Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Tale of Two Birthdays

In preparation for our trip to Europe, B and I decided not to celebrate our birthdays in the usual way - we agreed not to purchase expensive gifts (unless they're necessary for the trip) and we agreed not to have our usual hotel-resto date (waaah! no Prince Albert this year!)

As the clock struck 12 on the 10th, B handed me a box and a huge birthday card. On the box was a post-it note instructing me to open it first. Inside was a beautiful pashmina scarf. A real one. Not the type you'd buy in Greenhills. I was so happy with it, I already wanted to use it. Then B nagged me to open the card, it was a funny one saying that I should not worry about the past and the future, but instead focus on the present. And then from the word present, my eyes were led by an arrow to a small envelope at the bottom. Inside the envelope were crisp P1000 bills! A little note in the envelope said that the money was for thermal gloves. I got teary-eyed because I was already feeling kawawa for not having spending money on my birthday (hey, it's ok to be emotionally sensitive on birthdays) and I was so touched that B knew what to give me to make me happy (shopping money!!!) So, on my birthday, I got myself a pair of gloves (P50 from Shopwise, Mwahahahaha!), matching bonnet (P50 din!!!) and a pair of Nike walking shoes (a lot more expensive than P50.) We also got our hotel dinner in Heat, courtesy of Mama. Happy birthday to me!

So, I wanted to make sure that B would also be happy on his birthday. BUT, since I'm the head of our cost-cutting department, I couldn't spend even a fraction of our Europe money for his birthday. So, I planned to play the "perfect wife" on his birthday. Since he has breakfast in bed often (the best way to wake him up is to feed him bacon), I decided to prepare the clothes that he would be wearing. I got underwear, socks, slacks and a nice polo and placed them where he would find them (underwear and socks on top of the drawers in the bathroom, polo and pants on the bed.) His dad woke him up to greet him early in the morning and so B was up earlier than usual. After taking a bath, he immediately found the underwear, the polo and the pants. The polo was a bit tight so he chose another one. And then he went inside the closet to get a pair of socks! When I told him that I already brought out a pair for him, he sheepishly said "ay, hindi ako sanay!" Aba, nagparinig pa and mokong. As usual, we ended up laughing.

Since his birthday wish was not to spend a centavo on his birthday, I picked him up from work. We then went to Galileo for a light dinner (mga excited! our reserations were at 8 but we were there at 6.) We tried the set menu (P400 per person) consisting of a cheese platter (my favorite grana, the nutty and tast padano and smooth asiago), cold cuts platter (Salami Milano, Prosciutto and Mortadela), Penne Con Porcini (Penne in Mushroom sauce) and a glass each of red wine (Corte Brocca Rasso). He loved the food and apparently, the place as well, as he almost walked around the resto with a plate of cheese, he settled for one big chunk instead! I gave him my glass of wine as I ordered the hot chocolate and the vanilla gelatto. The hot chocolate was thick and creamy and the gellato was the best I've ever tasted! It was very creamy and it smelled and tasted like real vanilla beans. Both were totally worth working out for (unlike the food in Mr. Kabab! But that's another story). B loved the cheese so much that he ordered an extra platter to take home. Forgetting his birthday wish, he volunteered to pay for the items he ordered. When we got our bill, we loved Galileo even better! The total bill, including the set menu, the hot chocolate, the gelato, B's cheese platter my 100 gms of grana, was only P1,215! It was well within my budget that I paid for everything. So, B still got his birthday wish. He didn't spend a centavo on his birthday. Not only that, we'll also have lunch in Casa Armas this Saturday, courtesy of mama (coccinillo, here we come!) where he would also receive my gift to him - the MP3 player that he wanted to have ever since his old MP3 player died on him (I got it at Electroworld as they have a O% interest payment scheme. I only need to pay P500 a month.) Happy birthday, B!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

On cost-cutting, working out and eating like a pig

As part of our cost-cutting plan, B and I decided to go back to our pre-wedding weight so we can wear our pre-wedding clothes. And so, we make it a point to go the the gym thrice a week, and on the days that I don't go the gym, I complete a 30-minute fat-burning work-out at home. So, does it work? Hmmm. I did lose some fat on my back and at the sides of my waist and my legs and arms feel lighter. But the visual result is comical - I know look more pregnant than ever! I guess I'll have to work out more and eat less to get rid of the last ton of fat on my tummy.

