Category Archives: Food

The cold-pressed juice wagon

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It is a fad that was already slowly and quietly bubbling under the surface of general consumerism in Malaysia. If ‘bootylicious’ made it as one of the most used word that awarded it self-deserved place in the Oxford dictionary, ‘cold-pressed juice’ I believe should be somewhere in the list of most-used, most-marketed word and product of the year 2014. Probably not a place to be reinvented in the Oxford dictionary though, because the 2 words exist in its own right with its on standalone meaning but hey, when you place it together – what a wave it has resulted in! Obviously it didn’t just came about overnight as some would attest to the larger cold-pressed juicing companies that existed in the market as early as 2009 and 2010. Back in the days when a Hurom is not just a car-ride and a AEON supermarket visit away.

While I am all for efforts and advocacy made towards a healthier nation through easier and more widespread access of healthy food, the uprising of this trend is also somewhat disturbing. The fact that anyone with a decent income can own an equally decent cold-pressed juicer is great, what is not so great however is the fact that these days it seems anyone with a decent cold-pressed juicer also thinks they can become champions of the power of juicing by selling their own versions of cold-pressed juices bottled in glass jars.

Yes, I totally understand the idea of capitalising on market opportunities. It is all economics right? The general public now have more access to information on the internet. They can’t be as easily duped by a full page spread in the newspaper telling them that a carton of Tropicana Orange Juice (with REAL orange pulp added!) is any where as superior as a smaller sized fresh, cold-pressed juices that comes in a BPA-free plastic bottle or even better a shiny glass bottle. People want fresh. People want wholesome, raw, active juices. Because cold-pressed juices promises vitality, health, rejuvenation and a bang for your buck. Yes it costs WAY more than that carton of orange juice, but if it’s suppose to cure ailments, make you feel better, wipe out your wrinkles and make you look 10 years younger, spending double and sometimes triple the price of a conventional juice becomes an easy afterthought.

If there is supplies to match market demand, and this is a demand that is pointing towards a change for the better than it is well and good isn’t it? Not so.

Here’s a scenario. One day you woke up and decided to pay a visit to your doctors. Annual health examination. A few days later the results came back and your doctor delivers you the grim news that you had better get your blood sugar level under control because your reading awards you a comfortable place within the ‘pre-diabetic’ category. Or perhaps, more likely these days, the doctor circles a random number on the result paper and tells you that you should watch your cholesterol because by god, those hash browns and McValue meals aren’t really adding much valuable nutrition to your body but rather accelerating your path to the nearest cardiac surgeon office.

So while you are driving home, all these numbers and facts circling in your head and a real concern that something has got to change, your food intake or your physical fitness or your entire approach to life, and you get hungry. But no, there can be no more McValue meals for you, and someone told you recently a juice-detox is a great way to kick start this new resolution for a healthier lifestyle. So you stop at the closest available cafe that you know sells great cold-pressed juices. Along the counter sits many many beautiful, delectable sounding cakes. Cakes, that without a doubt contains an eye-popping amount of butter (even worse, margarine!) and a truckload of white sugar. What happens next? There is a possibility that your better judgement kicks in, you pay for your juice and off you go. But there is also that equal amount of possibility that the ‘naughty’ side of you will try to justify by thinking “If cake is bad and juice is good and I take both at the same time, the good will neutralize the bad right??”

The human mind will always find novel ways to justify anything that it wants. And before you know it, oh the poor consumer who thinks he’s doing good by drinking all that juice everyday and sometimes rewarding himself with that cake is referred to the endocrinologist office instead because his blood sugar level is soaring and his body has decided that it is much too taxing to be processing ALL that sugar coming from both the cold-pressed juice and the cake.

What disturbs me is not the fact that this health trend is picking up traction but in the way that cold-pressed juices are being marketed by the people who are advocating its benefits. Would you go to a doctor who is sick? Probably not. But many of our doctors are overweight, smokes a pack a day and battling their own health issues. The reason you still visit them is because you don’t know what goes on in their personal lives. But what if it is all out there for you to see? What if “buy our cold-pressed juices” photos is posted on instagram next to a bowl of Magee mee? Or photos of people enjoying a plate of KFC with the tagline “buy our family bucket and get 6 bottles of cold-pressed juices free!” would you still be willing to pay the same premium? Probably not. Which is good for the consumer and their wallets, but it does nothing to educate them about the healing power of food.

