Sunday, June 30, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Weeding out the competition

For the past few sessions, our teachers kept telling us that field management depends on the conditions on the ground. There's no one approach that applies to all situations. That same principle applies to weed management. We had to know the enemy before we can do something about it.

On June 11, the Rice Survivors were introduced to the the weeds our rice seedlings would be up against. To guide us through the complicated world of weeds, we've got weed and farming system experts introduce us to these pesky plants.

There are weeds that thrive on dry land and those that love the water. Obviously, to prevent the growth of those dry land weeds, we have to keep the rice fields flooded. But that will allow the water lovers to grow. So, as usual, the Rice Survivors need to find that balance in weed management. 

Water, however, is not the only tool we have to keep weeds off the fields. According to the experts, we have to make sure that land preparation is conducted properly and that we are using good quality (i.e., no weed seeds included) rice seeds. Knowing the history of the field we are using also helps, according to them, because then we'd know if the fields have been used previously and what treatments have been conducted on the fields. There is also always the option of using herbicides, of course, and selecting which type to use opens us to a lot more options!

So many things added to what we have to think about! Who, aside from farmers, would have thought that rice farming is this complicated?!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Culinary arts lesson #4: Don't forget to bring chemistry in the kitchen.

Back in college, I had a classmate whose hands got exposed to phenol, a chemical that transforms into phenolic acid (which causes nasty burns) when mixed with water. Because of this incident -- plus a few others that involved my MCB 101 classmates almost burning the lab down -- one professor remarked: " Don't forget to connect what you've learned in Chemistry class to what you're doing in other subjects". Then, I wasn't integrating ideas from different disciplines, except Human Physiology (HFDS 12, if I remember correctly) and Microbial Physiology (MCB 120) with Biochemistry (Chem 160.1).

As I attend the Fundamentals of Culinary Arts in ISCAHM these days, I notice that the instructors -- Chef Kenneth, Chef Joey, Chef Manoj, and Chef Rudolf -- are emphasizing the science behind the way food is prepared and cooked. I find it fascinating that the things I had learned in college, which I've always treated as concepts I only keep in school, are actually applicable in the kitchen. 

How? Here are a few examples...

Solvents, such as water, always move from regions of low solute concentration to areas of high solute concentration in order to maintain equal concentration between the two regions. In the cases of biological systems, the movement of water may occur through semi-permeable materials (such as the cell membrane).

In preparing food, this movement of water is the very reason why salt is added to fruits and vegetables during mise-en-place. Cucumbers and pineapples are two of these items that have very high moisture content. For certain dishes, these fruits have to be really dry and so salt is added to them to draw out the moisture from the plant cells. Osmosis is also the reason why salt is added just before meat is cooked (i.e., grilling and frying): the meat needs to remain moist; if the salt is added to early (or if the marinade is really salty) water is removed unintentionally and the meat eventually becomes dry.

Starch chemistry and functional properties
Potatoes and cereals are some of the major sources of peoples' caloric intakes. The calories (carbohydrates) come in the form of starch. There are two forms of starch, amylose and amylopectin; they are basically made up of glucose molecules that are attached differently: amylose is made up of glucose units stuck together in a linear fashion while amylopectin is composed of glucose units arranged in a branched pattern. The amylose content is known to affect the texture of cooked starchy foods while amylopectin structure affects their cooking time.

The starch composition of potatoes, as Chef Kenneth mentioned in one of our classes, defines how we should use the potatoes. There are those that are good for baking and that are good for boiling; then there are "general purpose" potatoes like the ones sold here in the Philippines. Chef Manoj, on the other hand, talks about different water ratios when cooking Basmati and jasmine rice types on stove tops and in rice cookers.

Back in the day when I was a Chemistry student, my teachers were discussing the different types of mixtures (such as colloids, suspensions, solutions, and emulsions). In class, I've encountered emulsions and suspensions so far. Chef Kenneth taught us how to make mayonnaise (an emulsion of oil and egg yolk), and vinaigrette (an emulsion of olive oil and vinegar) during the Salads and Dressings class. Chef Rudolf taught us how to make Hollandaise sauce (emulsion of egg yolk and butter) in our Sauces class. Chef Manoj emphasized the importance of cornstarch suspended in water as a thickening agent for the chicken teriyaki sauce. 

