Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My creamy and cheesy scalloped potatoes and kangkong recipe

This post is brought to you by US Potatoes.

My family loves potatoes. Mashed potatoes, hashbrowns, potato chips, french fries—my husband and kids devour these! Me, I like potatoes in my favorite dishes: caldereta, menudo, afritada, mechado, nilagang baka. Because potatoes are healthy, I don't mind serving this all the time. So you can probably guess what vegetable I always have on my grocery list! 

During the holidays, my son Iñigo and I saw a recipe on Tasty (Creamy Scalloped Potatoes with Kale) and we decided we were going to try it out. Mostly because we already had most of the ingredients in our pantry and we wanted to try something new with our potatoes. I tweaked the recipe a bit and I want to share it with you because it is so delicious!

Creamy and Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Kangkong Gratin

3 medium-sized US potatoes, washed and peeled
4 big bundles of kangkong (leaves only)
¼ cup parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup cheddar cheese, grated
¼ cup bread crumbs

Béchamel Sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1½ cups milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

1. Make the Béchamel sauce: In a sauce pan, sauté garlic in melted butter over medium heat.
2. Add flour and stir quickly or else it might burn. 
3. When mixture browns a bit, add milk, salt, and pepper. Simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally until mixture thickens.
4. Slice US potatoes about ¼-inch thick. 
5. Pick out the kangkong leaves and shred.
6. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and olive oil over the kangkong and mix gently.
7. In an oven dish, arrange a layer of kangkong, then overlapping potatoes, then the cheeses.
8. Pour half of the Béchamel sauce over the layers.
9. Repeat!
10. Top with bread crumbs. Add more cheese if you like!
11. Bake at 170°C for 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil. 
12. Remove cover then bake an additional 30 minutes till the cheesy breadcrumb topping is golden brown.

Cheese! No need to grate. This will melt to a gooey mess anyway!
Cheese, milk, potatoes... And kangkong! Great combination!

My husband loved it! The kids found it yummy, too. Hooray! Mommy win!

As a mama, I have to be more mindful of what my family eats. Of what I eat! I cook a lot of meat dishes and I really try to add more vegetables to our every meal. It's hard to make the kids eat green stuff but they like broccoli, carrots, corn and potatoes, so I serve these happily! 

I want to add how my three boys will benefit from eating potatoes regularly. Here are the 5 reasons potatoes are good for very active and growing kids (and for my husband, too, who runs for fitness): 

1. Potatoes have no cholesterol and saturated fat. 
A little fat now and then is always a happy thing but a lot of it can cause a whole plethora of problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

2. Potatoes are rich in potassium.
Potassium is good for muscles. Little boys are always flexing, using, stretching their muscles. I know because if I don't control them, they'd destroy my house with all their running, jumping, kicking and punching! Did you know that potatoes with skin have tons of potassium—more than bananas, spinach or broccoli? I didn't! I thought bananas were the king of potassium but maybe that's why potatoes are called POTAtoes because of all that POTAssium! 

3. Potatoes are a good source of fiber.
We need fiber in our diets because it helps our systems work better. Blood sugar is regulated better, weight is managed better, tummy feels full longer, digestive system functions better and cleaner. A medium potato with skin contributes 2 grams of fiber, which provides 8% of the daily value per serving.

4. Potatoes are an excellent source of Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is perfect for kids because it helps wounds heal faster—and my kids are always getting scrapes and bumps! Plus, this antioxidant keeps gums healthy, help with iron absorption, and many more! Potatoes provide 45% of our daily nutritional value! eat potatoes! 

5. Potatoes are a good source of Vitamin B6.
Vitamin B6 is good for metabolism, making blood, making proteins, making you healthy and keeping you alive basically! And that's what I want my kids to be—alive and healthy!

I'm definitely going to look for more ways to serve potatoes to my family, but in healthier ways. My recipe above is a lot salty, to be honest! Next time, I'll make it with no-fat milk and no salt because the cheeses are salty enough already. For added fiber and nutrients, I also won't peel the skin. These steps should make my potato and kangkong gratin even healthier!

Please share with me your potato recipes, too! If you share it on Instagram, please tag me (@topazhorizonblog) and use the hashtag #USPotatoPowerPH so I can find your recipe! 

