How I Threw A Champagne Afternoon Tea Party For Two At Home For My Birthday

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Although most cafes and restaurants are now open in London, I am still not confident enough to go out there and socialise. I believe that the virus is still very much with us and I don't want to take the risk. J and I have been very good in the last four months (only going out for essentials), so I know we can do more no matter how long it will take- even it means sacrificing my birthday traditions and doing things differently. 

This year, instead of travelling or having an afternoon tea with my friend somewhere in London, I decided to throw my own Champagne Afternoon Tea Party at home with J. It turned out to be one of the best afternoon teas I have ever had since I fell in love with the British tradition sometime in 2006.

It took me at least two weeks to formulate my menu. I am not a baker, so it was quite challenging to decide which pastries and cakes to bake. I escaped savouries as I am not very keen on them. Besides, I don't really know how to make them. So in the end, I came up with a very simple Afternoon Tea menu. 

Homemade Cupcakes
- I played safe with the cupcakes and baked what I thought would be easy. It was my first time to bake lemon cupcakes and red velvet cupcakes, but thanks to Mary Berry for her easy to follow recipes. I think I did well considering I don't really bake (except banana bread). One thing that I really need to work on though, is my frosting. I am still quite impatient but I know I'll get there one day. :)

Homemade Plain and Fruit Scones
- I learned how to bake scones back in 2016 when I was living in New Zealand and trying to learn new skills. So, apart from banana bread, scone is the only other thing that I can bake confidently. I have always used Mary Berry's recipe for my scones. On this occasion, I moulded the plain scones first, then added raisins in the remaining dough. The scones were served with clotted cream and strawberry jam.

Selection of Homemade Sandwiches
- I am not normally a fan of sandwiches, but I always enjoy them at afternoon teas. For my afternoon tea party, I chose to make three of my favourite sandwiches - tuna, egg and coronation chicken. J made the tuna sandwich and I used my own recipe for the egg sandwich. For the coronation chicken, I used the recipe I found on BBC Good Food. I used both white and brown bread for the sandwiches. 

Selection of Teas
- As this was an afternoon tea, I thought I'd present the teas that I have available at home.  I am a fan of Jasmine Green tea, so I have Queen Jasmine Tea from TWG, Blossom Tea  from a shop in Chinatown and Jasmin Zhejiang from Thé & Co (Strasbourg). I also have Fortnum and Mason's English Mint Tea, Rose Pouchong, Apricot Honey and Lavender and Camomile and Bee Pollen Infusion Teas. J had the choice between Harrods Afternoon Ceylon No 16 Tea and PG tips. Of course, he opted for the PG Tips (his favourite). :) I chose the Jasmin Zhejiang only because I haven't had it in a while. 

My Birthday Cake
- Who would have thought that I would be baking my own birthday cake this year? My original plan was to bake my favourite ube cake but I have failed twice already, so I didn't want to risk it on my birthday. Somehow I find the whole process of baking an ube cake tedious! Anyway, the only other cake I could think of was pistachio cake. And so I baked it- for the first time ever and voila!

The Champagne
- Our choice of Champagne that day was Moët. Nothing much to say really. :)

So, that's how I successfully threw a Champagne Afternoon Tea Party at home. I haven't had an afternoon tea with J before, so this was a good opportunity for us to experience it together in the comfort of our home. Although the whole preparation was not that easy, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I can now invite my friends for an afternoon tea at home. Perhaps when the virus is totally gone. 

The older I get, the more I prefer simple birthday celebrations. For the last few years, I have been celebrating my birthday with only a handful of friends - before or after my birthday, and separately. Then J and I would do our own thing in the evening of my birthday. I realised through the years, and most especially during the lockdown, that doing the simplest of things make me genuinely happy. That I certainly don't need fancy things to complete my birthday. So yeah, I now find more pleasure in doing simple things at home like throwing my own Afternoon Tea Party. :)


44 and Grateful

Saturday, 11 July 2020

Today, I celebrated my 44th birthday in an unusual but very special way. Whilst we originally planned to celebrate my birthday outside London, the pandemic unfortunately prevented us from doing so. Some yearly traditions also had to be put on hold. For the last few years, my friend Pearl and I have been visiting flower fields as part of our birthday celebrations. I also have this tradition of dating myself the day before my birthday. This year is completely different. Although I didn't get to meet up with any of my friends or do any of the things that I would normally do on my birthday, I had the pleasure to celebrate it privately at home with my constant, J. 

This morning, I woke up exceptionally grateful. Despite everything that has been going on in the world right now, I am very blessed in so many ways. My life in the last year has been a roller coaster ride. It was as if life was constantly playing games with me. Every time when I thought that the universe was finally making up for everything that I went through the year before, a new challenge comes along. But I have been a firm believer that things happen for a reason, so here I am, still very grateful despite of it all. 

