October 21, 2014

Suam or Ginulay na Mais | Recipe

There's corn soup made from powdered mix from out of a foil pack, and then there's the real deal, made from actual corn. It's called Suam in Tagalog, although not many people know it by that name.  I've heard some call it Ginulay na Mais, but that sounds too technical.  So suam.

Corn is actually forbidden in the Paleo diet because of the gluten, which is okay since I'm not on strictly on the Paleo diet.  Say what you want against corn, but a hot bowl of suam na mais is still the perfect thing for rainy days.


Ingredients

4 Cobs of Corn, grated by knife, cheese grater, or in a blender
1/4 kg Chicken filet
Tomato, chopped
Garlic, minced
Onion, chopped
Bunch of sili (chili pepper) leaves
3 Green finger chilis
Hibi (small dried shrimps)
Patis (fish sauce)
Salt and Pepper
Coconut oil

Brown the chicken filet pieces in a little coconut oil.
Saute the onions, garlic, tomatoes, finger chilis, and hibi.
Add the grated corn.
Add water.
Season with patis, salt and freshly-ground pepper.
Finally, add the sili leaves.

* * *

Sometimes I crack an egg into the soup and stir it in before adding the sili leaves, or add a little milk for a creamier texture. Also, instead of chicken, you can use shrimps. And you can include okra/gumbo too: their slimy texture goes well with the corn. Your call.

October 20, 2014

It's Been Raining. Set Up a Rain Barrel. Now.

Rainwater is a terrible thing to waste. Apparently, a heavy downpour can send as much as 13,577 gallons of rainwater to your yard.  It's free water we should all take advantage of.  

Don't just rely on those puny bath pails that fill up in less than five minutes.  Go big: get a humongous rain barrel.  We bought ours for just PhP 500, second-hand, and it's pretty much paid for itself in just a matter of weeks, especially during the rainy season. 




Set your rain barrel under the gutter, and when the rainstorm arrives, watch how quickly it fills up, depending on how heavy the downpour is. When I look at the gushing water, I can't help but think about all the other spots in our yard where there's no barrel to catch all that rainwater. 


* * *

Seven years ago my dad had our entire yard paved in concrete.  Sheesh. So now I'm always guilty of stormwater runoff, where the rainwater simply flows on the surface of the ground instead of seeping into the earth. The water picks up dirt and pollutants along the way, bringing contaminants as it flows into our sewer systems and lakes and rivers.  I've been meaning to do something about that concrete yard, but for now the rain barrel will have to do.

What can you use rainwater for? A lot of things.


For doing laundry. If you're finicky, you can use rainwater for just your curtains, etc and still use tap water for your clothes.

For flushing the toilet.  Have your handyman rig a system where the rain barrel can be sourced for toilet flushing.  No need to waste perfectly good water just to flush poop.

For washing your car. Again, many people waste perfectly good water just to wash their car.  Why?



For watering plants.  Plants love rainwater more than tap water that's been chemically treated.



For washing a sundry of things.  
Like our muddy camping tent.


For making your bokashi starter culture.  Because rainwater isn't chlorinated.




For bathing the dog.  Because dogs don't mind at all.  Or do they?

Proper Crepes


We've never been able to make proper crepes. With a frying pan, me and Edge manage a half-inch thick affair.  It's good, but only if you're making omelettes.  Just like pizza, I guess, crepes taste better when they're wafer-thin. But then you'd have to have one of those commercial crepe makers that have non-stick plates for even cooking. 



So it was a pleasant surprise that we found Crepeman Cafe at Maginhawa Street (there are several branches all over the metro). I mean I'm not really into crepes—they're too light and fluffy and cloyingly sweet for my taste. But good thing the ones me and Edge had were just perfect.



We wanted to try out their mealy crepes and their dessert crepes in that order, but for some reason our waitress served the sweet crepes first.

This is their Chaos crepe.  With banana, mango, peaches, choco spread, whipped cream, and tiny chocolate kisses.  Doesn't look very chaotic on this pic; looks hollow actually, but trust me it was yummy all right.  Or maybe we were just hungry—we had walked all the way from Philcoa to their store (it's our thing), and so anything with sugar would be automatically delicious.




