My lovely memories of Siena

Siena from the distance

Siena from the distance

We were in Tuscany three years ago and what a great time it was to spend two glorious weeks of summer in the almost magical Tuscan countryside.

I’ve blogged about this Tuscan holiday some months ago but not about the lovely city of Siena which my husband and I explored one hot summer day (without Francesca and my parents-in-law who opted for the soothing waters of the swimming pool back at our agriturismo apartment). I can fully understand them as a busy and touristic city is no place for a child and the grandparents on an extremely warm day, with the temperature soaring beyond 40 degrees Celsius.

Siena first came into my consciousness as a 9 year-old, not because of Geography lesson but religion because my parents transferred me and my brother and sister to a Catholic school run by the Dominican sisters of St. Catherine of Siena. I am not a very religious person but it was still mystifying to be in a city which I have always known to exist and more so, to pray inside the basilica right in front of relics of St. Catherine’s earthly existence.

My husband and I enjoyed the whole adventure. The drive to Sienna through a beautiful countryside was something straight out of a movie setting turned a.k.a. Reality — inviting sunflower fields, charming hilltop Medieval villages, vineyards and olive orchards, rolling hills turned golden by the ripening wheat fields dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees.

It was fun to see and experience a bit of Siena. From the Basilica of St. Catherine, we proceeded to have lunch at a restaurant where we had a good vantage point to observe the city. The restaurant’s interior still boasts of those old days’ charm from the dried peppers hanging on the wall together with the ham, dried sausages, garlic, etc.

Lunch was excellent. I opted for beef carpaccio as a starter and risotto for main course. The carpaccio which was well chilled was simply perfect to have on a very warm day. My husband loved his pizza. Our dessert of an almost melt in the mouth chocolate cake was divine.

We headed next to the centre of Siena. I love the narrow streets, the well-preserved architecture, colorful flowers on pots suspended in the air and the lively atmosphere of the city. I wanted to see the inside of the Duomo but decided not to as there was a long queue and the entry tickets were being sold elsewhere, a typical Italian complexity that is baffling for visitors like me.

We checked some interesting shops — galleries featuring Tuscan landscapes, leather shops, ceramic shops and the most interesting was one whose alchemic practices date back to the Renaissance. This shop’s history even goes back to the time of Catherine de Medici whose use of perfumes and scented soaps was an influence she brought to France when she married Henri II. I couldn’t resist the urge to try some of their products and bought some scented lavender soaps and bath salts to share with my mom-in-law who loves these things a lot.

After a few more ins and outs to the shops, it was time to head back to our agriturismo. A dip in the pool was becoming too irresistible before starting the dinner preparation.

Siena is one city that I’d love to visit again in the future, albeit at a much more pleasant temperature than the 42 degrees Celsius that it was.

Sunflower fields and hilltop Medieval villages from afar

Sunflower fields and hilltop Medieval villages from afar

Sunflower visited by a buzzing friend

Sunflower visited by a buzzing friend

Hubby and me on our way to Siena

Hubby and me on our way to Siena

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Rolling hillsides turned gold from the ripening wheat grains dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees

Rolling hillsides turned gold from the ripening wheat grains dotted by sentinel-looking cypress trees

Olive orchards

Olive orchards

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena

The Basilica of St. Catherine of Siena

The Duomo

The Duomo

The restaurant where we had a very nice lunch

The restaurant where we had a very nice lunch

I always find this type of display very inviting

I always find this type of display very inviting

Beef carpaccio starter

Beef carpaccio starter

Pumpkin risotto

Pumpkin risotto

Monstrous pizza ordered by the hubby

Monstrous pizza ordered by the hubby

Melts in the mouth chocolate cake

Melts in the mouth chocolate cake

Cappuccino to keep us awake after the very nice lunch

Cappuccino to keep us awake after the very nice lunch

Can't resist getting a little refreshing relief under the 42 degree Celsius heat

Can’t resist getting a little refreshing relief under the 42 degree Celsius heat

Gallery featuring Tuscan countryside sceneries

Gallery featuring Tuscan countryside sceneries

Shop of leather goods

Shop of leather goods

Shop of religious goods

Shop of religious goods

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Italian ceramics

Masks

Masks

Travel guides

Travel guides

Perfumes whose formulas date back to the Renaissance era

Perfumes whose formulas date back to the Renaissance era

Couldn't resist some of these perfumed soaps

Couldn’t resist some of these perfumed soaps

These perfumed bath salts smelled divine

These perfumed bath salts smelled divine

Soaps from the days of the Medicis

Soaps from the days of the Medicis

Dried Italian herbs

Dried Italian herbs

One of the many ancient narrow streets

One of the many ancient narrow streets

At the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena is held twice a year

At the Piazza del Campo where the Palio de Siena is held twice a year

Siena and its famous Torre del Mangia

Siena and its famous Torre del Mangia

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

A street in Siena

The Basilica of St. Catherine from Siena's city centre

The Basilica of St. Catherine from Siena’s city centre

A dish from those days when life was simple…”pinangat” or “tinuktok”

Pinangat

Pinangat

You can take the girl out of the province but not the province out of the girl. That’s me, still a “probinsiyana” or “province girl” at heart despite living for many years here in Holland and having seen a bit of the world.

In the Philippines where I come from, I grew up in one of the provinces of the Bicol region back in those days when life was simple. From food to the games we played as kids, I can still remember vividly how almost everything was available locally — fish and crustaceans caught from the river to vegetables and spices that were abundantly grown in the backyard. We played with sling shots fashioned from Y-shaped tree branches, we climbed trees and went fishing with hook, line and sinker in the river. Looking at the life we lead nowadays, there is some sort of nostalgia to those good old days.

On this post, I bring you a dish that fills me with longing of the simple life that I know from way back. I can say that this was a poor man’s dish in those days because the ingredients are all sourced out by a poor man from the river for the freshwater shrimp to his backyard for the coconut, taro leaves, ginger, onions, garlic, lemon grass and chillies. Normally, these ingredients cost him next to nothing. The exact opposite is true for me here in Holland in recreating this dish because all the ingredients being imported abroad cost an arm and a leg.

Many calls this dish “pinangat” but in our town’s vernacular, this is called “tinuktok” which literally means finely chopped. And why is that? It is because all the ingredients from the young coconut to the shrimps and spices all needed to be chopped finely with a sharp knife or cleaver.

This dish is simply lovely with the right mix of flavors and spiciness. It stands apart from the mainstream Philippine cuisine to which the Spanish influence is so strong. Served with rice, be ready to eat with your hands!!!

Ingredients:
½ kg freshwater shrimp, peeled and seasoned with 1 ½ tbsp salt
600g meat of young coconut (about 5 young coconuts), grated
2 onions, chopped
2 tbsp. grated ginger
6 cloves garlic
a few pieces of chillies (I used 2 birds’ eye chillies and would have used more if not for the special request of the hubby not to make it super spicy)
20 to 30 fresh taro leaves (should be intact with no holes)
kitchen string with which to tie each pinangat
6 to 8 stalks of lemongrass (lower white portions only), smashed
3 to 4 cups thin coconut milk

Key ingredients:  Taro leaves, coconut milk and coconut cream, shrimps, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, shallots and garlic.

Key ingredients: Taro leaves, coconut milk and coconut cream, shrimps, ginger, lemon grass, chillies, shallots and garlic.

Fresh taro leaves

Fresh taro leaves

For the sauce/ topping:
2 cups thick coconut cream
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
2 stalks lemongrass (lower white stalks), sliced
salt to taste
3 to 5 spring onions, finely chopped

Instructions:
1. Combine the shrimp, grated young coconut, onion, ginger, garlic and chillies and chop them together using a large knife or cleaver until the mixture looks like cornmeal. I used the food processor for this task.

Peeled shrimps, grated young coconut meat, chillies, garlic, ginger and onions ready for fine chopping with a very sharp knife or cleaver.  Food processor is an easy option...

Peeled shrimps, grated young coconut meat, chillies, garlic, ginger and onions ready for fine chopping with a very sharp knife or cleaver. Food processor is an easy option…

Finely chopped ingredients resembling a coarse corn meal -- ready for wrapping in taro leaves.

Finely chopped ingredients resembling a coarse corn meal — ready for wrapping in taro leaves.

2. Wrap 2 to 3 tablespoons of the mixture in two (overlapping) taro leaves and tie each with a kitchen string. I did not have kitchen string so I made use of the stalk of the taro leaves.

Two to three tablespoons of the shrimp mixture in two overlapping taro leaves

Two to three tablespoons of the shrimp mixture in two overlapping taro leaves

Pinangat all ready for cooking in coconut milk.

Pinangat all ready for cooking in coconut milk.

3. Line a heavy-bottom pot with the smashed lemongrass and arrange the pinangat pieces on top. Pour the thin coconut milk over the pinangat.

The pot lined with smashed lemongrass

The pot lined with smashed lemongrass

Pinangat piled on the bed of lemon grass and ready to be cooked with coconut milk.

Pinangat piled on the bed of lemon grass and ready to be cooked with coconut milk.

4. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat, shaking it once in a while to prevent burning. The pinangat is done when the taro leaves are already soft or when all of the thin coconut milk has evaporated.

The pinangat gently cooking in coconut milk.

The pinangat gently cooking in coconut milk.

Almost cooked...

