November 24, 2014

Trip to Quaipo | The Handicraft Shops Under the Bridge

Back in the late '90s, I'd accompany Mami to Quiapo every Friday because that's the day they hold the novena for the Poong Nazareno.  Every. Single.  Friday.  

That's why this place is so close to my heart.  For a 75-year-old, Mami is sure game to wade the crowded, merchandise-choked streets of Quaipo.  I was the thirteen-year-old lean kid, impatient for the Mass to be over.  Because afterwards there'll be Jollibee and a little shopping on the side.  Those were the simple days.  Nowadays Mami's not up to the challenge of braving the Quiapo crowd anymore, and I just drop by whenever I need to buy something.  Usually frames for my eyeglasses at Paterno Street.  

But on this Friday afternoon, me and Edge head to Quiapo in search of handicrafts.  We're on an errand.  Thankfully, Quiapo has a specially designated area for selling handicrafts.  It's under Quezon Bridge, or as its more popularly known, Quiapo Bridge.

As a kid I've always adored the various plastic wares sold in Quiapo.  But these days, I feel like all these surplus products dumped on us by China will eventually lead to bad things.  Sure they're cheap at ten or twenty pesos, but they easily break too.  A disposable mentality is never a good thing for the environment.  

Thankfully, the handicrafts in Quiapo aren't made from plastic, but from natural local materials: bamboo, coconut, abaca, sisal, capiz shells, cowry shells, and hardwood such as kamagong, ironwood, etc.  

The handicrafts under the bridge.  The shops are open first thing in the morning up until 5 or 6 PM.

LED-lit belen, with all the Nativity characters present.  PhP 1,000.

Capiz shell lampshades on the ceiling, and shell-filled clocks on the wall.  

November 23, 2014

Squash Fritters | Kalabasang Ukoy Recipe

The classic Pinoy ukoy uses shrimps and toge (or mung bean sprouts), but of course there's many variations to making fritters.  Instead of toge, you can use potatoes or sweet potatoes or squash.  And instead of shrimps, you can use anchovies.  

In the province,
fritters are usually sold in the streets by walking vendors.  In the city, they're somewhat a rarity.  If you happen to see some being sold, they're usually drenched in flour with lots of orange food coloring then fried in thrice-used cooking oil.  Bottomline is it's better you make your own ukoy.  After all, nothing beats the taste of home-made cooking.

What's so nice about squash fritters, besides being a great afternoon snack or appetizer ? They're easy to make.  And we all know kalabasa and carrots are rich in vitamin A.  Whatever ingredient you choose for your ukoy, be sure to serve immediately because they're yummier when they're hot and crunchy.

Squash, peeled and julienned
Carrot, peeled and julienned
Garlic, 8 cloves, minced
1 Onion, minced
2 Eggs
3 tbsp Flour

Salt, 1 tsp
Coconut oil

Dipping sauce
Chili peppers


1. Beat the egg in a bowl.  Add the flour, salt and a dash of pepper.
2. Add the minced garlic and onion, and the squash and carrot strips. Mix well.
3. Heat a little coconut oil in a pan.  Scoop 3 to 4 tablespoons of the mixture onto the pan, and fry on both sides until they're crispy and golden brown.
4. Place the fritters on some paper towels to drain.
4. Serve with a dipping bowl of vinegar with a dash of salt and pepper and some chili peppers.  Or if you prefer, ketchup.

November 22, 2014

Why You Should Get Those Free Coffee Grounds from Starbucks

For the past few years, I've been asking for used coffee grounds from Starbucks, CBTL, and other coffee shops to use in my garden.  

Starbucks actually gives them away as part of its green social responsibility—the grounds are put inside black plastic bags and then placed in a special rack in their stores ready for pick up by anyone who'd care.  Starbucks used to do that, but I guess no one was getting the bags (customers are more interested in sipping their mocha frappe).  So now those racks stand empty.  I can't blame the staff since coffee grounds start to grow mold and smell funny after a week or so.  

These days, I simply march to the counter and ask the staff if they've got grounds for my garden.  If it's not a busy hour, they're happy to do it.

I'm not really a coffee junkie.  I get my coffee fix maybe once a month.  But regularly, I'm mining Starbucks et al for their coffee grounds which would otherwise have been dumped in landfills.  

