Food, Music, Personal, Travel

Remember That Time When…

I said I’d keep up with a blog? Yeah, that didn’t work out too well. My bad.

The best excuse I can come up with is, “I was busy.” And even then, as far as excuses go, that’s a highly unsatisfactory one. Given that this is supposed to be a blog about my life, “busy” should have been good; “busy” should have meant content. The real reason, as much as it pains me to admit, is this: I was lazy. Once again, I’ve come full circle to my very first post.

However, I’m nothing if not persistent. I refuse to succumb to failure at my own unmotivated hands. With a new summer comes a new chance to redeem myself. (OK, perhaps I’m also a tad dramatic.)

But before I begin anew, I’d like to take a look back on the eventful 10 months since my last post. Without further ado, here are 10 of many things I did this school year that are truly worth remembering. Enjoy, dear readers (if you’re still out there, that is – I very much hope you are)!

1. I became (more of) a journalist.

My parents can breathe easier knowing their money is being put to good use. Sophomore year saw further progress on the journalism front, primarily as I moved away from introductory courses into more meaningful, albeit more difficult ones. My “Enterprise Reporting in Diverse Communities” class led me to cover everything from Women’s Day at the Chicago Auto Show to the Chicago mayoral election; my professor even helped me publish a piece I wrote on the city’s International Baccalaureate schools! I also started writing and editing for Northwestern’s chapter of the online food publication Spoon University – a decision that may or may not have been influenced by my desire to eat under the guise of an assignment. (If you’re feeling hungry, you can check out my articles here. And with that, I promise the shameless self-promotion is over.)

2. I visited Houston for Thanksgiving break.

My first ever Thanksgiving in the U.S. was spent wandering the streets of New York with my sister, frustratedly wondering why everything seemed to be closed, and ultimately dining at an Indian restaurant. Suffice to say, this year was a step in the more patriotic direction. One of my best friends invited me to join him and his family in Houston, and the trip was certainly fun-filled: I learned how astronauts poop in space during my tour of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, got up-close-and-personal with alligators at Brazos Bend State Park, and indulged in a true Thanksgiving spread, complete with a butter-stuffed, bacon-wrapped turkey. God bless America.

3. I had the opposite of a white Christmas, as per usual.

Just as the weather began to cool down, I jetted back to Manila – in the company of not one, not two, but three bawling babies – for the holidays. The Christmas-New Year time is always one of my favorite parts of the year; this year, a large chunk of my extended family vacationed to the island of Siquijor, where we snorkeled with starfish (and supposedly an elusive sea turtle), jumped off waterfalls (or in my case, accidentally backflopped off), and almost got stranded for an extra week past our planned departure date (ah, the wonders of the seemingly constant Philippine typhoon season).

4. I survived another winter.

Barely.

(I also learned that I cannot ice skate to save my life. A young child literally whispered, “Loser,” to me, as I slowly pulled myself along the railing of the Millennium Park ice rink. It was a dark time.)

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Food

Salcedo Market: An Exploration in Food

I can’t tell what I love most about markets. There’s the mid-morning sun shining upon rows of bustling customers, the scent of freshly-potted orchids wafting through the air, the vast array of food waiting to be consumed…

Oh, who am I kidding? It’s the food.

Two Saturdays ago was my mom’s birthday, and my parents and I decided to celebrate with lunch at the Salcedo Community Market. For about a decade, this market has been a weekly culinary haven amidst the high-rises of Makati City. It’s the perfect place to find quality ingredients, with stalls full of lush fruits and vegetables, fresh seafood and organic meats. The options are also endless for those hungry for a good meal – and we definitely arrived hungry.

Naturally, it soon became our mission to try and eat our way through the entire market. We started off with a few chicken and meat samosas from Kashmir, which were absolutely delicious – the pastry dough was wonderfully flaky and generously filled, and the tamarind sauce was to die for. In all truth, I considered ending my food adventure here and simply scarfing down ten more pieces. However, the enticing smells from other stalls proved too strong to resist.

Our next stop was Z’s, where we ordered a Super Z Hungarian sausage on ciabatta (topped with ketchup, mustard and relish) to share. Again, my taste buds were wowed by the juicy, flavorful meat and the perfectly grilled bun. And again, I was saddened to have only had a third of the sandwich.

We followed our “appetizers” with two heartier dishes: a grass-fed beef burger from Down to Earth and a wagyu beef shawarma from Rafik Shawarma. Both looked incredible and tasted good, but neither was a standout. (My dad did express his love of the shawarma, though, as he polished it off with gusto.)

