Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Affirmations

I can’t believe it’s 2009. I felt that 2008 just passed by in a flash. I believe that after having abundant food last month, you are considering losing weight, eating healthier or having a detoxification as one of your new year’s resolution. But you can’t (yet) because you have a lot of leftovers in the fridge that you need to use up.

Since New Year is about new beginnings and having a fresh start, it’s worth mentioning that New Year is also about having a more positive perspective in life. We might have accumulated a lot of negative feedbacks, harmful thoughts and damaging words from other people including ourselves that we need to cleanse our minds with positive affirmation. It is always a challenge to reprogram our brain on the subconscious level to replace pessimistic thoughts with something optimistic. But when you are bombarded with depressing situations tied up with insensitive people who deplete you (and they're everywhere), you need to detoxify and protect yourself with powerful words that would condition your mind to think more confidently about who you are. If you’re a late bloomer like me and you felt that you haven’t accomplished a lot of achievements in life, then you’re wrong, because you already have. Break free from traditions that you need to be successful in order to have achievements in life. You don’t need to conform to society. Listen and know your true self.

One of the best ways to reinforce positive affirmations about yourself is to create your own word cloud, print it and post it on your wall where you can see it everyday. You can type any words that relates to who you are, what you like, what you like to achieve and what you like to create. Since I forgot how to upload the word cloud that I have recently created, here’s the updated one.

To create your own word cloud, visit

Have a properous New Year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holistic Cooking

I’ve been interested in cooking and nutrition since I was 17. When I majored in nutrition in college, I thought there was something defective. I felt that nutrition more than 10 years ago was too conventional, which focuses mainly on figures, calories and scientific findings. Although they are important, it is not the kind of nutrition that I was searching for. So, after one semester, I dropped my nutrition course and pursued a career in hotel management and then formalized my studies in culinary arts. But a few years later, I became interested in holistic nutrition (and then some) when my father was diagnosed with cancer.

Food and nutrition are inseparable. Today and beyond, the focus on nutrition is not just based on rigid information but it’s about embracing an integrated and profound holistic point of view where a healthy body is connected with a healthy environment. It is natural nutrition where quality nutrients are more important than counting calories and whole foods are superior to processed foods.

Whole foods are foods that are close to its natural state, without additional processing and refining. They are natural, live, and of good quality. These also mean that they are not genetically modified and irradiated, and they are free from chemicals, preservatives, hormones and antibiotics. When people including professional cooks and chefs choose to cook with these qualities, it is called holistic cooking (in my own personal opinion). And when food is used as a medicine, I call it therapeutic cooking.

Holistic cooking employs a new food culture that supports wholesomeness, nutrition, freshness and flavor. Raising awareness of good food and food values generates partaking in protecting the environment, treating animals humanely, protecting our soil and respecting the farmers. This elates to using and cooking whole, nutrient dense foods that are grown organically and locally as much as possible.

There is an immense concern about whether to buy local produce that is conventionally grown or buying organic produce that is produced overseas or visa versa. I certainly do believe that organic is way much better for us and for the environment but there should also be room for flexibility in this realistic world. Sometimes you have to weigh the situation that not everyone can afford to buy organic ingredients. As much as possible I buy produce that are locally grown except for imported grains, legumes, nuts and seeds as I’m starting to love working with them.

As a cook, I have the right to know where food comes from, what the plant looks like, how they are grown and harvested as well as knowing what kind of feed is the chicken or the pig having. Actually, learning how to cook should also start in the garden or the farm. Although culinary schools teach you the basic skills and fundamentals in becoming a better cook and eventually a successful chef, being involved with food sustainability and agriculture is equally significant. I understand that chef instructors have a big influence to reach out to their students, not only in developing their skills and character as a professional cook but also in persuading them about the holistic point of view of cooking.

I believe that my cooking is going in this direction. I was telling myself that I should have done this a long time ago but even if this information was provided to me when I was 17 years old, I think I won’t be ready to accept it wholeheartedly.

I regret not having to actively partake in global consciousness when I was still in cooking school but it’s not yet too late to be a part of the solution. Besides, in food and cooking, the health of an individual and the health of the environment are holistically balanced and harmonized in palate, plate and planet.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Soba Noodles with Peanut Dressing

There were times that I’m really lazy to cook. And when I am lazy, I try cook to something very easy or I don’t cook at all. Well, maybe for a change I wanted someone to cook for me. But then again, even if I stay away from the kitchen, I always think in advance on what I am going to cook the following day (but sometimes I don’t). I have this automatic message in my brain that there are leftovers in the fridge that needs to be used up. I don’t think I am alone in this. All of us have lazy days and we want something fast but still taste delicious and healthy.

