Tag Archives: friends

More Food and Friends!

2 Feb

Today is the official opening day of Atelier Vivanda, the heart-and-soul project of one of my friends! She is my foodie mentor and always has a great recommendation for a new dish or restaurant for me to try.

Anyway, the much-anticipated opening has been covered by multiple media sources. Here is an excerpt from www.wheninmanila.com

“It all started with two ladies looking for a great foodie experience while traveling around Europe. After trying several “best” restaurants, they came upon this intriguing perfectly-rated restaurant with a high review but with no pictures of food nor the chef. Off they went and enjoyed the food. The chef was particularly fond of these two ladies, Khristine Gabriel and Grace Lee, and to make the long story short, plans of bringing Atelier Vivanda was made. Just 3 short weeks after that serendipitous moment, world renowned Chef Akrame Benallal came to Manila to scout for locations and the rest was history. Philippines is indeed becoming not just a great food destination, but a global culinary haven.”

So, before the official opening, Khristine invited a bunch of us out to sample some of the highlights. It was a night to remember! As soon as we walked in, our tables were dressed with mounds of Thinly Sliced Smoked Beef Aged for 50 Days and a glorious selection of different cheeses!


We were even greeted by their own in-house cheese expert, who was full of all kinds of fun info about the where’s, when’s, and what’s of the different cheeses. At one point, she asked our table in her precious French accent, “Shall I bring some more cheese?” If my mouth wasn’t already full of cheese, I would’ve said, “Please….let me introduce myself. I’m Val, and the answer to that question is always a big, fat, Yes.”

After that, we started in on some appetizers. Michele and I shared the potato soup/smoked haddock/comte cheese. It was so perfectly creamy and cheesy with a flavor that tasted new and fresh with each spoonful!

I also tasted the fois gras/celery-vanilla-chili coulis/kumquat. I wasn’t much of a fois gras fan….until then! My friend put the perfect bite on a fork for me. As soon as I put it on my taste buds, I gave her that “Are you kidding me?” look.

THEN Khristine brought out her favorite appetizer for us to try. It is the boiled egg/cottage cheese mayonaise/mushrooms. Again, it wasn’t something that I would normally order, but oh-my-goodness, those Michelin chef’s can make a masterpiece out of anything!sAtelier-Vivanda-BGC-Mae-Ilagan-When-in-Manila-11-of-33

So yeah, at this point, we have tried more dishes than I usually have in an entire meal, and we haven’t even reached the entree!

Of course, we went for the steak. Michele and I shared a Black Angus Strip Loin and a Black Angus Ribeye. They were perfection.

As if that wasn’t enough, the side-dishes are ALL POTATOES and UNLIMITED! They are all in French on the menu, so I have no idea what any of them are, but each one was better than the last! We went super fancy with the Pommes Dauphines and super classic with the Mashed Potatoes. But then, of course, Khristine brought out the other three kinds of potatoes to make sure we got the entire experience.

Finally, it was time for dessert- my happy place. I think I picked the creme brulee before Michele even had a vote. But she knows me. Just like I let her snuggle with the potatoes, she let me snuggle with the creme brulee. If there was a way that humans could experience heaven, it would be this creme brulee – smooth and creamy on the inside with a sugary, crackable crust on top! (Shocking that I ate it all before I could grab a pic.)IMG_9380

True to form, Khristine kept coming in with more desserts for us to try! There was a custard pie with lemongrass ice cream. That ice cream was exploding with flavor and it complemented the pie perfectly! Another winner was the vanilla yogurt/chesnut cream/pistachio financier. I don’t know what it is, but I know that I’ve never had anything like it and was super impressed!


Here is the group before literally rolling down the stairs! The Michelin-starred chef is the guy in the photo. We may or may not have giggled like school girls around him and his accent.


What an experience! I feel so thankful that God put me in a place and around the people who influence and encourage my inner foodie!



Friends and Food

1 Feb

I think I’ve said it before, but Manila has become such a huge hub for international business in Southeast Asia, and with it comes countless and fabulous food options.

I’ve mentioned before that about 10 of us mom’s get together every other week to learn to cook from each others cultures. Last week, rather than cook, the Korean mom’s wanted to take us to one of their favorite Korean restaurants in the city. So if the kids are wondering what mom does while they are at school….


The Koreans ordered for us, so I have no idea what all we munched on. I just know 2 things: They kept bringing more and more food, and I tried everything and everything was delicious (which I know how to say in Korean!)

