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

Market day in Sarlat-la-Canéda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

Lunch in Sarlat-la-Caneda

On this particular warm summer day, we were celebrating a special day, my father-in-law’s birthday. In earlier years when they still live up north in Holland in the Friesian farm house which has a very beautiful garden that my mom-in-law lovingly tended, this birthday celebration was usually on home ground with a barbeque party. For the first time, we celebrated this happy occasion abroad and on a completely different atmosphere.

Not wanting to waste opportunity to see as much during their few days in Dordogne, we decided to visit Sarlat-la-Caneda which on a Saturday in summer, also has its open market. Sarlat is a very alluring town, still well-preserved and very much representative of 14th century France. Being there is like taking a step back in time given its many impeccably restored stone buildings from that bygone era. No wonder then why it is the third most popular location for movies in France after Paris and Cannes.

Comparing the open market in Sarlat to that of Le Bugue which we visited earlier, Sarlat has more to offer and there was more to see too. I enjoyed checking out the stuffs on offer from stall to stall but resisted the urge to do my usual panic buying especially of those wonderful dried sausages, terrine, macaroons, cheeses, etc.

As with any birthday celebration, cake and coffee are a must so the first item on our itinerary was to find a nice pattisserie. We found one along the busy main street and enjoyed our cake and cappuccino. Then it was off to see more of the city and for my mom-in-law to also buy her French basket.

Lunch was a simple fare. We found a quaint little restaurant in the city centre where it was amazingly cool on this very warm day. They opted for omelets and salad while I found the prawn flambee in brandy more appealing especially with the little rice on the side.

Dordogne as we experienced it was spectacular. On the trip back, we were beckoned by the picturesque sunflower fields to make a stop for a few pictures.

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Sarlat's city centre

Sarlat’s city centre

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad's birthday

Cake and coffee celebration of Dad’s birthday

My little girl wanted this toy so much

My little girl wanted this toy so much

Walnut cake

Walnut cake

Raspberry cake

Raspberry cake

Lemon cake

Lemon cake

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Dordogne's cakes and pastries

Dordogne’s cakes and pastries

Admiring the macaroons

Admiring the macaroons

Cakes and pastries

Cakes and pastries

A stall selling dried sausages

A stall selling dried sausages

Dried herbs and spices

Dried herbs and spices

Spices

Spices

Dried spices

Dried spices

Bags

Bags

And more bags

And more bags

Walnuts

Walnuts

And nutcracker

And nutcracker

Cheeses

Cheeses

Bamboo-based utensils

Bamboo-based utensils

Old books

Old books

Dried fruits

Dried fruits

Honey

Honey

A local artist

A local artist

Sarlat Cathedral

Sarlat Cathedral

Ivy-covered old house

Ivy-covered old house

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Pink roses

Pink roses

Outdoor restaurants

Outdoor restaurants

My little girl

My little girl

Ivy-covered building

Ivy-covered building

Narrow streets

Narrow streets

Outdoor restaurant

Outdoor restaurant

Former church turned market place

Former church turned market place

Narrow street

Narrow street

Sarlat

Sarlat

Facade of an old building

Facade of an old building

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

Sarlat

My little girl

My little girl

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

A taste of Holland in Sarlat

Summer outfit

Summer outfit

My little girl

My little girl

French bread

French bread

French omelet

French omelet

My prawn flambee

My prawn flambee

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Dad buying mom's French basket

Dad buying mom’s French basket

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflower and its bee friend

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Market day in Le Bugue

Fresh produce

Fresh produce

Open markets never fail to cast their charm on me and I won’t give them a miss if I can find one on any given day. Checking what are on offer from different stalls will make me lost my sense of time as my mind wanders off to what nice meals I can make from the many fresh produce that I can get my hands into. Unfortunately, I don’t have a big family to feed so I always have to try to control the urge to overbuy and overstock especially on those stuffs with limited shelf life.

When we arrived in Dordogne for the second half of our camping holiday, we got some info on what to do and see in the area. The suggestion of open markets in the nearby towns and cities came in handy especially as I was really looking so much forward to exploring a few during this holiday. The nearest to our camping was the town of Le Bugue, a 15-minute drive and where most times we will also get our groceries.

