Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Breakfast in a Glass

What do you eat for breakfast? Well, it's not always easy to find time to prepare and eat breakfast in today's fast-paced society. You eat on the run, you eat in the car, you eat everywhere except sitting down. When you don't have the time to sit down and eat a good breakfast, then smoothies can be one of the things that you can include in your lifestyle. Smoothies are a great introduction to healthy eating. All you have to do is toss together all the ingredients in a blender and blend.

The good thing about living in a tropical country is that I could drink smoothie almost anytime of the year, even in November. But if you live where winter exists, then drinking smoothie is not a good idea. But you can still make a smoothie made with fall fruits. For some people, they can tolerate iced-cold smoothies but for those with weak digestive system, smoothies made with chilled fruits are better.

To make a smoothie, you need a good blender, some fresh and/or frozen fruits, your imagination and a little bit of your time. Once you’ve tried a few recipes, you can experiment on your own. Just taste as you go because ingredients have different levels of sweetness. For instance, some pineapples are too acidic while others have the right amount of sweetness and tartness.

To transform your fruit smoothie into a powerhouse breakfast, even a simple lunch or a snack, you can add a few more ingredients. Smoothies are a great vehicle for many food supplements, such as bee pollen, lecithin, granules, hemp protein, green super-food like blue green-algae or spirulina and ground or soaked seeds. Green leafy vegetables can also be added for a green smoothie. You can also add a liquid base to make your smoothies thinner such as coconut juice, orange juice, apple juice, and nut or grain milk. Dried fruits such as apricots, prunes and dates that have been soaked overnight are also a great addition. For thicker and full-bodied smoothies, just use less liquid and add some yogurt, tofu, peanut/nut butter or tahini paste. You can make them like dreamsicles or ice-cream shake quality.

Because of its smooth, silky and creamy texture, smoothies, just like soups are great for people who have cancer, those who have gone through root canal or dental implant and even for those who have temporomandibular joint disorder.

There's no more excuse for skipping breakfast. Smoothies are easy to make, they fill you up, easy to digest and they taste delicious. So get your blender, start blending and reap the benefits.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bringing Back the Real Umami

I’ve been seeing a lot of advertisements on television and in the newspapers about umami through the use of MSG (monosodium glutamate). They are endorsed by celebrities and even celebrity “chefs”, using it in every dish that they make on TV. Monosodium glutamate, a single sodium of glutamic acid was developed 100 years ago. It was discovered that the taste was produced by glutamate contained in kombu and named it umami.

Umami, is a savory taste imparted by glutamate (converted from glutamine and glutamic acid), an amino acid neurotransmitter that excites our neurons. In its whole, unprocessed, unadulterated form, glutamic acid has a lot of benefits for the body such as fuel for the brain cells. But in the form of monosodium glutamate or free glutamic acid, it can be bad in large quantities.

As one of the excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamic acid can stimulate neurons in the brain system, which alters neuron system activity and triggers headaches, tingling, numbness and chest pain. They can do a lot of harm such as neuron damage. Even if doesn’t damage the neurons, it can cause mental problems most especially with autistic kids. It causes them to lose control and focus in whatever they do. It also overexcites the nerve impulse that certain emotions cannot be controlled. And that includes all adults.

MSG also tricks the brain into thinking that whatever you’re eating is the best thing that you’ve ever had, causing you to consume more and more of the product. That’s why children are so excited about eating processed foods and fast foods such as French fries, chicken nuggets, potato chips and almost all processed products found in the supermarket. Another tricky part is that MSG is disguised in different names.

There are so many products out there that are controlling our taste receptors, misleading us (most especially children) to the real taste of food and that include certain restaurants. MSG is controlling our taste buds. But the way I see it, it is already controlling our lives by deceiving us about what genuine food should really taste.

I don’t believe the addition of MSG to enhance the flavor of a certain ingredient or the dish itself is necessary. Why don’t we just allow the natural flavors of each food to shine through simple and natural ways? Why do we need to trick our brain that something that tastes bad, tastes good?

Some organizations are actively promoting the discovery of umami through a product promoted by “chefs”. I don’t have any problems promoting the umami flavor through the use of real and traditional food but when it’s used in processed form such as MSG, then I have something to say. As celebrity "chefs", why would they use MSG to enhace the flavor in their cooking?

