January 24, 2015

Simple Upo (Bottlegourd) Dish with Tomatoes and Egg

Kinky jokes aside, upo is a perfectly nutritious vegetable.  It's actually part of Ayurvedic healing in India, where it's called by its local name of lauki.  

Here's a simple upo (bottlegourd) dish, which turned out perfect for me.  See, I've never relished the idea of upo starring in a dish.  This hefty vegetable is too bland for my taste, not surprisingly because it's about 90% water.  So I've never craved for upo, whether in a soup or a stir-fry.  But with this impromptu dish, I think I've whipped up something nice.  Seriously, I'll be looking forward to cooking with upo from now on.

BTW, I've recently discovered upo can also be lacto-fermented.  Just wash, peel, slice, and scoop the seeds out.  And soak in brine as you would in any other lacto-fermented recipes.  They come out surprisingly crunchy with a subtle sweet taste at the end.


Upo (bottlegourd)
1 Tomato, chopped into cubes
Garlic, 4 cloves 
Onion, 1 medium, chopped
1 beaten Egg
1/2 tbsp Turmeric Powder
Pinch of salt and pepper
Coconut Oil
1/4 cup Water

1. Rinse the bottlegourd, peel, and slice lengthwise into four parts.  Then slice into 1 1/2" cubes.  
2. Pan-grill the chicken strips in high heat, no oil needed.  Brown on both sides.  Remove and set aside.
3. Heat a little coconut oil in a skillet, add the chopped onions, garlic, tomato, and the upo cubes.
4. Dissolve the turmeric powder in a little water, and add to the pan.  
5. Add the chicken.  Then season with salt and pepper.
6. Reduce the liquid by simmering for about five minutes.
7. Finally, add the beaten egg, mixing well to coat everything until the egg is well set.
8. Enjoy!

The Very Manipulative and Secretive Food Industry Alert

"Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication", Leonardo da Vinci once said.  When it comes to the food we eat, simplicity is key as well.

Yet our time-pressed and hectic lifestyles have pushed us to depend on fast food that's heavily processed, preservative-laden, and well... simply junkwhich the food industry is only too happy to sells to us.  After all, business is business.  Why should they care about the public's health when they're busy trying to sell us something?  

Fortunately for them, that undertaking is an easy one since sugar, the main ingredient in almost every food product on supermarket shelves, happens to be the most addicting stuff on the planet.  We're lucky if manufacturers spell out sugar as an ingredient, though most of the time it's hidden under various aliases.  

(Photo from fishnetmarket.com)

Sugar, especially high fructose corn syrup, tops the list of the most damaging foods we can eat.  I recently skimmed the ingredients of a packet of ketchup McDonald's uses for its fries, and was surprised it includes HFCS.  All these time it was there.  It's probably nice of them to have come clean and listed it there, but it's not nice at all.  (Just like the fact that it takes 19 ingredients to make their yummy French fries.)

It's enough to make you distrust the food industry, collectively called Big Food, because apparently only a handful of companies own and control the food we buy and eat.  That's just one hidden fact about the food industry they don't want us to know.  Here's more.

So what to do about it?  Take Leonardo da Vinci's advice.  Aim for simplicity.  Keep it raw, organic, untainted, unprocessed, and our tummy (and the rest of our body) is happy.  

Because the vast majority of food products out there can't be trusted, that leaves us with just a few safe choices.  These days, whenever I'm out shopping I find that the only things I can bring myself to buy are raisins, nuts, eggs, select veggies and fruits (preferably not from the Dirty Dozen list), apple cider vinegar, flaxseed, coconut oil, butter, yogurt (when I've ran out of the stuff)and as a concession to my sweet tooththe occasional jar of peanut butter.  Yes, it's a pretty lean and unfun selection of allowable foods, enough to make one hungry and feel deprived.  But surprisingly I don't feel either.  I'm actually just fine.  

January 22, 2015

The Quest for the Right Dandruff Shampoo

Okay, in the interest of honest reporting I'd have to say that I've started using shampoo again, in spite of my soap-free regimen for the past eight months.  It wasn't due to a moment of weakness, or whimsicality. Neither was it a random What-the-hell,-I-think-I'm-gonna-use-shampoo-again moment.  I simply had to go back to shampooing because of the dandruff.

Eew, I know.  But to be fair, even before I embarked on this No 'Poo thing, I already have dandruff, (doesn't everyone have dandruff at one point in their lives?), so I figured either my disavowal of shampoo can either cure it or make it worse, so why not give it a try.  