If there's one thing I've learned so far, it is this: Culinary arts is scientific too!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My birthday wish/shopping list for 2013

My birthday is coming up exactly one week from today. With seven days left, I list down my birthday wish list. Unlike the things I've listed in my 2011 wish list/ shopping list, I haven't acquired any of the things on this list yet. Let's see how many of these I'll be able to get or to do this year.

1. Noise-reducing or noise-canceling headphones
2. Ergonomic keyboard
3. Pretty flatware (spoons and forks)
4. Vacation (anywhere!!)
5. Visit the masterpieces inside the National Art Gallery in Manila
6. Copper pots and pans
7. A good chef's knife
8. Road trip to Ilocandia (yes, up to Pagudpud)
9. Try wakeboarding (must drop by the wake park in Nuvali sometime this year)
10. Chocolate mousse birthday cake

Saturday, June 22, 2013

a crash course on traditional Filipino houses

On Dr Jose Rizal's birthday this year, I was back in historic Manila with Ate Bing, Ate Mary, and Manuel. But instead of visiting him, we opted to soak up on Philippine culture. Our first stop: the Cultural Center of the Philippines' (CCP) Museo ng Kalinangang Pilipino

Aside from the musical instruments, I noticed the dioramas about Filipino homes. Filipinos living by the sea (the 'sea gypsies', Sama Dilaut or Badjao) have boathouses; those who live in the mountains, like the Bagobos, have developed interconnected houses in the trees; Filipinos who live along the path of the strongest typhoon winds, such as the Ivatans, have developed houses of thick limestone walls; and people who live in calmer conditions used bamboo and nipa to construct their houses, like the lowlanders and the Agtas.

Sama Dilaut 'lepa' and houses on stilts (in the background)

Ivatan limestone house

nipa hut

Ifugao 'fale'

Maranao 'torogan'

Bagobo tree houses

Agta lean-to

It's so amazing to see that houses Filipinos live in are as different as their environment! These houses are just an indicator of the diversity of culture in the Philippines.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Culinary arts lesson #5: Respect the chives.

Chef Joey said it well. If we're given ingredients of high quality, we should handle (and cook) the food with the care that it deserves. 

Take chives, for instance. These vegetables are some of the most flavorful in the world. But when prepped using a blunt knife, the chives will be bruised and not cut properly... Then some of its flavor, the stuff that we pay for, is lost.

I guess this lesson is not just limited within the kitchen setting. Respect is something people have been taught to show, even as kids:

"Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." (Exodus 20:12, KJV)

And sometimes, as grown-ups, we forget.

I ought to really get myself a proper chef's knife.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Culinary arts lesson #3: Face your fear.

I am very much afraid of splattering cooking oil because I had a painful encounter with it as a child. In culinary arts class, I am forced to face that fear at last.

Have I conquered it though? Honestly, not yet. I can now saute with confidence but I am still intimidated by the wok filled with oil for deep-frying pork chops, tempura, and french fries. The nice thing about the class I'm attending is that the chefs tell students how to prevent oil from splattering. Also, since we're wearing long-sleeved coats, there's some protection right there. If only I won't look funny wearing a chef's coat at home as I cook.

Anyway, I'm halfway through cooking class. I'm sure that I would've at least gathered more courage to face the deep-fryer as I venture into the second half of the course. 

Fingers crossed!

On Saturdays, I attend the Fundamentals of Culinary Arts classes at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in Quezon City. I'm listing a few things I'm learning (aside from how to cook the fine-dining-restaurant-way, of course) as I attend school, lest I forget them.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Patience is a virtue

I'm participating in this wet season's "Rice Survivor" activity. The question that worries me the most is: will the plants I tend this season survive? :) It's going to be a challenging time, this wet season...


