Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Chatime Philippines Jenina Gonzales
There was a time when Happy Lemon single-handedly reigned supreme among the Taiwan-based Manila milk tea joints. Sure we’ve got Serenitea, Kozui and Quickly but they seem clumped in the Greenhills area, quite a distance from the Northern clique. It’s not that I hate going to Greenhills, it’s just that a weekly spree in the area (as much as I love it) can cause quite a dent in my pocket, and a very shallow pocket I have at the moment.

At this time of economic and tea deprivation, a lifesaver finally brews at SM North EDSA. Chatime, properly situated near the entrance of the Sky Dome and just a short walking distance from TriNoma is finally open and ready to dish out our favorite tea drinks!

Craving for taro milk tea or something more exotic like a passion fruit green tea brew—Chatime’s exhaustive menu listing is enough to compete with Happy Lemon, sans the fancy sounding names. Not only can we adjust the sugar settings (100%, 75%, 50%, 30% and zero), we can also choose how much ice to place in our drinks! Pretty neat, considering that half the population is nursing either a sore throat or a cold on account of the monsoon season. 




Always a first choice, I mindlessly selected the Matcha Mousse (large, 50% sugar, 70% ice with P15 pudding = P110), while my brother went for the Oolong Tea Mousse (large, 50% sugar, 70% ice with P15 pudding = P105). Call it sibling revelry, even if for a day. I was first expecting a frap-like concoction, judging from the name “mousse” which ought to have been a no-brainer, but what was served was a gigantic glass of frothy whipped tea swimming with awesome pudding.

At P95, large is well, an abysmal treat for any tea lover. Blending well with matcha or oolong tea, the pudding’s mild sweetness complements the tea’s delicate bitter taste (we did choose 50% - and no regrets, whatsoever).


The mousse-froth, as it turns out, is Chatime’s version of the Rock Salt and Cheese of Happy Lemon. The result is a delirious mix of flavors that makes one brilliant, flavorful and gigantic tea drink. Next time (I suppose there definitely will be one), I will try out the 30% sugar, so that I can enjoy more of the “tea” and its kick and less of the sweetness (aka calories).

At a more affordable price than Happy Lemon, a more convenient location than Serenitea and a premium tea selection compared to Quickly (and other cheap milk tea joints), Northern dwellers ought to make time for Chatime. The walk from TriNoma (should you park there like we do) may be quite tedious, but rest assured, the trip home would be on Froth 9.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

http://www.myfoodtrip.com/reviews/218264/ucc_caf_terrace.htmAfter indulging in Parvati’s sugar-free Carrot Cake, it was time to move on to the neighboring UCC Cafe Terrace and sample something just as splenda-rrific. This sugar allergy has definitely caused me to splurge more, but on the upside, allowed me to venture in Trinoma’s hard-to-get outdoorsy woodlands (except for the valet patrons) and find a spot in the spacious UCC Cafe Terrace.



Lunch was pure comfort food: Chili Garlic Spaghetti with Spinach and Shrimps at P349. No bread was served on the side (not that I care) but the sauce was light and appealingly bland—suggestive of an MSG-free concoction, just the way Japanese spaghetti should be made of. With only 3 shrimps that I wouldn’t exactly describe as giant or prawn-like, at least the sauce made up for the filling factor. Sugoi!

http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4084/5066638897_cd728485a3.jpgFor dessert, I first set my eyes on the Blueberry Streusel Cheesecake which was very tempting with its colorful swirls of blueberry sweetness, but then again, if I were bring life to this sugar abstinence I must play the part.

“One slice of sugar free Blueberry Cheesecake, please!” Ah yes, more like it.

My brother went for the Matcha Parfait, apparently trying to derive his lunchtime tea from this creamy dessert. If my allergy is to sugar, then his is to cream.

“No cream on my parfait please” he said, as I nodded in sisterly pride.

All right, for the verdict:

UCC Sugar Free Blueberry Cheesecake (P245)


Served plain, just like the typical New York Cheesecake, the Blueberry topping (more of siding) is placed on the side as an orb of cream, blueberry and splenda. (Top row, middle in photo. Find that orb!)

