Stuff I've eaten in the last 7 days

Best Meals I had in 2017

If food was the enemy (health wise), it was also the saviour; a good, satisfying meal is confirmation that life is far too short to be spent being always cautious (photos taken using the iPhone 7plus). 

Sisig

We went to the Auckland Night Markets over the weekend and a Filipino food stand was back selling beef kaldereta, laing/Bicol Express and pork sisig. I got the sisig ($7) and didn't really care about the kaldereta or the laing. I don't want to brag, but our family does better Filipino food than most; the kaldereta didn't even have olives.

But it's not easy making sisig so I grab any chance I get to buy it ready-made. It's not always guaranteed that it's made according to how I normally like my sisig. As it turned out, the sisig I bought could have done with a few other additions, but the familiar chewy, sticky texture was there along with that porky-sour-creamy taste, and that's just what you need really when you don't have the time to make it yourself. Heck, I get so desperate sometimes I even buy the canned sisig from the Asian store.

The great thing about sisig is that it comes with so many tweaks and I actually like them all- toasted, so that you get the crispy bits that stick to the pan; slightly moist and gelatinous punctuated with the nutty creaminess of the pork brain (gross to some, but the taste is sublime); intensely sour from a dousing of vinegar; or even westernised with slashings of mayonnaise.

I remember $2 pig-heads at the butcher in my first two years in New Zealand- you bought one, seasoned it, roasted it in the oven, chopped it all up as fine as you can, added onions (I would use both red and white) and seasoning, and grilled it just before serving. Obviously it's great with rice, but I can honestly eat it in spoonfuls just by itself, hot or cold.

I ate mine mixed with a kale and savoy cabbage salad.

How do you start...

..the day when this study says skipping it could be good for you (okay, fine; Huffington Post is not exactly a credible source) and some would say that the effects are exactly what I'm looking for- lowered blood pressure and cholesterol.

Filipino breakfasts I miss

Brekkie

I have about eight more days to go before my next blood-test for cholesterol and in the last couple of weeks, I had bacon only once. I also cut down on my eggs because it felt weird just having eggs without bacon. For me, this is the best breakfast combo- sure, I'll throw in a pancake or two or fresh white toast on occasion, but I'm happy with just the two.

I almost always cook the bacon in the oven without additional oil, and I never salt my eggs; it comforts me a little, these little nods to health. You only live once, so I say, do it moderately. Nothing is worse than being an extreme health nut and getting cancer or a tumour anyway, because it happens. 

So lately, I haven't been eating breakfasts at all save for my usual morning espresso and would have my first proper meal of the day at lunch, usually at 12:30. And I feel just fine. I've heard that this sort of 'fasting' may actually be beneficial. I also like the feeling of a tight, taut and empty stomach.

But I need my fibre, my complex carbs and my proteins and this morning I finally took a closer look at the cereal/breakfast aisle and saw all these...mmmmm..options

Food for days

I had my regular blood tests done recently and this time prior to taking it, I didn't try to 'control' the outcome which meant eating food I 'preferred' versus food I 'should be eating'. Mind you, I have a few healthy habits firmly ingrained- less or no sugar at all, low carb, low sodium- so it wasn't like I went crazy. But I did go crazy- on fats. 

I loooove fats. At parties where lechon is served, all I would have is a plateful of lechon-belly, just warm enough to feel the pork fat melt in my mouth like butter. 

My food diary for those eight weeks was filled with eggs (around half a dozen a week), bacon (every week), chicken wings and mayonnaise- mayo with chicken, mayo with eggs, mayo on white toast on days when I allowed myself to eat white bread (twice a month).

The thing with fats is that it's filling; I never feel hungry, hence, I never feel compelled to snack (to be fair, I haven't been a snacking sort of person). But obviously, having a predominance of fats in one's diet would have consequences even if you're physically active. I tried to google, 'do you burn all the fat that you eat' and it gave me a trove of conflicting answers. 

And that's the annoying thing about food and dieting- the obstacle is science itself- when it can't decide definitively if eggs are really bad for you or not. But worry less on what's on the outside and more what the state of your body is by the numbers. With an ideal (total) cholesterol level of less than 4.0 mmol/L (according to NZ health guidelines),  mine read 6.2. My current GP frowns at anything over the prescribed level as all doctors should I guess, but for me, it wasn't that bad- maybe I should've shown her my food diary. I was expecting it to be way, way higher.

So ditched the bacon for now and hoping for better numbers in the next couple of weeks when I do another blood-test.