This year though, I am most grateful for the following:

1. The health and safety of my family and friends
- Last year, I had the fair share of health concerns personally and with some of the people I love. It was very emotionally challenging especially when my mother had the Covid-19 scare. So this year, I wish nothing but for my family and friends to continue to be healthy and safe. That is all what matters to me now.

2. My Life Partner
- I'm sure the pandemic has been one of the most challenging for us all. One thing that I am very grateful during this time of Corona Virus is having a life partner in J. I am very blessed to have been in lockdown with the best lockdown partner ever. Never did we once bickered at each other for the whole three months that we were in isolation. J made it easy for me not to miss the outside world. Most importantly, he made sure that we were both looked after.

3. Provision of Basic Needs
- The pandemic taught me that all I needed to survive in this world is food, shelter and clothing (okay, in addition- a phone and wifi so I can stay connected with my family and friends). I am beyond blessed to be living in a beautiful flat in Central London, to have more than enough food in our pantry and to have more than enough clothes to wear. For three months, I didn't have any reason to dress up. I didn't have any reason to wear my shoes and my bags. It was then I realised that I don't really need any more than what I already have. And knowing that a lot of people struggled to buy food during the pandemic, I made a promise to myself to spend my money wiser, and to help those in need a little bit more.

4. Closing Doors
- In December, I was made redundant. It was one thing that I thought I would never have to go through. I felt different kinds of emotions. For a normally positive person like me, I struggled to look for the silver lining. I thought I was a good manager and I was doing a great job. However, I ended up losing it all. I lost an exceptional team. My team. The team that I built. The people who believed in me despite knowing that I didn't have any managerial experience behind me. The people who respected me as a person and as a manager. The people who made it easy for me to succeed as a new manager. The people who treated each other like their own family. My people. I was so heartbroken, I cried most nights. Add to that heartbreaking separation from my people, the most stressful and unhappiest ending in my entire nursing career. I did things that I never thought I would ever do as a nurse, and as a manager. But I guess all the hardships and sacrifices were worth it, as what happened validated my purpose in life. And for that, I remain grateful.

5. New Beginnings
- I started my new job in the time of Corona Virus. Everything was and still is strange. It is quite difficult to explain how I exactly feel about this new job and the people I work with. But there is one thing that I am sure of- there is a reason why the universe brought me there. For now, I am grateful that I still have a job during this unusual time when a lot of people all over the world have lost their jobs and/or struggling to find a job. I hope and pray that things will be better soon, so everyone can go back to work and truly enjoy the (new) normal life again. 

And that's it. I am 44.

I wish not only for my family and friends' health and safety, but for love, compassion, kindness and peace in this time of hate, indifference and inhumanities. May we all eventually live as one, and may God bless us all.

Please stay safe.


My Best Dining Experiences in Strasbourg, France

Sunday, 14 June 2020

A recent email from a couple I met in Strasbourg, France last year reminded me of one of my most unforgettable trips to date. Whilst I have already written about my awesome trip to the magical city of Strasbourg and the fairytale village of Colmar, I have yet to write about the restaurants that I visited in Strasbourg. 

Strasbourg (the capital of Alsace) is located at the border of Germany, therefore their cuisine is a combination of French and German. I have been to France a few times but I never had food like the food I had in Strasbourg. Alsatian cuisine is unique, hearty and generous. During our stay, I was eating out during daytime on my own, then J would join me for an early dinner after his conference. I stuffed myself with meat, bread and potatoes, with the occasional treat to our favourite ice cream place close to our hotel. I would definitely consider Strasbourg as one of the places that I would go back to for food, alongside New Zealand and Italy

1.  Le Clou - 3 Rue du Chaudron 
-  Apparently, anyone who travels to Alsace must eat at a "Winstub".  Basically, a Winstub is a traditional pub serving authentic Alsatian cuisine. It was the first thing that we did on our arrival to Strasbourg. We didn't have any restaurant in mind, so we wandered around Grand Ile and came across Le Clou, which is located in a rather romantic narrow alley. The restaurant just opened at that time so we had the pleasure to be seated where we wanted to seat. Le Clou gave us the standard of restaurant service in Strasbourg. The staff was very nice and obliging.

As I don't always have escargot when I go to France, I made sure that I had it in Strasbourg. It was not that cheap at €13.50 for six pieces, but it was delicious. Then for my mains, I opted for the very soft and satisfying traditional knuckle of ham wadele (€19.90). J on the other hand, had the onion soup (€8.70) and the authentic Brotwurst with Sauerkraut (€15.90). The serving was very generous and the food all in all, was very flavourful. I was very happy to have had our first meal at Le Clou.