Next we had one of their mealy crepes: Doggy Combo, which is bacon, cheesedog, mayo, cheese, lettuce, corn, and pepper.  We also shared a cup of macchiato, pretty standard fare, or I'm just not a fan of milk in my coffee.  (They use a CBTL machine, by the way.)

And this is their freedom wall.  It's full and noisy already.  Since we had nothing interesting to contribute, we just let it be.



October 18, 2014

Barako It Up at Bag of Beans, Tagaytay

Confession: I have no idea what real kapeng barako tastes like. I may have had a cup of it in the past, but I've forgotten, so that doesn't count. 

Fortunately, me and Edge found Bag of Beans in Tagaytay, this posh garden restaurant with a nice alfresco dining going for it.  Canopy of trees, big slabs of wood for tables of chairs, Filipiniana decor, courteous, professional staff, and an outstanding bathroom (seriously).  

There's even a (caged): myna bird who knows all the right words to make you chuckle (kumain ka na? meow, aw, aw, waiter, waiter, and the classic elongated whistle for signifying what sexy babe/hunk you are).
  




Bag of Beans is actually a two-level resto.  Upstairs is the cafe, where you can buy gourmet coffee in a cup or packs if you want to brew your own. Downstairs is the main restaurant which you'll need to explore because it's big. There are various indoor dining areas for holding simultaneous party events, but we chose the alfresco.  They even have a seperate non-smoking area, well... because secondhand-smoke.

For our grub, we ordered Fish and Chips, Shepherds Pie, and Kapeng Barako.





The Fish and Chips came in a giant platter, good for sharing. Nothing special about them; they're fish and chips, period. They've been deep-fried naturally, but for the purposes of this trip I had to ignore the evils of heated up cooking oils, and just happily dug in.





The Shepherd's Pie, on the other hand, is a smartphone-sized affair, all creamy cheesy pie layer on the outside and minced meat on the inside.  Yum.





Then there's the Kapeng Barako, which comes in a nice olive-green mug.  There's a  generous decanter for fresh milk, and some packets of brown sugar.  It's PhP95 for a cup, or PhP 110 if you want it limitless. The first sip up to the very last, it was like a perfectly concocted drug. Our verdict, wow. So this is what kapeng barako tastes like. I'm glad I was never a Starbucks fanboy because, man, our very own kapeng barako is so much more full-bodied and delightful. Batangas really must need to ramp up its coffee industry again and be known in the world like it used to be.

Lovely all-hardwood furniture and decor.  P.S. That's our blue water jug from our Masasa trip.

We might go back to BoB if only for the kapeng barako, but the staff will have to do something about their taste in music.  For the duration of our visit there, the speakers blared out three repeats of the same set of jazzified pop and rocks songs with the words stripped out. I hate Muzak.

October 17, 2014

A Beginner's Guide to Bokashi Composting

That lovely new bokashi pail that was given me as a freebie last Saturday from the farm visit had to be dirtied up and used at some point.  It can't stay new and pretty forever. I had to face the truth: it was made for garbage.  So here goes.




This is the bokashi kit from Good Food Communitywhich is ingeniously just two similarly-sized pails stacked together. The one that goes on top has drainage holes for collecting the excess liquid that seeps through.

Commercial bokashi systems are expensive, but you can easily make your own. Just get two pails of the same size, with a good-fitting cover.  Drill some holes into one of the pails (if you're handy with a powertool), and there you go.




Here's our plastic bin where we toss our kitchen waste. It's the size of a bread box but a little larger.  When the bin's full, the scraps always go to the compost pile out in the garden.  But today they go to the pail.



1. Chop it up. It's good to make it a habit to chop your vegetable peels 
into smaller pieces right there and then while you're preparing food. That way they decompose faster.  I admit I've been quite lazy and didn't bother with chopping them with extra effort.  So for the purposes of this bokashi compost, I had to revisit the damn kitchen scraps one by one and cut them with scissors.
 