Oh, and check out the Potatoes USA-Philippines Facebook page – the official platform of Potatoes USA Philippines to know more about potato nutrition, recipes, upcoming events, and general potato facts.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Questions to ask yourself before you get married

This time ten years ago, I was sick with the flu. Or maybe my wedding jitters were just manifesting as the flu! Anyway, even though I was unwell and stressed out with the wedding countdown (but my friends made me feel better with a surprise bridal shower!), I knew there was one thing I had no doubt about: marrying Vince! I loved that man like nothing else in the world and when we decided to get married, I felt a peace that I had never felt before.

Over the years, my blog readers have emailed me asking about my wedding suppliers, for a copy of my misalette, and many other questions. The one I love and dread the most is "How did you know you were ready to get married?" I love it because I have never been so sure of anything in my life! I dread it because when people ask, that already means they're not ready to get married yet and I don't know to tell them that! 

How did I know I was ready to get married? There were many factors that decided it for me (detailed below), other than the fact that I loved Vince. Honestly, love isn't a good enough reason to walk down that aisle. If love was the only reason for marriage, then what do you do if the love fades or even goes away? It sometimes does, you know, when the drudgery of work suffocates you both and the children overwhelm a marriage. What happens when you fall for someone else? Or when you're far apart and can't love each other with affection and service? Marriage isn't about feelings. It's about commitment, family, duty. Love makes those easier, but if you can't commit, if you don't want to be part of a family, and if you have no honor to fulfill your duties, then you shouldn't get married.  

If he's someone you really, really like, that really, really helps!

Now let's say you're already engaged. Should you busy yourself with the wedding? Of course, but don't get distracted from your upcoming lifetime commitment. This is the time you should be seriously evaluating yourself, your fiancé, and your relationship. Most couples are surprised to find that their engagement period is one of the hardest times together. Not only do you have a wedding to plan but you’re also contemplating the reality of a future with your partner. Plus, this is usually when you're spending lots of money and time with each other's family. The stress of it can be overwhelming. As long as the stress is all coming from the outside and not from each other, you should be fine! 

Anyway, I wanted to share with you the questions that played on my mind when I got engaged and maybe, if you're also wishing to get married, you should ask yourself these things before your wedding happens!

Are Your Finances Secure?
Let’s face it—love won't keep you alive. No matter how romantic that song goes, you can't survive on sex, hugs and kisses. You got to eat, you need a roof over your head, you got to pay the bills. You don't have to be rich, but you and your fiancé shouldn't be irresponsible either. Can you live on your own? Can you support a family? If kids aren't in the plans, can you support your dreams? 

Money affects a marriage profoundly. When you feel insecure or even afraid because the bills are piling up, creditors are knocking on your door, your kids aren't eating enough, or you can't afford the doctor or proper treatment when the kids are sick, your marriage will crumble. Marriages aren't built on money, sure, but they are built on a strong foundation of duty. Part of that duty is to provide for each other. 

During your engagement, you can already gauge your fiancé's financial readiness. Do you know each other's money situation like income, debts, and assets? Can you discuss the wedding budget comfortably or is talking about money a big no-no? Are you getting into debt just to have the wedding of your dreams? Is he shooting down your wishes because he doesn't want to spend money at all? If there are money issues now, you can be sure you'll always be fighting about these when you're married so address them now before it's too late!

What Do You Want For Your Wedding?

Speaking of the wedding of your dreams, make sure it's the wedding you BOTH want. Have you ever gone to a wedding where you know it's a bridezilla up there at the altar or it was a domineering groom who's running the show? You can see just one person's personality! It doesn't bode well for a successful marriage because marriage is a partnership, not a dictatorship. 

It’s important that your wedding day itself represents what both of you want. You may be the bride but remember you're sharing that "stage" with your man! Always consider what he wants, too. Think about your husband-to-be carefully—the way in which he proposed may signify what he wants the wedding to be like. For example, if he asked your father for your hand, then he may be a traditionalist. 

