Lost in Paris

From London-St. Pancras International Station, we took a Eurostar train to Paris Gare du Nord. Eurostar is a quick and most convenient way of shuttling between London and Paris. Travel time is about 2 hours, but we got to avoid the inconveniences of going through airport procedures and, more importantly, we got off in the heart of the city and not in an airport miles and miles away. We checked in about 15 minutes before our scheduled trip and going through baggage check and immigration was fast and hassle-fee. The train fares are quite steep, but advance purchases can get a little discount. Our return tickets cost £293 (or roughly P21,880) for one adult and one child on a regular coach.

pizap.com14162697450031

The moment we stepped out of the train, my little girl already noted the glaring differences between London and Paris. The temperature was milder but the people were definitely colder. Whereas the English are generally polite, the French are very unfriendly and rude. It’s quite hard to put it in words but you will definitely feel it when you visit Paris. It’s my second time in what is known as the most romantic city in the world. I first visited it in 2001 and I was hoping that my first impression of it will be completely changed on this trip. But it’s pretty much the same as I remember it 13 years ago: it’s unwelcoming, filthy and, in many parts, it reeked of urine.

I can sum up our 4-night stay in Paris in one word: LOST. We took the Metro (subway train) from Gare du Nord to our base for our first 3 nights, Republique. When we asked for help regarding the location of our hotel, each person pointed us to a different direction. So after asking about 8 different persons, all the while lugging around our heavy luggage, we decided to just take a cab to the hotel. Turns out, the hotel was just right there all along. The driver just went around the street and charged us 10 euros for the very short trip. Aaarggh.

My daughter Bea couldn’t conceal her disappointment with our hotel called Grand Hotel de L’Avenue on Rue Rampon. There was nothing grand about it; it’s the most affordable hotel I could find when I was searching online (and by “most affordable” I mean P5,000 per night). Our room was alright for me — it was very basic but it was clean. There was no airconditioner, no mini-refrigerator, no hair-dryer but at least there was an electronic safe (this is a bit important as I will narrate later) in the closet. There was also no light in the corridor so we had to grope in the dark to reach our room.  And as for the service, well, don’t expect to get any from the front desk. The most that we got from the guy at the front desk was a shrug.

Grand Hotel de L'Avenue

Grand Hotel de L’Avenue

On our second day in Paris, I decided to take Bea to Disneyland to get her all excited and happy. We learned that Disneyland is located in Marne-la-Vallée, a town about 20 miles away from Paris. We left our hotel at around 9:00 a.m., had breakfast while on- the-go, bought our train tickets to Marne-la-Vallée and back (total of 30 euros) and proceeded to ride the train all the way to Disneyland with just one transfer. We reached our destination at around 10:30 a.m. and as I was about to buy our park tickets, I realized that my wallet was gone. LOST. This is where my horror story really began. The last time I held my wallet was at the Republique train station where I bought our two-way tickets. Somewhere along the trip, a pickpocket found his hand in my bag and got what he wanted/needed. My wallet contained a large amount of cash (enough for the rest of our stay in Paris), all my credit cards, ATM cards, membership cards and even our train tickets for going back to Paris. Needless to say, I was devastated. Bea was heartbroken as well, her tears flowed out like rain. We didn’t know what to do, being in a strange land with a language that’s alien to us. LOST. We didn’t have any money for food nor for a train ride back to our hotel. It was very traumatic. Even now it hurts to write about it. We walked all the way to the nearest police station, which, of course, was quite a distance. My intention was just to ask for help to transport us back to Paris. But the police officers couldn’t even converse in English; they kept addressing us in French, which I know zilch about. Finally, they called someone who can understand English and all she could come up with is to call a taxi that can take us back to Paris and that I can just pay the driver when we get there. But I argued that it’s a long trip and it might cost me hundreds of euros. So the police weren’t able to help us at all. We left the police station and I decided to go to the train station. With tears in my eyes, I mustered the courage to beg the train personnel to let us ride for free given our situation, and she was kind enough to give us 2 train tickets.

