Tag Archives: winter holidays

Traditional Christmas Treats in the Philippines

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

Food for the gods. Photo by Jun Belen.

Where I come from, Christmas is the biggest, most anticipated holiday of the year. It does not confine itself to the 25th of December, starting to creep into the collective consciousness as early as September and  and extending way past New Year’s. ‘Tis the season of generosity and prayer. It is also a time when social calendars are filled to the last square centimeter with parties of all sorts — from company shindigs to family reunions, alumni homecomings to church group celebrations, to random gatherings with drinking buddies neighborhood cliques.

Needless to say, this is not the time for diet — they’re doomed to fail this time of year. A lot of these gatherings feature tables laden with scrumptious edibles, and since it is not uncommon for people to squeeze in 2 lunches or 3 dinners in one go, you can do the math and imagine how it adds to the waistline. I don’t think I’ve lost all that I’ve gained last Christmas, and here it comes again. Yikes! I wish I had Jillian Michaels to yell at me for the next 6 weeks.

Anyway, I thought I’d share with you guys some traditional treats that I look forward to indulging in at noche buena, which is the meal partaken of at midnight on Christmas eve.

Queso de Bola

This name literally means “cheese ball” but despite the Spanish-sounding name, it is actually edam, and these balls roll in in large quantities in December. Filipinos love cheese, although traditionally, Filipinos aren’t big cheesemakers — I therefore chalk this up to Spanish colonial influence, as these Europeans were most likely the ones who first brought this dairy goodness to our islands. After all, they were the ones who introduced Christianity, and therefore Christmas, to these parts.

Queso de Bola. Via iGourmet.


One brand’s tagline goes, ham is “the star of the noche buena feast.” One would think that this too is a western contribution. But I think it is only partly so. Some hams that are served resemble Virginia hams — juicy, salty, with just a tad of the aged taste, but with an additional over-all sweetness that I think is a local tweak on it. But American influence came only in the last century. There are Chinese hams that I think are a much older tradition, are bought dry in mesh nets, with the skin on, and covered with “age” (my euphemism for mold) — and this is quite fantastic too, although it requires more preparation to make it ready for the table. It is saltier, drier, with a powerful punch of pungency. This is served with warm bread and slices of queso de bola.

Chinese ham. Via Wikimedia commons.


Yes, this one is considered Christmas cake here too, and is available everywhere. But the only kind I’ve ever liked has been my mom’s. She used to make a bunch of these to give away to her and my dad’s friends as gifts. Now my sister makes them.

Image via Pink Lady Sweets

Food for the Gods

I know this is a strange, pagan-sounding name for a Christmas treat, but that’s what they’re called here. They are really date and walnut bars. and they come individually wrapped in foil and shiny gem-colored water cellophane wrappers. I’m not a big fan of dates, but I find these to be utterly heavenly and worthy of its name.

Food for the gods. Via Joanne's Kitchen.

Dawn Mass Treats: Puto Bumbong, Bibingka, and Tsokolate

Dawn Mass. Image via Why'd You Eat That?

As Christmas day draws near, many Filipinos prepare themselves spiritually by attendingMisa de Gallo ( Spanish, “Rooster’s Mass”), a series of nine Masses celebrated before sunrise, also called Simbang Gabi (Filipino, “Night Mass”). The last one is on the dawn of the 24th, which gears the faithful up for Christmas day Mass.

Puto bumbong steamers. Via Grace in Full Measure

Puto bumbong. Image by Trissie via Foodspotting.

As an added motivation to get up so early in the morning, for nine consecutive days, there’s got to be some good eating to be had. Puto bumbong is the traditional treat to be had when Mass is over. It is made with dark glutinous rice and coconut and steamed in bamboo tubes, served hot with a cup of tsokolate, a version of hot chocolate made with tablets of locally grown and processed chocolate, which has a strong nutty, toasty flavor, and a bitter edge that is smoothed out with sugar and milk.

Traditional equipment for making Tsokolate. Via My Food Trip.

Tsokolate. By EJ Suratos via Pingram.

Should the early risers want an alternative to puto bumbong, bibingka is also sold outside churches for variety. Bibingka is a cake made with eggs, rice flour, and coconut milk, and baked in banana leaf-lined tins with hot coals underneath and on top, which chars it a bit and gives it a smoky fragrance.

Bibingka stove. Via Grace in Full Measure.

Puto bumbong and bibingka. Via Why'd You Eat That?

