Organically speaking…

Some people have begun noticing the change in my eating habits. Including me! For about a year now, my diet has been for the most part, organic and health centric. I say, it’s not really my eating habits that’s changed as much as it is my outlook in life. And that outlook just happened to involve an awareness in personal responsibility. Responsibility towards health and nature, that is. Hence, my reason for taking the organic route.

First of all, I believe organic food is healthy, not necessarily in a physical sense but more in a perspective of wellness. For me, it means a little peace of mind. The peace from knowing I cared, even if it’s just a little bit. It’s a good feeling to know that I care, respect and am thankful not only for my health, but also for nature and the folks responsible for my being able to eat clean food. That, to me is giving importance to the wellness of my own being. Now, if that’s not being healthy, I don’t know what is. Hey, let’s just say, if I could choose food that has less chances of chemical contamination, why shouldn’t I? I’m sure the regular variety won’t kill me anytime soon (it hasn’t, in the past 45 years) but if it doesn’t give me peace of mind anymore, what good is it for me?

Another thing I should note is that organic food may or may not taste better than non-organic varieties. In my experience, a lot of them do, but some don’t. However, that is the least important factor, in my opinion. I didn’t choose organic products because they taste better. If they do, it’s simply icing on the cake. Choice is a matter of principle. What we believe in and what we care about. I believe that whatever we decide to eat is a very personal choice. The way we shape our diet is from the knowledge we gain from a desire to understand, as well as our own fundamental beliefs, if we have any.

Unless we grow our own food, we’re stuck with what society feeds us. We’re force-fed with very limited choices, in stores or even in restaurants. There’s not as much control we can get when eating out as we do from when we’re cooking our own food. By the way, it is important to know how to cook, if only for this reason alone. But… that’s for another story.

Okay, let’s be honest and take the marketing labels out of the picture. Wouldn’t most of us choose organically produced food if the price was the same as the ones that aren’t? I hate that it costs so much to buy organic – it makes no sense, I know – but if that’s what it takes for me to gain peace of mind, then it is my responsibility to adjust my finances to fit my priorities in life. After all, the length of my life isn’t as significant as its quality. And quality is subjective to each person’s decisions. However, at the end of the day, practicality is still just as important as sensibility. I hate snobbery of any kind! It’s what makes sincere attempts to do good look suspect in many people’s eyes. And that’s what stereotypes a worthy lifestyle. That’s what reduces a good habit into a mere fad.

We make decisions in life according to the level of responsibility we are willing to take. Just like anyone, I have mindlessly eaten countless amounts of junk food in my life. And believe it or not, it doesn’t bother me much to this day. It’s just that now, I’m a little more aware of how much responsibility I am willing to take, whenever I do it again. I may eat healthy all week and decide to pig out at KFC one day. No guilt there. Or, if I decide to buy a more costly bag of healthy groceries at the expense of a road trip or a fun weekend somewhere, so be it. Or if I’m invited to a backyard bbq over at a friends house, I’d enjoy that big fat burger just like anyone would, with no hesitations. I call that… life. That’s right! I stand for life, not religion. When lifestyle becomes religion, life is robbed of its freedom.

Now, our decisions will always cost us something, no matter what it is. All I can say is that after a year of gaining health awareness, its effects have drastically transformed, not only my body, but my mind and spirit as well. Now, if that wasn’t worth the cost and trouble, I don’t know what is.

So I say… simply live life to the full because that’s all that matters, really. And organic or not, we still need to eat our vegetables.

Cookin’ up a storm

Been a while since I wrote anything here. But trust me, I have been around. Just not in here, unfortunately. Well, sometimes you generate a new passion and it steals all of your time you don’t have any left to write about it. In my case, I have been cooking a lot lately. Not necessarily pigging out, just… cooking, that’s all. Funny thing happened yesterday… I cooked 3 dishes in 6 hours. Man, I was so tired I felt I needed some food. So, I treated myself to a little fish filet sandwich at McDonald’s.

