The Armchair Critic

(Pretending to know everything)


How To Cook Rice

Posted by Lee i.

When I was in grade school, I was assigned to cook the rice. My mother figured that didn't require too much cooking experience. One only has to measure the rice, rid it of the pebbles and unhusked grains, wash it, add water and then put it to boil.

My mother figured wrong. I could never get the right mix of rice and water.

My older brother Joie, in college at that time, taught me how to measure the water. He said, and I quote: measure the depth of the rice with your hand, palm open. Mark the height of the rice on your palm with your thumb. Then put the tip of your fingers on the rice and measure the water. The water level should be equal in height as the rice.

This resulted in rice that was always wet.

Then, my next older brother Jolan taught me another way. He said, fill the pot with water and make sure the rice is level. Then tilt the pot until the water at one end is shallow, "just like in the beach."

The rice I cooked this way, as we say in Ilocano was always nakusul. Or undercooked. Not enough water.

I just gave up. One day, after washing the rice the prescribed three times, I placed it on the dining table and left the house. Of course, I got a terrible tongue lashing from my mother - "What? You think the rice will cook itself?"

At the time, the electric rice cooker hasn't been invented. But even now, with all the modern conveniences, my rice is still hit or miss.


Tagaytay Eats

Posted by Lee i.

Last March 26, a Sunday, friends from college and I went to Tagaytay for a little sight seeing. Yes, indeed, we wanted to see again the world's smallest active volcano, the lake within a lake, and all that. But you'd realize from the itinerary we gave our driver, Taal volcano was quite incidental. He had on his head a map to Antonio's, Sonya's Garden, Sanctuario, Bag o'Beans, etc. I make no apologies for that.

Half of us purposely didn't have any breakfast before leaving Manila as we expected to eat our way through Tagaytay. We wanted to have room for dessert and more. We have read and heard so much about the many restaurants in Tagaytay that we couldn't wait. Almost. Barely out of Magallanes and our stomachs were already growling. Good thing we had some bags of Holy Kettle Corn in the van. (I chanced by the popcorn stall when I was buying drinks for our trip at Rustan's Katipunan. It was the smell of freshly popped popcorn that drew me in. The sweet-salty taste sealed it.)

Anyway, our first stop was Breakfast at Antonio's. I have heard so much about this place. There is not one blog about Tagaytay where Antonio's restaurants were not mentioned. So, needless to say, I was looking forward to my own foodie adventure here.

The first thing that struck us as we parked our car in front of the restaurant was the collection of cars. BMWs, Mercedeses, even a Jaguar, Wow! I hoped that the cost of the cars wasn't indicative of the prices in the menu. Although I have been warned by a friend that Antonio's was expensive. Well, I know that the original Antonio's which serves lunch and dinner ala fine dine, is, but one could only charge so much for breakfast, right? Uhum...

The interiors of Breakfast at Antonio's somehow reminded me of the big dining room at Ilang-Ilang dormitory. Maybe because, as I said earlier, I was with friends, more specifically, roommates from college. It was more airy with the white walls and the big screen windows but it was just as busy as our college dining room.

I perused through the menu although I have already made up my mind what to order. I just had to try the Eggs Benedict every other blogger has been raving about.

Whenever I taste something new that I really like, I would always have to have it, at least for seven days running, until I had a surfeit. I am glad this does not fall into that category or I would have had to live in Tagaytay for a week. The Eggs Benedict did not meet my expectations - made higher by the reviews I have read. The lemon flavor of the hollandaise sauce overwhelmed the flavor of the eggs and the bacon. After the first bite my tongue and brain immediately declared it to be maasim.

I hoped my other friends had better luck with what they ordered so my errant fork can do the walking.

My friend who has lived abroad for the last ten years ordered the tapa and the eggs.

She pronounced the tapa "rubbery." Okay, maybe she's been spoiled by US grade steaks and our local baka is too tough for her. But hey! Look at the edges of the eggs. Slightly burnt! Just like my yaya makes it.

I tasted my other friends' four-cheese omelet and that was so good I didn't get a chance to take a photo before it was gone. My friend's family said that the spring crepes were good too but I have to take their word on it as I my fork didn't dare venture into their plates. We've only just met, for heaven's sakes.

