Patis Tito Garden Cafe in San Pablo, Laguna

One of my favorite days from my trip home—was that really almost two months ago?—was our first Sunday lunch together as a family. Still exhausted from jet lag, my stomach was tied up in knots at the thought of heading into the city and being swallowed up by the pre-Christmas traffic jams, just to wander around yet another shiny mall packed with dazed holiday shoppers.

So we drove away from it all, further and deeper into the South: to San Pablo, Laguna, the hometown of my maternal grandmother, and to Patis Tito Garden Cafe.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe dining area2

Formerly Kusina Salud, Patis Tito Garden Cafe brings together the rustic charm of an old Filipino provincial home, the lush greenery of a tropical garden, and the homegrown flavors of slow-cooked Filipino cuisine. It is a combination that stirs the senses and feeds the soul, and feels both familiar and unusual at the same time.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe bed and breakfast entrance

Bed and breakfast in a beatiful old Filipino home

The familiarity comes from a deeply rooted love for Filipino culture, and the uniqueness from a creative spirit with an unconventional point of view. Both are the trademarks of owner Patis Tesoro, the designer who is best known for revolutionizing traditional Filipiniana wear with her passion for bold colors, rich patterns and Filipino craftsmanship.

The style and personality that has made Patis a force in Filipino fashion for 30 years is what gives her Garden Cafe its particular flair.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe colorful seating

Color and pattern mix with rustic Filipino furnishings

Patis Tito Garden Cafe Tesoro style

Figurines dressed in Patis’s style, featuring indigenous fabrics, intricate hand beading & embroidery

Patis Tito Garden Cafe art

Husband and wife, owners Patis and Tito Tesoro

It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet Patis herself that day. She’s an inspiring figure. “I was close to your age when I started with this place,” confided Patis, now in her sixties. Marlon and I—co-conspirators, partners, dreamers—looked at each other, wheels in our heads starting to turn. “It’s never too early to begin. Just don’t give up.”

Patis Tito Garden Cafe dining table

I have a special place in my heart for old Filipino houses. It’s an affection I inherited from my mom. I didn’t always feel that way—I was a bratty kid who hated being dragged around to our relatives’ rickety old houses in the province—but now I see what my mom loved about them. Finally being able to share a passion of my mom’s made spending time with her here even more special.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe callado window

Now let’s talk about the food. Mmm, the food.

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Urban Jungle Bloggers: Plants & Coffee

This month’s Urban Jungle Bloggers theme has got me thinking about my relationships with plants and coffee.

At home, plants and coffee have a regular meeting place: at my desk. The fig tree that stands beside my desk can tell you how I love to start my mornings with a cup of coffee while planning my tasks for the day and clearing my mental space for work.

But coffee is only for that quiet time of focusing, planning, and thinking—because when I start working, I get so caught up in words and ideas that my coffee goes cold before I know it!

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Fig and Succulents


A coffee cup or two—sometimes even three—is always planted on my desk, along with tools of my trade: a battered old thesaurus, dictionaries in multiple languages, and notebooks filled with to-do lists and ideas.

But not all the coffee cups on my desk contain coffee.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Coffee Cup Baby Succulent

I’ve been growing this tiny succulent since Judith gave it to me as a single leaf in April last year. When a neighbor gave me a set of these beautiful ceramic cups for my birthday, I knew I’d found the perfect “crib” for my baby. Nestled in this cup on my desk, basking in the light from a huge window, this little succulent gets everything it needs to grow.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Succulent in a Cup

It’s not just plants and coffee that mingle in our household. I’ve discovered that plants and cheesecake get along pretty well, too. Yes, cheesecake.

At our grocery I discovered the most addictive chocolate banoffee cheesecakes, which happen to come in cute, single-serve glass containers. After the cheesecakes are gone (I can’t imagine where they would disappear to!), I dress the glass dishes up with a bit of washi tape, and use them to propagate a few new baby succulents at a time. And so far, so good! Maybe, like people, succulents need a little cheesecake to be happy.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Succulents and Cheesecake

Since moving to Europe from Manila four years ago, I’ve become more choosy about coffee and braver about plants. I’ve grown to find as much satisfaction in brewing an espresso on a stovetop cafetiere as I do in seeing my little green experiments grow a bit more each day.

I don’t always brew the perfect cup, and my plants don’t always make it. But there’s always a chance to try again… to buy a few new plants at the market, nurture them, then sit back and see how it goes. And while I wait, I’m going to make myself another cup of coffee.

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Life update & my first post of 2015

Umm… Happy New Year?

My first post of 2015 comes embarrassingly late. I made the conscious decision to take the holidays of 2014 slow, but I had no idea I would be this slow coming out the gate into 2015.

For those of you who are new to my blog via Rappler, welcome! It isn’t normally this silent around here, but I’m working on getting back into my blogging groove. After almost two months away, so much has happened that I want to share with you.

In December I had the opportunity to tag along with Marlon on a business trip to Linz, Austria…

Life Update 1-2015 Linz

and we squeezed in a day trip to Salzburg, much to the delight of this lifelong fan of The Sound of Music.

Life Update 1-2015 Salzburg

Do you suffer from asthma? Did you know that winter is the peak season for hospitalizations due to asthma? I learned this the hard way when, upon returning from Austria, I ended up in the emergency room and was confined for two days for acute asthma. I was discharged from the hospital less than 24 hours before our 17-hour flight to Manila. Fun times.