It is clear that the flavoring practices of culinary tradition cannot be replaced by an isolated and concentrated product. When you cook with fresh and whole ingredients armed with the proper cooking skills and technique, the food will definitely tastes good.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dashi Stock

When you don’t have any chicken stock in your kitchen, dashi stock is a great alternative to have in hand. Dashi stock imparts a subtle, clean and less complex flavor and allows the essence of other ingredients in a dish to come through. This Japanese basic stock is made from konbu or kombu (dried seaweed) and katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and sometimes dried sardines or dried shiitake mushrooms.

The stock from the first soaking is called the ichiban dashi which has the finest flavor and is used to make miso soup. The second stock is called niban dashi which is made by simmering the same ingredients from the ichiban dashi for about 15 minutes to extract a light-flavored dashi. This stock is used in stews and other dishes with more ingredients or stronger flavors. I always end up making only the ichiban dashi as I use the kombu for cooking beans but it is wise to reuse the bonito flakes to make another pot of stock as Japanese ingredients are not cheap.

While chicken and other stocks require hours of simmering, dashi stock is much to simpler to make. But the secret to the pure umami flavor of dashi stock is the long-intensive process required to produce the kombu and the dried bonito flakes. Two years are needed to cultivate the kombu before being carefully sun-dried and six months are required to make the dried flakes from the fresh bonito.

This stock is also convenient for home cooks as kombu and bonito flakes can be stored in your pantry. So, when the need for a soup stock arises, the only other ingredient you need to have is water. Although dashi stock can be stored in the refrigerator (1 week) or in the freezer (about 1 month), I always make dashi stock fresh all the time and use it in less than 1 week.

Dashi Stock
  • 4 cups cold water
  • 1 large piece of kombu seaweed (about 3x6 inches)
  • 1 cup packed bonito flakes

Wipe the kombu with damp kitchen paper. In a large pot, combine the water and seaweed and let it soak for 20 minutes (for some, they allow it to sit for an hour). Then, heat the water and seaweed over medium heat. Just before the water boils, remove the konbu with a slotted spoon. Then, add the bonito flakes and turn off the heat.

Let the bontio flakes steep in the kombu-infused water for 5 minutes and allow it to sink to the bottom of the pot.

Strain the stock through a strainer lined with cheesecloth into a clean pot or container. If you're not using the stock right away, cool the stock by placing the pot onto an iced bath. When cooled, store (covered) in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze it for longer storage.


Bonito flakes differ in sizes. When you're using the large and thick flakes, use about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of bonito.

To make the second stock, pour another 4 cups of water into a pot and return the seaweed and bonito flakes used for making the first stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. Add another 1/2 to 1 cup of bonito flakes and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and wait for 5 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and use as required.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Toasted Sesame Seeds and Miso Dressing

Fish and Seafood
Mediterranean Style Squid Stew
How to Make Proper Fish Cakes

Basic Millet
Forbidden Rice Risotto with Roasted Pumpkin and Chinese Broccoli
Pineapple Quinoa with Goji Berries and Arugula
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Quinoa Stuffed Shiitake Mushrooms
Savory Breakfast Brown Rice Bowl

Pasta, Noodles and Other Starches

Braised Beef Short Ribs on Potato Gnocchi
Conchiglie with Avocado, Tomato and Prawns
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Gongonzola Sauce

Meat and Poultry

Braised Beef Short Ribs on Potato Gnocchi
Chicken Parmigiana
Moroccan-Inspired Braised Chicken

Beet and Lentil Salad
Celery, Wakame and Green Onion Salad
French Green Bean, Avocado and Mandarin Orange Salad
French Green Bean, Roasted Red Onion and Fresh Cheese Salad
Grilled Prawns with Ginger Mango Salsa
Red Cabbage, Jicama and Hijiki Salad
Soba Noodles with Peanut Dressing
Sweet Potato Salad
Tropical Fruit Salad
Warm Green Beans, Chicken and Orange Salad

Fresh Cheese, Cherry Preserve and Basil Sandwich
Black-Eyed Peas Fritters and Roasted Cauliflower Pita Sandwich