So here’s the deal, drinking a bottle of premium cold pressed juice to wash down that butter cake/magee mee/[insert food that contains high cholesterol, preservatives, sugar and other unnatural products disguised as food] won’t make you any healthier than the next person who decides to wash it down with a Vitagen or a conventional carton juice or even a can of Diet Coke. It does however, make that next person slightly more richer than you though. That I am pretty sure of.

So before you buy, discriminate. Question. Most importantly on the ingredient, the freshness, and the cleanliness. Was the vegetables and fruits washed properly before being juiced? If it uses orange and lemon rind, was it organic (because lord knows how much wax covers the standard, non organic version and can you imagine ingesting them in that RM15 ringgit bottle of juice?) and of course there is also the question of “Is the lifestyle of the person whose business you are supporting the same that you would buy into?” Not as important as the initial questions, but remember, what you buy also supports the lifestyle of its makers.

Splurge some, scrimp some – the updated dirty dozen list

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Now that I have been having a little more time since ending a rather crazy project, I have been getting more chance to make smart and educated choices when it comes to what I decide to put into my mouth. My kitchen will have these cycles, of frequent use and constant turning on and off the gas stove and when things get hectic at work, the only thing that ends up being used is the water filter and the kitchen tap. So while I have these little luxuries (which I have this sinking feeling will be shortlived indeed), I’ve decided to pay a much needed visit to the supermarket and stock up my refrigerator with the healthiest things I can find (and afford).

With a rough meal plan for the week worked out and armed with my list of things to buy, I walked down the all to familiar aisles of Jaya Grocer. Of all the supermarkets around Subang & KL, I still prefer my neighbourhood’s Jaya Grocer. Even the posh and overpriced Jason’s at BSC can’t seem to beat the lineup or organic items offered in the former. Months of not doing my groceries gave me a rude shock when I got hold of a bunch of organic celery for a soup I was planning on making. RM 35 (USD 12) for a bunch of celery?? Okayyy..let’s put that back down. And then some weird craving hit me while I was there and I decided to look for some blueberries. Organic blueberries – RM 25 for a small box. Whoa.. maybe not. With such horrendous, out of this world prices for the standard, middle class person such as me, how does one achieve healthy eating and minimise all those nasty pesticide and chemical intake?

Which brings me to the topic of weekly groceries shopping and what are the items that should be bought organic and what are the items that we can save a few pennies on buying from the non-organic aisle?

Recently Food Matters together with the Environmental Working Grop updated their list of dirty dozen which is a list referring to 12 most ‘dirtiest’ veggies & fruits that should be bought organic where possible and 12 clean items that you can get away with being non organic most of the time. This year however, they added a few more and this has been a good list for me to keep in mind as I trawl up and down the aisle collecting my goods in the trolley.

Splurge on organic items for those things that you crave from the Dirty Dozen list

Click on the link and you will find more information and even a pretty nifty phone app for you to download. Granted that this list is more American-centric, I would imagine it to be pretty similar across other countries especially those that import their food from large agricultural producers.

With this in mind, I now know I should skip on the celery and replace it with something locally grown. Blueberries (generally the berry family are to be treated like strawberries in the dirty dozen list) are out of the question too. So more papayas, dragonfruits and mangosteens it shall be! A general rule of thumb that I use would be – if you have to peel it in order to eat it, that would generally be ‘cleaner’ rather than items that you consume directly as they were bought.

Most definitely, one must keep in mind local is always better. But with certain fruits like the avocado that contains large sources of good fat, and all that other goodness in its green flesh, sometimes it is difficult to replace it with a local alternative that is equal in nutrition content. And by all means, if you are swimming in money every month, heck if it was me, I would buy those celery and blueberries once in a while because I know I can afford to.

For us normal beings though, sometimes it is a good idea to splurge on some organic items (local over imported where possible), and scrimp on others where non organic would be considerably safe for consumption.

A well stocked fridge is a happy fridge :)

A well stocked fridge is a happy fridge 🙂

Got meat?

