Tow Mater Cake

cakeSo my boy’s birthday just rolled by. Wow, I gave birth to him how many years ago? Time flies so fast…

This time of the year, I turn into a baking dervish (is that a term?) cooking and baking for my kid’s birthday party. This year was a little different. Since I have a full-time job, I was a little pressed for time to make a 3-D Mater Cake–my kid’s special request this year. So I made a compromise and adapted a cake from this recipe.

I am not a big fan of box cake mixes, so I made my go-to recipe for moist chocolate buttermilk cake. Like with all other cakes I’ve made the past birthdays, challenges cropped up when I least expected them. First of all, I am so grateful to have found ready-to-roll out fondant at the local Xenos shop, and not the liquid goop they sell at the supermarkets here. This means I did not have to make my own fondant this year.

Basically the hardest part was finding substitues for the American products suggested my the recipe. No way in hell I was gonna order a whole pack of Jolly Ranchers online when I only needed two of them for a cake. My goodness, I had no idea that finding chocolate chocolate donuts were gonna be a challenge. I finally found them at the local McCafe for a euro fifty a pop–quite steep but I hoarded all three left at the stand. This place seriously needs an Dunkin’ Donuts.

So basically the side mirrors and wheels were made from two donuts, the bars holding the mirrors in place were yellow fondant, the eyes and teeth were made of white fondant, and irises were a mix of white/green/yellow, and the busted headlight black fondant cut out using a cough medicine bottlecap. The other headlight is a Haribo Jogi-Bussi. The pupils are brown mini-Smarties

Now the recipe had a template for the eyelids and the mouth, but it was more difficult to get the fondant in that dark color. It was easier to mix more brown coloring into the chocolate buttercream icing, and just free-style scratched out the areas where they were supposed to be and carefully spread out the darker icing in that area.

cake1I guess my frustration at not getting to make the 3-D cake that I wanted drove me to make three mini-Mater cupcakes made of honey loops, M&Ms, and white fondant (God forbid I use Eclipse gum on a cake!). The one pictured came from my 4 inch springform pan and a normal cupcake, while the two others were made with normal.sized cupcakes and mini-cupcakes. I left out the frosting except at the places where the wheels and the headlights had to stick.

All in all, I was quite happy with the results and the best part was that the party was a success. I am looking forward to Disneyland next year when I don’t have to do any baking at all!

Mainstream Media is Hurting My Kid’s Language Immersion

As you all know, I am trying to raise a tri-lingual kid. Raised bilingual myself, I place a premium on language learning, just like my grandfather had with me. We have got English down pat. Tagalog is an area we need to work on. His German is fluent. He still makes mistakes, but it won’t be long before he starts correcting my German.

Now my kid loves nothing more than Cars. Like a typical kid, he seriously has fallen for the merchandising Disney trap that I am trying to keep at bay.

So he was watching his Cars 2 DVD a month ago when he requested that we watch it in German. Now I insist that we watch things in their original language, since German is the community language and I have a short time frame to pump the two other languages into him.

When I asked him why, his answer was so clear and mature that it surprised me. “Because only the bad guy speaks German.”

Which is completely understandable. Hollywood still has a tendency to assign a non-American accent to peripheral players and villains. You would never see a gun-toting secessionist from Alabama as a movie bad guy. Now if the only character that my son can relate to is evil, of course he’d rather see the movie without this prejudicial lens.

And if the only Tagalog movies gaining European attention are poverty-core galore, how would that affect my kid’s identity as a Filipino? Is he to think that all Filipinos are violent slum-dwellers? Which is what most Europeans think about us anyway?   It’s not a big leap of logic that he may one day completely reject his Filipino side, as I see many Germany-based mestizo kids do.

If American/Western based mass media is to be believed, my son is a nazi slum-dweller with a mail-order bride for a mom who can’t speak fluent German. That ultimately hurts us all, and hopefully, We will get to experience a more inclusive media landscape, where an accent is not considered the proverbial black cowboy hat.

For more information on raising a multi-lingual child, go to


I am generally a patient person. I couldn’t be an English teacher if I weren’t. However my friend Anne has got me beat. She is excellent in involving her kids in the process of cooking and food preparation. I tend to be perfectionist, and do get irritated when my kid doesn’t or can’t make it like Mommy does.

So last week we got together and made something wonderful out of two almost overripe apples. They are easy to make, and my son and his friends had a lot of fun making them. So what if they aren’t perfect? They taste divine just out of the oven, and that is all that matters.

