Tag Archives: Filipino

Babes’ Cake

My dad has four sisters. When I was 5, one of them came to live with us. She came straight from The Philippines and moved into our tiny NYC apartment. Her name is Eloisa, however, in our family and with other Filipino friends, we never called people by their officially documented names. Everyone in our Filipino-American world had a nickname and it would be a long time until you found out a person’s “real” name.

My aunt was the second to the youngest in her family, but for some reason they called her “Baby,” just like in the movie Dirty Dancing. Out of respect for our elders, we always addressed our aunts by first using the word Tita which is aunt in Filipino and then by their nickname. Somehow, my brothers and I started calling Tita Baby, “Tita Babe” and eventually she became “Tita Babes”.For the three of us, Tita Babes was like a third parent. She moved to the States to be closer to her family and to help my parents out. Much of the immediate family had emigrated earlier to Toronto, Canada or NY. She was the last to relocate. The year she came to live with us, was also the year my mother started a full time job. Tita Babes became our own Mrs. Garrett (see TV show Facts of Life , if you don’t know Mrs. G.) She brought us to and from school, took us to the library, spent hours with us at the park, walked us to the local Baskin Robbins Ice Cream Shop and cooked a lot of tasty meals for us. Tita Babes is one of our family’s finest in the kitchen. When we got to our teens, Tita Babes left and moved into another apartment with two other sisters. We are still very close to her and she holds a very special place in our hearts.

Found this photo of the three of us with Tita Babe, the youngest one is hiding behind the stroller

Over the years, I have collected many recipes from my special Tita. Just a few years ago, she started experimenting with baking and last summer I got this recipe from her. We typically celebrate birthdays in our family with an ice cream cake or a mocha cake from our local Filipino bakery. I was surprised to find a recipe for mocha roll stuck to her refrigerator door. The combination of a mocha sponge cake and mocha buttercream frosting often graced the tables of many Filipino celebrations and was served in different ways, such as a roll, sheet cake or layered cake. This one is for the mocha roll.

The recipe I scribbled down

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Tita Babes and missing her. I am also thinking about my babies, still in my womb and this ex-pat life that my husband and I live. Separated by borders, an ocean and a time zone, we live kilometers away from our families. I can’t help but wonder if they will be lucky enough to have a Tita Babes in their lives too.

Tita Babe’s Mocha Roll


1 tsp. instant coffee
1 tsp. hot water
6 egg whites
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Mocha Buttercream Filling & Frosting:
1/2 cup butter or a stick
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. coffee (dissolve granules in a drop of hot water)
1/4 cup cream or evaporated milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees or 180 celsius

Line a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper or grease it with butter and sprinkle with flour.

Dissolve coffee granules with hot water, from the tap is fine.
In a bowl, beat egg whites on high for about 3 minutes, until they are stiff.
In another large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar.
Beat on high for 3 minutes.
Then add flour and stir.
Fold in the egg whites and carefully blend all the ingredients.
(I use a spatula)
Finally, add the vanilla and dissolved coffee granules.
Gently mix all the ingredients together.
Then pour into pan and spread the mixture evenly.
Bake for 15 minutes.

Filling/Frosting: (You can start the filling while the cake is baking or cooling off)

Dissolve granules in a drop of hot water
and then stir into the cream.
With an electric mixer, cream the butter.
Then add sugar and continue mixing.
With the mixture running, slowly add the coffee
and cream mixture, tablespoon by tablespoon.
Otherwise, it may curdle and you will have to start
all over again.

When the cake is done, run a knife along the edges to loosen it up from the pan.
(You will have to invert the cake onto a clean kitchen towel,
so have that ready on your counter.)

Place the towel over the pan.
To ensure a good catch, I also place my cooling rack on top of of the towel.

Then hold the pan on the short end and flip it over.
Remove pan and then peel off the parchment paper.

Starting with the long side, begin to roll the cake up.

Let the cake sit in this position for at least 20 minutes or until completely cool.

When ready, carefully unroll the cake. Don’t worry about cracks, you can cover it up with the frosting.

Then spread a thin layer of cream in the middle and sides of the cake.

When it is all covered with cream, roll it up again and cut the ends off.

With the seam of the cake facing downwards, use the rest of the frosting to cover the cake.

Before serving, refrigerate cake for 30 minutes to let the frosting firm up.
You can run a fork along the cake to add some fancy ridges.
Leftover slices can be refrigerated or kept in the freezer for up to a month.



Filed under Pinay at Heart

Beerlao & Fried Seaweed Combo, please!

Beerlao/fried seaweed combo

I have never been a big fan of beer. Well, maybe not so true. On a hot day, I do enjoy a tall refreshing shandy or a bottle of fruity beer, like Mango, Kriek or Peach. But does that really qualify as beer? I don’t think the purists would agree. Beer drinkers may object to the words “Sugary and Sweet,” it could tarnish the image.

Before we left for our trip, friends that had previously visited Laos, raved about the country’s fermented brew-Beerlao.  Many claimed it was THE best beer in the world. Ok, whatever, beer is beer, right? I live in Prague, the Czech Republic- a country well-known for its beer. If I couldn’t appreciate the third most popular beverage after water and tea here, how could I do that elsewhere?