Adzuki Bean and Shiiitake Mushroom Soup
Chilled Avocado and Cucumber Soup
Roasted Chicken and Brown Rice Soup
Roasted Pumpkin and Chickpea Soup
Soothing Red Lentil and Tomato Soup
Spring Vegetables and Brown Rice Soup
Tony’s Soup of Blessings
Watermelon Gazpacho
White Bean and Roasted Garlic Soup

Dashi Stock
Immune Boosting Chicken Stock

Basic Millet
Beet and Lentil Salad
Black-Eyed Peas Fritters and Roasted Cauliflower Pita Sandwich
Celery, Wakame and Green Onion Salad
Creamy Homemade Nut Milk
Daifuku (Mochi with Adzuki Bean Paste)
French Green Bean, Avocado and Mandarin Orange Salad
French Green Bean, Roasted Red Onion and Fresh Cheese Salad
Gluten-Free Korean Pancakes
Lentil Stew
Pineapple Quinoa with Goji Berries and Arugula
Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
Quinoa Stuffed Shiitake Mushrooms
Red Cabbage, Jicama and Hijiki Salad
Savory Breakfast Brown Rice Bowl
Sesame and Bonito Flake Crusted Tofu
Toasted Sesame Seeds and Miso Dressing
Turmeric, Ginger and Lemon Tonic Tea

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Call of Adventure

Frances Mayes' Under the Tuscan Sun is one of my all-time favorite books. I’m still fascinated on the beauty and simplicity of life and food in Italy. I’ve been to Italy once during my mid-term break from hotel school but it was only a short trip with close friends. But that short trip is as exciting as reading the book and I’m still determined to go back to Italy one day, whether in Tuscany, Sienna or back in Rome.

But this book is not just about the memoirs of cooking, eating, moving and living in Italy. This bestselling book reminds me of listening to your voice of adventure. It’s about taking chances in life, abandoning your comfort zone, moving beyond your fears, following your heart and just going with the flow of life. Then there’s your courage and your inner strength that persuades you to live with gusto and passion but are afraid to do so.

There is a fire in your heart that ignites that passion. It could be moving overseas, adopting a child, changing careers, learning a new cuisine in Brazil, learning a new language in Korea, taking that dance class or maybe as simple as changing your daily routine. Some of us are afraid to take that leap of faith but I think we should be more afraid if we didn’t even try.

So, what is the flame in your heart that kindles your passion that if you don’t do anything, it will consume you? Maybe it's not safe, but what is?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cooking with Whole Foods

This morning, I received an email from the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition to inform me that I am now a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. Being trained in a professional culinary school, it’s good to know that I have something to include to my repertoire. I may not have been working professionally for the past five years but my late-father’s battle with diabetes and cancer including his death has been a profound learning experience. I think he became my connection between food and nutrition but at the same time I’ve also have fears whether I still want to cook or not. It was an erratic commitment. But now, I am sure that cooking will always be one of my passions in life because I am confident that when I cook, I cook with a purpose. Though I am not sure what lies ahead, I am optimistic that supernatural doors will be opened for me.

These past few years, it has been a challenge to incorporate whole foods into my diet, my cooking and in my kitchen most especially when some people are not willing to make that change. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds supported by fresh and clean animal protein are considered whole foods. But what about processed and refined foods that are sneaking into our kitchen, deceiving us that they are healthy for our body?

When my father was confined in the hospital for 14 months, I ate cafeteria food which was a full-diet delivered to the patient’s room. The tray is composed of fried fish, chicken and beef, a bowl of white rice, a few leaves of overcooked vegetables and a chocolate bar filled with sugar. That tray consisted of three kinds of protein in just one meal!!! I tolerated their food for two months but I came to my senses that I have choice to eat healthier foods. Besides, the foods that I eat will determine what the tissues of my body, my organs and my skeletons will be made of today and tomorrow.

A good place to start when cooking with whole foods is to ditch the fast foods, processed foods, junk foods and also fake foods such as artificial sweeteners, MSG and hydrogenated fats. Technology has been developed to produce good-tasting, longer-lasting foods. However, these foods are not designed for the body to be digested. Remember, advertisers are great deceivers. Also, some natural foods found in the supermarket may appear nutritious but are actually loaded with anti-nutrients that can cause harmful effects in the body.