Speaking of eating less, my tummy has been really happy these past few weeks.

On my birthday, my beloved mother-in-law treated us to a buffet dinner in Heat, the newest resto at the Edsa Shang. The concept of Heat is the same as that of Circles in Makati Shang - they have different food stations for each food nationality. It had stations for Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Indian and American/Continental cuisines. It also had a cold seafood station with prawns and rock lobsters. The Japanese and American/Continental food were nothing spectacular but the Chinese and Filipino and Indian food were really yummy. We love the sweet and sour fish and the roasted duck from the Chinese station. The dishes were cooked in the usual way but the ingredients were obviously fresh, making the dishes taste clean. The lechon from the Filipino station had crispy skin with juicy chunks of tender meat which had the right amount of saltiness. It was so heavenly (read as: a little bit more cholesterol and you'll meet your Maker soon.) The lechon is best eaten with the rice pilaf from the Indian station, which was soft and sweet. As for the seafood station, the chilled prawns were sweet, firm and juicy but the lobster felt and tasted like mud. What we enjoyed best are the desserts - aside from the usual milk chocolate fountain, Heat also had a white chocolate fountain which tasted like melted Toblerone! It was perfect with the fresh strawberries and the hefty serving of banana crepe topped with chocolate ice cream.

All in all, Heat wasn't bad at all. However, I still prefer dining in Paseo Uno which charges almost the same price for a buffet dinner. Plus, I was a bit disappointed that they didn't serve my favorite smoked salmon. So, Heat is a bit lukewarm for me.

Hotter than Heat is this place in the middle of Mandaluyong - Galileo. Don't rely on the map that they give out as you'll end up passing through a dark and crowded 1-lane alley with at least 4 wakes for the dead. By the time you get to the resto, you'd really feel like you've discovered a gem or proven that the world is round.

Galileo is a wine bar that looks halfway between a tavern and a well-ventilated Chinese warehouse. As soon as you enter the door, you'll see floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with pasta and wine. We love their cheese and cold cuts platter. The cheese platter is made up of different cheeses with different textures and tastes. It's the same with their cold cuts platter, I just love the spicy italian sausage and their beef carpaccio. We usually share several plates of pasta after pigging out on the cheeses and the cold cuts. We always finish our meals with a serving each of pistacchio gelato. All these, plus 1 or 2 glasses of wine costs approximately P450 per person.

Another new resto find is Fig & Olive along de la Costa street in Salcedo Village. The place is decorated with pictures of Santorini and it serves delicious Greek cuisine. They cooked the food so well that I ate stuff that I never liked before. I'm not a fan of chicken liver because of its texture but their chicken liver dish didn't taste powdery. And, while I love the flavor of pepper, I don't usually eat the pepper itself as I find the flavor too strong. But their rice-stuffed pepper was so perfectly flavored that I even ate the pepper.

Their kebabs were also perfectly grilled and it tasted great with the sweet rice pilaf, which I so loved. But I loved the rice that was served with the grilled fish even more. It was a bit sweet but it also had a spicy edge. We capped our meal with their sinfully rich molten chocolate cake (which I think is better served with Vanilla ice cream.) They also serve really good sangria that tasted like a fruit punch with a real punch.

After all these meals, I guess it is really not a surprise that my working out isn't working out. But if I really think about it, with all the food that I've enjoyed devouring, if I weren't working out, I would be bigger. A lot bigger. And if I were a lot bigger, I wouldn't fit in the clothes that I'm wearing now. So, working out does have a contribution to our cost-cutting plan. Plus, I'm really attached to the ton of weight around my tummy, so it doesn't really matter if it's still there.

Hay, hirap i-justify ang katakawan.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Happy Meal Near McDonalds

I had dinner with officemates last night at Je Suis Gourmand at the Fort (near McDonalds) and the food was excellent!

We loved the pate platter - it had different types of pate, all of them creamy and tasty. We also enjoyed the prawn and smoked salmon salad. The prawns weren't so big but they were perfectly grilled and the smoked salmon was creamy and tasty. It also had some greens (except arugula! yey! for arugula lovers, they have arugula with smoked salmon). I also got to taste the roasted vegetables and feta cheese salad - the vegetables were just lightly roasted and the feta cheese was a good foil to the vinaigrette dressing.

An officemate likes their pea soup and their pasta. I didn't get to taste these dishes, though.