The recipe comes from Backzeit, a baking cookbook sponsored by Swiss Milk Producers Association.

You’ll need: For the base, 200g flour, 1/2 tsp. baking powder, a pinch of salt, 3 Tbsp. sugar, 100 g cold butter, cut into small squares, and a scrambled egg.

For the toppings, 3 Apples (Cox Orange recommended, but not necessesary); cored, peeled and cut thinly lengthwise,  50 g melted butter, 2 Tbsp sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.

Pre-heat oven to 220°C. Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the butter and rub it with your hands into the dry ingredients. Form a well, drop the egg, and mix only until well incorporated: DO NOT KNEAD. Wrap with plastic film and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, you can peel and halve the apples. Remove the cores, slice the apples in quarters, then again into thin slices. Mix the melted butter with the sugar and cinnamon.

Pinch out a walnut-sized piece of dough and roll it flat. Alternatively, you can roll the entire thing flat and use a round cookie cutter 3 inches in diameter and punch out the cookie dough.  Place the apples on them accordion-style and brush them with the butter-cinnamon mixture. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and  bake for 15 minutes. Serve warm and enjoy!


French Toast

These are a beloved childhood favorite. These are special treats made by my dear departed grandma when we had pan de sal left over from the day before. Her recipe was to dip the halved rolls in a mixture that consisted of  two eggs, a tablespoon of sugar, and a bit of evaporated milk whisked together, then fried in oil.

I still make french toast when I have too many pieces of toast left over to prevent them from going bad, which was the case last weekend. So in lieu of pancake Saturday, we had french toast 🙂 I’ve tried many recipes, but I’ve stuck with Nigella’s because 1) I am pretty traditionalist with my french toast;  and 2) the ingredients are all things I have lying around the house, and I don’t have to do extra shopping to whip up a batch.

The only thing I would change about Nigella’s recipe is her technique: I do not soak my french toast for five minutes at each side, since it soaks up too much egg and the bread slices break up when you put them in a pan.

They tasted as good as they looked. When was the last time you made french toast?



It’s been a humid,  wet summer, warm rain, just like in the Philippines.

Since the weather wants to play Filipino, I indulged in my favorite rainy weather comfort food: Filipino chicken soup, aka Tinola!

There are as many versions of Tinola as there are Filipinos on this planet, so don’t bother looking for the “one true Tinola.” However, what we can agree on about Tinola is that it always consists of chicken parts, water, ginger, and fish sauce. I based the technique on Burnt Lumpia’s Tinola, but basically this is my recipe for Tinola. The great thing about it is that you can use whatever green veggie you have handy, so if you have spinach, go for it!

For my version of Tinola, I use:

500 g of assorted chicken parts, 4 Tbsp. crushed or finely diced ginger, 1 clove of garlic, crushed, 1 small green papaya or chayote (known in Tagalog as sayote, available in Asian food stores), peeled and sliced lengthwise. You can use these assortment of greens: 1 cup of chili leaves, or a bunch of tatsoi, or malunggay (moringa oleifera) leaves. Two cups of water, salt, pepper, and a very liberal application of fish sauce depending on your taste is needed.

In a deep pot, heat about five tablespoons of cooking oil, and sauté the ginger and garlic until fragrant, then add the chicken to lightly sear them all around. Salt the chicken while sautéing. Add a splash of water and quickly cover the pot. When the pot stops steaming, add a cup of water bit by bit, and let the pot simmer for 20 minutes. Add the next cup of water bit by bit, then put in the papaya or chayote, and simmer for another 10 minutes. Add some pepper and fish sauce, according to your liking, and then add your greens. Serve when the greens have just wilted.

This is traditionally eaten as a viand with a fresh plate of steamed rice and a small dish of fish sauce to season. Enjoy!




Using Cloth Diapers

When I was pregnant, I was determined to use cotton diapers at home. I couldn’t really tell you why I wanted to go cloth, but I think it had a lot to do with my growing environmental consciousness at the time.

I wasn’t a complete tree hugger though. I compromised a bit by using disposables when we went out and at bedtime, and made sure that they were the eco-friendly sort in which 60 percent of it fully decomposed. A pack of 30 diapers were on average 2 euros more expensive than the non-biodegradable sort, but because they eased my guilty conscience, they were worth it.

