Team Philippines at the Darden International Food Festival: Take Two

IFF 2014

A more organized, prepared and polished crew this time around. We improved our lumpia, adobo and pancit recipes, along with our clothing and decor, from the prior year and felt much more confident and united this time!

Team Philippines reunited in SY for the Darden International Food Festival to not just attempt to defend our 2013 title, but more so to learn from last year’s (in)experience and embrace our heritage with more confidence.

Perhaps participating in the IFF held more meaning for me this year, as my time in Charlottesville has been the most distance and time away I’ve had from my immediate family in my adult life. With determination, I re-made the dish I vowed never to make again last year after enduring the meticulous process. I ditched the Allrecipes.com instructions and tried to go more traditional from the filling (no potato this year!) to the wrapper (explicitly labled “lumpia” not “spring roll” paper). After a few batches, I came up with the following tried and true recipe for lumpia (AKA Filipino-style egg rolls).

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Lumpia Recipe

(adapted from my mom’s recipe and a few Pinterest suggestions)

For the filling:
1 tbsp vegetable or canola oil – for cooking the filling
1 lb ground pork
2 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced very finely
1⁄2 cup white onion, chopped
1⁄2 cup carrots, shredded (can buy pre-packaged)
1⁄2 cup green cabbage, shredded (can buy pre-packaged)
1⁄2 cup green onion, chopped (reserve some for garnish)
1 large egg, beaten

For the filling’s seasoning:
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp soy sauce

For wrapping and frying:
~ 30 lumpia wrappers (28 came in the package I found) -> Make sure to go to an oriental market and find “Filipino lumpia” wrappers not “spring roll” or “egg roll” wrappers in order to get the right crisp, papery texture.
2 cup vegetable or canola oil
A couple beaten egg whites with some water

For the dipping sauce:
Lumpia traditionally goes with sweet-chili sauce -> Find a bottle of this in an oriental market as well.

Directions:
1) Coat a wok on medium-high to high heat with a tablespoon of oil. Break up and brown pork, stirring often and cooking until no pink shows. Remove pork from pan and set aside. Drain the grease from the pan, leaving a thin coating. Cook down the white onions, along with fresh garlic, for a couple minutes until  white onions are soft and translucent. Stir in the carrots and green cabbage and cook for another couple minutes so that they wilt and meld with the onion and garlic. Stir in the green onion. Finally, add back the cooked pork. Season with soy sauce, pepper and garlic salt. Once the mixture is well-combined and the seasoning is distributed, set aside so that it will be cool enough to handle. Stir in the beaten egg to hold the mixture together and maintain consistency.

2) Place about one and half heaping tablespoons of filling onto the edge of the lumpia wrapper. Roll tightly to the thickness of a cigar. Wet the sides with the egg white mixture. Fold in the edges and roll over with the crease side down to seal it all in. Check out this Youtube video that shows you how to wrap it.

3) Cook the lumpia. Select one of the following methods:

  • Frying method: (w/o deep fryer) Heat deep skillet over medium heat, add 1/2 in. oil and let it heat up for five minutes. Put four to six lumpia in the skillet at a time – however much the skillet can hold with some room around each one. Fry one to two minutes, turning when necessary, so all sides are a golden brown.
  • Baking method: (easier for larger quantities, slightly healthier) Grease a baking sheet and place lumpia with the crease down in rows with room around each. Brush oil over the top and sides to ensure crispiness and a golden brown color. Place baking sheet in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Then, take the sheet out and carefully, using tongs, flip the lumpia over to the other side. Bake again for another five minutes until evenly cooked.

4) Let sit for five minutes to drain on a paper towel and cool slightly. Make sure to cut in half before serving (to let the hot steam out so it doesn’t burn your tongue). Add green onion as garnish and the dipping sauce on the side. This is best served immediately to fully experience the crispiness!

P.S. You can freeze your pre-formed lumpia and cook them later, if you so desire to portion out the servings.

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This dish is a little piece of my childhood that my mother still cooks for me when I come home to Michigan. For the ultimate Filipino feast, fit for a special occasion, don’t forget the pancit (noodles are meant to be eaten on your birthday to represent a “long life” you’ll live) and the lechon (whole, roasted pig) as pictured below from my dad’s uncle’s recent birthday party.

Filipino Party

My dad is one of 17 so we have a lot of extended family. Many of them happen to reside in nearby Norfolk and Virginia Beach. I was so grateful to spend time with relatives at this special party in honor of my dad’s uncle’s 89th birthday.

Summer Nights in Charlottesville

Even though the summer season officially ends on September 20, the school year has already started. This means my social calendar has shifted to events mostly related to Darden.