Just to back track a little… Last year, I went to the doctor for the first time since… well, since my mom dragged me there when I was a kid, actually. I’m not kidding you! So at 45 years of age, I naturally thought, wow, I must be in big trouble now. Well, I was lucky I almost got a perfectly clean bill of health. I did say almost, yes. That’s because at the last minute, I was prescribed a cholesterol lowering med to be taken in the next six months. Just for precaution, the doc affirmed.

At the start of this year, I vowed to be a lot more health conscious and try to do as much as I could to not be given another round of prescription the next time I visit the doc. Well, it’s been a fun ride, actually. Back in January, I weighed in at 152 lbs. Not terribly bad for a guy standing at a towering 5’6″. But still a tad overweight, I guess. Golly, when you’re in your forties, your body’s not very forgiving. I should’ve learned this early on. Anyhow, so I began counting calories, being mindful of fat intake, nutrition, physical activity and all that good stuff I never thought existed before. I started walking a lot. At work and everywhere else. Ditched the elevators and took the stairs. I purposely missed my floors so I could walk even more. Started experimenting with vitamins and bought as much organic food as I could. Fat-free this low-fat that, you name it. I spent half of my time in the grocery store just reading labels.

But mind you…I didn’t obsess! 🙂

Okay, maybe, just a little in the beginning. However, as the months passed by, I realized that trying to develop a healthy habit shouldn’t be about losing weight or because you’re afraid of the imminent bad news your doctor might have to break. It should be something you’re meant to do. So, as an artist, I found that as I labored in the kitchen, the joy wasn’t coming from a health perspective. Although it was definitely a bonus, my satisfaction came from an artistic standpoint. It was creativity that made me want to cook. I cook even when I’m not hungry. It’s not about eating as much as it was about creating something. Well, I knew I was gonna get hungry sooner or later so it’s not like it goes to waste, right? Now, this is probably what filled in the void that my songwriting and music playing has caused in the past couple of years. I had to channel it somewhere as art is what keeps me functioning. But it had to be meaningful, somehow. And cooking was.

Now, I’m not a vegetarian. I don’t like to label myself. But I try to be sensible and responsible, as well as practical, about food and nutrition. I believe food is something all humans have to be consciously grateful for – in words and in action – at all times. Food is a gift that nature abundantly and freely gives. There’s a lot of respect that needs to come from that alone. But I’m not going to elaborate on this anymore as I’m sure you already know what I’m talking about and that we all have our own little ways of translating this into our own lives anyway.

Though for me, it definitely has been very inspiring. For one, I have lost 20 lbs. and my waistline went from 34 to 29. All in 10 months! I feel so much better and I have more energy. I’m only shouting this through the rooftops because I’m not young anymore. If I was in my twenties, it’s probably moot but when you’re over the hill, it is something to be  celebrated, I think.

Okay, what I’m trying to say here is (Yeah Chris, what are you trying to say already?) that cooking has become a true passion lately. One that brings me joy and fulfillment. I mean, I’m a fan of cooks and chefs on TV, too! They’re like my new found rock stars and I watch their shows as much as I did all those hair bands back in the 80’s. I get inspired, not necessarily by their recipes, but by the passion they invoke into their craft. It’s infectious! That passion is what builds my own. The only difference probably is that I try to be as consciously responsible as I possibly could. Towards nature and my health. And without being snobbish. 🙂

Oh yeah, I also started a food blog, lately. Check it out.

A photo blog?

I had some leftover Fetuccini AlBundy from a couple of nights ago that I just finished eating for dinner. When I first made it, I was so hungry I just wanted to scarf it down quick. But now, since I didn’t have to spend time cooking, I was able to take time and catch my dinner in action. So, here it is… in slo-mo!

First, striking a pose for the camera.

Alright, time to chow down.

Hmm, looks like it needs a dash of hot sauce. Anything needs a dash of hot sauce, really.

Whoa! That was good. Let me put some more hot sauce on it, then!

Taking a break to wipe my sticky face.

Ahhh! Fat and happy!

That’s it!

Later people… I need to jog off all that bacon out of my system.