Naturally fruity, sweet and light, the blueberry serving can be restrained and skipped if you wish (I did, after tasting a dollop). The highlight of the dish is the cheesecake itself. There is no hint of cheap creaminess that we find in commercial cheesecakes, that is used to extend the batter. Instead, we get pure, solid cream cheese that can make any cheese lover (yours truly) wolf down a slice and forget that the blueberry siding even existed. The graham crust is light and devoid of the annoying crunch we get from too much sugar (in this case, no sugar), as it molds well with the cheesecake. In overall this is authentically delectable dessert for the cheesecake lover—made more alluring with its sugar-free component.


UCC Matcha Parfait (P219)

Served on a tall sundae glass, this towering green monster was a sight to behold, with layers of ice cream, fruits, azuki and nata de coco. It seemed like the undisputed Japanese dessert, and I could spy the girl on the other table drooling as my brother attacked his monstrous opponent with his spoon. 2 scoops of green tea ice cream by FIC (Fruits in Ice Cream) topped the parfait. Azuki with green tea ice cream makes a sweet treat; with the nata, creates a jelly component that kids will love.

If UCC ended with that concoction then my brother would’ve gone home in a high. However, the pineapple/fruit cocktail juice that was generously drizzled removed the zen from this Japanese dessert and turned it into a sugar frenzy. I wonder how the girl from the other table fared, seeing her attack her newly served parfait (with cream) with gusto. Chances are, she lost the battle as well.

Otherwise, as a respite from the clutter of Starbucks or the mindless chatter at Conti’s, UCC Cafe  Terrace is the nearby solace for the civilized and comfort seekers. The service is a bit nasty and slow, and it can irk you if you’re in a bit of a hurry. If you like the food though, lesson learned, bring your own tumbler. And a calculator, while you’re at it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Breakfast is the meal that I would shed tears for, should I miss it by waking up late or prevented by any nocturnal family member. Which is why cereal ranks as high as dessert in my beloved stash. It is one of the food items that I would waive my sugar aversions for and welcome in extravagance.

This has got to be my happiest stash yet:

- Special K Red Berries, Blueberry and Plain

- Honey Bunches of Oats Honey Roasted and Strawberries

- Nature's Path Organic Multigrain Oatbran Cereal and Oaty Bites.

I started the law of <5g of sugar per serving but so far, only the organic cereals and plain Special K fit the requirement—and I refuse to eat just them! Hence, the sugar waiver allows me to enjoy other Special K, Honey Bunches and Cheerios (not in picture) variants as much as I please, every morning. Also, the nutritional provisions of my stash are rather acceptable:  <1g total fat and average about 110-150 calories per serving. Add in unsweetened soymilk and a banana and that’s one lip smacking power breakfast that can surely beat pancakes and tapsilog (Filipino breakfast of dried beef, fried egg and garlic fried rice). A breezy, hasty and nutrition-packed breakfast—all the more reason to wake up early!

We shouldn’t revel in the sugary wonder of all cereals though. While discussing them all at length can be tedious, here are some brands your grocery carts and pantries should not contain: Froot Loops (Kellogg’s), Frosted Flakes (Kellogg’s), Trix (General Mills), Oreo O’s (Post), Fruity Pebbles (Post), Cookie Crisp (General Mills), Lucky Charms (General Mills), Cocoa Puffs (General Mills), Cookie Crisp (Nestle) —sweetly suicidal sans the nutritional value. Pair them with whole milk and welcome to Biggest Loserville! To know more about the nutritional info on these cereal brands, check out: http://www.acaloriecounter.com/breakfast-cereal.php

I know a lot of people who skip breakfast in their weight loss endeavor, but the opposite holds true. Breakfast is like the sinister sitter who lets you eat all the Oreos for dinner without telling mom. Breakfast gives us the perfect excuse gorge on sugary delights disguised as cereal. So really now, why ever skip breakfast?!

This faux allergy to sugar has driven me at great lengths to curb the sweet craving, without a hint of success. All day long I’ve been imagining cheesecakes, chocolate chip cookies and gelato. At one point I even considered taking home a gallon of cookies and cream ice cream but banished the thought before I actually got the chance to act on it. 

Desperation led me to consider the lesser evil of an alternative: going sugar-free.