Luang Prabang, Laos. One of the most gorgeous cities I have ever seen. The city is surrounded by two bodies of water, the Mekong and Khan Rivers. It was home to the spiritual retreat of the Royal Family, therefore Buddhist temples are found at every other corner like Starbucks in any cosmopolitan city. With temples and lots of them, come plenty of monks strolling the streets in flowing saffron-colored robes. My husband and I wondered if there might have been some historical intention for choosing this blazing orange color. The dramatic contrast of the draperies against Luang Prabang’s luscious green hilly background had a breathtaking effect.

Sunny Saffron

After we settled into our guesthouse and swapped our winter wear for something more suited to the city’s sunny and pleasant temperatures, we headed to town. With one main road, and a few side streets we quickly familiarized ourselves with the town’s layout. The central avenue consisted of restaurants, shops and foot massage stalls that catered to tourists. We decided to break away and lose ourselves in the village’s natural beauty. We veered off to the right and trekked along the river bank.

Not too long after wards, our stomachs began yearning for food. Fortunately, there were some local restaurants along the river border to rescue us. We came upon a balcony filled with white plastic tables and chairs overlooking the Khan river. We noticed that there were several native residents dressed in their hotel uniforms taking their lunch break. We didn’t think twice and headed for the nearest vacant outdoor patio furniture set.

Basking in the Southeast Asian warmth, we were extremely thankful to get a break from the gray cold winter we left behind. After all that traveling and walking, it was time to have our first Beerlao. The waitress took our drink orders and then it was back to figuring out what else to order. Discovering Lao cuisine was going to be exciting! Glancing at the menu, the words FRIED MEKONG RIVER SEAWEED grabbed my attention. Fried Seaweed? I wondered how different that could be from roasted seaweed, (just happens to be one of my favorite low-calorie snacks)  But, hold on… fried seaweed? I had to feed my curiosity and order it.

Lovely Luang Prabang

Our refreshingly cold 640 ml bottle of Beerlao arrived in moments. The beer was sold in two volumes. One could either choose a quart(640 ml) or a pint (330 ml). The sizes seemed peculiar to my husband. The waitress poured our beer into glasses that looked better suited for serving whisky. It felt strange not to have my fingers wrapped around the handle of a beer mug. Toast, “clink,”  sip…it finally felt like we were on vacation.

Hold on, did I say a sip? I downed that delicate glass of beer, a feat I have never before accomplished. On the rare occasion where I have ordered one with a meal, I’ll leave with my glass still half full. Was I thirsty? Was it the beautiful landscape that swept me away? Was I in fact enjoying a beer for the first time?

As my husband poured me another, our waitress had returned with our food. Sitting before us were a few folded rectangular pieces of evergreen Mekong River Weed. Glistening from its bath of oil, we noticed some of its other ingredients. Pressed into the thin layers were slivers of garlic, thin slices of tomato skins and sprinkles of white sesame.

River weed getting some sun

I looked at my husband, raised my eyebrows, shrugged my shoulders and reached for a piece. As I dipped the leaf into the side of curry paste, I noticed it was still warm and firm enough to pick up the spicy topping. “CRRRUNCH” were the sounds of my first bite. As I continued to eat, my other hand tried to catch the crispy flakes of  seaweed that were unexpectedly falling below my chin. The thin brittle texture surprised us, as did the flavor. There was nothing overpowering about its taste, it was neither smoky or fishy. I could sense the flavor of the oil, but the seaweed itself was subtle. In fact, I think the part I enjoyed about eating it was its crispness.  The cold refreshing beer and the crunchy strips of weed complemented one another for a fine first act.

Getting back to the beer…

For the rest of our stay, I ordered many more bottles of Beerlao. And just as I was beginning to relish its taste, it was time to return home. Like many other tourists, I purchased some souvenir T-shirts from the nightly Hmong Street Market. At $2 a piece and a their cool Beerlao designs, it was an amusing way to take the experience back home. I wasn’t going to pack cans or bottles to take back to Prague and sadly, their export market has yet to reach this part of the world. This was the end of the line for me and this backpacker’s beer,( its English nickname.)

Now, here comes the hardest part. How does one describe the taste of beer? In my opinion, Laos’ national ale had a very light flavor, similar to a Pilsner. However, there was something more refreshing and appealing about it but, I couldn’t yet distinguish why.

When we got back, I told my parents all about our trip. With my father, I went into great detail about my positive beer experience. (My dad has a knack for shooting off random facts at any given time, connecting bits of trivia to discussions.) And as I was telling him about my impressions of Beerlao, he went off on a tangent and began discussing the production of beer. From him, I learned that rice is one of the ingredients used to make most Asian beers. Huh?

Curious to know more, I did some research and soon discovered that besides using malt, the other main ingredient in this golden lager was indeed- jasmin rice! I heard about rice wine, but beer? Those grains that nourished me throughout my childhood were being used to produce beer? It made me think about chef Marcus Samuelson’s quote “So much of cooking and eating is about where do we want to go in our memories.” I wondered if those first few sips had awakened my taste buds and caused my brain cells to travel to a familiar and cozy place in my personal history? Maybe I needed a brew with a link to the first flavors of my youth to finally enjoy it or maybe, I would just never be a fan of beer.

Lao local gathering river weed


Filed under Flavors Abroad!