Fetuccini AlBundy

Somebody shoot me now!Okay, so it’s just Fetuccini Alfredo, really… with some tasty bells & whistles added for boosted comfort factor. I happen to nonchalantly whip it up for dinner while watching a Married… with Children rerun, last night. It turned out so good though I forgot what episode it was. So, try it and you’ll choke with a mouthful before you can start to scream… Peg!!!

Oh yeah, and get them running shoes ready. You will need to burn big time calories afterwards.

Fetuccini AlBundy

1 16oz. pkg Fetuccini Pasta
1 pint Heavy Whipping Cream
4 big cloves of Garlic, minced
8 oz. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (don’t skimp or don’t blame me)
1 12 oz. pkg. Bacon (per serving)
1 cup frozen Peas or Broccoli (fantastic guilt reducer)
1/4 cup finely-chopped Flat-Leaf Parsley, for garnish
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper, no salt (the cheese and bacon will sufficiently supply the salt factor)

First order of things… ring up some friends and invite them over for a night of serious eats.

Now, in a dutch oven or heavy duty pot, cook bacon till very crisp. Drain strips in paper towel. Transfer drippings into a container for later use, but leave in a couple of tablespoons worth in the pot. Turn down heat to low, add garlic and sweat for 5 minutes. Now, turn heat to medium-low and add cream and pepper. Stir for about 10 minutes, making sure cream doesn’t boil over.

Hey, I didn’t say it was a 30-minute meal! You’re still with me?

Good. Keep stirring. Now, this would be a good time to drop the pasta into the salted boiling water. You did boil water earlier, didn’t you? Tsk, tsk! Anyhow, cook that bad boy to al bundy, err, al dente. About 10 minutes.

While that’s going, go ahead and add the grated cheese and frozen veggies into the cream mixture. Stir for another 5 minutes or until cheese is completely melted and incorporated. Add more pepper if necessary.

When pasta is cooked, set on a plate or bowl and ladle sauce on top. Crumble the bacon and garnish with parsley.

Bon apetito, kids!

Now, who’s got the remote?

Musings on food, culture and travel

Ahh, the restful atmosphere of Saturday mornings. After a hard week’s worth of labor, I seem to always look forward to it. No plans. Just a good dose of French Roast and Channel six to keep me company.

wacky characters

When I was a kid (not too long ago, I’d like to think it was), I, too, was glued to Saturday morning cartoons. But instead of Spongebob and Teen Titans, it was more like, Dick Dastardly and Superfriends. You do remember these Hanna-Barbera classics, don’t you? Granted, they were before Cable TV but, that’s beside the point.

Anyhow, this morning, I skipped the cartoons and opted for my usual fare of commercial-free PBS shows, instead. I love the relaxing effect of watching a painter demonstrate how to compose a nature scene on an empty canvas; or a host taking the viewer to the best yard sale bargains in town. But my favorite ones, by far, are the cooking shows. You learn so much about people’s culture by seeing them in action in their own kitchens. Right now, I am watching back-to-back episodes of different cooks highlighting heritage cuisine from Scandinavia, Naples, Yucatan, Louisiana, Shanghai and yes, even Martha Stewart’s own kitchen.

Right this moment, it’s Julia Child watching a featured Chef bake some French pastry. Not only are these shows making me hungry for a quick brunch, perhaps; but more significantly, it’s triggering my desire to travel to cultural destinations, at some point in my life.

Now, it’s really easy to want to go to places where it’s fairly safe. Where they speak your language. Where they eat, more or less, the same stuff you do. Maybe, even have somewhat similar landscape as your own backyard. That’s why I love shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservation. This is brave. This is adventure. A real traveler’s dream. Also, last year, Jamie Oliver had a short series where he traveled all over Italy and cooked for monks, among other things.

I like the hands-on approach to traveling. Instead of being touristy and watching things from a distance, I like the idea of temporarily living as a local. I believe, this is how you grow tremendously in your humanity. You only grow so much if what you understand goes no further than your own neighborhood. Being a citizen of the world is what I consider one of the greatest fulfillments one can ever achieve in life. It’s when you are able to really practice humility in its sincerest form. Because, it’s a fact… the more you experience the world, the more you realize how small you are in the scheme of things.

