Category Archives: Culture

Busy mom reads again

In the many years I was at school, I was an avid reader of fiction. I enjoyed classic novels and detective stories. Rest, for me, meant curling up with a good book. Even when I go out, I’d always have a book in my bag so that I could read during any lull time in the day.

But after graduating, adult responsibilities came, so I had to make adjustments—as would any! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do enough leisure reading in the process. I knew I needed to read but I had to get into the groove with the rest of life first.

Years passed, I started a business, married a literature teacher and creative writer, and we had two kids. I’m busier than ever. But I want to pass on my love for reading to my kids. How will I be able to do that if I didn’t read myself? I had to get back to reading for leisure. But how? I can’t handle paper books much because my babies are at the age where they still seek a lot of sensory input, i.e. THEY LOVE TEARING PAPER. Besides, my bag’s already too bulky with diapering items to still hold a paperback. And to top that, I don’t even have time to sip my coffee in a leisurely way, so how am I supposed to even read for a good amount of time?

My solution: have ebooks in all my devices and read whenever I have even a few minutes. My husband writes fiction on his phone in five minute bursts, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be able to advance on reading with the same tools and time period.

I’ve installed the Kindle app on my phone, iPod Touch, and Windows tablet. Amazon has a lot of free classic works on the Kindle store and I could get more from Project Gutenberg. Amazon also holds my ebooks in the cloud and allow me to sync my reading across devices. If I have my own ebook files or documents, I just upload them to my account and then download it to every device. When I have the opportunity to read, like when I’m breastfeeding my kids, I grab the nearest device and read.

But a paper book is still different, you say? Of course. I also find it hard to read for leisure using a phone or tablet, and even more so from a laptop or monitor. These devices can distract me as well because there are other things on them that vie for my attention. So, I went on a hunt for a second-hand Kindle reader. I later found a neighbor selling a first generation Paperwhite.

Our first generation Kindle Paperwhite as I was reading the Alex Rider books

Kindle readers are great for reading because of their e-ink screens. Reading from one feels like reading from paper. Another great thing about them is that they last long, and are still quite useful even if many newer versions have come out. Hubby and I have been reading from this for nearly a year now. It’s still working well! I use it when I could afford to read for longer periods, like before sleeping, or when I accompany my husband to a meeting and our baby’s napping.

When my baby’s asleep in the carrier, I prop up the Kindle like this so I could read easily.

Using this new setup, I’ve been able to read about six entire novels and a few nonfiction titles in a year. Not bad for a busy mom. It will still be years until I could curl up for hours just reading a book, but in the meantime, I hope to pass on my love for literature to our kids by reading from books they can’t tear.

Looking for a Kindle reader? I recommend getting them from either NelsonKRX or Lazada. But if you’d like to buy a pre-loved unit, like I did, I suggest checking OLX or the many buy and sell groups on FB. I’m lucky there’s one for my neighborhood and that spared me from the cost of shipping or meeting up.

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My favorite dessert spots: spotlight on cupcakes!

I went to Singapore last year. And when I’m there, I usually eat my way around the city. That time, it was no different, but instead of eating Laksa, Satay, and Chicken rice, I decided to try the Singaporeans’ take on dessert.

I have to admit that even though my last trip to SG was a couple of months previous, I saw a lot of culinary improvements. I don’t prefer eating at fancy restaurants. I do like dining in them, but occasionally only. I’m more into street fairs, markets and even food courts.

I was still in sugar-rush mode even after a few days have passed already. I had to let go of my obsession with Xiao Long Bao because we went to Grandma’s. It’s local food alright, but what’s nice about it is that it’s located inside the foodcourt. We didn’t bother ordering dessert in the same place. Instead, we walked around the food court and bought whatever our eyes fancied.

They had cupcakes, breads, cookies, ice cream, milk teas, and all that jazz, but I was really surprised that I found a lot of chocolate in Singapore. There was an overdose of chocolate wherever we went. Esplanade Mall even had a Max Brenner.

What caught my attention was this tiny cupcake store called “Twelve Cupcakes.” It was a local store and it didn’t really have that much of a selection. But honestly, even if they were only selling two or three flavors, I would keep on buying from them. They were that good!

The reason why I’m elated over dessert is because I don’t really bake. It’s really not my thing, which frustrates me a lot because I love eating desserts. The most decent thing I’ve ever baked was pandesal. Well, I can make bread. Maybe it’s because of the kneading or that it doesn’t really entail that much measurement, but yeah. I can make bread but not cakes. Go figure!

