What Made the Holidays Special

I love January for several reasons:

The promise of a new year; a fresh start. My birthday month. The cold weather that welcomes hot chocolate and comfort food.

But I also love January because I am inevitably still brimming with good cheer from the holidays that just passed. I feel like the joy of Christmas spills over to January, which is when we have the time to relax and remember just how good December was – we look at the pictures, appreciate the gifts, smile as we recall all the moments that made our hearts grow bigger and warmer.

So even though we are almost two weeks in the new year, I still think about what made the past holiday season so special to me: my family, my friends, and the FOOD in the Philippines! Here are 15 of my favorite photos from December:

1 – of course the best thing about my holiday was that I was able to spend it at home in the Philippines with my family. This is our family house in Manila.

2 – I’ve talked about ube (sweet purple yam) multiple times already and my love for ube-flavored desserts. I think I may have eaten ube ice cream daily when I was in the Philippines! Here I ate it with sugared garbanzos (chickpeas) and macapuno (sweet coconut).

3 – I hosted a small dinner at home and not only was the food fantastic, but so was the company. You’ll notice at this pic that I look a little sweaty – that’s because I was chasing a really cute boy around! He is the one in yellow (and he looks like he’s ready to bolt).

4 – these are some of my college friends who have become some of my best friends. I can’t believe we’ve known each other for almost 14 years!

5 – and these are my friends from high school. I am not going to say how long we’ve known each other because I suddenly feel very old.

6 – and speaking of old, these are century eggs. Have you ever seen anything like it? This is a Chinese specialty which is a preserved chicken or duck egg. It is preserved in a mixture of clay, ash, salt, lime, and rice. This is unlike any egg I’ve ever tasted because well, it doesn’t taste like an egg at all! I know that the color may be off-putting to some but up close it is actually beautiful: the egg white turns into a translucent dark brown, with a jelly-like texture, while the yolk turns into a dark green/grey color. According to trusty ole Wikipedia, it’s the alkaline in the preserving process that transforms the colors and the textures. It tastes very earthy, with lots of umami, and almost briny. I think century eggs are one of those hate-it-or-love-it delicacies, and I’m definitely on the latter side.

7 – from hundred year olds to one year olds! I was around a lot of cute babies (like my cousin Dylan) and kids while I was in the Philippines – and they definitely made my vacation memorable.

8 – if you recognize that little triangle on top, then you can guess that this is a toblerone cake. A sublime toblerone cake. I guess I really like cakes made with candy bars (I still think about the 3 Musketeers cake from the W, and Megan of Delicious Dishings just posted about some Milky Way tartlets that I am drooling over). I also really like going out with friends at 11 pm just for cake, which is when I tasted this mouth-watering creation.

9 – I ate lots of seafood in the Philippines, and these giant prawns with garlic were cooked at home by my beloved Tita Ine. Traditionally, grilled or fried prawns are served with a vinegar dipping sauce, but I love eating these with aioli. So good.

10 – another specialty at our house: lengua (braised beef tongue) with a creamy mushroom sauce. I’ve eaten lengua many other times from different places (my favorite in Boston is the lengua tacos from La Verdad in Fenway) but this is by far the best I’ve ever had. There is something about food made at home that always make it the best, right?

11 – There is also something about food made by my mom that tastes like absolute perfection. This is her braised beef and ox tail stew that we had for Media Noche (New Year’s Eve dinner). My mom slaved over this for hours, and it is so thick and wonderful and meat-y.

12 – this is a falafel salad I had for lunch at a Mediterranean restaurant called Lu. The salad was good but what I really liked about this dish was the siling labuyo (bird’s eye chili) garnish on top. It represents just how prevalent those little chilis are in the Philippines (my parents have a chili bush in their backyard) and how much I miss it!

13 – this is kalabasa (butternut squash) soup. Nothing fancy, just pureed squash, a little drizzle of cream, topped with sage (I love that combination). While this doesn’t scream “vacation food,” it was homey and nourishing – exactly what I needed during the busy holiday season.

14 – my holidays were extra special because not only did I get to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with my family, but I was also able to celebrate my dad‘s birthday, and my sister Monica‘s birthday. I love my sisters with all my heart, but only one of them knows how to blow out a birthday candle properly. Monica blubbered and sputtered over her white chocolate strawberry cake, which might have been a smart strategy because no one wanted to eat it after. (Okay I lied, that didn’t stop me from having a few bites.)

15 – last but not least, I love this picture of my parents’ front yard, because it is so peaceful and just really feels like home.

Do you have a favorite month too?

Don’t forget to enter my giveaway for tablea – to make authentic Filipino hot chocolate! You can enter to win until this Friday.


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