Advent, Advent, Ein Lichtlein Brennt

Christmas Wreath

I am a big sucker for tradition. This year was no different, except for the fact that The Kid has reached an age where there are things that MUST be done. He has fully embraced Christmas, and was so excited to trim this year’s tree.

Believe it or not, my six-year old decorated the advent wreath you see above. All by himself! I may have added a few touches, putting in the candles and bundling up the pine switches around the hay base.

I am so proud to see The Kid blossom into his own person, expressing his tastes and using his creativity to decorate for Christmas. It makes me even more excited for December 25!

Lightning Mc Queen Cake


Lightning Mc Queen Cake

So a birthday boy needed a birthday cake. This is the first time that I pulled off something like this! The process is chronicled on my Instagram account (click right!). Thank my lucky stars that fondant is now readily available in supermarkets in Germany. It’s not perfect, but it took me a week to put this together (It would’ve been shorter if I didn’t spend the day hacking my brains out! I was seriously ill with the flu.)

I baked my go to chocolate buttermilk cake for this one. I baked three times the amount of the recipe, and split the batter between two 9×13 inch pans and one 8×8 inch square brownie pan. I also used Magnolia bakery’s chocolate buttercream icing recipe. You would need 1 and ahalf to two portions of the icing to cover the cake.  But you can use whatever cake/frosting recipe you prefer. After baking and cooling the cakes, I stacked the second cake over the first cake, the second cake upside down so that the flat bottom was facing up, using the icing to keep them together. Then I iced 2/3rds of the top layer, and stacked the square cake on it.

I carved the cake using a bread knife for the general shape, and a small steak knife for the refining details. Then I “dirty iced” the cake to keep all the crumbs in, and left it outside, covered with a stiff shopping bag, to freeze. The real reason I prefer baking in winter is because I don’t have a box freezer, and I could just leave it outside when the recipe calls for freezing or refrigerating.

The night the cake spent outside should sufficiently stabilize the cake enough to support the heavy fondant. I needed two big bricks of red fondant, one medium sized brick of black, another medium sized brick of white, and some blue.

The biggest discovery I made so far was pens with food coloring ink to paint the sides and logos! It was really helpful. The wheels were made by pressing an espresso cup into the black fondant, smothing it out with my hands, and sticking it to the sides of the cake.

The kids ended up not liking the cake, and treated it more like a sculpture than food. but hey, it was a great learning experience.

Thoughts on International Parenting

Bi-national and expatriate families, by default, are always straddling three cultures—the parents’, the host country, and the children who live in both worlds—hence the term “third culture kid,” which is a reality for many people who live in this global world.
What I find curious is that I am a completely different parent to my child when in Manila and when I am in Germany. It is a given that a complete lifestyle change occurs when moving to a new country, that the rhymes and rituals that were well-established in the old are chucked for new ones. It mostly depends on the climate and the pace of life in the new place. The host culture also dictates a huge part of how a child is raised.
Germans, for the most (not all) part, have strict rules when it comes to children: Children are meant to be seen, not heard. Let’s take bedtime for example. Children watch Sandman at 6:30, have dinner, read a bedtime story, and are sent to their own bed promptly at 8 pm. I am not generalizing here, since rules differ from household to household, but in an idealized German household, children are to be held to a schedule. “Kinder brauchen Regeln,” and one would be hard-pressed to find children out and about during normal weekday evenings by nightfall.
In the Philippines, children are much, much more involved in family activities, especially during social events. I remember my last night in Manila: We went to a karaoke bar and sang our hearts out until 1 am. There were four children under the age of 5 in our group on a school night! While normal in the Philippines, this is completely taboo in Germany.
This has of course created a hybrid in how I raise my child. I am too strict by Filipino standards, while I am too lax for Germans. I find that in Manila, I expect my child to act more “Filipino,” in that I expect independence in the form of playing with his cousins. In Germany, I don’t have the heart to force my child to sleep in his own bed, because sleeping next to your children is normal in the Philippines.

In another vein, how I parent also changes where I am. I find myself to be a more “top-down” parent in Manila, while in Germany, I spend more time with my son. I guess this is because much of the grunt work is taken from me by the household help.

Has your parenting style changed after an international move? I would welcome answers!

A Hankering for Home–Arroz Caldo

We have had a spell of cold weather lately, which kinda sucks because it was already so warm! I always want a bit of home when I get the blues, so I made Arroz Caldo. It is basically the Filipino version of Congee, that much-beloved Chinese rice porrige. It is normally served during cold days, for breakfast, or when one is having a meh day.

It is quite easy to make, the only thing that you need to look out for is the kind of rice that you are using. Filipinos normally use a mixture of normal and sticky rice, but risotto rice or German Milchreis is also an acceptable variety.