Posted in Culture, Food | Tagged , ,

Easy Polymer Clay Pendant Tutorial

pendant by MandyAll Photographs by Eric Cator

Polymer clay, also known by the brand names Sculpey and Fimo, is surprisingly easy to work with. Once you get used to working with polymer clay you can make anything from highly detailed miniatures to pretty beads, and it’s incredibly addictive. Here’s a little tutorial for making pendants for necklaces or ornaments for your tree. The process is so simple and quick, so these make fantastic last minute gifts.

Materials Needed:


buttons, stamps, bits of metal (anything that you think might make an interesting texture.)

rolling pin

Aluminum Foil

Old baking sheet

sharp knife or cookie cutters

wooden skewer

necklace chain, ribbon or string

plastic table cover

gloves (optional)

Step One: Set up your workspace

Polymer clay is made of synthetic materials which makes it easy to manipulate and gives it a smooth texture. It is not food safe though, so when choosing your tools it’s best to use items that won’t be used to serve or prepare food afterwards. Protect your work surface with plastic sheeting, and line your baking sheet with foil and set that aside.

Step Two: Knead Clay and Roll Dough

Take a lump of sculpey and using your hands massage it until it becomes flexible. Sculpey can be hard to squish but the heat from your hands will quickly soften it. Roll the softened dough to desired thickness. I did mine about a quarter inch thick. If you roll it too thin the finished piece can be fragile, too thick and it might be too heavy.

Step Three: Cut Out Shapes and Add Textures

Using a sharp knife or cookie cutters cut out pendant shapes. Using a spare scrap of clay try pressing your various texture objects into the clay to get a sense of the effect they will create. When you find something you are happy with use the object/stamp etc. to make patterns on your pendant.

Step Four: Poke Holes and Transfer to Baking Sheet

Using a wooden skewer poke holes in the tops of your pendants and carefully transfer them to your foil lined baking sheet.

Step Five: Bake

Follow the directions on the sculpey package for baking. I recommend keeping an eye on your creations while they are in the oven. Thin objects have a tendency to discolour if they get too hot. When they are finished baking remove from the oven and let cool completely.

Step Six: Paint and Decorate

Using paints, crystals, beads or anything else you like decorate your pendants. Mine are going to the tween girls on my gift list so I picked colours suitable for them. When the paint is dry thread the pendants on ribbons, chains or strings.

Voila, a collection of homemade gifts to package up and give.

Happy Friday Everyone!

Posted in Culture | Tagged , ,

Fun and Funky Holiday Cards

Image from For Print Only

The holidays are in full swing, and Christmas less than a month away! Today it is fairly common to any of us have friends and family who might be spending the holidays away from us, but whom we will always think fondly of especially during this time of year.

Despite digital media being the preferred medium of communication today, there is still something nostalgic, sentimental, and most of all heartwarming about receiving a physical greeting card. A broad range are available today for purchase, but a well-chosen and thoughtfully designed card can be a thoughtful keepsake almost like a present. Here are a few holiday cards that will certainly make your recipient smile!

Seltzer Goods, Image from Paper Source

This simple yet witty card from Seltzer Goods is sure to make your designer friends smile! A hand-painted color wheel is matched to holiday motifs and goods.

Image from Oprah.com

Not to be outdone by specialty paper shops, New York’s famous Museum of Modern Art also has their own holiday card set, and they’re popups! I love the simple white cutouts against bold, festive solid backgrounds and the simple typography for the messages.

Image from Oh Beautiful Paper

Speaking of simple typography – this Hanukkah card represents the holiday and its traditions effectively with absolute minimalism – blue letterpressed type on a white card with the customary Jewish greeting.

Image from Egg Press

This shapely card from Egg Press is a creative take on the concept of the Christmas ornament – paper ornament tags for your gifts!

Image from For Print Only

Good typography, especially in printed form, can convey the simplest wishes and phrases with flair and elegance. This card just does that – with beautiful, flourished type reminiscent of old english book design.

Although it might be easier these days to simply click your mouse or trackpad to send a virtual greeting, there is something about well-crafted printed cards that gives them meaning, especially when accompanied by a handwritten note. Holiday cards are only sent once a year, so why not make them count!

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged ,

Alternative Christmas Trees

I love decorating for Christmas and the highlight for me is going out and picking the perfect tree to bring home and decorate with the ornaments that I have collected over the years. However, the environmentalist in me feels a little guilty killing an innocent tree to fill my house with its intoxicating scent for a mere four weeks.