With the conclusion of summer, I’ve found the following to be the best options of the area for an affordable “night out” while enjoying the season’s beautiful scenery and weather. (P.S. These actually all continue into the month of September so they’re also fun alternatives to the usual get-togethers.)

Polo Matches at King Family Vineyard

Weekly on Sunday afternoons

King Family Polo

This was my favorite summer gathering place in Cville. The above pictures are from the last weekend of summer before my husband came back from his internship.

Highlights:

  • Free admission
  • Encouraged to bring coolers and picnic baskets of food and stay all day
  • Crose wine (a rose that’s perfect for the hot weather and bonus points for a clever name!)
  • Breathtaking view of the mountains
  • Plenty of grass to play lawn games while watching polo
  • At the end of matches, the players ride the horses close to the crowd for pictures and to meet people.
  • A convenient wine cart comes around so I don’t always have to go back to the tasting room.

Low lights:

  • It can get extremely hot if our group doesn’t have a pop-up tent for shade.
  • Depending on where we’ve sat on the field, the bathrooms can be far away, and they are very limited.

 

Fridays after Five Concert Series

Weekly on Friday evenings

Fridays After Five

My co-workers and I liked to go to this event as an alternative to the usual Happy Hour, as it happened right after work at the end of the week. Above photo is when we got caught in the rain.

Highlights:

  • Free admission
  • We can bring our own food for a picnic, but there are also some food trucks on-site, and of course, nearby bars and restaurants on the Downtown Mall for either dinner beforehand or afterward.
  • There are a variety of seating choices: table and chairs, folding chairs, or on a grassy area with a blanket or chairs that we bring.
  • It’s a very short drive with the location that’s right in the city.
  • Drinks are decently priced at $5 each with some local options for wine and beer. (The event requires you to purchase tickets when entering the venue that you later exchange for drinks. One ticket =$5)
  • Tons of bathroom stalls that are maintained and with a line that moves quickly

Low lights:

  • Parking can be a pain. I try to park for free on the street, which tends to be on Monticello Road – It’s a bit of a walk but worth the savings in money. Try to get to the area before 5:30 p.m. if possible to score free spots.
  • It can get very crowded, which means the grassy area also gets occupied fairly quickly.
  • The music is oftentimes a bit too loud for me, as I prefer it to be more background noise to conversation.
  • Kind of annoying that I couldn’t just buy a drink directly from the vendor. Plus: You can’t use leftover drink tickets on another night – So purchase wisely!

 

Starry Nights at Veritas Vineyard

Monthly on a Saturday evening

Veritas Vineyard

The first photo is in the tasting room. The second photo is when my friend Esther visited from Michigan, and we took a walk through the vineyards on a trail she discovered just before the sunset.

Highlights:

  • I’ve really liked the bands they’ve had here: I’ve heard a variety – Motown, Beatles and 80s cover. The acoustics/sound/space work well with varying crowd participation. (ie. I could jump on stage or dance in front of it, OR I could sit farther away so that the band acts as background music to my conversation.)
  • I can bring my own food or I could purchase a nice sit-down dinner. Although I never took the second option, I’ve known those who have who liked what they ate, and the dining area is a bit fancier.
  • There is a variety of affordable wine – especially if you’re in the Wine Club or, like me, have a friend who is in it. (Wine Club members have free admission for one guest, and friends can continue to reap their benefits by getting a discount on bottles. Splitting a $14 bottle of wine is a bargain!)
  • There are plenty of bathrooms – Porta Potties scattered throughout the area and restrooms in the tasting room.
  • On a clear night, there is a beautiful view of the stars and moon above the vineyards.

Low lights:

  • Must pay $15 for admission ahead of time online or $20 at the door if there isn’t a Wine Club friend available ;)

 

Sunset Series at Carter Mountain Orchard

Weekly on Thursday afternoon/evenings

Carter Mountain

It was a bit of a cloudy day, but we still got a beautiful view of the sunset. This photo was taken while sitting on the grass underneath the patio/deck.

Highlights:

  • Sweeping view of the mountains and city at sunset
  • Tons of activities: fruit picking, picnicking, wine tasting, browsing the Country Store (must try the apple cider!)
  • Samples of fresh fruit are available in the store when I just want to buy a bag. My fav fruit I tasted the last time I came were the juicy, sweet white nectarines!

Low lights:

  • Limited bathrooms – I’ve waited in long lines.
  • I couldn’t hear the music as well in certain areas.
  • They do not allow you to bring your own food, and I was not a fan of the restaurant because they quickly ran out of items and what I had (chicken salad wrap) was not flavorful.
  • The wine is not made on the premises (although it is local), and it isn’t especially memorable.