Almost cooked…

5. While the pinangat is cooking, boil together in a separate saucepan the thick coconut cream, garlic, shallots and lemon grass. Season with salt and simmer until the mixture resembles a thick creamy sauce. Sprinkle the spring onions on top and remove from heat.To serve, arrange the pinangat in a wide platter and top with the sauce.

Ingredients for the topping/sauce:  finely chopped garlic, shallots, sliced lemon grass, spring onions and chillies.

Ingredients for the topping/sauce: finely chopped garlic, shallots, sliced lemon grass, spring onions and chillies.

Cooking the coconut cream to which garlic, onions, lemon grass will be added.  Final addition is the spring onions.

Cooking the coconut cream to which garlic, onions, lemon grass will be added. Final addition is the spring onions.

Pinangat up close...simply so yummy!

Pinangat up close…simply so yummy!

Caramel popcorn

Caramel popcorn

Caramel popcorn

I love popcorn but my preference is for the sweet version, preferably caramel popcorn. My husband at first thought of sweet popcorn as very weird and so did his parents. Anyway, since I was really missing sweet popcorn, I scoured the internet for an easy recipe. There were quite a lot of versions and most of them require light corn syrup (typical American) which is not an easy ingredient to find in Holland as supermarkets do not sell them. I could get them from the Asian shops which sell most of the sought after imported foodstuffs.

I didn’t know what to expect from this caramel popcorn recipe but the good reviews were enough to motivate me. Compared to the other recipes that I’ve seen which require baking the popcorn after pouring the caramel a further hour, this recipe was quick and straight forward. Took me less than 15 minutes from popping the corn till the finished product, I was pleasantly surprised by the result. Even my skeptical husband and parents-in-law became instant fans of this caramel popcorn. Warning: A calorie bomb with its ingredients of butter and sugar so be careful as it is so easy to keep on eating especially while watching a nice movie on TV…

Ingredients:

Popcorn
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup popcorn

Caramel
3/4 cup sugar
125 grams butter
2 tablespoons honey
pinch of salt
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped (optional)

Instructions
1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot enough, add the popcorn. Cover with tight-fitting lid. Shake the pan gently when the corn starts popping. Remove from heat when the corn starts popping. Transfer to a large bowl, discarding any unpopped corn.

Plain popcorn - popped from 1/2 cup raw popcorn and 1/4 cup oil

Plain popcorn – popped from 1/2 cup raw popcorn and 1/4 cup oil

2. Make caramel. Combine butter, sugar, honey and salt in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook, bring to the boil, uncovered and without stirring for 5 to 7 minutes or until amber colored.

Caramel is made from 125 grams butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsps. honey and a pinch of salt

Caramel is made from 125 grams butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tbsps. honey and a pinch of salt

Caramel is done when it reaches amber color, around 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat

Caramel is done when it reaches amber color, around 5 to 7 minutes over medium heat

3. Remove from heat. Pour caramel over popcorn and stir until popcorn is coated. Set aside to cool. Break into pieces.

Caramel is poured over the popcorn until evenly coated

Caramel is poured over the popcorn until evenly coated

Picnic and fishing at the Dordogne River

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Picnic under the shade of trees by the river bank makes for perfect summer memories

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

Fishing for baby trout in the Dordogne River

It was yet again another very warm summer day and my parents-in-law’s last day in the Dordogne. After checking out from Le Chambellan which has been their home away from home in the last few days, we all headed to the nearby Dordogne River for one last visit to this idyllic place from where we all had a great time — having picnic and fishing before driving to Bergerac for their flight back to Holland.

With her pink net and just slathered with a thick layer of sunblock, Francesca together with her father spent a great deal of time netting baby and juvenile trouts in the shallow waters of Dordogne while me, Opa and Oma watched with delight in the shades by the river bank. Lunch was a picnic of French goodies which can never be any nicer than in such a setting.

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Picnic of French bread accompanied by creamy butter, cheese and terrine

Opa and Oma

Opa and Oma

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Father and daughter fishing for baby trouts

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

Francesca with her catch of trout that went into the bottle filled with water (she later released them back in the river)

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

This boy joined her in the fishing expedition

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Fishing in action -- the trouts were quite fast

Fishing in action — the trouts were quite fast

Two excited fish catchers

Two excited fish catchers

Birds in the sky

Birds in the sky

Other holiday makers

Other holiday makers

Aiming for the baby trouts

Aiming for the baby trouts

The fish catchers

The fish catchers

Chateau de Hautefort and its gardens

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

The day before my parents-in-law were due to fly back to Holland, we went to visit yet another castle — the Chateau de Hautefort.

This castle was about an hour’s drive from our base so we brought our picnic basket. One thing that we loved in this holiday was having a picnic lunch which was just so ideal when visiting places like this castle so we avoid long queues and waiting in the restaurant. Our French picnic basket consisted of French bread, pate, cheese and a very succulent melon which we ate under the walnut trees at the foot of the castle’s ground.

The castle was an amazing revelation although it has seen some untoward development in its history like fire but has since then, been rebuilt and restored to its former glory. Not all parts of the castle was open to the public but there was enough to see. The gardens — left me at a loss to describe beauty in its purest sense.

This chateau has also graced the silver screen when it was used as one of the locations for the movie Ever After directed by Andy Tenant and starred by Drew Barrymore.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau -- under the shade of walnut trees.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch at the foothills of this chateau — under the shade of walnut trees.

Impressive gardens of the chateau -- geometric shapes, topiaries...

Impressive gardens of the chateau — geometric shapes, topiaries…

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Parterre garden of Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Our family

Our family

Francesca's idea of family picture

Francesca’s idea of family picture

Another angle of the chateau

Another angle of the chateau

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Topiaries

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

One facet of the garden and the village of Hautefort below

At the chateau's entrance

At the chateau’s entrance

Our family

Our family

Another angle of the garden

Another angle of the garden

The garden

The garden

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Mam Sil smelling the flowers

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Beautiful dahlias were in bloom during our visit

Opa and Francesca

Opa and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

The chateau

The chateau

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

One of the bedrooms open for public viewing

Another accessible room at the chateau

Another accessible room at the chateau

A peek into the bygone era

A peek into the bygone era

A tunnel inside the chateau

A tunnel inside the chateau

The chateau's door

The chateau’s door

Chateau de Hautefort

Chateau de Hautefort

Opa and Francesca at the chateau's gift shop

Opa and Francesca at the chateau’s gift shop

Opa's present from the chateau's shop

Opa’s present from the chateau’s shop

Opa and oma

Opa and oma

Roses

Roses

Pink bloom

Pink bloom

Butterfly

Butterfly

Red roses

Red roses

Yellow blooms

Yellow blooms

Pink blooms

Pink blooms

Blue flowers

Blue flowers

French summer basket

French summer basket

Wishing well???

Wishing well???

My little girl

My little girl

Opa and Oma joins us on holiday

Oma!!!!

Oma!!!!

To a little girl who have her grandparents a constant presence from day 1, three weeks feel like eternity to not see them for that length of time. Thus, when we were planning our summer holiday last year, we took into account that opa (grandfather) and oma (grandmother) can also join us for a few days.

As driving the over 1,000 kilometers distance is not my father-in-law’s idea of driving pleasure especially at the height of the European summer holidays when highways are filled to the brim with traffic, we arranged for them to fly from Rotterdam Airport to Bergerac Airport which was a good hour’s drive from where we were camping. Though we have quite a spacious six-person tent, camping is no longer their idea of holiday convenience so through booking.com, we found a cozy two-star hotel in the village of Le Coux et Bigaroux, about 10-minutes drive from our camping place. My mom-in-law fell in love at first sight with the charms of Le Chambellan. Nothing fancy, the hotel’s magic is woven from its gardens filled with many lovely plants, canopies of grapes under which we would have our dinner on a balmy summer night and its close proximity to the Dordogne River from where we would enjoy carefree moments throwing stones and snaring little trouts in later days.

It was a very hectic day for opa and oma who had to start early with their trip starting with a bus ride from their place in Dronten to the train station in Kampen from where they could take the train to Rotterdam. From the train station in Rotterdam, they then took a bus to Rotterdam Airport and then boarded the Transavia flight to Bergerac. Weary but happy, it was a wonderful moment for all of us to see each other again. The little girl was overjoyed to see her beloved opa and oma and could hardly wait to keep them up to speed on what to do and see in the coming days.

Oma!!!

Oma!!!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

So happy to have you here, Oma!

"Opa, you are here at last!"

“Opa, you are here at last!”

Can't wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Can’t wait to check out presents from the grandparents.

Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Canopy of grapes under which we would later have a lovely dinner

Charming Le Chambellan

Charming Le Chambellan

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Cozy window panes and lavender in bloom

Beautiful skies

Beautiful skies

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Cozy nook and corner at Le Chambellan

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Summer blooms

Summer blooms

Le Chambellan courtyard

Le Chambellan courtyard

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Francesca at our camping

Oma and Opa

Oma and Opa

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Opa and oma with Francesca at our camping place

Oma and Francesca

Oma and Francesca

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Opa and Oma at the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Oma and Francesca at the playground beside the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Shallow waters of the Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Dordogne River

Stone-throwing

Stone-throwing

Looking for flat stones

Looking for flat stones

Waiting for dinner

Waiting for dinner

Steak and fries

Steak and fries

Typical Dordogne dish -- Duck

Typical Dordogne dish — Duck

Chocolate dessert

Chocolate dessert

Strawberry dessert

Strawberry dessert

Dessert

Dessert

Francesca

Francesca

Our family

Our family

Weary but happy after the long trip -- bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

Weary but happy after the long trip — bus, train, plane and car all in one day to reach France

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

This cat at Le Chambellan is a cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

Francesca find this cat a real cutie.