My husband didn't ask my parents' permission to marry me because he knows I'm a feminist and I would be offended by any act robbing me of my agency. Yet even though he knew I didn't want an engagement ring, he still gave me one and an extremely traditional one, too—a diamond solitaire! This made me reflect on why we give diamond rings (because diamonds mean tradition and they signify forever) and I realized that my husband may respect my very modern attitudes but he remains old-fashioned in some areas. So I made sure that our wedding had a modern vibe but kept everything else—white dress, my parents walking me down the aisle, our vows—strictly traditional. 

My wedding was all about compromise. It made me understand that it isn't about me anymore. Marriage is going to be about yielding, understanding, compromising, and working together. My wedding made me realize that I'm okay with that.
Vince said he always imagined me with flowers in my hair so I gave him that, too.

Do You Communicate Well?
The stress of wedding planning can be terrible, so if you start to bicker about small and unimportant things, don’t worry too much. It’s only natural to get snappy in times of stress! Just take a deep breath and take a step back to stop the arguments from escalating any further. 

However, if you feel that your conversations aren’t productive and that you're arguing too much, then that's a big red flag. Filipinos are lucky because we're close to our family and friends and we can bring up our worries to them and they can hopefully give good advice. But I find that family and friends tend to take our side (because they love us very much!) and aren't very forgiving of anyone who causes us pain—that includes your fiancé! So maybe you and your fiancé should consider going to a relationship counselor and talking about your issues before you get married. Make sure you iron out any glitches in your relationship before you make that big commitment.

Do You Want The Same Things?
Finally, one of the most important questions to ask during your engagement is if you and your fiancé want the same things. Of course, no one is the exact same as each other. If you're planning your honeymoon and one of you is desperate to visit France and the other’s craving pizza and pasta in Italy then you can compromise. But if you disagree on fundamental issues then you might start to realize that there are cracks in your relationship. 

There’s no point in marrying someone in the hopes that they might change, particularly on subjects like wanting children, keeping your career, supporting his dreams, religious and political beliefs. Some things are so integral to who we are that to spend our lives with someone who doesn't agree with those integral parts of ourselves is asking for a lot of pain and suffering. 

Wanting the same things, sharing the same values, and heading in the same direction are key to the success of a relationship. While my husband and I shared many beliefs and priorities, we also had a lot of differences. He knew I liked being a career woman (his parents were the traditional husband-provider and housewife) and I knew he wanted kids (I was leery of them). Before we got married, we had a talk where he assured me he'll always support my desire to work and I assured him that with him as my partner in parenting, I'm not so afraid of motherhood anymore (I still freaked out when I found out I was pregnant more than two years later haha). 

So if you have a boyfriend now or just got engaged, ask yourself these questions. If you like the answers, then congratulations! I'm so excited for you! If you don't like your answers, then see if you and your man can work out your issues. Good luck!

Friday, April 07, 2017

Mom & Blogger: Finding The Balance To Maximize Both Roles

Hi, dear Loyal Readers! I know I've been missing from this blog for a few weeks now (I blogged just twice last month!). I'm busy with my job as consulting editor for beauty website,, and also with my new column about work-at-home moms at parenting website, Between these two new projects, home management, mothering and blogging, I didn't realize that I'll have such a hard time juggling! Life was much easier when I was just a mom blogger!

I'm not complaining, though. It feels good to be writing regularly for a publication again (and about parenting, too!). I'm also grateful for Calyxta because I got to experience corporate life again without the full time commitment. I still work from home and only check in at the office three times a week. It's helped me and my family adjust our expectations for when I go back to the corporate world. The Calyxta project ends this April so I can blog regularly again in May! I'm so excited. I miss blogging so much!

If you're a mom who wants to stay home with your kids and yet earn money, too, do try blogging. I know the web seems overpopulated with mom bloggers but believe me when I say that all mom voices are welcome here. We all need a community and it's so nice to find similar voices and feel comfort knowing you're not alone with your parenting struggles. If you don't want to be a mom blogger, that's great, too. You can write about your hobbies and interests instead. If you can earn from your blog, that's even better!

Blogging for business is an attractive career choice for any mother. Not only does it present the potential to earn good money from doing something you love, but it also offers versatility and control. Ultimately, that means you can build a work schedule on your terms, enabling more quality time with the children.