Which led me to my post work, blissful indulgence, the Healthy Sugar-Free Carrot Cake by LowCal (P110 perslice). Spotted in Parvati, Trinoma and Mercato Centrale (for the weekend epicures), the Carrot Cake is wonderfully moist and smooth and emancipated from mankind’s favorite compound, sugar. The cream cheese frosting is pleasingly light yet enough to make us forget about those sinister chocolate cravings. The cake itself is jammed with a smorgasbord of fillings—chopped walnuts, pineapples, cinnamon and of course, carrots—that blend well together and create that indomitable dessert. Already a fan of carrot cake, LowCal’s Sugar Free version is by far, superbly baked and maintains the delectably moist aspect that is frequently lost in most commercial cakes. The carrot cake imparts a mild cinnamon-carrot flavor yet still offers a fresh, smooth and satisfying tang of sweetness that every dessert lover searches for. Good thing my search led me to Parvati! 

Hmmm.. what to try next?

By the way, LowCal also offers sugar-free Chocolate Cake at P120—that, I have yet to try. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

We’ve heard them all before:

Don’t skip meals.

Eat more that 3 meals a day, in small portions.

Don’t starve yourself (or you’ll get fatter).

Eat, drink and be merry!

All right then, I'm good to go.

On second thought, don’t bother lecturing the Filipino on dietary wisdom, since these wee bits of advice already form part of the daily ritual that goes by many names: merienda, snack, break, recess, kainan (“eating time”), tsibog (“food”), bogchi (still “food”) and the more discreet: patikim (“Can I taste?”), pahingi (“Can I have some?”) or Libre (“Your treat!” Very common as I seem to hear it everyday.) Naturally, food forms the center of our universe and a day without merienda can already be considered a “diet” move. “No thanks!” as a response to a food offer is unheard of in the workplace and once everyone around you starts munching on their cookies, poking around their fish balls and slurping their noodles, it’s time we reach out for our hidden stash as well, rather than suffer the indignity of a grumbling empty stomach.

My hidden stash has been dwindling lately, from budgetary cuts to my newfound, made-up allergy to sugar. Still in the process of discovering the perfect (Note: yummy, low-cal, low in sugar, CHEAP and conveniently packed) snack, I’ve listed the runners-up. They may not appeal to everyone, but they sure have helped alleviate the pangs of hunger and the sudden dizzy spells of not having eaten for 3 hours.

Can you believe it? 3 hours without food—that’s like a hunger strike. What, is it Lent?

Don’t stay hungry. Pick up a righteous snack. Hope I can help you in that department.

1.       Del Monte Fit ‘n Right Fruit Snacks (Pineapple)

Ah yes, the L-Carnitine phenomenon secures any Fit 'n Right product at the top spot, the Fruit Snacks included of course. Retailing at about P23-24 per cup (Mixed Fruits and Pineapple), we can get 115g of pure fruit and L-Carnitine goodness sans the fat. Imagine that, for nearly the same price as 2 bananas or 1 hot fudge sundae, we get a dose of healthy fruit with less sugar, and the best part is that it only contains 30 calories!

I've noticed though that not everyone's fond of fruit, especially pineapples. When you're hungry or just bored in the office, reaching for a cup of fruit is the last thing in your mind. People would rather order in pizza or look for real carbs in the cafeteria - a natural response to workplace hunger. A fruit cup does not really appeal to the 3pm taste buds and requires refrigeration if you want to enjoy it fully. I so get it, which is why it's not the only snack in the list. If you're craving for something partly sweet, fruity and juicy and can well afford to shell out more that P20, this fruit cup would be superb. At least you won't have to worry about burning off the calories after work.

Nutri facts at a glance: 1 container = 155g, 30 cal, 0 fats, 8g carbs, <1 fiber, 5g sugar.

Ingredients of Pineapple Fruit snacks: Pineapple, water, 300mg L-Carnitine, ascorbic acid, citric acid, sucralose.

2.       Nestle Yogurt

This decade has introduced Yogurt as the Superfood of our generation and has spawned trendy derivatives to milk its popularity: frozen yogurt, yogurt drinks, kefir drinks, yogurt milk, frozen Yakult, yogurt candies, etc. Amazing how lactobacillus can be super appealing despite its dubious-sounding name. Despite the price (foreign brands can fetch for about P100), there are always blank spaces and carts colliding in the race to get the prized yogurt.

Nestle seems to occupy a third of the shelf space with its Fruit Selections Yogurt, not to mention the Yogurt drinks and newly introduced 0% Fat Yogurt which honestly tastes like WATER. I endured the tasteless and watery Mango and Strawberry 0% Fat variants for a week and ended up eating more because I always paired them with a banana (a total of 170 calories). Among the regular flavors though, I most enjoy the Berry Mix. Maybe because it's purple or manages to capture the delightful blend of the better tasting berries. Whatever. This is one, I would endure despite it 110 calorie and 2g fat content.