Image: Bibitaro

And yet, I can’t quite bring myself to go the artificial route. I have considered a small, living potted tree but I don’t have anywhere to plant it when the holidays are over.

Image: Fleurfatale

But this is an excellent choice for people who have a backyard or who have larger indoor plants (Christmas cactus anyone?). Even a container with branches could make a cool sustainable version.

Image: AtelierboisdAme on Etsy

AtelierboisdAme plays on this idea by assembling driftwood into the shape of a traditional tree. I think this would look amazing draped with rustic ornaments.

Image: Makedo on Instructables

For the crafty types, Makedo on Instructables has an easy 10-step tutorial for a cardboard Christmas tree. If you have kids, you could keep them busy for hours decorating one with markers or decoupage. You could even make small holes in the cardboard and hang ornaments.

Image: Tattered Style

But why not use items you already have around the house? A plain old ladder looks spectacular decked out with lights and sparkly decorations.

Image: Allison Stanke on Pinterest

As a graduate student, I always have a large stack of books lying around, so I am sorely tempted to procrastinate at the end of term with this DIY project!

Image: Martha Stewart

One of the reasons that people shy away from a real tree is lack of floor space. Fortunately, several creative types have shared their 2-D solutions on the Internet.  With little more than a string of lights, one can have a merry little tree.

Image: Le Vestiaire de Jeanne via All Washi Tape

A few months ago, Mandy blogged about the wonderful possibilities of washi tape here on The Design Tree, so it’s no surprise that it has been incorporated in Christmas decorations. The huge variety of colours and patterns means that you could make a tree to match any décor.

Image: Wall Dressed Up

Snowflake decals also make a festive alternative that won’t damage the walls when they come down in the New Year.

Image: A Legg Up

I’m not much of an artist but if I was I would consider covering a wall with chalkboard paint (or butcher paper since I’m pretty non-committal in the paint department) and drawing the perfect tree.

Image: Ever After Blueprint

What about you? Do you prefer a traditional tree or would you consider going alternative this Christmas?

Small Space Entertaining Tips

image via style at home

Have you been thinking about hosting a party this holiday season but are worried you just don’t have the space to accommodate a crowd? Entertaining in a small space can hold challenges, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. With some pre-planning you can throw a memorable party in even the tiniest of spaces.  Here are a few party tips that will help make sure your guests have a blast, and that you keep your sanity.

image via freshome

Pre-Party Editing

This tip goes for any size space; before a party or big gathering go through the rooms guests will be gathering in and engage in some ruthless editing. Unnecessary furniture, knick-knacks and personal items can be moved to an off-limits space like a laundry room or bedroom. Guests will feel more relaxed if they’re not bumping into things all the time and you won’t have to worry about things getting broken.

image via a house in the hills

The Ever-expanding dining Table

If you’ve ever tried to seat six people at a four person dining table you know the difficulties. A drop leaf table or one with an expansion panel can be useful, but if you just don’t have the space consider finger foods and cocktails rather than a sit down dinner.

image via Style by Emily Henderson

Party Central

If you’ll be inviting guests over often consider investing in one piece of furniture where all your entertaining supplies can be stored. Maybe a cabinet or a knockout bar cart. It will clear off table space and keep you party ready all the time.  Finding something that offers some closed storage will be helpful for keeping odds and ends under control.

image via marie claire maison


Lighting really sets the tone for any event. If you’re throwing a holiday party use the sparkly lights of the season to your advantage when creating mood lighting. The glow from a Christmas tree or a few strands of white lights can keep the mood festive and distract from the close quarters.

Block Party Conversation Seating set from Designed Goods

Improvise Seating

Don’t have enough couch and chair space to fit everyone? Pull out benches, oversized throw pillows and chairs from other rooms and arrange them in conversation zones around the room.  This conversation seating set is perfect if you find yourself entertaining often. The various pieces can also be used as extra tables or ottomans if the need arises.

la marie chairs by Philippe Starck from hive

Get Stacking

Stackable furniture is a godsend for decorating any small space but it can be especially useful for entertaining. Stackable chairs or nesting tables can be brought out when needed, and tucked away to clear more room once the guests leave.

image via Everything Fabulous

The More the Merrier

Some of the best parties I remember going to were so packed with people it was standing room only. If you keep the mood lively, the music upbeat, the food plentiful and the drinks pouring chances are everyone will have a great time no matter how small your space.

Happy Friday Everyone!