I didn't exactly renounce shampoo completely .  Now and then I'd use conditioner (an all-natural kind from my favorite brand Human Nature), or I'd steal a dollop from my sister's bottle of likewise Human Nature shampoo.  It wasn't often, probably it was just a once a week thing.  On all other days, I simply washed with plain water and vigorous scrubbing with my fingers.  

Before you say I'm cheating on my soap-free policy, it really wasn't the case.  See, I didn't have a profound yearning to use shampoo.  It just felt right to be able to use it any time I felt like using it, without relapsing into my previous dependence on the stuff.  And of course, I admit I kinda miss that refreshing fragrant scent too.  Shampoo or no shampoo, I'm fine either way.  

But this week, as I've said, I'm back to shampooing my hair, using Human Nature's sulfate-free, silicone-free, and paraben-free formula.  For good measure, I've added hefty drops of tea tree oil (also from Human Nature) into the bottle, because the essential oil supposedly is anti-fungal and antibacterial.  I figured I'd try the natural route first before succumbing to ketoconazale.  Briefly I tried baking soda and apple cider vinegar, but wasn't really keen into them.

So far the shampoo-tea tree oil combo is working.  My flakes don't fall in a frightful flurry anymore whenever I'd comb my hair.  For best results I'm also rubbing coconut oil mixed with tea tree oil on my hair after each bath.  I swear I smell like an apothecary, but I also have nice soft hair and moisturized scalp.  So have I found the right dandruff shampoo?  That's beside the point.  I'd be happier if I can get to the root of the problem (wow, pun!), instead of just simply washing it away.

After this, I probably would go back to the No 'Poo thing, and just use shampoo every now and then when I feel like it.  Maybe it's just the cold weather; I read it can be drying to the scalp.  Or maybe I'm not changing my pillowcases as often as needed.  Maybe I need to get out more in the sun, which supposedly helps zap the dandruff and its causes.  Maybe I need to comb my hair more.  Or maybe I should just shave my head.

January 16, 2015

It's Time to Get Artsy at Art Fair Philippines 2015

Art Fair Philippines 2015 is happening from February 5 to 8, 2015 (Thursday to Friday).
Ticket is PhP 50 for students with valid IDs, and PhP 150 for the regular folks.  (Consider it a lovely Pre-Valentine's Day date venue!)

Geraldine Javier, Maria Taniguchi, Poklong Anading, Annie Cabigting and a few exciting more will be exhibiting their works.  

Head on to their official site for visitor info, and other details about  page, complete with a map for the perennially lost.

January 7, 2015

Centris Sunday Market Once More

Because there's so much more to discover at that teeming Sunday market at Centris, (the official name is Sidcor Sunday Market), me and Edge troop there one fine day.  

Last I was there was sometime in May; the place is still as jam-packed and bustling as ever.  Same dizzying array of food products and various non-food merchandise.  The only difference I could note was that the building under construction a few months back was finally up.

If you'd like to visit the market, bring a friend along, it's more fun that way.  Go early.  It's at the backlot of Eton Centris along EDSA.  You know you're there once you see the sea of green-and-white striped tents.  

Of course, the best part of the Sunday market is the eats: a wide variety of food awaits you here, from carinderia fare to posh delicacies.  For our lunch, Edge and I tried some kesong puti, an Ilocano dish full of veggies (it looks and tastes like dinengdeng, but I remember it's called something else), and a creamy chicken-and-mushroom fare.

Don't forget to bring your own reusable plates, glasses, spoons and forks.  Because why add to the trash buildup every week?  Enjoy the pics.

Packed with anti-oxidants: the fruit section at the Sidcor Sunday Market

All your lettuce needs.  Romaine, frisee, arugula, iceberg, etc. 


Bread (not the healthiest thing you can eat, but there you go)
And spreads!

December 29, 2014

Lacto-Fermenting Vegetables in Four Easy Steps

When I was a kid, I thought only green mangoes and mustard leaves can be lacto-fermented.  My grandma would slice the unripe mangoes, put them in a jar, and pour a mixture of water from rice washing, boiled-and-cooled water, and salt.  Same thing for the mustard leaves, although she'd bruise them first a bit before stuffing into a jar.  

After a few days, the burong mangga and burong mustasa would be ready.  They were always a delight to taste: vinegary and tart, with a hint of something that's slightly amiss or which had gone wrong but still tasted nice.  I was a kid then, and had no idea the "gone wrong" part is because of bacteria.  