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An expected question that follows all new conversations with strangers about yoga and your practice is “So do you eat meat?”. I remember our long drawn debates and conversations about the pros and cons of consuming animal meat during our Philosophy class. Not once, not twice but on 3 different days all occurring at extensive lengths as one side proclaims that the human body was never made to digest animal meat, as the opposite end of the spectrum, interspersed throughout the wooden shala, would quietly whisper to one another “who cares? just eat whatever you want, and practice the yoga that you understand and accept”.

At one point, one of our classmates picked up all of her books and decided that self-study by the pool, with her notes and ipad would serve her much better than debating whether the animals’ suffering will become a part of her once consumed.

These days I put a lot more thought in my meat consumption. With the exception of those that come straight from the sea. More so in an effort to keep what I had gotten used to in Vikasa, the vegetable and seafood diet going. A classmate once shared that meat once consumed would usually require 48 hours before it is full digested by the stomach acids. That’s 2 days of chewed up, balled up meat with whatever else that was in your meal at that given time, sitting there, slowly being broken down. That alone, is a thought that does not quite sit very well with me. I have decided that when I do consume it (because I do still love a good, big, fat gourmet burger once in a while), I would allow at least a few days in between before it makes a reappearance on my plate.

Recently, while out on lunch with some colleagues, I told them about a new burger place that seems to be garnering excessive amount of patronage. One of the French man in my team who knew a little bit about my one month in Koh Samui and my involvement with yoga, asked “how does meat consumption fits in with yoga and your beliefs of it?”. To which I gave a simple answer of “I still take, in moderation, when I feel like I need it. And I make that decision and be happy with it.” After all, there is nowhere in Islam that says eating beef (at least the halal kind) is sinful.

Nevertheless, a little perturbed of this inquiry I sent a blackberry messenger text to my fellow Indonesian yogini whom I had grown close to while in Samui.

Me: Do you get people asking you this? “You are a yogi, but you eat beef?”

C: ..I answer I’m not a fanatic, I just listen to my body and do everything in moderation. Om shanti shanti shantihi 🙂

Which obviously got me laughing out loud in the middle of my lunch group as soon as I read the final sentence. An image of that blonde girl in Sh*t Yogi Says Lululemon ad instantly popped in my head.

Which brings us back to a similar thread that I had learned in Islam – there is no forcing. Everything should be done willingly for Allah. And again, during philosophy, when we learned that part of the Vedas urges the person to accept what they believe is right for them.

My next yoga attire

“Food, glorious food!”

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It is said, to make a new habit stick, do it for 21 days non stop. Whilst I was embarking on my training course as a yoga instructor, we were fed twice daily at Vikasa School. Once during brunch and another at dinner time. The food that was served consisted mainly of brown rice, vegetables – and LOTS of them, with one or two dishes with some fish or prawn during dinner. Accompanying this was fruits and freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juice.

Needless to say, these meal times has changed my perception towards food preparation and vegetarianism. Sure, there were days when my taste buds wanted a little bit more taste than what we were served, and how it danced with joy when a couple of us went out for some Indian food one night. Overall though, it made me realize that meat is not always required and that I can actually get creative with how I decide to consume my greens.

So, inspired as I was, I spent the first full day back in KL buying groceries and stocking up my kitchen with the healthiest food I know I wouldn’t mind cooking/eating. At the organic store, I found a bag of wild purple rice which curiously looked a little like what we were served in Vikasa (home sick away from home maybe?). The grains turns the water a most amazing shade of purple when you rinse and cook it. I mean, hey, this feels almost like being back in Chemistry class all over again!

At the supermarket, I found myself trolling around the organic fresh produce section. Inspired by some of our mealtimes, when we sometimes had porridge, and sometimes hot vegetable soup, I decided I would make a porridge with vegetable soup as a base with oyster mushroom, some fresh cod, kailan, and purple cabbage. Yum!

Tonight, it’s steamed rice with stir-fry kailan tossed in sesame oil and mushroom omelet. Cooking with purple rice I realised, results in any adjacent kitchen utensils being covered in purple spots wherever the rice cooker decides to spit its steam. Willy Wonka would be proud of my effort tonight. Once everything was scooped onto my plate, I stood back to admire my art and was reminded yet again, of my meal times in the last one month. It almost looks like the meals I had while I was there.

