Hot Buttered Rum

Hot Buttered Rum

January 17: Hot Buttered Rum Day

Before we settled in the Southwest, we used to live in states with some serious snow days. When our apartments in Oklahoma and New Jersey did not have garages, it was such a hassle to scrape off the snow on our cars. And even though our townhome in Illinois had a garage, it was a workout shoveling the snow off the driveway. Coming back in the house from the cold, we would warm up with a hot beverage—tea, cocoa or a “spirited” liquid. One simple spiked drink included hot buttered rum, which was easy to prepare after expending energy out in the winter weather. A sip of it was certainly soothing. We rarely have snow days in South Texas now but we still make hot buttered rum to cozy up on some cold evenings as well as observe Hot Buttered Rum Day.


(Adapted from Food Network)


  • 1 tablespoon/pat of butter
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • dash of ground cinnamon and/or nutmeg
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • 1-2 ounces rum
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • cinnamon stick to garnish


In the bottom of a mug, place the butter. Sprinkle with brown sugar and dash of spices (cinnamon and/or nutmeg). Add the vanilla.


Pour in the rum and meddle the ingredients together. Pour in the hot water and stir. Garnish with a cinnamon stick. Serve hot. Yield: 1 serving



  • The final food photo above was shot with our old sweaters and woolen hoodies, which have been stored away for years after moving to the Southwest. We still wear them on the occasion that temperatures drop to freezing, or during the holidays/winter break when we visit family and friends who live in northern climates.
  • Search our blog for other beverage recipes with “spirits” to warm your hearts.

Calamansi Juice


January 15: National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day

Islander grew up with a calamansi tree in the backyard of her childhood home in Hawaii. When the tree bore a lot of fruit, her Daddy would pick a bunch of the “Philippine lime” and squeeze out the juice, making the whole kitchen smell so citrusy! Canned calamansi juice just isn’t the same—it tastes tinny—and doesn’t have that labor of love from Daddy for the family.

Following the theory of the “Proust Effect” that certain scents trigger memories, calamansi juice is definitely a delicious reminder of Islander’s small kid time “hanabata days” in Hawaii and of her Filipino heritage.

Don’t be fooled by the fruit, though. Calamansi looks like a mini tangerine when ripe. But it tastes super sour (like a lime) on its own and really needs to be juiced, diluted with water and sweetened with sugar. The recipe is quite simple and calamansi juice is very healthy and refreshing.

For a tart and tasty beverage for National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day, make calamansi juice.



  • 1 cup calamansi juice, fresh squeezed
  • 4 cups water, divided use
  • ½ – ¾ cup sugar, granulated white (or other sweetener to taste)


Wash the calamansi well and let dry. Cut the calamansi from the top to avoid slicing through the seeds. Squeeze the fruit in a strainer to make 1 cup of juice, discarding the seeds.


Place the juice in a large bowl or pitcher. In a small pot, bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Let cool completely. Add to the calamansi juice mixture. Stir in the remaining 3 cups of water. Cover and refrigerate until cold. Pour into glasses and serve with or without ice.



  • Sugar dissolves better in hot water. That is why we boil them together to make a simple syrup to sweeten the fresh squeezed calamansi juice.
  • Use less water when diluting the juice if serving with ice cubes.
  • Calamansi is also known as calamondin. Learn more about its health benefits and culinary uses from Wikipedia.


Fire Cakes

Fire Cakes 

January 14: U.S. Ratification Day (1784)

Children everywhere most likely learn about their nation’s roots in school. Highlander, a Canadian who grew up in the United States, and Islander, who was born in the Philippines and became a naturalized citizen, also learned about American history through the popular Schoolhouse Rock television segments that were broadcast in between the Saturday cartoons. Those educational tunes were so catchy!

As today is U.S. Ratification Day, which commemorates the end of the American Revolutionary War/War of Independence, we remember one of the popular Schoolhouse Rock videos, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”.

We also marked this day by making “modern” fire cakes, a simple staple cooked by the early American soldiers to sustain them while out on the battlefields. Original fire cakes were prepared by mixing flour, salt and water to form a flat dough which was baked over a campfire, hence the name. They taste bland and are kind of hard and chewy. Historical re-enactors at colonial sites still make them and teachers and parents sometimes show children how to make fire cakes to learn about life during colonial times. A cooking component for a history lesson is a great idea for an edible education!

Try this fire cake recipe in observation of U.S. Ratification Day.



  • ½ cup flour
  • generous pinch of salt
  • ¼ cup water


In a mixing bowl, combine the wheat flour and salt. Pour water and mix until everything sticks together. Roll the dough into a ball.


Divide into two disks. Flatten on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees F for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve warm. Wrap any leftover fire cakes in plastic film and keep at room temperature.



  • We used wheat flour in this recipe to mimic what the militia and minutemen may have eaten during the Revolutionary War. White, refined flour was not available to them at the time.
  • We also used tap water in this recipe. We imagine that the soldiers used water from streams or wells (unlike our filtered water) to make fire cakes.
  • This recipe is not suitable for those who are gluten-sensitive.