The open market in Le Bugue as compared to the open markets I’ve seen in the west of France has less seafoods and was more oriented to the produce of the land and wood crafts which was pretty understandable from a geographic perspective. We had a great time exploring this market, my little girl so especially loved the trinkets, toys and also the hat that we got her for protection from the strong sun. I enjoyed admiring the fresh vegetables and other food stuffs on offer as well as got myself a nice typical French basket which would later came handy when we get groceries or go on picnics.

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

Bridge spanning the Vezere River in Le Bugue

The Vezere River

The Vezere River

Admiring the trinkets

Admiring the trinkets

Trying out a hat

Trying out a hat

Checking out the toys

Checking out the toys

Wood-carved slingshots -- I played with them a lot as a child

Wood-carved slingshots — I played with them a lot as a child

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Wood crafts

Bread stall

Bread stall

Stall for roast chicken

Stall for roast chicken

Artichokes

Artichokes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Sun-riped tomatoes

Radishes

Radishes

Paprikas

Paprikas

Red paprikas

Red paprikas

Green plums

Green plums

Preserved lemons

Preserved lemons

Olives

Olives

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Garlic in herbs and olive oil

Olives

Olives

Black olives

Black olives

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Sun-dried tomatoes in herbs and olive oil

Seafood stall

Seafood stall

Snails

Snails

Mussels

Mussels

Fish

Fish

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Baskets

Got myself a French basket

Got myself a French basket

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

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

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

Relaxing under the Tuscan sun and skies

Tuscan countryside early in the morning

While sitting under the tree and enjoying the cool breeze blowing off the 40°C heat, I can’t help but wonder why we’ve never gone to Tuscany before. Our next door neighbor in Holland has been going to Tuscany year after year, staying in the same place over the last 10 years and I used to wonder why they never go elsewhere when there are simply hundreds if not thousands of amazing destination in Europe.

The place is simply stunning and now I can understand why there has always been so much buzz about Tuscany and life under the Tuscan sun, why the place has been gloriously immortalized and romanticized in many books and movies (the recent and pretty popular one being “Under the Tuscan Sun” by Frances Mayes and its movie version starred Diane Lane).

At 360° around me and under clear blue skies, my vista consisted of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, blooms of various kind (geraniums, oleanders, roses, lavender, jasmines, etc.), which charm butterflies of incredible colors, bees and other flies, quaint old villages on which time seemed to have stood still, vineyards, olive groves and wheat fields gone gold.

We’re pretty far from the highway, the only sound that can be heard of are the birds and crickets, occasional cars in the dirt road and the churning of the combined harvesters harvesting the wheat.

Is this life under the Tuscan sun? Pretty laid back and the only thing we can do is sit down and relax, dip in the pool to cool down the Tuscan heat and let time pass by over glasses of chilled prosecco with those delish Italian cheeses on the side.

The place we are staying is an apartment in Agriturismo Pelagaccio. It is a typical Tuscan farmhouse with a small annex building divided into a total of 8 apartments on a 200-hectare property. There is enough privacy just as there is enough company, a perfect balance. (I remember staying on a Centre Parcs holiday home in Germany which I found to be extremely busy and on an isolated holiday home in Normandy which at Francesca’s age now, she would have found too lonesome as she loves the company of other kids).

The place is just ideal with a playground that meets Francesca’s approval and the perfectly situated swimming pool that I’ve ever seen – on top of a hill with a 360° panorama of the Tuscan landscape.

Everyone except me had already tried the pool this morning. I just had fun taking snapshots of everyone and everything – from Francesca, Siefko, Opa and Oma to the Tuscan landscape and those amazing butterflies which cast their spell on me and my cam.

After swimming, Siefko and I headed to Volterra for the groceries (Italian supermarkets are open on Sunday from 8-13 hrs) plus we needed to gas up because our car was running short on petrol. Good that in another village before Volterra (La Sperza) there was a petrol station where we can gas up but it was self-service and the machine would only accept small Euro bills and not bank or credit cards.

