The Ultimate Crab Feast

30 July 2015

Either I read about it once the promo had ended or they were already fully booked. So after what seemed like ages, I was finally able to try out Plaza Brasserie’s annual crab buffet! So, was it worth the wait?

On the day we were there, they had Cereal Crab, Salted Egg Crab, Black Pepper Crab, Curry Crab, Steamed Crab with Dang Gui, Honey Rock Sugar Crab, and Chilli Crab. But despite having all these options, I've discovered that I like my crustaceans just steamed with lemon butter sauce (or soy sauce with calamansi) and a lot of crab fat.

The rest of the buffet was what I would call "low-key" as the dishes were simple and not overflowing. It kind of made me feel that since they were serving all-you-can-eat crabs, they decided to skimp on the rest of the menu.

So if you love crab meat and will focus mainly on that, then yes it's worth it. But if you're also looking for crab roe and a great overall buffet experience, then it may be better to look elsewhere.

The Ultimate Crab Feast will run until 23 August 2015.

Planning a Baptism: An Update

25 June 2015

Overruled by both Hannah's pediatrician and grandmother, we have postponed her baptism to the end of the year. They pointed out that a one month old baby's immune system is still quite weak and she would needlessly be exposed to so many harmful viruses. They were also not in favor of the baby taking a plane ride to Singapore (according to her doctor, it will only be safe to travel on her third month). We did feel a twinge of guilt for risking Hannah's health in favor of being together as a family, but Earl needed to go back and we didn't want to be separated for that long.

So, the baptism has been moved to December - same church but with a different reception venue. I'm pretty happy with this date change because first, we'll be getting the 11 AM time slot. Originally, we had the 4:30 PM schedule, but since it coincided with the anticipated Mass, our guests would have had a problem finding a place to park.

Second, the family reunion I envisioned will now be possible. Because we will be seeing all our relatives on Christmas Day, they will most likely inquire about our plans for the christening and we can't tell them, "Oh, it's tomorrow but you're not invited..."

The new venue is Conti's Bakeshop & Restaurant located in Greenbelt and here's the buffet menu we've decided on:

60 pax at Php 625 per head = Php 37,500

Pumpkin Soup
Buttered Vegetables
Steamed Rice
Shanghai Rolls
Chicken Pastel
Baked Salmon
Sans Rival
Moist Chocolate Cake
Bottomless Iced Tea or Lemonade

Powered by Formula

05 June 2015

I feel like a failure. First, I wasn't able to give birth naturally - I was deathly afraid of being operated on and I felt that my child missed out on all the benefits of a vaginal birth.

Next, I resorted to formula milk on the third day. I had been trying to breastfeed, but noticed that her diapers were clean (no poop or pee) and she also looked desperately hungry despite my efforts. I don't know how something that's supposed to be natural can be so difficult.

Hannah is now three months old, but I haven't made much progress as she still cries even after an hour of breastfeeding. She sometimes gets satisfied, though for most the of the day, I am just the human pacifier. I've kind of given up - anyway, my husband was completely formula fed and he turned out alright (my mother-in-law found the process too painful).

I really envy those who have so much milk that they store the excess in the freezer for other people to use. The most I've ever pumped was four ounces and that was just a one time event - usually, I'm lucky to even get two ounces.

Take note that I am still taking malunggay supplements and we even hired a lactation consultant, Nona Andaya-Castillo. Nanay Nona was extremely helpful and informative (we would definitely recommend her to anyone who needs help with breastfeeding), but there's not much that can be done if mother nature isn't cooperating.

Oh, well.

Hannah Louise

20 March 2015

Initially weighing 3.463 kilograms (or 7.63 pounds), our daughter was born via cesarean section at 4:13 PM on a Friday.

I worried about a lot of things before she arrived and the fact I wasn't able to give birth naturally made me an emotional mess. Thankfully, everything turned out well in the end and we're just so happy she's here.

Baby Registries: A Comparison

05 March 2015

We weren't planning on signing up for a gift registry since our guest list is quite short. But a staff member of the Baby Company told me that we could save 10% on regular items if we registered.

This got me thinking, if we bought the Graco Pack 'n Play On-The-Go Playard which costs Php 7999.75, the discount would be around Php 800! Also, some of our friends have already asked us what we want for the baby so this seemed like a really great idea. In the end, we did the registry, but not at the Baby Company as their options were a bit limited compared to other stores in Manila.

