering around the metro, as well as ask for my pasalubong request (Hahaha!).



Tonight, the Sonja Ocampo was in the store.  I think she still recognized me as one of their regulars.  And I have to say that the lovely counter staff was ever so gracious in greeting me the very moment I stepped in.  Running the risk of sounding like a stalker a.k.a.  “Professional Crazed Fan,” I was delighted to see Ms. Ocampo for the fifth time (I think!).  The first was during her store’s soft opening period in 2006.  Then, there was the time when she struck up a conversation with me by commenting on the meticulously packaged Royce Nama chocolates I was toting around.  The third time, she already recognized me by face, but she was busy attending to a photo shoot in her store that landed on that weekend’s major advertising supplement in a national broadsheet.  The fourth time was when she, on her way out, waved at me and Partner, as we devoured our Pumpkin Sweet Spice and Choco Cream Pie.


eNTeNG's new love - the Red Velvet Vixen!


One of the counter staff quickly volunteered, “Sir eNTeNG, Red Velvet Vixen?  With a smile, I said, “Yes!  But I will first have one here, together with a glass of fresh lemonade!”  She went on by telling Sonja that it has just recently turned to be my favorite.  For the longest time, they’ve known me as the Bunny Huggers guy.  I would even patiently wait for a new batch.  Or come back within the day to get my couple of boxes after I would have shopped (a little!).



As my treat was being served, Sonja started sharing stories about how her Red Velvet Vixen slowly – but surely – won acclaim.  I was surprised to learn, among other things, that she didn’t intend to offer it regularly.  It was just some sort of a special.  She didn’t expect the red velvet cake – being truly American – to gain cult following (I’m using this term loosely) among her loyal customers.  Shamelessly, while I acknowledge her points, I shared with her that I had started blogging!  I guess a part of me just wanted to let her know how I find her cupcakes.


A special limited edition "Barack Obama" inaugural Chocolate Surprise cupcake. This box will go to Superman.



I didn’t want to unnecessarily hold her down.  If there’s one thing about Sonja, it’s that she attends to a lot of roles whenever she is in the store.  So I just delighted in the time she had to talk to me.  Looking back, I was kinda disappointed I didn’t get the chance to launch it to a full-on interview!  Besides not wanting to demand from Sonja’s time, the Red Velvet Vixen in front of me was just something that could not be ignored!  Though on second thought, it would’ve been nice to hear from someone who is nothing short of a trailblazer in the local food industry.  When everybody else smirked at what they thought as “overpriced” cupcakes, Sonja just kept on going – doing what she knows best.  And her efforts have paid off.  Now it can be told, the Filipino consumer has matured, willing to pay for the best, the freshest, and the choicest of ingredients.


Before I left, I had three boxes made.  I’ll be bringing two of these boxes to work tomorrow – one each for Spider-man and Superman.  As Superman has lately taken interest on the newly elected (44th) U.S. President Barack Obama and his (Obama’s) works, I couldn’t resist but throw in in Superman’s box the special “Barack Obama” inaugural commemorative Chocolate Surprise cupcake!


The Rina Albert cupcake notebook!


I shared a Red Velvet Vixen with my good friend Leah.


As the cash register rung my purchase, I suddenly felt the urge to grab one of the Rina Albert cupcake notebooks on display.  I was so surprised that Sonja decided to give me the notebook for free, wishing that I would use it fully as I continue to pursue my passion to write.


Such a lovely lady!


The perfect gift for your foodie friends... or just about anybody you love!