We reached the Coop supermarket in Volterra just in the nick of time. It was kind of weird to shop in another country given the language barrier. Doing the self-service thing on those veggies (weighing but the names are in Italian and most times there are no pictures on the weighing scale for the stuff) is like solving a riddle.

Dinner was such a very anticipated affair as the idea of barbeque became a foregone conclusion – grilled pork Pinoy style (in short, “inihaw na baboy” which were thick slices of pork belly marinated in garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper and a bit of soy sauce), grilled aubergine and paprika which I seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber with the simple dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper — served with steamed rice, beer for the guys and ice-cold white wine for the ladies. That was at almost 10pm as we forgot the passing of time under the Tuscan skies.

Tuscan countryside — view from the pool

View of Pelagaccio from the pool

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

Tuscan countryside

The medieval village of Fabbricca as viewed from the pool — we go there each morning for bread and other supplies

Cypress trees

Tuscan countryside

The path leading to the swimming pool

Location-wise, no pool can be far better than this…on top of a hill with an unobstructed view of the Tuscan countryside

Perfect place to cool down the 40-degree Celsius heat

Fun in the pool for everyone

Father and daughter

Oma joined in the fun

Opa, Papa and the little girl

Enjoying the cool waters

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

The family

Finally I joined in the pool party

Tuscan roses

Tuscan rose

Fiery red roses

Yellow blooms

Pink oleanders

Tuscan roses

Butterfly

Butterfly

White butterfly among the lavenders

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Butterfly

Unripe grapes

Tuscan horses

Pelagaccio

The barbeque man

Grilled pork belly

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

Last year’s Easter eggs hunt

The little ones and their Easter eggs find

Time flies, it’s almost Easter time again! Where did the year go? Memories of last year’s Easter egg hunt are still fresh in my thoughts but it is time for the next egg hunt again. To my daughter, life is moving forward and wanting the years to roll by so quickly while I am hanging on to every bit of her childhood — carefree days under the sun hunting for Easter eggs, blowing dandelion seeds away, climbing trees, going back and forth at the slide, running around with the other kids and many more.

One of my little girl’s favorite time of the year is Easter and the delightful event of Easter egg hunt. It is something that has become a tradition with us having started this on the first Easter when she could walk. At that time, the eggs were hidden in the confines of our small back garden.

Last year, we organized the Easter egg hunt with the involvement of children in our neighborhood. We were blessed with the perfect Easter weather — warm and sunny and the kids really had so much fun searching for the eggs hidden in the grass and other not so obvious places. I baked cupcakes while the other moms brought in the refreshments.

One more week to go and it will be the same frenzied activity again. My daughter can hardly wait…

On to the egg hunt

Searching the grass and weeds for the hidden eggs

Feeling fulfilled with every find

Happy with every sighting of an egg hidden in the grass

Weather couldn't be any better than this for the egg hunt

Maybe there are more eggs here...

Counting the egg finds

"Could we eat first?"

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese frosting

Vanilla and chocolate cupcakes

Eating time after the hard work

More egg search

The parents minus me the photographer

Posing for mom

Childhood friendship

Flowers everywhere

Flowers everywhere

Buttered fish with coriander, nuts and spring onions

Buttered fish with coriander, nuts and spring onions served with steamed rice and a slice of lemon

The Dutch are quite freaky with food. Fish, meat and poultry should as much as possible be hardly recognizable from their original state — no heads, tails, bones and fins. To Filipinos (Pinoys) like me who grew up savoring fish with skin, head, tails and all, I find it not so nice to eat the almost white mass that is fish fillet after removing all the parts where all the flavors come from. Here in Holland, fish at supermarkets will be in fillet form and that’s a given. When I really want to eat fish in Pinoy fashion, I go to the open market but have to ask the fish vendor that cleaning the fish for me is just removing the scales and gills but the head and skin have to remain intact.

Anyway, let me share here with you a fish recipe using the flavorless fillet. This one’s a winner as the amazing flavors from coriander, spring onions, butter and nuts sensationally come out and redeem the lost value of any fish fillet.

On this dish, you will need the following:

Fish fillet
Salt and pepper
Coriander leaves
Spring onions
Nuts (hazelnuts or peanuts)
Butter

This dish tastes sensational and all you need is steamed rice and a slice of lemon to squeeze over the fish.