June 6, 2013

It was time, at last, to sow the seeds we got from other people. Team Tagumpay must have been the slowest of the planters because it took us two hours to finish sowing seeds. But to be fair, it was the first time for some of us to even be in a nursery. Even though it was quite hot when the team worked, it was all fun... at the beginning. As the first hour passed, planting rice started getting monotonous. Patience was starting to thin.

I wondered how people working in the field handled the slower pace in life.

But of course! There's music! One of the bird ladies (women who stayed in the fields to shoo away the birds) started walking about with her portable radio blaring. Just following the woman's lead, I started playing music from my iPad. Maroon 5 was on top of my Dropbox starred music list so I played the band's songs. If wifi signals could reach the nursery, I would have played the classical music podcast; but there was no wifi in the field.

June 7, 2013
One of my group mates, RK, told the rest of the group, that we'd start seeing something the following week. Me being me, I just had to drop by to visit the nursery to see if anything's happening yet. Since it's been only a day after sowing, nothing's popping out of the ground yet. I felt like Sam Gamgee going around the Shire checking the plants he had sprinkled with Galadriel's gift.

June 11, 2013

So, I visited the field again, with Jen and Maya. Five days into planting and green things started emerging from the ground! I had a sigh of relief because we know we'll have something to transplant after 16 more days.

Just to make sure that the plants we were going to plant were strong enough to withstand the stress of pulling and transferring to a different field, we gave the plants an initial helping of fertilizer. With the rains just around the corner, these plants will have a lot of challenges ahead of them; so it wouldn't hurt to give them a head start. In seven days, Team Tagumpay will be back in the nursery to give these seedlings another boost of fertilizer. 

As we countdown to transplanting day, I can just say that the Rice Survivor Wet Season challenge teaches one important lesson that farmers all know:

Patience is a virtue.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Choose your own adventure

I'm participating in this wet season's "Rice Survivor" activity. The question that worries me the most is: will the plants I tend this season survive? :) It's going to be a challenging time, this wet season...


June 6, 2013

"You've got to get it right at the start..." 
-- James Quilty, Rice Survivor, Dry Season (heard on IRRI Radio)

Well, I can't say that we, the wet season Rice Survivors, weren't warned. Nevertheless, it is daunting for people who aren't normally in the rice field one day to be planting rice in another. It's a fish-out-of-water experience, really. And today, may I say, the rice grains were out of water as well.

We sowed seeds this morning. But before we even stepped onto the field, there were some decisions that we needed to make: 

What rice variety was Team Tagumpay going to plant?
This is the most important question, I think. There are more than 100,000 rice varieties to choose from... and we only had a small area to plant. Since the aim of the game is maximized profits, we had to base our choice of variety on its past performance (i.e., yield) during the rainy season, its capacity to withstand stresses and its ability to resist diseases. We also had to consider the variety's cooking and eating quality.

How were we going to transplant them? And in what type of nursery?
The method of transplanting will affect the way we sow our team's seeds. Apparently, if we were going to use the mechanical transplanter, we need to plant in trays specifically designed for the machine. If we were transplanting the manual (traditional) way, there are still choices. There were wet beds and dry beds which could be used to prepare seedlings for transplanting.

I honestly think that the decisions we made are the right answers. Team Tagumpay will find out soon. This is our choose-your-own-adventure story.

Friday, June 14, 2013

What's your email address?

My morning was made when I received a funny email. It's not supposed to be funny because it's a real valid email (i.e., not spam) and I was really supposed to answer it properly.

Email sender: You are invited to attend... Please see the attachment for more details.

I checked, but the email didn't have an attachment.

Rochie's email reply: Can you please resend the attachment? I didn't receive it.

After several hours, I received a reply.

Email sender: What is your email address?

Seriously?!? You've sent me an email AND you don't know my email address?!? Toinks!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: food trip in Katipunan Avenue

I normally don't venture out to the Katipunan Avenue area because I feel that the place is too far away from my normal route. One day, though, Anna and I was waiting for the sudden rain to stop when we chanced to see two restaurants on the ground level of the FBR Building, which is right across the Ateneo de Manila University Loyola Heights campus; these restaurants caught my attention because they reminded me of the restaurants peppering Lopez Avenue in Los Banos (the approach to the University of the Philippines Los Banos).