At one point, we had about 60 bowls of food on the table! (The clean up alone would stop me from ever starting to try and cook Korean cuisine!) Each one just had a small amount of food it it and we would just grab a bite here and there with our chopsticks. I loved that idea and think we should try it for Thanksgiving?

Like I said, I tried everything, and would pretty much grab a bite of kimchi in between bites of everything else. The weirdest thing on the table? Easily the jellyfish dish! I didn’t even know that one can eat jellyfish! It was cut into strips, so it resembled a chewy pasta.


It was a great afternoon with friends, and we were all back at school in time to pick up the kids!

Oh right, I have a blog.

5 Jan

Since we didn’t do any traveling for Christmas break, we’ve been having fun locally! There’s always something fun to do in Manila. (Except mini-golf. They don’t have it and I wish they did!) Seriously, in the 10 years that we’ve been here,  Manila has developed SO much! Folks, we have Pottery Barn! It’s insanely expensive, and all the pristine white furniture is no match for the pollution and hot, humid, mold-friendly climate, but it’s still fun to pretend! We also have Tiffany’s, but that’s a whole other level of pretend.

When we first got here, it was hard to find a decent burger, but now we have at top 10 list that never fails! Manila is one of the main cities in Asia, so we’re a hotspot for new restaurants.

Enter DinTaiFung.

This restaurant started in Taiwan, and is considered one of the top gourmet restaurants in the world! We went there in Taiwan when I was there for volleyball in October. I was mesmerized by the xiao long bao – making that we could watch through a window to the kitchen. They opened in early December, which is also the worst traffic time, so we held off going there until after Christmas. We spent New Years Eve at Megamall having a super-duper family fun day!

We started with lunch at Din Tai Fung. Everything we ordered was perfect! We got lots of xiao long bao (dumplings filled with soup and ground meat), potstickers, sweet and sour chicken, a house special noodle dish, and shrimp-fried rice. Great, I’m drooling again…


After eating, we set out to do some ice-skating! Josh squeezed his feet into their biggest skates and went with the four eldest. Simmy and I watched them for a while, but then we did some shopping. (We also have H&M!)

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“Yeah, I can talk. I’m just ice skating…”


They skated for a couple of hours, and then on our way out, we saw the bowling alley, so we stopped in for a game. All the kids loved it except for Mackenzie. She’s growing so quickly that she has a hard time putting it all together for bowling. She kept getting gutter balls and it brought her to tears a number of times. (Well, the gutter balls AND the influx of pre-teen hormones!) However, after using the first 8 frames to “warm-up,” she finally sent the last 4 throws down the middle, so she finished on a happy note.

The others had a blast. Caleb needed a little help getting the ball down the alley in fewer than 4730 seconds.

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At the snack bar, they sell personal little fountains that you can bring to the table. The kids LOVED it!


Star Wars was also playing at the IMAX theater, but we didn’t go for that. But we made sure to get a pic with one of its stars, BB8


That night, we had the annual alumni basketball and volleyball games at Faith. I wasn’t going to play in the basketball game, because I have some kind of back injury. However, they only had 4 people to play, so I felt like I should play. ( The other 5 or so basketball alumni that I saw in the stands did not feel such guilt.) So I ended up playing, and had a lot of fun! My back actually felt great during the game, but ohmygoodness, I’ve been paying for it in the following days.

After the games, it was already 10:00, but our night was still going. After all, it was New Years Eve! So we headed to a friends house who have a fantastic roof deck, perfect for watching fireworks! Unfortunately, it started to rain around midnight, so we couldn’t see much. It was the first year that they kids have gotten to stay up to ring in the new year, so they loved it. We had some of our own fireworks that they got to set off on the roof. Simmy slept through it all!

Happy New Year!



No Cuts, No Buts, No Coconuts

11 Oct

Judging from the two 10-hour sleep nights I’ve had since returning from the beach, I’d say that we had a fun vacation!

We left early on a dreary and rainy morning, which I actually liked because it made our coffee stop just a little more cozy. The kids snuggled in to watch movies during our 3-ish hour drive to the port.


Here is Bella and her buddy, waiting to get on the bangka. Josh is in the background, about to journey across the 10″ wide gangplank with a suitcase in one hand and Simeon in the other!


The trip across the ocean was uneventful and fun. Mackenzie had made puppy chow for the trip, so we busted that open on the boat.

When we arrived, we settled into our rooms. Our friends had some issues with their door not locking from the inside, and when they asked management to fix it, they blew them off! They kept saying, “It’s ok, you can lock your valuables inside when you leave.”

Our friends replied, “What about at night time? We want to lock the door while we sleep.”

They argued, “No one will break in while you are in there.”

