Breakfast at BenCab Museum’s Cafe Sabel

Part of the family’s Baguio vacay itinerary is a visit to the BenCab Museum. After hearing rave reviews about the place from friends for so long, and having an art geek for a daughter, I was glad to finally step foot in it.

Well, the 30-minute travel and all the walking around that we did took its toll on me and I got so hungry. The fam then decided to take our breakfast at Cafe Isabel, located at BenCab Museum’s lowest level.

Similar to the museum’s upper levels, Cafe Sabel offers fantastic views of the mountainside. It also leads to an organic farm and garden that, sadly, we weren’t able to explore due to the rain. The farm supplies fresh and organic ingredients for the cafe’s food offerings.

Our food orders were:

  • Basil Pesto (Php200). The pasta has a fresh flavor and is adequate as a snack. You might want to add to your order if you’re really hungry (like we were!)
  • Bagnet Rice (Php350). The crispy bagnet with melt-in-your-mouth fat went so well with the mountain red rice and chili eggplant salsa. After seeing me finish off my plate, hubby ordered his own.
  • Carbonara (Php200). A bit on the saucy side but good, nonetheless.
  • Strawberry Shake (Php120). It still has a bit of natural tartness from the fresh strawberries but my little boy loved it.
  • Hot Caramel Coffee (Php150). It was a good pick-me-upper and helped energize me for the rest of the tour.

Hopefully, I get to visit the cafe again in the near future to try out its hot choco!

Cafe Sabel follows the same hours as the museum: 9am to 6pm Tuesdays to Sundays (closed on Mondays, Christmas and New Year’s Day).

For more info on BenCab Museum, click here.

An array of brick oven-baked Neapolitan pizza at Amare la Cucina in Baguio

Pizza Napoletana, better known as Neapolitan Pizza, originated from Naples, Italy, hence the name. Its preparation involves fresh ingredients: basic flatbread dough, tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and fresh basil. It is normally sized at 10-12 inches, making it closer to a personal pizza.

During our weekend getaway in the City of Pines, the fam met up with relatives at Amare La Cucina. Its claim to fame is its wood fire brick oven Neapolitan-style pizza made with fresh dough.

Its name translates to “love the kitchen” – the same passion for food and experimentation that drove owner Edmark Bustos to open his own restaurant which is now the default destination for extraordinarily good pizza in Baguio.

Our group consisted of two families with kids ages 5 to 18 years so finding dinner choices that will satisfy everyone was a challenge. Fortunately, Hubby, with the help of his cousin, chose a winning menu:

Beef Carpaccio (Php300).  Thinly sliced raw Beef Tenderloin with extra virgin olive, finished with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt and pepper. This was more for the adults in the group. It went particularly well with the beer that the dads in the group ordered.

Mozzarella Dip. Melted seasoned mozzarella cheese served in heated pans where you can dip thin slices of flatbread. This was very enjoyable for the kids, especially my little boy who loves cheese.

Chicken Skewers (Php350). Grilled chicken pieces served with a tangy sauce. This served as our main protein for the meal.

Margherita Pizza (Php325). Pizza made with plum tomatoes, mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil and basil.

Tre Formaggi (Php440). Pizza made plum tomatoes topped with herbs and three types of cheeses – mozzarella, cheddar and parmigiano reggiano.

White Pizza (Php405). Pizza made with mozzarella, bacon, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a dash of oregano.

Foie Gras (Php595). Pizza made with mozarella, basil, white truffle oil and foie gras (duck liver).

Mint Iced Tea (Php85). Refreshing blend iced team infused with fresh mint.

After dinner, we stopped by the all-women art exhibit we chanced upon earlier, and admired the artworks by local contemporary female artists.

Amare La Cucina is located at EGI Albergo Hotel, No 1 Villamor Drive, Brgy. Lualhati, Baguio City. For reservations, call + 63 916 3321522.

For Manilans who want to sample its offerings without leaving the metro, the resto opened a branch located at 91 East Capito Drive, Brgy. Kapitolyo, Pasig City. For reservations, call + 63 929 8237313.