One thing I learned while eating lunch at the Paranara Korean Restaurant was that Korean cuisine need not be expensive. My previous visits to Sariwon and to Bulgogi Brothers have made this impression on me. Apparently, I was wrong. The prices of the food at Paranara were relatively student-friendly... but still expensive by Los Banos standards, I think. Or do I need to reorient myself with Los Banos dining costs?

Right after eating lunch, we spied a pink and blue restaurant right across Paranara. It reminded Anna and me of our visit to Vanilla Cupcake Bakery so we thought eating at another pastel-colored restaurant would be a good idea. It was.

Picket Fence Milk and Ice Cream Bar serves Australian ice cream. While I think that an ice cream is an ice cream regardless of its origin, I think that Picket Fence's presentation made the difference. For instance, the rainbow-colored ice cream I chose is vanilla-flavored and called "Rabo Rainbow". I would never have thought that this ice cream tastes like vanilla! The other ice cream I chose had a more typical name: "Topher Toffee", which tells exactly what to expect: creme caramel-like creaminess and mild sweetness. The ice cream is served in transparent sundae ice cream glasses. Water, on the other hand, is served in those faceted light blue glass cups.

For ice cream, the price (per scoop) was a bit steep for my everyday consumption but it is really worth it. It's something I'd want to go back to again and again if I were looking for an ice cream fix and willing to pay a meal's equivalent for a scoop. For students living in the Katipunan area, the price may be standard... Once again, I probably need to recalibrate my Los Banos campus dining budget.

Overall, the Katipunan Avenue food trip was a success. I'm looking forward to my next visit to the area. Katipunan is known as a restaurant row, after all. Another food adventure awaits.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Review: a Kitchen Musical experience, sans the music.

One of last year's novel concepts on the telly was a series on musically talented kitchen and restaurant staff. This pan-Asian show was entitled "The Kitchen Musical". Filipino actors were part of the cast and crew. In that show, much of the drama going on among staff of a fine dining restaurant occurred as they practice mise-en-place. At pre-service meetings, the chef usually asked for wine pairings. A common feature among episodes is a focus on the plating and presentation of the food, from appetizer all the way to dessert. Two receptionists,with their outrageous hair and clothes, provide the humor to otherwise dramatic sequences.

Another thing I noticed about the show is that the footfalls of people could be heard subtly (or am I the only one who heard them?). Perhaps the wooden floors gave the actors an easier time in carrying the props and walking in sky-high heels... I don't know. Then there are the lights. They all seemed to fall beautifully on the plate and on the food! Never mind the cameos posing as restaurant clientele; My eyes kept focusing on the food.

And have I mentioned that the cast spontaneously broke out into song?

Anyway... I never thought that I'd go to a restaurant that mimicked The Kitchen Musical (only in real life) on an ordinary Saturday; no birthdays nor anniversaries. But I did, with my sister in tow, as usual. For this "life imitating art" experience, Anna and I ended up eating lunch at Aubergine Restaurant and Pattiserie in Bonifacio Global City.

Anna and I opted to go ala carte because the degustation menu would severely injure my wallet. After getting our orders, the server gave us two loaves of bread each, a potato bread and a pretzel bread, with dishes of butter and hummus. As we waited for our main course, the server dropped by again to give us an appetizer sampler of finely chopped smoked salmon on salad greens. A few minutes later, my food arrived: grilled Chilean sea bass on porcini mushroom risotto with asparagus and tomatoes.

The food was delicious! I've been avoiding sea bass for the longest time because I'm scared of eating seafood (thank you, allergens) but I'm apparently okay with it. I was able to enjoy the richness of the risotto, the lightness of the fish, and the crunchiness of the asparagus. Being served on a platter, I thought that the serving was pretty small. However, I felt full as soon as I got to my last spoonful... Full, but still with room for dessert.

For dessert, I chose the mascarpone nougat ice cream bar with rhubarb jelly, fresh blueberries and strawberries, and creme brulee.