First, finely mince three cloves of garlic and dice an onion finely. Chop about an inch’s length of ginger into matchsticks. In a large, deep casserole, sauté the onion and garlic in about four tablespoons of oil, then add half of the ginger and about three to four pieces of chicken in the pot and slightly brown them. When the chicken pieces are slightly brown, throw in a small amount of water (about fourth of a cup) into the pot and let the juices seep out of the chicken (this is a technique I picked up from Burnt Lumpia), about 10 minutes. Season the chicken with salt or fish sauce and soy sauce for some color and pepper, then wait another five minutes to let all the juices seep out because of the salt. Then I add enough water to fully submerge the chicken, and wait until the water comes to a boil. 

When the water starts boiling, add a cup or two of rice and the rest of the ginger and lower the heat. Cover the pot. Stir occasionally to check if the rice is done, about 30-40 minutes. Boil a little longer if it is too watery, or conversely, add more water if the porridge is too thick. Season with salt or fish sauce and pepper, and garnish with chopped chives, safflower, and a sliced hard-boiled egg. Sprinkle the porridge with a touch of calamansi (lemons and limes are acceptable substitutes) and more fish sauce, and you have the Filipino comfort food in a bowl!

And there are many different variations to this basic recipe. If you take out the chicken pieces from the stock before adding the rice, and omit the soy sauce and fish sauce, you are making lugaw, which is what we feed babies, the elderly, and the sick. Use pig or cow intestines instead of chicken, it’s called tripa, because of well…tripe. The local version of Blutwurst can also be used as a garnishing.

As for me, I prefer eating one-day old re-heated Arroz Caldo.


Darth Vader Cake



I was asked to make a Darth Vader cake two weekends ago, and the mere thought of it make me laugh so hard that I thought, “why not?” The recepient is a four-year old boy, who is probably not super-critical of the cake’s imperfections. And hooo boy, they were many!

This is a cake of firsts. Not only is this my first Darth Vader cake, this was my first-ever cake iced entirely with fondant, and the first ever cake I have ever molded freestyle, without a template to follow.

And I so thank the Lord that Xenos has ready-made fondant! No more making my own and worrying about how to get the color! I bought two bricks, for 3 euros each. With fondant this cheap, it was perfect for experimentation. This cake was very instructional for me on how to work with fondant. As you see, things didn’t patch up quite nicely. Lesson number 1: Do not break up fondant to flatten, as the seams will show. Maybe it is better to roll, then flatten?

Under that fondant is my standard Chocolate Buttermilk cake, although any kind of cake will do. I baked two cakes, one in a lined, buttered and greased  round springform and another in a square pan. Make the cake the night before and freeze to dry out. In my case I just left it outside, since temperatures were hovering just above zero (40°F).

The next day, I liberated the cakes from the forms, cut the round one across in half and placed the dome-shaped top at the bottom of the glass plate. Spread some icing (I used Magnolia’s choco buttercream) to even the surface, then placed the other half over it, bottom-side up. I did the same thing to the square pan, but instead I cut the cake again in half, then in triangles. The proportions were just estimated to suit the size of the round cake, so I couldn’t give any exact measurement. All I can say is that I cut a right triangle, slathered it with cream, then put another triangle on top of it. Then slather the whole thing with frosting, locking in all the crumbs.

After that, I rolled the fondant on a marble surface dusted with starch, and draped it over the cake. I cut the excess in some places and it tucked in the cake, but there were places that came up short and I had to add a few more fondant strips to the sides.

The details were made using white and gray fondants, based on this Darth Vader cake. Despite the imperfections, the birthday kid was happy, the parents were happy, and the children happily ate Darth Vader. So I guess I’m happy, too!


Hotel Panorama Oberhof


New Year’s was great in our family. I hope you had a great one too!

We ( meaning I, ) needed a to get away during the New Year, as didn’t really want to spend it at home thinking about the million things I had to do. The requirements were: a) it had to be cheap,  b) it had to be near home, and c) it had to be child-friendly.

Hotel Panorama in Oberhof located in the Thuringian forest fit the bill. We spent the weeked there and spent only around 300 euros, so that is a really good deal.

oberhofThe view heading up to the hotel was spectacular, with a brilliant blue sky at the background. One of the main attractions for me was the indoor playground at the hotel, which used to be the tennis court/ sports club. They had an indoor wall climbing facility, a Segway course (with Segways for rent) and all kinds of playground facilites like a ball pool, soccer field, and a bobby car racing track. Parents can watch their kids play at the restaurant or even enjoy a massage armchair for a 2 euro/ 10 minute massage.

oberhof1Day two was spent wandering around Oberhof. The place is known for its skiing and its glass artisans, and so we watched one in action in a shop, where they held a glass-blowing demonstration for the tourists. Several kids were present, and there is really something about fire that transfixes people. I couldn’t believe that the children were so quiet during the whole presentation!