I normally get the frozen fish fillet from the grocery. I let that thaw at room temperature but when I am in a hurry such as in this instance, I just let the microwave speed up the job for me. Next to that, I season the fillet on both sides with salt and pepper.

Fish fillet seasoned with salt and pepper

Thinly sliced spring onions, ground peanuts and finely chopped coriander

Let butter softened at room temperature, add all the ingredients (coriander, nuts, spring onions) and make a paste and then coat the fish fillet on both sides.

The paste of butter, herbs and nuts spread on the fish fillet

Place the coated fish in an oven-proof dish and baked at 220 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes or until the fish is cooked and the top is brown. Another option if you have a combi oven/magnetron is to use the grill.

Straight out from the oven oozing with that glorious smell

The Latin American favorite cookies called “Alfajores”

Alfajores

Up till I work with my manager who hails from Uruguay, I never heard of Alfajores. On her trip back to her country to visit her parents, she would normally hand-carry these delicate cookies all the way from Uruguay which is not a direct flight but passing through either Brazil or Argentina for her connecting flight to Amsterdam.

It was love at first bite when she introduced these cookies to me sometime ago and I would normally look forward to her trip back with these cookies. I got very curious that I decided that maybe this is not such a complicated recipe after all. I was right, this is indeed very simple as it just involves making the shortbread cookies, filling that with the dulce de leche and presto, I have my alfajores.

I got the recipe for shortbread cookies from my favorite Joy of Baking site.

Here are the ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
dash of nutmeg (optional and this is my own tweak to this recipe)

Filling:
1 can Dulce de Leche or caramel
1 cup toasted coconut

Pre-heat oven to 350F (177C). Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes or until they are lightly brown on the sides.

Flour mixture is flour with salt and nutmeg.

1. In a bowl, beat the butter (with an electric mixer of a hand mixer) until smooth and creamy for about a minute.

2. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat until smooth for about 2 minutes.

3. Beat in the vanilla extract.

4. Add the flour mixture.

5. And stir until just incorporated.

6. The dough should now be flattened and wrapped in a plastic film, chilled for at least an hour in the fridge or until firm.

7. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness.

8. Cut into hearts, rounds or other shapes.

My little helper enjoys the cookie-cutting process.

9. Place on the prepared baking sheet and put back on the fridge for about 10-15 minutes. This will firm up the dough so the cookies will maintain their shape when baked. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the cookies are very lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack.


The filling is Dulce de Leche or caramel.

Which I am combining with toasted coconut.

10. Spread a generous amount of dulce de leche on one cookie and topped that with the toasted coconut.

My favorite custard cake

The custard cake


There is no denying to the Spanish influence in Philippine cuisine. Well, 333 years of colonial rule is something so every aspect of Philippine life has bits and pieces of that moment in our history. Too bad that we do not speak Spanish as a major language compared to the Latin Americans but many Philippine words are derived from Spanish.

One of the Spanish desserts that I love so much is the flan or creme caramel. When I was a child, I could only get to taste it at wedding parties or fiestas. The flan is really heaven to me then and even now. I just love that combination of the sweet caramel sauce and the creamy smooth flan, hence, I made it my mission to learn how to make it and master it. I’ve been making flan for a long time and it has actually become one of the most sought after desserts by friends and family. I decided that I need to bring this flan to the next level and that is the custard cake.

I started baking quite seriously only last year. Not that I enrolled in some baking class but just self-taught myself and scoured the internet for recipes. I started with recipes of food I remember from the Philippines and took off from there. I was so happy to stumble upon the site of Casa Veneracion and her recipe of the perfect custard cake. With a bit of experience on the individual components (custard and chiffon cake), I did a bit of tweaking but for the rest, I copied her recipe. What I like so much about this recipe is that the cake and flan are on 50/50 level compared to the ones in the Philippines where the flan is all but a very thin layer. To flan lovers like me, this is the perfect treat! ;-)

I made this cake for the first time on my birthday last year and brought it to the office for my colleagues who were stunned. They couldn’t believe that I made this myself. Here in Holland, the tradition is to bring cake on one’s birthday. The Dutch normally brings the apple pie or “vlaai” bought from the baker which are normally oozing with lots of whipped cream. I decided to be different on my birthday, bringing something homemade.

