DIY Halloween costume: Toddler Cleopatra

As a girl who went trick-or-treating every year while I was growing up, I really miss Halloween. That’s because Halloween is a non-event in the Netherlands. Though it’s gaining popularity, especially in cities like Amsterdam with large international communities, Halloween events are few and hard to find.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Halloween party, people rarely go all out to dress up. Remember my Angry Birds maternity Halloween costume? I wore that to an expat Halloween party where, like, four people wore something vaguely resembling a costume. Pfff.

When our babysitting coop announced a Halloween meetup, I decided to just go for it and make Tala a DIY Halloween costume. And why stop at there when Mama and Papa could wear matching costumes too?

So, here’s a family Halloween costume idea that reflects the true power relationships in our family: Cleopatra and her slaves.

Cleopatra costume toddler and family

Because, truth is, in a household with a toddler, the toddler rules!

The idea started with Tala’s hair. I racked my brain for a fictional character with black hair and blunt bangs, who could come with a couple of matching characters. Then it hit me: Cleopatra.

Halloween costume inspiration Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

I must’ve spent hours poring over pictures of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. With 65 costume changes throughout this ruinously expensive 60s film, there was a lot of inspiration! Eventually I said, “Well, eff the first look, what mother on earth has time for that?!” and decided that Tala’s Cleopatra DIY Halloween costume would be inspired by elements from the second and third looks pictured here.

Here’s how it turned out.

Cleopatra DIY costume toddler

Gotta tip my hat to DIY bloggers here, because taking step-by-step pictures and a final, decent picture for a DIY blog post is hard. Believe me, I tried—and failed miserably.

Halloween costume Cleopatra toddler DIY

What I can do, however, is just give you a quick run-down of what I used and how I did it. Oh, and show you more pictures of Toddler Cleopatra, of course!

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Birthday # 33

Last weekend I turned the ripe old age of 33. Yay!

I’m not the type to throw a big birthday party. I did when I turned 21, and I had a smallish dinner out with friends when we first moved to Amsterdam. But nothing makes me happier than to curl up in a cozy, quiet little bubble of love with Marlon and Tala. Over the years, Marlon has become such an expert at making me feel cherished that I hardly feel the need to seek birthday adoration from other people.

I woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the sight of this beautiful chocolate ganache cake from Patisserie Holtkamp. Holtkamp is known for the best cakes in Amsterdam, and supplies their desserts to some of my favorite cafes. Tip: call ahead to order a birthday cake, because the ones in the bakery go fast!

Patisserie Holtkamp Amsterdam chocolate cake

Yes, we breakfasted on chocolate cake. And yes, Tala had some too.

Tala and chocolate cake

Then it was time to address the elephant in the room, which you might have seen on Instagram.

Giant birthday present for my 33rd

Few things can awaken your inner child like seeing a giant birthday present sitting in your living room. If you want to make someone feel younger, not older, on their birthday, this is definitely how you should do it. So let’s unwrap it, shall we?

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Cooking class in Tuscany: Lessons from an Italian kitchen

To end our Tuscan trip, I had planned a special treat for Marlon: a one-day cooking class in Tuscany, in a real Italian kitchen.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany

It’s no secret that in our home, Marlon rules the kitchen and I am mostly useless merely his lowly assistant. I knew he would love learning the secrets of a real Italian kitchen hands-on, from a real Italian mama. I may be bad at cooking, but I’m great at finding things online! So, after searching for a one-day class that would fit our schedule and budget, I found Max&Me: Tuscany Cooking, run by Eugenia and Massimo from their home in Sesto Fiorentino near Florence.

The plan was for me to babysit Tala in Eugenia’s lush herb garden—which by the way contains the happiest, healthiest rosemary I’ve ever seen in someone’s home—and keep her entertained…

Cooking class in Tuscany Tala in the herb garden

not to mention happily fed with the occasional snack of prosciutto…

Tala eating prosciutto

while Eugenia and Marlon worked on our four-course lunch.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany near Florence

And, boy, did Marlon work. “I’m a little scared of her,” he whispered to me before I took Tala out for a walk. Well, if there’s anyone who can intimidate a big man like this, it’s an Italian mama who is the queen of her kitchen! You should have seen his face when she told him that the onions he’d been furiously dicing just weren’t diced finely enough.