In my opinion, the undisputed star of the meal was our order of Jiro’s Native Lechon. Lechon, or spit-roasted suckling pig, is a popular Filipino dish, but I usually only eat it at Christmastime. As such, I couldn’t get enough of the tender, melt-in-your-mouth slices of pork and the crispy bits of skin.

I still saved some of my appetite, though – as my life motto states, no meal is complete without dessert. By this time, the heat was absolutely sweltering, and my choice was clear: a cone of “dirty” ice cream, also known as sorbetes, with two scoops of every flavor. The combination of mango, vanilla and cheese may seem off-putting to some, but trust me, it can’t be beat.

Meanwhile, my mom concluded her lunch with an adorable mini Japanese pancake. (Yes, food can be adorable. I’m not weird.) Filling choices varied from strawberry to white chocolate chip, but she opted for cream cheese, which was said to be the best seller. It was quite delicious!

Although my stomach capacity was (finally) exhausted, my eyes hadn’t gotten the memo yet – I was tempted by at least five more stalls as we exited the market.

In short: I’m already planning the route of my next visit.

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Personal

Go, Go… Brake! Brake!

“If you learn to drive in the Philippines, you can drive anywhere.”

Those were the first words out of my driving instructor’s mouth as I sat behind the wheel of a stationary Honda Civic, already holding on for dear life. His phrase wasn’t foreign — I’ve heard it frequently throughout my nearly 19 years in the passenger seat, and seen enough to believe it’s true.

Traffic laws are often inconsistently enforced on the streets of Manila. Jeepney drivers stop for passengers whenever and wherever they please, and motorcyclists weave in between cars at breakneck speeds. Intersections are chaos: green means “go,” yellow means “speed up” and red means “I can still make it!”

Despite the less-than-appealing conditions, I had resolved to Be an Adult and learn how to drive this summer. The plan was to get the task out of the way early, but laziness and lethargy kicked in, as they always seem to do. My automobile ambitions took a backseat to months of staring blankly at my laptop screen.

Last week, however, I finally enrolled for lessons at the Honda Safety Driving Center. I’m heading back to college soon, so I had to cram all 20 hours of the program into three days, essentially scheduling a crash course in driving. Avoiding the “crash” part, of course, was the goal.

The first six stages took place entirely inside the HSDC compound. As my chances of maiming someone within this closed circuit were minimal, I elected to learn the basics with manual transmission. (I’m sure the skills will come in handy someday — if ever I compete on “The Amazing Race,” for example. There’s always that one couple who get eliminated because they can’t drive a stick shift. I like to invest in my future.)

I’m not going to lie: it was a rough start. I stalled more times than I care to admit, and my overly tense grip on the wheel kept causing me to drift out of lane. However, in time I learned how to (more or less) successfully perform a hill start, traverse an S course and crank course, emergency brake and even parallel park. I did run over a poor orange rubber cone, but don’t worry. It pulled through.

When the time came for the city and expressway driving stages, I switched to automatic transmission. This decision was mostly for my peace of mind — Manila traffic is unlike any other, and I knew the “Learner Driver” sticker would do little to convince honk-happy individuals to forgive any lapses in clutch control. Yet even with an “easier” vehicle, seeing actual cars whiz by had my nerves returning in full force.

Then, as I inched down the road at a grandma-esque speed, I saw it: a dog standing on its hind legs on the seat of motorcycle, paws on the driver’s shoulders. It was a glorious sight, and pretty hard to feel anything but amusement afterwards! (I wish I could’ve taken a picture of my own, but given that I was driving, I probably would have caused an accident. And worse, failed my assessment.)

In the end, I passed all nine stages and was awarded my certificate of completion. Now I just need to apply for my license! And teach my dog to ride a motorcycle.

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Wildflour Café + Bakery
Food, Restaurants

A Friday Feast at Wildflour Café + Bakery

Full disclosure: I am far from a food connoisseur. I can’t bite into a dish and tell whether it’s been seasoned with rosemary or thyme, or identify the notes in its flavor profile. In fact, a friend once tested my palate for a science experiment and found I could barely distinguish between sweet and salty. (Then again, we were in the fifth grade, so those findings should be taken with a grain of salt. Or sugar?)

Instead, I like to consider myself a food enthusiast. I know when food tastes good — and when it does, you can bet I’ll be ready to stuff my face.