DID YOU KNOW? 
Your liver typically produces approximately 75% of the cholesterol circulating in your blood - a diet high in saturated fat stimulates the liver to produce more cholesterol. 

The remaining 25% of your cholesterol is derived from the food you eat. This dietary cholesterol is present in animal foods – mainly in dairy products, meat, egg yolks, offal and shellfish. It is not present in plant foods. 

For these reasons, the saturated fat and cholesterol content of the food you eat are likely to have a strong influence on your blood cholesterol levels.

Other factors that may influence your blood cholesterol levels include:

  • Genetic susceptibility to high cholesterol
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes and liver or thyroid disorders
  • Being overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • High stress levels.

(via Southern Cross NZ)

Fish and chips Sunday

In a country where food choices are surprisingly few, I wouldn't complain if I had fish and chips every other day. There is always something inherently satisfying about a meal that has some carbs, a whole lot of fat, a fair amount of protein and the flavour of which you can calibrate with more salt if necessary (flaky salt is best); a dash of something sour (malt vinegar is rubbishly ineffectual in cutting through the fat, use native Philippine vinegar instead preferably one that you've spiked with chilies); or something surprising like Japanese mayonnaise and pungent horseradish.

Variety can also be achieved by buying your fish and chips from different places; no two are the same with significant variances in the batter (a nearly equal ratio of batter to fish-meat is best) and of course, the type of fish used. There's hoki (lemon fish?), tarahiki and snapper which I always go for even if it's slightly more expensive. Apparently, in the South Island, they commonly use Bluefin Gurnard and blue cod, both of which I still haven't had the chance of tasting.

When Jay first visited New Zealand he became enamoured with fish and chips and we wondered why in a country like the Philippines where seafood was virtually predominant, no one has thought of dipping boneless bangus in batter and putting it in the deep-fryer- and that's because it's dumb. And unnecessary- bangus is flavourful by itself, unmasked save for salt and pepper (but don't forget the dipping sauce of fish sauce and calamansi).  But white fish are inherently bland, hence, the mummification with eggs and flour. But I'm not complaining.

Happy birthday to this one...

My mother makes it a point to ring us on our birthdays. After the greetings have been dispensed with, it's mostly a catch-up on what's happening at home. Unlike dreaded text messages in the middle of the night, most of the news- admittedly grim ones- concern other people. Because really, there are only two kinds of news anyway right?

Binky hates it tho- what kind of news is that she complained to Doyet who told her about what had happened to Atchi Gina. But she's not the only one who chose to brush that away. When I was home last December mom had urged me to pay Atchi Gina a visit, but I really didn't want to. What does one say to someone who is dying from a mysterious condition that doctors couldn't diagnose?

These are people you've known your entire life, but the connections are now so tenuous, I feel as if the stories are not real. It seems like copping out, but I would choose to remember people as they were in the past- alive, healthy, happy.

And on a happier note, we settled on Chinese for Doyet's birthday.

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The cost of health

....is too much. The problem is neither poverty nor hunger, but food inequality. Everyone expects you to eat healthy but wait until you've finished ringing up your items and see how much damage it has done to your budget. To put it into perspective, the food in the photo above cost me $15; smoked salmon (because I need my Vitamin E, good cholesterol) was $9 and the salad (because I need my finer and my vitamins) was $5. And this was just for one lunch.

Fifteen dollars can get a size 14 dressed chicken, two servings of (fried) chips and a large soda; this is dinner for a family of four. Not the healthiest, but obviously your options are dictated by what you can afford.

Steak night

There are three beef dishes I long for, two of which I think I will never ever taste again:

1. Pigar-pigar; strips of beef, heavily seasoned with salt, pepper and MSG (!) at Dagupan's market stalls, best had starting at 11pm, fried with onions and mushrooms. And with a case or two of strong beer. Every time we try to make our version, it ends up being too watery and I think the problem is that we cook way too much of it in a small pan, with inadequate heat, and it ends up getting braised (you need a big wok, over gas flames). Looking forward to a kilo or two in December minus the beer probably.

2. Australian beef done ala Bistek Tagalog & done by my Tita (Aunt) Lita; the story if I can remember it right is that a maid of my aunt's married an Australian and that when she came back to the Philippines for a visit, she brought Aussie beef. And it was the best beef I ever had. I've heard the phrase 'melt in your mouth' so many times to describe beef and every single time, it was a flat out lie except for this one. And it wasn't just the way my aunt cooked it which was just a simple pan fry (I think), but it was also the quality of the beef itself. I've looked and tried and have eaten so many since then- in Australia and in New Zealand- and nothing has come close.