Exploring Paulliac and the Medoc wine areas

The little girl among the wild flowers

The little girl among the wild flowers

The wines of Paulliac came highly recommended from the marquis of the chateau where we stayed in Alencon. Since it was our first time to be in the area, we had no clue as to what can be expected. We were pleasantly surprised during the drive to Paulliac as we passed through scenic vineyards, lovely wine chateaus and fields of wild blooms.

Paulliac lies on the banks of the Gironde estuary and it could this crucial geographical location and geological phenomenon that account for the special quality of red wines from this area.

We took our time savoring a lovely lunch of seafoods in one of the many nice restaurants along the harbor. On the way back, we stop by a lovely wine chateau along the way and just took our time to savor the blissful atmosphere under the blue skies. We also made a short stop at a field of wild blooms and really had a great time savoring nature’s incredible ability to create beauty that pleases the senses.

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

One of the many vineyards and wine chateaus

Paulliac

Paulliac

Seafood paella

Seafood paella

Seafood lunch

Seafood lunch

The harbor of Paulliac

The harbor of Paulliac

The Gironde Estuary - it's mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

The Gironde Estuary – it’s mineral-rich waters could be the reason why the wine in this area is special.

Our family

Our family

She's one little comic

She’s one little comic

Also a good tattoo artist

Also a good tattoo artist

And an acrobat

And an acrobat

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Paulliac

Paulliac

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Prized grapes

Prized grapes

Vineyards

Vineyards

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Wine chateau

Wine chateau

A little girl in the vineyard

A little girl in the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

A cross structure in the middle of the vineyard

Field of wild blooms

Field of wild blooms

Can't resist to do flower-picking

Can’t resist to do flower-picking

My little girl among wild blooms

My little girl among wild blooms

Flower girl

Flower girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Our family

Our family

Flower girl

Flower girl

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Of course, she loves lady bugs

Fort Medoc

Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Entrance of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

Display of period costumes inside the main building of Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

A bit of history on Fort Medoc

Enchanting Bruges

Romantic Bruges at night

Romantic Bruges at night

To those who are hopeless romantics like me, there’s one city that never disappoints… Medieval Bruges in Belgium certainly has all the elements of a perfect romantic setting. A stroll through its narrow streets make you step back in time, its many canals are perfect for the moonlight boat ride with the melodies of Moonriver gently playing in the background.

I visited this city for the first time way back in 1997 and it is still a favorite after many trips thereafter. A week before Christmas, we were back again for the Christmas market and a much needed me-time after very busy months both on the home and work fronts.

Because Bruges is a very popular tourist destination, the weekend before Christmas is always very busy. Scouring the internet for hotel deals was quite a pain as even very small 2 or 3 star hotels were just too pricey at around the Eur 200+ price range. We found another option which turned out to be a great alternative — airbnb.com. We stayed for two nights at a renovated old house just a few yards away from the city centre. Weather was unusually warm (close to 10 degrees Celsius) so we enjoyed our evening walks without freezing.

Bruges by all accounts, has many things to offer — Chocolates and pralines, hand-woven laces, amazing choices of beers, etc.

The Mr. and me in Bruges

The Mr. and me in Bruges

Canals at night

Canals at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges at night

Bruges

Bruges

Bruges

Bruges

Romantic canals and bridges

Romantic canals and bridges

Bruges

Bruges

Centuries-old buildings

Centuries-old buildings

One can explore the city on horse-driven carriage

One can explore the city on horse-driven carriage

Centuries-old buildings

Centuries-old buildings

Canals

Canals

A favorite bridge

A favorite bridge

Boat rides

Boat rides

Us

Us

Signage at the entrance of the Begijnhof

Signage at the entrance of the Begijnhof

The Begijnhof was the place where women and children stayed while the men went on to fight in the Holy Land during the Crusades.  Today, nuns are its residents.

The Begijnhof was the place where women and children stayed while the men went on to fight in the Holy Land during the Crusades. Today, nuns are its residents.

Inside the church in the Begijnhof

Inside the church in the Begijnhof

The market square

The market square

One of the many streets leading to the market square

One of the many streets leading to the market square

Chocolates and pralines for which the Belgians are known for the world over

Chocolates and pralines for which the Belgians are known for the world over

A few of the hundreds of beer choices

A few of the hundreds of beer choices

Belgian beer

Belgian beer

Belgian beers

Belgian beers

Beer flavored cheese

Beer flavored cheese

Beer-flavored eggnog

Beer-flavored eggnog

Belgian pralines

Belgian pralines

Cupcakes

Cupcakes

Horse-drawn carriages near the Begijnhof

Horse-drawn carriages near the Begijnhof

Bruges

Bruges

Hand-woven Bruges laces

Hand-woven Bruges laces

One of the many churches in the city

One of the many churches in the city

Us

Us

Wines and macaroons in Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

France is simply one country which has everything for any traveler. To those who love the water, there is the cold Atlantic coast on the west side and the balmy Mediterranean in the south. Height lovers can go for either the Alps or the Pyrenees, those who love the cosmopolitan life had choices of Paris or the Riviera and those who love the tranquil life in the countryside had plenty of choices too. Vineyards, orchards, gardens, lavender fields, flower fields are endless and so are the chateaus and manors.

On this post, let me take you to the lovely town of Saint-Emilion. Listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Saint-Emilion’s history goes back to prehistoric times with fascinating Romanesque churches and ruins. About 32 kilometers northeast of Bordeaux, it is a very popular tourist destination because aside from having that step back in time, it is also famous for its red wines and macaroons.

The drive to Saint-Emilion was a very pleasant experience, passing through gentle hills of vineyards and bewitching sunflower fields. Parking was quite a challenge in this small town but despite a bit of a walk from the parking to the town centre, we enjoyed the stroll through its narrow streets that seemed as old as time.

We did not have a fix agenda of things to do so we had a leisurely lunch at a restaurant on the foot of the hill leading to the King’s Castle Keep. Nothing fancy, we had the “plat du jour” on offer which consisted of a salad, main course and dessert. French meal never disappoint for even in their simplest, they are still top notch.

After lunch, we were off to do the sightseeing bit with hubby and daughter opting to climb the King’s Castle Keep which with its 118 steps was quite something for the little girl. She was so proud of this accomplishment.

Before leaving town, I made sure to get myself a dozen of various flavored macaroons. While Laduree is being extolled in Paris as the mecca for macaroons, Saint-Emilion is said to be the birth place of this simple almond biscuit when they were first made in 1620 by Les Ursulines, a small community of nuns who resided in the village.

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

One of the many wine cellars

One of the many wine cellars

The road leading to "The King's Castle's Keep"

The road leading to “The King’s Castle’s Keep”

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbed this well-preserved 13th century keep.

Father and daughter climbing the King's Castle Keep

Father and daughter climbing the King’s Castle Keep

Our family

Our family

Sunflower fields along the way

Sunflower fields along the way

Vineyards

Vineyards

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Salad

Salad

Entrecote steak with fries

Entrecote steak with fries

Main course of the plat du jour

Main course of the plat du jour

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Warm chocolate cake with summer fruit compote

Ice cream dessert

Ice cream dessert

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

The Bell Tower of the Monolithic Church

Church interior

Church interior

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

Taking a peak of the church courtyard

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

The Mr. always finds interesting the geological history of the stone blocks used for this church

Narrow street

Narrow street

Saint-Emilion

Saint-Emilion

Museum

Museum

My little girl

My little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Raspberry macaroons

Raspberry macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Passion fruit macaroons

Rose macaroons

Rose macaroons

Fishery Day Observance in Spakenburg

Spakenburg wooden boats and fish catch ready for smoking

Don’t we oftentimes look far beyond the horizon for many exciting things to see and miss what is right under our noses?

This would seem the case with me for having been to other places to witness interesting cultural phenomena and overlooked what was simply amazing in a place that is even just cycling distance from home.

On this post, let me take you to Spakenburg, a fishing village which to this day still clings to age-old traditions and way of life. Many of its older generation of women for instance, still go about their daily lives wearing traditional costumes. Sundays are still strictly observed as day of obligation to the Lord so apart from going to church three times, all establishments are closed for business and typical Sunday activities like football games are forbidden.

Considering that we’ve lived here in Amersfoort for almost seven years, I was never aware of the Fishery Day observance in nearby Spakenburg. Thanks to a tip from our friend Tammy, we were finally able to witness this wonderful spectacle last 1st of September (Fishery Day is every first Saturday of September so we learned).  Wooden fishing boats had the sails on their masts raised and the local men, women and children were dressed in traditional costumes. (Normally only the older Spakenburg women wear the traditional costume on daily basis.) Every aspect of the traditional way of life here was out in the open and it was amazing to see how this village is able to keep the traditions alive and well to this very day.