But then, soon enough, I was home. With family.

Life Update 1-2015 Family

And friends.

Life Update 1-2015 Friends

And though I made a deliberate effort to meet up with fewer people this time around, my heart was still so full. (So was my calendar. And my stomach.)

Life Update 1-2015 Brunch

And though there were times I swore this would be our last Christmas in the Philippines until Tala turns a manageable age (six seems like a nice round number), mostly it was when we were suffering from the worst jet lag, or watching yet another death-defying jaywalker (carrying a baby or child, no less!) dash in the dark across C5, or sitting through the most ridiculous traffic jams.

Other times, I just felt inexplicably happy. I learned to make my homeland part of my dreams again, and admitted silently to myself that part of me would only truly be complete in the land of my birth.

Life Update 1-2015 Happiness

We celebrated a quiet Christmas and New Year at home with family, and Marlon and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary together in Coron.

Life Update 1-2015 Coron

When we got back to Amsterdam, we struggled with even more jet lag for a week (yay!) not to mention a stubborn flu that hit all three of us at the same time and overstayed its welcome for over a week (double yay!).

In between those nasty events, however, we got to work on something fun and exciting involving two filmmakers, a very expensive film-grade camera, a big international brand, and some of our most cherished places in Amsterdam. I’m dying to share it with you here, but I can’t just yet. Patience is not my virtue.

Life Update 1-2015 Library

Oh, and I got published on Rappler! Conventional blogging wisdom dictates that I should have had blog posts ready and scheduled to take advantage of the huge surge of traffic I got from Rappler, but real life just doesn’t work that way sometimes.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to. A little random, a lot real. I seem to have forgotten most of the things I wanted to do this year, but I promise to put my blogging hat back on and start the nitty-gritty work of sharing the places and discoveries that inspired me while I was offline. I guess that’s just what it means to live now, write later!

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Amsterdam Light Festival: Water Colors canal cruise

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014

Even a beautiful city like Amsterdam needs a little help in the winter. The sun disappears for days on end, and what little light there is fades to black as 3 or 4 p.m. I need a good incentive to brave the cold and dark, to go out and see the city—and I know I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there’s the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Now on its third year, the Amsterdam Light Festival turns the city into an open-air gallery of public art: sculptures, installations, and projections from artists all over the world, all made with light. From over 260 submissions, 39 artworks were chosen to lend Amsterdam a bit of color and brightness in the dark winter months.

There are three ways to enjoy the Amsterdam Light Festival. To go on foot or by bicycle, you can book a guided tour called Illuminade. There’s also a boat route called Water Colors, which is offered by several canal cruise companies from several departure points in the city center.

I went on a Water Colors boat tour and loved it! I didn’t get to take pictures of all the installations (and honestly, some were better than others), but here are some of my favorite artworks from the tour. The first is Light Bridge, an ode to the bridges of Amsterdam by local design studio Tjep. It’s interactive and reacts to movements on the street and on the water.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Light Bridge by Tjep

Rising from the dark canals like a ghostly mangrove forest, Arborescence by Loop.pH (UK) looks both futuristic and organic.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Arborescence

Everyone on the boat fell silent as we sailed beneath the floating circles of Effervescence by Geraud Periole. Simple yet stunning.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Effervescence by Geraud Periole

Inspired by the Mobius strip, Circle of Life by Amsterdam-based architect Rob van Houten turns a symbol of eternity into an entryway for the rush of people flowing into the city.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life Brouwersgracht

Seeing this man and woman together on the bridge, I couldn’t help but think: mood lighting, the romantic Amsterdam canals, and a ring? All the ingredients for a perfect proposal. I sense a missed opportunity here!

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life by Rob van Houten

See more masterpieces of light after the jump, plus a few tips for enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival this winter.

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Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments

Sinterklaas is jarig!

Sinterklaas and Piet printable ornament

That’s Dutch for “It’s Sinterklaas’s birthday!” Today is Saint Nicholas Day, the most well-loved holiday in the Netherlands and the Dutch equivalent of Christmas. I’m savoring the last year before all the Sinterklaas hype starts becoming real to Tala—it’s huge at Dutch daycares and primary schools—and we’ll need to start celebrating both holidays.

That gives me a whole year to start learning all the Sinterklaas songs, watching the daily Sinterklaas News (!) to keep up with the latest movements of Sint, buying carrots for Tala to put in her shoe for Sinterklaas’ horse, and buying Tala a Piet costume that she can wear to the arrival of Sinterklaas from Spain. Yep, it’s a whole other world.

Zwarte Piet printable ornament

For now, I’m perfectly happy to enjoy the peace and quiet with a few touches of Sinterklaas, like these adorable free Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments by Studio Momoki.

Aside from Sint, you can also download three of his helpers, the Pieten. There’s also a black and white version for kids to color in and cut out as a fun craft project.

Vincent Van Gogh Christmas ornament

And, this is totally unrelated to Sinterklaas, but if we’re talking about Dutch icons… I couldn’t resist snapping up this Van Gogh self-portrait ornament at the Van Gogh Museum shop. Perfect for our alternative Christmas tree!

If you celebrate Sinterklaas, a gelukkig Sinterklaasfeest to you and yours. And if you’re getting ready for Christmas like I am, I hope you find something fun to give your holiday decorating a fresh twist. Happy weekend!

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