I’ve made this soba noodles with peanut dressing before but I wasn’t happy with the results. And then I thought I must be using the peanut butter from the supermarket that’s been sitting in the cupboard for a few months now. We all know that supermarket-bought peanut butter is made with hydrogenated oils and other inferior ingredients. So, I decided to make it again the other day, but this time with organic peanut butter which is made only with peanuts and nothing else. There’s a huge difference in price but big distinction in taste.

I actually thought I was just going to make the soba noodles and the peanut dressing. Talking about being lazy, I suddenly added a few more ingredients such as baked firm tofu flavored with a mixture of miso paste, lemon juice, honey and soy sauce. Then, I added some blanched broccoli, green onions and toasted sesame seeds.

If you already have the soba noodles and this dressing, you can eat it on it's own or you may add other ingredients that you like depending on your mood and what you have in your fridge. I ended up dipping the cooked tofu and broccoli in the leftover peanut dressing while eating the noodles from the bowl.

The dressing can be made ahead of time but add the freshly grated ginger before serving as the the flavor dissipates overtime. I always choose thin-skinned ginger as they are more flavorful and less fibrous that the thick-skinned ones. Sometimes, I add a lot of ginger when I feel worn out. I didn’t add any heat to the dressing but a few red chili pepper flakes would be wonderful.

In the end, this dish is just about soba noodles and the peanut dressing and the rest is up to you.

Soba Noodles with Peanut Dressing

Soba Noodles

  • 300 grams soba noodles (about 5 bundles)

Peanut Dressing

  • 1-½ inch ginger root (about 2 tbsp grated ginger)
  • ½ cup organic peanut butter
  • ¼-1/3 cup of hot water
  • ¼ cup Bragg’s Liquid Aminos or other natural soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp pure black sesame oil

To cook the noodles, heat a pot of water to a boil. When the water is boiling, lower the heat slightly and add the soba noodles and for about 5-7 minutes. Drain through a colander and rinse with water. Drain well.

To prepare the peanut dressing, peel and grate the ginger. Add the peanut butter and hot water. Stir with a whisk until combined, and then add the rest of the ingredients. If the mixture is too thick, add a little bit more water.

To serve, divide soba noodles into individual bowls and drizzle with peanut dressing. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and chopped green onions if desired.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

When Dark is Beautiful

If there’s one thing in this world that I wouldn’t give up, it’s probably dark chocolate. (Actually, it’s just one of those things.) That silky, smooth, satin-like sensation is so incredible and satisfying that no one in this world could ever ruin that moment. It’s first-class comfort at the tip of your hands. It’s either you want to have another piece of it or save it for another day. But you won’t be able to resist having another one, right?

My mom once bought a popular brand of chocolate. Since it is written “special dark” on the label, she thought that this chocolate is a real dark chocolate. . But it’s all about marketing. They know that dark chocolate has good amounts of flavonoids (one of the antioxidants), so they joined the bandwagon. After tasting it, my teeth became so sensitive I thought I need to go to the dentist. The chocolate was so sweet that I need to flush it out with a glass of water and even brush my teeth. It was disgusting.

When buying chocolates, always choose dark but read the label and the nutrition information before buying a really good real dark chocolate. Look for dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa. And most chocolate companies have now discovered to make dark chocolate that keeps up to 95% of its flavonoids. You just have to search for them.

Here are a few reasons why dark chocolate is good for you:

Chocolate improves your mood. Chocolate contains hundreds of different chemicals (the good ones) and they are endorphins, phenylethylamine and serotonin. These feel-good chemicals act like anti-depressants on the brain.

They contain a good source of fat. Although they contain saturated fat in the form of 35% stearic acid and 25% palmitic acid, a good proportion is 35% oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fatty acid, found in olive oil and known to have positive effects on cardiovascular system. Its principal lipid, stearic acid, a saturated fat, is only weakly absorbed into the body, where it is partially transformed (about 15%) into oleic acid by the liver.

They contain nutrients. Cocoa bean is rich in vitamins B1, B2 and D, as well as essential minerals magnesium and iron.

They are a good source of antioxidants. They contain flavonols and polyphenols, antioxidants found in various plants that help to protect the body from damaging molecules called free radicals. Flavonols (also found in berries, fruits, vegetables and red wine) have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Polyphenols (also found in green tea) are also capable of exercising beneficial effects on some chronic illnesses, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. But in order for dark chocolate to be beneficial, they should contain about at least 70% cocoa mass.