Raised sails on the wooden masts

The mayor and the women of Spakenburg

Laundry-drying

Thick woolen socks that go well with the wooden clogs “klompen”

The dry dock at the harbor

Spakenburg women

Francesca and me with the Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg children

Spakenburg girl

Fish auction house

Father and daughter with smoked mackerel bought at the auction

Smoking of fish is a traditional way of preserving them in the old days but is still very much in practice to this day

My little girl playing with the fish net

Spankenburg ladies and Spakenburg textiles

The traditional way of cleaning raw herring – head is removed as well as the bones then eaten with chopped onions and pickles

Spakenburg ladies

Spakenburg

Camping life

Dinner time – our simple dinner fare consisted of rice, fried mackerel and salad

 

From the chateau to the tent — that’s many notches downgrade to our accommodation but we truly love going to the basics.  To our little girl, the tent is more fun than the chateau and she can do a trade-in anytime.  She was actually least happy at the chateau because the other guests were all senior people so aside from the dogs, she had no one to play with.  At the camp, she was in her best element having made friends easily with the other kids, notwithstanding the language barrier.

 

Dinner preparation — rice and fried mackerel

Fried mackerel

Fresh salad

Card game and warm drinks while waiting for the fresh bread that will be available at 8:30 am.

Sampling the croissant

Our little camper

At the camp playground with other children

Lots of fun between these two girls though one speaks Dutch and the other one is French

A friendship is born despite the language barrier

Two girls enjoying a beautiful friendship

These two girls tried table tennis but …. most times were busy picking the ball from the ground

Very determined table tennis players

French pride on their local products

I envy the French on their pride for everything French and it is no wonder that the local industry is alive and well. Local markets and shops selling traditional French products are everywhere and I am always drawn to them. There are times that I need to remind myself that my eyes seem bigger than my tummy at those mouthwatering goodies of theirs.

Every region takes pride of their local products which also show what are endemic in the area.  Wines, pates, cheeses, sweets, sausages, honey, hand-painted chinas, baskets, etc. are just among the many things that can be found in these shops.

Here are some snapshots of the local goods on one of the local shops beside a petrol station along the French peage.

I could have taken more pictures but I was later told that it was actually forbidden to take pictures inside the shop. ;-)

French wines

French wines and spirits

Various types of honey

Various sorts of caramels

Caramels

Cookies and sweets

French hand-painted chinas

Hand-painted ceramics

Hand-painted ceramics

Various shop merchandise

Our first foray exploring the area around Arcachon Bay

The little princess gathering oyster shells on the shores of Arcachon Bay (Cap Ferret)

Heading to the west coast of France further down Brittany proved to be a pleasant surprise. For one, it was not as busy as what we had experienced the previous year in the South of France. Even at the height of the summer season, there was enough room to move around.

Our camping place in Lege, Cap Ferret was a location where we had the best of two worlds — the mighty Atlantic Ocean with its wide empty beaches on one side and the Arcachon Bay on the other which is ringed by many quaint oyster fishing villages.

On our first foray to explore the area around Arcachon Bay, we wanted to see the lighthouse in Cap Ferret but Francesca was more excited to check out the beach. She immediately headed to the water and before soon, was taking her clothes off to be able to swim. Unfortunately, it was low tide and still a bit chilly and we were not prepared with towels and all that so we promised her that that was something that we will do another time.

We then embarked on a search for a restaurant to have lunch but got a bit sidetracked by the wet market that we passed by which as always, charmed me to bits. I could have stayed there forever ogling the fresh produce especially the seafoods that I normally don’t get to see in Holland. My mind was already churning with ideas as to how I would prepare those crabs, lobsters and shrimps which I really miss from my life in the Philippines. Unfortunately, my two bosses were getting so impatient and hungry that we have to stick back to the plan of finding a restaurant for lunch. I thought that we would return to the market before we head back to our camp.

We found a simple restaurant with seafood as its specialty in the town centre. For starter, we shared the pate which was great with the fresh bread. For the main course, the Mr. had mussels and fries while I settled for the lovely sauteed squid served with rice and fennel. Our little girl who’s very picky only had bread and fries as well as her fave chocolate ice cream with lots of whipped cream. The Mr. and I again shared the dessert of tiramisu.

We went back to the wet market after lunch but unfortunately, it was already closing. I was very disappointed especially as I already had dinner figured out in my head. We then dropped by the supermarket and had to make do with the seafood display they had. I settled for a kilo of sardines which for dinner I fried and served with boiled rice and salad.

Arcachon Bay on a cloudy day which would later clear up

The little princess with her haul of oyster shells

Giving her haul of oyster shells to her father for safekeeping

Excitedly rushing to the water

Time to go swimming

A little stop at the playground near the beach

Waiting for our order at the restaurant

Fresh bread

Very yummy “Pate de maison”

Mussels and fries

Sauteed squid served with rice and fennel

Tiramisu

Chocolate ice cream with whipped cream

Savoring her ice cream

She charmed the waiter at the restaurant so she got this foldable hat as a present

She got sidetracked by this picture

Father and daughter

Flower of passion fruit

Dill flowers

Peach colored oleanders

One of the many blooms common in the area

Supermarket scene — langostines

Supermarket scene – snails

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – crabs

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – lobsters

Supermarket scene – sardines

Supermarket scene – crabs

Supermarket scene – shrimps

Supermarket scene – oysters

Supermarket scene – squid

Supermarket scene – snails

Supermarket scene – mackerels

Supermarket scene – fish

Supermarket scene – 1-kilo steak cuts

Supermarket scene – dried sausages

A lovely stay in a French chateau

The Chateau de Sarceaux as viewed from the little lake in its sprawling grounds

I must have been a royal in previous life to have this extreme fascination for castles and palaces and anything royal and regal. Looking for a place to spend overnight somewhere in France, midway to our camping destination came easy with the many choices available through Booking.com. My husband outright told me that we should choose for something outside town because of parking consideration — our car is full with stuffs and we cannot take them out except for the overnight bag.

The chateau we’ve chosen was pretty secluded, with a good amount of wooded area and meadows to be traversed before we could reach it. Not a huge chateau but pretty cozy, we learned from its owners (a marquis and marquise) that they are already the 6th generation of inhabitants to this chateau. We were led to our reserved room which was really charming especially given the fact that the furnishings were still all original. It felt like a step back in time for us. The only seemingly modern feature in the room was the bathroom which was updated to modern times and had plenty of warm water, something uncharacteristic of typically spartan chateaus.

The marquis asked if we would like to have dinner at the chateau so we immediately said, “Oui”. Who wouldn’t want to dine in such a setting? Dinner was at 7:45pm but we first assembled in the living room where together with the other guests, were served aperitif and little snacks. It was nice to meet the other guests — an English couple who live near Cambridge and two old ladies (one Dutch and her English friend who was married to a Dutch man).

It was a lovely evening with lively conversation flowing over drinks and food. Dinner was served in the stately dining room which Francesca found wonderful especially with her faux jewels, feeling every inch the princess of the chateau. ;-)

If you want to know more about this chateau, here’s link to some information: http://www.france-hotel-guide.com/en/14878-chateau-de-sarceaux-valframbert-en.php?langue=en

Another angle of the chateau

Father and daughter

Me and the chateau in the background

Our little princess

She became friends with this lovely dog

Lots of open spaces and new friends to make ;-)

Good boy!

Chase me Mam!

I love the simplicity of this chateau

Very old rose vines and the roses with the most amazing scent I’ve ever smelled

The living room where we assembled for aperitif and small bites later

The small room for Francesca which was connected to our bedroom

The fireplace in our bedroom — not in use anymore because the room in updated with modern heating system

Our bedroom

The bathroom

Simple and cozy feature of the bathroom

The scent from these fresh roses filled the room

The hallway at the first floor

Ground floor hallway

Another living room in the chateau

Small bites

Original pieces of period furniture

Father and daughter playing cards at the living room before dinner

The little princess at the dining room, feeling pretty much at home ;-)

The dinner guests

Salad of greens, avocado and shrimps

Dinner of veal stewed in white wine with chervil served with baked potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms

Dessert of green apple sorbet drizzled with Calvados

The marquis serving the cheese platter

After dinner entertainment — we all went back to the living room for a bit of singing while the marquise played the music on the piano

The very enthusiastic marquise also led us into acapella singing of “Auld lang syne”

At the breakfast table with the other guests the next morning

French breakfast fare

Father and daughter

The chateau just before we left

Bitter sweet parting

Holiday afterthoughts

Chateau de Sarceaux from the distance

My sincere apologies for the long absence on this space. First, both work and home fronts went haywire in the weeks preceding our holiday and then our holiday for almost 3 weeks in France kicked off but internet connection then became a precious commodity.

Lots of stories to tell — which would take me a while to do together with the pictures that I also enjoyed taking along the way. Just when I thought I’ve seen it all from the many travels I’ve done in the past, this recent holiday brought in new and amazing surprises.

I will take you along to a French chateau where we spent one lovely evening wining and dining with the marquis and the marquise and to our camping experience in Cap Ferret where we had the best of both the Arcachon Bay and the Atlantic Coast as well as some of the amazing vineyards which produce some of the best French wines. Then we will move on to the Dordogne Valley which at first I thought was some backwaters of France but whose charm would hook me forever from its many amazing surprises that run from its many feudal castles to spectacular gardens, sunflower fields, Medieval villages, lively markets and so much more. Capping our holiday was a side trip to Monet’s garden in Giverny complemented by a lovely stay in a very cozy bed and breakfast where we felt very much at home.

Francesca became friends with the family dog right away

Our bedroom with original period furnishings — felt like a step back in time.

The little princess at the dining room

The Atlantic coast

Father and daughter are such water lovers — this place is paradise for them.