2. Le Tire-Bouchon- 5 Rue des Tailleurs de Pierre
- J and I had the shock of our lives when our food was served at Le Tire-Bouchon. We both ordered their specialty dish without realising that one order was enough for two. The Baeckeoffe mit Drei Sorten Fleisch (€20.90) which basically means a casserole with three types of meat (lamb, pork, beef) and potatoes was apparently cooked for 8 hours. It was perfectly cooked to say the least and it tasted brilliantly. Although I didn't finish the whole dish as it was too much, I made sure that I ate all the meat particularly the pig's foot.:) The restaurant is located close to the Strasbourg Cathedral, so it is quite touristy in the area. However, I didn't feel that the restaurant was a tourist-trap. If anything, it was authentic and traditional. Definitely a good place to dine in whilst in Strasbourg.

3. Maison Kammerzell- 16 Place de la Cathedrale 
- Located next to the Strasbourg Cathedral, you might think that this restaurant is a tourist trap, and you are probably right. I went to the restaurant the day before my birthday to try their most raved Choucroute aux trois Poissons (3-sort fish €25.90). Although people have complained about the rude and slow service, I didn't experience it at all, hence the restaurant is on my list. The salmon, smoked cod and trout (I believe) was served on a Sauerkraut. It was buttery and truly delicious.

4. Au Pont Corbeau- 21 Quai Saint-Nicholas
- I cannot recall how we found this restaurant but I have a clear recollection of the flank of beef (€18.20)that I had for the mains. I have had bad experiences with well done steaks in the past, so I now normally ask for medium rare. The flank of beef was perfectly pink, juicy and tender. The serving was very generous for the price to be honest. It was served with pan-friend potatoes and salad. J went for the beef mignon (the price escapes me) which he also enjoyed. 

5. Le Petit Glacier-  3 Rue Austerlitz Proche de la Place du Corbeau 
- We visited this dessert place a few times whilst in Strasbourg and each visit was such a pleasant treat. I mean, how could you not possibly enjoy really amazing desserts? To be honest, I prefer simple desserts. However, I couldn't resist the over the top desserts at Le Petit Glacier. My choice of dessert was the very refreshing La Hawaï (€10.50) which was beautifully presented, so it was difficult for me to start eating it. Hehe. Basically, it is a collection of exotic fruits with passion fruit and mango sorbet, coconut ice cream and mango whipped cream. It sounds a lot but trust me, it is just enough for one. Well, if you eat a lot like me. Meanwhile, J's favourite was the La Chocolatiere (€9.30) - a mountain of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, cold chocolate, whipped cream and chocolate sauce. It was heavenly! 

6. Bristot Coco- 8 Rue de Ecurie
- We went to dinner here on the eve of my birthday. I came from Colmar that day and J finished his conference on time, so we had an early dinner. It was good timing actually because the restaurant was not even open when we arrived. Although we had to wait for a few minutes,  it also only meant that we could choose wherever we wanted to be seated. So, always our best choice- al fresco! The British lady who served us was friendly and chatty. The food was served in a timely manner. The quality of food was definitely good. We had a three-course meal and each meal was very satisfying to say the least. For starter, we shared a burratina with nuts and cherry (€10). For the mains, I had the very tender Entrecôte de Veau (€28). To be honest, we would have been fine with two courses, however their dessert menu was very appealing so we had the fondant au chocolat (€10). It was the best way to end our dinner experience at Bristot Coco.

7.  1741- 22 Quai des Bateliers 
- My birthday lunch in 1741 was an unforgettable one, and it remains one of the best birthday celebrations ever- more so because I had lunch on my own. It was the only second time that I actually dined in a restaurant alone on my birthday. The first time was unplanned. My then friend basically stood me up. We are no longer seeing each other if you're wondering if we are still friends. Haha.  Anyway, back to my 1741 story. I have been to many French restaurants before, but I never felt so intimidated as I did when I entered the elegant restaurant, mainly because I was alone. But I felt a lot better once I was seated. 

I was given a table in a quiet room as I requested, with only 3 tables set up for 5 guests. I was given the middle table which was an added bonus. Once seated, I was offered a small stool to put my bag on- a first restaurant experience. The food was not mind blowing, but it was excellent nonetheless. I had their 5-course meal for €105, without drinks. The whole experience made it totally worth it. The service was very professional and attentive. The company was warm and friendly. Unfortunately, the other guests only spoke French, so it was difficult to make conversation. They attempted to speak to me in English, as I did to them in French (with the few words I learnt from my previous travels to France). In the end, we used google translate.  

What made this birthday lunch extra special was the couple I met at the restaurant. After I blew my birthday cake, the couple bought me a small glass of Marc d' Alsace Gewurtztraminer, which apparently is a popular drink in Alsace. I drank it reluctantly, but I finished the glass.  Then as we were leaving, the lady handed me their business card and asked me to call them so I could have coffee with them at their house. It was so unfortunate that I didn't have any more time to see them again. However, I sent them a thank you card before we left Strasbourg and wrote my email address on the card. A few days later when I was back in London, I received an email from them. We have not stopped emailing each other since. They are actually the reasons why I am writing this blog right now.

