Viewing: Food & Drink

Date night: House of Bols cocktail workshop

Paris was our Valentine weekend treat, but on Valentine’s Day, Marlon and I changed it up a bit. After years of staying in and ignoring this most commercial of holidays, we actually went out for a Valentine-themed date night.

Oh, stop cringing, themed dates don’t have to be cheesy. In fact, they can be fun—as we discovered when we did a Valentine cocktail workshop at The House of Bols: Cocktail and Genever Experience.

Amsterdam House of Bols Genever

Home to the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand, The House of Bols has been distilling liqueurs in Amsterdam since 1575. Its signature product is jenever,  a blend of distilled malt wine and juniper berries that is Holland’s national liquor and the predecessor of modern-day gin. The house brand Bols Genever (hello, gorgeous bottle!) is one of the first-ever cocktail liqueurs and dates all the way back to 1820.

Our evening started with a tour of the House of Bols Museum, which has won the Dutch Design Award for Best Exhibition and Experience. From elegantly calligraphed labels to its gleaming copper distillery, this smallish, cozy museum offers a sensory experience of Bols’ history and heritage.

Amsterdam House of Bols Museum

My favorite part of the museum was the room where we got to “taste” each of Bols’ 38 flavored liqueurs… with our noses. *sniff sniff* Such an unusual and fun experience!

Amsterdam House of Bols cocktail bar

The “museum” part of the visit ends when the “cocktail” part of it begins: with a cocktail at the Mirror Bar, which is included in the price of admission. I wish Bols had a standalone cocktail bar outside the museum—their menu features some truly fabulous cocktails!

Amsterdam House of Bols typical Dutch height

I just had to snap this picture because it is the perfect example of what I have to deal with as a 5’1″/152cm Filipina living among the tallest people on the planet.

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Paris eats: Le Dome Cafe’s seafood platter

More than romance and lights, Paris to me means fantastic restaurants and superb food. After living in a city with rather limited dining out options, I salivated over the idea of being able to waltz into practically any cafe or brasserie and feast on more than just the regular complement of sandwiches and soups.

We decided to splurge on our first evening out in Paris with dinner at Le Dome Cafe in Montparnasse.

Le Dome Cafe Paris Montparnasse

Le Dome Cafe is the quintessential Paris brasserie at its turn-of-the-century, glamorous best.

Le Dome Cafe Paris Montparnasse outside seating

All sumptuous reds and gleaming brass, Le Dome is a throwback to turn-of-the-century Paris, where leading intellectuals, artists and authors of the day would gather here for food and conversation. 

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Paris eats: Du Pain et des Idées

It isn’t every day I can savor breakfast from one of the best bakeries in Paris—if not the best. So, one crisp and sunny morning, I trekked across Paris on foot, baby and husband in tow, to worship at baker Christophe Vasseur’s temple of bread and ideas…

Du Pain et des Idees Paris boulangerie

the aptly named Du Pain et des Idées.

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El Nido town: Rustic quirks & mango rum

Staying in the town proper is the way to visit El Nido on a shoestring. While the swanky side of El Nido is definitely still on my bucket list, there are a few reasons—other than your budget—to enjoy El Nido town.

El Nido Palawan Bacuit Bay sunrise

Waking up to this literally on our doorstep was one. This beauty is democratic: everyone gets a gorgeous sunrise on the water, regardless of the number of digits they forked over for accommodation. I love it.

El Nido bay

Natural beauty is a given, but what I enjoyed most about mainland El Nido is how undeveloped—and how real—it still is. Granted, this means that you’ll discover the less-than-idyllic side of island living. For example, there’s no electricity from 6am to 2pm. There are no ATMs on the island, so bringing enough cash for your entire stay is a must.

The soil is too salty and claylike to grow vegetables, so veggies have to be brought over by sea from Manila, sometimes as infrequently as once a month. There are no poultry farms on the island, because the intermittent electricity supply can’t power the heat lamps needed to raise chickens on a large scale. Anything not grown or produced here—from eggs to bottled water—has to come in by boat, which inflates the prices of most basic goods on El Nido as compared to similarly remote provincial towns and villages.

Despite all those challenges, generations of people—Filipino and foreigners alike—have fallen in love with El Nido and have chosen to start afresh here.