The farmer’s market is a great place to purchase your whole foods. There, you will find different arrays of fruits and vegetables that will awaken your senses. But the supermarket or whole foods market is also another place to stock up on staples such as brown rice, oats and other grains, dried legumes, nuts and seeds, unrefined oils and vinegars, spices, cans of tomatoes and even cans of beans and chickpeas. In a nutshell, focus on the quality and freshness of the food and absolutely insist that what you’re eating is real and gorgeous. You deserve it.

Making changes can be taxing but you don’t need to do it all at once. You can begin by eliminating the white stuff from your pantry such as white sugar and white flour (except for pastry cooks =)). That alone would make a lot of difference. Although white rice is still eaten at home, I’ve included healthier and tastier grains into my kitchen. It’s like spring cleaning – out with the old and in with the new. Out with the processed, refined and denatured foods and in with the unprocessed, unrefined, unadulterated foods.

Cooking with whole food is about real food that is good and delicious. It is also about cooking, eating and living with pleasure but still has the supernatural ability to heal and nourish our body, mind and soul.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Hi. My name is Divina from the Philippines and welcome to Sense and Serendipity. My interest in cooking started at the age of 17 but even at an earlier age I’ve been helping my late-father in the kitchen along with my brothers and sisters. My father’s influence was the start of my love for cooking. Although I was trained in a culinary school at Les Roches International School of Hotel Management in Switzerland and at Dubrulle Culinary Institute in Canada to become a professional cook, I gave up pursuing my career to become a chef. When my father was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal cancer last June 2003, I stopped working to become my father’s full-time caregiver for four years until he passed away. Within those years, my curiosity for health and nutrition came back to life. I learned health and nutrition in a different perspective most especially when my father stayed at the hospital for 14 months. I realized that health is not just about the food that we eat, but the air we breathe, the water we drink, the thoughts we think and the relationships that we have. Food encompasses all aspects of our life and it’s a cycle that cannot be broken but a continuous series of events that has to be maintained.

I cook, write, and photograph everything on this blog. Through this blog, I’ve discovered talents and skills that I thought I never had before. I’ve learned that I love photography while my friend noticed that I write beautifully. While my passion for cooking, nutrition and photography is evident for most people, I do have frustrated dreams such as becoming a professional dancer or a violinist. I have a lot of dreams in life(isn’t everybody) and one of them of them is to have my own cookbook published internationally.

I just finished a course in Natural Nutrition through Distance Education at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition and currently finishing the Advanced Nutrition Program. I am also presently looking for a job in the field of food and holistic nutrition and might pursue a career in professional photography.

About Sense and Serendipity

The origin of this blog dates back when I wanted to accomplished something for myself after taking care of my late-father for almost four years. This blog was an encouragement of a friend who asks me to start blogging my kitchen experiments which turned out to be something more. This blog is about my passion for food and cooking, about health and nutrition combined together which focuses on the quality of the food rather than the rigid theories behind it.

Sense and Serendipity is part food, part health and nutrition, and part life. I’ve been known for healthy recipes by other food bloggers. But the word healthy would mean different to many people. The focus of this blog would be on fresh and holistic approach to health and nutrition by cooking with whole, natural and real foods.

Behind the Blog Name

I wanted to choose a blog name that doesn’t relate to health and nutrition but a word or a blog name what would relate to our whole being. The first thing that came to my mind is the word “sense” which is the perfect word because of the involvement of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch in food and cooking. I always want people to be sensual when they cook and eat. But I needed another word to complete the title and “sensibility” was the next word because of its association with the movie: Sense and Sensibility. But it still doesn’t make sense and I started writing phrases that would make a great title. Some of them are corny while the others are too formal. So, I went back to the word “sensibility”. And the only word that slightly rhymes is “serendipity” which is a word that I absolutely love (also love the movie)
Serendipity is finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it. For me, it also means being at the right place, at the right time and at the right moment whether in your career, relationships, family and life in general. These are chance meetings and refreshing encounters in unexpected moment. It’s unrehearsed and it’s full of good surprises. And it could happen to food as well

If you have any questions, suggestions and other comments, you can contact me at:

divina.pe1176 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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