I was looking for an excuse to go back to restaurant De Harmonie after the dinner served during the New Year’s borrel of the company where Robin works for. The food was so delicious, the wine was overflowing and I remembered they served foie gras. I am crazy about foie gras, the thick, supple and firm kind of goose liver, like the one that I’ve had in Antwerp years ago. Not the terrine type masquerading in most menus here in the Netherlands because there’s too much pressure from animal rights activists. But also not the kind that they served me at Rodin a few months back. My birthday was a good excuse. Just to be sure, I booked one week in advance because it’s very hard to get a table.
When I turned 31, I decided to change a lot of things about myself. For as long as I can remember I’d been busy all my life, running after my dreams, trying to grow up fast, accomplishing too many things in so little time.
I’ve fulfilled many of my dreams and that has given me the contentment that I have right now. But it’s time for me to slow down, take time to savour the dreams that I’ve accomplished and all the little things that I had been blessed with and worked hard for, to strive to be a better version of myself.
Lately I have been changing little things in my life, which I hope would improve my disposition and well-being.
I wake up early
I thought I wasn’t a morning person. But after the summer, I needed to get back to running regularly and the afternoons are usually too hot or I’m too tired. So I decided to run in the morning. First I started at 6:00AM and now my alarm is set at 5:45. It was difficult to begin because I love sleeping. But one must have the discipline to start. So what we did was put the alarm away from the bed, where we had to stand to be able to get it. It helped. We don’t go back to bed.
Now we run at least 40 minutes twice a week, do core exercises daily, eat warm, cooked meals for breakfast and go to the office unhurried.
There is enough time in the morning to meditate, talk to each other, laugh and become silly and not rush out of the door to catch the bus.
I stopped being a statistic
The world we live in is tougher than ever. Because of social media, we are continuously being compared to others almost everyday – the number of friends, likes, comments, etc. you have on Facebook, the speed and duration of your runs, the things you’ve accomplished on your “bucket list”, how big your dreams are – the list goes on.
I have stopped doing that. I’ve stopped recording the speed and duration of my runs. I have un-followed people on Facebook who give me an “envious” feeling. I gave up reading blogs and websites that only lists down things and don’t give much insights. I eliminated things that gave me the feeling that I had to compete.
Instead I looked in my life, inside my home, inside myself. It gave me contentment because now I don’t have to wonder why my life is not going as good as other people.
I bike to work
I am Dutch and I have a bike. And every time I finish biking, I feel good. So why not just bike to the office everyday? It saves me money, it burns calories and it gives me time to prepare myself mentally for work in the morning and for home after work in the afternoon.
There’s just a catch. To be able to do that, I had to deal with the rain and the wind, two things you can never escape when biking in the Netherlands. Instead of hating it, I decided to embrace.
When I get soaking wet while biking, I try to think of my youth in the Philippines when me and my friends would be ecstatic about playing in the rain and would beg our parents to allow us to do that. We had a lot of fun.
The wind? A good jacket helps with that.
Biking to work allows me to see children going to school, the sunrise and the city waking up, just some of the things that makes me smile on the way to work.
I started saving up
Robin and I have been making plans – a new house, a family, far-away trips, lots of trips, retirement. But we looked at our finances and it would not support everything. With Europe’s current economic situation, we are not guaranteed a secured life in the future. To not be afraid of that bleak prospect, we have to be financially prepared.
We agreed to do one big grocery shopping per month, set a maximum on dining out and pay off debts as fast as we can. And stop buying on credit.
What that gives me at least is a feeling of security every time I see that there’s money in my savings account and it is increasing, albeit slowly. I don’t worry anymore that if one of my parents gets rushed to the hospital, I’d have to borrow money again from other people to pay for the bills.
And that €100 going automatically to my savings account every month is my safety net for the future.
I became grateful
I have a good job, a roof above my head, parents who are healthy, a loving husband, a safe home and so many possibilities. Seeing the misery in the world everyday, I try to be grateful for the small things that I have because others are struggling (and literally dying) to have even a safe home.
How do you try to be a better person?
Last week I posted about my cravings for bukayo on Facebook and asked my cousins for their recipes. Bukayo is sweetened coconut candy that I used to enjoy often while I was young and living in Marinduque. We have a small coconut hill in the island and every summer my cousins and I would troop to the hill and enjoy young coconut meat and coconut juice until our stomach aches. Then we would bring some more home and make buko salad with nata de coco (jelly made from coconut water), canned cherries, fruit cocktail and insane amount of condensed milk. No wonder the blood sugar of most of us are shooting to the roof. My mom would also cook bukayo, which I would then sell at school when I was in elementary. Nowadays, I can only enjoy bukayo whenever I go home to the Philippines.
My posted generated comments and messages from my older cousins with their versions of bukayo, as well as from fellow Filipino expats in different parts of the world. But what made me smile were the fond memories of our youth that my cousins and I remembered through this Filipino candy.
Life may change all of us, we would quarrel and make up and circumstances would separate us but our big family will always be connected with the food that we shared when we were young.
When the weekend came, I spent my precious €4 (Php200) for two tiny pieces of mature coconut from Makro, cracked them crazy with a big knife, peeled their brown skin and shredded them using a carrot shredder. They looked so ugly but I was hoping they’ll taste good. Here’s the recipe that I got from my cousins:
a bowl of shredded mature coconut meat
half a bowl of brown sugar (I was told that the ratio is 2:1 of coconut meat and sugar)
water or coconut juice
First I caramelized the sugar with half a cup of water then I added the coconut meat. I just keep on stirring until the mixture became thick and sticky, I think for about 15 minutes on a very low fire. When the mixture was almost dry, I added 3/4 cup of milk and stirred for another 10 minutes. Lastly, I squeezed half a lemon and arrange the mixture on a cooking paper. Please note that I couldn’t give an exact measurements because I adjust them according to my taste. That’s how I was taught how to cook.