One day, I would like to visit as many places around the world as I can. And learn. And grow. I would love to be able to smell the aroma in the air. Taste the spices in their food. Hear the music of their ancestors. Listen to their diction as they converse with each other. And, who cares what they’re talking about?

However, if time and money would ever get in the way, I could at least narrow it down to three places. China, India and Italy.

spice of life

Now, I’m seriously hungry. 🙂

Christmas blend

Having had a conversation with a friend this morning, regarding Christmas dining and preparation, it got me a little bit into the spirit.

Well, not really. But, that’s beside the point.

Anyhow, after wracking our brains on choices for antipasto (sorry, couldn’t spell the French term for it), turkey spices, and all that good stuff, we eventually arrived at the topic of dessert. Now, I’m not very particular about desserts. I’ll eat pretty much anything with sugar and/or dairy in it. So, I didn’t have much to say on the topic. But, dessert beverages are a different story. For me, anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I love eggnog (spiked or otherwise), hot cider, or whatever. But, I’m simple, and I usually just opt for a good cup of joe, instead.

Well, we went on and bickered about how it is/it is not boring to simply use the beat up, old coffee-drip brewer. But, come on, it’s Christmas. Do something special, for Jesus’ sake! 🙂 So, I recommended, if only for the occasion, what I’ve been using for the past fifteen years to brew my own coffee in… the lowly and humble French Press (Bodum only. No skimping, please)!

Bodum French PressMaybe, I’ve been living in the wrong century but, I realize that, to this day, the press is still not a very popular way of brewing one’s favorite java beans. Perhaps, it’s just a meager low-tech device lost in a crowd of auto-ultra-super-cyber-futuristic devices we’re so used to trusting with our very lives, these days. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it in kitchens, just gathering dust up in the cabinets, for years. Although, I will take a guess, that the most popular way to do it, in this day and age, is to stand in line at the nearest Starbucks counter. Every single morning!

A very expensive shortcut, indeed. Thanks, but no, thanks.

Most coffee houses brew their coffee, espresso style. As far as I know, anyway. So, if you wish to replicate that same coffee house cocktail (latte, macchiato, etc.), don’t think you can get away, easily, with an el-cheapo espresso machine. I’m no coffee nerd, by any stretch, but I have virtually travelled a big part of the coffee-making world to get a clue on what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. I love espresso. But, to make it at home, the way it’s supposed to be made, I would have to sell my car. Hey, if you’re going to get one, go for the glory. Or, better keep your hands off your pocket.

This brings me back to what I was talking about, earlier. The French Press. A simple person just wants a good cup of joe. Now, simple and good doesn’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, all the time. I told my friend, that it’s way cheaper than an espresso machine, and much simpler to use, but still, not quite that simple. You still have to have a good, yet expensive conical burr grinder. Now, I don’t have one, because I’d rather not miss payments on my monthly bills. I still use a blade grinder, but I don’t mind the sludge it causes to lay at the bottom of my cup. I still get an excellent flavor as long as I coarse-grind only when I need to; and the grounds/water ratio, water temp and brewing times are correct. Now, I’m not going to elaborate on the details. There are enough connoisseurs out there blogging about their own method, already. Go, do a search. But, I would recommend brewing your beans using this old-fashioned method. And, discover what flavors you’ve been missing, all this time.

Okay, if you’re really into espresso, a good, yet cheap way, is to use one of those stove-top percolators. I used to have one, but I accidentally left it in the stove to burn, a few months ago. So…

Oh yeah… use whole bean French Roast. None of them bag o’ Christmas Blends, please! Let your dessert do the sweetening.