I’ve wanted to try out other outdoor concert series and vineyards, but these were the most popular with close drives to where I live. What are your favorite summer nighttime options in the Cville area?

Serene swimming options

My ideal vacation always includes a beach. I love the warmth of the sun, bare feet and the rushing sound of water. In the past month, I’ve found a few new places to swim other than the usual Virginia Beach.

Sandbridge Beach

When my family from Michigan visited me, we made the three-hour drive to reunite with my dad’s aunts and uncles who live in Virginia Beach. Based off of suggestions from my co-workers, we tried out Sandbridge Beach.

My family and I were so happy to find it a lot less crowded and a lot more clean – and just 10 or so minutes away from the beach all the tourists visit. I enjoyed not bumping into people as I was playing in the waves and having plenty of room to spread out on the sand.

And during an impromptu trip to Richmond, my friend and I discovered the James River at Belle Isle Park is another area to swim. It’s a very different experience than being at the shore of a lake or ocean, but equally as scenic and a much closer drive (one hour away).

Belle Isle Park

There are lots of large flat rocks on which people will set up blankets, towels and even folding tables for picnics and sunbathing. In the more still and shallow part of the river, little children will swim.

In the more rapid portion, we saw adults who were more daring with rafting and kayaking. We spotted one couple on a more peaceful part of the river, who sat on some rocks, partially submerged in the water, with the river current flowing over and past them.

We weren’t prepared for this outing as we didn’t know what to expect, so we sat near the edge – our feet in the water. I hope to return with a swimsuit next time I’m in town.

 

I’m still curious about Virginia’s swimming holes. Any suggestions on which are the best, or are there other nearby (not too crowded) places to swim?

 

Three’s a Charm: Our anniversary in Detroit

Detroit Anniversary Date

Michal and I celebrated our three-year wedding anniversary while I was in town last month. In honor of the big occasion, along with the fact that Michal is interning this summer in our hometown area, we decided to do it big in Detroit.

There happened to be two restaurants opening on the same day we went out on the town, so we just had to try both – drinks and an app at one, and then a more developed dinner at the other. Both Wright & Co. and Antietam treated us well. We especially enjoyed our multiple-course meal at Antietam, with our (bonus!) complimentary champagne. These restaurants definitely represent the resurgence of Detroit’s bygone era, as they were set in restored buildings that were once left abandoned. Check out more details of what we thought of each restaurant on my Yelp review page.

Afterward, we revisited the Detroit Riverfront, an area I remember fondly from childhood, most vividly during the fireworks show of the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival (now non-existent, as it has split into two different events). Michal recently was there when his mother’s artwork was on display during River Days, but it felt all new to me, as much renovation has taken place in the past few years. We giddily ran through the water fountain with all the kiddies and then strolled lazily through the garden and marsh area of Milliken State Park.

All in all, the evening was truly a celebration both of our marriage and of the revitalized city that we will (hopefully) return to after graduation from Darden.

Packing the perfect picnic basket

Picnicking is the ultimate summer pastime in Charlottesville. From live outdoor concerts at night like Fridays after Five in the Downtown Mall to lounging all day at scenic vineyards like during King Family’s Sunday polo matches, there are so many reasons to get together with friends and family for some al fresco dining. (TEASER: I’ll describe these events in more detail in later a blog post.)

Now that we’re about half-way through the summer, I’ve developed a tried and true method for packing the perfect picnic basket.

Find fun finger foods

Sometimes I’ll take the time to make sandwiches and salads, but oftentimes, I go with the most simple picnic meal – a cheese and/or charcuterie plate. It’s quick yet still filling, and obviously goes well with the usual drink of choice in this region and season – wine.

Here’s an example of an array of goodies that I usually have:

photo 1

  • Variety of cheeses (check out this article from Real Simple Magazine for specific suggestions). If you’re going to be outside all day and don’t have cooler, make sure to pack some hard cheeses like Manchego that can withstand the elements better.
  • Dried sausages or other meats like prosciutto and pate
  • Fruits that aren’t messy or fussy when cut or peeled like grapes and clementines
  • Mixed nuts that act as a healthier salt/crunch substitute for chips
  • Bread or crackers to pair with those softer cheeses that spread easily like goat cheese
  • Already cut-up veggies and hummus to sneak in a little more nutritional value

Shop till you drop

The best places to pick up the above foods:

photo 1

Just a glimpse of one line of tents set up at the Charlottesville City Market. It starts to get crowded around 10:30 to 11 a.m. so try to get there early if wanting to avoid lines.

