Christmas and Family

Since coming back home to the Philippines in 2006, Christmas has been busier in the kitchen.  But I always get help from the Third Sister who comes with her kids to spend Christmas with us to be closer to our parents.  When we were in Colorado, Spouse and I almost always had Christmas dinner with Stepson.  It was a lovely time for me because Stepson had a girlfriend with three lovely young children and we decorated Christmas cookies at our house before the day itself.  The youngest  told me the last time we did that “You’re like our grandma, right Mita?”  I didn’t even think about being too young, in my mind,  to be a grandma because I was so touched by his question.  I miss those kids like crazy and now Christmas always reminds me of them.

Christmas is for kids.  Before I got married, I’d splurge on Christmas dinner and decor but never on gifts.  In fact, I’d recycle corporate gifts I got and give them to the little ones just so they had another present to rip open.  Eldest Sister’s Youngest Daughter was the best kid to give a gift.  No matter what it was, she would be happy as a clam when she opened that present.  Her tiny eyes always popped wide open and her joyous exclamations were always the happiest and loudest.  That was the  best part of Christmas always.


But the Christmas dinner, which is actually Christmas Day lunch,  has to be special because my family loves to gather round the table to eat and talk – usually about food still!  Last year on Christmas Eve, Third Sister and I were in the kitchen making our cooking plans for the Christmas lunch we always celebrated at our parents and she got so excited about the turkey she actually convinced me we HAD to do it right away.  It was almost midnight so we got started to prepare the bird that was by then defrosted and sitting in the refrigerator.  I regret not taking a photo of that bird.  I recently saw a turkey featured in some local newspaper and it was a far cry from the beauty my sister and I took home to Mama last year.  It was browned more  evenly than I ever made it – another set of eyes watching the bird does make a difference!

Yes, there was no sleep for us that night.  But what a lovely turkey breakfast we brought to Mama the next day!  It certainly wasn’t our usual thing but oh we had a great time!  The turkey was almost all gone before lunch when Eldest Sister arrived with her kids.  We made a lot of dressing to go with the bird and they got to sample some of that at least.  She brought lechon from Cebu and some other foods she cooked. Eldest Sister is a really good cook.

I’m looking forward to Christmas this year.   I’m just a Christmas person I guess.  My decorating is all done and I’m sitting here next to the Spouse with the Christmas tree all shiny and bright and cheerful.

I’m looking forward to Christmas next year even more.  We welcomed  a new addition to the family this year.   Eldest Nephew got married in October and now we have an Eldest Niece-in-Law,  our very first.  Next year, they’ll have a baby by the time Christmas comes so we’ll have the Eldest Grand Nephew or Niece.  Again, our very first and the first of his generation.  The cycle of life continues for our family.

Merry Christmas and may your tribe increase!

Mr. Bean Car Cake

The recipe I used for this cake was actually not a good choice.  It’s called a Kentucky Butter Cake and I found it in the website

I have to admit I was impressed with all the positive feedback the recipe generated.  It’s just too sweet for our taste and if I ever do this cake again, some adjustments have to be made.  First of all, I will not leave the cake in the pan as long as I did.  It got stuck in the pan after I left it in the refrigerator for a day and took me a long time and a lot of hot water to get the cakes out.

So, instead of getting into the recipe, I’ll give you some tips for the assembly. Continue reading “Mr. Bean Car Cake”

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Sami's Cake
Sami's Cake

This is a very basic carrot cake iced with a cream cheese frosting which I used for the “white cake” I wrote about in my last post.  I tweaked the recipe to my taste and think this will be my keeper recipe.  I just love this cake for the spice, the moistness, the crunch  of the nuts and the fact that it actually has some vegetable in it.  That fact kind of fools me into thinking this is a healthy cake.  You have to admit, it is healthier than a butter pound cake. Continue reading “Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting”

Birthdays and Cakes

Youngest Nephew turned three yesterday and no matter how many times I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, all he told me was “a cake”.  First it was a white cake,

then it was a green cake.

I have this theory about kids, give them what they want  now (if they’re not your kids) because you can’t afford what they want in just a few years.  For now, Youngest Nephew is happy with a Chinese-made, battery operated helicopter with lights, moving rotors, and sounds.  Cheap.  His older brother is happy with a real flashlight, “like a security guard’s” and a step trashcan – I got him both for his birthday last September.  He was happy.