But that’s precisely the great thing about doing a cooking class like this. While Eugenia has generously made her recipes available on her blog, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. How a ball of pasta dough feels in your hands when it’s just right; how long to let the flavor of a ragu develop (or even what “fully developed” flavor is); what the freshest, top-quality ingredients really taste like; the little hacks and tricks picked up over a lifetime of cooking—these are things you just can’t pick up from a Youtube video or blog post.

I like to think Marlon absorbed some of Eugenia’s personal standards and stories that day. All of it just inspired him to cook even more. Some of the techniques he learned have found their way into the other things he makes at home, even dishes like Indian curry or Filipino kaldereta.

Oh, and our onions are really, really finely diced now. They’re practically invisible.

But enough about that. You want to see the food, right?

Cooking lesson in Tuscany roast pork with guanciale and potatoes

Let’s begin. Buon appetito!

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Day trip to Lucca

After spending most of our recent Tuscan trip in charming little towns, doing a day trip to Lucca was a refreshing change. It’s a city, but nothing as big and complex as Florence, making it manageable for families like ours, who are traveling with a baby. Renaissance-era walls enclose the Cittadella, the historic heart of Lucca, marking an easy target for day-trippers and reminding me strongly of Manila’s own Intramuros.

The real highlight for us was getting to take a walk along Lucca’s city walls. If you imagine treading carefully along a narrow, crumbling brick wall, take a look at this picture and think again.

Lucca city walls park

Lucca’s formidable walls have been transformed into a wide, tree-lined city park for walking, running, cycling, and just relaxing in the Tuscan sun.

Lucca rooftops from city park

Taking a long afternoon stroll with Tala here made me feel as if we had slipped into the real, day-to-day life of the city—even for just a little while. It’s also a unique vantage point from which to see Lucca—peering into gardens, walking by laundry lines, looking out over rooftops.

Lucca Torre Guinigi

Speaking of rooftop views, all the guide books will tell you to climb Torre Guinigi for the best city views. But we discovered something better…

Lucca rooftops from Sant’Alessandro Maggiore

… which is to climb the tower of the Chiesa e Battistero de San Giovanni e Santa Reparata. (Try saying that 10 times fast.) With 110 steps, it’s an easier climb than the Torre Guinigi’s 230 steps. Plus, you actually get to see the Torre Guinigi from here. Kinda like going to the Top of the Rock, not the Empire State Building, for the best views of New York.

Lucca Sant’Alessandro Maggiore archaeological site

San Giovanni also has ornate ceilings, a small chapel to St Ignatius (of interest if you’re Jesuit-educated, like myself) and a multilayered history. This 12th century church was built on top of a church from the earliest days of Christianity, which was then built on top of a Roman temple, which was then built on top of even older Roman houses. Still with me? The entire archaeological excavation is on display for your viewing pleasure.

Here are a few other highlights from our day in Lucca, the walled city.

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San Miniato: Tuscany’s truffle town

If you’re driving from Pisa to Florence (or vice versa) and looking for a pit stop in between, may I interest you in the lovely hilltop town of San Miniato?

Because, truffles.

San Miniato Tuscany pasta with black truffle

San Miniato is the center of Tuscany’s truffle-producing belt, an area responsible for a whopping 25% of all of Italy’s truffles. That alone should tell you this little town shouldn’t be missed.

Marlon and I stopped here for lunch on our way to K and J’s Tuscan wedding; because we liked it so much, we dropped by again on our way back to Pisa airport. We had truffle everything. I’m not talking about that nasty chemical impostor, truffle oil, either. In San Miniato, generous shavings of the town’s signature product make even the simplest lunch—from fried eggs to a parmesan-and-olive-oil pasta—a sublime stopover.

San Miniato Tuscany white truffle

You can also buy San Miniato’s precious white truffles to take home. At 90 Euro cents per gram, or about €100-135 per piece, white truffles are a bargain right here at the source. But beware: truffles must be used up within four days from the date of purchase. That’s not a whole lot of time!

By the way, San Miniato hosts a white truffle fair during the last three weekends of November. Too bad we were a few months too early.

San Miniato Tuscany black truffles

Black truffles are a more affordable alternative. But they also have the same use-by time frame as white truffles.

San Miniato Tuscany truffle salsa

We decided to go for bottled truffle products, such as truffle oil, salt, butter, honey, salsa and more. Although they have a longer shelf life, they must be consumed within 10 days of opening (even with refrigeration). It makes more sense to buy multiple smaller jars instead of one or two big ones, so that’s just what we did.

Once we got our truffle fix, it was time to turn our attention to the rest of San Miniato. Yep, there’s more to this town than just truffles.

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