That dessert, which I normally describe as "deconstructed" (because I'm reminded of food being served in a similar manner in Iron Chef) was so good! The individual components didn't overwhelm each other's flavors. The sourness of the fresh fruit provided a counterpoint to the sweetness and creaminess of the creme brulee and the ice cream. What a contrast! It's my first time to encounter rhubarb and I couldn't remember what it tasted like because I was eating it along with the creme brulee. Not surprising, because the flan blew me away. Thank goodness I had taken a photo of the main course... Otherwise, I would've forgotten it too, just like what happened when I first ate at Dalcielo's

With food of that caliber, I'm not surprised that Aubergine has been included in one of the Miele Guides. Looks like our list of places to bring Mommy, Daddy, and Biboy to has gotten longer by the addition of Aubergine.

And no, the wait staff and the kitchen staff of Aubergine did not break out into song.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Culinary arts lesson #2: Parlez-vous français?

Julienne. Brunoise. Mirepoix. Chiffonade. Concasse. 

These are just five of the terms that I have to learn as I study culinary arts. They're all culinary knife cuts and, you guessed it, they're all French!

The universe must be telling me something because this is not the first time I'm getting a lesson in French. There's the European language phrasebook I bought more than a decade ago (French is in there); I had to learn a bit of French just in case I had to use it during my short visit to Hanoi; African French-speakers surrounded me one time at dinner and were attempting to teach me how to speak French; and my supervisor at the University of Queensland could speak French and his post-doctoral fellows at that time were French... that just to name a few instances. More recently, an economist was checking if I could already pronounce brownie in French.

So, do I add French now to the growing list of languages I'm going to study? Looks like a good idea, particularly since 'consomme' sounds a lot more sophisticated (and learned) than 'clear soup'. To get things going, I got the Le Cordon Bleu Cuisine Foundations book for myself. It's a great reference book.

On Saturdays, I attend the Fundamentals of Culinary Arts classes at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in Quezon City. I'm listing a few things I'm learning (aside from how to cook the fine-dining-restaurant-way, of course) as I attend school, lest I forget them.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Culinary arts lesson #1: There is no escaping Zoo 113.

On Saturdays, I attend the Fundamentals of Culinary Arts classes at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in Quezon City. I'm listing a few things I'm learning (aside from how to cook the fine-dining-restaurant-way, of course) as I attend school, lest I forget them.


I opted not to take the infamous Zoology 113 course at the University of the Philippines Los Banos back when I was in college. It's a course on comparative vertebrate anatomy and it involves dissecting cats. I couldn't possibly open one up since I have cats as pets at home. I chose to take courses on human physiology and psychology instead.

Many years after not choosing to enroll in Zoo 113, ignorance doesn't sound as blissful anymore. On the second day of culinary arts class, I found out that I have to know the anatomy of the cow; on the fourth day, I learned that I have to study the anatomy of the pig and of the sheep too. If that isn't vertebrate anatomy, I don't know what that is.

But here's the thing: I'm supposed to learn the anatomy of these animals because I have to know which meat cut is suitable to what dish. For instance, Thai beef salad uses beef tenderloin, the most tender part of the cow because it supposedly has less connective tissue and is less involved in the movement of the cow. If I were to use meat from the cow's legs, the salad won't have the proper texture the salad needed. On the other hand, knowing the anatomy of the animal also helps in determining how to carve the meat before serving. Knowing the position of the bones on lamb gigot is essential in carving to avoid waste of meat. If I were to cut the meat in the wrong direction, I won't be able to maximize the number of servings because some parts of the lamb leg won't be of the right size or shape anymore. Then there's pork loin. With the bone still stuck to the meat, it's pork chop; without the bone, it's just pork loin. For dishes like cordon bleu, the position of the fatty layer should be correct before the meat is butterflied (thankfully the butcher can do this!). 

Learning anatomy of animals is good, I found out, especially when it's all taken in the context of food.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Toys for the big boys (and girls)

I'm participating in this wet season's "Rice Survivor" activity. The question that worries me the most is: will the plants I tend this season survive? :) It's going to be a challenging time, this wet season...


