Birthdays are the best.
Note: This is a lengthy, possibly manic hunger-inducing post. Read this when you have the luxury of time, and possibly something edible close by.
I’m someone who welcomes each birthday with an open heart and a fork in each hand. I regard each birthday as a gift and so I treat it as such: I’m alive and healthy and what could be better than that? I receive several messages through various mediums with one theme: “… just like last year … so curious to know how you celebrate your birthday and what you eat.”
Here, an unabashed confession of an appetite unleashed.
While dessert is my favorite course, breakfast is my favorite meal so my birthday begins with it. I wish there were more breakfast places in Manila but I’m grateful for Apartment 1B (see numerous related posts below) and its excellent brekkie selection. Its second and new location at One Rockwell’s East Tower is flush in browns and whites and impressively heavy wooden tables. A bigger space, there’s a second floor, and similar to its original location, the open kitchen at back is clean and within viewing distance of the dining room. I’m just not sure about the six (!) flat-screen TVs that line one wall like a president’s control room; overkill somewhat.
The Eggs Benedict here is exceptional, yolks slickly wet and comparable only to Bizu’s Eggs Ben. But birthdays are for trying new things so I order the Croque Madame (P660; “…gosh it’s big, we’ll need to share,” my Bin says) and the Orange French Toast (P280). The former perks up the nose with the piquant perfume of its Gruyere cover. Its nutty creaminess is likewise earthy, a foil for the saltiness of the ham and the pillowy bite of the bread. That the fried egg’s yolk surrenders and weeps, its golden glory staining every forkful is yet an urge to eat more, more, more. I submit.
The sight of the Log Cabin Sugar Free Syrup on the table is unsettling. In reply to my inquiry if there’s any other syrup that is not sugar free, the waiter says no. As a rule, I avoid artificial sweeteners. This has nothing to do with me being a freak for dessert but aspartame and its ilk wreak havoc on the metabolism and damage the brain’s appetite center. I’ve done enough research and talked to enough health professionals to confirm this and really, even granulated white sugar is more natural. This isn’t the place for me to further get into it and I try my best to always be flexible so sugar free syrup it is for the birthday girl.
Truth be told, it’s not bad, just more fluid and boy, is it sweet! (One teaspoon of artificial sweetener can have the sweetness level of up to 2 teaspoons of granulated white sugar). But the cushion-y interiors of the Orange French Toast, lightly fried and golden, embrace the syrup, butter kisses it, and every swallow is sealed with a memory of orange. The sliced almonds are a nice touch, every sliver flits and swivels on the tongue.
Time for cake
Call it corny but I get a kick out of seeing my name on a cake. I can bake a cake but I sure as hell don’t know how to decorate or write my name on one. For my birthday, the good people at Starbucks send over a cake that draws an “awww…” out of me when I see it. The coral script is riveting (so pretty!) and I’m much amused when I’m told that it’s called Guilt Free Indulgence. It’s a “no sugar added” three-kinds-of-chocolate mousse cake made with sugar free chocolate and Splenda. Like I say earlier, I’m flexible but real sugar comes first so I decide to save this cake and share it with my family tomorrow night.
The cake I rip into immediately is the gift from The Peninsula Manila. I wrote about the King Oscar cake before, a transcendent meditation of meringue shored up and sheathed by an exceedingly divine custard, a cousin surely, to the yema. A shower of almond slices, tans and taupes, crushed and clusters, add to its rough-hewn appeal. This cake is biblically good, each bite a revelation and reminder to mindfully savor. There’s a recipe for a King Oscar cake in Ginny Roces De Guzman’s book, Bake Me A Cake. Though I know it’s not the same, I will attempt to bake it once this cake from The Peninsula is gone.
Can’t have a birthday without noodles
I’m not the superstitious sort but I always eat noodles on my birthday, long life and all that. I’m way past the slithery swirls of spaghetti, my knowledge of pasta having extended beyond type. Today, thick, flat sheets of dough hold sway as in the Mushroom Cannelloni (P580) at Lolo Dad’s Brasserie. The pasta is rolled around sautéed mushrooms that peek shyly out from under a roof of Raclette. Its lush complexity moistens the mushrooms and ups the “mmm” factor. All of the pasta dishes here come with what the restaurant calls Filled Bread. In the case of the cannelloni, it’s a Potato and Mango Club. It’s an odd sort this one, sort of like an egg salad sandwich in sentiment but with the tang of mango. Takes some getting used to.
A more seamless dish is the Ox tail Lasagne (P480). Possessing prominent notes of acidity from its tomato sauce, it points up the robust beefiness of the ox tail. This dish – quite literally – bubbles exuberantly with the ox tail oil tinged red by the tomatoes and the melted cheese. The open-face Chorizo and Apple Sandwich is an imaginative pairing rendered perfectly: the chorizo ‘s smokiness opens up a new flavor dimension while the apple’s subtlety ties everything in together. Gosh, I love this.
Red Velvet Cupcakes, BEST
Fully Booked is my second home. I can say that when I need to decompress, all I need to do is walk through the cookbooks section and an hour later, I’ve re-aligned my center. And after holding numerous events at the Top Shelf, the girls from Marketing (Vicky, Rhea, Loraine, Aimee, Regina, Gabbie) and the Lifestyle team are like family.
On my birthday, I’m thrilled to see their gift to me: the funkiest of salad bowls from Joseph Joseph . This product was featured in my Living The Story video and is also available in Fully Booked. The card is especially eye-catching with its golden rosette flanked by a similar floral made from … a ripped out book page? “Girls, treat books with respect,” I tease them when I call to express my thanks.
The biggest surprise however, was what was inside the bowl. Clusters of cupcakes covered in cream cheese and embellished with a single red heart.
I pick up a cupcake – it sends up waves of vanilla and sugar. I take a bite – red velvet.
Now, red velvet is one of those things that’s gotten itself so firmly enmeshed in the mainstream that it’s thisclose to becoming démodé. But wait, I’m holding and eating a rare specimen: a red velvet cupcake worth the hype. Yes, better than Sonja’s, the original red velvet cupcake purveyor, and one-up over Cukay’s . This red velvet is achingly moist, the crumbs dissolving with hardly a chew. The cream cheese frosting cloaks and strokes the tongue then fades away, leaving only a lingering memory of something so good, I can’t help but wish for another.
Carissa Daez makes these marvels, a twenty-something aspiring home baker who’s been baking since she was a kid. Her raging red beauties came into being just late last year to fund her wanderlust. When she got back from that trip, she kept on baking and now she’s poised for take-off. She also has an upside down pineapple cake in her repertoire, yet another cake that’s chilling out in my chiller thanks to my friends at Fully Booked, and one I’ve heard fabulous things about.
Up next: Birthday dinner.
E-101 G/F One Rockwell East Tower, Rockwell Center
(02) 869. 3530
132 L.P. Leviste Corner Sedeno St
Salcedo Village, Makati City 1227
King Oscar Cake at The Peninsula Manila
Corner of Ayala and Makati Avenues, Makati
887.2888 / 810.3456
Guilt Free Indulgence Cake
Available at all Starbucks stores.
Lolo Dad’s Brasserie
6750 Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Red Velvet Cupcakes from Carissa’s Kitchen