October 31, 2014

Ten Things the Government Can Do About Our Garbage Problem

There’s something awfully wrong with the way we manage our garbage.  We think we’re doing our homes a favor by ridding it of all our trash, but that trash isn’t really gone.  Essentially, the garbage truck just transported it elsewhere, out of sight, preferably somewhere we don’t know so we can’t care too much. 

The sad part is that almost half of our everyday waste is perfectly compostable.  Yet we rely on trucks that run on gasoline to pick up our trash.  Iit's rather silly to have the garbage truck collect your kitchen scraps and garden waste and travel hundreds of kilometers just to deposit them in a dumpsite when you can simply compost them right in your own home.

So here are a few things the government can do to address the stinky problem of trash here in the Philippines.

1. From now on, garbage segregation and composting will be mandatory.  Come on, people, we’ve been taught about the benefits of composting since grade school.  Composting reduces up to 30-40% of household waste.  And you get free fertilizer for your plants in the process.  From now on, garbage trucks will be collecting only non-biodegradable plastic wastes, while compostables go to the compost bins.

2. Households who refuse to compost their trash will be penalized.  Likewise, the government should also reward those who do, by buying their compost from them at a handsome price.

3.  The government should issue FREE compost bins to every household.  And an in-depth seminar about composting should be held in every barangay.  Officials will visit every household to check on their compost bin and how their other garbage are being sorted out.

4.  Households which don't have a yard big enough to compost in (condos, apartments, etc.) can simply bring their compostable trash to a designated spot in their barangay—a community composting center.  (Surely, there’s a vacant lot somewhere in the subdivision where compostables can be collected.)  

But there’s a fee for subscribing to this service.  We pay monthly for our Internet connection, why not pay too for something as necessary as trash management.  

5. Government should invest wisely and install compost centers in every barangay as efficiently as possible, with big shredders for the really tough jobs.  City officials who don’t prioritize composting will be duly composted. Kidding.

6. People managing the community compost centers get a generous pay, with health benefits and other perks of course.  After all, composting is no sissy work.

7. Now that we're in the habit of composting, hotspots such as public markets should be taken advantage of for all that goldmine just sitting on the curb.  After all, they generate tons and tons of compostable waste every day.

8. From now on, supermarkets, groceries, and even the little shops and stalls at the public market should charge for every plastic bags they issue.

Not just a measly 2 Pesos for every bag.  It should be Ten Pesos (PhP 10): people should feel the costs of their decision to use plastic bags that require precious petroleum and natural gas to be made.  Don’t want to shell out ten Pesos?  Then carry a reusable canvas bag when you shopping.

9. From now on, the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) should check each and every product that gets sold in the markets, groceries, etc. for excess and needless packaging.  If you can sell a product with less packaging, then good.  If it's wrapped too much, then have the manufacturer change the packaging or else take it off the shelves for good.  

Less packaging, less waste.  Simple math.

10.  We should empower our garbage collectors—they’re not just mindless people who collect our garbage with no say in the matter.  Let them refuse improperly segregated trash.  Let them charge homeowners for every kilo of garbage they are handed.  PhP 10 per kilo, with receipts, of course.

This doesn’t just empower garbage collectors, it also ensures the public becomes responsible for the garbage they produce.  Hopefully, people will be inspired to reduce their waste, recycle, and make compost. 

October 30, 2014

A Bite of Comfort Food from Street Bites

I'm guessing that for most people comfort food has to be sweet and sinful, or fried and greasy, or sumptuous and mealy, for it to be comforting enough. Street Bites takes care of this requirement.  It's quick American comfort food for a budget price.

Street Bites has a handful of branches all over the metro, but their newest is at the Sky Garden at SM North EDSA.  The interiors have that relaxed, industrial look, with street signage for its motif, because, well, Street Bites.  No fancy, pretentious atmosphere here; just a comfy dining place for you and your friends.

There's a freedom wall on one side of the store, where people can ink their thoughts.  Barely two weeks into operation and the wall's already full of various shout-outs, witty sayings, confessions, and even ambiguously-coded instructions*.

Me and Edge weren't exactly hungry that day, and we just wanted to try out what they have. Our gameplan: a pasta meal and a dessert between the two of us. 

