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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Date night: Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

On my birthday, Marlon took me out for dinner at a restaurant I’ve been wanting to try: Hotel de Goudfazant in Amsterdam Noord.

Date night Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

Don’t be misled by the name: it’s not a hotel. Hotel de Goudfazant is a casual French restaurant with a cool, industrial-chic vibe. This former garage still shows its industrial bones, despite the awe-inspiring glass bottle chandelier that hangs in its huge dining room…

Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

and the large open kitchen, where you can watch the cooks hustle to get your dinner on the table. I love this touch of drama: the kitchen becomes a theater where the cooks are the rock stars.

Open kitchen at Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

I say “cooks” and not “chefs,” because I actually know one of them personally. One of them is a classmate of mine in Dutch class. “So you’re a chef,” I said.

“No, I’m not a chef, I’m a cook,” he replied emphatically. Seeing my puzzled look, he added: “They are very, very particular about the distinction between a chef and a cook here in the Netherlands. Only the boss is the chef. His assistant is the sous-chef. Everyone else is a cook.”

Makes sense, right? After all, chef literally means head, chief or boss in French.

Oysters and champagne Hotel de Goudfazant Amsterdam Noord

As the birthday girl, I got a glass champagne and oysters on the house, care of my chef—er, cook friend. Now that’s a way to start a date night!

Hotel de Goudfazant has a classic French menu with staples such as terrine, venison, steak and lobster, although there are seasonal variations as well. Here, French doesn’t mean fussy and hip doesn’t mean hoity-toity—the atmosphere is casual and unpretentious, and service is friendly and attentive.

Because of the low ambient lighting, I didn’t get any decent food photos (you’ll find lots on their Yelp page). But I did get to wander around the rest of their amazing industrial space, as well as hang out with the staff after closing time. Check out more of Hotel de Goudfazant, after the jump.

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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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Five faves: Riga Central Market

Five faves from Riga Central Market

Whether we’re at home or traveling, Marlon and I love to visit markets. Because we stayed at a self-catering apartment in Riga, a trip to the Riga Central Market became a necessary part of our visit, as well as a different insight into the city. Once we ventured beyond the pastel prettiness of the Old Town and stepped across the railway tracks to the market, Riga truly started to get real.

Spread out over five former Zeppelin hangars, the Riga Central Market was Europe’s biggest covered market when it first opened in the 1930s. Today, it’s the nerve center of the city, where people come to buy daily essentials—including, of course, food. Here are five of my fave finds from the Riga Central Market.

1) LATVIAN BREAD.

Riga Central Market bread

In my previous post, I mentioned how good Latvian bread is. (Side note: read this lively account of a baker’s trip to Riga, in which he enthuses that “the best old-world Jewish baking is in Riga.”) At the Riga Central Market, we discovered Latvian bread in all its various forms and hues, from fluffy white loaves to the deepest, darkest rye bread.

But the best of them all were these crunchy, savory bread chips from Latvia’s most famous bakery, Laci. I got seriously hooked on these!

Riga Central Market black bread chips

Of all the things you can do with stale bread, deep frying it and tossing it in a secret mixture of herbs and salt has got to be the best—and the most addictive. Move over, potato chips… bread is where it’s at!

2) SMOKED FISH

Riga Central Market smoked fish

One entire pavilion at the Riga Central Market is dedicated to fish, and I’d say about 2/3 of everything in that pavilion is smoked.

Riga Central Market smoked fish variety

Smoking fish is a big part of local food culture, and here we saw all kinds: fish smoked with garlic, peppers, herbs and spices…

Riga Central Market smoked fish with peppers

even smoked caviar, which formed a kind of chewy jerky.

Riga Central Market caviar jerky

Marlon and I love our smoked fish—as a child traveling to India, I once carried daing and smoked tinapa in my handbag on the flight—so we bought some for our dinners at home. Although our preference would have been to eat it with a heaping plate of hot rice (of course), instead we flaked some smoked mackerel over a big salad with vinaigrette on the side. Yum!

CHEESE

Riga Central Market smoked cheese

Latvians don’t only smoke their fish—they smoke their cheese too. We tried some of the smoked cheese, but I really loved were these soft cheeses crusted in different herbs and spices. My favorite was the cheese at the bottom, which is covered in a curry mixture. If you’re going on a picnic in Riga’s main city park, this with a salty-savory cracker would be perfect.

PICKLES

Riga Central Market pickles

I was once a girl who fished pickles out of burgers and left them on my plate, uneaten. Pregnancy changed my relationship with pickles forever, and now I love them!

Next to smoking, pickling is a favorite technique at the Riga Central Market. With all sorts of pickled fruit and vegetables ranging from your usual gherkins to beets, tomatoes, whole heads of garlic, and even slaw (also known to us Pinoys as atchara), this is pickle paradise. Pregnant women, take note.

FRUITS AND BERRIES IN SEASON

Riga Central Market cherries in season

Latvia is densely forested, with 47% of land covered by lush, green forests. This makes wild berries and fruits abundant, and picking them is a popular summertime pursuit. While we were there in July, these big, bright red cherries were overflowing from market stalls and sidewalk vendors around the city. At less than €5 (Php300) for a kilo, they were super cheap… and Tala loved them, too.

Is that five things already? Okay, this is not a foodie find, but always a favorite: FLOWERS!

Riga Central Market flowers

Flowers from Riga Central Market

IG-Baby's breath from Riga Central Market

Latvians love flowers. There’s even a 24-hour flower market in Riga—you know, for urgent flower needs, such as those 2 a.m. lovers’ quarrels or 5 a.m. train station goodbyes. Our visit to the Riga Central Market ended with a walk past these colorful flower stalls, which was a nice way to leave.

Apart from watching locals go about their daily business, the best thing about the Riga Central Market is that everything is super affordable. I even spotted some bouquets for as low as €1 apiece! I definitely recommend it if you’re in Riga on a budget—and even if you’re not, it’s a chance to experience Riga, for real.

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Brunch in Rotterdam: Memory Lane

If you think a good brunch is an essential part of a perfect weekend, then you’re a lot like me. And if you just happen to be in Rotterdam for the weekend, I’ve got a gem of a brunch place for you.

Rotterdam brunch Memory Lane

For a delicious brunch in Rotterdam, look no further than Memory Lane. Situated on Hoogstraat in the city center, this casual, cool restaurant serves both breakfast and a proeverij (tasting) lunch until 5 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays.

Marlon and I started our 24-hour date night in Rotterdam with brunch here. I was already charmed by their hilarious Twitter come-ons, but when we walked in we knew we had chosen the right place.

Rotterdam brunch Memory Lane restaurant

It’s homey, cozy, unpretentious, and casually cool without trying too hard. The relaxed combination of recycled wood, old cafeteria-style tables and chairs, and haphazardly piled cookbooks appealed to the deepest recesses of my eclectic granny heart.

Rotterdam brunch Memory Lane cookbooks

And then there was the food.

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