Back in our hotel room, I still praised and thanked God that my husband gave me more than enough pocket money for our entire trip and that I left a substantial portion of it along with our passports in the electronic safe. Bea and I were traumatized so we didn’t want to go out anymore, but then we had to eat for we were starving. It was already 3:00 p.m. and we hadn’t eaten lunch yet. Not only did we lose a lot of money but we also lost one day in Paris. LOST. I was terrified of breaking the sad news to my husband but I knew I had to because I couldn’t contact the banks/credit card companies from where I was. My husband is such as huge blessing because when he learned about the unfortunate incident, he simply told me not to think about it anymore so it won’t ruin our entire vacation. He immediately called up the banks to block my accounts and took care of requesting the replacement cards for me.

That same day, I told some of my friends about the tragic loss of my wallet and all its contents. My friends from different corners of the world readily commiserated with me and offered words of comfort and even financial help to tide us over. I would like to give a special shout-out to my grade school friends Olive (from Manchester, UK) and Mildred (from Boston, Massachusetts); my high school batchmate Rhoda (from Zurich, Switzerland); and my online buddy Gizelle (from Vienna, Austria) whom I just met up with in London. I was deeply touched by their concern and their willingness to help. All four of them made me realize that, while there are so many evil creatures in the world, there are still many good people around. I thank God for all of you.

I would also like to thank a beautiful and kind lady from Crowne Plaza Hotel in Paris who let me use the hotel’s business center — even though I was not a hotel guest — so I can get in touch with my husband and so that he can report the incident to the banks. My heartfelt thanks to Sarah at the front desk. I will never forget you and the kindness you extended to me.

But most of all, I thank God for my husband Caloy. He never blamed me for what happened because, really, it’s never the fault of the victim. Caloy never said anything to hurt my feelings; all he said was that we should keep our mind off it and try to move on. He only wanted us to enjoy the rest of our trip.

And so we heeded his advice. The next day, October 31, Bea and I attempted to go to Disneyland again. I was more mindful of my belongings to the point of being paranoid (I checked my money pouch every 5 minutes). I would have to admit that we had way too much fun in Disneyland Paris; it’s almost like nothing bad happened the day before. It was a bright and sunny day, but the temperature was  comfortably cool.

a magical and happy place

a magical and happy place

On our 4th and last day in Paris, we moved to an apart-hotel in Montparnasse. The Citadines Didot Montparnasse is managed by the Ascott group of serviced residences and is therefore a more pleasant accommodation for us. Though its rate is a bit higher (at almost P7,000 for one night), you actually get your money’s worth. The studio unit is so spacious and comfortable, with all the conveniences of a small home: there’s a small kitchen with all the basic kitchen appliances and utensils; there’s a separate toilet and bath; and yes, a hair-dryer!

Citadines Didot Montparnasse

Citadines Didot Montparnasse

However, we were out most of the day to take in all the breathtaking sights of Paris. No doubt, the city is awe-inspiring but I’m not sure if I’d ever want to go back. Lost on the streets. Lost in translation. Lost big money. Lost one day. How can I ever say Paris is love?pizap.com14162849027321The unfortunate incident last October 30 was the only thing that marred our ten-day trip to London and Paris. I’m still grateful because Bea and I got back home safe and okay. We shared a lot of fun moments together despite a bump on our journey. I’ve learned a valuable lesson the hard way and I know I’m a better person because of it.

Categories: Wanderlust | 2 Comments

The Magical Mystery Tour

If you’re dreaming about going on a trip to London on a small budget, well, just dream on. The UK capital has once again been declared as the “most expensive city to live and work in” according to a September 2014 report. As a tourist, I’ve also had a first-hand experience with the high cost of staying in London even if only for a few days. London ranks number one as the most expensive city in Europe, with Paris and Oslo trailing behind. (source: hotel.info)

The foregoing information notwithstanding, my daughter Bea and I thoroughly enjoyed our very recent London vacation. It was the first time for both of us to visit the UK — it was intimidating and exhilarating at the same time. I’ve previously mentioned that London is right there on top of my list of dream travel destinations, and it certainly did not disappoint. It’s as lovely as I’ve always imagined it to be.