It’s a good alternative to coffee. Cocoa does not give you the caffeine buzz. It keeps the mind alert without the nervous disturbance but at the same time it helps you to calm down because of its magnesium content.

It’s good for the environment. Cocoa is the seed of a rainforest tree, so growing it helps support the endangered rainforest areas. It can also be good for the farmers whose income depend on that land. Just make sure to look for chocolates labeled “fair trade certified.”

Chocolate is “divine”. Need I say more?

So, when you are feeling run-downed, depressed or the world is on your shoulders, have a piece of dark chocolate (in moderation), close your eyes, take a deep breath, relax and allow the chocolate to melt in your mouth and release those burdens away even for just a few moments.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Chicken Soup for the Soul

I received a very bad news last Thursday morning. So bad I thought I wouldn’t be able to move on because I depended on it for almost 5 years. For all the years that I’ve waited for a hopeful answer, I thought I deserve it more than anybody else.

I have scheduled to make this soup last Thursday afternoon. I was about to just cancel it and do it another day. But I decided to make the soup anyway. Besides, what’s the point of sulking in my room knowing that there’s nothing more I can do?

For this soup, I used one whole organic native chicken. This type of chicken is different from the usual chicken as they take longer to cook. Cooking methods required are steaming or simmering. Pan-searing would result in a tough meat. After washing the chicken, I placed it on a large pot with slices of ginger and water, bring it to simmer, skim off the scum, cover slightly and cook the chicken for at least 40 minutes to an hour depending on the weight of the chicken, then take it off the heat, cover and let it sit for about another 30 minutes. It was the way dad cooks it when we’re sick.

As the chicken cooks, I set myself aside for stillness and told myself: Everything’s going to be all right. Just ignore the negative things that people say about you such as you’re wasting your time and talent because you are exactly at the right place and at the right time. Just hang on a little bit longer. You deserve all the good things life has to offer because you are worth it. Even if you have failed so many times in life, that’s okay too because life is not all about career or earning a lot of money. You can have as many setbacks as you like in your life because it shows that your life makes a difference in other people. You are doing great. Just hang on.

I bet the chicken has something to say to himself as well. The chicken prefers no antibiotics, hormones, chemicals or GE food. They want to grow on a stress-free environment so they will have a strong immune system. And they definitely want to be treated humanely. The chicken wants to be cooked whole over low heat so it can produce a tender and succulent flesh; the broth is clear and lightly-flavored. But if the chicken is badly cut up into pieces and cook over a higher heat, it will cook faster but some chicken parts will result in a tough and stringy flesh; the broth is cloudy and muddy-tasting.

When the chicken is already done, I transferred it to a bowl and allow it to cool slightly before removing the flesh from the bone. I strained the broth to another clean pot and bring it up to simmer and added the pearl barley. When the pearl barley is already cooked, I added the chicken to heat through. Season it with a little bit if salt and it’s ready to serve. I realized that after eating it, what I want is just chicken soup, not chicken and barley soup. So, yesterday afternoon, I cooked another piece of whole chicken.

We all have wants in life. There’s something in your life right now that you really, really, really want. Maybe you have received it but it’s unfavorable. But keep on hoping because you will receive it at the right time. During those tough times, you really need to dig deep into finding inspiration and motivation from the little things and successes you’ve accomplished from the past. Hold on to that inspiration to help you keep going and stir you in the right direction. Just keep on keeping on even if you’ve been on a stagnant pool for so many years. Your best days are yet to come.

When the chicken is already done (again), I did the same procedure as of last week. I could have added something more such as vegetables or noodles. But for now, it’s exactly how I wanted it. It’s just the chicken and the lightly salted broth garnished with cilantro. It’s light, flavorful, restful, peaceful and forgiving. This nutritious soup does the body and spirit good. It’s a breath of fresh air that restores me to face the world courageously.

People are always looking for complexity in life – conclusive evidence, documents, requirements and resumes to prove that you are worthy but one thing that people fail to look at is how you survived in a non-English speaking country, how you exude grace when you gave up your career for years to take care of your ailing father or how you rise up when you fall.

Just like this chicken soup, it could have been tastier when you added more ingredients. But if you don’t have any other ingredients at hand, the chicken and broth alone don’t need to prove anything that its flavor and healing properties can stand up on its own.