For the same nutritional value as a granola bar, why not go for the yogurt? Less sugar, fruit flavored, comes close to ice cream (for the hot weather), and most of all, it contains lactobacillus. Who can say no to that?


3.       Banana

Gotta be clear on what “banana” I’m talking about with its vast assortment in the local food lingo. We have banana turon (deep-fried banana with langka wrapped in lumpia wrapper), banana cue (sugar-coated fried banana), maruya (mashed banana fried in some kind of thick creamy batter) and other banana street food creations I have never heard of. What I’m referring to though is rather simple, the plain, raw, oil-free fruit—all 110 calories of it.

A Cavendish banana retails for about P12 at 7-11 and Mini-stop branches. (How long ago was this photo? Selling the banana at P10 each. Hmph.) Rich in Potassium, zero in fat and a major recovery snack, the banana can probably give water a run for its money if it were only in liquid form. A medium-sized banana can surely battle hunger and banish one’s quest for sweets since it does contain sugar. Going overboard has never produced any heart failing results but sugar spikes are common, so don’t try finishing a dozen in a day. There’s a reason why we evolved to Homo Sapiens.

4.       Apple


An apple a day keeps the doctor away, but in comes the dentist. At 95 calories, the apple can be the banana's greatest contender to sweet, sinless snacks. True, true. It tastes great, packs in a massive crunch, provides sufficient energy and is fat-free. Fiber is at the higher level and let's not forget that it can keep us full for hours, as it can simmer down the cravings of that nasty sweet tooth.

Like the banana though, don't let Eve's bait tempt you into hoarding this fruit, since it also contains nearly 19g of sugar. That's like guzzling bottles of juice or chomping on candy all day. Keep yourself to an apple a day and you'll have every reason to flash those pearly whites. Don't forget to brush though.

5.       Skyflakes

Skyflakes capitalizes on the Filipino’s knack for getting hungry and has amassed its popularity on being the drawer, bag, lunchbox and pantry staple. Yes, it has a lingering presence that goes beyond our TV screens. Thin, lightly salted and goes well with practically anything, Skyflakes has got to be the ultimate hunger killer—which is certainly the case since 3 crackers pack 105 calories, 3g fat (2g of which is saturated) and 200 mg of sodium. As an added bonus, it is said to ward off another pestilence called diarrhea and single-handedly dominate every dieter’s meals.

But don’t believe everything they tell you. With its calorie and sodium content enough to battle the common "chichirya" (local term for snacks or junk food), an ingredient list that provides no nutritional value (save for a minute amount of oats) and the awful fact that it isn’t even that filling (come on, you agree, right?), even Skyflakes isn’t perfect. Yes, it’s human after all.

6.       Chocolate Milk

Come on, we're adults, so don't expect me to talk about Selecta Moo or Magnolia Chocolate Milk Drink. I know they taste great, but really now, who brings a carton of chocolate milk to the office? Unless I want to be the official milk guzzler or plan to fatten up for Biggest Loser. I don't suppose, "But mommy was the one who packed my lunch today!" would actually work as a credible excuse, in the office. Especially in front of the actual mommies.

Digression aside, it's time we went for the fits-in-my-pocket chocolate drink - Milo 3 in 1.Now that's more like it. It's lightweight, high in calcium and rich in the Milo goodness we all grew up to love. Mix it with your afternoon coffee or dump it in your mouth (make sure your seatmate's off somewhere when you do this) and enjoy a power surge coated in yummy Milo form. The sugar content is rather dubious (I can't find it!), so I haven't indulged lately. Also, I've been pairing it with something solid to counter the sweetness, so I normally end up eating and drinking calories (A sachet contains 103 calories already) for my snack. Sugar and carbs do not really make a wise meal.

The same goes for Nesvita and other cereal drinks - too sweet and a pain to mix in the office. I've not really included the high maintenance snacks that require a spoon, hot water and mug. Too tedious for me, lazy me. Also, with my made-up allergy to sugar, I've been abstaining from Nesvita (Chocolate variant has 7.9g sugar while Orignal has a whopping 11g - my goodness!) and its cohorts because their sweetness level is enough to give me hives, and I wouldn't want to go on sick leave all because a cereal drink caused it. HR would never believe me!