3. Beef steak as done by my dad; we've tried to replicate how he makes it but it's just never the same which begs the question, are we competing with a memory? The procedure is fairly simple; pan fry beef strips in oil until brown, add soy sauce and the finish off with the juice of calamansi. I remember grazing off the leftovers, cold in the refrigerator, with a fistful or two of rice. 

Living in beef country (where it's more accessible than lamb, ironically), I don't do that much beef, but when I do, it's a good slab of scotch fillet or sirloin. 

Here's a good way of doing one from the New York Times Food.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/dining/steak-that-sizzles-on-the-stovetop.html?contentCollection=smarter-living&hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

Start of the day & you're already (possibly) f_cked

On some days, I would have hot water with the juice of a whole lemon in it. But most of the time, I'd rather have coffee- black, no sugar. And instant, I'm not picky. On occasion I would indulge in half a teaspoon of raw sugar and a splash of cream. But coffee creamers are the best like Coffee Mate. It dissolves better than real cream and complements coffee like a true soul-mate would- which is why in the real world, it's too good to be true. 

Apparently it's mostly sugar and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which contains trans fats; you can read the entire rap sheet here if you're concerned that the half-teaspoon bit you had this morning has put you on the path to certain death.

And as for coffee itself, the latest news from the grapevine is that it cuts suicide risk in half. On one hand, having it hotter than 149 degrees puts you at risk for cancer of the esophagus. 

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Eggs are the best. Easy and versatile; fried, scrambled, boiled, baked with avocado, in an Eggs Benedict, in a pie with bacon. And raw- when I started working out in my early 30s I swallowed the whites mixed with milk and used the yolks for omelettes. 

If you find yourself asking the question if eggs are bad for you, don't Google for the answers. Don't rely on the opinions of self-proclaimed diet/lifestyle gurus who end up cherry-picking second-hand sources to suit their arguments. 

Go to your doctor and get tests for your cholesterol and triglyceride levels; it's the only way to get a definitive answer as to how the food you eat actually affects your body.

Growing up, if we ran out of kitchen staples such as vinegar or cooking oil, we could buy some in doled out smaller quantities at the barrio sari-sari store. Kept in jars, it would be an unlucky day if you discovered too late that the oil had gone off. I was surprised that de facto Philippine national cooking oil, Baguio oil is still a booming business after 84 years. We grew up on this oil and if your family had it good, you always had a full can.

It was around the new millennium that we started getting canola oil in plastic bottles and my mom's perennial complaint was that someone was probably drinking it because the two-litre jug would be empty in the blink of an eye. But since my dad's death, the days of fried fish, fried pork chop and fried chicken have become fewer and far in between and suddenly, the 'no cholesterol', 'high in Omega 3' claims that made fried food seem safe felt like lies.

Here in New Zealand, we still use canola oil though in a given week, it's more for sautéing rather than actual frying. I would gladly switch to something like olive oil (which I have now that I flat) but if you were a family of more than four, the economics of using olive oil exclusively would be daunting. So what to do when canola is masquerading as a good oil; that coconut oil is not the miracle substance it's made out to be; and that ALL vegetable oils may have contributed to increasingly high rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancer?

Consider that at the turn of the 20th century the amount of vegetable oils consumed was practically zero. Today the average consumption is 70 lbs a year per person.

Ahhh, processed meats. I wonder if Rodics is still around, that bastion of comforting and nourishing (!) processed-meat meals inside the University of the Philippines' Diliman campus. After pork belly, my next favourite go-to meat would have to be a 2 kilogram pack of Purefoods German Franks which harks back to those student meals. It wasn't just fitting for breakfast (with fried eggs and fried rice), it was also lunch, an afternoon snack, dinner, and on a sizzling plate with mushrooms, a ton of white onions and birds-eye chilies, a perfect accompaniment to a night's worth of gin and brandy with the guys.

While I like the occasional sausage, I just don't get Kiwis love of butchery sausages- pale, flaccid things with no flavour, more fillers than meat, saved only at your neighbourhood sizzle by caramelised onions and tomato sauce (far better than ketchup actually).

It ranks last in a short list that's topped by bacon (the Signature Range is THE BEST), seconded by sinfully juicy Kranskys, and chorizo, the best one of which I've found at Farro Fresh.

But alas, we knew deep in our hearts that something so wickedly good must be bad. When the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared last year that red meat and processed meats were definitely carcinogenic, we all felt like jilted lovers.

Sure, we've been deceived- but it's so good, we know we're still going to be up for some every so often.