Just remember to bring a bigger, sturdier plastic bag because all they're giving are the black plastic bags which have a tendency to leak and juice out if you're not careful.  Later, you can reuse those black bags as a seedling planter.  One time, the staff bagged the grounds in the same aluminum foil pack from which the coffee beans came.  Nice.

* * *

So what do you do with all that coffee grounds?  

Fertilize your plants
Acid-loving plants will appreciate you fertilizing them with used coffee, because the grounds bring nitrogen and potassium to the soil.  To neutralize some of the acidity, mix the grounds with a bit of brown leaves.  

Balance your compost
Used coffee grounds are the perfect thing to add to your compost, especially if you need more "green" or nitrogen-rich material for your pile to help balance the mix.  Sometimes when my compost stinks and doesn't work as expected, coffee grounds easily and instantly deodorizes the pile.  Plus, earthworms are naturally attracted to coffee grounds.

Repels pests
Why use toxic sprays when there's coffee grounds anyway?  Encircle the base of your plants with a generous amount of grounds to repel ants, snails, and slugs.  Ants don't like the strong coffee smell, while snails and slugs won't want to drag their slimy bodies across all that gritty matter, or else they don't like the caffeine.  

Deodorize your fridge.
Just like baking soda, used coffee grounds are great at deodorizing and neutralizing the collective odor of your fridge.  (This is especially helpful during those times I'm keeping durian in the fridge, which the rest of my family isn't so crazy about.) Just put the grounds in a small bowl and place in the back of the fridge.  After a week, you can take the grounds out (tossing them in the compost) and replace them with a fresh batch.

Deodorize your hands.
When smelly food lingers on your hands such as garlic, fish, and other seafood, reach for a handful of coffee grounds and rub all over your hands to deodorize.  Finish with soap and water.

Clean your pots and pans.
Keep a handy tub of old coffee ground in the kitchen because they make great pot scrubbers, especially when you've got stubborn grease and caked-on burned food.  Scrub gently.  

Exfoliate your skin.
Next time you shower, take a bowl of old coffee grounds and turn them into an excellent scrub and exfoliant.   Just mix with a few tablespoons of extra virgin coconut or olive oil and gently rub in a circular motion on your face and body.

Clean your hair.
Your hair could use a bit of coffee grounds too to strip off all that residue buildup from the various hair products you use.  Just work in a handful of coffee grounds into your hair and massage gently.

Dye your Easter eggs.
Stop using toxic acrylic paint to color Easter eggs.  Natural ingredients like coffee grounds, beets, and turmeric will do the job.  Simply boil four cups of water, add a tablespoon of vinegar and another tablespoon of salt and add your natural dye of choice.  Simmer, then allow to cool, then soak your eggs in for a couple of hours, and dry on tissue paper.

* * *

Beyond the garden, kitchen, and the bathroom, coffee grounds, old and new has many other fantastic uses.  So the next time you're at your favorite coffee shop, do them a favor and take a bag of used coffee grounds off of their hands.  

November 21, 2014

Trekking Pico de Loro

I never thought I would ever climb a mountain.  Beaches have always been our thing.  But mountains, how do we go about it?  Thankfully, Edge and I were invited by his officemates on a hike to Pico de Loro one fine October Tuesday.  They've been climbing mountains for quite some time now, and have their own group, the Bankers Mountaineering Club.  Nice friendly people I'll always be thankful to for showing me my first ever mountain.

L to R: Choy, Cris, Camps, Lily, Nathan, Grace, Cat, Nel
unnamed dog, Christian, Alvin, Edge, me, another unnamed dog.

Pico de Loro is so-called because there's a protruding rock on top resembling a parrot's beak.  It's in Maragondon, Cavite, just three and a half hours from Manila. 

Jump-off point is along Ternate Highway.  There's a PhP 25 fee at the DENR office where you have to register first.

On our way up we were accompanied by about five dogs from the sari-sari store in the DENR compound.  Ate Nancy who owns the store didn't specifically send her dogs with us, they just came along on their own accord.  

At first, I thought they'd last a good thirty minutes then get tired and head back down.  But they actually stuck around, leading the way.  Those darn dogs would be a little ahead of us in the trail, we'd find them sitting and lying about and all rested, while waiting for us humans to catch up.

