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2013 is the year of itchy feet for me! Itchy not because I’ve got some embarrassing disease or hormonal imbalance or, worse, unhygienic practices, NO!!! Itchy because the travel bug has bitten me and since the start of the year I’ve spent more than 80% of my time outside of Manila on holiday or business trips. I was in Sydney for six weeks from January to February for some much needed R&R, and as soon as I got back to Manila I had to catch up on work that sent me from the North to the South end of the country to visit clients.

Now, business trips are not really that glamorous! You either wake up very early to catch the first flight out so you can attend the morning meetings, or catch the last flight the day before to arrive at your destination close to the witching hour! When you get to your destination, you work practically the whole day and by the time you finish you have to head back to the airport to catch your flight back or to another destination.

So, how do you make drably work-related trips to be pleasurable? Here are five tips I’ve learned and follow religiously:

1.)  Always bring a camera and be ready to take quick snapshots of interesting objects, sceneries or events. I always take my trusty Canon S100 because its so light and compact, and very easy to use. It offers point and shoot convenience with creative possibilities of manual controls. Aside from my camera, I also have my iPhone for those shots that I want to share quickly over social networks like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. I am now contemplating getting the new Samsung WB150F after seeing it from a promo booth in the mall. I love its zooming capability at 21X and of course the ability to immediately post the photos on the Internet through its built-in wifi. The WB150F also has a SIM card allowing access to the Internet via 3G/LTE networks…saving up.

2.)  Go for a jog. Running is one of the most effective way to get to know the place and discover interesting locations and facts. Make sure it is safe though, and that you are aware of any cultural taboos you might be offending. My running shoes have, become a main item of things-to-bring to all trips. Through jogging I was able to discover the Bottle Museum in Moalboal; the early morning community fitness program in Santiago, Isabela; the black geese nesting in the pond near my mom’s place in Sydney, and the industrialisation of the coastline of Iligan.

3.)  Research on local delicacies, places to hangout, and restaurants with interesting menus. I’ve been fortunate to have gotten clients that took me around to popular local places to eat and hang out. These ranged from sedate coffee shops to peaceful walks by the bay to adventurous local meals to bizarre street food exposures. Places I’ve been in Asia and around the Philippines  always have something happening after hours, all you need to do is ask a local. In one of my trips I did a scooter runabout for four hours at night, taking in the cool breeze, being serenaded by the pier to the tune of popular songs but with different lyrics, and seeing the city from a different light.

4.)  Visit the local market. I like going to local markets early in the morning to see stocks being unloaded and stalls being prepared. Time permitting, I also like visiting during the day to taste some of the interesting delicacies. In Dumaguete I had “bubdud kabug,” a local delicacy made from millet and the best cup of native cocoa in the market. Bought local pecan nuts in Tiwi, Bicol; tasted and got addicted to authentic pork roll “Banh Mi” in Ho Chi Minh; and had my first Gozleme in Glebe markets in Sydney.

5.)  Take a bit of the places home. I normally take food back home to share my discoveries but sometimes also buy the odd key chains and fridge magnets. Anything to remind me of the place and what I would be doing next time I visit the place. My best take home so far: “chicharabao” – chips made from carabao skin; coffee and cashews from Vietnam; spicy tamarind from Bangkok; meat pies and sausage rolls from Sydney; “Lechon” or roast pork and dried mangoes from Cebu; and pomelo and durian from Davao.

I’d love to hear your tips to make business trips pleasurable.

Skinny Bitch, have you read it? I discovered this no-nonsense book after a friends of mine gave me “Skinny Bitch in the Kitch,” a recipe book that complements the New York Times bestseller.

Whereas it’s a tough-love approach to changing the diets of the human race for their health and the sake of animals, I will admit it can be hard to translate into their way of life, no matter how bad you want to.

The books offer a new way to look at our everyday food and how it is negatively affecting our health. But how does this affect our ecosystem and planet? Well, for starters, buying organic and local to get away from pesticides and using even more fossil fuels to transport out-of-season foods to your area. With the popularity of organic and all-natural taking a swing up in the past year or two, the prices of these expensive items makes it more manageable now for everyday families (I can’t call them expensive anymore, huh?)

Many stores are creating their own organic lines, which are less expensive then the name brands’ versions of organic. For example, a 15-oz. can of O organic black beans (O is Safeway’s organic line) is $1.05, while Whole Foods’ 365 label organic beans are 99 cents. On the shelves of Safeway, Bush’s Best beans cost $1.39 per can, according to “Go Green, Live Rich.”

What about just buying local, or growing your own? Nowadays, food travels about 1,500 to 2,500 miles to reach our plates, which includes gas, fumes, and fossil fuels for pesticides, tractors, processing, cool storage and packaging, according to the book.

A pack of seed can range from 50 cents to $3-5, but that is how much we pay for the vegetables and fruits in the grocery store for one time. The seeds can yield many more times that single purchase, lasting months. The same goes for local farmer’s market food, which saves on food miles just as well as growing it yourself.

Now, for first-time gardeners, the total price can be steep at first to buy the gardening tools, etc. Look to see what you have in your basement or garage that you can use (you may already have the stuff!), or just think of what a good investment it will be and how much money you will really save after a few seasons.

There are many resources on the Web for newbies at here, here and here ; or if you live in an apartment (like me), try container gardening. If gardening isn’t your thing or you can’t wait to sink your teeth into a juicy, homegrown apple, search for farmer’s markets on Local Harvest.

So, now on to the goodies.

“Skinny Bitch” talks about carbs, and how certain carbs are actually good for you and a vital part of a vegan’s diet — complex carbs. These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, which should be eaten every day. The book also states simple carbs should be avoided, i.e. white bread, white flour, white pasta, white rice and white sugar. That just makes me cry.

But the authors state that readers can still enjoy the good life: “So what’s a pig to do? Have her cake and eat it — just make the cake with good ingredients. Duh!”

I’m not going to lie: for these “Bitchtastic Brownies,” I use white flour, white sugar and any vegetable oil I have (except olive oil.) I have bought beet sugar in the past, but at $5 for a large sack, I can’t justify all the time.

Whereas I still battle with the simple carbs (and the bulge around my tummy because of it), you can go above me and use the ingredients as prescribed. No matter what, these brownies are surely “bitchin'” and definitely worth going veg for.

Makes 9 to 12

Ingredients:

5 oz unsweetened vegan chocolate, chopped

1 & 1/4 cups Sucanat (or other dry sweetener)

3/4 cup silken tofu

6 tablespoons safflower oil, plus more for the pan

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon refined sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Oil an 8×8 inch baking pan; set aside.

In the top of a double boiler or in a medium metal bowl set over a pot of gently simmering water, melt the chocolate, stirring just until smooth. Transfer the chocolate to the food processor and add the Sucanat, tofu, oil and vanilla; process until smooth.

Add the flour, cocoa powder and salt, pulsing until just combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading it evenly.

Bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Thoroughly cool on a cooling rack before cutting into squares.

I definitely recommend reading “Skinny Bitch” and “Skinny Bitch in the Kitch”:
Skinny Bitch: A No-nonsense, Tough-love Guide for Savvy Girls Who Want to Stop Eating Crap and Start Looking Fabulous Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kick-Ass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and Start Looking Hot!)

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