2. Fill it up.  Fill up your pail with the kitchen scraps up to the 2 inch mark. You can pretty much put anything into the bokashi pail, including dairy, meat, and bones which isn't allowed in a compost pile because that'll attract dogs, cats, and rats. (If you'll notice there's rice in the pail; no we don't waste rice just like that. Our dog wouldn't touch his meal so I had to throw it away, the meal not the dog.)



3. Add half an inch of the bokashi into the pail for every 2 inches of food scraps. The bokashi pack given us were charred rice husks, or bio-char, that comes in a resealable foil pack.  Nice.  Rubbing the blackened rice husks between my fingers (they've been supposedly incorporated with microorganisms), I can't help but wonder at their simple yet potent capabilities.



4. Firmly tamp.  This is the fun part.  Tamp the insides of your pail to compact them and get rid of air pockets within. Tamp it with your fingers; the whole thing feels squishy, but in a good way.




5. Cover the pail. Make sure the lid is airtight.  The directions on the brochure says it's ready for harvest after two weeks. Until then, I suppose you can add a new layer of kitchen scraps and bokashi as you go along.  Just remember to keep the lid tightly closed.


* * *

In bokashi composting, white mold is supposedly the good stuff, while black mold is bad. So if you see white mold when you peer inside, it's doing fine.

Periodically, check the bottom of the outer pail for compost tea, the brownish liquid collected there.  It's good fertilizer which you can use when watering your plants. And they're supposedly strong enough to use for cleaning clogged drains and toilets.  

Once the pail is full, give it two more weeks for the friendly microorganisms to do their job.  Once everything rots into compost, it's harvest time.  Yay!  

But of course, I'm getting ahead of myself here.  I'll tell you how this goes after a few weeks.

October 14, 2014

Good Food Commuity Spreads the Word on Organic. Because Food.

My feet are sloshing in black mud, I’m holding a scythe in my right hand, and it’s six thirty in the morning, much too early for my taste. I’m supposed to harvest the tall grasses of rice all around me, along with twenty other people I’ve never met before who are in this same exact predicament. But we all take to the task eagerly.  

No, this isn’t some dream sequence; we’re on an actual farm somewhere in Capas, Tarlac. It’s called Mangarita Farm, and it happily boasts of being organic.


How Organic 

For the longest time, I thought organic farming simply meant shunning chemical fertilizers and pesticide sprays. True, but there’s actually more to it as I would find out in the next few hours of our farm visit here, courtesy of Greenpeace.  


With such back-breaking work on the fields, we'd better appreciate every grain of rice on our plates from now on.

This is a nice prelude to World Food Day happening on October 16. Amidst erratic weather patterns due to climate change, food security is becoming an issue. Also, our farmers are ageing out, with no one to replace them—the next generation of kids want more profitable and far easier jobs, ones that don’t involve staying out in the sun and mucking with dirt.

And then there’s genetic engineering of plants funded by big corporations—all in the name of convenience, faster and better yield, pest-resistant crops, and supposedly vitamin-enriched produce. 

But at the expense of what? Messing up with nature’s balance never did anyone good. 



Community-Shared

So while we’ve been gingerly wielding our scythes, our gracious host, Char (pronounced as Shar), digs her toes in the mud and joins in on the fun.


Good Food Co. founder Char explaining Community Shared Agriculture. (slight editing of photo needed to fix the against-the-light problem.)


The first time I saw her, I thought, what lovely skin, what nice posture—this must be what an organic diet does to you. But as we talked, I realized the glow comes not from diet alone but from pure passion for her project. She’s on a mission to spread the word on organic farming.


But more than that, she’d like to connect organic farmers and the public
in a more direct and effective way than ever before.

She even has a term for it: Community Shared Agriculture or CSA.
  

This is where her social enterprise Good Food Community comes in, acting as a go-between for farmers in the area and city dwellers who would be subscribing to the CSA program.  

Let’s face it, not too many people are keen on, or even aware of organic produce—they think it’s too pricey, or just a fad, or even bogus. Farmers need assurance that people actually want to buy their organic produce, so Good Food Co. makes sure there’s an existing and ongoing demand. 


Infiltrating Nanay Marie's garden, Jabez cheerily extols the virtues of organic farming.


As a subscriber, you just have to pay a fixed price (a minimum of P480/week for twelve weeks) that entitles you to a bayongful of fresh and organic produce, which you pick up from one of several hubs of delivery points in Metro Manila.