“We don’t want to feel like we could get kidnapped while we’re here.”

“Hahahaha! That has never happened here.”

….and so on and so forth. At this point, we were all kind of shocked that management was arguing with the customer about why it’s ok for their lock to be broken! When my friend said, “It isn’t safe,” the manager responded, “Well, you have your opinion and I have mine.” what?!

Anyway, they got it figured out and we all had a relaxing afternoon, followed by one of many delicious meals.

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We had two double beds and a bunk bed, so we were all taken care of. The kids loved mixing and matching, as well as watching a movie every night as they fell asleep!

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The next morning was gorgeous! Simmy and I took a morning nap together, as he was getting over a fever and had been up a lot in the night, which meant I was up a lot in the night. When I joined the others at the beach, this was our view.



The kids got right into snorkeling and came back with lots of treasures!

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Simeon and I stayed in the shade and played in the sand (ie: ate the sand.)


Bella found a coconut laying around, so Michele cracked it open for her and the kids went and got straws and spoons to dig in.

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I love this pic of the kids playing on the outriggers in the evening!


Our place had two pools as well, which is always nice to have after a day in the saltwater. Plus, they had wonderful lounge chairs for us to supervise/chit-chat/enjoy frosty drinks/eat potato wedges.


One of those afternoons, I was so comfy in the lounge chair that I didn’t want to keep looking up to check on the kids. The brim of my hat came way down over my eyes, so I couldn’t see them unless I really extended my neck. Once again, my phone came to the rescue! I could hold up the camera and see what they were up to without moving at all. That’s how a vacation is supposed to work anyway, isn’t it?


They would even move those lounge chairs out to the beach for Michele and I each day! We were trying to figure out how we could sneak them back to our condo in Manila…


Simeon had zero issues with a mouthful of sand! Ick.



The next day, we rented a bangka to take us to some snorkeling sights.

Here he is, bringing it in and the kids checking it out.

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Here is the entire crew.


Mackenzie and her friend, ready to see some sea-life!


I’m not much of  snorkeler. I’ve tried it many, many times through the years, and I spend the entire time thinking, “OK, this is cool. Can I be done now?” I know, it’s a waste of living here, with some of the world’s best snorkeling! But it worked out, because I could stay on the boat with the littles.

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Our driver took the opportunity to catch his supper while we were anchored. I think he caught five fish and the kids loved watching him. All he had was a shrimp, hook, and some fishing line on a spool.


The kids caught a ride back to our boat from the reef.


Along with the kids, he brought a bunch of coconuts to sell. I also am not a fan of buko juice (I know, another waste of living in the tropics), but how can you NOT buy a coconut when he paddles up to you and gets it all ready to dig in to? Simeon loved it!

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Some more highlights:

-The kids spent almost every waking hour playing together in the water! It was so much fun.

-The daddies took all of the kids down the beach to a mongolian bbq one night so that Michele and I could enjoy a quiet evening together.

-Each night, we’d put the kids to sleep and the four of us would just hang out in those heavenly lounge chairs just outside our rooms.

– The pancakes and home-baked bread! I would go to sleep at night dreaming of breakfast the next morning.

-Deacon and I checked out some tide pools and found some great little critters!

-The main highlight was on our trip home…


In the middle of the ocean, our boat driver slowed down and pointed  in the distance. We saw dozens of dolphins leaping through the air!!! It was incredible. Even more amazing was that a few swam right up to our boat and stayed with us for a few minutes. It was overwhelmingly fun! Josh has a great video on his phone, but it’s over there and I’m over here…

On the boat ride home, I realized that I didn’t have any pics of Josh and I!


Simeon was getting fussy on the ride, so Bella went into entertainment mode. He was much happier after that.

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The kids spent the rest of the trip looking for more dolphins. It was a once in a lifetime moment!

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I love the memories that my kids are racking up living here!!!!

The Life of an MK

6 Sep

Poor little Deacon is having to deal with one of the hard aspects of being an MK. Tonight he had to say goodbye to one of his best friends, who will be on furlough until next school year. Goodbyes are never fun (unless this little guy in my tummy wants to say “hasta la vista” to my uterus, then it’s all good!)

Last night, we had his friend over for one last playdate, and when he went home and Deacon headed to bed, we heard him crying in his bed. When I asked him what was wrong, he could barely talk through his sobs when he said, “I want to play with D—- one more day!” Then he told me that he’d written a song about his buddy. It’s called “D—– has a big trip” and its set to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The last line says, “…and he will have fun there.” He sang it for me and then asked me to sing it to him. Then he went and got D’s picture so that he could sleep with it!!! I’ve never seen him so tender-hearted! I’m sure he won’t love having this written down when he becomes a big, tough, teenager, but I don’t ever want to forget his precious feelings and actions.