For the main course, we had the duck confit which was tender and served with mushrooms. We also got to taste the lapu-lapu, which, by itself was light but flavorful, but tasted rich and creamy when eaten with the sauce (the sauce was so yummy that it can be eaten with bread!). An officemate loved their braised lamb shank in peppered mushroom sauce.

For dessert, we liked the creme brulee, the strawberry sherbet and the grand marnier sherbet.

The owner is a French chef who is married to a Filipina.

It is best to reserve a table before going to the resto as it only has a few tables and it gets filled up quickly. Their number is: 8158801.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My DFA Adventure

It has been years since I renewed my passport and as far as I can remember, it was such a breeze. I just had my picture taken, filled-up a form and paid a travel agency to handle it. I paid for rush processing and I got my renewed passport in 1 week.

This time, I decided to have an adventure and renew my passport without using a travel agency. This, of course, is due in part to an exchange of emails in Newlyweds@Work where it was discussed that it was easy to have a passport renewed. Plus, I really didn't want to let go of my current passport as it has my precious Schengen Visa.

So, I downloaded the application form from the website of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). It was in Rich Text Format so I just typed in my answers and printed the form. Cool! Then, I browsed through the website to check what other documents I needed to submit. The requirements were on the same page where you can download the form. If I weren't planning on using B's surname, all I needed to submit was the application form, my existing passport, a photocopy of the first 3 pages of the passport and the page where my last arrival is stamped and 3 passport-size photos. The photos must be taken within 6 months from the time the application is filed.

Since I looked terribly fat in my last studio picture, I walked to Greenbelt to have my passport picture taken. First stop was Kameraworld. I paid approximately P95 to the girl at the counter, took a seat and gave the photographer my sweetest smile. They told me to claim the pictures after an hour. And so I did. It was surprisingly clear. In fact, it was so clear that I could clearly see the giant pores on my nose and the blemishes on my face. Needless to say, I wasn't too happy with it.

And so, with my vanity in tow, I walked to the next studio. I saw a Kodak Express around the corner but since I couldn't wait for another hour, I didn't go in. I approached the Tronix booth instead as it promised passport pictures in 5 minutes. And so, I paid approximately P60 to the girl at the counter, took a seat and gave the photographer (who happened to be the girl at the counter) my sweetest smile. Unlike Kameraworld, Tronix didn't have reflectors. All they had was a digital camera and a white cartolina taped on the wall. In less than 5 minutes, they were able to hand me my photo. I looked terribly fat (but I can't do anything about it since the girl admittedly just took photos and not created miracles) but I wasn't too happy with my hair. It looked flat on one side.

And so, the next day, with my vanity and my husband in tow, I visited another photo booth. This time it was the good old Foto-Me. I talked to the girl at the booth, and went straight to the booth. I couldn't find the dark-colored glass which I was supposed to look at! The girl explained that she had to "prepare the camera". By this, I thought that she would be preparing the camera that was supposed to be hidden behind the glass. I was mistaken. She took out a camera, attached it with a cable to where the glass was supposed to be and asked me to sit in the middle of the booth. It was only then that I realized that she will be taking the shot with the camera while I sat inside the booth looking out at the whole-wide world (not actually the whole-wide world, just the bystanders in Grotesco Disneyland who got a kick out of watching people having their pictures taken at a Foto-Me booth.) After the girl took the shot, she showed me my picture on the camera viewer and proudly said that if I weren't happy with it, she could take another shot (and give those idiots another opportunity to watch me have my picture taken?! I didn't think so.) It's a good thing that B loved the shot. The girl at the booth charged me P125 (I should have charged the bystanders P5 each!).