I bought a used set of 10 cotton diapers, and bought about 12 more. Diaper liners made solid waste disposal easy. Since they were biodegradable and flushable, they were easy to dispose in the toilet. A kitchen towel folded in half would do in a pinch, as I discovered during a trip to the US.  Soiled diapers went immediately in an IKEA Garbage can, and I had enough diapers that I only did diaper laundry once a week. I soaked them in wash soda overnight in the can, wrung them out, flushed the water into the toilet, and washed with soap nuts.

Since safetey pins scared me, I used a Snappi Diaper Fastener. What was problematic for me was finding the right waterproof diaper covers. Those made in the Philippines were not sturdy enough to withstand the tougher laundry cycles of German washing machines. Fuzzibunz were great, but expensive. I would definitely invest in similar covers and inserts if I ever have a second kid.

I was surprised at myself for being so adamant about it, and actually following through before my son expressed to me at his seventh month that he did not want to wear cloth diapers by pointedly removing them every time I put them on him. He was fully potty trained by the time he was 2 and a half, and was dry during the nights two months after that. His early (for Western standards) potty training could have resulted from a combination of the cloth diapering and the reward/motivation-based system that I used, as was suggested to me by a friend’s mom.

Reflecting on my parenting style, I’ve discovered that my grandmothers had a huge influence on my mothering. Both my grandmothers were ahead of their time since I never called them Grandma, but “Mommy” on my mother’s side, and “Nanay” on my father’s side. Both grew up in the provinces during the war, both experienced poverty and hardship.

It was no surprise to me to discover that my paternal grandmother thought nothing of nursing a baby openly in a jeepneý, after reprimanding my cousin for using a nursing cover-up. She is a very natural, maternal sort, and no-nonsense. She is a very neat person, and hates it when things go to waste.

My maternal grandmother was very much into herbs and fruits and nature. She had a green thumb, and we always had fruit trees in our yard. She also liked to cook, and had a taste for the finer things in life, and learned how to make fantastic meals from simple ingredients from her.

Although I started using disposables exclusively by his 8th month, it didn’t mean that his cloth diapers were no longer used. They made for excellent burp cloths, emergency blankets, sun shade, picnic blanket. They don’t get much milage from me now, and I am still reluctant to re-purpose them as rags. Who knows? I might need them again in a year or two.


Jein is one of my favorite German words. It starts with a soft “y”, and with the sharpness of the  “ein,” at the end, makes it sound like an ache you cried out.

It is a combination of the words for yes, “ja,” and no, “nein.” The closest English equivalent is “yeahbut…”

I’ve been thinking about the move. If the commune were willing to give me the space in the attic, then I would definitely say JA. But the thought of downgrading my life to 16 square meters is  exhausting, especially with everything that has been going on in my life right now. A kitchen of my own, I’m sorry to say after self-examination, is a non-negotiable. I really searched within myself if I were willing to share a bathroom with somebody not in my immediate household. Yes, and I’ve done it before. Not having even a teeny-tiny tea kitchen? No.

The space in the attic, they said, will be used as a common space, and they don’t have the money to build it anyway. If I were able to come up with the financing and be a member of the e.V. and not just be a renter, that would solve that.

The biggest equation in the “yeahbbut” debate was my current job situation. I am willing to move to other parts of Germany, and overseas, if need be. That would make the whole commune living argument moot. In fact, that makes even moving to a different part of Erfurt, which my father-in-law has been asking, and I have been resisting for different reasons, moot.

The Mommy Files: Should I Live in A Commune?

No, I am not running away to India. Rather, I’ve been invited to join a group of like-minded people who are building a multi-generational Wohngemeinschaft (living community), one of the many alternative living projects that are popping up in Germany like mushrooms. I’ve been invited to join an e.V., and this organization’s project was to renovate a century-old brownstone building. Instead of keeping the layout of individual apartments, they decided to turn it into a giant shared apartment. The owners and tenants will not have individual apartments, but individual rooms. There are communal bathrooms on each floor, a common kitchen, a shared library, two balconies on each floor, and a common living room. So basically, if I move into this place, I’ll be living in a retirement home without retiring.

The thing is, I already turned them down once. However, one of the people backed out the last minute, because the community isn’t granola enough for them (really! They wanted everyone to eat meals at the same time!) They have asked me to reconsider, since they know me and they know my principles (if you read this blog, you know that I’m a bit crunchy). Today, they were enticing me to move in by showing me the kitchen equipment at my disposal if I do decide to live with them.