The Panna Cotta was perfect, very light and cool in the mouth, and with its luscious mango bits instantly invoked summertime. The gelatin may have upstaged the cream here, but what do you expect for something that's just PhP 69.

The Tomato Mushroom n' Basil Pasta is a mixed bag though. The basil-and-tomato combination is blah, the mushrooms are barely there, and there's no hint of olive oil at all.  Also they serve it topped with strips of Nacho, which only gives the impression of a floury, undercooked pasta.  We had to remind ourselves from time to time that it wasn't flour coming off from the pasta that we're tasting, it was actual flour from the nachos.

We would have wanted to try their beverages: the Frostea which is iced tea that's been frosted looks tempting, or their Shirley Temple.  But we're not exactly fond of sugary drinks, which, we suspect, is what most of their drinks are all about.

So maybe Street Bites isn't all that great, the food not so comforting at all.  But at least our waitress was friendly, and actually was bold enough to ask if we were enjoying the food.  I like that.

* * *

Now, for the ambiguously-coded instructions.  As we were leaving the store we saw this message on the chatty wall.

And a little farther, this:

We were thus left wondering if it's the same Peter guy who wrote on the wall, who is he, who exactly is he imploring, and whether that person he's writing to is a girl or a guy.  Maybe he'll leave a third message in the future.

October 28, 2014

For the Cinephiles: The QCinema International Film Festival 2014

The QCinema International Film Festival 2014 is just around the corner. From November 5 till November 11, cinephiles can have their dose of the very best our local indie cinema has to offer, both in terms of feature films and documentaries.

The venue for the film fest is at Trinoma.

Also, this year, a diverse list of countries will be participating, such as Russia, Belgium, Australia, South Korea, Czech Republic, Denmark, Canada, and the US, each with their critically-acclaimed entries.

Already I'm raring to see Two Days, One Night  starring Marion Cotillard, because Marion Cotillard.  (That's November 8, 9:30PM, and November 11, 2:30 PM)

Check out the screening schedule below.  Or visit the festival's Facebook page.

Schedule courtesy of Filmpolicereviews.com

October 27, 2014

Classic Ginisang Ampalaya

Once I read an online forum where diabetic members were asking each other how to use bittermelon (ampalaya) in a dish.  It's supposedly very effective in controlling blood sugar, but they simply have no idea how to go about cooking it.

Maybe the bitter flavor poses much of the challenge.  Of course, in the Philippines we cook ampalaya on a regular basis, and we're very used to the bitterness.  

Sometimes, it's okay to be bitter.

We sauté it with meat, like the recipe below.  Or we simply steam it or boil in water and serve with steamed/boiled tomatoes and some bagoong (shrimp paste). It's one of the main ingredients in pinakbet. You can even eat it raw like a salad, sliced thinly, salted, and rinsed, then served with fresh tomatoes, cucumber, onions, salt, pepper, and honey.  

Or if you want, put chunks of ampalaya in a blender along with your choice of veggies and a cup of coconut juice,  then hit that blender button.

Classic Sautéed Ampalaya Dish

2 pieces Ampalaya (bitter melon)
1/4 kilo Ground beef or pPork meat
2 Tomatoes
1 Onion
4 Cloves garlic
1 medium-sized Tomato
3-4 cups of Water
2 tbsp Soy sauce

Salt and Pepper
Optional: 1 egg

1. Cut the bittermelon into half, then slice into crescent moons according to your desired thickness.  You can choose to soak the sliced pieces in salty water then rinse, or simply cook it as it is to retain the full but nutritious bitterness.

2. In a pan, brown the ground beef or minced pork meat until it oils up.

3. Fry the minced onion, garlic, and tomatoes.

4. Add 3 to 4 cups of water, and season with soy sauce, salt, and pepper.

5. Add the ampalaya slices.

6. Let simmer and serve while hot.

7. You can crack and stir in a raw egg over the soup, and allow to cook before serving.

October 26, 2014

The Bees Love My Fire Bush.

The fire bush (Hamelia patens) I planted in front of our house is fully-grown now.  Lush, big, and awesome.  An explosion of green leaves and thin red tubular flowers and tiny black berries that are supposedly edible (they taste subtly sour and sweet with a slight bitter aftertaste that lingers ion your tongue).