Merry Christmas, everyone. 🙂

Silence is golden… brown and delicious

There are benefits to be gained from coming to work an hour earlier than usual. Besides dodging the rush hour mayhem (can’t stand to see more than 5 cars in the street; I’m really spoiled now, I know) and having a little more time at the end of the day (more TV, alright!), my brain is a lot fresher too. Especially, in this town. At 7am, the streets are empty and our towering, sky scraping 5-storey building has probably a couple of fellow early birds on each floor. I feel fortunate that we’re able to do this as I love early mornings. Don’t get me wrong, I do sleep in if I need to. But if I can help it, I would love to be up and about before sunrise everyday. Even if only to step outside the house and feel the morning dew on my skin.

Now, if you live in the middle of the concrete jungle, this may not apply to you. But I feel your pain. 🙂 I’ve been there.

I’ve never been enticed by late nights. I would stay up if I have to but I’d rather hit the hay early, to be honest. It’s even more strange for a guy who spent his life in the rock and roll world playing gigs and touring night after night for years. Don’t let it fool you though. Many times, I would fall asleep in the dressing room before a show; and even doze off during the show itself. It’s quite embarrasing to miss your cue as you slip into the twilight zone for a second. It’s happened!

Last week, some friends at work wanted to hang out at a local bar after work. In a nutshell, I passed. I’d rather miss a party than be a party pooper. Not only am I not overly tickled by the idea of a sports bar being a place to kill time, I’m really not overly tickled by the idea of drinking either. I do like to drink beer every now and then, but when I have to drive back home afterwards, the proposition becomes a little more intimidating.
 
But… I digress.
 
This whole thing about loving early mornings is not without a reason. A specific reason that is almost subliminal, in fact. I realize that I love silence. And mornings are quiet. Calm. Slow. Well, relatively speaking, unfortunately. When it’s quiet, my world gets bigger and wider. My mind is roomier and can invite creativity more than it’s able to when noise is present. I startle easily. When the kids are playing outside, sometimes one of them would scream loud and I would lose my bearing. I hate it too when cars honk their horns. Oh, and when people raise their voice! It’s the pet peeve of all pet peeves of mine! I used to raise my voice, and I disliked myself for it. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s rude, it’s annoying and it’s degrading.
 
So yeah, I’d rather have silence.
 
And sometimes, that means, no music either. At work, I always tell Margo at the front desk, if I listened to music while working, I won’t get anything done. I’m not kidding! Not that I don’t appreciate music. Obviously, I do. It’s just that music is too sacred to not be given complete and undivided attention. It’s just my opinion, though. Funny thing is, when I pass through the hallways, there’s always a faint whisper of melodies escaping through the entrance of each person’s cube. It’s like flipping the radio dial, almost. Everyone is lost in their own little musical universe. There’s country to your left. And rock to the right. There’s pop too. And then, there’s… Snoop Dog? Glad you’re wearing those noise-cancelling headphones, buddy! I appreciate it.
 
Now, this may seem odd to say the least, but sometimes I would have my earphones on just because. Yep, just because. Told you I’m weird. Usually, people would want to hear music all the time. And in the best possible situation too. They’d buy themselves the best audiophile systems with all the bells and whistles; crank up the bass until the neighbors call the cops. Heck, they even strut around with their 80 gig iPod, in fact! Imagine that! I don’t think I’ve owned a stereo since I was in high school. I don’t think I’ve ever felt a need for it since. I’ve bought three iPods in the last four years but only to give them all away as presents. Me? Oh, my alarm clock radio suites me just fine. When I feel like dancing, it’s wonderful. You see, most of the time, all I need is silence. As I grow older, my desire to hang around records stores have diminished as well. Sometimes I feel sad about this fact. I still do hang around record stores, though! I still buy CDs. Just not every other day like I used to.
 
golden brown and deliciousThe other day, bread was baking in the oven. I’m pretty sure it was bread. And the sound of the rising dough gave me pleasure like it never did before. Silly, eh? Like I’ve always said, the simplest things make me happy. It doesn’t take much at all to send me floating sky high. Anyhow, I couldn’t wait for it to get done already so I hastily opened the door to take a peek. Well, it needed a few minutes more… dagnabit! But when that silence finally took over, I knew it was going to be heaven.
 