Houses of Parliament (or the Palace of Westminster)

Houses of Parliament (or the Palace of Westminster)

During our brief stay, we encountered so many nice, very proper and polite Londoners: from the airport immigration officer to the money changer, from taxi drivers to hotel personnel and even just random people on the street. The weather was also very cooperative. Prior to our trip, I’ve read so much about London’s weather being very unpredictable: some people say that it rains almost half of the year in London. But we only experienced rain during our last day, so it was the perfect opportunity to buy a folding umbrella with a Union Jack design that also makes for a great souvenir. Since it’s autumn, we expected the temperature to be chilly — ranging from 6 to 14 degrees Celsius. It was so cold but I loved it, because how often do I get to experience that biting cold weather?

Trafalgar Square, Kensington Gardens, Grosvenor Park

Trafalgar Square, Kensington Gardens, Grosvenor Park

As is always the case, there were so many things to do and so many places to explore but we had very limited time (and budget). We didn’t get to see a lot of the popular tourist attractions and historic landmarks, but we did get to tick off many items on our priority list. For instance, I simply cannot miss making a pilgrimage to Abbey Road. As a devoted Beatles fan, crossing Abbey Road was a “goosebumps” kind of moment for me. And I did it! With the help of a kababayan (a fellow Filipino) who offered to take this shot, this photo captured that moment in my life that I will never ever forget:

We crossed Abbey Road!!!

We crossed Abbey Road!!!

For five days, I got to fulfill my dream of exploring London. We were able to enjoy going around the mega-city on our own time — riding the tube (underground train), buses and taxis. We even rode something like a pedicab late one night. We were not part of a tour group because I didn’t think it was possible to stick to a strict schedule when one is traveling with a 10-year-old. Still, we got to visit the places that Bea wanted to see and experience. We roamed around Notting Hill; went to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” the musical at Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London’s West End; got starstruck at Madame Tussauds London, where we had our photos taken with the wax figures of the British singing sensation, One Direction; queued up for a photo opportunity at Platform 9 and 3/4 in King’s Cross Station; and even took a short trip outside of London to Leavesden for the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter.  When Bea was 8 years old, she read the Harry Potter books — all 7 volumes — and she was hooked, probably for life. So of course, our London trip won’t be complete without doing the Harry Potter stuff. My little Bea got to fulfill her fantasies, too.

Madame Tussauds, King's Cross Station, West End, Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Madame Tussauds, King’s Cross Station, West End, Warner Bros. Studio Tour

I waited more than half of my life for this London sojourn. It’s so worth the long wait.

Categories: Wanderlust | 1 Comment

How to Apply for a Schengen Visa via the French Embassy

pizap.com14129029651471

My daughter Bea and I recently obtained our Schengen Visa - Short Stay (Visit/Tourism) from the Ambassade de France aux Philippines. It is located on the 16th Floor of the Pacific Star Building on the corner of Sen. Gil Puyat and Makati Avenues in Makati. I observed the following steps when I applied for our visas:

  • First is to set an appointment via the French Embassy’s designated Call Center. Appointments may only be made within three months from the date of departure. The number to call is 1 (909) 101-3333. Be sure to have all your passport details and trip itinerary ready because it’s a toll number and the phone call costs P32++ per minute.
  • Once an appointment is set, you may start completing the requirements for submission:
  1. Signed Schengen visa application form with photo (35mm x 45mm – white background) — application form may be downloaded from www.ambafrance-ph.org
  2. Valid passport (3 months’ validity from the end of intended stay) and a photocopy of the first page of said passport
  3. Photocopies of valid and former visas (when applicable)
  4. Cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip including day-to-day itinerary
  5. Proof of accommodations (hotel vouchers or, if staying with a French resident, original copy of Attestation d’accueil delivered by the City Hall where the host is residing)
  6. Round-trip flight booking
  7. Proof of employment (such as Certificate of Employment stating monthly salary and approved leave of absence; for self-employed – official business registration for current and previous year)
  8. Proof of income or financial capability (e.g., latest income tax return, recent bank certification, photocopy of last 3 months statement of account of the same bank account) — this is the most important of all the requirements, I heard one of the agents tell the applicants
  9. Identity/marital status: for single applicants – photocopy of birth certificate; for married applicants – photocopy of marriage contract and birth certificate)
  10. International travel insurance covering medical expenses and repatriation for the entire period of intended stay and valid for all Schengen states (minimum coverage should be €30,000)
  11. Visa fee payable in cash at the Embassy (€60 for adults; €35 for children 6 to 12 years old; fee is waived for children below 6 years old) and may be paid in its equivalent in Philippine peso based on the prevailing exchange rate
  • On the appointed date and time, you will get a number stub at the reception. Wait for your number to be called and proceed to the designated counter. An agent will ask you all sorts of question regarding your personal information (e.g., What is your job? How long have you been in your profession? What is your husband’s job? Is this your first time in Europe?) and your intended trip.