1)      Charlottesville City Market – Fresh and local with unique items not in stores, plus you can usually snag a sample before buying so you don’t blindly commit to a purchase. There are also tons of tents serving cooked food like tacos, crab cakes and omelets so this also makes for a cheap and easy brunch option. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: I’m really into Everona sheep’s milk cheese because of its nutritional value and rich flavor.

2)      Feast – Such a fun store because they have so many samples and everything here is also local (including wine!) Personal preferred picks for a picnic: Port cherry and blue cheese dip (such a decadent combo) and just-sliced salamis sold in small portions.

3)      Foods of All Nations – Pretty convenient in the fact that it’s a small grocery store with lots of local products so you can pick up everyday merchandise, along with special picnic snacks. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: Slightly creamy Appalachian cheese in the local cheese case.

4)      Trader Joe’s – Even though it’s a chain, it still has a lot of unique and healthy options. The cheese case also offers more variety than the average grocery store. Personal preferred pick for a picnic: The cheese soaked in Syrah wine.

Pack with care

photo 2

My husband and I got this picnic “basket” (actually a backpack) for a wedding gift almost three years ago. We used it maybe once or twice when we first got it and then it went into storage, yet just in our past 10 months of living in Charlottesville, we’ve used it at least five or six times. Before all the summer events popped up, we liked taking it with us to picnic on the Lawn on Grounds of the University, or as we set out on a hike in the woods.

You don’t necessarily need something fancy like ours, but the essentials are:

  • Bottles of water
  • Bottle opener/corkscrew
  • Mini cutting board and knife
  • Drinking glasses/cups
  • Plates
  • Napkins
  • Hand sanitizer and/or wipes
  • Mat or blanket

What are your favorite picnic spots in and/or around Charlottesville?

Missing Michigan

Last week, I enjoyed the perks of Michal’s summer internship location in Dearborn, MI.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The Detroit suburb may not be as glamorous or appealing of an area to visit during the summer like Cali or NYC, but we were excited to simply be close to people we’ve missed while living in Cville and Chicago. In the week I visited Michal, I was grateful to be able to witness almost every type of life-changing moment within our circle of friends and family:

  • Helping Michal move into his apartment before he started his new job
  • Co-hosting a baby shower/going-away party
  • Dancing the night away at a wedding with friends from undergrad
  • Surprising a friend on her 30th birthday
  • Celebrating the engagement of one of Michal’s former college roommates
  • Visiting friends who just had their first baby
  • Checking out my parents’ and Michal’s sister’s newly renovated homes, as well as my cousin’s recently purchased home
MichiganVisit

Highlights from my visit to Michigan

In a stage in which there is so much transition and uncertainty, it is so reassuring to know some parts of life can still remain the same and that we can always “come home.” I’m looking forward to my next visit to obviously see my husband, but to also spend more time with all of our loved ones.

Not to mention, Michigan is best experienced in the summertime. (HINT: A topic for a later blog post.)

I appreciate any tips on how to answer the question: “Why come back to Michigan?”

 

Congrats to the students and partners of the Class of 2014!

Graduation

As I watched the Class of 2014 graduates walk across the stage while their partners snapped photos, I felt more emotion than anticipated yesterday.

On Saturday, when I volunteered at Darden’s 29th Annual Pig Roast in honor of the graduates, I briefly chatted with a few SY partners in the midst of running around and refilling trays and bowls of food. But on Sunday, I could actually take in what was being said as an onlooker in the audience of the Final Exercises in Flagler Court at Darden.

I soaked up every detail, and in the course of a couple of hours, I felt emotions ranging from excitement and pride to sentimentality and nervousness. These emotions stood out the most to me:

    1. Anxiety – while getting advice about reserving hotel rooms and restaurant dinners as early as possible for out-of-town guests (some saying to even start now – one year away from when my husband will graduate!)
    2. Admiration – while seeing proud parents carry their infant children, born during the years at Darden, across the stage and knowing how much those students and their partners had to juggle with an already hectic schedule
    3. Awe – while listening to special recognition from faculty of students who contributed in a myriad of  ways to Darden, such as mentoring FYs and running different organizations
    4. Nostalgia – while taking a photo of the entire crowd of graduates in caps and gowns because the moment transported me back in time to when I used to work at the graduation ceremonies in my past profession as a high school teacher
    5. Mixture of sadness and gratitude – while watching students sing the Irish blessing “Until We Meet Again” and then while realizing that we are only one year away from this moment…
    • I grew tearful because not only was I finding it hard to say goodbye to certain SYs I’ve gotten to know, but I was finding it much harder to recognize that half of my time in Cville is now done.
    • Yet, I am grateful because this past year has truly made me a better person and because I at least still have one more year left in this place that has become my home.