And heaven it was. The pleasure of good food in the company of silence. Sometimes, it’s just the way it works. That silence can be golden! Golden brown and delicious, in this case.
 
Oh, and did I forget to take my headphones off? I sure did, didn’t I? So yes, I did put on Soundgarden after all. It’s been awhile, anyway.

Besides… good garnish, I thought.

Bam! It’s over!

I’ve been a little distressed these past couple of days. Ha! What else is new. No, seriously. This may seem meager to some, but I am a bit distraught  over the news of the show Emeril Live ceasing production for good. Yeah, yeah, yeah… so, I’m a fan. And a big one at that. What can I say? I love watching kitchen acrobatics. It seems like everybody’s adding it to their repertoire these days though. The entertainment factor of cooking, that is. But Emeril started it all. Okay, the original Japanese Iron Chef did, to be precise. But here in the U.S., he may very well have put the culinary arts in the spotlight and center stage almost overnight… to the benefit of the professsion itself.

I have to admit though, that if serious cooking education is what you’re after, flip the channel to PBS instead. I’m not saying you don’t learn from the Food Network shows. It’s just that in the past few years, it’s grown to be overwhelmingly sophisticated that, IMHO, it’s become the MTV of food and cooking. Nothing wrong with that. It’s called progress. Although, I find it a tiny bit distracting that cleavage has, all of a sudden, become quite a popular addition to the shows’ main ingredients… competing flavors with garlic! Oh my!

If there’s anybody I’d rather spend serious TV time on these days, it’s probably Alton and Mario. And Jamie Oliver! Whatever happened to that dude, anyway? Last time I checked, he got relegated to the 4am time slot. What a shame. Those guys are gurus and you’re more likely to drool in amazement over the sight of their sizzling grills than their teethy smiles.

But this post is about Emeril, isn’t it? That’s right. And so, I just wanted to express my gratitude real quick for the years of entertainment that his show has brought to my life. It’s been a great run. Even my ex-wife, I remember, always felt safe whenever I’m glued to the tube watching it. That way, I wasn’t anywhere doing God knows what. Like being in the basement on the computer, heaven forbid! And blogging?

Bam! You’re in the doghouse!

———————

Okay, just for the fun of it, I’m updating this post by adding a few Emerilisms that came to me just now. I found these lines amusing. But as corny as you might think they are as well, I’m afraid they’re forever embedded in my brain now. Scary, I find myself saying these while cooking. Thanks, Emeril!

  • Nice and slow… it’s a food of love thing
  • I’m not making this up
  • Hey, I didn’t make the rules
  • Pork fat rules
  • Big budget show here
  • Don’t know where you get your flour from; where I get mine, it don’t come seasoned
  • I’m not gonna go there
  • Yeah, yeah, yeah, Rhoda… I’m trying to cook here
  • Here, go make some friends
  • Give the kid his Oreos already
  • We’re not flopping turkeys here
  • Go buy yourself a couple hundred copies, will ya?
  • Put it in the icebox
  • Don’t even think about touching that dial
  • Oh yeah, babe!
  • Big fancy cooking word
  • Hi, Jay!
  • Sometimes, I amaze myself
  • Snack on this in the subway and no one will bother you
  • They’re nice and happy now
  • Season and then, re-season
  • Do it nice and gingerly. What did it do to you?
  • The chicken police is watching
  • Call your cable company and complain you don’t have smell-a-vision
  • We’re really cooking here
  • Please… keep it G
  • Can you imagine me doing this on Iron Chef?
  • Rub this on the bumper of your truck and it’ll taste good
  • I’m under a lot of pressure here, doc
  • Rough crowd tonight, doc
  • More gahhlic, it’s a beatiful thing
  • I can do this, you know why? Cause it’s my show.
  • Get your own show, will ya?
  • Give it up for Doc Gibbs & the Emeril Live Band
  • When we come back… another notch!
  • Kick it up a notch
  • Bam!!!!!!

Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Last update on the list: 12/22/07