The agents can somehow be very intimidating because of their thick French accents and straight faces, so just be very honest and upfront with your replies. I think it also helps to be extra-courteous to them (I smiled a  lot and addressed them as “Ma’am” all the time). After the submissions and question-and-answer part, you will be asked to have your biometrics taken (digital photo and fingerprinting) at the counter.

You will be given a date and time to come back for your passport/s. Processing of the visa application takes 5 to 7 working days, unless additional documents are required and further verification is needed. The whole process is not so difficult after all, as long as you submit all the necessary documents. Bon chance!!!

Categories: Wanderlust | Leave a comment

How to Apply for a UK Visa

pizap.com14117811793171

If you’re a Philippine passport holder like myself, the journey to the United Kingdom begins with the visa application. There are different types of visas such as Work Visa, Student Visa, Family Visa, but I will only be discussing about the General Visitor Visa, which my daughter Bea and I applied for.

The first step involved finalizing all our travel plans including the dates and arrangements for our accommodations during our short visit to the UK. Once we’ve decided on the dates, I started filling out the online application form. As a rule, one can apply for a UK visa up to three months before the proposed date of travel.

The following is the simple step-by-step process of applying online for a UK visa:

  • Sign up at Visa4UK.
  • Once you’ve registered, completely fill out the application form.
  • After completing the form, it will prompt you to sign the declaration.
  • Next step is to choose your appointment date. (This is the day you will submit all the documentary requirements in person.)
  • Make an online payment. The visa fee is GBP 83 or USD 142 (roughly PHP 6,400+ depending on the prevailing exchange rate) per application. This amount is non-refundable whether your visa is granted or not.
  • Print your application.

The following are the documents you need to submit on your appointment:

  • current and valid Philippine passport
  • two (2) pieces passport-size colored photos (with white or cream background)
  • all previous passports
  • evidence of your marital status (this can be a marriage certificate, civil partnership certificate, divorce certificate or death certificate)
  • evidence of current employment or studies (when applicable)
  • proof of financial capability (this can be in the form of bank statements or bank books, bank certificates, pay slips, income tax returns, business permits/bank account statements, property deeds, and the like)
  • airline booking confirmation
  • hotel booking confirmation
  • a planned itinerary (can be travel agent bookings)
  • supporting letter from friends or family in the UK who will be your host family (when applicable)
  • completed visa application form (printed)

***Important reminders:

(1) The UK Visa Application Centre is managed by VFS Global Services Philippines Private Inc. in partnership with the British Embassy Manila.

(2) The Centre is located at the Mezzanine Floor Unit M01, Ecoplaza Building, 2305 Pasong Tamo Extension Makati City.
 
(3) Please arrive 15 minutes before your appointed time. Get a number from the reception desk. Proceed to the specified room and wait for your number to be called.
 

(4) Bringing of bags and cellphones is not allowed inside the UK Visa Application Centre. There is, however, a cloaking service for a flat rate of one hundred pesos.

(5) If you are in a rush to get a visa, you may opt for the priority service and pay the extra fee (about USD 100). This will get your visa application processed in 2 to 3 days.

Once your number is called, you need to submit all the required documents to the person at the counter, who will then issue a claim stub that you will need when you return to get your passport. Before leaving the premises, you will have to wait for your turn for the Biometric Enrollment. This is where you will have your fingerprints and digital photo taken.