I’m sharing with you some of my favorite cookies and cupcakes from all over the world. I really hope that one day we’ll get to sit down and eat and share our cookie/cupcake experience.

Martha’s Country Bakery

This one is located in New York, USA. I’d always go to their Forest Hills branch because it was near my home. Every week, I’d buy different types of dessert, but I’d always get their cookies and cream cupcake. They also have red velvet and those big chocolate chunky cookies.

Magnolia and Crumbs (New York, USA)

These are two different stores but both are found in the city. I love that Crumbs live up to its name. Their cupcakes are moist and crumbly. They’re also big enough to share. And as usual, red velvet is my top pick.

Magnolia’s cupcakes are good because they’re not too sweet, just enough to satisfy your craving for cupcakes.

Twelve Cupcakes (Singapore)

This you MUST try. The one that I went to was at Bugis Junction. I was still trying to control myself from going back to Singapore after we already ate the last cupcake we brought home from the trip. Too bad, it’s a local brand and there is no news about a franchise here in the Philippines. Their red velvet, salted caramel, and chocolate cupcakes are really good.

Sorry to say that I can’t recommend any place here in the Philippines. It’s not that I don’t find their desserts yummy but I often forget the restaurants or stores because they’re just too many of them.

Banapple is one of my faves, but it serves mostly cakes. So if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave me a note and I’ll try them one of these days.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Bohol: where to go

My husband and I dream of travelling the world. But since we need to dedicate more time to raising our kids for now, we’ll start by exploring our beautiful country.

My favorite local destination by far is Bohol. The people are warm and friendly, the province hasn’t (yet?) been commercialized. We love the shores of Panglao because unlike Boracay, it’s not crowded. It’s just pure waves and peace.

To make sure we go to the best places, we hired a tourist guide/driver named Mang Henry who was highly recommended by a friend. We went to a lot of beautiful places which we all loved. But there were five exceptional ones that I would like to share:

1. Bee Farm

Yes, you got that right. It’s a farm full of bees! But don’t worry, the bees are housed in boxes. During the tour though, the lady took out a wooden sheet full of bees. I learned that there’s always only one queen bee per box. The rest are what they call “workers”, i.e. the ones responsible for making honey. If you’re not scared of bees, they will allow you take photos with them for free. However, if a bee stings you, you have to pay a particular fee because bee stings, apparently, relieve various ailments.

This “farm” does not only house honey bees. They also have a variety of plants and flowers, a restaurant and an ice cream shop! More than seeing the bees, eating their Malunggay flavored ice cream is the better part of the trip. It’s delicious and not to mention very healthy.

2. Dolphin Watching

We rented a boat (with a boatman of course!) who picked us up very early in the morning to spot some Dolphins in the middle of Panglao’s sea. We met up with a other boats in the middle of the sea to wait for dolphins. After a short wait, there were dolphins everywhere! They jumped so quickly so it’s hard to get a good picture if your camera is low-tech like mine. However, I was lucky enough to take one good photo (below). I was so happy because it was my first time to see dolphins in their natural habitat, and here in the Philippines! 🙂

3. Snorkeling in Balicasag Island

My husband and I were thinking twice about going snorkeling, which is part of the “sea tour”, together with the Dolphin-sight seeing. We were hesitant because we had to pay extra for the use of snorkeling gear. However, the boatman encouraged us to try it out so we gave in, thinking that this may be a once in a lifetime experience. And boy were we MESMERIZED! The view of the corals and fishes from the boat did not compare when we actually dove in the shallow part of the ocean. We had a very good view of the beautiful sea creatures (some fishes were already touching my skin)! I wish I had an underwater camera to capture the colorful world underwater! Like what the boatman said to us, “highly ricomended po talaga!”.

4. Tarsiers

We wouldn’t miss seeing Tarsiers in their home land. I saw a Tarsier once in a zoo but it was in a cage and I didn’t see much movement. In the tarsier spot that we visited, we were allowed go near them. I thought they were like babies: quiet, mild and gentle. But I was shocked when I was about to take a picture with one. It suddenly jumped and skipped around like a hyper toddler! Despite my fear, I still find them cute. 🙂

Just a note, please be careful when taking photos. Tarsiers are very sensitive that camera flashes can scare, or worse, kill them.