Our family

One of the many games to enjoy in the almost empty beach front along the Atlantic coast

Oyster stalls in Gujan Mestras along the Arcachon Bay

Father and daughter with the Medieval city of Saint Emilion in the background

The little girl in Saint Emilion

Our family in Saint Emilion

Saw lots of macarons in Saint Emilion and had to buy a dozen of different flavors.

Wine chateaux abound in Saint Emilion and this is just one of the many that we saw along the way. The little girl is showing off her tumbling skills here.

Wild flower fields we passed by in the Medoc area

Vineyards in the Medoc area oftentimes stretching to as far as the eyes can see

Sunflower fields

Sunflowers

Our family in a field of wild blooms

The little girl with her haul of dead crabs in Gujan Mestras

The Dordogne river in the afternoon

Netting young trouts in the Dordogne

Opa and Oma flew in through Bergerac for a few days, much to our delight. They stayed at a very cozy hotel in nearby Le Coux et Bigaroux.

We celebrated Dad’s birthday with lunch in Sarlat and dinner in Audrix.

Together we visited the Chateau de Hautefort and were very impressed by its gardens

Our family in Chateau de Hautefort

Monet’s home in Giverny

Monet’s pond of lillies

Lillies in Giverny

Nature-tripping at Pelagaccio

Busy bee in action

Apologies for the long absence on my blog. Busy times on both the home and work fronts leave me with hardly any time to sit in front of the pc these days. My husband have to work a great deal of time these days in Belgium so I had to cope with many shared parenting duties single-handedly.

I bring you back to Tuscany which I still remember with so much fondness. The days when we were not out sightseeing were spent lazily by the pool or in my case, indulging in nature-tripping. I love observing the many butterflies and bees out there which are busy hopping among the lavender blooms. The various flowers and ripening fruits also find their way into my camera as well as the simple sight of the Tuscan landscape.

I miss those days under the warm Tuscan sun and the simple pleasures of lunch with bruschettas downed with chilled Italian white wine to the dinner of grilled chicken and beef. The little girl misses the long days of playing under the sun and into the night together with her new friends.

Pale yellow Tuscan roses

Red Tuscan roses

Tangerine Tuscan rose

Butterfly on lavender blooms

Busy bee

Busy bee

Another sort of nectar sucker

A dragonfly

Butterfly on lavender blooms

Butterfly with wings wide open

Busy bee

Bare Tuscan hills after the wheat harvest

Bare Tuscan hills after the wheat harvest

Yellow blooms against the blue sky

Ripening fruits

Ripening fruits

Ripening fruits

Bruschettas

Bruschetta topping – chopped ripe tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley

Chilled white wine to down the lovely bruschettas = perfect lunch

The Grill Master

Grilling T-bone steak marinated in finely chopped garlic and rosemary together with salt, pepper and olive oil

Grilled chicken and T-bone steak

Fun on the swing

Fun with friends

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Duomo and the leaning tower of Pisa

After a lazy day yesterday of just being at the pool and not having anything else on the itinerary, we decided to do some sightseeing in Pisa, a place whose claim to fame is its leaning tower. It’s a case of “been there, done that” kind of thing that we can cross off our lists of what to see in Tuscany.

Pisa was about an hour’s drive from Pelagaccio (40+ kilometers with about 20 kilometers on secondary road and the rest was through the highway). The trip took us a bit longer because I got distracted by the sight of sunflower fields with the perfect backdrop and wanted to take some pictures. Unfortunately, the fields that I saw were not accessible, being barricaded by road blocks. Another time I’ll be lucky!

When we reached Pisa, the temperature was hitting the 40’s (Celsius) so it was not so pleasant to go around exploring an unfamiliar place with a very young child. My father-in-law Dad couldn’t stand crowds and busy places, my mom-in-law couldn’t stand the heat and was prone to hyperventilation.

We found a parking area which was pretty close, about 2 blocks away from the Torre Pendente (the Leaning Tower). I had mixed emotions in seeing the tower with my own eyes for the first time. It was like stepping into a dream because I never thought that I would even see this place for real. What came to mind was a story in my high school science class of Galileo conducting an experiment of dropping two objects of different mass from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa to test his theory of gravity.

The tower was not as high as those other towers where I´ve been but the leaning was very obvious. What was striking about the place itself was the amazing contrast of all the elements – the tower and the duomo were all built from white marble that glistened against the blue sky creating an amazing picture.

Pisa was extremely busy with many people all wanting to execute poses of either holding off the tower from leaning further or of holding the tower from top to bottom in their hands. I tried to do the same but wasn´t very good at it as you can see from my pictures. My father-in-law won´t do that pose either but my mom-in-law did her own version.

After the photoshoot with the tower in the background, we decided to see the interior of the duomo. Unfortunately, we needed to first get entry tickets which were being sold at the museum about 100 meters away. Hubby went to get the tickets while we waited in the shade at the church entrance.

The interior of the duomo was impressive with those frescoes, paintings and murals that really told much of its history. Francesca loved it being inside the duomo although she also did naughty stuffs — jumping, talking too loud, pointing at things she found interesting and climbing the pews. It was very strict there when it came to the dress code – visitors who were deemed inappropriately dressed such as women in sleeveless blouses and plunging necklines were asked to put on the light blue blouses that can cover their naked arms and cleavages.

After the church visit, it was time for lunch. We found a restaurant nearby where we can rest our tired feet and chill out after the exasperating heat outside. The menu was simple and the prices were reasonable considering that the restaurant location was a typical tourist trap. Hubby and his mom opted for pizza, Dad for tuna sandwich, the little girl had her fries with fried eggs sunny side up and I settled for the grilled shrimps and squid on a bed of salad. I truly enjoyed my meal especially as I can dissect and suck the shrimp heads Pinoy style with gusto. Lunch was capped with some cappuccino and of course, tiramisu which was really yummy. The bottom was an ice cream, again a different version from the tiramisu that I´ve eaten before.

Then it was time to head back to Pelagaccio as the little girl needed her afternoon nap for we had an invite for the pasta party at Diacceroni in the afternoon.

The Baptistry, the Duomo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Duomo and the Leaning Tower

My parents-in-law

My family minus me

Holding off the tower but missed! ;-)

Father and daughter

Our family

Holding off the tower from further leaning…

The leaning tower

Top of the tower

Details of the main door of the Duomo

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Duomo interior

Taking a break…

Intricate craftmanship

The confessional

Church ceiling

One of the altars — Madonna and child

The altar

Oma and Francesca

Couldn’t resist being a child inside the Duomo…

The little girl and her tricks…

Horsey encounter… ;-)

The little girl and the Baptistry behind

Part of the wall surrounding the Duomo

Detail of the wall inside the restaurant

Grilled seafood on a bed of salad

Pizza

Souvenir items

Fake designer bags being peddled by African immigrants — they almost took my camera because they don’t want this picture taken

Father and daughter making a purchase…

…wiggly spiky ball

Funny aprons ;-)

Funny aprons… ;-)

Trying a hat…

Laid-back life under the Tuscan sun

Misty morning

After a busy day in Florence and staying late for the pizza party and the subsequent football match, we took it easy the following day, just stayed at Pelagaccio, went for a dip at the pool and simply enjoyed the laid-back Tuscan life away from the pressures of work and the rigors of daily life.

I oftentimes had to be reminded to take it easy once in a while and as we were here for two weeks, there was plenty of time still for sightseeing. Francesca’s needs should also be given top consideration. Hers were different from our own and the trips to busy places were not her thing. She just loves it here choosing among several alternatives at her disposal – swimming at the pool, playing at the playground, cycling on her trike or assembling her lego blocks and puzzles.

It was again a very misty morning and I’ve been meaning since a few days ago to take some pictures of this phenomenon. It was always misty in the morning due to the temperature drop during the night and it was amazing to observe how the mist eventually disappeared as the fierce Tuscan sun made its way.

What a lovely sight to see when the hills were all covered in mist, even Pelagaccio was hardly visible from the pool which was but a few yards away. I found myself taking pictures not just of the landscape around me but of the flowers which after the routine morning watering looked like they had just been kissed by the rain.

After breakfast, it was time for a dip in the pool. I joined for a short while but did not linger because my left foot which has blister from previous day’s hike over the hills (I did not wear proper shoes in that hike) was irritated by the lightly salted pool water. I don’t know why but the pool water here was a bit salty. Francesca as usual, had a grand time especially when opa and oma later came and joined in on the fun.

I volunteered to instead prepare lunch, inspired by the meal I had in Florence the day before. We still had left over bread from which I could make the bruschetta. From the grocery this morning, I got some parsley and tomatoes. Wow, lunch turned out to be a great success!

To make the bruschetta, I sliced the bread to about half an inch thickness and sprinkled that with extra virgin olive oil and added a small amount of finely chopped garlic. In essence, bruschetta is garlic bread. I fried/roasted the bread in a flat-bellied Teflon pan till it was brown and crispy. For the toppings, I chopped some tomatoes, added some finely chopped garlic and parsley, extra virgin olive oil and seasoned that with salt and pepper. With some chilled white wine to down the bruschetta al pomodori with, we all had a great fill and then it was time for the afternoon siesta.

At about 5pm, hubby and Francesca were again back at the pool for that before dinner swim to create some appetite especially for the little girl who has all the time for playing but no time for food. She reminded me of my own childhood where when the opportunity to play arises, eating and other considerations would surely take a back seat. Oh well, we had to make the most of this opportunity which is not an every day thing. Having a pool at our disposal, a playground and to top it all, the time to unwind and forget the rigors of daily life are rare pleasures for which we should spare time to savor.