My personal experience was very satisfactory. It took me about 45 minutes from the time I arrived at the Centre to the time I finished the biometrics. I did not avail myself of the priority service and was told that I can come back to get our passports after 15 working days. I submitted all our documents on August 26, 2014 and I was expecting to get the result on September 17th. However, I received an email dated September 2, 2014 that our visas will be ready for dispatch shortly. So I picked up our passports with our 6-month multiple entry visas on September 8th.

To be honest, I was a little proud of myself for having obtained our visas on my own. Previously I had sought the help of travel agents and/or other government agencies for my other visas (US Visa, Schengen Visa via the German Embassy and Chinese Visa) but now I know that I can do it myself. A clean, decent travel history coupled with a lot of prayers can really help in obtaining a UK Visa.

I am so grateful beyond words.

Categories: Wanderlust | Leave a comment

Puto Bumbong Season

When I was a kid (that means ages ago), the sight of puto bumbong being sold on the streets heralded the beginning of the Yuletide. This Filipino delicacy used to be a seasonal treat as it was traditionally enjoyed only around Christmas time, but nowadays it’s not hard to find it all year round. Made from a special variety of ground glutinous rice — dried and colored a distinct purple — puto bumbong is cooked inside bamboo tubes in a special Pinoy-style steamer. It is then slathered with butter or margarine and served with muscovado sugar and grated coconut.

I’ve rounded up 4 restaurants where one can savor puto bumbong in the metro, but I counted out hotel dining outlets that serve this Pinoy favorite:

1. Cafe Via Mare can be relied upon to serve puto bumbong any time of the year in all of its branches. For P65 for two pieces, it’s a perfect afternoon snack treat that can already satisfy a purple craving.

puto bumbong from Cafe Via Mare

puto bumbong from Cafe Via Mare

2. Mangan, the Kapampangan specialty restaurant, also offers this delicacy and is very generous with its serving. One order of puto bumbong has 5 chewy pieces at only P95.

puto bumbong from Mangan

puto bumbong from Mangan

 3. DADS World Buffet has people lining up for its puto bumbong as part of its Filipino dessert spread as well as its Merienda Buffet selection. The person in charge of cooking it couldn’t seem to keep up with the demand for this beloved delicacy — his tray always runs out of puto bumbong in the blink of an eye. I actually waited about 10 minutes to get my portion and, yes, it was worth waiting for.

DADS puto bumbong

puto bumbong from DADS World Buffet

4. Dekada Historic Filipino Cuisine in Glorietta proudly lists puto bumbong on its menu. However, it took me 4 attempts to order it before I could finally taste it. The first 3 attempts were met with “Sorry, Ma’am, not available po.” The fourth time was the charm… or was it? My friend Steffi and I had to wait for almost an hour with constant follow-ups before this plate of puto bumbong was served on our table. For the price of P148 for 4 pieces, I really wouldn’t recommend it. It’s served with cheese, by the way, but I still don’t think it’s worth the long wait.

puto bumbong from Dekada

puto bumbong from Dekada

I believe puto bumbong is something that we don’t really crave for its taste but for the nostalgia it brings: the innocent years, going to early-morning mass at Christmas, the cool December breeze. I bet the younger generation can’t fully appreciate it. Only the oldies like me can understand what I’m talking about.

Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The French Connection

If you can’t go to France just yet, then let France come to you… or at least to your table. Learn more about French gastronomy through local restaurants/shops and experience the sophisticated flavors and textures of French cuisine. Here are some of my favorite French food finds in Manila:

Salade Lyonnaise from La Creperie

From the French region of Lyon comes this salad consisting of leafy greens, bacon, poached egg, croutons and vinaigrette. What’s not to love?

Salade Lyonnaise

Salade Lyonnaise

Beef Bourguignon from The French Baker

If you’re having a hard time pronouncing it, just say Beef Burgundy. This traditional main dish originated from the Burgundy region of France, hence its name. It’s  a stew that has beef slowly simmered in red wine.  Remember the movie Julie and Julia?

Beef Bourguignon

Beef Bourguignon

Mille-feuille from Poetry & Prose Patisserie

It’s pronounced as mil-foy or something that sounds like that. What it literally means is “a thousand leaves” — it’s made up of sheets of puff pastry and layered with crème pâtissière. It’s very, very French and very, very delicious.