5. Chocolate Hills

I remember my SIBIKA book dubbed this place, together with Mayon Volcano and Rice Terraces, as one of the magagandang tanawin sa Pilipinas. And, seeing it for the first time, I could say that it’s a beautiful place indeed! It’s so amazing how the hills are formed and how they cover a vast area of Bohol. The only thing I did not like about seeing the place is the many steps we had to climb to get a good view of the hills.

with Mang Henry (middle)

If you need a Bohol tourist guide, feel free to call Mang Henry at 0921 476 9771. 🙂

This post was written by Maan Bello-de los Reyes.

Snacks and childhood memories

When I was I kid, I loved going to church because after that, my mom would treat us to our favorite ice cream parlor (typical kid! :P).  We wouldn’t eat anything out of the ordinary, just vanilla for my sister and banana split for me and my mom.

In high school, I would watch what I spent from Mondays to Thursdays because every Friday, my service mates and I will eat at our favorite fast food joint.  Again, nothing expensive: just fries and a sundae.

My childhood is peppered with happy memories. And, as you may have already guessed, most of them include food.  This isn’t to say that I’m a glutton for food. It’s just that whenever I think of a specific food or restaurant, some memory from my life pops up.  And sometimes, I eat a certain dish not because it’s delicious, but because it reminds me of someone or something in my life.

Now that I’m a working girl and that my taste buds have become more mature, I still occasionally crave for some of the fun food I had when I was younger.  Well, now I get to eat them without my mom scolding me to brush my teeth afterwards. Or her telling me to drink lots of water after eating ice cream.

Yan Yan

I love this cracker that you dip in chocolate.  I know that there are better-tasting brands than this, but there’s something about Yan Yan that reminds me of my childhood.  It’s like all of us ate and enjoyed this snack when we were little.  I don’t know anybody who didn’t like Yan Yan.

Hopia

My family is not Chinese, but we never ran out of hopia in our household when we were kids.  I particularly like the ones that my mom bought at the market, though my younger sister insists that those are dirty.  Oh well, we call the ice cream being sold in the streets as dirty ice cream and yet we still eat it, so I guess it’s the same thing with the hopia.

I like monggo hopia.  I don’t really like the newer flavors because I’m too content with the monggo.  I feel like my ube belongs to my halo-halo or with some crackers, but as a flavor for hopia… Well, to each its own.

Durian chips

I’m not sure if they sell this certain brand everywhere, but I really love durian chips.  Actually, I like durian.  Even with its foul smell, I’m down with it.  The first time I ate a durian I was in Singapore.  I wanted to scream my lungs out when they offered me the fruit.  But I couldn’t refuse because that would be very rude of me.  So I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst, but I really ended up liking it.

So when I chanced upon the durian chips, I just had to taste them.  They’re now in my top 10 favorite junk food of all time.  They’re a little bit expensive, so I don’t really eat them often, unless my sister or my mom buy them for me.

These are just some of my favorite snacks.  I haven’t even made my list of my favorite dishes—maybe next time.  And please do share with me your favorite snacks too.  I’m sure I’m not the only one here who tries to reminisce their childhood with food.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

My movie slash foodie date nights

I’ve barely had time to go out these past few months. Aside from the fact that I really need to save up, work’s been consuming most of my waking hours. I seriously wonder how working moms do it. I’m not a mom yet and still I feel like I’m always exhausted at the end of the day. Truly, these women deserve an award.

On with my story. I love watching movies. But ever since I started with my new job, I’ve already missed more than a dozen films. I already don’t cook regularly and now, I’m also missing my movies?!? I guess “frustrated” is an mild word if we’re talking about how I feel these days.

I’m thankful for the Internet because at least, I get to watch videos once in a while. Don’t worry, I don’t like to illegally download stuff. I’m content with whatever’s available in the Internet for free. And believe me, there’s a lot. Cable TV helps too. Most of the foreign channels show recently-released movies, and I’m happier when they show those independent ones. I’m a sucker for foreign Indie movies. So, since I can no longer go to the movie houses, I end up bringing the movie house to the comforts of my own room. Well, to be precise, to the comforts of my living room.

That’s because I eat while watching and I don’t like bringing food inside my room. I feel like if I eat inside my bedroom, aside from the smell sticking to all its four corners, ants will definitely appear out of nowhere. And that I seriously abhor.