Tonight, there was a little going-away party for them at Slappy Cakes. I didn’t know if I should bring Deacon, thinking that it would start the grieving process all over again. But how could I keep him from one last evening with his friend? Deacon was so excited when he saw his buddy.


The thought that has helped Deacon is that D will be back in time for his 7th birthday. Since his 6th is right around the corner, it doesn’t seem like that long until his next birthday.

I like that my kids are experiencing goodbyes from a young age. While they are no fun to do, it keeps one from taking friendships and relationships for granted, and reminds us to be thankful for the moments that we do have with loved ones!

Swifties, Front and Center (well, kind of to the left)

7 Jun

What a fantastic experience we had last night!!!

Well, it all started back in February, when we found out that Taylor Swift was coming back to the Philippines. Our 4 girls all love her and know most of her songs. When it came time to buy tickets, it was not as easy as 1-2-click. The web site wasn’t working, so we had to go to the mall and wait in line.

Knowing that she’s been selling out in minutes at other venues, we were thrilled to be 4th in line. However, the mall’s ticket system wasn’t working either!!! Once they got it up, each customer in front of us would take looonnnnggg, thought-filled minutes to pick just the right seat. I totally get it, but we could see the seats filling up by the second!

Thankfully, we got to be two of those customers, and we left the mall happily with our 8 tickets in hand. We were waaaayyyy up in the back, having purchased the cheapest tickets available (which were still Birthday + Christmas + Flag Day gift combination price!)

So we’ve been looking forward to June 6 for months, singing Red songs at the top of our lungs in the car, and picking outfits together.

When the big day arrived, we were all set with posters, jerseys, and gifts for Taylor. Our play was to get into Club Red, a meet-and-greet reserved for super-Swifties who dress up, have posters, know the lyrics, and sitting, wouldntchaknowit, in the top-ish sections!


Josh ordered the jerseys in “replica size”, meaning they are for fans, and don’t need to be ginorm for all the padding that football players wear in games. Unfortunately, they didn’t catch that memo and so we all had huge jerseys with sleeves that made us all look like we had broken humerous-es-es! But there was no dimming the excitement! Besides, it’s more fun when we all matched.

Starting out the journey to the Mall of Asia on a Friday night. (Worst night to battle traffic!)


I think it took us about 2 and a 1/2 hour to travel the 15-20 miles! The concert was at 8pm, and we rolled in at 7:30. But we knew that Taylor wouldn’t take the stage for a while, so we went into the mall to get something to eat.

We got So.Many.Stares as our entourage went through the mall. People would stop and turn around, ask for pictures with us, and talk it up with the kids.

The funniest moment was when all the girls were in the bathroom and Josh and Dave were standing out in the mall by themselves with their Swifties jerseys on. I told them that they should make sure they always have one of the little girls with them, so they look like doting daddies, rather than hard-core, 30 + year old, matching-jersey-wearing, #1 fans of Taylor.


Michele and I, on the other hand, can TOTALLY pull it off!


When it came time to head over to the arena, we kept having to stop for one reason or another, and we didn’t get to the arena until 8:20. When we got there, we were greeted by thousands of people all waiting to get in.


It is insane that they have this beautiful venue, and they don’t know how to get people in efficiently! Keep in mind that it is already a half hour into the concert.


So it’s really reminiscent of races that I’ve been in, where we are all corralled for a long time and just move closer to the start wave by wave. The only difference is that I’m usually in running clothes and sneakers, rather than jeans and heels!

When we finally got in at about 8:40, they wouldn’t let us bring in our posters. =(

This is where things get exciting…

As we headed up, up, up and up to our seats in the rafters, we were stepping off the escalator while three people were stepping off the other one. They grabbed our attention and asked where our seats were. I responded that I didn’t know the exact spot, but used my thumb to gesture that we were way high up! With a big smile, she said, “Would you like to be down by the stage?” “Ummm…excuse me.Whatdidyousay?”

They were from the corporate sponsor, Cornetto, and had VIP passes to give to whomever they wanted. They said that they liked that we were in “costume” and together as a family. After a lot of deliberation, or none at all, we squealed and said “YES!”

Here are those AWESOME folks from Cornetto.


We seriously couldn’t be more excited as we walked through the VIP doors!


As soon as we walked into the arena, cheers erupted all around us. I thought to myself, “uhh…do they think that she’s with us?” But I think they all just saw people moving around behind the big, red curtain.

Josh and I just kept looking at each other with disbelief, because we had been pep-talking the girls for weeks saying, “Now, we’ll try to get picked for Club Red, but it most likely won’t happen. There are 20,000 of us and only 30 get selected. So you can’t let it ruin your evening if you don’t get picked, because it’s probably not going to happen.” (It turns out that Club Red happened before the concert and those selected were chosen from prior promos).

I made sure to show the girls where we were supposed to be sitting, which was up by that furthest ceiling light.


Then the lights dimmed, the crowd roared, and the spotlight appeared on the red curtain.


It was a fantastic concert!!! The girl is amazing and insanely talented.


So the above pic is her main stage. Then it bridged to a second stage, followed by a path through the crowd to a third stage. Josh, Dave, and I were right on the side of the second stage. There was only one row of people in front of us, but all being over 6′ (thanks to my wedges), we really towered over everyone!

The girls and Michele were perpendicular to us, on the back side of the second stage. They were right up front, with no one between them and Taylor, so it was perfect for little girls! They were all SO ADORABLE, screaming, clapping, waving their arms, and singing along at the top of their lungs. Mackenzie, of course, wants to take guitar lessons now.



She tossed her hat to someone in the crowd, and then mosied over to us!

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Here is a professional shot of this very moment, complete with my phone up taking this pic! Ok…so you can see Michele right above Taylor’s left arm. Mackenzie and Abby are right under her left armpit. And I think Bella’s forehead can be seen right behind Taylor. The easiest way to find me is to see my purple phone case up in the air, right by someone’s light pink top. Dave and Josh are right behind me.


When Josh saw me taking a picture of this guy, he goes, “Why are you taking HIS picture?” I just shrugged and said, ‘I like ‘im!”


This was another time she came over to our side. She’s wearing top with “Manila” on it. She hit all of the big Tagalog phrases during the concert, and the crowd LOVED it. They screamed with each, “Mahal kita” and “kumusta?”


Josh isn’t into high-waisted shorts (which is good, because I aint wearing them, especially while I’m pregnant!)  She had about 5 wardrobe changes, and I think they all featured this style, except one. Josh said, “Why does she keep wearing those shorts?!” Personally, I think she’s rocking them!

I tried to get pictures of all of her different outfits, but sometimes the light was too dark or too bright, so I missed a couple of my favorites.

She didn’t sing one of my favorite songs from the Red album, “Stay, Stay, Stay,” but she played a lot of old favorites in addition to her Red songs. Her encore was was circus-themed with stilts, clowns, and old-fashioned attractions. She finished up with, “We Are Never Getting Back Together.”



As soon as the concert was over, I turned around to Josh, and basically fell on him, saying, “I have to sit down!” Pregnant girl in heels, standing and dancing for 1 1/2 hours plus the walking to get there made for some barking dogs! Even the next day, my feet are still sore! “I don’t know about you, but I’m (NOT) feeling 22!”

“22” was definitely my favorite, followed closely by “Red”. “We’re Never Getting Back Together” and “Trouble” were also fantastic, as was “Fearless.” Ok, nevermind, she nailed them all!

That’s it. We’re never taking the girls to another concert! Now that they’ve tasted front row, how can they be satisfied with anything less? I told them that this was a once-in-a-lifetime, but I don’t think they get it.


It was definitely once-in-a-lifetime, and we’re so thankful for this special memory with our girls and friends! Aside from the sore toes, I couldn’t feel more blessed!

Step Aside, Slappy Cakes

19 Apr

One of the kids favorite restaurant here in the PI is Slappy Cakes. It’s a fun place somewhere in between the Waffle House and the Melting Pot. (Doesn’t EVERY restaurant fall in that range?) I know I’ve posted about it before, but there is a griddle in the middle of each table and each kid is given a squirt bottle of pancake batter with a range of toppings and mix-ins. The only problem is that we’re paying Melting Pot prices for Waffle House ingredients. (Ok, it’s probably still even cheaper than Waffle House, but STILL!)

Anyway, Josh planned our own Slappy Cake morning and got everything ready by himself. It was terrific!!! There was chocolate and plain pancake batter, maple syrup, blueberry syrup, mangoes, bananas, pineapple, cherry pie filling, whipped cream, peanut butter, chocolate chips, marshmallows, pecans, sausage and nutella!


The kids LOVED it, and I helped myself to two ginormous banana-pecan pancakes. Y’know, the baby wants it.

As you can imagine, after the sugary breakfast, the kids were a little crazy! At one point, this (double-jointed) Hulk came up to me and socked me with his huge (but so cute) fists!