This arrangement effectively turns consumers into shareholders—they have a clear stake on their food source. That’s why it’s called community-shared agriculture; it’s a mutual relationship between farmers and consumers. 

The goal is to make people care about food more deeply than before because now we know what went into it and how much effort was put into it, and not just because our money is on it. 

Now, the farmers don’t just blur into the background like anonymous hands magically growing crops for our consumption. We get to know them personally too—which is also one of the purposes of this trip.  If anyone should be more excited about this trip, it’s Mida, the woman beside me a while ago who’s been happily harvesting rice like there’s no tomorrow—because she’s a subscriber of Good Food Co., and now’s her chance to see the farm, and finally meet and greet the farmers who have been providing her veggies every week. 



Up Close and Personal


The farmers in the Good Food Co. program farm right in their own backyard. And mind you, some of them have BIG backyards. Instead of prettying up their plot of land with fancy, ornamental plants, they went for the real, edible deal. If you’re going to fuss around with plants, you might as well grow those you can eat afterwards. 



Kuya Rex shows us how to manually thresh rice.

But it’s not just the usual provincial crops they grow there such as ampalaya, squash, bataw, eggplant, luffa, papaya, ginger, turmeric, tomatoes, and chilis. They’ve managed to include a whole lot more variety, because as Char said, subscribers can’t live on just pinakbet veggies all the time. 

So they have various kinds of lettuce (which surprisingly isn’t a cool climate crop after all), they have basil (both the local, Thai, and sweet variety), coriander, spinach, yerba buena (mint), arugula, mizuna, amaranth, talinum, aloe vera, and many more.


For our trip, we visited two backyard gardens, just a stone’s throw away from Mangarita Farms. One is managed by Ate Lady and the other by Nanay Marie.


 
Ate Lady shows off her greenhouse.


Lovely, svelte, and sporting a bob haircut, Ate Lady shows off her garden which she tends with her daughter. Her bitter melons are all wrapped in old nylon umbrella sheaths, she has plants growing out of old rice sacks, her patolas are humongous, and her lettuce and coriander grow ever so cheerfully under her very own greenhouse, built with money on loan from Good Food Co. 


It’s hard to enter these ladies’ gardens and not feel an ounce of envy.

Ate Lady says it’s been a tough job ever since she signed up for this, having to manage both her family, the household, and now this sprawling garden. But she doesn’t look stressed out. You can immediately sense the pride in her eyes, brought about by this newfound empowerment. It’s nice to see her daughter at ease in the garden as well; the little girl carefully handles earthworms in their vermicomposting tub, appreciating them for the friend they are.

Nanay Marie’s garden is just as beautiful and envy-inducing. She wasn’t there to walk us through, but thankfully Jabez and Drei stepped in. 

Hailing from UP Los BaƱos, Jabez is the sociology undergrad-turned-environmentalist and now organic farmer at Good Food. Co, the guy who’s going to give the program some “street cred” as Char jokes. Drei, on the other hand, is a Greenpeace volunteer in charge of community support. I’ve never seen anyone so enthusiastic in explaining African nightcrawlers and their wondrous ability to enrich soil with their poop as these two. It’s no news to me since I myself have been composting for the last five years and am always excited about earthworms. Still, it’s nice to know there’s someone I can talk to about earthworms with as much passion. 


Garden Lessons

The one thing I noticed about the two gardens we visited, and even the huge one back at Mangarita Farms, is the presence of weeds. There are lots of them growing around the veggies, as if the gardeners have been lazy for a week. Jabez says the weeds are there for a reason, meant to strengthen the plant which will endeavor to thrive more because there’s competition.


No fancy pots needed.


In short, weeds bring out the best in plants. That’s one of the “rules ”of organic farming. You don’t need herbicides at all. You just let both the weeds and plants grow as nature intended, and hope for the best.

Other things I learned about organic farming:

1.
Marigolds are effective in pest prevention when planted around the garden. Their scent and vivid colors confuse pests, attracting them, and poisoning them with toxin released by their roots. Plus marigolds make the veggie garden a whole lot prettier.