8. Pierre Bois Et Feu- 6 Rue du Bain-aux-Roses
- J chose this restaurant for my birthday dinner, and he made a very good choice. It was a different experience altogether as I had my first flat iron steak- literally. And when I say literally, my steak was actually cooked using a charcoal flat iron box. It was very fascinating to watch the whole thing as I have never seen such a thing in my life. The whole experience was memorable. We approximately paid €35 per person which was not too bad.

9. Le Purgatoire- 34 Rue de Zurich
- Yet, another first in my food adventure. To be honest, I didn't expect my food to come in a tin can, but I tell you, it was the best canned food I ever had. I wanted to take some home but the waiter was not very accommodating, so I didn't take the courage to ask if they were selling them. It was so delicious and really cheap!

10. Caffe-Gelateria- 11 Place de la Cathédrale
- Everyday for a week, I was going to this cafe in front of the Strasbourg Cathedral to get my morning coffee. I would sit there for an hour or so, just people watching. Tourists flooded the area to visit the Cathedral at 0900 sharp. By this time, I have been to the church (they open at 0800)already so I didn't have to queue up. It was a good spot to enjoy the beauty of the intricately designed gothic cathedral.

With the current situation that we are in, I am unsure as to when we can safely travel again. In fact, I have no plans on travelling at all this year, except for one important travel I have to make once the travel bans are lifted. Until then, all I can do is relive the memories we have made before the world was turned upside down by the pandemic. Until then, we must stay safe.


My Don'ts In The Time Of Corona Lockdown

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Three weeks ago, I finally went out of the house after almost eight weeks of voluntary confinement due to the Corona Virus. That was eight weeks of not going out of the flat at all. Whilst many people expressed how much they missed the outside world, I was genuinely happy being inside the house. Probably because I am part introvert. If I didn't have to go to work, I would have preferred to stay at home for the rest of this pandemic.

Whilst in lockdown, I have more opportunities to reflect on life. Yes, living in the time of Corona Virus is strange and there are a lot of things that are sacrificed. I hear some people complaining about how inconvenient it is for them not to be able to do the things that they would normally do otherwise. As for myself, the only thing that I am really disappointed about is the fact that I am unsure as to when I am able to go home and visit my parents again. I was meant to go home at the end of April (as a surprise), however the Philippines banned all travels at the very early stage of the pandemic. Things happen for a reason for sure, and I am praying that my parents will remain healthy until I see them again.

Of course, a lot of lessons are also learned during this pandemic. Staying at home 24/7 has not been so easy for some, but it comes so natural for myself and J. Nothing much has changed except for the fact that we can't go out. Well, we can really for essentials but we choose not to. Staying at home really doesn't mean that we stop doing the things that we love doing. It has been so easy for us to find ways to entertain ourselves and yes, to continue living the life we have always lived- although modified. I have been happy staying at home and this is because I:

1. Don't Stop Moving
- It has been so tempting to just sit around and do nothing whilst on lockdown, but I know that this would not benefit me in any way at all. Luckily, I have been following a few workouts on youtube for quite a while now so I motivated myself to continue doing those exercises on a daily basis. In addition to that, we have a few gym equipment in the flat which has been really helpful. We live in a flat with no garden or balcony, so we make use of whatever space we have to ensure that we don't stop moving. As I am not keen on running outside at the moment, I use the stairs to do my cardio exercises and also Fitness Blender's "Fat Burning Cardio Workout". Other workout videos I follow are: Vicky Justiz (for abs), Chichi Health Fitness (abs and lower body workout), Bright Side (abs) and Love Sweat Fitness (for arms). Exercise, no matter how light (it can mean just walking inside the house), has helped me maintain my physical and mental health during the lockdown.

2. Don't Stop Learning
- Just like the rest of the world, I learned how to bake a banana cake during the lockdown. I have always wanted to learn how to bake, but because I am quite impatient when it comes to following precise baking instructions, I never really took it seriously. Until of course the lockdown. I have baked a couple of successful banana breads since and I am keen to continue baking more, so watch this space.

I also found a free online course via Coursera, The Science of Well-being which was developed by Yale University. This course talks about how we can increase our happiness and how we can create more productive habits. I really enjoyed the course, so if you are interested, just check it out.

The highlight of my "Learning in the Time of Corona" was teaching my weakest subjects to a couple of smart kids. I volunteered to help a couple of my friends with home-schooling, but did not expect that the little humans would ask me to teach them the subjects that were not really my cup of tea when I was in school- geography and history. It appeared that I had so much more to learn about these subjects. I am grateful for Ethan (10 year-old) and Poppy (5 year-old) for giving me the opportunity to teach and learn at the same time.

Currently, I am busy learning about my job and the people I work with so perhaps when I am more settled, I will find more courses online.