Mille-feuille

Mille-feuille

Beignet from Café Provençal

Beignet (pronounced ben-yey) is French for “fried dough” and is generally regarded as traditional French doughnuts, except that they’re square or rectangular in shape and without holes. Café Provençal‘s beignets are the softest and the lightest fritters I’ve ever sunk my teeth into. They felt like clouds of delicately sweet bread with a taste that’s so simple and yet so unforgettable. I can’t even decide which of the dips is my favorite — they’re both really good. Too bad, Café Provençal has closed down and has since resurrected as Duck & Buvette in Shangri-la Mall. I just wish it retained the beignet in its current menu.

beignets

beignets

Crepe from Café Breton

Did you know that the French word crepe was derived from the Latin crispa (meaning “curled”)? This very thin pancake is usually served with a variety of fillings that can be savory or sweet. Since I love sweets, my crepe of choice is this hot and cold treat, Adam and Eve from Café Breton. It has stewed apples with cinnamon embraced by delicate crepe and crowned with vanilla ice cream. I don’t think it can get any better than this.

Adam and Eve Crepe

Adam and Eve Crepe

Macarons from Sinfully by Makati Shangri-la

By now, everyone knows what macarons are. These colorful, dainty cookies are described in a Parisian website as “little bites of heaven” — crisp, chewy, melt-in-the-mouth delicious sweets that come in a wide variety of flavors. These gems from Sinfully by Makati Shangri-la are truly divine! Vive le macaron!

Macarons

Macarons

Mariage Frères Thé (available at Lartizan Boulangerie Française)

For tea afficionados, the Paris-based gourmet tea brand Mariage Frères (Mariage Brothers) is now being served at The French Baker‘s more upscale patisserie, Lartizan Boulangerie Française. I tried its Rouge Provence Tea once and its flavor and aroma instantly lifted my mood. Thank God for tea!

gourmet tea brand from Paris

gourmet tea brand from Paris

Oh, I can’t wait to visit Paris again!

Categories: Cravings | Leave a comment

I Have a Dream…

When I was 18, I stopped schooling for a year and became a complete bum. It was during that time when I repeatedly watched a TV show called Steve O’Neal’s Remembering The Beatles on Channel 5. This was back in the early 1990s, when I suddenly got hit by Beatlemania — two decades too late. The show made a huge impact in my life. I fell in love with the legendary John Lennon and became fascinated with all things British. Someday, I told myself, I will go to London and walk down Abbey Road (a busy thoroughfare in London which is also the title of the Beatles’ 1969 album).

Yeah, yeah, yeah….

So much has happened since then. I came close to visiting London when I studied in Germany several years ago and applied for a UK visa while I was in Berlin, but then my passport was only valid for less than 2 months by the time I had saved up for the trip so my visa application was not granted. My dream trip to London remained just that — a dream. However, a couple of years later, I got married to my dream man who, according to some people, has a resemblance to John Lennon. Despite our considerable age gap, our mutual love for the Beatles’ music was one of the very first things that brought us together as friends. Perhaps he found it  refreshing to meet someone as young as I was (back then) who was so crazy about the Beatles.

"If you never chase your dream, you will never catch them."

“If you never chase your dreams, you will never catch them.”

At the start of 2014, I resolved to make one of my dreams come true. A guest pastor in our church told us one Sunday to “visualize your dream and surround yourself with things that will remind you of it” and that’s exactly what I did. I bought a lot of stuff that will constantly remind me of my dream destination: books, notebooks, pens, mugs, t-shirts, a passport holder, a luggage tag, and many more. I read somewhere that if you envision your dream and wish for it, it will be given to you at the proper time. I requested my closest friend, Rodelyn, to give me this travel guidebook “Top 10 London” for my 40th birthday last March. On the first page, she scribbled this quote from C.S. Lewis: “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” Well, guess what? I’d still like to pursue my old dream. It’s been 22 years since I dreamed about it, maybe it’s about time I make it come true.

"When you cease to dream, you cease to live."

“When you cease to dream, you cease to live.”