Trivia: Did you know that until the 1700s, pizzas were not topped with tomatoes? When tomatoes first arrived in Italy, they were mainly grown and used as ornaments. They were also thought to be toxic until Italian peasants started putting them on top of their flatbreads.

To learn more about Italian cuisine, check out these books on Amazon.com!

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Recipe: Lava Cake in Less than 5 Minutes

I got myself a pair of Hershey’s Lava Cake Makers from Gourdo’s a couple of months back.

These nifty plastic mugs enable you to make mug cakes using your microwave oven. They even come with lids so you can have your mug cakes on the go.

Imagine the possibilities:

  • Whenever you have craving for sweets, you can easily whip up a dessert
  • You can teach your kids how to make their own sweet snacks in a fun, fast and easy way
  • You can have something to serve to unexpected guests in a matter of minutes

The packages come with 2 lava cake recipe options: one using the cake mix from Hershey’s and one from scratch. Since I have the ingredients readily available, I decided to make the lava cakes from scratch. I wrote down the recipe as I thought I might lose the hardcopy (and I did!). This recipe yields 2 yummy mug cakes, great for sharing!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp cocoa
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Procedure:

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together vegetable oil, milk and vanilla. Add the flour, sugar and cocoa and whisk to combine.
  2. To make 1 lava cake: place 1/8 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips at the bottom of the mug, then pour in 1/4 of the batter to cover the chocolate chips. Place another 1/8 cup of chocolate chips then cover them with 1/4 of the batter.
  3. Microwave on HIGH for 90 secs or until cake is fluffy.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 to make the second mug cake.

Enjoy the lava cakes while they’re still warm! You can add a few dollops of vanilla ice cream as an extra treat.

If you have trouble finding the Hersheys Lava Cake Makers in local stores, you can order them from Amazon.com.

Want to try this recipe today? There’s no need to leave home to shop for ingredients.  With Honestbee, just order your groceries online and you’ll get them delivered right at your doorstep at your preferred time. Use this referral link and get Php500 off for a minimum spend of Php2,500.  You can download the Honestbee app on iTunes or Google Play.

If you’re in the US and an Amazon Prime member, sign up for a free trial of Amazon Fresh to get your groceries delivered to you.

Jellybeans in the City included in Feedspot.com’s List of Top 50 Filipino Food Blogs

I started this blog three years ago as an outlet for my writing and as a venue to share my tips and opinions about my favorite things: food, books, movies and TV shows.  Blogging was just one of my hobbies as I was holding down a full-time job and managing my responsibilities as a wife and mother.

For the longest time, I didn’t give much thought about what I wrote here. I felt that as soon as I hit the “Publish” button, my words are just floating out there in the ether.  I do post about food establishments to help people like me discover their new favorite places and I post recipes as a way for me to remember them (I lost several recipe books during the Ondoy floods). From time to time, I would get notified of likes and follows (much appreciated, by the way!), but I know that my audience is a small and select group.

Last Friday, I discovered that this humble blog is included in Feedspot.com’s Top 50 Filipino Food Blogs.

feedspot

What an honor for my blog to be featured in the same list as Yummy.ph and Panlasang Pinoy which I visit for recipe ideas.

Feedspot.com is an RSS (Rich Site Summary) reader that aggregates content from your your favorite sites in one place so you can keep up with all your information sources without having to visit each website one at a time.  It also extends the reach of bloggers such as myself by promoting the site to its user base.

Recognitions like this is a great ego boost and an affirmation of my place in blogosphere.

Thanks for including me in the list, Feedspot.com, and thanks for your support to bloggers like me!

Lamonfest at Vikings, SM Megamall

Vikings seems to be the default buffet resto for celebrations and family gatherings.  Known for its lavish decor that display sumptuous spreads of mouth-watering dishes from various cuisines throughout the world, Vikings can generate long waiting lines of avid diners.