To make this cake, I divided the process into 3 parts: caramel, custard and cake.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius). This cake is baked au bain marie so fill a deep baking tray with half a level of hot water.

Caramel:
Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1/4 cup water

Instructions:
1. Make the caramel. Place the sugar and water in a thick bottomed pan. Turn the heat to high and bring the water and sugar to the boil without stirring. Then lower the heat to medium-high and continue boiling. After about 8 minutes, the mixture will start to brown. Continue boiling until the liquid is the color of amber.
2. Pour the caramel in your baking tray. I am using a deep Pyrex oven bowl (either the 8 x 8 or the lasagna bowl will do).

Boiling the granulated white sugar and water to make the caramel

The sugar on its way to caramelization

Cooking the sugar until it turns amber

The caramel poured onto an oven proof bowl to cool down

Custard:
Ingredients:

5 large (or 6 medium) eggs (yolks and whites)
1 can condensed milk (397 gram)
1 can skimmed or full milk (397 gram)
1/4 cup white sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 mandarin or 1/2 orange or citroen

Instructions:
1. In a bowl, beat the eggs.
2. Add the sugar, condensed and skimmed milks.
3. Add the mandarin or orange or citroen juice and the finely grated rind.
4. Pour on top of the cooled caramel.

The eggs

The custard poured over the caramel

Chiffon cake:
Ingredients:

3 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tbsp. canola oil
3/4 cup sifted cake flour
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. granulated white sugar

Instructions:
Cake mixture:

1. In a bowl, beat the egg yolks with the 1/4 cup minus 1 tbsp. sugar until smooth and lemon colored.
2. Sift the flour and baking powder.
3. Add the milk and flour alternately, mixing after each addition.
4. Add the oil and beat thoroughly.

The cake mixture

Meringue (egg white mixture):
5. In another bowl, add the cream of tartar to the egg white and with the hand mixer, beat at high speed until the egg whites turn foamy.
6. Add yhe sugar little by little and continue beating until the egg white mixture is stiff.
7. Slowly fold in the cake mixture using a rubber spatula. Do this slowly until the cake and meringue are well blended.
8. Pour the combined cake and meringue mixture over the flan. The cake mixture is light and airy so it will float over the custard mix.
9. Baked au bain marie at 350F (177C) for 50 to 55 minutes or until a toothpick when inserted at the center of the cake comes out clean.
10. Allow to cool down and then chill in the fridge.
11. To serve, using a knife, trace the side of the cake. Take a plate that can hold the cake and place it upside down on top of the oven bowl. With one hand under the oven bowl and the other hand on top of the plate, invert the cake onto the plate.

The meringue (stiff egg whites) about to be mixed with the cake mixture

Folding the cake mixture into the meringue

The custard cake being baked au bain marie

Cooling the custard cake

Cross-section of the perfect custard cake - 50/50 flan and cake

Bicol express: one spicy Philippine dish named after a train service

A cold snap is currently chilling Europe these days and the mercury has dropped and stayed at sub-zero levels in the last couple of days. At times like these, there is nothing that I like more than to eat something hot and spicy, something familiar. What came to mind was a very special dish from the Philippines (my home country) and specifically from the region where I come from, Bicol. This dish is called “Bicol Express”, coined from the train service that runs from Manila to the Bicol region. What makes this dish special even in the Philippines is its spiciness and use of coconut milk because in general, Philippine dishes are not spicy but lean more to the Spanish influence due to the ties with Spain which colonized the country for over 300 years.

The Bicol Express


When I first came to Holland, I didn’t know that making this dish will be a big thing to my in-laws, friends and colleagues. I made it for myself then for comfort especially when I start to pine for things back home. After introducing it to the people here, it became the most anticipated dish whenever we had gatherings.

The dish is simple and had very few ingredients which in many ways, make its taste pure compared to spicy curries for instance.