El Nido Palawan Trattoria Altrove

That’s why you’ll find that the longest lines for dinner are for the authentic wood-fired pizzas of Trattoria Altrove, housed in an old bahay-na-bato…

El Nido crepe stand

and why you can get a real French crepe from a sawali-roofed plywood shack just like this.

La Salangane bar El Nido Palawan

In fact, the presence of a thriving French community in El Nido is the raison d’etre for La Salangane, my favorite bar and restaurant of this whole trip.

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Manila eats: Grace Park at One Rockwell

You don’t think I could have just five memorable meals during a three-week vacation in Manila, now could you? I saved my favorite for a separate post: Grace Park, Gaita Fores’ newest restaurant at One Rockwell in Makati.

Grace Park gets a post of its own because, well, it’s just so darn photogenic. Embracing bare concrete, beat-up wood and rusted iron seems a bit of a risk for an upscale establishment. But rustic industrial is the new shabby chic, and it’s all about the mix. Grace Park pulls it off with class and flair in its loft-like interior.

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell industrial stairs

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell chandelier

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell decor

I love old Filipino houses, so it warmed my heart to see details like vintage iron grillwork and bricks brought into the mix. Grace Park was named for the residence of Gaita Fores’ paternal grandmother, and seeing these fixtures immediately makes me picture old, stately family homes like those in old and New Manila.

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell vintage iron grille

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell bricks

Mismatched cutlery and chairs, vintage brown and green glass tumblers, even repurposed kitchen items create an eclectic and homey feel. I’m totally going to steal this idea of using  humble llaneras (cheap aluminum tins with a pretty specific purpose: for making leche flan) as a tabletop container for napkins.

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell repurposed lanera

Then there’s the food.

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Manila eats: my 5 most memorable meals

Now that I know what it’s like to live in a non-foodie culture, coming home to Manila’s foodie scene was gloroius. Manila peeps, you’ve got it gooooood.

In Amsterdam, casual dining options such as the cafe or lunchroom are plentiful, but rarely deviate from a stubborn devotion to bread: tostis (grilled cheese sandwiches), broodjes (sandwiches), paninis (Italian sandwiches) and tartines (open-faced French sandwiches). Do you see a pattern here? “If we can make it at home, why pay for it?” seems to be the general attitude towards eating out. And the practical Dutch are more the type to socialize over after-work drinks and nibbles (borrel and hapjes) than to bond over tables groaning with food.

That’s why eating out becomes a mission of the utmost importance when I’m in Manila.’s list of 50 great restaurants of 2013, plus recommendations from friends, guided me in sampling a few of the new additions to Manila’s booming restaurant scene. Here are some of my favorites.

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Tala’s baptism reception at The Royal Piccadilly

I wanted to host a small reception for Tala’s baptism, as is traditional. (“It’s a big deal—like a wedding, but smaller,” is how I explained it to our friends here.) So I went online to see how Manila moms do their baptismal receptions and first birthday parties.

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the laid-back ease and homemade charm of European children’s parties,  but somewhere between the elaborate Western rodeos, vintage circuses, and Parisian patisserie parties (complete with a “Rue du Glitter Tattoo” and Laduree-inspired patisserie window), I felt… intimidated.

“I just can’t,” I mumbled to myself as I scrolled past pictures of Polo by Ralph Lauren themed loot bags, Hello Kitty centerpieces and fully staffed craft tables during Tala’s naps. In desperation, I grabbed at one thing I thought I could at least manage: a cute cake.

Remembering Chuvaness’s adorable birthday cake led me to The Royal Piccadilly Restaurant and Cakery at Petron La Vista—just steps away from Santa Maria Della Strada, where we chose to have Tala baptized. Perfect! Squelching my doubts about hosting a christening reception at… a gas station (remember, I moved away before this Petron station became a trendy hangout), it was too convenient to resist.

I sent my cake request to sisters Lora and Cielo via Facebook, and booked The Royal Piccadilly for afternoon tea, sight unseen. Without a single balloon, bunting or tarpaulin banner, this lame-ass mom showed up on the day of the reception to find a wonderful, wonderful surprise.

Christening cake by The Royal Piccadilly

Let’s start with this gorgeous cake. I asked for a cake in purple and pink with stars and clouds. With an angel tucking Tala to sleep under a blanket of stars. Oh, and Tala’s stuffed giraffe. Check, check, and check! in the sweetest way.