May 29, 2013. 
"So many questions, and the answers are so few..." 
-- Side A (1996)

After the snails and field measurements, it was time to get this season's Rice Survivors acquainted with farming equipment. Leigh Vial, head of IRRI's Experiment Station kindly walked us through the garage to meet some of the big toys that we might use in the field.

Along the way, I saw tractors and farming implements that look familiar... Of course! The tools used to till the land in sugarcane farms are similar to what is used in rice fields. The only difference was that the ones used for rice are a bit smaller. I'm familiar with the disc plow, and only the disc plow, because I used to see that all the time in my grandfather's coffee and peppercorn farm (way back in the 80s).

From what I've been hearing during seminars on gender and diversity, it looks like the farms are mainly managed by women: they till the soil, they plant and take care of the crops, and they harvest the grains. But the machinery I'd seen so far during the tour looked like they're more suited for men. And men are the ones migrating to the urban areas for work, according to the seminars I've been sitting in. So there, apparently, is a mismatch... Unless, of course, the women are the ones operating the machinery themselves. 

But then there were machines that didn't need a tractor. There was a hydrotiller, that looks like it can be pushed through muddy paddies quite easily, and mechanical transplanters. Yes, mechanical transplanters! If these machines are widely available and accessible, I'm thinking that farming will be a little bit less backbreaking than it is now out in the real world.

So, why the quote from the Side A song? 

During our tour, Rice Survivors were seeking Leigh's advice about how to properly till their fields. But there's no clear cut answer, according to Leigh. Looks like there's a certain degree of gut feel and guesswork involved. For scientists and researchers who are used to linear thinking and to flow charts (like me), diving into the unknown without a clear guide is quite scary. 

I guess that we'll be winging it a lot of times this season. We'll see.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): A snail's pace is faster than you think

I'm participating in this wet season's "Rice Survivor" activity. The question that worries me the most is: will the plants I tend this season survive? :) It's going to be a challenging time, this wet season...
May 29, 2013.

Contrary to popular belief, snails are not slow, particularly at chomping off plant parts. That's what I learned, though it's implicitly said, during the first field exposure of the wet season Rice Survivors. During this activity, Alex Stuart, a snail expert, walked us through the importance of keeping snails out of our rice field.

There are several strategies, it turns out. Two strategies that I remember are (1) kill the snails with pesticides; (2) pick the snails by hand (yes, you read that right... by hand!). A third approach involves collecting the pink snail eggs and crush them before snails start to hatch. 


I still don't know how my group is going to banish those snails from the rice field assigned to us. But one thing's for sure: rice production is not as simple as it seems.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rice Survivor (Wet Season edition): Measuring a field

I'm participating in this wet season's "Rice Survivor" activity. The question that worries me the most is: will the plants I tend this season survive? :) It's going to be a challenging time, this wet season...

May 29, 2013

The first outdoor activity was about about field measurements. Simple enough, or so I thought. Normally, I would instantly grab measuring tape to get the dimensions of the field. Apparently, however, there are more ways than one for measuring one's field.

What we did...

My groupmates used measuring methods that ranged from the crude to the high-tech. Aside from measuring the field by counting one's steps (and multiplying it by his/her pace factor), we also measured the field using waypoint averaging... yes, we got a lot of measuring help from up above. Of course, we also measured the field using a tape measure, just cover all methods available to us.

Not surprisingly, we all got different measurements for field area. Which one to use, I don't know. But I'm thinking (I'm sure my groupmates are also thinking the same thing) we ought to go back in there once the land preparation is done to get final measurements and in preparation for field lay-out.

In our initial calculations for the area of the field, Google Maps was used as a tool to see the field from high up. The high-resolution image and the lengths that we've obtained using the tape measure confirmed what I have suspected since I first saw the field: we were facing a potential trapezium, given four unequal sides and whose angles are unknown. Why didn't I bring a protractor that day?!

Anyway, after all that hard work (and I know we're facing a steep learning curve here; more challenging days to come), we did enjoy the morning out in the field. Photography enthusiasts were snapping away (including me, albeit with a tablet).