 “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” — Walt Disney

Categories: All About Me, Wanderlust | 3 Comments

Keep Calm and Eat Cupcakes

Did you know that the earliest reference to a cupcake dates back to the year 1796? It was a recipe that called for “a cake to be baked in small cups” printed in the first known cookbook written by an American and simply titled American Cookery. However, it was not until 1828 when the term “cupcake” was used in another cookbook. A cupcake, as everyone knows, is a small version of a cake that is meant to be enjoyed by an individual. It’s also known as a fairy cake in Britain, although it can be quite smaller than the average cupcake.

We’ve all been eating cupcakes all our lives, but when I was growing up they were mostly the homemade kind. Here in the metropolis, the first store that was set up solely dedicated to specialty cupcakes was Cupcakes by Sonja in Serendra. Established almost 8 years ago in September 2006, it has now expanded to 11 shops all over the metro. It’s always a delight to step inside the cute little shop in Serendra and instantly get a sugar rush just by looking at and smelling its sweet creations. I was among its first customers in its original store and have tried nearly all the cupcake varieties, but my favorite remains: the Berries ‘N Cream cupcake.

Peppermint Patty (pink frosting), Vanilla Sunshine (blue frosting) and my favorite Berries 'N Cream (white frosting)

Peppermint Patty (pink frosting), Vanilla Sunshine (blue frosting) and Berries ‘N Cream (white frosting)

Nowadays, there are so many cupcake brands available and, of course, I want to try them all. I’ve featured quite a few cupcakes here in my blog and on my facebook page, such as those from Vanilla Cupcake Bakery, Sophie’s Mom, The Royal Touch and Slice. But given my insatiable appetite for sweets, I’m forever lusting for cakes and cupcakes. I once bought half-a-dozen cupcakes from GIGI Coffee & Cupcakes in Shangri-la Plaza. Gigi Gaerlan, the maker of these cupcakes, is also known as the creator of the custaroon, a hybrid of custard and macaroon. Her cupcakes are reasonably-priced and extremely moist, so I was very happy with them, particularly the Green Tea cupcake.

assorted cupcakes from GIGI Coffee & Cupcakes

assorted cupcakes from GIGI Coffee & Cupcakes

Singapore’s famous cupcakery, Twelve Cupcakes, has made its way to our shores. The concept is anchored on 12 standard flavors, then there are a few various special flavors available everyday. I’ve tasted a lot of cupcakes and I mean A LOT, so I didn’t have high expectations for these babies because I know that Filipinos can whip up exceptionally yummy and lovely cupcakes. So I was pleasantly surprised when I took a bite of the Strawberry Vanilla cupcake — so delicately soft and not-too-sweet. My daughter Bea fell in love with the Red Velvet cupcake. In fact, when we were in Hong Kong a few months back, she requested me to buy one for her again.

Strawberry Vanilla, Red Velvet and Chocolate Vanilla from Twelve Cupcakes

Strawberry Vanilla, Red Velvet and Chocolate Vanilla from Twelve Cupcakes

Life is short. Eat more cupcakes!

Categories: Cravings | Leave a comment

Easy Recipe: Graham Balls

A couple of weeks ago, when my daughter Bea came home from school, she excitedly narrated to me how her day went. They had their victory party in class to conclude their election, and everyone brought potluck-style food for sharing. She told me she ate pizza, barbecue and homemade graham balls. She couldn’t stop raving about the latter and told me that she wanted to ask her classmate for the recipe but she was quite shy as they are not yet close friends. So I googled “graham balls recipe” and found that it’s a very simple and easy to make no-bake dessert or snack. Even my ten-year-old can do it herself. I immediately bought the ingredients and we had fun making the balls.

Graham Balls

Graham Balls

You will need –

  • 1 pack (200 g) M.Y. San Crushed Graham Crackers [Honey Graham flavor]
  • 1 small can (168 ml) Alaska Sweetened Condensed Filled Milk [or any other brand of your choice]
  • 1/4 cup Alaska Evaporated Milk
  • 1 small pack of marshmallows
  • more crushed graham crackers for dusting

Procedure –

  • In a large bowl, combine crushed graham crackers, condensed milk and evaporated milk. Mix thoroughly until its consistency becomes similar to a dough.
  • Scoop a small portion from the mixture and press it flatly against the palm of your hand. Place a marshmallow in the middle then fold the dough to close. Roll it using both palms to form a ball.
  • Roll the ball onto more crushed graham to prevent it from sticking to the other balls. (You may also use candy sprinkles, dessicated coconut or chocolate powder.)
  • Refrigerate the balls for at least an hour then enjoy!