Epiphany Jam Tart


January 6: Epiphany/Feast Day of the Three Kings

When he was in elementary school, Islander’s brother, K, was in the cast of our church’s Christmas pageant in Hawaii. In the first grade, he was one of the little angels. In the sixth grade, he was one of the three kings! For both occasions, Islander and her Mommy made his costumes. NOT buying the convenient, ready-made costumes in the store allowed the family to create one-of-a-kind designs for K—including the styrofoam ramen/instant noodles bowl that became the base of his crown!

Islander continues her creativity through cooking. For the Feast Day of the Three Kings, she made a Victorian-style Epiphany jam tart, inspired by one of her favorite food blogs, Catholic Cuisine. Traditionally, the tart consists of 13 different jams, which represent Jesus and His Apostles. The Star of David design symbolizes that “star of wonder, star of night, star of royal beauty bright”, which the wise men followed to find the King of Kings (Baby Jesus). The beautiful baked dessert looks like a church stained glass window.

Make a colorful and creative Epiphany jam tart and indulge in this festive food on the Feast Day of the Three Kings.


(Adapted from Catholic Cuisine)


  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick + 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 13 different jams


Grease or generally butter a 8- or 9-inch tart tin. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, powdered sugar and salt. Cut in the cold butter and egg yolk and mix until moistened and a dough ball is formed.


Place the dough ball on a floured wax paper. Flatten into a disc. Roll out with rolling pin to fit the pastry into the tart tin, allowing for overhang. Invert into the tart tin and press on the bottom and up the sides. Trim the excess pastry from the edge.


Using the excess pastry, roll out strips to form the star shape in the middle. Press the strip into the pastry, starting with a large triangle. Add the other strips to complete the star shape. Freeze the pastry for 30 minutes.


Remove the pastry from the freezer and bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven. Stir the jams and spoon a different one in each section.





Return to the oven and bake for another 10 minutes or until the jams have set. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Slice and serve.


  • The 13 jams/jellies/preserves we used for this recipe included: Concord grape jelly, strawberry jam, lingonberry jam, sweet orange marmalade, Hawaiian poha (Big Island cape gooseberry) jam, Kula (Maui) black raspberry jam, pineapple-coconut jam, liliko’i (passion fruit) jam, apricot jam, Scottish blackcurrant preserves, Bahamian guava jam, black cherry fruit spread and Alaskan wild mixed berry jam.
  • Thanks to our friends for bearing gifts from afar: Phyllis S. (formerly from Hawaii but now lives in South Texas) for the three kings ornament, pictured in the final food photo above, which she gave to us as a Christmas gift; and Janet A. (from The Bahamas) for the guava jam she sent to us from her island.
  • Feast on other Epiphany foods on the Feast Day of the Three Kings: brown sugar shortbread stars and galette de rois (king’s cake).
  • January 6 signals the end of the Christmas season as it is the 12th day of Christmas or Twelfth Night. The Christian calendar then returns to Ordinary Time in the liturgical year.

Coconut Whipped Cream

Coconut Whipped Cream

January 5: National Whipped Cream Day

Islander is sensitive to some dairy so she either avoids it or takes a dairy aid pill before eating it. Not wanting to miss out on topping some desserts with whipped cream because of her delicate digestive system, she found a non-dairy alternative: coconut whipped cream. She now puts them on her pies (especially Hawaiian haupia—regular and chocolate) for a double-dose of coconut flavor, adds a dollop to fruit cups for a taste of the tropics and simply replaces regular whipped cream for this coconut copycat in other desserts.

For a non-dairy dessert topping, try whipping up some coconut whipped cream for National Whipped Cream Day.



  • 1 can full fat organic coconut milk (we used Thai Kitchen brand—see Notes)
  • 2-3 tablespoons powdered sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon clear vanilla extract


Refrigerate the can of coconut milk overnight to allow the fat to separate. Open the can, being careful not to tilt it too much to mix the solidified cream on the top to mix with the liquid on the bottom. Spoon out the solidified cream into a mixing bowl, reserving the liquid to use in another recipe. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Add the vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Transfer to a container and cover until ready to use.



  • The coconut milk must have a full fat, not lite, content in order for the cream to separate and solidify. Check the brand labels and avoid those that have guar gum as an ingredient. We used Thai Kitchen brand but it has guar gum and it still whipped up well. Some other brands may or may not whip up as fluffy. Use several cans of coconut milk to make more whipped cream to spread over larger desserts.
  • After opening the can of coconut milk and using the solidified cream in this recipe, save the liquid to use in a smoothie recipe.


Ginataan Bilo-Bilo


December 22: Winter Solstice

As the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, keep warm on the Winter Solstice with a sweet Asian soup consisting of small sticky rice balls. In China, during the Dōng Zhì Festival, the clear soup is called tangyuan—the rice balls may be plain or stuffed with a sweet bean, black sesame or peanut paste. The Filipinos have a similar sweet soup, ginataan bilo-bilo—the rice balls are stewed in a sweetened coconut milk mixture. Other Asian countries have their own versions of a sweet sticky rice ball soup (for example, Thai bua loi is similar to ginataan bilo-bilo). The round shape is auspicious and also symbolizes families gathering ‘round the holidays—as in “coming together full circle”.