In anticipation of some good food, I recently dragged my family to Bonifacio Global City for lunch at Wildflour CafĂ© + Bakery. This restaurant first opened in 2012, but really made a name for itself last year by pioneering Manila’s Cronut craze. Since then, it’s been a bona fide hotspot, and on a Friday afternoon, its sleek-yet-homey interior was packed.

As soon as we entered, I all but climbed into the glass pastry display case. Few things are less controllable than my sweet tooth, and a hungry Carla plus anything chocolate means trouble for my blood sugar levels. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily), we were seated before I could convince my parents to let me have a dozen Nutella scones in place of “real food.”

We began our meal with two appetizers, the first of which was the Fried-to-Order Chicharones with pineapple-habanero dip and lime. I’m not a fan of pineapple, so I wasn’t too fond of the sauce. The rest of my family loved it, though, and the pork rinds were deliciously crispy on their own.

The Goat Cheese and Honey was an even bigger hit. When the dish arrived, we took a few moments to admire its rustic presentation. We then proceeded to devour it in about five seconds, smearing generous amounts of the sweet, tart spread over the soft slices of cranberry-walnut bread (a loaf of which is now sitting in my fridge — it was that good).

In much the same manner, my mother and I both eagerly tucked into our entrées. She polished off a Smoked Salmon Croissant, served with a tasty side salad, while I enjoyed the Rustichella Squid Ink Spaghetti with prawns, clams, garlic and pistachio.

Unfortunately, not every dish lived up to the hype. My sister, Gaby, ordered the Mac n’ Cheese, one of Wildflour’s popular menu items. Although it looked amazing — I was tempted to switch plates with her when I saw the cheesy crust — the gruyère-cheddar combination tasted quite bland.

Gaby’s seal of approval was instead given to my dad’s main dish, the hearty Steak and (beautifully poached) Egg on Kimchi Fried Rice. 

Even after all of that delicious food, the dessert menu was almost immediately in my hands. Don’t judge. I’m pretty sure I have a second stomach made just for sweets.

My parents ended their meal with a light and creamy Pastel de Tres Leches, while Gaby and I decided to share the Salted Chocolate Cake. I’d wanted to try it ever since it was named the best chocolate cake in Manila by SPOT.ph, and from the first bite, it was clear this ranking was well-deserved. The slice was incredibly moist and rich, although it was so massive that we couldn’t finish it. (Mind you, both Gaby and I have proven ourselves individually capable of consuming a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in one sitting. This was a shocking turn of events.)

I left Wildflour CafĂ© + Bakery fully satisfied (and wishing someone would roll me to the car). I’ll certainly be fantasizing about this meal in a few months, when my taste buds have hardened to greasy dining hall pizza and Subway sandwiches… I should’ve eaten more of the cake.

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Personal

Overcoming Laziness: An Introduction

It’s finally happened. I, Carla Garcia, have finally created an actual, honest-to-goodness blog.

To say this has been a long time coming would be a gross understatement, as blogging is one of those things I’ve always intended to do, and always put off doing. For years, my go-to excuse was my inability to think up a URL — I’d devote about five minutes to the task, fail to come up with anything clever, and shelve the blog venture for the ever-ambiguous “later.”

I eventually decided to embrace this crippling lack of creativity, if “Girl, Uninspired” hasn’t made that abundantly clear. And yet, even with a title out of the way, laziness prevailed.

Over the past year in particular, I’ve had several “perfect opportunities” to start writing. From moving halfway across the world last September to begin my freshman year of college, to exploring ancient temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia in June, there’s certainly been no shortage of source material from which to draw inspiration. Instead, until now, I’ve remained blogless.

What could have finally spurred me to action, you wonder?

Alas, it was the sad, sad fact that I spent two entire hours plotting out a farm layout for a Harvest Moon video game. I stared at my glowing Nintendo screen, eyes red and strained, and realization struck: as an 18-year-old incoming college sophomore, I could probably be doing something slightly more worthwhile — and age-appropriate — with my time. (One could argue that becoming a wildly successful pixelated farmer was worthwhile, although I doubt they would be very convincing.)

So, I’ve traded in the sickle and watering can for a shiny new WordPress account. The goal is to start capturing the noteworthy moments of life — whether they concern food (they’ll probably concern food), travel, school or “Orange is the New Black” binge-watching sessions, I’ll do my best to write about them.

Perhaps if I’m a little less lazy, I’ll be a little more inspired.

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