Juggling the two roles of mother and blogger isn’t an easy task, though. Frankly, failing to manage your time in an effective manner will cause major damage to both. As I've proven myself recently, I failed to juggle. Thankfully, it was my blogging that suffered—not my kids! This made me think of how I can keep things under control. Here are a few tips I found:

1. Build an organized workspace. 
The toughest challenge facing any home-based entrepreneur is finding a way to use the property as both a home and a workplace. Building a quality home office should be top of the agenda. It will help separate the two elements of your life and is also a clear indication for your family too. If you’re in the office, you’re at work. My friend, personal branding coach Martine de Luna, says in my Juana article, 5 Tips to Battle the Cons of Working from Home, "When I have to work at home, I separate myself from the kids and go to my workspace on the second floor. When they see me at the desk, they know it’s [do not disturb] time."

Speaking of workspace, my husband moved my desk to our bedroom so I can close the door when I work. But as a mommy of little kids, I haven't been able to do this yet haha. Another challenge I have is organizing my paperwork. Running a business from one small room can feel daunting, so going paperless is key. Fortunately, being a digital operation gives you a great starting point. Meanwhile, an online p.o box address can save you from facing huge amounts of paperwork. Either way, finding the right balance in this arena can only work wonders for your aspirations. 

2. Know your blogging goals. 
While I started blogging more than a decade ago as just a hobby, I've turned blogging into a business because of my work with many brands. Of course, since it became a business, I've had to be more serious about blogging. I had to set goals beyond just sharing my stories.

Many people scoff at it but blogging is a serious job. It requires a lot of time, hard work and money. Without a sense of direction, though, you’ll find that you'll falter on the job. Unfortunately, the productivity and outcomes will be far worse, too. So as a businesswoman, know why you're blogging, who you're blogging for, and what do you want to achieve through your blog.  

Planning ahead to ensure your blogging platform grows in the right way is essential. You can schedule posts regularly, make sure you share your posts on every relevant social media account, engage your readers on your Facebook page, use the right hashtags. This will help grow your blog and your influence, which will get the interest of sponsors. 

3. Consider letting your family play a role. 
Because mommy blogging is so lucrative these days, mom bloggers usually get accused of exploiting their children. Mining their kids' lives for entertainment, they say. As any proud mommy will tell you, sharing our kids' adorable photos and telling stories about how wonderful family life is is not about entertainment. We genuinely LOVE our kids and we're so proud of our happiness! We want to share away—whether we get paid or not! 

Readers also love having that insider's peek into the blogger’s life—and nothing is more authentic than a mommy's stories on her parenting adventures. Motherhood is just so huge, demanding, surprising and profound that it's impossible to fake. Plus, everyone loves kiddies. As many readers have oh-so-honestly told me, they don't read my blog because of me; they read it because they love my kids! And it's always so amazing when a parent feels the love of people for her kids. Mommy blogging is the best!

Now, as the kids get bigger, I do believe they need more privacy. But they can still be involved in your blog. Technology plays a huge role in modern society, and today’s youth probably know more about the internet than most adults. Once yours are at the right age, it could be worth giving them a little job within the work. Whether it’s writing, building SEO, or managing your blog's Instagram or Pinterest accounts doesn’t matter. It’s a great way to bond together while they develop skills they'll need for this social media-obsessed world. 

4. Invest in ideas that benefit both worlds. 
If your blog is about parenting, then virtually every day doubles up as content for the blog. But as you may know by now if you've been following my blogging adventures, there will come a time when you'll want to give your kids privacy. So what will you blog about then? I've chosen to blog about being a working mama. It's still about my insights on motherhood but my kids aren't as exposed. 

Many mom bloggers have transitioned successfully from baby stories to niche interests but still within motherhood. A music blogger might review the instrument that they’ve just bought their child. A food blogger may discuss family recipes. I love how my friend, Denise Rayala of Royal Domesticity, found even greater blogging success when she started her #Baonserye, where she showed the packed lunches she made for her daughter. It's brilliant really—she moved the focus away from her daughter but her mother's love is still so evident through the lovingly made lunches, plus she offers priceless tips and ideas for other moms! Squeezing great content out of your everyday life will reduce your research time and just be more fun to do. 

As a blogger, you should have a creative mindset. Use it to find ways of merging blogging and mom duties, and you’ll save loads of time and effort. Good luck, mommies!

*photos by Mark Yao for Biogenic