This recipe yields about 14 balls. The graham balls are absolutely delicious and nutritious as a snack for kids and adults alike.   They’re not too sweet, fun to make and even more fun to eat (ideal for baon to school). Try making them with your kids today.

Graham Balls with Candy Sprinkles

Graham Balls with Candy Sprinkles

Categories: Cravings, In My Kitchen | Leave a comment

Ascott Makati

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, Ascott The Residence is offering special promo rates from April 1 to December 31, 2014 for all of its properties around the globe. Ascott was established in Singapore back in 1984 and has now grown into a leading luxury serviced apartment owner/operator. I took advantage of its online Flash Sale for Members last June to book a 3-Bedroom Deluxe for 2 nights in time for my dear mother-in-law’s birthday weekend most recently. We wanted to make this affair an annual family tradition (last year we stayed in Hotel H2O for her birthday weekend). I got a sweet low rate of P8,760+++ per night for the 3-bedroom apartment (without breakfast) that I booked online.

Ascott Makati Lobby

Ascott Makati Lobby

We checked in last Friday, August 8, and because it was our first time to stay in Ascott, we weren’t expecting it to be so elegantly grandiose. However, I was informed at the front desk that my preferred residence was not available that day due to “maintenance issues” and that the Guest Service Supervisor, Ariane, sent me an e-mail about it the day before. I told her that I do not check my e-mail everyday, hence I didn’t get to read her message. Anyhow, in lieu of a 3-Bedroom Deluxe, she offered me two units of a 2-Bedroom Deluxe for the same price, plus complimentary breakfast for 6 persons as “a gesture of our sincerest apologies.” So instead of getting three bedrooms, we got a total of four! How could I refuse? Well, then, apologies accepted!

welcome drinks and the birthday celebrator

welcome drinks and the birthday celebrator

Each 2-Bedroom Deluxe has a floor area of more than 100 square meters, which gave us massive family space. Each unit features a master’s bedroom, another bedroom, 2 bathrooms, a living area, a 4-seater dining table, a kitchenette complete with a kitchen sink and all the essential appliances and utensils that a family would need: a huge refrigerator with freezer, a big oven and a microwave oven, rice cooker, chinaware, silverware and glassware — the works! There’s even a washing machine and dryer. It’s really a home away from home.

our home for the weekend

our home for the weekend

Aside from a huge outdoor swimming pool on the 6th level, there’s also a fully-equipped gym, aerobics room, game room with billiards and game console,  spa and massage center, and — get this — tennis courts! Can any other hotel beat that?

fun in the pool

fun in the pool

Breakfast is served at Cafe on the 6th. Its breakfast spread is pretty basic compared with the other hotels’ offerings, but I loved the food (plus, it’s complimentary!) especially the pancakes, bacon, and the cheesy baked baby potatoes. Yum! I also truly appreciated the warmth and hospitality of all the staff. They even surprised my mom-in-law with a small, personalized cake and balloons while serenading her with the birthday song. Massive thanks!

Cafe on the 6th

Cafe on the 6th

Aside from its prized location (we just went down and there’s Glorietta and SM Makati), what I loved most about Ascott Makati was its high-speed wireless internet service (because, let’s face it, most of us can’t survive a weekend without the net). We had a remarkably comfortable stay and would surely recommend Ascott Makati to all our friends and relatives. My only complaint, which I’m sure can easily be fixed, is the clogged drain in the shower area of the bathroom assigned to us (Room 1805). It took a long while before the water went down the drain, which created a pool on the floor. But other than that, everything about our 2-night stay was nice and cozy. It’s another birthday to remember for our dearest darling Mommy, who is still pretty at 83.

Categories: Family, Staycation | Leave a comment