7.       Cup Noodles

Seeing the styro cup from afar already screams Nissin Seafood Cup Noodle, complete with the garnishing and aroma of mouth-watering ramen. A bit on the heavy side, it makes the perfect snack for those who missed lunch or just had Skyflakes for lunch. With 330 calories and 2g fiber, who needs rice and a viand when all you need is hot water and you're good to go!

Of course we all know the danger of ingesting too much cup noodles. Well I didn't say that we should eat this every day. With its 7g saturated fat (1/3 of the day's needs), 1690 mg sodium (your other meals better not contain salt anymore) and 25 mg cholesterol (gulp!) it should be eaten in moderation or shared to the denizen at the nearest cubicle. Since it is a bit pricey at about P70-100 per cup, I don't suppose we can afford this kind of daily snack anyway!

Local counterparts should be likewise explored like Lucky Me and the sotanghon cup that packs in fewer calories and cost way less than P50. Go try them all, but not everyday please. This is not the best way to control population.

8.       Hot Fudge Sundae

Summer and salty food can make us mindlessly queue at the nearest Froyo or DQ counter. At P25 and only 330 calories, why not opt for a Mcdonald's sundae? Save up on more calories by going for a sundae cone.

You can’t deny the fact that the sundae strangely goes best with French fries but resist the urge! The sundae alone already contains 7g of saturated fat and a whopping 48g of sugar, but then, no one ever said that ice cream makes you thin, right?

Diet aside, Mcdonald's already sells the least priced and rather edible (Believe me, you do not want to know what goes in a DQ Blizzard or a Wendy's Frosty) ice cream there is in the Philippines. It tastes pretty good too. And for only P25, please don't be stingy and allow yourself a cup of sweet bliss. You'll burn it anyway. Right?

9.       Dark Chocolate


Rich in flavonoids and other stimulating happy hormones, chocolate is probably the next best alternative to getting high, if you’re downtrodden, pissed or just plain sleepy. I mean, getting intoxicated can get you fired, but noshing on a bar will give you the necessary lift while still maintaining productivity and your job.

So, who wants to be employee of the year? But wait, make sure it’s dark chocolate (at least 60% cacao content), not milk or white. We don’t want a living paradox—a fat model employee. If that were the case then I’d rather get high.

I've gotten pretty fond of Meiji Black Chocolate because it tastes light and bitter and goes pretty well with tea, oatmeal and my peanut butter sandwich. Problem is, I could never I understand the nutritional info - all in Japanese characters! All I can get in English is the ingredient list: Sugar, cocoa mass, vegetable fat, whole milk powder, lactose, cocoa butter, lecithin and flavoring.

Hmmm.. if you've got anything on the darker side, I'd really appreciate it!

10. Popcorn

It’s time we stopped referring to popcorn as mere theater food. The degradation ends now! Do recognize popcorn as the new comfort food and power snack rolled into that crunchy kernel, especially if we dig into the naturally prepared varieties. Microwave popcorn packs are a no-no since they contain hydrogenated oils and butter (= heart attack), but Chef Tony’s Sugar-free Popcorn - Original packs in 139 calories and 2% fiber for every 25g serving (that's 1/4 of a big tub).

Sweet, crunchy and undeniably addictive, popcorn is the better alternative to cookies, chips and frosted flakes (Argh, the sugar!). At P120 for that gigantic 100g tub, this sure beats similarly priced goodies: Red Mango with toppings, a slice of Starbucks Cheesecake, a fastfood combo meal, a Bag of Lay's plus drink, or a Big-time Taters popcorn with butter and soda (bad, bad, bad, plus you can't stash it as tomorrow's snack).

Good thing Chef Tony thought of the resealable tub so we can keep all the popcorn to ourselves! Now that's what we call a Smart Snack.

If you’ve noticed, I’ve not listed food items such as peanuts (I don’t like them), carrot or cucumber sticks (Let us uncover our rabbit selves at home but when in the office, it is best to stay in human form), sandwiches (that’s what I have for lunch), cookies (those especially baked for diabetics and weight watchers taste like paper), tuna (will stink up the office), chips (I said low-cal, not a fat fest), pizza, ice cream, fries (all inconceivable here) as this is my biased and self-serving list.

If this list helps you decide what to stock up on your next grocery trip, then great, I feel so fulfilled.

If you find this utterly useless though, then that’s not really my problem.

“Have a gum," would be my parting words.