Two years ago, this bush was just a skinny cutting.  I had broken it from a fire bush I had passed by while walking home.  It was evening, no one was watching, and I was the petty thief of stem cutting.  I simply stuck it in the soil, watered it every now and then, and generally let it fend for itself.  Hamelia patens apparently is a sturdy plant that likes the sun and can even tolerate drought.

I think my fire bush is even bigger now than its parent.

* * * 

Every day the bees come to visit the fire bush, both the honey bees and carpenter bees.  There are butterflies, too, and even flies.  I try to imagine how far these honey bees have come from, how fragrant the fire bush’s blossoms must be to their sense of smell, what nuances of flavor will their honey have, and why bees are dying off in the U.S.

Without bees, we lose the humble pollinators of flowers, the tiny winged magicians who turn blossom into fruit.  They say the death of bees is not so bad: other insect pollinators will take the bees’ place.  In China, they’ve even resorted to manually pollinating their fruit trees using paintbrushes.  

But those paintbrushes mimicking a bee’s hairy legs should not even be an option in the first place.

The bees aren’t dying simply because of insecticides.  Naturally, they’ll die from that.  But mostly it’s because we’re messing up with nature’s balance.  We’ve cleared the forests where the bees make their home.  We’ve poisoned the water, the soil, and the air.  We only think of our own needs as a species, and all other species will either just have to learn to adjust or die.

Last September was the centennial anniversary of the passenger pigeon’s complete wipeout from the face of the planet.  The poor birds, whose number was once so great they literally blackened the skies as they flew, were simply hunted to death.  It’s not just passenger pigeons, but many others.  And now, the bees are in danger, one more species whose life lies in our own hands.   

The massive bee die-offs has been dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder, a very technical term that sounds both scary and sad.  Bees are social animals with a complex, organized colony.  No one from among them could have endeavored to disrupt the delicate harmony of their lives.  It’s just simply us humans who ruin the other’s fun.

I wish I had planted more fire bushes.  If only to invite more bees and make their pilgrimage to our scraggly garden a little more worth it.

* * *

In The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood pays homage to honey bees.  Their keeper is a woman named Pilar who talks to them as if they are sensitive, sentient creatures, because that’s what they really are.  

“All the bees of a hive are one bee,” she says.  

October 25, 2014

Delayed Reaction: Wicked Kitchen

I've always thought that Wicked resto me and Edge we used to pass by along Mother Ignacia Ave. was a snobby place.  It had that vibe: it was right across the ABS-CBN building where execs work.  So it had to be pricey too.  

That was four years ago.  Apprently, Wicked Kitchen is still very much in business up till now, and they've even branched out to Maginhawa St., where Job and Jada and me went to have lunch sometime last March.  Yes, delayed post.

Turns out it's not a snobby place at all.  The waiters are friendly, the interiors have that classic red-black-and-white minimalist theme going for it, the food is good, and most importantly you don't feel ripped off.  The food's not gourmet, but their rice bowl meals are sumptuous enough.

Between the three of us, we had Kimchi Rice (mine), Spicy Mongolian Rice (Jada's), and Crunchy Bagoong Rice (Job's).  We haven't yet reached that level of intimacy where we can freely swap bowls, so we just took a small bite from our bowls to sample each other's meal of choice. 

As is always the case with me, the grass is greener on the other side, and I had secretly wanted Job's bagoong rice:

Crunchy Bagoong with Rice

Desserts in Wicked Kitchen are named after the seven deadly sins.  (Just to remind you, I guess, of the untoward consequences you'll incur soon after eating these immoral desserts.  That bad, evil sugar is to blame!)

Anyway, we had Wrath, which is mango crepe served with vanilla ice cream, drizzled with Nutella that's supposedly chili-infused.  

It was good, but this Wrath dessert didn't exactly taste spicy enough for me (I have high tolerance for chilis).  It didn't taste like what I imagine wrath would taste like.  For one, it didn't inspire extreme anger in me (Maybe my imagination just failed me).  It's just a properly prepared dessert—sweet, chewy, and agreeable, nothing in the realm of David Fincher's film. 

So in the absence of that supposed kick of chili, Job and Jada took the liberty of adding a dash of, well, chili sauce to our mango crepe and ice cream.  And that made all the difference.

* * *

The very optimistic toilet at Wicked Kitchen.

Wicked Kitchen is on the 2nd Floor of Maginhawa Building,
189 Maginhawa Street, Teacher's Village, QC.