This afternoon, with all my passport pictures, my existing passport and my application form, I went to the DFA. The helpful guard at the front gate told me where to go. However, before I reached the gate, a person from the Mayor's Office asked me if I already attached my pictures to the application form. When I said no, she led me to a table. I handed the lady at the table my Foto-Me pictures. She said that the DFA wouldn't accept them as my face was too small. She explained that the size of the head (from the top of the forehead to the tip of the chin) must be at least 3 centimeters. I showed her my other pictures and she chose the one from Tronix. She pasted one of the pictures at the box at the top of the page, placed the other 2 in a small plastic envelope and stapled the envelope at the bottom part of the application. She then asked me for my existing passport and the photocopies. I handed everthing to her. She arranged and stapled all the documents (including my passport) and charged me P5. That was cheap! I felt generous and gave her a P10. However, as I started to walk to the DFA gate, I remembered that I left my Affidavit of Mutilation (an additional requirement if the passport has some damage) in the office. And so, I went back to the table and asked them if they can prepare 1 for me. The girl at the table looked at my passport, agreed that I needed the affidavit and referred me to another lady who was seated at the next table. This other lady got my passport, asked for my address and typed an affidavit for me in 3 minutes using a manual typewriter! (I drafted a better-worded but basically the same affidavit in 15 minutes using a computer.) She charged me P200. This includes the notarial fee. Not bad!

I was about to walk out when the lady at the first table called me. I went back to her and she explained that she'll re-staple my documents for free. I handed her the documents and she stapled the affidavit with my other documents. She then directed me to the gate.

From the gate, the guard told me to go the basketball court which was only a few meters away. A couple of DFA employees told me where to line up for verification. When I got to Table 1, they checked the pictures and all the documents stapled to my passport. I was then led to Table 2, where they checked the information which I typed on my application for renewal. Next to Table 2 was Table 3, where another DFA personnel read all the documents attached to my passport. He confirmed if I would still use my maiden name even if I'm already married. When I said yes, he gave a sigh of relief and said that it was better that way, otherwise, he would have required me to submit a copy of my marriage certificate on NSO security paper.

From the basketball court, I was led to the main building. The guard told me to line up at Windows 41 to 45. Window 42 had a sign saying "Muslim Applicants Only". Window 43 had the sign saying "Senior Citizens, Veterans, People with Disability". I figured that I could only line up in Windows 41, 44 and 45. I chose Window 41. As I fell in line behind the 6th person on Window 41, I looked longingly at Window 42 as there wasn't anybody in line. I guess the girl at the window saw me as she motioned for me to come forward. I did and she processed my papers! She repeatedly looked at my existing passport, the pictures stapled on my application and at my face. When she was convinced that I am the same person on all the pictures, she made a quick check through my documents and gave me a slip of paper and told me to go the cashier. There were several windows to choose from at the cashier. I chose the leftmost window as there were only 2 people in line (the other windows had at least 6 people each, I couldn't figure out why they weren't lining up at the other windows with shorter lines.) I paid P750 (P500 for the passport and another P250 for rush processing.) The cashier gave me a small slip of paper. When I looked at my watch,I realized that the whole process (including the drafting of the affidavit) took less than 30 minutes! I was impressed.

While waiting for Mang Al to pick me up at the front gate, I told the guard how surprised I was that the whole process was so fast. He said that ever since they removed the daily quota on the passport applications, the process has become more "relaxed" although some people still needlessly go there at 6am just to be first in line.

So now, I'm P1,240 poorer but I'll be claiming my passport on Thursday. Woohoo!

(For those interested in applying for or renewing their passports, check out:

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nananaginip ng gising

NOTE: This was supposed to be published earlier today, except that my computer crashed early in the morning, had to be reformatted, and so I spent the whole day re-installing my programs.

Consistent with our no-week-end-spending-until-after-the-Europe-trip, B and I spent the whole weekend at home. B was playing "Pirates", a pc game that required the lead character to travel around the Carribean. This inspired me to surf on the places that I wanted to visit (except Western Europe as we were still waiting for our visa at that time.)

And so, I started surfing on Eastern Europe (more specifically, Prague, Budapest and Bucharest), the areas which I call the cold Europe (Amsterdam, Germany, Austria and Switzerland), Spain, Portugal, Oceania (Sydney in Australia and New Zealand), Alaska (for the aurora borealis!), Greece and Turkey. I spent the whole afternoon looking at pictures (which made me want to go to Salzburg as well), figuring out routes (I discovered that Santorini island in Greece is a bit difficult to go to so I guess the best way to get to the nice places in Greece is to join a cruise!), learning about the weather (I will not be able to tolerate winter in Alaska but the aurora borealis only appears at around that time, so I guess I'll have to join another cruise) and the cost of visiting these places (it will take me years to get to any of them). There's a lot of the world to see and I was so engrossed that I didn't stop until it was time to go to bed.

As I joined B in bed, I couldn't help but whisper, "matutulog pa ba ako, e kanina pa ako nananaginip?"