For this dish, I used the following ingredients:

700 grams pork belly cut in cubes
2 tin cans of coconut milk (I would have used coconut cream but didn’t have that on hand)
6 cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
6 pieces long chillies, sliced
freshly ground pepper
Salted tiny shrimps (This provides the special flavor and if not available, can be substituted by shrimp paste but salt should be added.)

The chillies used for the Bicol Express


The ingredients: pork, chillies, garlic, onion, coconut milk, salted tiny shrimp

Cooking instructions:

Sautee the garlic and onion

Add the pork meat

Add the coconut milk

Let the stew simmer for a while

Add the salted tiny shrimps, check the taste as this is the seasoning used. No need to add salt.

When the dish is almost done, add the chillies

Let it cook for a short while

The Bicol Express

Serve with steamed/boiled white rice and some vegetable (boiled broad beans in this case)

Thai-inspired minced beef with ginger

Thai-inspired minced beef with ginger


This dish is something I learned from my very good Thai friend Lek. We are friends from way back to our days working for an American chemical company in The Hague over a decade ago. At that time, we were still in the process of integrating into the Dutch way of life food-wise. Because we both love to cook, we struggled with eating the food served at the canteen which were not to our liking. Thus, we started bringing packed lunch of rice and Asian viands to work which we would normally share.

I learned a few dishes from her like the red and green curries as well as this dish. Of course, I also did a bit of tweaking to make this my own, adding chopped coriander and sliced mushroom so that makes them optional add-ons.

This minced beef dish is wonderful especially given the aromatic taste of the ginger which is used quite liberally. One word of caution though: Ensure that the ginger is thinly julienned and fried well (not raw).

Ginger, coriander, garlic, onion, chilies, mushroom


Ground/minced beef


Ingredients:
300 grams minced/ground beef
1.5 inch ginger, thinly julienned
1 onion, roughly chopped
I clove garlic, minced
2 tbsps. cooking oil
Freshly ground pepper
Fish sauce
1/2 tsp. sugar
Chopped coriander (optional)
Mushroom, sliced (optional)

Cooking instructions:
1. Heat up the oil and add the ginger. Fry until slightly brown.

1. Heat up the oil and add the ginger. Fry until slightly brown.


2. Add the onions and garlic and stir until onion is almost translucent.

Add the garlic and onions and stir until onion is almost translucent


3. Add the mushrooms and continue stirring. Add a bit of oil if the mushrooms get a bit dry.

Add mushrooms to the ginger, onions and garlic


4. When mushrooms are slightly brown, add the minced beef and continue stirring until beef is no longer pink. Add the slices of chilies.

Add the ground beef once the mushrooms has slightly browned


When beef is no longer pink, add the chilies


5. Season with fish sauce, sugar and freshly ground pepper.
6. Topped with chopped coriander and serve with boiled rice.

Thai-inspired minced beef with ginger

My version of the crispy fried chicken

To complement the chicken tinola, fried chicken is always a good choice. Expect the hubby and the in-laws to over-eat as simply this combination of dishes is just perfect especially on a chilly and rainy day.

This fried chicken is crispy and so full of flavor. The use of the citroen juice ensures that the flavors penetrate the chicken and not just on the outside as with most fried chicken.

Crispy fried chicken


My version of the fried chicken is easy and simple, the ingredients are few and very basic so that the flavors remain distinct.

Ingredients:
1 kilo chicken thighs, cut in pieces
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
6-8 tbsps. fish sauce
Black pepper, finely grounded
Juice from 1 citroen
Cooking oil

Cooking Instructions:
1. Marinate the chicken for an hour or two in the following: fish sauce, lemon juice, finely chopped/pressed garlic, ground pepper.

Chicken pieces marinated in garlic, fish sauce, lemon juice, black pepper


2. Fry the chicken over medium heat until brown and crispy.

Frying the chicken

An improvised version of Filipino Chicken Tinola

Chicken tinola


This tinola dish together with my version of the fried chicken (which is marinated with a lot of finely chopped garlic) is such a big hit with my husband and in-laws. Even my father-in-law who is not that fond of garlic, forgets his usual prejudice on the tasty and crispy fried chicken.

Tinola is a kind of chicken stew that is so common in the Philippines. Over there, the key ingredients apart from the chicken are ginger, unripe papaya and chili leaves.