Day three was spent at an exotic reptile and fish terrarium further downtown, and got in for free using the Oberhof Pass that tourists receive. I think I should not have told my kid that pythons eat little children…

Of course, 300 euros also means that you can’t expect the best service and top facilites. Although they tried their best, the the cheap price and the resulting influx of guests meant that I had to wait nearly an hour for my burned “Chicken Cordon Bleo” at the restaurant downstairs.

Our room was great. It was clean, and was cleaned regularly. While the rooms were renovated, I think that our room, and the hotel in general, needs a little updating to move it from 1990 to 2014. That tacky spray-painted mural by the indoor swimming pool has to go, and the hot tub needs to be fixed.

But why does that matter? Thanks to the poor internet connection in the mountains, I was disconnected from Facebook and other distractions unless I was at the lobby, and finally got to read a  book from cover to cover within three days. it was unexpectedly a delight. My son had a great time, and is asking when we’re going back. That is what I call a successful vacation.


Silay’s Iron Dinosaurs

Having a son addicted to motor vehicles and steam engines, I will go to the ends of the earth to make sure he will get his wish.

I wanted to visit Silay, Negros Occidental for many reasons. One of them was to visit heritage houses, mostly from the American colonial era, and the steam engines. Germany has many well-preserved steam engines, but they are all colored black. I would of course not pass up the chance for my son to see Thomas the Locomotive in the flesh.

That meant my son and I camped out in Silay for a week and made kulit (Tagalog for being a pushy pain in the neck) the marketing person of the sugar plantation of the Hawaii-Philippine Co. These wonderful narrow-gauge (I think they were judging by the tracks) steam locomotives are two of the last remaining steam engines used to transport sugarcane to the refinery at the compound where the offices are located. The lady said that they are rented out for 15 thousand pesos a day to tourists. Otherwise they languish in that compund. Such a shame!

I suggested to her that the company could hold special tours, gussy up that engine, acquire or renovate a few train cars, and hold events like the Nikolaus Express like in Europe and the US. I hope that there is someone out there reading this who has the power to move thesse kinds of things and add another tourist attraction to Silay, which is really a lovely place to visit with delicious food to boot!

Nikolaus Express

My boy is a boy. I tried to encourage a gender-neutral upbringing, but no dice. The boy loves his toy cars and trains. Friday morning was extra special. He got up early, and excitedly played with his Thomas and Friends locomotives.

Every year, the Deutsche Bahn with a group dedicated to train preservation organizes about four events a year with a DRB Steam Engine–the train drivers even wear engineer’s caps for authenticity. The events are mostly geared towards children, like the Nikolaus Express. Nikolaus is the original Santa Claus, who comes to Germany and gives candy to children on December 6. So of course I try to book tickets for us every year.

This year’s trip was once again filled with small freebies. This year we got a pocket storybook, a keychain, a re-usable bag, book markers, and of course, chocolate and candy. Aside from the sights of the countryside, it is quite interesting to see Dampflok afficionados throughout the route following and photographing the train as if it were a model.  It is very much worth the ticket price of 15 euros!

Tickets can be bought over this website. It is important to get the tickets at least two months in advance, since they sell out quite quickly!

Aside from the

Goodbye, Lantern

Missing: This year’s lantern

Alas, this year’s Martinmas lantern was lost in the crush of people in the tram back home. It was a lovely papier-mache lantern made with layers of pink, white, and red glossy transparent paper, also known as papel de japon.

I was quite proud of this lantern. As a former cosplayer, papier mache is a familiar medium to me, as I used it a lot to make props.

lantern1It is quite easy to make, too. Just take an appropriate-sized balloon and in a small container, dilute a dollop of white or clear glue with a tablespoon of water and mix with a paintbrush.

Cut the appropriate-colored paper and cut into squares roughly 1 inch square in size. Paint a small area of the balloon with the glue mixture, paste the strip of paper on the balloon, then paint it over again with glue. Do this repeatedly, with the papers overlapping each other, making sure that the balloon is covered without holes. Make a bowl of papier mache, and let it dry overnight before repeating the process and adding the second layer. You need at least three layers for the paper not to cave in when you pop the balloon after the third layer. To make the design, reinforce the area where the design should be by adding a third layer of the same color. When it dried, I traced the shape on the area, then covered the area around the shape with a darker-colored paper.

Oh well, at least I get to make it again next year 🙂