3. Don't Stop Caring
- Posting anything on social media during this pandemic has been quite tricky for me. I am conscious of what many people are going through right now and therefore, I have been very careful on what I share on facebook and instagram. I refrained from posting any food or material things until I have done my part in helping those who were and still are in need of help. It goes without saying that "charity begins at home". It was my brother's idea to give a little help to our distant relatives first and foremost. My family distributed relief goods to at least 25 families. It may not be a lot, but I'm sure every little helps. Also, I donated two weeks of my lunch allowance to "Meals for the NHS" and my weekly coffee allowance to "Fashion for Frontliners". Every now and again, I leave a little something for our cleaner just to say thank you for what they do. Most importantly, now more than ever before, I make sure that I stay in touch with my family and friends.

4. Don't Stop Living
- Being in lockdown doesn't mean I also have to stop living. Whilst I am unable to have brunch or afternoon tea with my friends, I ensure that every now and again, I indulge myself with things that I would otherwise do outside our home. Besides, I have always associated living my life with being at home, so the lockdown doesn't really make a lot of difference to me, even if it means I can't go out to eat at restaurants or cafes. This is because life to me, is more than those things. It is spending time with my loved ones most of all- be it physically or virtually. This is one thing that I have been consistently doing during this lockdown. 

Honestly though, living a life for me means being grateful for everything that I have, caring for the people I love, helping those who are in need (in any way I can), being sensitive to what other people are going through and being kind to everyone that I come across with. 

5. Don't Stop Believing
- Just like any other challenge, this too shall pass. I believe that one day soon, we will be able to see and hug our family and friends once again. But until then, we must stay positive. Above all, we must stay safe.

My love and prayers to one and all.  Please take care.


How I Coped With My Mother's COVID-19 Scare

Friday, 1 May 2020

On April 16, my mother was rushed to the hospital due to a 3-day history of fever, cough and body malaise. Although it could have been just a common flu, these days it will always be more than that. She was immediately put under the PUM category (Persons Under Monitoring). A chest x-ray was performed which confirmed Pneumonia. Everything happened so quickly, we didn't even have enough time to think about logistics. My sister-in-law brought my mother to the Rural Health Unit to be assessed initially, but then she was referred to the hospital straight away. My sister-in-law accompanied my mother to the hospital and never went home until my mother was discharged 13 days later. 

We immediately asked my father and my niece to self-isolate. Whilst it would have been easy for me to ask publicly (via social media) for prayer warriors to pray for my mother's fast recovery, I chose to keep this ordeal privately on this occasion. Knowing how misinformed and judgemental some people are in our town, I didn't want my mother's situation to cause alarm to the public. And worse, I didn't want ignorant people to discriminate my family. This is why I chose to go through this very unsettling and worrying experience silently.

It was indeed two weeks of utmost fear and uncertainty. I have always believed that this virus is real since the beginning, however it became even more real when it unfortunately became too close to home. My anxiety was heightened, I couldn't focus on anything else. I couldn't sleep for two weeks. Guilt penetrated my heart once more. I haven't seen my mother in five years and it hurt so much. 

Thinking of how suspected COVID-19 patients are being managed here, I am thankful that in the Philippines, patients are not left on their own until they are confirmed positive. This somehow gave me reassurance. My sister-in-law was allowed to stay with my mother whilst awaiting for her swab result. You see, my mother and my sister-in-law do not have a perfect relationship, but historically, they have always been there for each other in sickness and in health. My sister-in-law has always taken our place (my brother and I) in looking after our parents. And for that, I am beyond grateful. I know I can never repay her. 

On the 17th of April, a swab sample was taken from my mother. She reported to me that she was feeling better. She was apparently being treated with intravenous antibiotics and some medications for her cough. Her repeat Chest X-ray was clear. This gave me so much hope.

Whilst my mother was making a steady progress, I was getting more and more frustrated because the result of her swab was taking so long. I was beginning to worry about their mental health. But it was just me worrying of course. My mother and sister-in-law are mentally and emotionally strong, and although my mother can be quite a pain sometimes, my sister-in-law has learned how to turn every annoying situation into some sort of an entertainment. So, they were okay. Well, sort of.

Then another bad news broke. As I was beginning to feel less anxious about my mother's condition, I received a text from my first cousin, who I treat like a brother. He has not been well for over a week. He had classic symptoms of COVID-19- fever, chills, body malaise, cough and difficulty of breathing, so he was taken to the hospital. I felt  what hundreds of thousands of people whose loved ones were taken to the hospital alone must have felt during this horrible time. It was totally heartbreaking. 

The last two weeks, I prayed so hard for my mother's and my cousin's COVID-19 tests to be negative, and for both of them to be discharged home safely. I privately asked my religious friends to help me pray for their fast recovery. I read the Bible for the first time in a very long time. I read self-help books. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne helped me change the way I think about the whole situation. I started creating positive pictures in my head- both my mother and my cousin home and well. The law of attraction doesn't work overnight, but I was determined.  I tried to think only positive thoughts. It was hard, but I tried. I tried my very best to fight my anxiety. I claimed their recovery. Thirteen days later, my mother's test came back negative. The day after, my cousin's test also came back negative.