Continue reading “Birthdays and Cakes”

Fish And Chips

I’m back and it’s all because my 93-year old uncle found my blog when he entered his name on google and found a post I wrote a couple of years back about our family and soybeans. Go check it out to understand the strange connection. Now, I’m in touch through email with my cousin like I’ve never been before.

I’ve written about some other family members too so I wondered if I was ever going to be found out. It had to be my uncle, the oldest member of our family – and I am so very proud of his internet savvy!

Even if I haven’t written in a few months, I’ve been cooking and trying out different recipes. My biggest thrill is to try out recipes with my family who never really got to try a lot of my cooking. This is one recipe that was a great success with everyone. I cooked this at Eldest Sister’s once and one by one, my nieces and Eldest Nephew came to see me while I was still frying away. They came out to the dirty kitchen, fish in hand, to tell me it was great. It was the sweetest thing. Eldest Sister’s kids are not that easy to please so that show was really appreciated.

Continue reading “Fish And Chips”

Larry J. Cruz, My First Boss

LJC. He was my first boss. It was a shock to hear about his death last Monday.

LJC was the first true bon vivant I met. The year I worked for him was before the LJC Restaurant Group was even formally named although they already had a string of restaurants open in the Philippines and in Washington DC. That was the year Karihan Karitela and Cafe Adriatico-Hong Kong were opened. It was an exciting time and I was so young – everything was just so new to me. Your first job is always your baptism of fire and it was for me…I still shudder when I recall how dumb I was back in those days.

LJC: Hello Mita, what did you do today?

Me: Sir, you won’t believe this…I typed ONE letter the whole day today.

LJC: Ummm….I’m not paying you to type one letter a day….

Is it any wonder I didn’t stay on long as his secretary, with my boss mostly in the US on vacation! I was promptly moved to the Marketing department. But I learned so much working for LJC. He was involved in every phase of conceptualizing, menu-planning, recipe-testing, building and construction and marketing of each and every single restaurant he opened. Everyone knows he was also a former journalist and government press officer and avid antique collector before he became a restaurateur so there was nothing that escaped his watchful eyes. I learned just by watching and listening and boy did I lap it all up.
If there’s any one person I cannot separate from LJC when I think back, it was his father. Ambassador Emilio Aguilar Cruz, Lolo Amba as his family and all his employees called him, was LJC’s best friend and probably the biggest influence in his life. It was always a pleasure seeing those two men interact – more than father and son they were mentor and student, best friends. LJC had a reverence and respect for his father like nothing I’ve ever encountered. That truly was a special relationship.

I remember LJC, like his father, had that curiosity for new technologies. You might guess my age if I tell you one story to back me up…but here goes…

When cellphones were just introduced in the market, LJC promptly got one and was on and on about how wonderful it was he could conduct business while sitting in his car weaving through the infamous Manila to Makati traffic of those days.

Lolo Amba on the other hand was so fascinated by a photocopy of my hand I had tacked by my desk and asked if it was a fax copy. He went on about how wonderful fax was and how easy communicating had become. Sadly, I lost contact with them before the internet and email. I always wondered how Amb. Cruz would have felt about it all. He would have been a great blogger if he ever got into it.

LJC’s mother, Fely de Jesus-Cruz or Lola Ising as we called her, was another fixture in those days at Bistro Burgos. She’d come by usually in the afternoons and sit by the restaurant patio. I loved talking to her and listening to her stories of when she was a young wife and mother. She was a published writer too so her stories were all very interesting and brought me to an era I never experienced.

Those days, it seemed LJC was always in a hurry…he had this purposeful shuffle, with both hands in his pockets, walking from his car to his office in an old converted garage right next to the old Bistro Burgos. I’d spy him from the second floor window of my office and before I even had time to prepare he’d be barging in with an energy that always surprised me.

He’d be on the phone with his daughter first…then he’d have his stereo playing classical, jazz or broadway music depending on his mood, and conduct his business in just a couple of hours with people coming and going through my office it made my head spin …and then he’d be off again…to one of the restaurants most probably.

LJC’s passing has left a big, gaping hole in Philippine society. He was a forceful influence not just in the restaurant industry or publishing or urban renewal. In a way, you could say his influence spanned a couple of generations of restaurant patrons in the country and raised the bar for what to expect when you enter a restaurant….spoiled us all if you will.
As each and every person walks into any restaurant bearing his name in the future, they will be welcomed into Larry Cruz’s world…a wonderful, soothing world of the best food and and music, set against an ambiance only Larry Cruz could dream up.