I’ve got until Tuesday to make my decision. Now here are the pros and cons of moving there.


I know the people– The organizer of this project is a mom in my son’s kindergarten (in fact, that’s how we met). She is as granola as me: meaning, we live an alternative lifestyle but are aware that money is not the enemy. Two of the people who live there are from my community garden club, and I was responsible for hooking them up to this living community in the first place because I backed out. They’re all crunchy Catholic Bavarians, and I know that I will get along with them fine.

Saves babysitter money– There will be several children in the building: two of them go to my son’s kindergarten. He’ll never run out of playmates, basically re-creating my childhood in the Philippines growing up surrounded with children. As an only child, he constantly bugs me to play with him. Not a problem here. There will also be several other people who I trust who can watch over my kid.

Cheaper rent– ’nuff said.

Cooking will be more fun– it’s much more fun to cook for several people than cooking for yourself.


Serious downgrade my life-mode– The reason the rent is cheap because as of now, there is only one available room, 16 square meters. This means I’ll have to downgrade my life to 2006 levels, when my life fit in one suitcase.Then wait until a room frees up.

Shared kitchenOne of the many things that foreigners notice about Germany is that they are attached to their kitchens. They are so attached to it that when they move house, they take the whole kit and kaboodle, along with the lighting fixtures. Seriously, the only thing left are the shower, toilet and sink. I didn’t get it until I started cooking. I love my kitchen so much that it was seriously the only thing I missed about Germany when I spent a month in Manila. The first thing I did when I got home was take pictures of it and uploaded them to Facebook to show my brother what my kitchen looked like. A shared kitchen for me is actually worse than a shared bathroom. I notice that the older I get, the less compromising I become

Job Situation– I am looking for a job, and I don’t really want to relocate twice in case I have to move to a different state.

I have tonight to sleep over my decision. Wish me luck!


The Mommy Files–ACE Water Spa

One of my favorite things to do in Germany is to go to the local swimming hall (Spaßbad) with my son, and spend the day swimming indoors, in warm water, especially when it’s cold out.

I was very happy to find out that this is also possible in the Philippines, with the opening of ACE Water Spa. It costs about 550 Php, or about 10 euros entrance. It is basically the same price in Germany, with the same facilities. They also provide a swim cap, probably to protect the filter system of the water, which you have to give back at the end of your 4-hour stay.

They also have a sauna, which many people unfortunately don’t know how to use. Scented pools, massage whirlpools, and a swimming pool. I was very impressed by the facilities. Unfortunately, no photos allowed inside, so all I have is a blurry picture of the spa from the viewing window.

They also have a restaurant and hotel, but it looks pricey, from what I gather from their website.

So if you are stuck in Manila during the rainy season, ACE Water Spa seems to be a good place to take your kids. Although at this moment, Manileños are enjoying (?) the summer heat. What I would not give for a glass of halo-halo!

Ace Water Spa

United St. cor. Brixton St. near Pioneer, Pasig City

and 399 Del Monte Avenue (near cor. Banaue St.) SFDM, Quezon City

Open from 6 AM to 10 PM (weekdays) or 11 PM (weekends)

Entrance 550 Php Adults, 250 Php for children under 4 ft.


Chicken Nuggets

This low-calorie Chicken Nugget recipe is a favorite stand-by for chicken breast recipes. It is quick and easy to do, perfect for a quick dinner. I eat this UFC banana ketchup and rice :-).

The English translation of this recipe is: 

A pack (1 pound or 500 g) chicken breast, chopped into bite-sized pieces

60 ml Buttermilk, or 60 ml milk thickened with a teaspoon of vinegar

Half a cup of crumbled cornflakes. I take a thick, food-grade ziploc plastic bag, fill it with cornflakes and beat the ever-loving shit out of it with a rolling pin.

1 and a half tablespoons of flour

Salt and pepper

A few drops of Tabasco sauce or a knifetip Sambal Olek

Some olive oil.

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Wash the chicken, pat dry and cut into pieces. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the milk with the tabasco in a bowl. In a deep dish, mix the flour, cornflake crumbs, and more salt and pepper. Dip the chicken pieces in the milk mixture, then in the cornflakes mixture

Lay the chicken pieces on a lightly-greased baking sheet, about an inch apart. Place a drop of olive oil on each nugget and bake each side for 15 minutes each.

The chicken pieces retain their juices after baking, and are so flavorful, I haven’t used another chicken nugget recipe since finding this one a few years ago!