Stir fried kailan, mushroom omelet served with wild purple rice

Excuse the tacky plate. I should really start to invest in one of those classy, all white dinner set. In my recent food adventure, I have discovered the availability of smoked garlic (whole garlic cloves smoked and sold by the kg) and how it absolutely smells D I V I N E and makes everything that it’s cooked in tastes equally as divine. I am already filled with so many crazy ideas of all its different uses in food preparation and the gourmet cook in me is tickled by this idea.

Virginia Woolf once wrote “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”. And dined well tonight indeed I have.

Day 5 & 6 – Night out and Raw Food Cooking Class

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Friday is our last practice day of the week before we have our 1 day break on Saturday. A number of us decided that it would be a good time for us to go out and explore the night life in Koh Samui, so after dinner we all bunched into Vadeem’s pick up truck/tuk tuk (since we ARE in Thailand after all). Since he was on his way out to collect some new arrivals to the studio who are staying for the weekend, we made plans to be dropped off at the Fisherman’s VIllage in Chaweng.

Yogi-in-training night out

Fisherman’s village, on a Friday night looks like Petaling Street on any given night. Hawkers selling hot food, home made ice cream, hand made jewelry and other curiosities line the street until the end where the beach is.   Jade, one of our yogi-in-training Vikasa family knew of a nice little place to go to at the end of the Fisherman’s stretch. It was a cozy little joint, with bean bags and low coffee tables placed right on the sand on the beach.

Our pretty art for the lantern

We saw some lanterns being lit up and set to fly into the sky in a bar nearby so Rodney somehow got the group one and we wrote our names on it before lighting it up and sending our intentions high up into the night sky

Vikasa TTC Sep 2012 lantern ready to be set free

The lantern certainly added a nice touch to the night as it gave us some symbolic way to show our appreciation of being here and on this training. And I don’t mean that in any fluffy, wishy washy that-was-a-nice-thing-to-say kind of way but rather in a way that we all seem to agree to. That we are all here for the same reasons, beyond things that are larger than just a series of coincidences.

Saturday morning, 7 of us arranged a raw cooking class with Ta, a woman who owns an organic cafe down near Lamai beach. We had heard of her from a fellow YIT who had attended a 7 day detox prior to the TTC and had had her own cooking class with Ta. As soon as we arrived, Ta greeted us at her lovely home that reminded me more of a modern version of a rumah kampung you would find these days in Malaysia. And what a warm woman she is. We were given two large bowls of raw almonds that were soaked overnight to peel and the 7 of us spent close to 90 minutes peeling it clean. We talked, and made jokes, and exchanged thoughts on what we feel of the course so far. I think this is what it must’ve feel like in the olden days when people get together to prepare and cook their food. Except in this case, it wasn’t so much ‘cooking’ but rather mixing together different ingredients to make really, really good food.

Raw Tom Yam

When we had arranged the class with Ta earlier in the week she had given us a list of items we could pick from that we wanted to learn to make. One of them was raw tom yam. Ta chopped open about 5 young coconut, for its juice and its flesh and put in the typical spices and herbs and vegetables you would normally have in a cooked tom yam. What is even more amazing is that Ta grows all her vegetables in her own garden. Aside from the nuts and other things which she can’t produce on her own like raw cacao powder, everything we made and ate today came straight from her garden. The raw tom yam tasted incredible. Despite my initial thoughts of not knowing what to expect as I have never eaten raw tom yam before, it tasted…AMAZEBALLS. Like real tom yam only 10 times better. The raw coconut flesh, the coconut water, the keffir lime leaves and bird’s eye chillies came together into what could possibly be THE best tom yam I have ever tasted in my entire life.

The next challenge is of course to replicate that when I get back home.

Towards the end of the day, we found ourselves at the north side of Chaweng to collect our laundry and do a little bit of shopping. I had told myself that there will be no shopping and whatever I needed I can get back in KL. But of course that never works. We sat down for coffee and juice after our little trip and found ourselves in really deep and engaging conversations, about the course and other things related to life. That is one of the things which I completely love about this course and the people on it. It’s like having easy, accessible deep conversation partners on tap. I had a big AHA moment today, like a lightbulb that has been turned on, thanks to Ryan (who is by the way, a life coach back in his ‘real’ life in Bali) and the 3 girls I was with.