My normal movie night will consist of junk food, water (I avoid drinking soda) and sometimes chocolates or pastries. But nothing that will produce so much crumbs. I don’t want to end up with crumbs all over my shirt after the movie. I also like fruits, but they take a little more preparation because I have to peel them before the movie starts. That and they make me feel full easily so I end up asleep before the movie ends.

But, in my opinion, fruits and movies are a good combination for people who need a vitamin boost. My sister isn’t fond of fruits. But whenever I prepare them for our movie night, she’d end up eating most of it. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do that for your kids? Make them watch their favorite cartoon shows while you give them something healthy to munch on. They wouldn’t notice it, believe me! My sister is my perfect example of that.

While watching a movie too, I can multitask. I don’t know how I do it, but even when I’m doing 2-3 things at the same time, I can still focus on the movie. Since I bring paperwork home, I find myself working more effectively when I’m in front of the television. But this is just me. Kids shouldn’t be watching TV when they’re doing their homework. For working people like us, though, sometimes time is really the enemy. If you can multitask, then I think that’s an advantage.

I realize that complaining and sulking about my now-busier life won’t do me any good. I can still do all the things that I love—I just need to learn how to compromise. Life is never just simple and it really isn’t that complicated either. We just have to learn how to put things in perspective. Now, on to my next movie.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Enjoying food isn’t about the binge

food marketI get to travel a lot. And of course, one of the reasons why I like travelling is that I get to taste different kinds of cuisines.  But I’m still wary of what I eat.  I may be experimental, but I’m not suicidal.  The world of food is very interesting to me but it’s not my extreme sport.  I’m not a glutton either, but I do love the smell and look of food.  I find happiness in a loaded buffet the same way I get giddy whenever I’m at a food’s market.

In the Metro, there are certain markets that only open during weekends.  I have to wake up early and drag my friends to Salcedo Market just so I can see fresh produce and other independent shops that offer mouth-watering dishes.

My friends and I would save enough money ever the week so that we can buy items that are only being sold in these type of markets.  That’s what we do when we visit Merkato.  We don’t eat dinner, and when we get there we walk for a few minutes before eating.  We’re sure when midnight strikes, we’re already quite satisfied.

Good food doesn’t have to be expensive for you to enjoy it. When you go to an ordinary market, chances are there are eateries there that serve fresh, hot-piping dishes.  And I’m sure that they used fresh ingredients.  When I’m in New York, I eat like a typical New Yorker, breakfast will be a bagel and coffee while walking towards the subway.  Lunch would be Filipino food because I worked in a Filipino restaurant, but dinner is either a slice of bread and or whatever’s left over in the fridge.

If I’m in a new place, I try to go where there are a lot of people lined up.  Either that place has great food, or it’s cheap, either way, that’s a good find.  But kidding aside, I try to research on the place and look for its popular dishes and restaurants. I’m more interested in a country’s cuisine rather than its tourist spots.

I don’t eat or crave for food just to satisfy my hunger.  Food for me is like shopping to some people.  I find comfort in it.  I don’t necessarily have to eat it, but it makes me happy to experience new dishes and or new tastes.

This post was written by Rita Salonga.

Naming my children: celebrity and Christianity

I believe that it is our obligation as parents to give our babies beautiful and Christian names. Many parents nowadays get caught up in naming their children after celebrities, with no reference anymore to their Christian faith.

My own daughters are nicknamed after celebrities—Reese after Reese Witherspoon, and Cate after Cate Blanchett. But Reese’s real name is Therese after St. Therese of Lisieux. When I was pregnant with her, I used to pray frequently to Our Lady of La Leche whose image was right beside St. Therese’s at our parish. Once Jack and I had decided on the name “Therese”, we’d pray before both their images.

Reese and Cate
Reese and Cate

Cate’s Christian name is Catherine. She is named after St. Catherine of Sienna, a woman of great strength and courage. When I was pregnant with Cate, I was working on a book on teaching values and addressing common issues that teens have. During this time, I prayed to St. Catherine of Sienna—that I might effect change in the lives of the students for whom I was writing the book.

If I have another girl, I’m thinking of naming her Elizabeth. Then, she’d be nicknamed Elle. If I have a boy, we’re thinking of naming him Andrew. But I have yet to find him a celebrity nickname. Maybe Andy after Andy Garcia, whose character I absolutely loved in the movie When A Man Loves A Woman

This post was written by Meg Murrf Trinidad.