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DIY hand-lettered Christmas cards

I always make my own Christmas cards, but after having Tala, I realized this year would be different. Nobody would care about my artistic ideas anymore—everyone just wants to see the baby!

I wanted to give the holiday photos my own unique style without going the standard “family posing under the Christmas tree” route. Inspired by this Elle UK spread featuring Michelle Williams and some cool hand-lettered script, I created my own set of hand-lettered Christmas cards using Tala’s black-and-white holiday photos.

I hope everyone I’ve sent them to has received them by now, so I can share them without spoiling the surprise!

Hand-lettered baby Christmas card

I started out with a simple “Merry Christmas!” to warm up. To soften the stark black and white photos, I decided to keep the script fun, loopy and childlike, rather than ornate or fancy.

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Gaga over glühwein

One of the things I love most about Christmas markets in Germany is drinking glühwein, or hot spiced wine. Marlon and I once received a bottle of glühwein as a gift when we were still living in Singapore, and it stayed untouched in our refrigerator for over a year simply because we couldn’t bear the thought of drinking hot wine in a hot, humid climate.

The whole atmosphere is part of the enjoyment of glühwein: being all bundled up, feeling the cold winter air on your face, warming your hands with the cup, standing under the twinkling lights that brighten up a prematurely dark afternoon or evening.

I think we must have hit every single glühwein stall in Dusseldorf. To attract attention in a thick crowd, every stall has its own little gimmick, and that’s part of the fun too.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein carousel

I’m pretty sure this glühwein carousel on Flinger Strasse features celebrities, whom you will probably only recognize if you’re German. I’m willing to guess that the portly lady on the left is Angela Merkel.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein stall chandelier

There’s kitschy… and then there’s classy. These beautiful chandeliers lit up the stall at the Sternchenmarkt, or Little Star Market, on the Stadtbrückchen square.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein copper pot

Traditional or trendy? These huge copper pots at the Marktplatz market are both, and they’re attention-grabbing, too. I loved the simple, clean lines of the terracotta mugs at this stall, but I sat out this round so I didn’t get my hands on them.

Dusseldorf Christmas market gluhwein

Every glühwein stall has its own mug with the year and the name of the market. A small deposit is built into the price of the drink, which you can forfeit if you want to take the mug home.

After three winters of Christmas market trips, Marlon and I have found ourselves with a small collection of these glühwein mugs. Still, we never seem to have enough mugs at home at this time of year, when we’re constantly making coffee and tea at home.

Dusseldorf Christmas market Schneehuttendorf gluhwein

This year we added another one to the collection, mostly because it’s the coolest one we’ve seen so far: a tall, skinny frosted glass mug from the market on Schadowplatz.

I can just imagine Tala in her teenage years rolling her eyes at our mugs. “Can you please get rid of this tacky glühwein mug collection? Please?!”

Dusseldorf Christmas market Sternchenmarkt gluhwein mug

Sorry, anak. I got you one of your own: a little star mug from your first Christmas market. Mommy can’t throw that away, now can she?

Date night: Lion Noir

Much as I love our little tradition of traveling somewhere (or being “whisked away”, as Marlon and I like to say) to celebrate a birthday, I just couldn’t muster up the energy to do it this year. Not even within the Netherlands, not even to a hotel in Amsterdam. How life changes with a baby! The pinnacle of my ambitions could be summed up in four words. Babysitter. Heels. Cocktails. Dinner.  

My dashing date gave me all of that in one smooth move by taking me out to Lion Noir, a restaurant on the Reguliersdwarsstraat in the center of Amsterdam.

Lion Noir Amsterdam exterior

The Reguliersdwarsstraat is one of the most happening streets in the city center for wining, dining and partying. It’s also a well-known gay and lesbian strip, good to know if that’s what you’re after. I love my gays, but I wasn’t out to be a fag hag that night. I just wanted to put on red lipstick, totter around in heels, and get all fancy.

Lion Noir Amsterdam birthday dinner

Lion Noir, with its stylish interiors and moody, slightly mysterious atmosphere, is the perfect place to do just that. The dim mood lighting also gave me a chance to test my new Sony RX100 MII in low light.

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