Dinner that night was hubby’s turf – pasta. He made used of penne and prepared a very yummy red sauce made from sautéing garlic, onions, tinned peeled tomatoes and some leftover salami. He got some dried mushrooms from the grocery this morning but did not use that because it required 20 minutes soaking in cold water for which he had no time. There was also no basil leaves from that small shop so he made use of parsley which was just as nice. On the side was the mozzarella cheese with fresh tomatoes sprinkled with olive oil, salt and pepper and topped with more chopped parsley. I made some more garlic bread from the leftovers. A bottle of chilled white wine proved to be an excellent companion to our splendid dinner under the trees.

Visibility of just a few meters — the mist shrouds the hills farther

Misty morning

The sun peering through the mist

Misty morning … hills in the distance not visible

View of the Tuscan countryside once the mist was gone

pink blooms

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink oleander

Courgette bloom

Orange daisy

Pale yellow Tuscan rose

Unripe grapes

Rosebud

Drops

A spider in its web

A yellow butterfly perched on lavender blooms

A white butterfly

White butterfly in transit

Busy bee

Busy bee

Father and daughter at the pool

Little girl and oma

Little girl and oma

Pool fun with the grandparents

Hubby on the inflatable dolphin

The dolphin flipped over ;-)

The little girl has more expertise on handling the dolphin than her father

Francesca with opa and oma

Bruschetta made from leftover bread

Hubby’s version of salade caprese

Penne with tomato sauce and salami

Pizza party at Diacceroni

Simple pizza with courgette toppings

City trip to Florence under the scorching heat was exhausting. It was great to escape and be back to the laid back countryside atmosphere at Pelagaccio and Diacceroni. We arrived at Pelagaccio after 4pm, just in time to freshen up for the 5pm pizza party at Diacceroni.

The pleasant surprise we had in staying here are the 3x per week free meals for all the guests with different themes. Saturday is for all sorts of Italian dishes – pasta, pizza, bread, tempura of aubergine, courgette and courgette blooms, bruschettas with toppings of tomatoes with olive oil and finely chopped parsley or anchovies with finely chopped garlic and mashed aubergine. As usual, we only have to pay for the drinks – beer for the guys and white wine for the ladies. Their white wine chilled to perfection is amazingly good that my mom-in-law and I always forget it has alcohol content. Cost about €6, I was early on our stay already contemplating if I would bring a couple of bottles back home. A great drink, I can taste the fruity and flowery elements in it.

The pizza party was a great experience. Everyone was there. The tables were all assembled in one long line between the olive trees forming like one continuous banquet table. We were seated at the end of the line which was perfect because we were also closest to the playground and therefore had an excellent oversight of Francesca. The little girl was in her element being among other children and at the playground. One thing that she loved about the playground here at Diacceroni was the “spring kussen” as it is called in Dutch or literally “jumping pillow” but which the Scots call “jumping castle”. She could jump to her heart’s content.

The pizzas were prepared in a special pizza hut on the grounds of Diacceroni. The hut has a wood-fired oven and the pizza was fed into it and the cooking process just took a few minutes. It was amazing how they prepare the pizza and was completely different from the way pizza has been conceptualized outside Italy. The “mamas” made the dough and just flattened them to the right thickness and then place them in rectangular trays. Toppings varied from just plain extra virgin olive oil then salt and pepper to thin slices of courgette, aubergine or red onions which were later drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper. Other toppings were that of tomato sauce and capers with some bits of mozzarella cheese. Oh, I can tell you that the pizzas were the best even with just the plain dough which was airy and crispy.

One of the Italian “mamas” gave the children pieces of the pizza dough to fashion their own creations and later bake them as well in the oven. Great idea! Some kids created heart-shaped pizzas engraved with their initials. We had a great time from this pizza experience. Not being a big pizza fan, I had my initial misgivings that a pizza party can be fun. I was utterly and completely wrong!

Time flies when we are having so much fun. Soon it was time to head back to Pelagaccio as Francesca needed to go to bed. Oh well, we were in a huge dilemma to stay a bit longer because at 8.30pm, the semi-final World Cup game between Holland and Uruguay will be shown. There was no TV or internet connection at Pelagaccio.

The voice of reason prevailed so we headed back to Pelagaccio for Francesca. Opa and Oma were happy to bring her to bed (she has been sleeping with them since the start of our holiday and won’t sleep with us) so hubby and I returned to Diacceroni for the football match – on foot and with a flashlight, a must as there was no moonlight to lighten up our path nor light posts. Oh, so rural that I kept on being reminded of those early years of my childhood when there was no electricity yet and the night light came only from moonlight or those Molotov cocktails that people used then when there was a need to travel at night on foot or with the carabao-pulled carts.

To reach Diacceroni from Pelagaccio on foot was to traverse two hills and was actually a pleasant experience because we had such a splendid view of our own place silhouetted in the sunset complemented by the chirping of the crickets and the humming of the birds as they prepare to call it a day in their nests or favorite branches in the trees.

We arrived at 8.45pm, just in time for Holland’s first goal and those already there watching the games were cheering for Holland and jumping off their seats. The TV and the channel receiver were set up in the garden so it was a novel experience to watch football under the stars. I could not helped but get consumed by the raging orange fever just like everyone there of other nationalities who rooted for Holland too. At the first half of the match, it was time for more drinks. Hubby had another glass of beer while I settled for water having had half a bottle of wine already earlier.

Holland’s win over Uruguay was a great culmination to a wonderful day. Everyone had happy expression on their faces. Time to head back to Pelagaccio. Night has fallen and only the stars were there to guide us on our way back.

Pippo, the sweet dog which befriended Francesca and everyone at our place decided to come with us on our way back. He also patiently stayed with me the other day when I took a short walk to take sunset pictures of Pelagaccio. Very loyal and sweet dog on whom I’ve fallen in love too, just as Francesca and everyone have.

Walking back under the stars reminded me of one short story in my Philippine literature class, that of Manuel Arguilla’s “How my brother Leon brought home a wife”. It has been a long time since hubby and I had taken a walk together under the stars reminiscent of those days when we’ve just met each other on the beaches of El Nido in Palawan. Too romantic!

Life in the west as we call it has been about haste and expediency. It was nice to go back to the basics once in a while, to be away from the conveniences of modern life like the TV and internet, to do away with the car and instead take a hike through the hills. Without all these distractions, it was amazing to appreciate nature and life in all its simplicity – from the stars to the fireflies, to the music created by crickets, frogs and birds, the only sound that can be heard in the stillness of the night.

The hut with the wood-fired oven for baking the pizza

Francesca making her personalized pizza

Freshly-baked pizza taken out of the oven

Pizza with tomato sauce and capers

Pizzas

Trays of pizza waiting for their turn in the wood-fired oven

The pizza party guests

The little ones having fun at the “spring kussen”

The little ones at the mini-swing

The little one with oma

The little one lording it over at the slide

Hibiscus at Diacceroni

Pomegranate blooms which the kids love to pluck from the tree

A very young pomegranate fruit

Sunset at Pelagaccio

Pelagaccio as viewed from the next hill

We hiked through these hills at sunset and back late in the night

Sunset and Pelagaccio in the distance

Sunset

Tuscan sunset

Stopping for a bit of rest through our hike over the hills

Stopping for a bit of rest through our hike over the hills

Renaissance Florence

Florence

The nice thing about going on holiday together with my parents-in-law was that hubby and I could have our twosome day out especially to a busy city like Florence which would have been miserable to our little girl who has no interest yet in history.

A very busy city which was a far departure from the tranquil countryside that we’ve gotten so used to, we opted to take it easy as the sweltering heat of 40°C was not that pleasant for a very thorough sightseeing. Our exploration of the city started with an unplanned side trip to a market where I found an accessible toilet. We lingered a bit at the market as I was fascinated by the many things that can be found there. It was a pretty interesting exploration as the Italian just like the Spanish and Philippine markets also sell stuffs which can be very offensive to the Dutch sensibility – cow’s stomach lining (oftentimes used for dishes like callos), tongue (lengua stofado), intestine (“dinuguan” or bloody Mary), etc. There were also nice stuffs like those huge Italian cheeses, sausages, wines, pasta, dried mushrooms, and much more.

Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance has always fascinated me since high school when I had my world history subject. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever thought that one day I would be here. I would have loved to go inside the Duomo, visit the museums and really take my time to explore the city but the sweltering heat was just too much. Florence would be perfect for a pure city trip another time.

On the drive to Florence, I already told the hubby that I wanted to eat the famous “bistecca ala Florentina” which is a T-bone steak and is known to be the best in the country. Good choice but it was a huge piece of about half a kilo which he and I eventually shared. The resto where we had lunch was just in front of the Piazza de la Signorina so there was a bit of “highway robbery” for unsuspecting tourists like us.

At the very start, hubby was served a huge glass of about half a liter beer and looking at the other diners, I cannot help but wonder why every one was getting huge servings of drinks. Even children were getting big colas of half liters. Later it turned out that the beer cost almost €10, cappuccino at €5.80, etc….Well, a simple lunch for 2 can easily cost €100 if one is not conscious of the prices and why the servings are on the big/max side. Anyway, dessert was perfect – chocolate cake with layers of dark chocolates in between that melt in the mouth.

By the time that we were done with lunch, the sky has already darkened and there was the threatening downpour. We decided to just have a bit of a walk towards the Arno river which is a special feature of Florence. I’ve been charmed by the postcards and pictures I’ve seen of Florence with its enchanting bridges. Too bad that we could not linger a bit longer as we had to be back for the pizza party at Diacceroni at 5pm. It must be so enchanting to see Florence at sunset and at night time when the city basked in the evening lights. Another time, another season…then I’ll also explore the Duomo, the museums, the Medici villas and gardens.

Time to head back to the garage where we parked the car. Car parking was quite pricey at €5 an hour. It was valet parking so we have to leave the key with the garage owner. Again, something new and uncommon for us.

I loved the drive back to Pelagaccio. Who won’t be charmed by the beckoning sunflower fields?

Dried mushrooms — just soak it in cold water for 20 minutes and then it is a perfect meat replacement for pasta dishes

Dried sausages or “salamis”

Italian cheeses

Italian wines and spirits

Beef tripes used for stew dishes like “callos”

Leather bags everywhere

Busy open market scene

One of the many stalls for Italian souvenirs

Italian artworks

Medici Chapel

The Duomo behind me

The Duomo

The Mr. and me with the Duomo and Baptistry of St. John behind

A stall selling postcards and other souvenirs outside the Duomo

The Duomo which showcases intricate Gothic style was begun in 1296 and completed structurally in 1436. Amazing to see how it has stood the test of time to this day.

Horse-drawn carriages at the Piazza del Duomo

Piazza della Signorina and Palazzo Vecchio

Piazza della Signorina and Palazzo Vecchio

A replica of Michaelangelo’s David

Every tourist wants to touch this beast but I did not feel like queuing for it.

bruschetta al pomodoro — after having this in Florence, it became our staple at Pelagaccio.
Easy to make: For the bread, just slice leftover bread to about 2 cm. of thickness, sprinkle it generously with extra virgin olive oil then fry in a flat-bellied pan until brown and crispy. For the toppings, chop the tomatoes coarsely then season it with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil and finely chopped parsley.

Bistecca a la Florentina

Chef’s salad consisting of tomatoes, mozarella, ham and olives. Pretty bland actually. I prefer the caprese salad.

The cappuccino that can almost break the bank at Eur 5.80

Melts in the mount chocolate cake

Intricate interior of a building at the Piazza

Terrace restaurants in Florence

Arno river running through Florence

Me with Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) behind. This bridge was built in 1345 and was Florence’s first bridge across the Arno River and is the only surviving bridge from medieval days.

Love locks

`The Mr. and Arno River

Me and the Arno River

Curious of what are housed on the covered Ponte Vecchio, it is lined with shops selling gold and silver jewelry.

The Mr. and me at Ponte Vecchio

Florence

Roadside scenery on the way back to our agriturismo – sunflower fields and quaint Italian farm houses

Volterra

Volterra

After a relaxing day spent at the pool and not doing much after that, we were off to some sightseeing. Volterra is one town that we can see from the distance, perched on top of a hill. The strange thing about driving in Italy is that while we can see Volterra from our place and seems so nearby, to get there through those circuitous roads through the hills takes a lot longer. In a straight line, I guess Volterra is just about 7 kilometers.

Volterra is an Etruscan town and many artifacts from that period had survived to this day. The town was very nice but we took it easy because of Francesca. It was just fun to look at the shops and see Italian goodies. One thing that Volterra is known for is its alabaster so a lot of shops sell souvenir items made of it. I bought some small stuffs (a jewelry box and a pendant in the form of a lady bug for Francesca) and Mam Sil got for herself a small ash tray.

We went inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta which was pretty cool, a great respite from the sweltering Tuscan heat. Francesca wanted to linger there but the caretaker of the church has asked everyone to leave – the church was closing for the day. Francesca was furious!

It was then time for lunch. We found an Italian version of the Pinoy “turo-turo” where there was an incredible choice of Italian specialties. Me and my mom-in-law Mam opted for something vegetarian which turned out to be so yummy that I ended up asking for the recipe to give it a try back home. Aubergine and courgette hallowed and filled with carrots, peas, potatoes sautéed in olive oil, garlic, ginger and a bit of basil leaves topped with parmesan cheese and egg then baked in the oven. With bread on the side, the dish was just perfect.

My husband opted for the simple spaghetti with fresh tomato sauce and basil leaves. So simple yet very delish! For Francesca we ordered a pasta with white sauce (she doesn’t like the red sauce) but she did not have the appetite for it, spoiled by the Italian gelato which she had earlier. My father-in-law had his fried quartered potatoes and sautéed string beans to be on the safe side (no garlic please!) yet there was plenty of finely chopped garlic in those beans! It tasted so well that he finished it nonetheless. We were so hungry though that I forgot to take pictures of those lovely dishes. ;-)

For dessert, we went to a small patisserie and had the typical Italian tiramisu and some cake.

Volterra

Facade of an old church

Town square of Volterra

Palazzo dei Priori

Palazzo dei Priori

A closer look at the walls of the Palazzo show these emblems

Palazzo dei Priori

Old buildings

A street name that gives men the creeps ;-)

Souvenir shops

Outside a souvenir shop

Inside a souvenir shop

Home-made soaps

Inside the souvenir shop

Italian delis – wine, olive oil, bread, pasta, etc.

Italian delis

Open air restaurants

Amazing choices of gelato at a typical Gelateria or “ice cream parlor”

The little girl enjoying her strawberry gelato

Inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Lighted candles inside the cathedral

An altar inside the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

A gallery selling Tuscan landscape paintings

Torture museum ;-)

Museum

Narrow medieval street

Old door

Green door

The way to the Palazzo

A small chapel

Volterra

Italian tiramisu

Piece of cake

Tuscany

Tuscan countryside

Time to think of warm sunny days especially as the dismal Dutch spring this year is already making not just me but a lot of people edgy. Spring is already mid-way but the nice days we had so far can be counted on my fingers with the single best one being last 30 April when we celebrated Queen’s Day.

On this blog and the few more to come, I will take you to Tuscany, to those warm days that me and my family enjoyed under the Tuscan sun charmed by its amazing countryside and picturesque medieval towns and cities.

It was almost two years ago (early July 2010) when went to Tuscany for a two-week holiday. We stayed at an agriturismo (these are actually farmhouses converted into apartments). Staying in these farmhouses is the best way to experience Tuscany because we really had a good feel of the Tuscan/Italian way of life.

We made the trip from Holland to Italy in two days because my husband did all the driving (1,400 kms) and Francesca being still very young then needed more frequent stops for diaper change, feeding and drinks. My parents-in-law also joined us on this holiday which was also great — we had so much fun on the road. We spent the night in Lucerne, Switzerland staying in a Hilton Express Hotel not so far from the highway.

Weather was unbelievably warm so I really enjoyed the drive through and short stay in Switzerland. Hubby and I holidayed in Switzerland in the past and really loved it there except for the unpredictable weather which can simply dampen the country’s charm. To see this picturesque country under blue skies and with the alps glimmering in the distance was just amazing.

We finally arrived in Tuscany at around 5pm, with some confusion at finding our agriturismo because we realized then that even with the recently upgraded navigation system information, it was hard to find the place because the dirt road leading to it was not on the map (holiday makers staying at agriturismos in Italy can always be recognized through their dusty cars compared to those staying in hotels). There were 3 agriturismo locations that belong to the chain that we booked and the reception/registration was at Diacceroni (we were booked at Pelagaccio). We had to wait for about an hour to get our registration sorted out, the caretaker of Pelagaccio took some time to come over and lead us to our apartment.

I was happy to take some pictures while waiting. The vista around me was amazing — Tuscan hills carpeted with wheat turned gold and ready to be harvested, vineyards, olive groves, distant hilltop villages from Medieval times, cypress trees lining up dirt roads leading to Tuscan hamlets.

Francesca found an instant playmate in an English boy whom she was able to convince that stone-throwing was a fun game.

We were told that there was a free Italian party that night at 7pm for all the guests. We only have to pay for the drinks. What a great surprise! We followed the caretaker to Pelagaccio and the drive took about 15 minutes. We took out our stuffs from the car and headed back again to Diacceroni. There was a very festive atmosphere and guests of various nationalities (Europeans as I was the only exotic-looking creature there) were engaged in friendly getting-to-know chitchat.

Food was great consisting of Italian dishes which were surprisingly vegetarian — pasta in tomato sauce, breads, bruschettas with toppings of fresh tomatoes, anchovies with mushroom and garlic, omelets with vegetables, and tempuras of aubergine, courgette and courgette blooms.

Tables were scattered at Diacceroni grounds planted with olive trees, hibiscus, pomegranates, lavenders, oleanders, cypress, figs, etc.

The kids had a great time running around and playing at the playground. Francesca’s fave was the “spring kussen” or the jumping castle as the Scots’ acquaintance of ours call them.

Diaccerroni agriturismo

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside – view from Diacceroni

Tuscan countryside

artichoke

Pink oleanders

Peach colored oleanders

Red oleanders

White gardenias

Pink Tuscan rose

Pink hibiscus

Pomegranate bloom

Francesca and a new friend

Stone-throwing game

Adventurous girl looking out at the pigs down the hill

A black bird in the olive tree

Dinner under the Tuscan sky

Tuscan food

Courgette (zuccini) omelet

thinly sliced bread topped with fresh tomatoes mashed with olive oil, salt and pepper

Potato omelet

thinly sliced bread topped with anchovies, olives, basil leaves

Courgette tempura

Eggplant omelet

freshly made pasta with tomato sauce and basil leaves

thinly sliced bread with olive oil, salt and pepper

Tuscan sunset

Everyone’s favorite Chinese egg rolls (Lumpias)

Chinese egg rolls

This recipe is lifted from Steamy Kitchen and ever since the first time I tried these egg rolls, I’ve never made them any other way. Being Asian, I love spring rolls and in the Philippines, we have several versions. I’ve been making 2 versions of spring rolls for as long as I can remember, the vegetable version and the minced meat version and both have been very popular. Last year, I’ve decided to be more adventurous in the kitchen by trying out new recipes and new ways of doing the dishes that I’ve learned from way back.

I came across Steamy Kitchen while in search for the recipe of Vietnamese Pho and became so excited when in searching the site, I saw a lot of interesting new recipes. I tried these egg rolls and was amazed at how wonderful the combination of flavors were from the ginger, sesame oil, a bit of sugar, soy sauce, rice wine and shitake mushrooms. Soon, I was making these egg rolls in huge quantities as they became huge favorites of family, friends and colleagues.

Last Saturday, I made huge quantities again and they are now in the freezer, saved for the upcoming family reunion on my mom-in-law’s side of the family. They are big fans of my egg rolls and introducing them to this new version with amazing flavors will surely be a big success no doubt.

Ingredients:
50 Spring/Egg Roll Wrappers (about 2 packages), defrosted unopened at room temperature for 45 minutes or in the refrigerator overnight
1 tablespoon cornstarch (or flour) mixed with ¼ cup of cool water
Oil, for frying

FOR THE GROUND PORK
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground black pepper

FOR THE VEGETABLES
2 to 3 cloves garlic, very finely minced
½ head of cabbage (about 11 ounces)
3 carrots, shredded
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
10 fresh shiitake mushrooms (or dried black mushrooms soaked overnight), stems discarded
1 tablespoon cooking oil (canola, vegetable, peanut)
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:
1. To make the filling, combine the ingredients for the ground pork together. Marinate at least 10 minutes. In the meantime, shred the cabbage and the carrots using your food processor or by hand. Slice the mushrooms into very thin strips (or you could use your food processer and pulse a few times to get a fine dice.

To the ground pork meat, add the corn starch, soy sauce, sugar, ground pepper, mix well and marinate for at least 10 minutes.

Shred the cabbage using the food processor or by hand.

Shred the carrots using the food processor or cut them in matchsticks size. Other ingredients are finely minced garlic, grated ginger and thinly sliced shitake mushrooms.

2. Heat a wok or large saute pan over high heat. Add the cooking oil and swirl to coat. Add the pork and stir-fry until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes. Turn heat to medium-low, push the meat to one side of the pan. Add the garlic, cabbage, carrots, ginger and the mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute, until the vegetables are softened. Add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil and black pepper. Continue to stir-fry for another minute. Scoop out the filling to a baking sheet and spread out to cool. Prop up one end of the baking sheet so that it tilts and will allow all the moisture to drain to one end. Let cool for 15 minutes.

To the hot oil, add the pork to stir-fry.

Stir-fry the pork until no longer pink, about 2-3 minutes

Set aside the meat to one side of the pan and add the garlic, ginger, carrots, cabbage and mushrooms and stir-fry for 1 minute or until the vegetables are softened.

Add the rice wine, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, salt and black pepper.

Continue to stir for another minute and then the filling is done. Check the taste and add some more soy sauce or salt if needed to meet desired taste.

3. Discard all of the accumulated juices. Drain in a strainer.

IMPORTANT: Only use 1 heaping tablespoon of filling for each egg roll. These are slender egg rolls, the width of the egg roll should only be 1.25″ diameter.

Discard all of the accumulated juices. Drain in a strainer.

WRAPPING:

Use 1 heaping tablespoon of filling for each egg roll.

Lift the bottom corner up and begin rolling until you reach halfway up.

Fold over the left side, and then the right side towards the center.

Continue folding up with a tuck-roll tuck-roll motion. Dip your fingers into the cornstarch slurry and brush all over the final top corner. Finish up the roll and seal.

The finished egg roll

Keep the rolled egg rolls in neat, single layer and covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying. If you want to stack the egg rolls, make sure you have layer of parchment paper in between the layers to prevent sticking. Keep wrappers also covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying. Refrigerate up to 4 hours until ready to fry or freeze.

4. To fry the egg rolls, fill a wok or pot with 2 inches of high-heat cooking oil. Heat the oil to 350°F (175°C) or until a cube of bread will fry to golden brown within 10 seconds. Gently slide in or lower the egg rolls, frying 4 to 6 at a time, turning occasionally until golden brown about 1½ minutes. Place on wire rack to drain and cool.

Frying the egg rolls in a pan

Egg rolls are done when they turn golden brown

Place on wire rack or paper towels to drain extra oil.

Serve with chili sauce (or I make a sauce from combining soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and freshly ground pepper).

NOTE: To fry frozen egg rolls, do not defrost the egg rolls – just add them to the oil frozen, frying 4 to 6 at a time. Add an additional 1½ minutes to the frying time since they are frozen.

A cake that brings memories of home — Orange Chiffon Cake

A slice of chiffon cake - my idea of perfect comfort food

Living in another country does bring moments of homesickness for things familiar. There are days when I simply miss the flavors of home. One of the food stuffs that I really love and miss is the Orange Chiffon Cake. It is the cake that I know from childhood, the cake that I can eat any time of the day. Before the advent of the fancy cakes like chocolate cakes, cheesecakes, apple cakes, etc., there was only the Chiffon Cake that I know of. It is a typical birthday fare for no birthday celebration will be complete without Chiffon Cake and the usual rice or egg noodles, spaghetti (Philippine style), spring rolls, barbeques, marshmallows and hotdogs on sticks, fried chicken, etc.

These days, this simple Chiffon Cake had been eclipsed by the more fancy cakes which are often too rich due to too much butter and lots of whipped cream. I can’t help but long for the simple Chiffon Cake which is light, fluffy and quite refreshing.

After a bit of search on the internet, I finally found the version of the Chiffon Cake I remember. I struggled a bit in getting the right ingredients because the Dutch supermarkets do not have stuffs like cream of tartar. I checked some online expat forums on the internet and learned that this cream of tartar and other exotic ingredients like baking soda and shortening are available at the Tokos (the Asian stores). I wasted no time in getting my ingredients and has since then, been baking Chiffon Cake on an almost regular basis. Why? Because friends, colleagues, family and neighbors who have tasted this chiffon cake fell in love with it at first bite.

Here are the ingredients:
2-1/2 cups cake flour*, sifted
3/4 cup sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup oil (vegetable oil or corn oil)
7 egg yolks, at room temperature
3/4 cup orange juice
rind of one medium sized orange
7 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
3/4 cup sugar

*Cake Flour can be substituted by replacing 2 tablespoons of sifted flour with 2 tablespoons of corn starch per 1 cup of sifted all purpose flour.

Cooking Procedures:

1. Preheat oven to 350F (176C). Prepare 10-inch ungreased tube pan.
2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

3. Make a well at the center of the sifted flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. All the egg yolk, oil, orange juice and orange rind.

4. With a stand or electric hand mixer, beat the mixture until smooth and no lumps occur. Set aside.

5. With a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, beat egg whites until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Continue to beat on high until soft peaks begin to form. Add sugar very gradually and continuously beating until meringue is glossy and stiff.

6. Gently fold the egg yolk mixture into the meringue until well blended, ensuring that you scrap the bottom of the bowl as you fold.

7. Pour into prepared ungreased tube pan.

8. Bake until golden and middle springs back when touched for about 45 to 50 minutes.

9. Invert onto the neck of a bottle. Cool completely upside down.

Chiffon Cake

Slices of chiffon cake

Easter egg hunt in the dunes

My little girl and her basket of Easter eggs

My blog stood silent in the last couple of days as the frenzied activities during the Easter holidays left me with hardly any time to sit in front of the PC.

We sure had a great time doing this year’s Easter egg hunt though the temperature was not as warm as it was the year before. Thanks to the suggestion of our neighbor, we did the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen, a lovely nature reserve area which is pretty close to our place. The kids had a great time being let loose in a seemingly endless sand box. There were also trees that were just perfect for climbing and before long, all of them were up in the tree.

This place is one perfect paradise for kids and one cannot help but be charmed by everything it has on offer. To us parents, we could enjoy moments of lively conversation without worrying about our kids who are safe in all the games that they can think about in this place.

We will surely be back again when the weather warms up and all of us have a free Sunday to spare. The kids can hardly wait…

The sand dunes of Soesterduinen look like an endless sand box

Pine trees sparsely populate the sand dunes

These low lying pine trees with outstretched branches are perfect for climbing

Under the tree, we could have that perfect picnic

The kids cannot resist the lure of tree climbing

Such a huge area to run around and look for the Easter eggs

More eggs!!!

Too many eggs to hunt

Eggs were everywhere...even up in the tree

There is always that look of wonder and amazement with every egg find

Easter eggs ... both real eggs and chocolate ones

Seeking for more eggs

Tree climbing

Playing in the sand

Sand rolling

Friendly banters

Picnic fare

Easter bread

Orange chiffon cake

Pistolet with smoked salmon

Pistolet with Nutella

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Sometimes it is easy to climb but difficult to get down

My husband comes to the rescue

The rescuer

Our family

Family picture

The kids

The egg hunters minus one

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