Baby Company (Mall Boutique)

- For a minimum of Php 500, registrants and their guests get a 10% discount for regular items on the wish list (cash or credit card)

- There are only a few branches - four (4) in Manila and one (1) in Cebu
- Toiletries and diapers are not included in the discount
- Only the guests get SM Advantage points

- Has a wider range of items to choose from including nursery furniture

- No discount for either the registrants or their guests

- Registrants and their guests get a 10% discount for regular items on the wish list (cash or credit card)
- Registrants get a 10% discount on any regular item within the SM Store (including the in-store Baby Company outlets) for a month before the event date
- Bonus SM Advantage points for the registrants from guests' purchases
- Free delivery service to one destination within city limits
- You can view and manage your wish list online
- Free specialized wrapping service

- Personally, I find that the items here are more basic especially when it comes to clothing - I prefer the style selections at Rustan's and Mothercare

- Registrants and their guests get a 10% discount for regular items on the wish list (cash or debit card)
- Registrants get a 10% discount on any regular item within the Children's Section for a month before the event date

- Discount not applicable to credit card purchases
- Discount for registrant not applicable to the other areas of the store except at the Children's Section

Planning a Baptism: The Reception

25 February 2015

A huge family reunion was what I had in mind when it came to the baptism of our first child. Earl though had other ideas and my entire family backed him up instead of me. As my sister pointed out, there were less than ten people at my baptism including my parents.

Earl has to return to Singapore by March 28 and as much as possible, he doesn't want to go back without us. My husband thinks that if we have too many guests, it will be difficult to coordinate and he wants our daughter baptized before we board any form of aircraft. He also pointed out that the money we save at the baptism can be used to furnish and decorate our new apartment (we plan to move to a bigger place by June).

So, there will only be around 20 guests in attendance comprising of our immediate family members, the priest, and our closest friends (some of whom are also the godparents).

With the Church and the guest list settled, it was now time to search for a reception venue. We needed a small function room that can accommodate a maximum of 25 people, has ample parking space, and is easy to locate. But most of all, we should like the food being served.

Here's our short list:

Chateau 1771
- Minimum guarantee: Php 20,000 consumable
- Deposit requirement: None unless you order food in advance
- Inclusions: None
- Notes: Maximum 20 pax, sit down only no buffet set-up

Circles Event Café
- Rate: Php 1800 per person with taxes and service charge
- Minimum guarantee: 30 pax or Php 50,000 (if you have less than 30 guests, then the difference can be used towards drinks)
- Deposit requirement: 50% two weeks in advance
- Inclusions: one round of coffee or tea

- Rate: Php 1457.40 per person with taxes and service charge
- Minimum guarantee: 20 pax
- Deposit requirement: None but one person has to be there before 12 Noon otherwise the reservation is cancelled
- Inclusions: Unlimited drinks including house wine and fruit shakes
- Notes: Maximum 24 pax in the Norway and Denmark function rooms when combined

Sentro 1771
- Minimum guarantee: Php 10,000 (11 AM to 2PM) or Php 16,000 (1 PM to 4 PM)
- Deposit requirement: None unless you order food in advance
- Inclusions: None
- Notes: Room is good for three hours, charge of Php 1000 (consumable) for every excess hour. Corkage fee applies to outside cake and alcoholic drinks. Maximum room capacity is 25 pax.

- Minimum guarantee: Php 20,000 consumable
- Deposit requirement: None unless you order food in advance
- Inclusions: None
- Notes: Room is good for three hours, charge of Php 1500 (non-consumable) for every excess hour. No corkage fee for bringing your own cake. Maximum room capacity is 35 pax.

Earl did not like the first three on the list and when he saw a picture of Sentro's function room, he immediately asked, "No windows?" We then did an ocular and he said it reminded him of a very cramped office conference room. I had also considered Conti's but they're fully booked on our chosen date, and parking could be a problem over at Milkyway Café.

I was starting to run out of ideas when we walked by Italianni's in Bonifacio High Street and on a whim, I decided to stop and ask if they had a function room. The lady said yes, we took a look, and my husband declared the reception venue search to be over. He liked that the place was not only bigger, but also brighter.

Planning a Baptism: Finding a Church

20 February 2015

A bit of panic ensued when we found out that due to a decree by the Catholic Archdiocese in 2011, parishes can only baptize residents within the boundary of the church's assigned area.

What this means is that a baby can only be baptized at the nearest church where the family resides. Since we are currently staying in Alabang Hills Village, the closest one is Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Hillsborough Village. I attended a public baptism there once and found it to be quite chaotic. They give a short talk for the godparents on their duties before the ceremony and the lady who conducted it sounded like she was selling fish at the wet market. Unfortunately, they do not offer solo or private baptisms.

My sister and I both had private baptisms and I find that this is more solemn than the public version where all you think of is getting out of there as quickly as possible due to how crowded the place can get.

You could have your baptism elsewhere provided you can obtain a permission letter, but they refused to give one as they advised they are not allowed to give such letters out. My question is, if priests are banned from issuing permit letters, then why is it even listed as an option? Why not just dictate outright that people don't have a choice?

Luckily for us, if you are based abroad, you can skip this requirement and have the freedom to choose your own baptism venue. In our case, we decided on Santuario de San Antonio as they have their own baptistery (see photo below), it's easy to get to (especially for the godparents who all live north of Manila), and there are many restaurants nearby for the reception.

Other venues we considered were Our Lady of the Pillar Parish Church and St. James the Great Parish, but both do not offer private baptisms. St. Alphonsus Mary de Liguori Parish in Magallanes does, but our guests would have to make a u-turn on the South Luzon Expressway just to get back to Makati (if I remember correctly). The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart also provides solo baptisms but the place is not that easy to locate especially if you're unfamiliar with the area.

Reservation Requirements:

1. Photocopy of Birth Certificate
2. Permission letter from your respective parish
3. List of names of godparents (maximum of 5 pairs)
4. Completed Baptismal Form
5. Non-refundable contribution of Php 4000

It is stated on their website that the requirements must be complete before you can make a reservation. But Edna, the lady in-charge, allowed us to just pay the fee and submit the baptismal form first when we explained that we have to return to Singapore as soon as possible (thus the need to plan everything in advance). They allow for a date change as long as the schedule you want is available.

We will be bringing our own priest, Rev. Msgr. Vicente Bauson, who also happens to be a family friend and the one who married us.

Update: It turns out that only our parish priest was problematic. I have a friend who lives in Pasig and she was able to get a permission letter quite easily for her son's baptism.

Thoughts to Ponder

15 February 2015

It seems my doctor favors cesarean sections. I had a routine ultrasound to check the state of the baby and I was advised that she's too large. At 36 weeks and 3 days, our little girl is in frank breech position, weighing an estimated 7 pounds and 11 ounces with fetal biometry at 38 weeks and 5 days. The ultrasonologist (who also happens to be my doctor's husband), told me that it's quite rare for the baby to turn at this late stage.

When Dr. Aina Sales Diaz looked at the results of the scan, she advised that I should have myself checked again after a week and if the baby has not flipped over to the vertex position by February 18, then I can have the cesarean section done two days later. She did not suggest other options.

I decided to do a bit of research and came up with the following:

1. Ultrasounds are usually inaccurate and are off by 1 or 2 pounds. Many women who were told that they will have 9 to 12 pound babies found that the actual weight at the time of birth was around 6 to 8 pounds.

2. Those who were also measuring a few weeks in advance (fetal biometry), were able to deliver normally as their baby turned at 39 weeks or right before their scheduled operations.

3. Most were advised to try for vaginal delivery first as an emergency cesarean section can easily be done if the baby is too big or still in breech at the time of actual labour.

Earl and I have agreed to wait it out for as long as possible before undergoing surgery, so now I'm trying to decide if I should still do the ultrasound or defer it to a later date?

Other things we need to consider:

We're almost done with shopping for the baby, but there are some items we can't seem to decide on. For example, where will the baby sleep? We plan to buy a crib in Singapore (the type that converts to a toddler bed), but for the few weeks we'll be in Manila, where will we place our newborn? I was thinking of the Graco Pack 'n Play® On The Go™ Playard. but it doesn't look too comfortable.

Another concern is should we buy a stroller? I can understand how it might not be needed here in Manila as there are a lot of people who can help with the baby - relatives, nanny, etc. But since we're based in Singapore where we don't have a car or household help, would a stroller be worth investing into? We'll need one that's suitable for a newborn and can easily be folded with just one hand. Also, which brand? We don't mind paying a bit more if it can last until our second child.

Maybe it's better to opt for a baby sling instead and buy the stroller when she's a little older? The problem is that I find them complicated and I'm not really sure how safe they are for newborns.

Are maternity binders necessary? I have yet to find a cheap one - though I've noticed that with anything baby-related, the price seems to skyrocket.

Decisions, decisions.

Coming Soon!

01 February 2015

As of today, we have exactly five weeks left before the baby's estimated March 8 due date. But I'm hoping she'll be a little early and show up at least week 37 or 38. It's hard to sleep and move around - even walking has to be done very slowly and the slightest road incline feels like I've run a marathon. Oh, and my doctor has placed me on a diet (no dessert until after I give birth).

I've been pretty lucky though as my biggest complaint thus far has been the fact I can't have anything sweet. I'm currently in Manila and it's like I want to eat everything! There really is no place like home when it comes to food. I've also been able to drive around on my own except to areas that Earl has deemed far (my husband's version of "far" is any place that's at least 20 minutes away by car).

Another update is that we've settled on a local doctor, Dr. Aina Sales-Diaz, who was referred to us by my cousin (they were classmates in med school). One thing that did give me pause was that with the two doctors I consulted with, both automatically assumed I would be undergoing a cesarean section just because we went through IVF. It's a good thing I had checked with Dr. Kelly Loi before leaving Singapore and she said normal delivery is an option (provided the baby won't get too big - thus the diet).

Lastly, I'm almost done with shopping for both myself and the baby. Hopefully by this week, I will be able to start packing my hospital bag.

The Occidental Belgian Beer Café

25 January 2015

Don't let the name fool you - this is where we had the best breakfast while in New Zealand. Okay, so the others were either at the hotel, McDonald's, or cold sandwiches we ordered the day prior, but really their waffles were good.

This was our last meal before our afternoon flight back to Singapore, so it made for a very sweet ending to a really wonderful trip.

Hot Chocolate (NZD 5 each)

A very comforting drink to have on a cold and wet morning (which is the weather we had that day).

French Toast (NZD 17)
Traditional ciabatta coated with egg and cinnamon, served with bacon, bananas, and topped with maple syrup

This dish wasn't bad, but I would preferred it to be a bit sweeter (adding more maple syrup did not help). It seemed to lack something, but I could not pinpoint what exactly.

Fresh Belgian Waffles (NZD 14.50)
Grilled bananas, bacon, maple syrup

The star of the show - it was worth the chilly and drizzly trek to the restaurant.

Kushi Japanese Kitchen & Bar

20 January 2015

One useful resource for finding affordable places to eat was the Metro Eat's article "The 100 Best Cheap Eats in Auckland 2013." This was how we found out about Kushi which, luckily for us, was just across the street from the main entrance of our hotel, CityLife Auckland.

Prawn Tempura (NZD 5.95)

Teriyaki Chicken (NZD 11.95)

Yakiniku (NZD 11.95)

Both the Teriyaki Chicken and the Yakiniku are Kushi Plates that come with rice, salad, two pieces sushi, croquette, and miso soup.

We loved our lunch - especially the Yakiniku Kushi Plate. And for the price, it was definitely a pretty good deal.

CityLife Auckland

15 January 2015

On TripAdvisor, CityLife is ranked higher than the Crowne Plaza, but both Earl and I prefer the latter to the former.

The main draw is that this hotel has a really great location - it's right on Queen Street so there are a lot of shops, restaurants, and even two supermarkets that are all an extremely short walk from the hotel.

There's also a bus stop right outside where you can catch the Link Bus (to get around the city) and the Airbus Express (for those taking the airport shuttle).

And while both the room and the bathroom were clean, they felt a bit cramped. The bathroom, for example, had a heated towel rail, but no other towel bars in the room. I prefer having more space to hang the towels (and not have to fold them just so they fit).

One huge negative for Earl was the fact that they did not provide free wi-fi. It's NZD 15 for 24 hours which irritated him to no end as he had to work while on vacation.

There's no direct flight from Queenstown to Singapore so we had to spend an extra night in Auckland before catching our return flight. This was the reason we needed another hotel and though CityLife's room rate was slightly higher, I wanted to try it out thinking its location would be more convenient. In hindsight, if we had to do it all over again, I'd stick to the Crowne Plaza.

Fergburger & Fergbaker

10 January 2015

According to CNN, "New Zealand's Fergburger may be the best burger joint on the planet." Hmmm... I wouldn't go that far - it's a good burger, but it's not über spectacular.

When we arrived, the line stretched all the way to Fergbaker next door. Good thing service that day was fast and we didn't have to wait too long for our food. We ordered the Ferburger with Swiss Cheese (NZD 12.50) along with their Onion Rings (NZD 5.50), both of which were large enough to share.

Unfortunately, I was rather hungry and forgot to take pictures. Tip on the onion rings: the dish by itself was quite ordinary, but dipped in the aioli mixed with ketchup and it tastes so much better.

I wish I had a larger stomach and more time in the day to eat as there were so many things I wanted to try in this bakery. Unluckily for me, pregnancy makes you bloated faster and there's indigestion to contend with (small meals are the way to go), so I ended up with just one pie. So sad.

Pork Belly & Apple Pie (NZD 6.90)

My sister told me to order this as she liked it better than the burger served next door, but I was not too fond of it. I should have ordered something else like the Prawn and Chorizo Pie which is what I really wanted.

I would still recommend that visitors to Queenstown make a pit stop at both Fergburger & Fergbaker, as you can get a good meal at a reasonable price.

Vudu Cafe

05 January 2015

Research definitely pays off - Earl and I loved everything we ate!

(Blog writing is so much easier when you can sum things up in one sentence.)

We needed to have an early lunch, but didn't want to be too full as we were about to go on a four hour tour where toilets aren't easily accessible. So we decided to just share everything and it turned out to be a great idea as the soup alone was good for two.

They also serve breakfast so if we're ever in the area again, I plan to skip the hotel buffet and just head here.

Roasted Parsnip & Parmesan Soup (NZD 12)

Bacon & Mushroom Carbonara with Fresh Herbs and Parmesan (NZD 18)

Bakewell Tart (NZD 4.50)

Happy New Year everyone!