Islander’s Mommy used to make ginataan bilo-bilo as a snack for the family when it was cooler weather in Hawaii (brrrr…low ‘70s!). Because it is labor intensive to roll the sticky rice balls, it represents a heart-warming food for all of us as well. Sometimes, tubers such as taro, sweet potato or ube (purple yam), are added to the soup to make it heartier. Because as kids, Islander and her brother called this dish “snowballs” due to its milky-white color, she prefers to add white taro to keep its wintery color (ube gives the dish a vibrant violet hue).

Welcome winter with a warm bowl of ginataan bilo-bilo and enjoy this dish through the holidays and the coming new year.


Adapted from Mommy

For the mochi balls

  • 1 lb. (1 box) mochiko (sweet rice) flour
  • water
  • flour


In a large bowl, put the mochiko and make a well. Gradually add water a few drops at a time. Stir until the dough sticks together.


On a clean, floured surface, roll a palm-size ball of dough into a long strip around ¾-inch thick. Slice into ¾-inch pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Place the balls on a flat container filled with flour to prevent the dough balls from sticking. While the dough balls rest, make the sweet stew.


For the sweet stew

  • 1 cup cooked large tapioca pearls (or mini tapioca, if desired)
  • 1 cup yam/taro/sweet potato, peeled and sliced into bite-sized chunks, par-boiled (semi-cooked)
  • 2 cans coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 can jackfruit slices (reserve ¼ cup liquid syrup from the can to sweeten and flavor the stew—optional); cut into smaller strips
  • 1-2 sweet plantain bananas, peeled and sliced into 1 inch chunks
  • ¼ teaspoon anise seed


Cook the tapioca according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse. Set aside. Slice the yam/taro/sweet potato. Parboil, drain and set aside.


In a large pot, stir the coconut milk with water. Bring to a boil over medium-low heat as to not scald the coconut milk. Remove each mochiko ball from the flour and add to the milk mixture. Gently stir to prevent the balls from sticking to each other. Simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes or until the balls float slightly to the top. Add the sugar (and jackfruit syrup, if extra flavoring is desired).


Add the cooked tapioca pearls and stir to separate them. Sprinkle the anise seed. Stir in the jackfruit slices.


Add the plantain banana slices and taro/yam/sweet potato. Serve warm so the balls are still chewy and not hard. Store in an airtight container. If serving leftovers, ladle into soup/dessert bowls and add a little water to liquefy the stew. Microwave for a minute or two until the mochiko balls have softened.



  • Depending on the location and lunar calendar, the Winter Solstice date can fall between December 21-23.
  • Thanks to Mommy, Daddy, Auntie Letty and Auntie Finey for making the rice balls for this blog post recipe when they visited us in Texas from Hawaii and the Philippines.
  • Frozen sticky rice balls may be found in Asian grocery stores and could be used as a shortcut to the homemade version. Make sure the balls are cooked through so they are soft and chewy instead of hard and flour-y.
  • If using ube (purple yam), there will be a violet tint to the sweet stew.
  • The addition of round tapioca pearls increase the luck factor and provide more chewy textures to ginataan bilo-bilo (and bua loi), making this dish appropriate for new year’s celebrations as well.


Calamansi Cupcakes


December 15: National Cupcake Day

Highlander’s co-worker, Luchie A., has invited us to her house in the Gulf Coast of Texas to pick calamansi from the tree in her backyard. We have gathered grocery bags full of the fruit for ourselves and for friends. We typically squeeze all the little Philippine limes to make delicious fresh squeezed fruit juice. We also reserve a bit of the liquid to make calamansi cupcakes for Luchie and the other co-workers. The cupcakes are always a big hit with everyone in Highlander’s office.

National Cupcake Day occurs during the holiday season when cookies are frequently exchanged. But cupcakes are a sweet choice to share, too. If calamansi juice is available, use it to make this terrific and tart treat.


For the calamansi cupcakes

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar, granulated white
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup calamansi juice, fresh squeezed or bottled/boxed/canned
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder


In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter with the sugar. Beat in the eggs. Stir in the vanilla.


Pour in the calamansi juice. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add this mixture gradually to the other ingredients. Blend until the batter is smooth (it will be thick).


Scoop into cupcake papers and place in muffin tins. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 20 minutes or until done. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting the calamansi cupcakes.


For the calamansi buttercream frosting

  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 2+ tablespoons calamansi juice


In a large bowl, cream the butter with the vanilla. Gradually add the powdered sugar. Thin to a spreadable consistency with the calamansi juice. Use Wilton tip 1M in a piping bag and decorate the top of each cupcake with swirls.



  • Squeeze more juice from many calamansi fruits for a refreshingly tart drink. See our easy recipe for calamansi juice for National Fresh Squeezed Juice Day on January 15.
  • Maraming salamat (thank you very much in Pilipino/Tagalog) to Luchie A. for the calamansi!