Marigolds!


2. Growing organic rice is still a tricky matter in the country, especially when neighboring farms don’t practice organic farming and use pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  These chemicals can easily spread through the wind, and leach into the water if there are no adequate buffer zones—in the form of nitrogen-absorbing trees and dikes.

3. Rice develops a stronger root system when they’re planted in neat equidistant rows and columns instead of being randomly stuck into the soil.  A strong root system withstands storm wind better.

4. With veggies such as lettuce, scrap the equidistant thing and plant them slightly closer to each other so the leaves overlap a little. Jabez says this induces “microclimates”, an optimum temperature which helps the soil retain moisture and grow the veggies better.


How we wish all veggies were grown organic like this.


5. You’ll know it's organic produce because of their less-than-stellar appearance.  The lettuce has holey leaves, for instance, because they haven’t been sprayed; the insects had made a feast of it.  Organic veggies may not be as perfect as commercially grown ones, but at least you're not ingesting toxic chemicals.

6. Lastly, a pesticide-free garden means more butterflies, dragonflies, ladybugs, and bees roaming around the area. Yey! In the U.S. millions of bees are dying off, and it has become a serious phenomenon (it’s even got a scary name: colony collapse disorder). The simple obvious culprit: pesticides and fungicides.


Rethinking Organic

Back at Mangarita Farms we have a sumptuous lunch of fresh organic veggies (kare-kare, lumpia, ginataang papaya, barbecued mock meat) and rice (which they warn isn’t fully organic yet).  

And then we’re given bokashi buckets as souvenirs—I’ve heard of it, but I’ve never tried it, which makes my heart giddy with excitement. First worms, now microorganisms. I take note of the label on the two stacked composting pails. Nice artsy label with the directions printed in chalkboard font, check. I actually like it. Nothing cutesy or vividly colorful about it, all thanks to Drei.  



With a handsome pail like this, I can't wait to try bokashi composting.



The media kits on the other hand for this farm visit—flyers and brochures on recycled kraft paperare courtesy of Micah. Clad in a paisley shirt and mini-shorts and armed with a modelesque smile, she's in charge of marketing and events, coordinating everything so things go smoothly as possible. 

Micah's also the one who manages their Facebook page because man you really have to spread the word about these things. It can be tough: many people are more apt to like doughnuts and the best iced coffee more than real good food, or else they simply like and then move on to the next advocacy without giving it much thought. So there's the challenge of penetrating this generation's "armchair activist" mindset. 

Hopefully, those Facebook likes really translate into actual action. In the form of what?, you ask. Composting in your own home, starting your very own garden (even if just in container pots), and of course subscribing too to the Good Food Co. program. 

Hopefully, too, the movement inspires other cities, provinces, communities, and barangays to establish their own organic farms so we won’t have to look far for our food source. Eating local is just as important as eating organic.

I look at my phone and it’s only a little past twelve noon. What!? We’ve already done a lot today—from rice harvesting to threshing, to touring the big farm and the backyard gardens, to listening to lectures and chatting with the farmers, the organizers, and everyone else. And yet it’s only noon. 

That leaves us with plenty of time to head back to QC to attend the Food Festival at Maginhawa Street happening later tonight. But I think I'll pass up because I’m actually done for the day. Yes, it’s nice to pig out. But sometimes it’s much nicer to know the backstory of the food we eat and the good people responsible for making that happen. 

____________

Interested in Good Food Community (and good food in general)? Head on to their website.

Or call 0906.4332.324.  

Also, help spread the word by inviting your friends through this link: http://bit.ly/1r0FTxx

To be a subscriber/shareholder, just choose from among the six harvest share options and the duration you want. Delivery is every Tuesday at a designated drop-off point nearest to you. 

Set A: Gulay Pambahay. 12 weeks. PhP 480/week
Set B: Gulay Pambahay.  4 weeks.  PhP 530/week
Set C: Salad Pack.  12 weeks.   PhP 200/week
Set D: Salad Pack.  4 weeks.   PhP 250/week
Set E: Juice Pack.  12 weeks.   PhP 320/week
Set F: Juice Pack.  4 weeks.           PhP 370/week





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