I have yet to figure out why among all the Filipino pastries, there is none I associate more with Christmas than bibingka. Even though it has become pretty mainstream these days, I still cannot help but feel this way. I’ve told the story before– about how it became such a part of my Christmas childhood because my Mom always bought me one after mass– and even though it’s been so many years since we’ve done that, I still remember the warmth that the bibingka, with a square of toasted banana leaf underneath to give it that lovely earthy smell, gave my little heart.
But aside from bibingka, you know what else I suddenly feel myself drawn to during Christmas? Hot chocolate. I love chocolate, but since I am a coffee kind of gal I tend to forget about hot chocolate the rest of the year– until the chill in the weather arrives and the season becomes conducive for cozy-ing up with a cup of steaming hot chocolate and extra large clothes.
Vacation mode with bibingka and hot cocoa? I’ll take a double order of that!
Wow, the word “vacation” seems like such an alien word to me now. Back when I was a student, the signal for Christmas cheer to start flooding through my veins would be the last day of my final exams. I remember our enthusiasm bouncing off the white stretch of our university hallway as my friends and I rushed out of the classroom after submitting our papers. We whisper-shouted “IT’S CHRISTMAS BREAAAAAK!” as loud as we dared, lest we get in trouble for causing a ruckus. (Not on our last day of school for the year!)
Still, the bright looks we cast each other is enough. Before heading home we would have our Christmas meal together, exchange gifts, take lots of photos. Then once home, I’m sure I am one in the million of students who start lounging around without a care in the world, get up late the next morning and stay in my pajamas until noon…
Man those were the days.
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Ever since I discovered S&R it has become one of my favourite places to shop, especially for imported food. I think anybody who has visited S&R will agree that the place is a treasure trove of interesting imported brands and food items; from meats and other frozen things to pasta sauces, spreads, confections… Even body and beauty brands like the famous EOS Lip Balms have now made their way to S&R’s shelves. It’s really nice to be able to find something new in-store each time I visit.
My Dad, brother, and I decided to do a little last-minute Christmas shopping a few days ago, and as we arrived at the Congressional branch on a Thursday afternoon I was a little surprised by the number of people who were shopping. It’s not as many as the people who flock to S&R’s now-infamous sales but still quite a number for a weekday. Guess everyone is engaging in their favourite hobby with the upcoming holidays as an excuse haha!
I always like to visit S&R around this time of the year because all the cute holiday packs and the seasonal goodies sprout like daisies on the shelves. I am never disappointed, I tell ya. There has always been a lot, but it feels like this year there’s even more! Cookies and candies and chocolates in gorgeous holiday packaging with a ribbon on top, holiday bundles from famous brands… They are making it incredibly easy for Christmas shoppers to reach the bottom of their to-buy list. Year after year, my family comes here to shop for the things we fill our gift bags with because there are a lot of unusual choices.
Just a note to those who might be unaware: S&R is a membership shopping establishment, which means you have to be a member to be able to shop here. At the very reasonable price of Php 700 per year (that’s less than Php 60 per month, really) you can avail of a Gold Membership already, and you can even add an extension card for another member of the household for just Php 400. (They have a corporate card as well but since we only have the Gold card I can’t really say much about that one. You can check out this link for more details though.)
Essentially what being an S&R member means is that you get to shop at low prices for items that you would not be able to find anywhere else! (Bonus since S&R has slashed the prices even more for certain items thanks to their Anniversary sale until December 31! Look for the price tags in RED!) S&R is well-aware that many people are hankering for the most interesting products that come from all over the world, but they need for it to also have the best value for money of course. With that in mind they offer S&R Club Pricing for their members to help them shop at lower prices and save money on their purchases, especially during the holiday season when everyone has such a long list of things to buy. Being a member here equals shopping at low prices!
That said, I thought it might be nice to share the interesting things I saw (and bought) during my visit. This “walking gift guide” of sorts is going to be patterned after what my family picks out when we begin to pack our own giftable goodie bags every year, as well as some holiday cheer-inducing items we have around the house.
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I feel like the closer we get to Christmas, the more people are prone to becoming a bit frazzled by the holiday grind. We all have to keep track of the parties, and whether or not we’ve already bought gifts for everyone on our list. Add to that there is some form of anxiety for people who are planning to cook their own Christmas feast or host their own parties. Even if you do it every year, it can still be daunting.
Personally since I’m more party-goer than party-hoster, I like to take this opportunity to get creative in the kitchen and try out recipes that I feel are really special. The sort that would be fun additions to any potluck party or fitting to hand as a gift to the host. Somehow when the holiday season comes around, I also have more energy and enthusiasm to attempt recipes I normally wouldn’t make on any regular old day. You know, recipes that kind of require more effort like cupcakes with fluffy Swiss meringue frosting, or the show-stopping Buche de Noel. I also allow myself to gravitate towards those really rich and sinful desserts, such as the baklava.
We often order baklava for dessert when we eat at Greek restaurants and my impression was always that it is something difficult to make. It’s not the chopped nuts but the golden layers of phyllo pastry (or filo/fillo, doesn’t really matter since it’s all the same!) that looks rather challenging to replicate.
It’s not. All you need is a secret ingredient called frozen store-bought phyllo pastry!
The thing about baklava for me is that it is massively impressive. I imagine if you brought this to a Christmas potluck party- at least locally- people would oooh and aaah because it’s a rather uncommon dessert to bring to a Christmas party. The next thing they always seem to ask is if it was difficult to create it. Truth be told it takes less than 20 minutes to assemble the whole thing, though you are going to need to make this ahead of time because it needs a good deal of umm… sponging time. I’ll explain later.
Since it’s not at all too late yet to add this to your holiday menu or gift list, maybe you’d want to see for yourself how easily it can be done? And by the way, this ain’t just any baklava recipe. It’s a chocolate baklava recipe. I mean, it’s Christmas, so basically you have the license to go all out with the good stuff, yes?
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Every Christmas season requires a cookie recipe, and it’s been years since I last made any gingerbread people. At some point I had been thinking about creating a whole gingerbread town because I wanted to learn how to put up those adorable gingerbread houses, but now I am reminded just why I put that on hold.
Man did my back hurt after making this hahaha! It’s the curse of tall people forced to work on low worktables. Our chairs aren’t high enough for the counters so sitting down while working is difficult too. When I move into my dream house I will make damn sure my counters are a little higher. But since that is still many years away I am not planning on waiting that long to make a gingerbread town. Maybe next year if time permits? I’ll buy a bar stool or something.
Sore backs aside, I also rediscovered the reasons why I love gingerbread cookies in the first place. Apart from their spicy flavour that always makes me feel all warm and cozy inside, they are so cute! This recipe in particular has a deep chocolate flavour with a wonderful tinge of orange.
I love decorating them with royal icing to add a little sweet crunch. Not like the flooded type of decorations, mind you. I prefer my cookies with just the right touch of piped decoration; enough to make them cute but not too hard to bite into nor too sweet.
The version I made this year is hands-down the household favourite among all the gingerbread cookie versions I’ve made before. I’m going to go on a limb and say that it’s probably because of the addition of dark chocolate, giving the cookies a deeper dimension in flavour apart from the cinnamon and ginger and molasses. I’m not going to tell you to eat these cookies with milk because I discovered that the flavours are even more magnified when the cookies are dipped into a steaming hot cup of coffee!
Seriously good stuff!
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