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Family, Friends, and Food: All I Could Ever Ask For at 34 (Birthday Post)

So I just turned 34. No big deal, except that this is my first birthday as a mom! That’s what made it extra special!
I didn’t have any grand plans for my birthday. No travels, no staycations, no parties. I preferred not to spend so much because I would rather spend money on my baby. Even though I didn’t do anything monumental, I have to say, I really enjoyed my birthday celebrations this year! After all, I had all of my favorite F words: family, friends, and food!

Filipino Food with Host Friends

Some of my closest friends from the wedding industry — my host friends ate Jill and Shayne — came to my condo to visit me and Andi. We had a simple but fun dinner at our condo’s Filipino restaurant.
Andi’s looking at the camera again!
Friendship earrings! Thanks for these, ate Jill!

They even brought me treats that are supposed to help boost my milk supply! So sweet!

Birthday Bread

Who needs a birthday cake when you can get a more personal and thoughtful birthday bread?! My cousin Kurt sent me a Facebook message saying that he baked banana bread and butterscotch and would like me to have some for my birthday. He even drove to our house and personally delivered them! How thoughtful is that?!

Paradise Dynasty with the Family

My sister Alexa and I had our joint birthday dinner with our mom, Mike, and Andi at Paradise Dynasty, a new Chinese restaurant at the S Maison in Conrad Manila. This Singaporean restaurant franchise is best known for being the only Chinese restaurant that serves a Xiao Long Bao set with 8 different colors and flavors.
Paradise Dynasty seemed like an excellent choice of restaurant for our birthday celebration because it was beautiful and it had a luxurious feel, but it was actually very affordable. It was a special occasion so we wanted to celebrate it in a restaurant that made us feel like we were enjoying a fine dining experience without actually overspending.

The restaurant’s black and gold interiors and high ceiling gives it an aura of grandeur. Another interesting feature of the restaurant is the open kitchen which diners can peer into to see how the chefs make the food.
We booked a table which offered a great view of the Manila Bay sunset. At night, however, the view really wasn’t that great. Since we were too early for our reservation, we just had our photos taken at the restaurant’s veranda. We were lucky that we were able to have some nice family sunset shots!
Family time is the best time!
Singapore? Nope, we’re just in the MOA area! Haha!
Spending my birthday with my greatest loves

Our table
But wait! The little one needs to be seen in the photo!

Here are some of the dishes we had:

Stir-fried French Bean with Minced Pork (PHP 238)
I know it’s just veggies and some meat in sauce, but this was actually one of the dishes I liked best. This simple dish makes for a light and tasty appetizer.

Spicy Szechuan Crispy Chicken (PHP 298)
This chicken dish has a good amount of spice, and is best eaten with a bowl of hot rice. (That rhymes!)

Scrambled Egg White with Fish and Conpoy (PHP 328)
“Lasang taho!” (“Tastes like taho!”) That was exactly what we said when we tasted this. I honestly don’t understand how and why this is one of the bestsellers. It was so bland!

La Mian Seafood in Signature Pork Bone Soup (PHP 380)
This is a hearty and filling soup dish with hand-pulled noodles, a light, mildy-flavored broth and generous servings of shrimps, squid, fish, and seaweed. Careful with the fish though! It has bones!

Special Dynasty Xiao Long Bao – 8 pcs (PHP 388 for 8 pcs)
This rainbow of a dish is the highlight of the night! We ordered one set of Paradise Dynasty’s signature Xiao Long Bao with 8 different flavors: Signature Original, Garlic, Ginseng, Foie Gras, Szechuan, Cheese, Crab Roe, and Black Truffle. Ideally, one set should be for just one person because there is a recommended sequence in eating the Xiao Long Bao, from the mildest to the most intense. However, we already ordered so much food that it was impossible for us to finish 8 pieces of Xiao Long Bao each in one sitting. We just had two flavors each.

Other dishes we ordered:

  • Radish Pastry (PHP 138)
  • La Mian with Scallion (Dry) (PHP 200)
  • Fried Rice in Shanghai Style (PHP 238)
  • Fried Rice in Yang Zhou Style (PHP 238)

Some dishes were better than others, which were a little forgettable. I would probably eat there again though because the prices are reasonable and the ambiance is great! Maybe next time, I would have one Xiao Long Bao set just for myself (no judging!)

After dinner, we strolled around S Maison to look for a good place for desserts. We passed by Recession Coffee, and I told Mike, Alexa, and my mom that this coffee shop lets you pay whatever amount you want to pay for your coffee! For real!!! Mike asked, “So if I want to pay 1 Peso, that’s okay?” The barista smiled politely and said, “You could, although we wouldn’t recommend it.” (Of course not!)

Since we’re suckers for freebies (or in this case, something close to a freebie), we went in, and my mom and Mike got themselves a cuppa!

My mom really took the ‘pay what you want’ policy seriously and paid PHP 20 for her coffee (and in coins too! Hahaha!) Mike was a little more generous and paid PHP 50. As for me, I didn’t get any coffee. Instead, I took some of their free candies. Haha! I’m a closet hobo!

My mom’s 20-peso coffee.
Hey, I’ll take anything as long as it’s free!

For PHP 20 or PHP 50, we weren’t expecting much. If we got crap coffee, we can’t really complain. But surprisingly, their coffee is really good! It can go head on with the likes of Starbucks, and you wouldn’t be able to tell that it costs practically nothing!

Gushing over Andi at Recession Coffee

If you’re wondering how they make money, they ride with Digital Walker, which is owned by the same person who owns Recession Coffee.