At one point we lost track of the trail.  One dog hung around with us, while the others disappeared into the woods.  They were barking together as if to tell us, this way, this way.  It was getting dark so the dogs probably couldn't fetch us anymore, so we just continued with the clearest trail we could find.  By the time we got to the camp grounds, it was dusk.  Those friendly, intrepid dogs were already there of course, barking happily.  (Or probably they were just barking, what took you so long we're so hungry go feed us already.)  Our very own canine welcome committee. 

On our way down we stopped by the hidden falls in Pico de Loro.  The water in the pool is refreshingly cold, somewhat greenish, and about chest deep.  The noise is deafening under those falls, and they hit you with such force, like a good well-deserved massage.

The Leave No Trace billboard.  Tells you all you need to know about minimizing your presence along the trails and on the campgrounds because, man, we're already trespassing on nature as it is.  

Amidst the thick canopy of the big trees that hog all the sunlight, undergrowth such as this tiny flowering plant is such a sight to behold.  

It was around 2PM when we got back to the DENR station, well past the target lunchtime. That probably worried Ate Nancy, whom we'd earlier asked to kindly prepare us a nice lunch.  And yet there's still a sumptuous lunch waiting for us.  Ginisang ampalaya, nilagang manok, and bananas.  

Our dog guides, getting a well-deserved rest.  I wish we had gotten their names from the very start.  Apparently, two of them are named Pico and Loro, or maybe I heard wrong.  What about the three others?

November 20, 2014

Healthy Options Is One Pricey But Essential Health Store

Healthy Options has a lot to live up to, especially in these times when more and more people are becoming health-conscious.  

Sure enough, the place packs so many healthy and organic foodstuff that aren't available in regular groceries and supermarkets.  To use a non-PC term (sorry), Healthy Options is certainly a mecca for all the health-buffs out there.  Me and Edge only stumbled upon this place because I was looking for flaxseeds, just like the ones my aunt sends us from the US.  What do you know, Healthy Options has it, plus other Bob's Red Mill products too.

Because most of the products are imported, the price are somewhat steep here.  They say healthy living need not be expensive, but you have to bite the bullet here.

Flaxseed: chockful of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.

Dr. Woods Castile Soap because Castile Soap is the gentlest there is.  PhP 239.

I can't imagine how broth packed and shipped all the way from the US can be curative at all.  I want my chicken broth freshly made and served hot.  But apparently people buy this, so good for them.

November 19, 2014

Vinegar and Citrus Peels | Guilt-Free Kitchen Spray Cleaners

Cleaning the kitchen doesn't have to be a toxic endeavor.  If you try reading the labels of most commercial all-purpose cleaners, you'll find out that they're all essentially a cocktail of unpronounceable chemicals which may do the job efficiently.  But they also emit toxic fumes and leave harsh residues behind.  We all want a clean kitchen, but we don't want to poison the air, water, and our surroundings.  

Good thing there's vinegar.  Vinegar does a great job of removing stains, deodorizing, and killing germs.  And you don't have to worry about poisonous chemicals going down your drain and contaminating our already contaminated sewage system.  

In the old days, vinegar was the go-to cleaner of our grandparents, along with baking soda, borax, lemon, and salt.  I've often wondered why we've had to replace these simple, fuss-free, and safe ingredients with commercial cleaners.  Oh right, because they have to sell us something.

Anyway, this DIY all-natural cleaner is so easy to make.  Don't like the sour acidic smell of vinegar?  That's why we're using citrus peels to impart a nice fruity flavor.

You'll Need
White vinegar
Citrus peel (Oranges, Lime, Lemon, Grapefruit, etc.)
Glass jars
Spray bottle

1.  From now on, save the peels whenever you eat oranges, lemons, lime, and other citrus fruits.  If you've always thrown them in the compost, now you have an extra use for them.

2. Scrape off as much of the pulp from the peels, then place the peels inside a glass jar.

3. Pour in the vinegar.

4.  Allow the peels to soak for one or two weeks.  Actually, from the first few hours the solution already gets a nice citrusy scent.

5. Strain the vinegar into a spray bottle.  (Now your peels can go in the compost.)

6. Use full-strength, or dilute with a little water. 

7. Spray on tiles, windows, floors, and countertops.  You might want to test a bit of the cleaning solution on a small surface to check if it'll mar the finish.  Vinegar is acidic of course and can rob the sheen of granite and marble tops.

And there you have it: a guilt-free, all-natural, and thrifty cleaning spray for your kitchen.