The fam, together with the in-laws, recently dined at Vikings at SM Megamall’s Mega Fashion Hall for bro-in-law’s birthday celebration.

With an all-you-can-eat arrangement at the rates below, the family is definitely in for a #lamonfest:

  • Adults: Php738 (weekday lunch); Php938 (weekday dinner, weekends and holidays lunch and dinner)
  • Kids:
    • for kids below 3 feet: FREE!
    • for kids 3 feet to 4 feet: Php208  (weekday lunch); Php938 (weekday dinner, weekends and holidays lunch and dinner)
    • for kids 4 feet to 6 feet: Php418 (weekday lunch); Php618 (weekday dinner, weekends and holidays lunch and dinner)

Note: Rates not yet inclusive of the 5% service charge.

For this #lamonfest, I focused on some dishes that I don’t usually have the opportunity to taste that often: the Seafood Paella (I guess I’m going through a paella phase now), the Lengua Estofado (went so well with the paella for a great taste of Spain) and the Leg of Lamb.  The Ebi Tempura is always a good bet (and always nearly depleted by the time I get there, hehehe!), but some of the meats in the carving station fell short of my expectations: the Stuffed Turkey was a bit dry and the Angus Beef was tough and chewy.

For dessert, no one can tear my away from my favorite Puto Bumbong (since it always reminds me of Christmas; I even went to the Cheese Station and sprinkled some grated premium cheddar on it) and Avocado Ice Cream (as it’s hard to find ice cream of this flavor in the supermarkets).  I also tried the Caramel Dip for the Churros and the moist Carrot Bar.

Overall, it was a great dining experience for the family.

To make the most of your #lamonfest at Vikings, you might want to make sure you do the following:

  • Make your reservation. This way, you avoid waiting outside and can just walk right in as soon as you arrive. To make your reservation, you can call +63 2 8454647 (this hotline covers all Vikings branches), book via the Booky app (you may get some discounts at selected branches), or book online via the Vikings website.
  • Check out Vikings’ current promos.  You just might get big savings.  For example, birthday celebrants get to eat for free on the day of their birthday so long as they’re with one full-paying adult, or any day of their birth month if they’re accompanied four full paying adults.  Until June 30, members of the graduating class of 2018 can eat for free as long as they’re with three full paying adults (which is why my daughter snapped a photo of her diploma before we left the house).  Just make sure that you bring all the necessary documents.  For more details on these promos, click here.
  • Pace yourself.  Scope out the spreads first and pick the ones you want for your gastronomic explorations, be they your tried-and-tested favorites or some new cuisines you want to sink your teeth into (literally and figuratively!). Sample a bit of of the food and just come back for seconds to avoid leftovers.  There are an awful lot of food here and you don’t want to already be in a food coma just when you get to the stuff you want.

For tips on how to survive a buffet, check out my blog post: Buffet Survival Guide: All-You-Need-to-Know to Eat-All-You-Can.

Check out my blog reviews of other buffet restos:

Vikings Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Why fall in love with the Professor in the Gabriel’s Inferno Series by Sylvain Reynard

While I’m a self-proclaimed bibliophile and I absolutely devour books, it is somewhat rare for me to fall in love with a book series to the point that years after I’ve read it, I’m still raving about it to my friends.

Such is the case for Sylvain Reynard’s Gabriel’s Inferno Series which was first published in 2012. Though it began as fan-fiction of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series (and was released in fan-fic boards as The University of Edward Masen under the authorship of Sebastien Robichaud), this series is vastly superior (in my opinion) to its inspiration in both style and content.

Centered on its enigmatic protagonist, Professor Gabriel Emerson and his romance with his student Julia Mitchell, the series of erotic novels explores their growing passion between that transcends their pasts, secrets and fears.