Things could have been worse, hence I am beyond thankful to the Lord for the gift of healing. Of course this unforgettable experience has taught me a lot of lessons that surely will affect my decision-making in the future. No more excuses is all I can say for now.

And if there is one other thing that this whole ordeal has positively done in my life,  it's the fact that it made my family closer and stronger than ever before. For the first time ever, we created a family group chat. The different time zones allowed us to keep the chat room going 24 hours a day. We sent funny messages, photos, and  we teased each other to lift our spirits up. I watched the world clock like crazy. I didn't sleep until I have spoken to both my parents. I called both of them twice a day, everyday. For the first time in what it felt like forever, I said I love you to my father and he said I love you back. It's not as if we don't love each other, it's just that we are not used to saying it to each other. I cried when that happened. 

The thing is, my mother and my cousin were not the only ones I was worried about. I was worried about my sister-in-law who was on her own caring for my mother. I was worried about my father, who is diabetic and was alone in the house. I was worried about my niece, who was also alone in the other house most nights. My anxiety was very real. I felt so helpless.

The situation only became easier because we also had help from other relatives. I have cousins in the Philippines who patiently checked up on my father and my niece everyday. They ran errands for my family. They were there for and with us every step of the way. It honestly would have been more difficult for us without their help. And for that, I will forever be indebted to them.

My mother and my cousin are both home now and are recovering well. We are indeed very blessed to have been gifted with their recovery. I am beyond grateful. I thank those who fervently prayed for their healing. I thank those who regularly checked up on me to make sure I was okay. I thank God for answering our prayers. I thank God for the gift of life. I thank God for everything.

One thing that I learned from this ordeal? In difficult times like this, all you need is your family - biological and/or chosen. And I thank God for mine- imperfect as we truly are, my family was all I needed to get through this.

Please stay safe. Things will get better soon. Godspeed.


On Why I Stay at Home and Believe in Social Distancing

Thursday, 2 April 2020

When the Corona Virus first hit the news in the middle of January,  I hoped that it would be contained in China. We continued to live a normal life. I was also pre-occupied with so many other things at that time, so I didn't pay so much attention to it. Until two cases were reported in the UK at the end of January. It was obvious that this virus was hitting home quicker than I anticipated. At the end of February, there were about 23 cases reported. We also saw a global spread of the virus to more than 20 countries. At this point, we thought that this was a pandemic although the World Health Organisation didn't declare this until the 11th of March.  As soon as March came, we saw a rapid rise in number of confirmed cases. We started to worry as the situation was obviously becoming worse. J has a background in research and he is good at it, so he has been doing reasonable amount of research on the progression of the virus from the moment we heard about it until now. 

An overnight trip to the hospital in the first week of March meant that we had to be extra cautious about the virus. We already knew that a high temperature and a new continuous dry cough were the classic symptoms of the virus, so we were vigilant.  J started working from home as early as the 4th of March, whilst I continued to go to work until the 18th of March. From late February to early March, we were already advised to wash our hands for 20 seconds and to keep at least a distance of 2 metres from the person next to us. I tried to practice social distancing as soon as the government advised this, however, living and working in Central London proved this difficult in the beginning. For a week, I lived in fear that someone might sneeze or cough at me in the crowded London streets. I wore my mask despite being advised not to as it doesn't apparently protect you from the virus. A rather arrogant man even shouted at me, saying that there is a 96% chance of me NOT getting the virus in London. People stared at me whilst I walked down the streets. I mean, who could have blamed me for wearing a mask? Despite the growing numbers of corona virus cases and the health advice from the government, I witnessed people sneezing and coughing openly in public. I saw people blowing their noses and keeping the tissue in their pockets. So for me, a little protection is better than no protection at all. In fact, as of this writing, the World Health Organisation is apparently reviewing their guidance on the public use of masks (BBC), so stay tuned.
Mask from Lekko via Amazon

Then came the lockdown and everyone was ordered to stay at home. This is the single, most important action the government has asked us to do. J has not been out of the house for almost a month, whilst I haven't been out for two weeks. Staying at home doesn't mean you can't go out of the house at all - not just yet anyway. The government has set restrictions as to what you can do when you get out of the house, and they must be of essential purposes- infrequent shopping for basic needs such as food and medicine, one form of exercise per day such as a run, walk or cycle- either alone or with a member of your household, any medical need to avoid risk of injury or harm, and travelling for work purposes but only if you cannot work from home (NHS UK). The government further advises that when you go out, you must keep a distance of 2 metres  or 6 ft away from the people next to you. You must not meet others, including your friends or family. This is for the reason that if infected, you still can spread the virus even if you don't have the symptoms.

