My own flavor of yin and yang

LOVE LUCY (The Philippine Star) - September 1, 2013 - 12:00am

I admit it.  I spent a good part of my childhood years never thinking that hotdog — the kind that is gummy and tasty and juicy, the very same kind that turns the water red — was not exactly  healthy. To be fair to whoever first introduced it to me (was it my foodie sister, the yaya, or some adult at some children’s party perhaps?) I’m pretty sure he or she never presented it like one would vegetables (as something beneficial or good for the body or health). A hotdog, to me, was just like any comfort food — easy accessible, a breeze to prepare, something that never disappoints. After that came a slew of other delicious, processed stuff — SPAM, Ma-ling egg rolls, tocino, Vienna sausage, each just as good as the last. Guiltlessly, I’d eat them, alone or with rice (it was hardly ever bread for me) and it is only now with all this talk and awareness about what is healthy and good for the body that I look back at my childhood and wonder how and why something that tastes so good could be so bad? If someone had the power to see my insides when I was, say, 12 or 13 years old, they’d probably report I was half made of red hotdogs, etc.

As an adult and with my own household to run, I think it was easy (or should I say convenient) for me to reconcile with the fact that when it comes to the pleasures of food, everything in moderation is okay. To support that, I hope I can still  call on that very old but still very healthy 92-year-old retired nun I met in a nursing home about three years back who, every lunch time, would eat a matchbox-size of fried pork fat with her vegetables and rice. Or Richard’s very own Lola Lydia who ate everything she wanted, when she wanted, but in small amounts. And then there’s my own dad who, even well into his 70s and especially when his blood results comes back perfect, still enjoys chicharon and bone marrow, balat ng lechon or the fatty part of a bite of fried pork chop that we all pretend we do not see him put in his mouth.

Anyway. In this day and age it is hard to ignore this universal awakening — coupled with vanity — about all things healthy.  Suddenly, vegetables do not have to be force-fed or shoved down the throat. You just learn to eat them. And find some genuine pleasure while doing just that. My break-in came courtesy of Ceasar’s salad in the mid ‘90s, after I saw how the dressing was lovingly and devotedly prepared by the waiter in a wooden bowl that he had wheeled right by our dinner table. And then I tried fresh slices of tomato seasoned with rock salt and freshly-ground pepper, sandwiched between two slices of toasted wheat bread after I read a love story set in Italy. One day a new cook came from the province, sent by my mom’s nun friend, after the one I had before her fell in love and ran off with a married man.  She (this new cook I mean) always wore her bangs so very long, about half an inch veiling her eyes (I later found out she was covering a birthmark), but I was willing to live with that after I discovered that she made very good munggo soup. I’d crave it endlessly, and to think I never quite enjoyed that dish prior to that! When she left (unfortunately, she also fell in love with our security guard) I missed her munggo soup very much. Thankfully AK Bistro at One Rockwell does a really good one. It is special in its own way. Tofu, which can be prepared in a multitude of very simple but very delicious ways, is always a go-to.

Not very long ago I went on a wheatgrass phase. I would buy fresh wheatgrass from Bizu in trays, the leaves would be harvested and the juice extracted. I took it first thing in the morning every day for about three years, not really enjoying the taste but liking what it did for me (I hardly ever caught a cold or got the flu). But then the time came when I would shudder at the mere thought of it, so much that by the time the shot glass was in my hand and the contents gulped in one go (my hair would be standing up at this point already) I could barely keep it down. It was time to move on. I did Acai berry drinks until I chanced upon the Master Cleanse (which I have done several times), which eventually evolved into just a shot or two of pure lemon juice daily (something I still do now).

One day I bought Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook and I could really relate to her sharing as in the foreword about how she just wants to be very mindful of what she puts inside her body. I was inspired to commit to a level of healthy living that did not have to happen in bursts and spurts and was not dictated by needing or wanting to fit into skin-tight clothes. I decided to start meeting and making friends with more fruits and vegetables — when in my 20s I only liked avocado as an ingredient in a milkshake (UCC has a very potently delicious avocado milkshake, by the way); I have since learned to take it as a savory dish — first, as an ingredient in a chicken wrap we make at home or with toast, simply seasoned with salt and pepper (tastes like butter on bread, really). Portobello mushrooms I would have roasted in olive oil, again seasoned with pepper, garlic and salt, and then right before eating, drizzled with good quality balsamic vinegar.

Once, my husband showed me a magazine page featuring a rundown of the best masticating juicers available in the market. It was no surprise when he came home one day very soon after that with a juicer called Hurom. There are other good brands as well, like Breville and Matstone, that other friends have tried, but we are quite happy with Hurom. It’s been a couple of months now and fruits and vegetables have become my new best friends. When I feel that I have indulged too much, to get back to my ideal weight I substitute my first meal (usually lunch) with a big glass of vegetable and fruit juice and that is enough to sustain me till dinnertime.  I’m so used to the daily surprise, I find no taste can ever put me off anyway. I no longer check what mix of fresh vegetables go into my juice; it always tastes sweet anyway, many thanks to the beets or watermelon I always have at the ready (to neutralize anything that tastes too leafy). The basic rule I keep is that there just has to be more vegetables than fruit, with the latter to be thrown in only as a sweetener. You’d be surprised that about a kilo or two of assorted vegetables make only a very big glass but you will find as you go along that it can be quite filling. My staples include carrots, turmeric and broccoli. The last two especially have amazing health benefits (please Google and find out for yourself, the list is too long to share here in this space!) and their flavors are mild. With juicing, I’ve noticed that even my occasional allergies are gone and those little headaches that seem to appear during “that time of the month” have gone on leave, too. I’m liking this whole juicing thing. I’m going to keep at it for a long, long time to come even as I readily admit that, even with all that I’ve said and shared, I am in no way giving up my occasional hotdog and Spam. A little of everything I want still, even as I already take a lot of the good stuff.  My very own flavor of yin and yang.

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