According to my cousins, if you want soft bukayo, you should not let the liquid dry up. After letting it cool, chill the bukayo in the fridge. Refrigerating will make it taste better.
I can’t wait to share them with my officemates.
I can’t believe August is almost over. My birthday month passed by so quickly and how social it had been. Robin and I were able to see our common and respective friends in a span of three weeks. For an introvert like myself, that’s quite overwhelming. Although it had been stressful finding time to set up dinners, planning and cooking meals and finding places to take our friends out, it had been wonderful catching up with the people we’ve been missing for a while. Our August had been a series of dinner appointments, cocktail meet ups and lunch dates – a real culinary month.
We started the month with a dinner treat from my parents in-law at Brouwerij Emelisse, a proud Zeeuwse brewery in Kamperland, in the heart of Zeeland province. We sampled a very tender piece of free-range pork and the popular Zeeuwse mussels with strong glasses of blondes and triples. While the mussel bowl was less than impressive, the beers were surprisingly good. Who knew Zeeland could produce beers when it is so near Antwerp. At the end of the dinner, we were so happy that we’ve had a couple more glasses of wines while enjoying classic hits at home, leading me to a record hangover of two days, the worst I’ve had in five years. Surely a sign of aging.
I needed to work so on my birthday, Robin and I only went out for dinner. I’ve reserved the restaurant two weeks in advance because it was quite difficult to get here a seat here. I still haven’t found my perfect foie gras in Rotterdam so we tried them at De Harmonie. It was an enjoyable dinner that cost us two days salary but one we wouldn’t mind repeating. Hopefully I’d be able to blog about it soon.
On a Friday evening, we hosted a dinner at home for Robin’s friend and co-photographer Jan. He just came back from Korea and we wanted to hear his stories. We couldn’t prepare complicated dishes after a long day at the office but luckily his palate was not hard to please. We were able to impress him with a combination of crispy pork belly and sautéed shrimps and vegetables in coconut milk. Tired from stressful work week and from cooking, I fell asleep while viewing his photos.
On Sunday, Robin’s long time friend who’s living in England came over for a visit with his girlfriend. They requested cocktail and thank God Noah (the former Elit Bar which is now owned and operated by the head barman Erickson) was open on a Sunday evening, otherwise we wouldn’t know where to take them for a proper mix. First we’ve had a late lunch at Boguette, the popular Vietnamese sandwich place of Rotterdam. (No longer a Bougette virgin, I’ve come back several times during the week, for their pork special banh mi, beef summer rolls and lychee bubble tea with mango pops.)
After a boring Spido tour of the Rotterdam port, we went to Level for another round of cocktails. Unfortunately the cocktails were not as good as I remember and Lord how awful and tacky the names were (“John Lemon” are you f@”*# kidding me?!). Whoever thought of renaming those mixes should be fired. I used to come to Level for the ambiance and the great cocktails but now it has become some sort of an “in” place where people go to to be seen and have their Instagram photos taken. Not coming back soon.
Another tiring work week passed us by with barbecue dinner on a Thursday evening. We were already feeling the effects of late nights and alcohol and we were skipping on our running schedule. But the weekend loomed with more appointments – a wedding assignment for Robin and Jan, lunch date with my jet setting friend who was spending a week in the Lowlands and a Sunday with the in-laws before they take off to another 4-week vacation.
When you hardly see a friend whose taste in food is impeccable, you’d take her to the best restaurant in town. I took her to one of my favourite hip places in Rotterdam, FG Food Labs in Katshoek. You might remember it from my an ode to the pork belly post months ago. After I picked her up from the newly-renovated Rotterdam Central Station, we walked to the restaurant via Luchtsingel, that wooden bridge that connects Rotterdam Noord to the city centre, and enjoyed Michelin-star lunch with the sound of trains speeding by few feet away from our tables. It couldn’t be more “Rotterdams” than that.
We chose a set menu which turned out to be the best decision. We were treated to four incredible dishes, all of which blew our minds away especially that yoghurt-herb combination made exciting by a splash of nitrogen and the use of mortar and pastel. After champagne and a bottle of Tempranillo, we were too tipsy to continue our culinary afternoon so we ended the day with Nutella crepe and went home.
And finally today, I coerced the parents in-law to come with me to the Dag van Romantische Muziek at The Park (Het Park or the Eramus Park). If I had known that Limp Bizkit would be performing, I would probably be at Lowlands Festival this weekend but thankfully I learned it too late because #DVRM is way better. I couldn’t get enough of the soft, sultry voice of Viola Pieper especially when she sang Nature Boy. Sadly we had to leave early due to impending rain. We shared a sushi lunch at Itami at Willemshaven (not recommended, the sushi rice falls apart easily) and finished the day with drinks at Lebkov and Sons.
Tomorrow starts the last week of my birthday month. And then it’ll be another exciting, busy and stressful month which may lead me to freedom or more heartbreaks. But I’ll save that for the next blog. How’s your August so far?
P.S. You’ve probably noticed that I don’t have many food photos. Except for the dinner at De Harmonie, I decided to keep the camera off my food and instead enjoy my dining experience. I get more value that way. Snapping a shot of my meals has become old and tiring.
Decide what you want to see
Basically, you can do a safari in Tanzania all year long. There are enough national parks and lots of animals to see, including the Big 5. But there is also the Great Migration, one of the top reasons to do a safari trip in Northern Tanzania. We did ours in the beginning of July in anticipation of the Great Migration. But this is also the high season so everything is relatively more expensive. You can find our 10-day itinerary in this link.