Cabbage, potatoes, onions, ginger, garlic


My version of the chicken tinola here in Holland is an improvised one because some of the ingredients like the unripe papaya costs an arm and a leg if I get them from the Toko (Asian shops). Oftentimes this papaya also comes half ripe already which is not good and the chili leaves are just difficult to source out (either I plant one myself or use the ornamental chili leaves from the plant shops).

Resourcefulness is OK. Instead of papaya, I substitute that with potatoes and the chili leaves with cabbage and this dish still comes out tasting so delicious so long as the key ingredient which is ginger is not omitted.

Ingredients:
Chicken cut in pieces (I used 3 pieces but feel free to use more)
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, pounded coursely
2-inch ginger, sliced or pounded coursely
Cabbage, 1/2 head cut in big pieces
4 pcs. medium-sized potatoes
2 tbsps. oil
Fish sauce (patis)
Black pepper, finely grounded

Cooking instructions:
1. In a deep saucepan, heat up 2 tbsps oil. Add the ginger and sautee for a minute or until slightly brown. Add the garlic and sautee further until slightly brown. Add the onions and continue sauteeing until translucent.

Saute the ginger in the hot oil till slightly brown


Add the garlic...then the onions


2. Add the chicken and let it fry a bit on the spices for a minute or two. Put the lid of the saucepan on.

Add the chicken pieces


3. Add a bit of the fish sauce to the chicken. Add water until the chicken is covered. Add the potatoes too. Let it boil until the chicken and potatoes are cooked.

Add water and potatoes and simmer until cooked


4. When the chicken and potatoes are cooked, removed the potatoes for a while to avoid it getting overcooked. Add the cabbage and let it simmer for a few minutes. When cabbage is cooked, add back the potatoes. Check the taste and if still a bit bland, add some more fish sauce.
5. Serve with boiled rice. You can also have as another side dish, the crispy fried chicken. (Recipe to follow).

Eet smakelijk!

A moment with the “stroopwafel” man

The "stroopwafels" in packs of 10 pieces


Waffles and caramel filling


It was love at first bite when way back in 1996 I encountered “stroopwafels”, that sweet and crunchy caramel waffles that is so typical here. I remember hoarding them for “pasalubong” or presents to family, colleagues and friends in the Philippines. The recipients, just like me, all fell in love with it as well…at first bite.

Every time I go back home to the Philippines, I usually would bring these caramel waffles together with the Bastogne cookies. Both are addictive I can tell you. They are preferred presents than chocolates because the latter can be bought there anyway.

The "stroopwafel man"


When we went to Albert Heijn supermarket last Saturday, I saw this “stroopwafel man” at the entrance. He had pieces of the waffles for customers to sample to I was tempted to have a little piece but resisted the idea of buying a pack of 10. I’m sure that I won’t be able to resist eating them all so better not as I am trying to stay away from sweets this new year after indulging so much last Christmas season.

Instead, I asked him if I can take some shots while he was making the waffles. He was actually happy to show the whole process and I can take pictures. He regaled me with stories of the good old days when this waffles making was really a real art and tradition. These days, the production is mechanized which is more cost efficient because of economies of scale used and fast. Indeed, we can just buy the waffles inside the supermarket at a much cheaper price.

What is he then doing at this supermarket? He is employed by the supermarket to make these waffles as a come on to shoppers and to provide that “gezelligheid” or coziness that is so typical Dutch. The aim is to still keep this old craft fresh and vivid in the consciousness of everyone in this day and age when mechanism has in most cases, overtaken so many of the manual aspect of work.

I asked him if he also made the dough and the caramel by himself. I was actually curious and interested to get the recipe and may attempt to make them myself. To my surprise, he told me that the ingredients (dough and caramel) are also produced in bulk by the waffles company near Gouda. Thus, nothing is homemade anymore about these waffles.

Rolled dough is cut in pieces of circa 1-inch length


Cut pieces of waffle dough about to be pressed and baked in the waffle iron


Hot waffle fresh from the waffle iron is cut in half


...then slathered with caramel


Cooling the "stroopwafels"

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