My experience so far has been really personal and engaging. Both within the course and with the other fellow YITs which I feel I have come to love in less than a week. What a blessing it has been.

Day 3 – Let thy food be thy medicine

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It’s day 3 of Vikasa’s Teacher’s Training Course and I guess the intensity must be catching up with some of us. At the 2 hour break we have in between theory and evening practice, a lot of my fellow yogi-in-training (I am going to refer to them as YITs) passed on trips to Chaweng or Lamai for a power nap instead. I on the other hand got a much needed massage on my shoulders and back at the massage place from across the street. A 60min shoulder and back massage comes up to 300 bhat. Some of the YITs were saying you could get something similar for 180 bhat in the Chaweng but I figured with the cab fare to and fro it would’ve worked out the same.

In theory class we discussed about food. So many things came out of it, from Sattvic diet, to organic food to raw diet and fasting. It was useful to have a lot of us contributing our own knowledge to the class and others to bring up very important and valid questions.

I went around Vikasa during breaks to try to snap as many photos as possible before the sun got up too high. And these are what I got:

View from the shala

Chilling out by the pool during breaks

 

The first 2 teachers from the TTC lineup – Kosta, owner of Vikasa and George

The view from the top point of Vikasa before morning practice begins

 

The fresh food people

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Food was one of the major highlights in Italy. There was rarely a time that I could even begin to feel hungry before our next meal, and even if it was a hunger pang that I felt, it was one that was satiated pretty quickly.

Our food and accomodation expenditure started out on the high side. Rome was more than just statues and ancient ruins, but filled with delicious meals of tortellini, ravioli, all other kind of pastas, fresh artichokes and colourful vegetables, pizzas, cheeses and endless scoops of gelato. Other people approach their travel with a trusted guide from the Lonely Planet, I moved through the city with a guide on recommended places to eat, districts known for food and areas with weekly markets. Basically, I was more keen on building my experience around seeing and tasting the local food more than visiting the historical sites *blush*.

I believe, the best way to appreciate and experience a place is through its local food.

Italy was all about fresh ingredients. I’m convinced that is the reason to why Italian food in Italy tastes distinctly different and much better than Italian dining in Kuala Lumpur. Even if the latter was cooked by an Italian chef in a 5 star Italian restaurant, it still does not compare to say a 3 Eur Margherita pizza in Naples

There is no doubt that Italians love their food. I did see some Chinese restaurants and kebab stands randomly scattered around Rome, Naples and Florence but the occurrence of this was far and few in between. What I loved was the availability of fresh vegetables, herbs, pastas, breads served straight out from the oven and of course, freshly brewed coffee. We trawled through a number of mercatos and I was spellbound by the colors and sight of it all.

Mercato Campo di Fiori, Rome

Fresh Roman Globe Artichokes at Mercato Campo di Fiori, Rome

The entire tomato family in Campo di Fiori, Rome

Farmer's Market, Testaccio, Rome

Cheeses at the Farmer's Market, Testaccio, Rome

Fresh produce
San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, Florence

Although organic did not seem like a big deal to the Italians, partly because everything they have is grown in an environment with minimal exposure to chemicals and pesticides or we were just looking in the wrong places. I stand to be corrected.

Italians were also big on their truffles, and rightfully so. This stuff is gold in the culinary arena. But whoever thought of combining sea salt with pieces of truffles must be pure genius. I got a sniff at it and the flavor that exploded out of the bottle was indescribable.

Perhaps the best smelling salt combination I've experienced
San Lorenzo Mercato Centrale, Florence

Certain moments and sights remind me of the famous Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne, Australia which was my weekly sensory indulgence and also where I used to stock up on my groceries every weekend as a student. It was also the place which led me to eventually appreciate markets, fresh produce and knowing the ingredients that will eventually become my food.

Having an appreciation of amazing food is half of the equation, being aware of how individual ingredients are produced, its impact on the environment, the benefits it will bring to you and how it will ultimately nourish and heal your body completes the experience of enjoying a certain dish or meal.

It goes without saying that I am obsessed with food. I was taught from an early age, if you had to a limited amount of money to spend, always, always scrimp on the clothes and other inedible things, but splurge where you can, on the food. And splurge on food in Italy, I did.