Actually, "gone wrong" isn't even the right word because in this case the bacteria are doing a great job.  Bacteria, it turns out, naturally occur in vegetables and fruits.  Once bacteria is soaked in a briny solution of salt and water, the perfect medium for them to bloom and party, they begin to feast on the sugars in the vegetables, converting them into lactic acid.  This lactic acid is what gives the brine its characteristic vinegary flavor.  Lacto-fermentation is all about the lactic acid, and has nothing to do with lactose or dairy.

Radishes and carrots, with some bay leaves, peppercorns, and garlic.

On the surface, lacto-fermentation is just our folks' ingenious way in preserving their produce.  I'm not sure if my grandma is aware that whenever she'd make those lacto-fermented mangoes and mustard leaves, she's also making us ingest truckloads, no, billions, of good bacteria beneficial to our digestion.  

See, modern convenience and progress has done a good job of killing off the good bacteria that make all of us healthy humans.  We overuse antibiotics.  Doctors prescribe them at the flick of a pen, but they don't advise us to take probiotics afterwards to replace all those good bacteria that were indiscriminately killed by antibiotics.  And then we binge on sugary, processed foods and beverages, which help feed the bad bacteria, which by then have begun to colonize our body.  

It was all so simple in the old days: our folks lacto-fermented their vegetables and ate sensibly, and so they had healthy tummies.  Just as good as eating raw, what we get from these fermented veggies are the nutrients and enzymes.   
If you want to restore your body's balance and replenish the gut flora and enzymes we need for proper digestion, you can never go wrong with lacto-fermented veggies.  Because, in essence, the bacteria has already predigested the sugars and starches in the veggies for us, the bad bacteria have nothing to feast on anymore.  This is good news for people suffering from yeast infections.  
Homemade yogurt, of course, is a big help too in restoring gut flora, but for the lactose-intolerant, these badass veggies are more than enough.

Back to my point.  Apparently, you can lacto-ferment a wide variety of vegetables, not just green mangoes and mustard leaves.  Carrots, cucumbers, squashes, sweet potatoes, cabbages, radishes, cauliflowers, onions, garlic, bell peppers: these are all popular candidates.  Lacto-fermenting these veggies gives them a whole new flavor. 

How do you get started?  All you need are three simple ingredients.

Use filtered or distilled water because the chlorine in tap water will just inhibit the bacteria.  If you're using tap water, just boil it to dechlorinate)

Forget iodized salt.  Go natural with sea salt or rock salt.

Choose fresh and organic vegetables for best results.  Wash them in filtered, not tap, water.

Step 1. Sterilize your jar.  Boil a pot of water, stand the jar inside the pot mouth first, and let it sterilize for about a minute.

Step 2. Prepare your vegetable.  Peel and/or slice your vegetable of choice.  Arrange inside your clean jar.

Step 3. Pour your saline solution.  Mix a tablespoon of rock salt for every two cups of filtered water.  Pour that into the jar, to submerge the vegetables, making sure nothing floats or sticks out of the surface.

Step 4. Let the bacteria flourish.
Cover the jar 
and wait for a while, anywhere from three days to a full week.  You'll know it's ready when the water goes cloudy, and the smell and taste becomes vinegary.  

After that, simply open your jar and enjoy your fresh, tangy, crisp and very healthful lacto-fermented veggies.

A few notes:
  • Spice up your lacto-fermented veggies by adding some peppercorns, bayleaf, coriander seeds, fresh sprigs of dill, etc.
  • Check your jar from time to time.  If you see white or green moldy scum floating on the surface, simply scoop it out, it's perfectly harmless.  The mold grows on vegetables that have floated to the surface, which is why it's important to keep them under the briny water.
  • Once you open your jar, keep it refrigerated to keep the contents chilled and fresh.
  • Lacto-fermented vegetables can keep for months inside the fridge, but, of course, rely on your sense of smell and taste too.
  • Lacto-fermented vegetables is not the same as pickled veggies.  Pickling uses vinegar, sugar, and salt, which is sort of a shortcut way to achieving that crispy tart, vinegary  flavor.  With lacto-fermentation, you're relying on the bacteria that naturally occurs on the vegetable to convert sugars into lactic acid.  The vinegary flavor is all-natural.
  • You can also use whey, that cloudy liquid that sits on top of your home-made yogurt, as a starter culture for your lacto-fermented recipes.