By the time we finished breakfast, it was almost lunch, but none of us felt like eating more, so we ventured to the Palace in the Sky, now People's Park in the Sky. The Palace in the Sky was built for the official state visit of former President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy. Although they never got to use it because they had to cancel their trip due to political unrest at that time.

Now People's Park in the Sky, people still come to visit this shell of a mansion because it offers the best views in Tagaytay. Picnic tables are also available on the grounds. I didn't take photos of the place because the ostentatious and flagrant waste of money depressed me. Besides, even if this was Tagaytay, supposedly cool with breeze aplenty, it was way too hot for me.

So now on to better things. Wasn't that a Good Sheperd sign we saw on the way here? Maybe they also had the famous ube jam and peanut brittle they have in Baguio. So following the narrow winding street to the convent, we finally end up in...Baguio! But seriously, except for the hills, the parking lot and the one-storey building looked exactly like the commissary in Baguio. Even the store layout inside was just the same. Well, if the system works, why change it?

We had the jams. Only now they don't come in glass bottles but in disposable plastic containers. But the taste is just I remember it from childhood trips to Mines View Park. And, of course, their bottled honey, which my friend from ADB swears by, as "it doesn't turn lumpy even if you put it in the ref."

We still have to walk off our breakfast (maybe we should now call it brunch), so we visited the Pink Sisters Convent along Aguinaldo Highway. For a short time in our trip we were quiet and reverent as we prayed in their chapel. Our lawyer friend, who, despite her many successes still has alot to wish and pray for wrote her prayers in piece of notebook paper so the sisters can pray over it. I was quite content with my three wishes as this is my first time in this church.

We walked through the church grounds but are we hungry enough yet? Mmmm...maybe. we decided to drive back to Sonya's Garden for lunch. By this time it was almost 2 p.m. so if we're lucky, the noontime rush would have ended. Not. The dining rooms were full so we just walked around the gardens. It was still hot but the different bowers and ponds in the gardens made the heat quite bearable.

We had the best time at the bakery where freshly baked cheese hopia were rolled and sold. The hopia is best fresh from the oven while the outside is still crunchy and the filling is hot. I asked the nice lady in the counter how long it will keep, and she said "around three days, but I doubt you'll have anything left after a day." Indeed, we ate up most of the bread on the way back to Manila.

We also had to take a look inside Sonya's cottages, which are available for rent. The rooms are very pretty but didn't quite seem like the place to take kids or beer. I'd hate to stain the white linens.

Finally, we decided we were hungry enough to eat a real meal again. And by real, we didn't mean Sonya's garden salads and pasta. (Which are very good and plentiful by the way, once you get past the initial "salad and pasta only???")

We went to Josephine's but we were too late for their lunch buffet which was until 3 p.m. only. So we ordered a plethora of dishes - kinilaw na tanguige, sisig, paella, cucumber salads, mangga't bagoong, sinigang na baboy. Again, I wasn't able to take photos of the food because before I can even say "cheese", the food was gone in 60 seconds. But I think we made the right decision to eat at Josephine's. We spent less than what we would have spent at Sonya's and gotten a variety of dishes for it. They serve really good Filipino food and have a nice view of Taal volcano to boot.

Finally, the star of the whole trip:

But what out-of-town trip is complete without the pasalubong? It was a tough decision at which Collette stall we should get the quintessential buko pie. There was a Collette stall every block or so. But a friend of a friend of a friend has informed one of our friends that's there a new buko pie in the block and asked us to keep our eyes open for Rowena's. Just as we were about to give up, there it was right in front of us. (Well, a little to the side of the road.)

Rowena's doesn't just sell pies. And they don't just sell delicacies from Tagaytay. They had pia-ya from Iloilo, lengua de gato, broas and what-have-you's. It's like a grocery of all things you can possibly want to give us pasalubong. It threw me off though. My family knows I'm coming from Tagaytay so they should rightfully expect for me to bring them home something from Tagaytay. Not dried mangos labeled "Made in Cebu."

They were out of the pies that my friend wanted. Apparently they sell like hotcakes (haha - kill me) so the trick is to order them on the way up to Tagaytay and then pick them up when you're coming back to Manila. My friend instead got a box of their fudge brownies, but she asked me to taste one first. If it's good, she'll get more boxes. Suffice it to say, she left with only the one box and a heavy heart. The brownies didn't taste anything like chocolate and the fudge was really more like chocolate condensed milk. Also, as she herself declared, I make better brownies...