At the counter, the previous day’s average sales is displayed. Mike and I felt bad that they only made a total of PHP 144.25 the day before! He said that if Recession Coffee went to Sydney, they would be making so much more. Well, welcome to the Philippines, where people try to get away with being cheapskates! (That includes me, the girl who didn’t buy coffee and instead, took free candies from a jar)

The friendly baristas take photos with Alexa (who also didn’t buy coffee. Hehe!)
This sleepyhead might benefit from a little caffeine boost!

Birthday Buffet at Niu with My Little Family

All I wanted for my birthday was to eat sushi. UNLIMITED sushi! I was deprived of sushi for 9 whole months during my pregnancy so now that I can finally eat it, I wanted to go all out! Mike and I originally wanted to go to Spiral but we were also trying to save, so the next best option was Niu by Vikings. This is where I spent my birthday last year and we were very happy with the food, the ambiance, the service, and the value for money, so we decided to come back… this time, with a tiny tot in tow!
Someone’s excited for her first buffet experience!
Those cheeks should be part of the buffet!
Sushiii!!! How I’ve missed you!!!
Ready to attack!
Was the experience sweeter the second time around? Sadly, no. We didn’t have a reservation so we just walked in. While waiting, Andi got hungry so I had to throw on my nursing cover and breastfeed her while waiting in line with the other walk-in guests. The receptionists and staff saw that I was obviously struggling as I was feeding a baby while standing, and NO ONE — not one of them — offered me a seat. I waited for about 20 minutes to see if any of them would, but they did nothing. So much for being the more ‘premium’ version of Vikings!
(By the way, there was an able-bodied man sitting pretty right in front of me, pretending to be texting so he wouldn’t have to give up his seat for me and Andi. Sad.)
Still, despite the underwhelming experience, I was still grateful to be there that day with Mike and Andi. As I blew out the candles fon my (free) birthday cake, I realized that my birthday wish had already come true: to have my own family!
A family of my own: wish granted!

I have to say though, it’s not easy going to a buffet with a baby, especially when you’re a breastfeeding mom and you don’t have a nanny! Since Andi was latched on to me most of the time, I couldn’t go around the buffet stations to choose the food I wanted to eat. Mike had to do it for me and I just told him to ‘surprise me!’ In between our meals, Andi wanted to be fed, pushed around in her stroller, or carried. So instead of having 4 or 5 rounds, this time, we only had 2 or 3! I think we got too tired so we also got full right away, and we were too lazy to look around the buffet stations!

You’re tired?! What about me???

Brunch with the Bestie at Harlan + Holden Glasshouse

My best friend Aspe asked me out on a birthday brunch date, and when she asked if I had a venue preference, my answer was: ‘somewhere tita-friendly and baby-friendly.’ Harlan + Holden Glasshouse fit the bill!
Ever since I saw photos of the place on Instagram, I immediately sent them to Aspe and told her that we should go there sometime. In photos, it looked so gorgeous! In person, it was even prettier!

My two girl best friends!

Built in the midst of vibrant foliage, the chic cafe resembles a modern greenhouse with its glass structure. The light blue ceiling-to-floor curtains, the powder blue and wooden booths, the glass walls that let in natural light, and the main attraction — the tall tree in the middle of the restaurant – makes it a bright, breezy, and beautiful venue for a casual brunch. The place is just so easy on the eyes!

Design inspiration!
So gorgeous, even from the outside!

Aspe having a heart-to-heart talk with Andi
Brunching baby

Wasabi Mayo Poke Bowl (PHP 590)

Japanese sushi rice bowl topped with fresh salmon sashimi loin and mango wasabi mayonnaise. Garnished with fresh mangoes and seaweed, crabstick, cucumber, fresh salmon belly, and topped with roasted seaweeds and fresh ebiko.

Like I said, I wanted to eat all the sushi I could eat for my birthday, and I’m glad Aspe got this dish for me! I liked the tanginess of the wasabi mayo sauce mixed with the light and fresh sashimi.

Bottarga Pasta (PHP 490)

Al dente spaghetti noodles sauteed with fish roe in garlic olive oil with anchovies, capers, and kalamata, black and green pitted olives.

Aspe ordered this pasta for herself. The noodles are soft and the pasta has a nice and light saltiness to it.

Mascarpone Tiramisu (PHP 270)

Layers of mascarpone cream and biscuits soaked in marsala infused espresso dusted with unsweetened cocoa powder

Chocolate Eclair (PHP 130)

A 5″ crunchy eclair shell generously filled with smooth mildly sweet dark chocolate cream

Both desserts were delightful — not too heavy and not too sweet but still had a rich chocolate taste. They were really the perfect way to end a relaxing brunch meal.

The dishes we had weren’t exactly mind-blowing but they were up to the mark. I’d say they were overpriced though! But I guess you pay for the ambiance and the restaurant’s association with the brand (Harlan + Holden).

Even the staff’s uniform is stylish! (Of course it’s by Harlan + Holden!)

This was my very first ever LEGIT girls’ day out, and I’m happy that it was with my best friend for life and on my birthday! Of course, when I say ‘girls’ day out,’ that includes Andi. Where I go, she goes! (Most of the time, at least)

Wine at noon while watching over a baby. How very tita-like!
The most perfect gift I’ve ever received!

So… this is 34. Nothing special about this age. Nothing fancy about my celebrations. But I am happy. I am loved. I am content. I have everything I could ever ask for!

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