The Public Health of England stated  that corona virus is spread when you have a close and contained contact with someone who is infected with the virus in more than 15 minutes within two metres distance. You are more likely to be infected by the virus if you come in contact with the droplets from coughs and sneezes of an infected person. This is the reason why I have always believed and practised social-distancing. This should be enough reason for other people to start believing and practising it, too.

Although I no longer consider myself as a frontliner, I care deeply for my healthcare colleagues who are out there day and night, going way above and beyond their duties to care for those who are sadly infected with this virus. I fear for their mental and physical health. Many of them are my friends, and some my family. I fear for the health and safety of the other frontliners who are working twice as hard in order for us to keep on living. The world will be lost without these essential people. So please help them, too.

As COVID 19 escalates exponentially, we have to do our part in combating the disease. Please protect yourself and others. Follow the advice of the World Health Organisation- wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing by  bending your elbow or using tissue and dispose of immediately, stay at home when you feel unwell.

In addition to this, keep yourself informed. Gather information from reliable sources such as WHO, DOH, Government websites and credible news agencies.

Most importantly, STAY AT HOME.


My Best London Dining Experiences in 2019

Friday, 20 March 2020

Before social distancing was encouraged, a few people have asked me for restaurant recommendations in London. As much as it is flattering, I am actually embarrassed to tell people where to eat. First of all, I am not a food blogger, let alone a food critic. Secondly, I don't really want to be blamed should they not enjoy their food experience as much as I did. This is why I write about my own experience and not a review. Anyway, I still gave these people my recommendations, so hopefully it will somehow help their family and friends.

2019 was yet another special year for our food adventure, for the main reason that one of my very good university friends came to visit with her family,  and we had a couple of dinners with them. We also went back to a couple of our favourite restaurants, The Ivy and Benares. It was also early last year when I gave in to Jollibee - a food experience that I really enjoyed but wouldn't necessarily queue up for unless it if for someone really special. 

So, here is the list of my best food experiences in London in 2019:

1. Rules - 34-35 Maiden Ln, Covent Garden
- The oldest restaurant in London provided us with nothing but an exceptional dining experience from the moment we entered the restaurant until we left. The restaurant serves traditional British food. The surroundings took us back to the late 1700s with the classic paintings, drawings, sculptures and ornaments occupying the walls. I loved the simplicity of the food when it was served. In fact, I laughed at J's steak and kidney pie (£20.95)as it looked lonely on a plate. I was hoping for the suckling pig, but their menu has changed when we went, so I opted for the slow roast leg of rabbit with bacon (£23.95) instead. Of course, the meal wouldn't have been complete without the delectable sticky toffee pudding (£8.50). The food without a doubt is a definition of excellent British food. 

2. Aquavit - St James's Market, 1 Carlton St 
- Actually, we loved Aquavit's brunch so we were a little bit disappointed when we went there last time and were told that they have stopped serving brunch. As we were already set to eat at the restaurant, we decided to try their lunch menu. This Michelin- starred restaurant serves Nordic dishes. I had the Swedish meatballs (£20) which reminded me of Ikea. I mean, of course Aquavit's meatballs are far better quality, but I was reminded because I know people who would go to Ikea mainly for the meatballs. I've only had it once. Anyway, J had their burger (£25) which he said was very good. It was served with matchstick fries and some fresh salads.The service has always been friendly and the food is unarguably good, that's why Aquavit was one of the only two restaurants that we frequented in our neighbourhood. However, they have no more brunch, so we have not been back in a while.

3.  Imperial Treasure- 9 Waterloo Pl, St James's
- I came across this restaurant during one of my morning runs. There was a sign to say that a new Chinese Restaurant was opening. I made a note of it, and as soon as it opened I wanted to go. It was just a matter of who wanted to go with me. Fortunately, I share a love for Chinese food with one of my closest friends in London, and so we planned our long overdue date and tried Imperial Treasure. Man, their Crispy Fish Skin with Egg-Yolk (£16) was to die for! I mean, I would go back to the restaurant just for this over and over again. Their crispy pork belly and honey glazed char siu pork (£28) melted in the mouth. Their baked crab shell stuffed with crab meat, onion and cheese (£18) was a real treat for seafood lovers like us. Add to that their crunchy morning glory (£18) and very tasty Yangzhou fried rice (£22). We also very much enjoyed their super crispy golden sesame ball with custard (£7.50) and the refreshing and healthy osmanthus jelly (£7.50). See, Ate Elvie and I can easily get carried away by good food.