Set against the backdrop of academic life in the University of Toronto where Professor Emerson teaches Dante studies and in Selinsgrove, Pennysylvania where he grew up, the first book, Gabriel’s Inferno, introduces him to his shy and unassuming student Julia, who, without his knowledge, actually shares a deep connection with him and has fostered feelings for him for the past six years.  The next book, Gabriel’s Rapture, sees the two lovers torn apart by academic politics and vindictive rivals.  The last book in the series, Gabriel’s Redemption, chronicles his married life with Julia and his efforts to make peace with his past to build a future with her.

Throughout the three books and six years later, my interest in the series never waned; I find myself re-reading the books cover to cover from time to time. Aside from the story and the quality of writing, much of the credit can be laid at Gabriel Emerson’s character.

But why is The Professor so compelling?  Here are my thoughts as to why:

  • From the descriptions in the book, he is H-O-T as H-E-L-L!  The Professor is tall, dark-haired with piercing blue eyes and has a great physique (having gone “ten rounds with a few Southies in Boston and lived to brag about it”).  Apparently, he can rock the suit and bowtie and still be all alpha male.
  • The man has brains. Being a university professor whose credentials include a graduate degree from Harvard, the man sure has the smarts.  Plus, he can give a lecture about Renaissance literature and art and still have his audience at full attention.  (Check out this part of his lecture titled “Lust in Dante’s Inferno: The Deadly Sin Against the Self”: “Sex is properly understood to be not only physical, but spiritual—an ecstatic union of two bodies and two souls, meant to mimic the joy and ecstasy of union with the Divine in Paradise. Two bodies joined together in pleasure. Two souls joined through the connection between two bodies and the whole-hearted, enthusiastic, selfless giving of the entire self.” Now, that’s just brainy and sexy in one dose.)
  • His mystery is part of his charm. The Professor has inner demons that he grapples with and how he works through them with Julia and helps Julia deal with her own, makes this a deeper romance story than usual.
  • The guy sure knows romance.  Aside from his “moves” in bed, he is also an attentive lover outside of it. Despite the (surprisingly) few love scenes in the books, Gabriel demonstrates time and again what an attentive lover he is: he brings fine food to Julia’s dorm so she can dine in comfort and pleasure while doing her schoolwork. For their first time together, he takes her on a romantic trip to Florence. Plus, he prepared a soundtrack for his seduction (which includes “Lying in the Hands of God” by Dave Matthews Band)!

Gabriel Emerson is an intriguing and irresistible romantic hero. And I don’t mind sharing him with other romance readers who appreciate a strong and sensitive alpha male.

Click here to buy this book series on Amazon.com.

You might also like these other works by Sylvain Reynard:

Guess what! Sylvain Reynard recently confirmed that he is working on a fourth novel in the Gabriel’s Inferno series. I’ll be counting the days until it’s released!

Check out my other blog posts about my favorite fiction books:

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Reimagining Pride and Prejudice – Pemberley Variations by Abigail Reynolds

Author Jane Austen produced a timeless masterpiece in her novel Pride and Prejudice.  Initially titled First Impressions, the novel set in Georgian Era England depicts the courtships, manners and concerns of the landed gentry through the romantic developments between protagonists Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy.  Through their exciting repartee and their dealings with other characters, the readers see the development of their feelings for each other to overcome their differences and get the happily-ever-after ending of marital bliss.

As with all fiction that truly engages with their audience, Pride and Prejudice inspired works from its fans that expands upon the original.  One such fan is Abigail Reynolds, a Massachussetts-based physician who started writing P&P fan fiction, posting her work in Jane Austen fan sites and later expanding her reach through self-publishing. Her works explore different plot elements that deviate from the course of Jane Austen’s original, the “what-ifs” that builds upon the situations and motivations of the protagonists, but will inevitably conclude with a happily-ever-after ending of Elizabeth and Darcy getting married. She even adapts some of P&P’s popular lines to new situations. She later titled this series as Pemberley Variations.

Most of the elements that readers love about P&P remain: the Elizabeth’s initial dislike of Mr. Darcy, his reticence misconstrued as arrogance by Elizabeth and the Meryton folks, his termagant of an aunt in Lady Catherine DeBourgh and the role played by Elizabeth’s relatives, the Gardiners, in bringing them together.

