Monday, December 18, 2017

Baked Treats and Goodies for the Holidays

For a few years now, our dining table and refrigerator, especially during the holidays, have been laden with baked goods and sweets, boxed or pre-packaged ones you would often see in bazaars or during Christmas gift giving at work.

My brother and his wife, their day jobs in the telecom industry notwithstanding, have been flexing their entrepreneurial muscles for some time now, reselling food items like chicharon (Chicharon capital Sta. Maria, Bulacan is just two municipalities over where we live.) and said baked goods and sweets. We are only too eager to taste test and provide feedback.

pines brownies butterscotch aizas marzipan lech flan chocovron polvoron
clockwise from left: Pines brownies, Aiza's Sweets marzipan, Pines butterscotch, Chocovron polvoron, leche flan
Aiza's Sweets Marzipans are yema bonbons with generous slivers of cashew nuts. This is my sister's bet. Because she is nutty. Kidding.

Chocovron Polvoron is actually a brand of  polvoron with inventive flavors like malunggay, sometimes coated in chocolate. They're really good.

I am not sure of the brand of the leche flan but this one's a winner. This milky creamy flan is coated in a generous caramel sauce. It does not have the gelatin-y taste some flans have. Said flans use gelatin to hold them upright and keep their structure. There have been flans with fancy flavors like strawberry cheesecake and cookies and cream which have come out but this simple unadulterated flan will remain as our favorite.

pines brownies butterscotch cappucino chocomarble  tart crinkles
pines crinkles, tart, cappucino, chocomarble, butterscotch, brownies
Pines Browns and Delicacies offers an array of baked treats. Most popular would be their box containing cappucino, chocomarble, butterscotch, brownies. Consumed immediately, they're quite moist. Kept in refrigerator for some time, they take a crumbly texture.

Their crinkles are chewy, chocolate-y goodness so unlike cheap ones sold at some neighborhood bakeries which are hard, dense and lacking in chocolate. The tarts have just the right amount yema filling.

pines special brownies carrot cake festival special fruitcake
Pines special brownie, carrot cake, Festival fruitcake (regular and special)
Pines also has special brownies. The cost is justified by how fudgier they are than the regular ones. They also have extra toppings like mini marshmallows, walnuts and chocolate chips.

Admittedly, this is the only carrot cake or carrot cupcake I could recall ever eating so my judgment on this one is limited. Pines carrot cake reminds me of a crumbly fruitcake without the liquor taste. The bits of carrots are not enough to impart an overwhelming carrot taste to the cupcakes.

pines special brownies carrot cake festival special fruitcake
Pines special brownie, carrot cake, Festival fruitcake (regular and special) 

I could never understand why some people do not like fruitcakes. Maybe they just haven't received yummy fruitcakes is all. My adoration for fruitcakes started when I was a kid when my aunt told me that fruitcakes contain brandy. (She used to bake fruitcakes and would use flavored and colored kondol or white gourd melon instead of an array of fruits.)  Little me raring to be a grownup thought that having a slice of  fruitcake was absolutely sinful. Festival fruitcakes has made it Spot.ph top ten fruitcakes, the most affordable one at that. The special Festival fruitcake is chunkier than the regular one having more fruits and nuts.

I'm beginning to understand the appeal of baked goods and sweets during Christmas. Not only are they indulgent, they go well with hot beverages like coffee and tea which are then perfect for the nippy weather.

For more on the products mentioned above, visit their websites or facebook page.
Pines facebook: https://m.facebook.com/PinesBROWNIESElevenSeventeenMktg/
Chocovron website: http://chocovron.com/products/ facebook page: https://m.facebook.com/chocovronofficial
Aiza's Sweets facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/aizas.sweets.1

File photos. Some of those in the pictures are not the current or holiday packaging of the products.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Herbs and Beauty Shampoo with Rose and Chamomile Calming Essence Review

Some time ago, after a nasty argument with a (ping) CSR over their system malfunctioning/getting hacked thus putting me and my family at risk and gleaning through our conversation that they have little love for people who join their online club/group and that they do not care at all about what you think about their products, given that they have no regard for reviews (I am beginning to suspect that their replies on their fb pages are canned), I felt like flushing all the (ping) products we have in the house in the toilet. Didn't go through with it. Used them to clean the toilet instead. To think their products were house staples. Well not anymore.

So since I am staying away from (ping) products forever, I've been on an adventure to try other products in the market.

Herbs and Beauty Shampoo

Herbs and Beauty Shampoo is a little known shampoo brand from Personal Collection, a direct selling company. It's not readily available in physical stores. I have a feeling though that this is where we are heading now. Due to traffic, people are finding it more convenient to buy stuff online, from neighborhood stores, people they know who also sell stuff or from people who visit their office or house.

I like that there's this sticker seal attached to the lid and body of the shampoo bottle to ensure that it is tamper-proof.

Herbs and Beauty Shampoo with Rose and Chamomile Calming Essence, the one I'm using, is a bit runny. It's a not so cloudy translucent. Its light floral scent, which eventually you can smell only when you bring your hair strands to your nose, lasts for quite a while. It lathers well on my hand but once I work it on my hair I feel that it does not foam as much. It somehow weighs down my hair but does not help with the frizz. I have Cream Silk conditioners to take care of frizz, so no big.

What of the calming part? Well, remember chamomile tea taken by many to relax? An article in the National Center for Biotechnology Information website enumerates other uses of this plant. The blurb on the Herbs and Beauty Shampoo with Rose and Chamomile Calming Essence bottle makes it that the Chamomile in the product is meant to soothe the scalp. Don't expect this shampoo to solve your dandruff problems though.

Other Herbs and Beauty Shampoos would be Sunflower and Lavender Balancing Essence and Orange and Kiwi Deep Cleansing Essence.

For more on Personal Collection products, drop by their website, http://www.personalcollection.com.ph,/ or visit their facebook page at https://m.facebook.com/pcdsiofficial/.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Trip to Divisoria: Tips, Tricks, Hacks

It's that time of the year again when all roads lead to Divisoria, a shopping mecca in Manila, Philippines. For most, it's the place to go when you need budget-friendly gifts for inaanaks and Christmas decors. Most teachers and their families go to Divisoria to purchase items for the class Christmas party loot bags and prizes.

Here are some tips, tricks and hacks we have gathered from several trips to Divisoria over the years.

plastic sack eco bag
eco bags

  • Bring an eco bag. Lots to put all your accumulated purchases. You can buy eco bags from stalls and street vendors there though.
  • Go when it's not raining even if you plan on shopping only at the malls. Streets leading to the malls can get muddy.
  • Wear comfy rubber shoes or closed shoes to protect your feet not only from dirt but from getting trampled on.
  • Bring water if you are okay lugging a bottle around. Carrying lots is a challenge while navigating narrow hallways and crowded streets. Also when eating, you are better off purchasing drinks from Puregold at the basement of 999. Unless you are getting value meals at well known QSRs like Jollibee, drinks at the stalls in the food court are wallet killers. P50 for 500ml Coke, what?!
  • If food court dining is your thing (Try the stalls that offer Chinese cuisine at 999 and 168. We recommend the hand-pulled noodles at 999.), there are food courts at the second floor of Tutuban Center, third floor of 999 Mall, third floor of the main mall of 168, fourth floor of Lucky Chinatown.
  • We usually withdraw from the ATMs of Lucky Chinatown. There are also ATMs at the third floor of  the main 168 mall. 
  •  I'm not sure what time the malls in Divisoria open but we were there once at 9AM and they're already doing business. Malls and stand alone stores close at 6PM. From then onwards, you've got the night market along Recto and around Tutuban Shopping Center. Most stalls at the night market sell clothes and footwear. I was once able to score a dress for P200 at a stall near the corner of Tutuban Center which I couldn't haggle lower than P250 at a store in 168. I was also able to score a cardigan for P35 just because there's dirt (which I was able to wash off) on one of the sleeves. I didn't even have to haggle for it and it was not even ukay-ukay or second hand clothes as there were other colors available. Note that there are stores in the malls that sell ukay-ukay.
  •  Most stores do not issue a receipt. And unless you are a store's suki, stores have a no return, no exchange policy.
  • For K-pop fans, there's a stall at the ground floor of 168 mall annex that carries K-pop merchandise. 
  • For sci-fi fans, there's also a  stall at the ground floor of 168 mall, first hallway to the left that sells action figures among other  sci-fi merchs.
scented pens
floral pens

When possible, check your purchases for defects before leaving the store. Ask the sales personnel that you would like to check your purchases first before having them placed in plastic bags. The flower pens above came in a plastic box which I didn't bother opening, hence I didn't notice that one was missing a flower.

pens with invisible ink
pens with invisible ink

There are items though that are sealed so you wouldn't be able to check if they work. Like the invisible pens above. (Writes using invisible ink. Shine the torch on what you've written to make it visible.) Buy at your own risk. All the pens above worked but I've bought a dozen light-up whirlybirds before with two not working.

pencils with toy toppers
cute pencils
If you are able to, roam around. Do not buy from the first store or vendor you see. Compare prices.


spiky plastic jelly flashing balls
squishy flashing balls look even great in the night sky

Usually, stores that are in hallways and floors with lesser foot traffic have cheaper goods. Stores that are not in the popular malls often have cheaper goods as well.

frienship bracelets
bracelets made of thread

It's cheaper to buy in bulk from the stores in the malls (168, 999, 11/88, Tutuban Center, New Divisoria Mall). However, some sellers sometimes won't let you choose designs or colors. Or the items (like hair clips, combs, face towels) are already packed by the dozen, with some packs already  sealed. Sometimes, there are stores that do not sell small items by piece. Note that street vendors get their wares from the stalls. You can choose the design or color you want but it will cost more. For instance, we got a dozen cat ear headbands for less than P15 a piece from a stall but need 2 more since there were 14 girls in the class. We decided to just get another dozen after we found out that the headbands were being sold at P35 a piece by street vendors.

fabric fruit pouches
plush fruit pouches
For loot bags and prizes, when it gets too crowded or when we're pressed for time, we usually just purchase from this small stall at the Tutuban Center which sells predominantly hair accessories. It also sells combs, pouches like the ones above and some school supplies like colored pens and sets (pencil, eraser, ruler, sharpener). The items have price tags so you don't have to keep asking the store personnel. It doesn't get as crowded as the bigger hair accessories store beside it but for me, if the difference is just a few pesos, I'd go for convenience.

We'd also go to the second level of 11/88 mall, a mall connected to Lucky Chinatown. There you'd find several stores which sell candies and cheap small toys for loot bags. These are the toys which you would often see at sari-sari stores: pogs, whistles, tops, jackstones, yoyos, etc. But when it ain't crowded or raining, we'd troop to the basement of (cheapest was at this stall to left at the basement entrance along De Santos St.) and the streets surrounding New Divisoria Mall since it's cheaper there and there's more variety.

One of carts/street vendors I often check when we go to Divisoria is parked near the McDonald's on Juan Luna St. They carry wooden bead necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Each at just P10.

For gift wrappers, we would go to this vendor along Tabora, left side coming from Divisoria Mall. Her wrappers are displayed last year on a cart, this year on tables. They're cheaper than the ones sold by other street vendors. Yes, she sells them by the dozen but you can choose three designs. At some stalls in the malls and along Sta Elena street, wrappers may be as cheap but you can only choose one design for a dozen.

Safety Tips:
  • Don't bring kids. Imagine if there's a stampede. If bringing kids, stay away from the crowds.
  • Bring a shopping buddy to help you carry your purchases, for second opinion and to make shopping more fun. Also for safety reasons.
  • Make sure that you are handing your payment to the store owner/keeper/personnel or tindera. There have been cases wherein thieves have made off with buyers' payments after pretending to be working for stores.
  • Keep an eye on your belongings. Keep your bags in front of you. Some pickpockets would even slash  bags to get your valuables.
  • Carry smaller bills. Street vendors usually don't have enough change and there have been instances wherein a vendor would insist that you've handed a bill lower than the bill you've really given them. There have been news reports of fake bills, usually being paid at stores. Sometimes, the sales personnel are unable to tell their authenticity and could pass off the bill to you as change.
  •  I know that there are those that benefit from the sidecars plying the area. However I could only share bad experiences with regards to them. Most of the drivers do not care if they ran anyone over. There was also a time when my sister-in-law rode a sidecar with her sister. Upon reaching the street where they would take a jeepney, the driver demanded they pay him P200, 4x more than what they have agreed upon. They gave in because other sidecar drivers have converged on them and they feared for their safety.

For a clear map of Divisoria, visit  http://www.taralets.com/2012/10/divisoria-mall-tour.html
All the goodies in the pics above were purchased from Divisoria at one time or another. Each item, except for the eco bags which were at 3 for P100, is priced below P15 or just a little over a quarter.