4.  Din Tai Fung- 5 Henrietta St, Covent Garden
- Our early dinner at this then newly opened Taiwanese restaurant in Covent Garden was unplanned. When our friends from California saw the restaurant, they were adamant that we should eat there. Apparently, they have been trying to eat at their franchise  in San Francisco but there is always a long queue.  They were so delighted to have found Din Tai Fung in London. The restaurant can accommodate 250 guests, and you can actually watch the chefs meticulously making their famous Xiao Long Bao. We left our friends to order the food and boy, they came aplenty. To be honest, they ordered too much that I can no longer remember what I ate. But one thing is for sure, every single dish was excellent.

5.  The Cinnamon Club - The Old Westminster Library, Westminster
- Set in an old library, this Indian Restaurant is perfect for book lovers. We visited the restaurant on a Saturday and it was very quiet, which we really liked. The classic books around us sparked a conversation about which books we have read. Of course, J obviously have read far more than I have. Anyway, the restaurant has a £27.50 set lunch menu for two courses, which we opted for. I had the Koorgi style double cooked pork belly with soy and honey which was mild, tender and perfectly spiced. J on the other hand, was not impressed with his tandoori chicken breast. We skipped the starter , so we could have desserts. J enjoyed his sorbet selection, whilst my Malai Kulfi was divine. I would love to go back again one day.

6. Tredwells- 4A Upper St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden
- I have always wanted to try a Marcus Wareing restaurant since I started watching Masterchef: The Professionals. So, when I had to cancel my birthday lunch in Marcus at The Berkeley because of our trip to Strasbourg, I took the opportunity to bring my American friends to  another Marcus restaurant when they visited - the Tredwells. Apart from the slow service, the experience was good. My friend's children had their first tasting menu, which they seemed to have enjoyed. For my starter, I had the chargrilled prawns (£12). For my mains, I had the very tender and tasty Saddleback Lake District Pork Belly (£24). For dessert, I had the fit for the summer signature Chouxnut which was enjoyable. All in all, it was a very good experience because we were with a very good company.

7. 108 Brasserie- 108 Marylebone Ln, Marylebone
- We don't often dine in this part of Central London, although it's only a few minutes away from where we live because er, it seems quite far. However, when special people invite us to eat out, we would make the worthy effort. So, we spent our annual Christmas dinner with the Munchkins in 108 Brasserie last year. The restaurant has a friendly atmosphere and the service was very good. The food? Well, our plates were all empty. Even the bread was delightful. I had the steak for mains and it was perfect!

8.  Duck and Waffle- 52 Haymarket St, St James's 
 - It's been quite a while since I visited Duck and Waffle in Heron Tower, so I'm glad that there is now a Duck and Waffle Local around the corner. I mean, can you actually say no to a waffle? It's always a treat whenever I eat here because I love duck- the waffle and the egg are just a bonus. And Duck and Waffle always gets it right. Perhaps one of my favourite duck confit. And for the price of £16, it's worth it for the quality of food and the service.

9. The Greyhound Cafe- 37 Berner's St, Fitzrovia
- It was a random after work catch up with my work Ate. As I was craving for Thai food, we decided to drop by The Greyhound on our way home. I passed by the restaurant everyday on my way to and from work for more than a year but never tried it. So, when the opportunity came, I didn't let it pass. Their food isn't traditional Thai, but I loved the fact that it isn't. Their Prawn Pad Thai (£14.50) was as good as it looked. However, the real winner was their Young Coconut Sherbet (£4.50) which was not only refreshing, but tasted like heaven. Their food is fairly cheap compared to other Thai restaurants I have tried before, but definitely more delicious. 

10. The Old Tree Daiwan Bee- 26 Rupert St, West End
- Okay, this Taiwanese restaurant only made it on my list because of their Stewed Pig's Trotters (£8.50) which tastes like home. I visit this place whenever I crave for "paksiw na baboy" and it never disappoints. 

11.  Joy King Lau - 3 Leicester St, West End
- Before Orient came into my life, Joy King Lau was my favourite. I mean, I still love going there, however, it is no longer the first Chinese restaurant I would bring my friends to. Nevertheless, it is still one of my favourite Chinese restaurants. The service has always been good- one thing that I don't often see in Chinese restaurants. I am a creator of habit, so I always order the same thing when I go to Joy King Lau: Siu Mai (£3.80), spicy chicken feet (£3.80) and roast duck (£15.80). It's always a good experience whenever I visit this restaurant, so I would recommend it to anyone visiting Chinatown in London.

12. Eggslut - 185 Portobello Road, Notting Hill
- Thanks to Farrah for introducing me to Eggslut in LA. I truly enjoyed my first Eggslut experience, so when I visited Notting Hill last time, I had to try it in London. The quality of the food is the same- tasty, juicy and yummylicious! If you love egg sandwiches, this is definitely the place for you!

We are observing social distancing (if not community quarantine) indefinitely, and therefore, I am not planning to go to any restaurants anytime soon.  For now, I will reflect on my previous food experiences and perhaps write about my brunch and afternoon tea experiences next. This will also be a good opportunity for me to enhance my cooking skills.

Until then, let us all stay home and stay safe.

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