The combinations of familiar and new elements make the Variations, as a whole, very compelling reads.

To Conquer Mr. Darcy (republished from Impulse and Initiative)

What if, instead of disappearing from her life after his disastrous proposal, Darcy was persuaded to return to Hertfordshire and change her mind about him?

This novel introduced me to the Pemberley Variations and got me hooked to the series. After a short period wallowing in misery in his London home, Darcy was talked by his cousin Richard into going back to Longbourn, assist in Charles Bingley’s courtship of Elizabeth’s sister Jane, and basically show Elizabeth that he is worthy of love.

I found the unfolding of their love story irresistible and Elizabeth’s awakening at Darcy’s touch quite steamy. My misgiving about this book is the Pemberley staff’s overly solicitous management of Darcy’s reaction to a “certain happy event.” It may illustrate how beloved a master Darcy is but it comes across as babying him.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in The World(republished from The Last Man in the World)

What if Darcy, the man Elizabeth thought is the last man in the world she could be prevailed upon to marry is her husband?

Forced to accept his proposal because she was caught in a compromising situation with him, Elizabeth did not have the benefit of knowing the kind of man he really was. Darcy found himself wondering where his dutiful wife’s arch humor and feistiness had gone until the time came when her bottled-up resentments were revealed.

This book is my favorite among the Variations; it got me teary-eyed a more than couple of times. Elizabeth and Darcy’s reunion in the end is made all the sweeter by the all the suffering caused by their earlier misunderstandings.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Mr. Darcy’s Obsession

What if Elizabeth was even more unsuitable for Mr. Darcy?

Elizabeth and her sisters are left in dire straits by the untimely death of her father.  Darcy can’t still get memories of her out of his mind even years after his unsuccessful proposal. When he encounters her again, he finds himself constantly seeking her out.

In this novel, we see Elizabeth in surroundings unfamiliar to us: her uncle and aunt’s abode in Gracechurch Street (near Cheapside), in London.  We also see more of Darcy’s relations aside from the ones introduced in Austen’s original: he has a snotty earl uncle, a reprobate cousin and a termagant aunt who all figure into his romance with Elizabeth.

I found this novel an entertaining read, although Georgiana Darcy’s backstory in this book is a bit out of character.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

What Would Mr. Darcy Do? (republished from From Lambton to Longbourn)

What if instead of parting ways at the brink of the scandal involving Elizabeth’s sister, she and Darcy were able to reveal their feelings for each other?

At the Lambton inn just after Elizabeth received the news that Lydia has run off with Wickham, Darcy expressed his continued feelings for her.  Thus began an ardent courtship which also involved Elizabeth’s growing closeness with Darcy’s sister Georgiana.

This novel is a straightforward read with few, if any, bumps in the plot. The pranks and teasing that Darcy endured from Elizabeth and Georgiana as the two women exchanged letters from Lambton and Derbyshire were quite entertaining.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Mr Darcy’s Letter

What if Elizabeth chose not to read Darcy’s letter after she refused his proposal?

Since Elizabeth didn’t find out about Wickham’s misdeeds against his family, and her view of the two men remain unchanged, she put herself and Darcy in danger of falling into Wickham’s schemes.

The story elements in this novel are a bit more outlandish which include Darcy fighting a duel with Wickham and his solution to finding Lydia a husband.  Still, it’s a good way to while away some time reading.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Mr. Darcy’s Refuge

What if Elizabeth’s reputation is in jeopardy because she is forced to spend time alone with Mr. Darcy?

In this version of events, Elizabeth is forced into close quarters with Mr. Darcy by the flooding that isolates them from other people.  Forced to work and live together, they discover new facets about each other that allow their feelings to develop.  That is, until the world intrudes on them again.

In contrast to the other novels in the series, this one explores pairing Elizabeth’s sister Jane with someone else.  I found the dynamics of the new couple, and how their love story wove in to Elizabeth and Darcy’s, quite an absorbing read.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Without Reserve

What if when Mr. Darcy returns to Hertfordshire he is faced with a true rival for Elizabeth’s affections?

This book, also among my favorites in the series, explores how Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s romance would have developed had Elizabeth already accepted the proposal of a childhood friend prior to Darcy’s return. Darcy sets about changing Elizabeth’s negative perception of him without the hope that he will be able to win her.

I found the change in circumstance between Darcy and Elizabeth intriguing, how their attraction, sense of mutual respect and shared humor continued to develop despite Elizabeth’s engagement.  Darcy decided to leave to escape the pain of seeing Elizabeth marry another man but, upon his return, gains hope in the knowledge that she broke off her engagement.

Mr. Darcy’s Noble Connections

What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy find themselves away from Meryton and mingling with the denizens of the ton in a posh house party? What if Darcy’s cousin makes a bet that he can seduce Elizabeth during their stay?

This book’s plot is quite hard to follow – with the various twists and turns and inconsistencies – that frankly, I just tuned out.  This is probably the weakest among the books in the series.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Alone with Mr. Darcy

What if Elizabeth and an injured Mr. Darcy are stranded in an isolated cottage by a snowstorm? 

Similar to Mr. Darcy’s Refuge, the protagonists are secluded together by an act of nature, this time by a snowstorm.  Here, they iron out their differences while wrestling with the possibility that Elizabeth’s reputation may be tainted by their unchaperoned seclusion.

Elizabeth’s father, Mr. Bennett, played a more active role in hindering the two lovers; his motivations is still unclear to me.  The objections of Darcy’s snootier connections also come into play.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Mr. Darcy’s Journey

What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy find themselves in the middle of Luddite revolts, with his colorful noble relations, the Fitzwilliams, added to the fray?

Fresh from her disappointment over the transfer of Wickham’s attentions to another woman, Elizabeth journeys to London to escape the Meryton gossip and be with her sister, Jane.  There, she encounters Mr. Darcy and overhears him insulting her family.

The couple finds themselves traveling to northern England with bickering Fitzwilliams.  The breakout character in this novel is Lady Matlock, the Fitzwilliam matriarch, who proves to have quite progressive views as well as leadership skills that help resolve the conflicts that surround their group.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

Conceit and Concealment

What if Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have to contend with, not just the Meryton gossips and the rules of the ton, but the French occupation of England as well?

The unthinkable has happened: England is under French rule. Aside from objections to his seeming arrogance and pride, Mr. Darcy is considered a traitor to England, since he appears to be consorting with the hated French officials and still has his wealth. At first, Elizabeth joins in on the near-universal disdain towards him. However, Mr. Darcy hides a secret that holds the key to England’s liberation.

This is the most ambitious of Reynolds’ Variations to date: applying an alternate history to P&P and showing how these new circumstances bring out the characters’ traits and motivations. The ending is a bit anti-climactic, but props to the author for a truly unusual retelling.

Click here to buy this book on Amazon.com.

The Pemberley Variations series is an astounding feat for Ms. Reynolds.  She was able to reimagine the characters in new situations yet still, for the most part, keep to the heart of the original. While some of her later works fell short of the bar set by her earlier novels, I’m hopeful that she will be able to regain her momentum and keep producing new twists to Elizabeth and Darcy’s story that her readers will enjoy unraveling.

For more details on her books and other projects, visit Abigail Reynolds website, where you can also  download some P&P variation novellas for free as a sampling of her work.

Check out my other blog posts on my favorite books:

Love books and reading? Try Kindle Unlimited on Amazon. Get your first month FREE.

No Kindle device? Download the Kindle App for FREE to read your favorite books anytime and anywhere.

No time to read? Listen to your favorite books instead while you drive, run, shop, and more.  Try Audible for free for 30 days and get two free audiobooks.

Check out P&P’s movie and TV adaptations:

  • The 1940 film which stars Greer Garson and Sir Laurence Olivier

  • The 2005 film which stars Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen